Learning Portuguese with @MindSnacks

I lived in Brazil for 5 months in 1994 (whilst another World Cup was on, and when Ayrton Senna died). Although I spent most of my time speaking English (for the benefit of the kids I was working with), I wanted to learn some Portuguese, most of which I gained from Linkword. I went back through Brazil as part of my ‘Round the World’ trip in 2008 – and seemed to have forgotten most of it, though my pronunciation is still pretty good (better than my French (GCSE Grade A!)… so on Friday I finally had another go at some of the software that’s on my iPad – and found myself drawn into the gamification of language learning with Mindsnacks:

mind-snacks

I am keen to go to Brazil again (I have family there), and it does seem to be a growing economy, so starting again at the beginning (£2.99 for 50 lessons).

I am now on Level 16, having ‘mastered’ 152 words after 8/50 lessons… So, so far – numbers (to 101), days of the week, colours, seasons, months, relations, body parts, house, and now onto basic phrases…

“Inconvenient Truths”

Interesting article:

Modern technology is so powerful that it is tempting to think that “nature” no longer exists. Commentators talk of the “death of nature”: the world is so affected by human action that nature in the sense of the untouched natural world has disappeared. Yet, recent events have reminded us of Horace’s oft-quoted dictum: Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret - “You may drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she will return.” You may cover the Jersey shore in houses, casinos and amusement parks, but see what wind and water together can do to them. Whether Hurricane (or “Superstorm”) Sandy was a by-product of our greenhouse gas emissions, I don’t know – but she was an impressive reminder that human beings are here only with nature’s kind permission.

Read full article

Powerful video by James Cracknell

“On 20th July it’s exactly one year since James Cracknell was seriously injured in a cycling accident in America. His helmet saved him. James has made a short film to encourage others to wear cycle helmets. To show your support, pass the film to your friends and most importantly, when you’re out cycling, use your head. Use your helmet.”

Time for a few ‘Maltesars…’

Malta: An island of legends between Sicily and North Africa

Malta is a beautiful island nestling below Sicily and far away from the bustle and pollution of major cities. Malta enjoys a Mediterranean climate with many hours of summer sunshine making it ideal for enjoying the coast. Snorkelling is one of the most popular activities here. One event in Malta’s history is the shipwreck of the apostle Paul. Running aground at ‘a bay with a sandy beach’ Paul found that ‘the islanders showed us unusual kindness’ – a characteristic that still defines the Maltese

and I am going here in August with Oak Hall (and Karen T!)… first time on a summer trip as a non-leader… looking forward to completely chilling out with a bit of sightseeing… plus some spiritual refreshment – wonder who’s leading/speaking?!

“Walk Like an Egyptian” … DOH, I wasn’t going to say that…

I could not get that song (or to be precise, that line from the song) out of my head for much of the trip!!!

18th December 2010

See earlier post re our first go at trying to fly to Egypt.

22nd December 2010

Starting the trip in style (Club Class)

We were super-early to the airport as I knew of others who’d had trouble getting into the Terminal yesterday, but it was all smooth sailing… Because of the chaos, although we’d been given Club Class tickets, which usually means bag drop any time after 5am, we had to wait til 3 hours before “or your bags WILL get lost”, but once we got into Club Class – sheer bliss. I’ve been upgraded twice before and never realised that there was a lounge that goes with it… surely that’s the best bit of it. Nice & quiet, comfy seats, reading material, as much food/drink as you like… lovely! The flight out was straightforward, left on time, landed on time… (saw Made in Dagenham and most of ‘Tamara Drewe’ on the way out).

Cairo International arrivals is very unprepossessing, and I wasn’t too impressed to have my passport taken, then pushed out onto a shelf without checking who it was given back to, but still, through easily enough, a bit of a panic that GoBus wasn’t there, but then they arrived, took us to the Domestic Terminal and left us there til 4am (whilst we tried to use our £LE200 notes, not popular!), when they came back to check us in (Business Class again!)…

Photos

23rd December 2010

A flight to Dahab, straightforward enough, and our bags eventually came out. Came out to meet another friendly rep from GoBus, who took us on the hour transfer to Dahab (which I particularly wanted to see, and definitely want to go back to!), pointing out various bits of Egyptian history! At the hotel, we were given one of many ‘Can you sit down for 5 minute?’ meetings?! I knew I wanted to scuba dive, and we both wanted to climb Mt Sinai, and the timetable (as St Catherine’s Monastry not open Friday or Sunday morning!) meant we needed to climb Friday night… so it was scuba diving 2 hours after arriving! I haven’t dived for 2.5 years, so a refresher dive was a must… After a paper test, and as Fiona was left to snorkel, I started underwater, panicked almost immediately, but excellent dive instructor (Bakr) was very calm, and eventually down I went (to 17 metres!)… I just love the underwater world!! Once Bakr was happy that I was all right underwater, he gave my camera back to me (I hadn’t managed to get a new housing for my current camera, but my Mum had posted me my old camera (broken catch/lens doesn’t open properly… give it a good bash, it opens!)…

I was so happy with my first dive that we went for a second at ‘The Canyon’ (one of the top 2 sites, the other being ‘Blue Hole’ which I’d like to go back and dive, probably need a bit more experience though!), and then, cold, and with a flooded camera, we headed back to the hotel. Quick shower, some junk food from the supermarket and time to pass out… Well, Fiona passed out.. I still couldn’t sleep so went for a walk through the shops – that’s HARD work, those Egyptians are famous hard-sellers. In one shop, I found my ‘sew on badges’ which is my souvenir of choice’, and he tried to charge me 400 Egyptian £ (LE) – that’s over £40 GBP! Got him down to 20LE (each), then he wouldn’t give change for a 50, so bought some postcards (following day, found same badges in another shop for 10 each!)…

Photos

24th December 2010

Sleep in… then a morning reading a book by the pool (think I’m 2 books down already! quick dip in the pool – ice!), before an afternoon of snorkelling (with a disposable camera). We went off to get the camera processed, but not til tomorrow – and the shop owner isn’t too promising about the expected quality! Meantime, we go for dinner – it’s a challenge getting past all those over-keen Egyptian restaurant owners, who seem to remember who you are (although a load of them are taking a chance I think!). We liked the look of Shark (we hadn’t particularly done our research beforehand, had been given a list of ‘recommended’ but had left it in the hotel!), and it was a GREAT choice… lovely food (best Mango Juice I had all trip… in fact I had 2), and great service!! Back to the hotel to chill out and try and get some sleep before 11pm pick up for climb up Mt Sinai

Photos

25th December 2010 (Christmas Day)

I knew this was a good ‘experience’ climb, but wasn’t expecting it to be quite such tough work! I thought with all my time in gym classes I was getting fitter & fitter but, Mt Sinai is a CHALLENGE! There was only Fiona & I in the group as GoBus arranged one specially (we had to pay for 4 people!), accompanied by a GoBus rep and our Bedouin guide Hemid… both good company and with lots to say… and it became a bit of a joke that I’ve only been in Egypt a couple of days and spent most of it holding hands with Egyptian men (my dive instructor, and both the guides helped me get up Mt Sinai)! Very good guides, left plenty of time to get to the top (I had warned them, I can keep going, but I might not be the fastest), and knew they had to go at the pace of the weakest link… so we stopped regularly! It was a brilliant moonlit night, so torches not really needed, and it was warm work. Our guide took us a ‘secret’ way (well, we only passed one other group) – from what I’ve heard there’s one ‘shallow’ way up which takes longer, or a steeper but quicker route… as nearly everyone else came up the other ‘popular/shallow’ route, I guess we went up the steep route – wasn’t that steep though…

Everyone, whichever route, has to do the last 700/750 steps created from pieces of stone, and those are quite high. Lots of swearing going on from people around… although I couldn’t believe the woman in heels! As we got towards the top (over 4000 metres above sea level), it definitely got pretty chilly! Ahmed got us a pretty good spot at the top of Mt Sinai (aside from the huffing & puffing American next to us – he wasn’t out of breath, he wanted lots of space to himself… tough luck mate!)… pretty chilly, but 7 layers about did it! So – what a way to see Christmas Day in – sunrise over Mt Sinai!

There was then, of course, the way down to encounter, but we awaited the crowds disappearing (and watched a huge Nigerian group hiking up and down the last few steps!), took more photos, then headed down. I again had my arm tucked into our Bedouin guide as I kept turning my ankle over on the rock! Way back down a lot faster, and we arrived just as St Catherine’s Monastry was opening (surrounded by rock caves where early Christians hid), and found ‘The Well’ and ‘The Burning Bush’.

Back to the hotel for a much needed wash, a chill out, and then off to face ‘the shops’, and a chance to watch the sun go down (we were too tired for more snorkelling), and then the choice of another restaurant, and settled for Ali Baba, recommended by our guides. Food was really nice, but thought the service was pretty poor (especially compared to Shark!). Final couple of drinks for the night were a wander down to ‘Dahab Divers‘ for a hot chocolate (highly highly recommended, tastes of cinnamon & coconut), and some white wine back at the hotel, after I’d picked up my snorkelling pics, and the shop had also managed to rescue my diving photos from the SD card (before it salted up). Bags all packed, ready for joining our tour tomorrow…

Photos

26th December 2010

8am start, nice and easy to the airport. Straightforward plane journey and remembered to put my flight mode on my phone, so took a few photos from the plane! Back to the airport to meet Mohammed again, who asked if we wanted to go to the ‘Sound and Light Show’ at the Sphinx. Didn’t know what that was, but thought I would! Meantime, to the hotel, chill out in the rooms for half hour, before meeting a few of our fellow travellers (thought it was a small group, was only about 10 of us out of nearly 60!)… and heading off to the cheesiest evening ever (definitely not going to one of those again… the worst type of history, no wonder people think history is boring!)… remember to head for seats towards the front/to the right! Think it was worth it for seeing the Pyramids/Sphinx lit up at night, but there wasn’t a lot else to it, and it could definitely have done with being shorter! Bit disappointing that the coach transport turned out to be 105LE, whilst the entrance was only 70LE… that’s a lot for Egypt!

Back towards the hotel, and went for dinner with Lana. Had heard that Lamb Fattah was a meal not to miss, and had that, super tasty!! No way I could finish it though….!!

Photos

27th December 2010

The day that we’ve all been waiting for… the Pyramids. We’re staying at Hotel Zayed… good night’s sleep but not the most amazing breakfast (but probably typical Egyptian style judging by what we got later in the trip!)… First it’s the Egyptian Museum, which is RATHER packed, and no cameras allowed! I decide not to go and see the Royal Mummies (seen loads in the Manchester Museum), but enjoy some stuff that’s a little different (once we’ve done our compulsory tour)… lots of super-decorated sarcophagi, and material that’s had interesting processes of restoration.Was following the tour guide out of the Museum when he disappeared, and then I couldn’t spot our bus… so was a bit late… as a previous tour leader myself I HATE that!!

Onto the Pyramids, and after a bit of information, time for climbing the bottom of the pyramids, and taking daft photos. We went around the other side of the first Pyramid, thought we were at the coach park, but it was the wrong coach park, so 10 minutes late back to that coach. Past the 2nd Pyramid, and onto a viewing platform for all 3! Time for a camel ride – surprisingly scary.. and a little uncomfortable about giving my camera to the camel boy, but he took great pics & I got my pictures back (unlike Fiona’s pictures, but that appears to be a computer virus rather than the fault of the photographer!). Then it’s INTO the smallest pyramid … rather claustrophobic & airless…

On round to the Sphinx and a few more pictures before we head to the Papyrus shop for a demonstration of how ‘genuine’ papyrus is made! I already have a lovely papyrus that Nicky brought me back years ago, so I don’t want one, but a few others purchase! (Apparently the ones sold for $1 are made of banana skin and will fall apart 2 weeks later…). Super speedy through the showers (2 showers for 27 people in a couple of hours…) before we head for the train station. Train is about 35 minutes late (due 10pm), so plenty of time to buy junk food if we wish on the station… then into our ‘First Class Accommodation’… really, has to be seen to be believed.

Photos

28th December 2010

14 hours later, rather stiff after not a lot of sleep, but a lot of dozing and shifting in the seats… and we arrive in Aswan! We head for the hotel (with a swimming pool, that wasn’t expected!) but our rooms aren’t ready… as soon as they are – dive in the pool – HOW COLD!!! Quickly out to catch the last of the sun, then chance to repack the bags and have a nap with a book before we head off for our ‘Nubian Dinner’, which was a fairly typical Egyptian dinner (Chicken Tagen!), before we made our way out to the courtyard for the promised dancing.. pretty impressive, a series of traditional dances, then a Whirling Dervish, then a chance to join in before the ‘Pantomime Horse’ comes on, and proceeds to ‘kiss’ all the women, and ‘whack’ the guys on the head. Back to the hotel in preparation for another super early start…

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29th December 2010

We have a 5.30am start (or was it even earlier <edit>it was earlier, 2am wake up call</edit>), in order to join the convoy of coaches to Abu Simbel (apparently too close to Sudan, danger of tourist kidnappings or something). Abu Simbel was pretty impressive from the start, and once we realised that it had been MOVED in the 1960s I was absolutely gobstruck (and spent far too much on a book on it), as it looks like it’s been there for thousands of years! Inside the Temples (no photos) was a lot of detail, but the exhibition detailing how Abu Simbel had been moved was amazing! Very specialised work – but if they hadn’t done it, we’d have needed to scuba dive to see them.

Back to the hotel for another quick series of showers before we get on the coach down to the waterfront, to get on our Felucca (a traditional sailing type boat – no toilets!). Surprisingly comfortable and roomy, and I decide to try a beer, but only if watered down with Sprite! Nice food on the Felucca, we don’t sail that far before we stop at a local Nubian village (clearly benefiting from being an ‘Adventure Tour stop’), where there’s 2 real toilets/showers, and have a chance to ‘chat’ to the villagers (and a chance to buy some jewellery!). Back to the boat for dinner, then back up to the village with an option for henna (not for me thanks), and Sheesha (I tried it, 2 puffs, and I knew it definitely wasn’t for me!). By this point feeling incredibly sick, so took some meds and some liquid on board… which didn’t enjoy at midnight when I realised I needed to leave the boat, the Nile was high, and there’s 2 narrow planks between me and the bank/bushes! 1am, I decide I have no choice, and just about make it across the planks, then manage to fall asleep…

Photos

30th December 2010

Another day on the Felucca, we have breakfast (well, I don’t bother!), and then we set off. This is pretty terrifying as we keep tilting almost down into the water. A few minutes later we dock… and we all think that someone already wants the toilet, but no, the wind’s too dangerous, so we’re docked until the wind dies down… which it didn’t, until after the sunset (when all Feluccas have to be docked anyway), but to be honest it didn’t make that much difference, we just chilled (I read another book), with card games, sleeping, food, drink, etc.

In the evening it was time to go onto the bank where our boat crew entertained us with music (the more we danced, apparently, the longer they would go on for), before a chance to crash out on the Felucca, ready for an early start…

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31st December 2010

A busy day this one… the Felucca has drifted to the other side of the Nile overnight, we pack up, have breakfast, pay our tips, and get onto the coach to head towards Edfu/Luxor.

First stop, the Temple of Kom Ombo, then onto the Temple of Edfu (with time for an ice cream afterwards). We’re all pretty desperate for toilets/showers by this point, so happy to arrive at the hotel in Luxor (which is apparently ’5 star’, definitely full of ‘cruise types’ but really…?!). Does have an on site restaurant (nice burger!), and 2 pools (didn’t notice the second and the first was ice cold!)… Just enjoy chilling out there before we join up for another temple – Luxor Temple (one of the few open at night),which is pretty spectacular… and one place that would be cool to go back to see in about 10 years, when they are likely to have dug up the 3km of Sphinx between Luxor and Karnak Temples.

Then off to a ‘buffet restaurant’… not really great quality, would rather have paid more for somewhere a bit nicer. Was probably good value for what we paid… The Egyptian waiters obviously thinks that all foreign tourists drink madly, tried a Bloody Mary, but they’d ‘treated’ us to double alcohol – it was disgusting! Fortunately as I left it, they let me swap it for a glass of Egyptian red wine – very drinkable!! Also an opportunity to buy silver… quite like a bracelet but it’s “£100″!!!!!

We nip back to the hotel (a lot of people been feeling NOT good today, post-Felucca!) before heading out to Murphy’s Irish Bar for dancing (not really what I’d choose, but it was a group vote… the other option was too expensive unless everyone did it… and enjoyed it once there!)! Another glass of red, a chat upstairs until the dance floor opens downstairs – very heavy dance music. 2 minutes to midnight we hear 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. Happy New Year, and then the dance music continues.. (we all agreed it was early), so 12.01, headed back to the hotel as have a 4.30am start for the Hot Air Balloon!

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1st January 2010 (New Year’s Day)

4.30am, wake up call… only takes me 3 minutes to get dressed, so reset alarm and doze off… Just before 5am, Fiona can hear the toilet cistern going and asks me to twist a tap… unfortunately a couple of twists and it comes off in my hand, with high pressure water behind it. This is bad timing for my 5am hot air balloon (to see the sunrise)… so Fiona still has to get out of bed, ring downstairs, and then I leave her holding the tap on to stop the bathroom flooding whilst I head downstairs. I talk to reception, no one’s done anything until I say it’s in danger of flooding, and then they’re pretty quick….

Off in the bus, then we hang around for ages before we cross the Nile (good sleeping time people!), then into a minibus to our launching site. Pretty chilly at this time in the morning, but beautiful seeing these domes emerging out of the darkness, and then as the flames start roaring, absolutely picturesque. There’s 6 balloons being inflated (much better than Australian Red Centre – one balloon, looking over extremely barren landscape!) – we’re the last up, and we think we’re heading away from the Valley of the Kings and straight towards Luxor, but we have a good pilot who goes low, catches another wind thing (someone turn that into technical terminology), and takes us back towards – and then pretty high! Sun comes up, and this is all pretty amazing. Just over 40 minutes later we land… and go to join the rest of the group.

We head for the Valley of the Kings. No cameras allowed here (officially it was no flash, but people kept using them, so it’s now, no cameras – bit annoying!)… huge fines if caught! So, I buy a book about Valley of the Kings, get it for 20LE (50LE starting price) – no one else could get it any lower so pretty pleased with that! Didn’t bother with Tutankhamen’s tomb (all the stuff is pretty much in the Egyptian Museum), as thought nothing much was going to equate with the first tomb (Rameses VI?!). 2 of the other tombs we wanted to see (can see 3) were closed…

Off to Queen Hatshepsut’s Mortuary complex before heading off to the Temple of Karnak after a brief interlude back at the hotel! That was all very impressive, but we’re all a bit ‘Templed’ out by this point… Back to the hotel for the afternoon. None of us seemed to know this is what we were doing, so didn’t have the right stuff out of our bags… but found my bathers, and the heated pool, then an opp to grab a sun lounger and read a bit more. Back to Murphy’s for dinner with Glen & Rebecca (sea bass and homemade chips – lovely)… but unfortunately here it becomes clear that I’ve picked up the bug… Once safely back at the hotel, more meds, and lie on the sofa reading a book whilst others disappear off for dinner, drinks, etc. Earlier in the day I had managed to buy some papyrus in the hotel, much cheaper than at the shop we were taken to (in fact a certain amount of miffed-ness that 350 was paid for one at the other shop, this guy was offering for 100LE). I only wanted postcard sized ones (which the other shop hadn’t done), and got 3 for 90LE (all of Egyptian women – one that looks like a piece of art that I did for GCSE art (I got a C!).

Then it was back onto the coach, off to the train station, for that ‘First Class’ train ride! The train was EARLY this time – murphy’s law, I was down the platform, on the hunt for salt & vinegar Pringles (didn’t get, just as well, didn’t need!)… so bit of a scramble to get on – carriages not as well sorted this time, but ended up with Sarah & Picky in a small carriage for 3! They were pretty much organised, but once I turned up, didn’t take long to get organised, feet up on the suitcase, inflatable pillow, eye mask (an essential – can’t do ear plugs or would have done those too), small bag up out of the way. Sarah fell straight asleep, Picky & I looked at each other “hmm, not tired”… and that’s the last thing either of us remembers for 9 hours!! Pretty good going!!

Photos

2nd January 2010

The train is 1 hour and 50 minutes late into Cairo… by Egyptian standards this isn’t late (2 hours is once it’s considered late!). Straight to the Hotel Zayed, where they let us check in straight away (brilliant!) and again we dive for the showers…

We then meet again in the lobby – a few of the group have gone off independently but the rest of us are paying 20LE to go to a Perfumery (oh yes, that’s just cos we have to…), and then onto the big market (which we understand is used by the locals so isn’t as hideously touristy as other markets…).

Perfumery – well, that’s an eye opener. We get given ‘Breakfast’ (it’s gone lunchtime by this point!) of 2 x Falafel (spicy but beautiful), and a soft drink before the owner, starts talking. He’s hilarious, this is worth 20LE (£2.20!) on it’s own. He has funny (yes, bit saucy) names for many of the perfumes, which are ‘extracted from flowers’, and form the base of most perfumes… you could name any perfume, he’d open a bottle, and there it was. This is the perfume base, can be used as is… Perfume bought in the UK is apparently 1 drop of base to 10 of alcohol, Eau de Toilette is 1 to 20. From a bunch of us not planning on buying anything, about 3/4 of us do, including me. Variety of bottle sizes, but we all go for the smallest (about £23 for 100ml) (also possible to buy the exotic looking perfume bottles). I get some Hugo Deep Red (£50 for 50ml perfume) and a bottle to decant into..

Onto the market… we get caught up in demonstrations on the street re the bombing of the Coptic Christians in Alexandria (I was deliberately avoiding the news, so had missed most of that), so have to take a big detour to the market. The market is still heaving, mostly with tourists – I wonder if, because it’s a Sunday, there’s a lot of closed shops, if a lot of the locals don’t bother at the weekend… which means it’s all the touristy shops… Wasn’t planning on a pashmina, but as Fiona and Katrina were looking, I decided I quite liked one – we got one each for about £16… apparently cashmere (who knows?), but I like it (purple with black flowers)… not into this “got to get it for the lowest possible price” if it seems a reasonable price – although I don’t want to be ripped off!! Then onto t-shirts for nieces/nephews – tried to buy for the same price as I’d bought one in Dahab… but couldn’t quite get the old guy down to that – probably would have round the corner. It’s definitely a case of when you’re not particularly interested you can get stuff for not a lot, but that I didn’t want to look again (we didn’t have much time!).

Back to the hotel, and decide to go to the same restaurant for Lamb Fattah again. Was as good as last time, but the service was TERRIBLE, our starters didn’t come out until AFTER the mains, and Fiona’s food was cold – which they then just bunged in the microwave. Time for a quick nip to the supermarket to try and find some sweets to take into work… lots of stuff from Saudi Arabia, takes a while to find anything from Egypt! To bed for the last night in a hotel… feels like we’ve largely wasted our hotels as we’ve had so many early starts…

Photos

3rd January 2010

A seriously early start, 4.30am Egyptian time (that’s 2.30am UK time!)… but we’d prepared well the night before and we were ready in lots of time… although of course everything else ran on ‘Egyptian time’… At Cairo airport we were dropped at the door of International Departures and left to fend for ourselves (something we really hadn’t had to do for 2 weeks!!), very straightforward, but a bit of a different experience from the way out as we were down in ‘World Traveller’ (not even ‘World Traveller Plus’… what’s the difference? 5 inches and first choice on the menu?)…

A straightforward flight backwards, and I finally got a chance to watch ‘The Social Network’ (thought it was well paced), plus a bit of dozing! We landed early, our bags came straight through and I said goodbye to Fiona by 12, strolled confidently over to National Express to get home with my open-return… to find it was a busy day and the first coach was 5.15pm. I thought about getting the train into London, etc. but that was an extra £40, plus yoiking my bag up and down the Tube, to save maybe 3 hours!! So, a bit of enforced rest… I found a couple of magazines, a seat in ‘Giraffe’, some lunch, and chilled out til the coach left (late!), then treated myself to a taxi home, forced myself to unpack… then fell asleep… (for 19 hours!).

Keeping Calm and Carrying On (@HeathrowAirport, @British_Airways)

Well, there seems to be some good news coming out of the airport… but very much mixed with uncertainty, etc..  Flights are taking off, including throughout the night, but many of the planes are still iced in, or in the wrong place…

As you know, it’s been a pretty intense year, with acres of work (good in a recession, but I’m a bit lacking on the sleep), so was very much looking to flying to Egypt on Saturday for our  15 day ‘Pyramids & Beaches’ Tour. As you may have gathered from the news, nothing took off from Heathrow for most of Saturday and it’s pretty much been (partially-organised) chaos ever since!! Aside from my time as a Tour Leader with Oak Hall (which was pretty hard work!), I haven’t travelled anywhere for my own purposes since early 2008 so was very much looking forward to this – and interesting to see how the blend of online/offline information works/doesn’t work!!

Friday 17th December

If only we’d both known it, a day that we could have flown, but both of us thought we had to work.. in the event neither of us was (although I’d gone to bed at 6am finishing something for @bigbible!). As the poor weather reports came in though, in the afternoon, I decided to drop my evening plans and make my way into London, kip on Fiona’s floor, as it would be ‘easier’ to get to the airport via the Underground.. I just waiting until I’d had a chance to check in online before leaving…. Having decided that I was going ‘digital free’ on the holiday, I didn’t take my phone with me….

Saturday 18th December

We checked into British Airways ‘Manage My Booking’ several times on Saturday, and the following notice (which now, finally, relates to our new booking) appeared:

This indicated that the flight was still operating (we knew everything else up until that point had been cancelled), so we made the torturous journey into Heathrow Airport (the not well advertised strike on the Bakerloo line was not helpful, as we had to drag our cases for 20 minutes through the snow, then the Piccadilly line train kept stopping/starting). Throughout we were awaiting the promised Email/Text which British Airways indicates will be received should the flight be cancelled…. but this never arrived, so we were actually getting anxious as to whether we would be on time at the airport.

At the Airport

Surprisingly unbusy considering that we knew most flights hadn’t gone, but we assumed that most of those who had known that their flights weren’t going, hadn’t tried to get to the airport, and were grateful that our flights were later! I looked up at the boards and my heard dropped as I saw rows and rows of ‘cancelled’! Obviously, like many people, this is a new (and unwanted) experience, so we weren’t sure what to do. There was, however, a HUGE queue for the British Airways check in desk (and didn’t seem to be anyone else around to ask), so we joined this… 1.5 hours + later we’re nearly ready to be served, and one of the women behind the desk comes out and says she doesn’t know what we’re all queueing for, as they can only give information/not rebook us onto flights. She starts to give out letters to the people at the front of the queue, but as we ask why we’re only being told this now (and not whilst we’re in the queue), she moves immediately to the defensive saying that she’s stuck here, not doing her usual job, etc. (nothing like making us feel special, hey!) before disappearing when we ask for an announcement over the PA system. We’re not quite sure what to do, as the letter indicates compensation is available, but it’s not that clear what happens about rebooking (there’s an 0800 number, but this is very expensive from mobiles…). We’re so near the front we give it another 5 minutes, talk to another guy who said that as we were joining flights at Heathrow we weren’t entitled to any hotels, etc. (well, we’re still stuck there, or have costs to incur in getting home, etc.).  He was very rude, and not listening to us. When we said if they would go along the line & explain people would be less angry, he said ’100s more in your position’ (yes, and they wouldn’t be if they would go along the line), and was not listening to a word I was saying (that the only thing that made us angry was waiting in a queue), just meaningless platitudes. Essentially if we’d known there was nothing we could do at the airport, we would have gone ‘home’ and started trying to rebook.

Getting Home

Well, this wasn’t looking likely either – National Express were unable to run. We, however, found another BA helpdesk area, and a spokeswoman from BAA, who gave us another letter and said of course we’re entitled to compensatory costs too, and advised us to grab some food, and get the Heathrow Express back to London… which was pretty straightforward! So, back to Fiona’s flat (and another night on the floor :-(), where we hooked into the net to try and work out what was going on. We were unable to rebook via ‘Manage My Booking’, so we hooked up to Skype and I sat with my finger on the redial button for 3 hours until we were finally put ‘on hold’ (I was so shocked, I had nearly automatically disconnected!)… It was then a further 2 hours on hold (thank goodness 0800 is free on Skype) until we spoke to a lovely guy in the States who was extremely pleasant, and has rebooked us onto a flight on Wednesday evening (Club Class was the only seats left… shame!).

Trip in Egypt

This, however, means that we have missed our 15 day tour (which left last night, although we could just about have caught it if we’d managed to fly last night… that flight of course didn’t go either so…). We were booked with GoBus, who have been very good at keeping us informed throughout the process. We spoke to their local representative in Egypt (before we’d got through to BA, and he asked us to ring back once we knew which flight we were on), and once we got back through, he said he’d see what he could do about booking us onto their Egypt Express, which at least covers part of the tour, which we’ve done (thank goodness for email and online bookings which made this fairly painless). The highlights for me, however, were to be Mount Sinai and diving in Dahab, so we’ve booked into Dahab for our first 3 days (rather than the 5 days we would have had), flying with Egyptair (hopefully insurance covers some of the extra expense?!). We were contacted by John, our contact at GoBus, on Sunday, despite the fact that he was on annual leave, and we’ve just had another phone call asking if we’re all set…

Getting Home

Sunday, I was able to check The Tube and South West Trains websites before travelling, so I knew I could get back to Winchester… so here I am. It’s incredibly travelling around/the uncertainty/the disappointment, but I am extremely grateful that I am tucked up in my nice warm bed, able to watch plenty of material on iPlayer/4oD, etc., and had cooked up all my spare food into ‘ready meals’ in the freezer! So now we just have to wait and see, and Keep Calm and Carry On (and try and ignore any work that’s within my eye range – holiday time has been booked, and whether I get to go anywhere or not, let’s have a holiday! I could just about cope so long as I don’t lose our financially and can book something else in the future, but really, the time is there, I want to seize it, and I need some time away!!

Keeping an Eye Out

  • We are able to keep a live check on British Airways departures/arrivals online (the flight to Cairo didn’t go today :-().
  • 10 day weather forecasts for nearby areas are available online (still showing light snow/low temperatures til after Christmas)
  • Twitter accounts for Heathrow Airport and BA are providing some of the most up to date information – well used, I’d say!

For now though, Wait and See, Keep Calm and Carry On (airlines haven’t yet put out the timetables for tomorrow, yet alone Wednesday…)

The Elephant Project, Cambodia

I used to work with Jack Highwood on the IT Counter at the University of Winchester. I was doing my PhD, Jack his degree… and he decided to go out to Cambodia, where he’s been for several years. I always think it’s great to see people following their passions in life, and there’s no doubt that Jack is passionate about what he’s doing out in Cambodia. I went to Cambodia, but was on fixed timetable, so it wasn’t possible to visit… tempted though! This year, however, it’s Egypt!

I’m so excited…. I just can’t hide it… I know I know I know…

Well, I thought it was better than heading it “Walk Like An Egyptian”!!! I’ve been missing my travelling, but last year was pretty much all I could do to earn enough to live on – this year, however, I know what work I’m doing for the next year, so I can plan in a trip… and am going to spend Christmas and New Year in Egypt!! Here’s the blurb from ‘GoBus’s’ website:

“Travel with GOBUS to the land of the Pharoahs, where an amazing action packed adventure awaits you. Nowhere does ancient better than Egypt! Walk like an Egyptian amongst one of the ancient wonders of the world – the awe inspiring Pyramids of Giza. Explore the spectacular tomb strewn Valley of the Kings in Luxor and gaze in wonder at the mighty Abu Simbel. Top off your journey back in time with some good old fun in the sun – sailing down the Nile onboard a felucca and swimming in the azure waters of the Red Sea in Dahab.

Our tours are designed for the budget conscious traveller who wants to see all the major highlights of Egypt without breaking the bank. Cross Egypt off your wish list and experience all it has to offer with GOBUS!”

I’d not heard of them before, but a friend had seen Travel Talk’s trips, but there were quite a few negative reviews of them on the internet, and it’s always good to do a bit of extra checking (without spending HOURS checking), and I came across GoBus, for which I could find nothing but good reviews (not on GoBus’s site!)… the only complaint I could see was from someone who wasn’t on a GoBus Tour – and the Tour Leader helped him get to a hotel – and his criticism was that the GoBus Tour Leader didn’t seem sure what to do…!

We’re on the Pyramids & Beaches tour – so a chance to chill out in Dahab at the end (hopefully with a bit of diving!) – can’t wait!!!

Travel Agent’s Tales

The following are actual stories provided by (American) travel agents:

  • I had someone ask for an aisle seat so that their hair wouldn’t get messed up by being near the window.
  • A client called in inquiring about a package to Hawaii. After going over all the cost info, she asked, “Would it be cheaper to fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii?”
  • I got a call from a woman who wanted to go to Cape Town. I started to explain the length of the flight and the passport information when she interrupted me with “I’m not trying to make you look stupid, but Cape Town is in Massachusetts.” Without trying to make her look like the stupid one,I calmly explained, “Cape Cod is in Massachusetts, Cape Town is in Africa.” Her response … click.
  • A man called, furious about a Florida package we did. I asked what was wrong with the vacation in Orlando. He said he was expecting an ocean-view room. I tried to explain that is not possible, since Orlando is in the middle of the state. He replied, “Don’t lie to me. I looked on the map and Florida is a very thin state.”
  • I got a call from a man who asked, “Is it possible to see England from Canada?” I said, “No.” He said “But they look so close on the map.”
  • Another man called and asked if he could rent a car in Dallas. When I pulled up the reservation, I noticed he had a 1-hour lay-over in Dallas. When I asked him why he wanted to rent a car, he said, “I heard Dallas was a big airport, and I need a car to drive between the gates to save time.”
  • A nice lady just called. She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:20am and got into Chicago at 8:33am. I tried to explain that Michigan was an hour ahead of llinois, but she could not understand the concept of time zones. Finally I told her the plane went very, very fast, and she bought that!
  • A woman called and asked, “Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know who’s luggage belongs to who?” she said. “No, why do you ask?” She replied, “Well, when I checked in with the Airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said FAT, and I’m overweight, is there any connection?” After putting her on hold for a minute while I ‘looked into it’ (I was actually laughing,) I came back and explained the city code for Fresno is FAT, and that the airline was just putting a destination tag on her luggage.
  • I just got off the phone with a man who asked, “How do I know which plane to get on?” I asked him what exactly he meant, which he replied, “I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these darn planes have numbers on them.”
  • A woman called and said, “I need to fly to Pepsi-cola on one of those computer planes.” I asked if she meant to fly to Pensacola on a commuter plane. She said, “Yeah, whatever.”
  • A business man called and had a question about the documents he needed in order to fly to China. After a lengthy discussion about passports,I reminded him he needed a visa. “Oh no I don’t, I’ve been to China many times and never had to have one of those.” I double checked and sure enough, his stay required a visa. When I told him this, he said, “Look,I’ve been to China four times and every time they have accepted my American Express.”
  • A woman called to make reservations, “I want to go from Chicago to Hippopotamus, New York.” The agent was at a loss for words. Finally, the agent asked, “Are you sure that’s the name of the town?” “Yes, what flights do you have?” replied the customer. After some searching, the agent came back with, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’ve looked up every airport code in the country and can’t find a hippopotamus anywhere.” The customer retorted, “Oh don’t be silly. Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!” The agent scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, “You don’t mean Buffalo, do you?” “That’s it! I knew it was a big animal!”

Beating the Bounds of Winchester

I’ve always fancied doing this, anyone want to go in a team with me? I’m not the fastest of walkers…

Hampshire’s residents, groups and businesses are being asked to put their best foot forward this spring to help raise funds for the homeless charities in Winchester.

The Rotary Club of Winchester is holding a “Winchester Walk for the Homeless – Beating the Bounds” event on Sunday 9th May in an effort to raise £50,000 for Winchester’s homeless charities, Trinity Winchester, Winchester Churches Nightshelter and Keystone.

Individuals, families, schools and businesses are invited to join in one of three picturesque walks around the Winchester area. Starting from the grounds of Winchester Cathedral, walkers will take in the sights from the Itchen River to the Worthies and back again via well loved historical places and wonderful views.

Michelle Gardner, Chief Executive, Trinity Winchester says: “Traditionally, residents of a parish walked the boundary to share knowledge about where the borders lay, and to pray for protection and blessing of the land. Now many parishes continue this ‘Beating the Bounds’ tradition to strengthen the community and we hope to bring the Winchester community together whilst raising funds for those less fortunate who live within it.”

Walkers are invited to choose a 12-mile trek, a 5-mile stride or a 1.5-mile family-friendly stroll, and to raise sponsorship money for their efforts. All monies raised will go straight to the charities concerned. Parties will set off between 9am and 12 midday on Sunday 9th May with a guide map and instructions, and all the routes will be signed and marshalled.  A finish-line party will be held in the Cathedral grounds during the afternoon from 12 midday until 3.30pm, with refreshments, games, army band and children’s entertainments.

Registration is easy online and costs just £10 per person (or £20 for a group of up to five people) at www.winchesterwalk.co.uk.

Michelle Gardner continues: “This is a fantastic opportunity to raise vital funds for people in Winchester who often go un-noticed and un-appreciated, whilst learning about the area in which we live. Winchester has some stunning scenery and architecture, and this will be a great chance to explore the city and meet new people. We hope clubs, sports teams and local businesses will join residents in helping support those around us get back on their feet.”

For more information, visit www.winchesterwalk.co.uk, or call Gavin Blackman on 01962 883932, check out Facebook or Twitter.

Brazil, 1994

I spent February to June 1994 in Brazil, staying with a family distantly related to me, who were supported by the Good Shepherd Trust, a charity which has now disbanded. Andrew and Gaynor’s work involved arranging international adoptions, whilst Andrew was also involved in running a Christian book distribution organisation. They were also responsible for a couple of homes in São Paulo (which are being run by another charity) run for children taken directly off the streets, where they were cared for whilst new parents were found. I spent quite a bit of time in these homes, helping to look after the children (first time I’ve changed a nappy, and I’m not in a hurry to do it again!), but spent most of my time looking after the children that Andrew and Gaynor had adopted, getting up at about 6.15am, but having most of the afternoons to myself, time which I largely spent wandering around Mogi das Cruzes, trying to learn some Portuguese! I also spent a week in Rio de Janeiro with my Mum’s cousin, and a week near the Mato Grosso, with a couple I met on the plane. I was in Brazil when Aryton Senna died, in fact walking past the Interlagos race circuit the day he died. It was as if Royalty had died!

Here are some photos of my defining moments, experiences and impressions of Brazil!

www.flickr.com

drbexl's Brazil 1994 photoset drbexl’s Brazil 1994 photoset

It was a very challenging time in my life, as I had never been away from home before (aside from Guide camps 1/2 hour’s drive from home), had never flown before, didn’t know the language, didn’t know what I was letting myself in for, etc. The first two weeks were a nightmare, and I very much wanted to go home, but I persevered and after it got past the halfway point it was much easier! It certainly made going away to university much easier.

LINKS:

Skydiving, 15,000 Feet

Skydiving, Lake Taupo, New Zealand: 15/01/2008

I was at Lake Taupo (North Island, New Zealand). It was a nice day, several others were doing it, so – despite the cost (about £200 for dive, video/photos, 2 x t-shirts), decided to go for it with Taupo Tandem Skydiving. There were options of 9,000, 12,000 and 15,000 feet. If I’m only going to do this once then let’s go for 15,000 feet, and let’s get filmed doing it! As it was a nice day, we could see both ends of the North Island… or I’m sure my jump-buddy could… I forgot to look up… I was too busy screaming for the first 15 seconds, by which time we were probably at the 12,000 feet height!

www.flickr.com

drbexl's Skydive photoset drbexl’s Skydive photoset

Voluntary Tour Leader, Oak Hall

I LOVED tour leading for Oak Hall. I had taken 3-4 holidays as a guest (always ski holidays, I’d never done a summer trip), and got in touch with the intention of doing a  ski season. Having visited “The Manor” for a week, I offered to stay another week, but then found myself zooming home for my passport, and the next day in Switzerland, cleaning Chalet Jungfrau (130 guests!). One of the most exhausting weeks of my life (part 2), but also exhilerating!

2007

As my plans for my Round the World trip kept changing, I returned for some summer trips:

2008

2009

I am planning on taking a rest from Oak Hall for 2010 as I concentrate on finding work, combined with setting up my own business: Digital Fingerprint.

PADI Open Water Diver

More information to come on how I gained my PADI Open Water Diver certification. I have dived in the following places:

Haven’t dived since early 2008… I’m missing it!

BBC: 50 Places to See before you Die

50 places to see before you die, according to 20,000 viewers of the BBC’s “Holiday” programme (2003?). See also interesting article “things to do-before-you-die-ism“, and my travelblog(I never quite finished the text – I blame the chest infection I got on Europe Tour! Decided to make myself feel grateful for all the opportunities I have already had to travel – and you can pretty much assume if I haven’t been somewhere, I want to go there…

  1. The Grand Canyon, USA
  2. Great Barrier Reef, east coast of Queensland, Australia Been here!
  3. Florida and Walt Disney, USA Been here!
  4. South Island, New Zealand Been here!
  5. Cape Town and Table Mountain, South Africa
  6. Golden Temple at Amritsar, Punjab, India
  7. Las Vegas, Nevada
  8. Sydney, Australia Been here!
  9. New York
  10. Taj Mahal
  11. Canadian Rockies
  12. Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia Been here!
  13. Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
  14. Machu Picchu, Peru Been here!
  15. Niagara Falls
  16. Petra, Jordan
  17. The Pyramids, Cairo
  18. Venice Been here!
  19. Maldives, Indian Ocean, 450 miles SW of Sri Lanka
  20. Great Wall of China
  21. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
  22. Hong Kong
  23. Yosemite National Park
  24. Hawaii
  25. Auckland, New Zealand Been here!
  26. Iguassu Falls, Argentina and Brazil Been here!
  27. Paris Been here!
  28. Alaska
  29. Angkor Wat, Cambodia Been here!
  30. Nepal, Himalayas
  31. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Been here!
  32. Masai Mara, Kenya
  33. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  34. Luxor, Egypt
  35. Rome Been here!
  36. San Francisco
  37. Barcelona Been here!
  38. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  39. Singapore Been here!
  40. La Digue, Seychelles, 1000 miles E of Kenya.
  41. Sri Lanka, S of India
  42. Bangkok, Thailand Been here!
  43. Barbados, 100 miles E of the Caribbean chain
  44. Iceland
  45. Terracotta Army, Xi’an, China
  46. Zermatt, Switzerland
  47. Angel Falls, Venezuela
  48. Abu Simbel, Egypt
  49. Bali, in the Indonesian archipelago
  50. French Polynesia (Bora Bora), 165 miles NW of Tahiti

List from here, wonder what it would look like in 2010. I am looking at going to Amsterdam with Fiona at Easter. Here is some of the places I have said I want to go, what do you think I’m missing?!

January 4th

Don’t worry, I’ll get bored of this soon, or start drowning in other work, but so far today I have written an AimHigher session, finished an exam paper, rang the tax office (one of those calls which has moved daily across Outlook), chased up an insurance claim, taken delivery of a (very powerful, especially when braking) hire car and sent my little car off to be repaired (my neighbour drove into it taking out the right wing), been to the gym &  Tesco, and started work on 3 lectures… oh and written some blogs about my trip to Switzerland:

(Slightly belated) Happy Christmas 2009… but on time for Happy New Year 2010!

After taking 15hours to move about 4 miles along the M20 in Dover, finally made it to Lauterbrunnen where I’ve been cooking for 50 people all week (along with John P, who is in charge!). Christmas Eve was my day for skiing – didn’t quite work, so just enjoyed the train ride/apple fritters in Brandegg on Christmas Day, before we came back and cooked up a storm…


Heading back into the UK 27/28 December, so here’s praying you had a great Christmas, and are looking forward to 2010 - who knows what it will hold. For those of you who have lost track of what I’m up to, and are interested, I am doing the following (I was going to do this on my blog, but the database seems to have a problem, so I can’t get in…), mostly at the University of Winchester:

  1. 1 day per week promoting e-learning (permanent, but not enough to live on)
  2. 2 day per week Modern History Lectureship (til June 2010)
  3. Hourly (but around 2 day per week) teaching Media Studies (til June 2010)
  4. Completing my own studies: PGCLTHE (trying to finish by Febraruy 2010…)
  5. Setting up the socialmedia strategy for Super Fun Days Out (love some blog entries if you have time!), alongside ownsocial media consultancy.
  6. Other bits & bobs…Getting myself in the New York Times was probably a bit of a highlight for last year!