Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Colour

It seems such a short time ago that we were posting images of autumn colours, but here we are, at that time of year again!     Here's some colour in a nearby street.


Monday, 29 April 2013

Aging infrastructure?

There had been a bit of wind overnight, which came to mind when neither our phone nor internet was working in the morning.   Yes, Optus was "down" again (it also happened a few months back).   After years of good service,  reliability seems to have taken a tumble.

Is that a loose wire up there?
In fact, one of our neighbours who is also on Optus told us that  the failure had occurred the previous evening.

I can't help thinking that the Optus cable, up there with the power lines, must be getting to the end of its useful life.   I know that they've sold it to NBN for a lot of money.    I have to say that I wonder whether NBN (and hence, we the taxpayers) are getting value for the many hundreds of millions of dollars reported to be involved.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Our Kitchen Table

We went for a walk around Central Park, a little way up the road from us, on a recent public holiday, and afterwards looked in at "Our Kitchen Table" for lunch.   It's just over the road from the park, and has a 2 star ranking in "Good Food under $30".

We both had an egg dish.  My omelette had a lot of spinach (as described on the menu), and was good. 

The guide book describes the place as having wooden tables and so on, so that diners are transported to a country kitchen.  Maybe....I'm not too sure....?  

Central Park
On this day, it was certainly busier than I would imagine most "country kitchens" would be, and the service was barely managing to keep up.  In their defence, perhaps they didn't anticipate just how busy things were going to be, although it didn't stop them from applying a 10% public holiday surcharge.  We walked away with no change from $50 (apart from our mains, we had one coffee and one glass of wine).


Friday, 26 April 2013

China blog - moved

The postings in this blog about our China trip were made as we went.   I couldn't post images at the time, and a number of the posts didn't go into much detail.  After our return, I started to pad out the entries, but on further thought, I have now copied all the China entries into a separate blog (limited only to our China experience), and have added further images and, in some cases, some greater descriptions.  However, at least for the time being, I've also retained the China entries in this blog, but won't be updating them.

To see the updated blog, here's the link:
www.glimpseofchina.wordpress.com/

You'll notice that it's at Wordpress.   It's been interesting to compare Wordpress with Blogger/Blogspot.  They're fairly similar, and in particular, images don't always end up just where you want them in either of them.   However, as yet I haven't encountered in Wordpress some of the formatting issues (bugs?) that occasionally troubled me at Blogger, so that's a tick in its favour (so far).
I intend to maintain this blog for my non-China broodings.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

ANZAC Day

We watched bits of the march on TV, but then thought we ought to get out and about.    We headed to Central Park for something to eat and, by coincidence, found that that's where the local memorial is located.
The march on TV






Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Ward meeting

Just before our recent trip, I attended a meeting convened by the Council to enable ratepayers in our ward to ask questions and feedback.
Well, the issues were the familiar ones, especially the usual concerns about planning and traffic.   While the issues are legitimate (and I do identify with them), the bottom line is, these are the things you have to put up with if you live in this area.   And some of the comments lacked credibility:   the block of units being built at the end of my street is too big (the fact that the Council rejected the application but was over-ruled by VCAT seems to have got lost in the telling, and had to be mentioned by the Council officer);   there's too much traffic in my street and I can't get a parking spot outside my house (so, everyone else's car is "traffic", but mine isn't); and I like the fact that the speed limit in my street has been reduced to 40 kph, but could you please move the sign so that it's outside someone else's house (no, I didn't make this up, it really was the gist of one of the comments!)

Then there was the person who complained that part of a park had recently been designated a "dog zone" - seems he was part of a small minority of one, as this issue has received some publicity and the reports were to the effect that there had been overwhelming support for the proposal.

The councillors and officers seemed to take it all in good spirit.  I suspect they've heard it all before!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

China - impressions



A few thoughts occurred to me as a first time visitor to China, including --

Smoking – although it's quite common, it's not as pervasive as I had been expecting.

ID checks at airports – even on domestic flights there's an ID check as part of the security process.   For non-Chinese, this means producing your passport, just as if you're going through the immigration check on an international flight elsewhere.  I can speculate as to the reasons for this, but as I don't know for sure, it may be better if I don't!

Bridges and other infrastructure - nothing prepared me for the massive amount of infrastructure that has obviously been constructed in the past few years (and is still being constructed).  The Three Gorges project is an obvious case and is immense, but in addition there were bridges, roads (and road tunnels), railways (although we only glimpsed these), modern airports, metros in Shanghai and Beijing and massive housing developments. 









 
 

Domestic airlines and airports - our itinerary had 3 domestic flights (on, as it happened, 3 different airlines).   In all, we either arrived or departed (or both) from 4 separate airports.  Each airport was modern and efficient.   We didn't have any delays with check-in or, and baggage delivery was invariably prompt (I suspect that baggage handlers in China don't receive the same terms and conditions as those in Australia, so there are probably more of them!)     The aircraft were modern Boeings  737-800 (once) and A320s (twice).  We received a drink and snack on the daytime flights and a hot meal on the evening flight.  The catering was nothing fancy, but appreciated nevertheless.   On one flight, I saw one passenger receive a beer, but I didn't have the courage to see if I could obtain one.  However, there was certainly no wine, so perhaps on that score, Australian domestic airlines rank a little more highly!

Monday, 22 April 2013

A Group Tour of China

I  am, by nature, an “independent tourist”.   If at all possible, I prefer to research the options and make my own arrangements in line with my personal preferences.

Why, then, participate in a group tour in China?

Shortly stated, we wanted to see a number of the main sights in China, and we weren't confident about finding our way around a country with which we weren't familiar and where we were concerned that we wouldn't be able to decipher many of the signs (in fact, this wasn't the issue that I thought it would be, as many of the signs are in English as are even the spoken announcements on the Shanghai and Beijing metros). Hence, our choice of a package tour.   We reviewed a couple of the available offerings.  Our final decision was a Wendy Wu tour which included Shanghai, a 4 day cruise on the Yangtze, the pandas at Chengdu, the Terracotta Warriors at Xian and the sights of Beijing.

And we met .... Wendy Wu!
There are lots of other combinations available (both from Wendy Wu and others), and there are many, many things in China that we obviously didn't see, but one factor that particularly influenced us was the tour duration – 13 nights in China.   This represented the best balance for  us between seeing the things that were of interest to us without being too long.   We added a few extra days before the tour started to spend on our own in Shanghai (good decision!) plus an extra night at Beijing after completion of the tour (no regrets about this, it was great to get out and about but one day was enough).   In hindsight, the arrangements turned out well for us.

Although the publicity documentation refers to the tour as being “comfortably paced”, it was pretty “full on”!   We came to value the couple of hours “free time” that we were granted here and there.  We felt that by the end of the tour, we'd done enough!
Steps - Ghost City excursion

Some general observations may be of interest.

All the members of our group were “middle aged” or perhaps a little more!   So, had there been younger travellers,they might not have been entirely comfortable.   On the other hand, as the brochure clearly stated, there's a lot of walking, and  anyone not able to handle this would have real difficulties  A couple of the excursions involved a significant number of steps:  the “Ghost City” excursion as part of the cruise and the Great Wall component of the Beijing excursion.

As is probably the case of any tour of this nature, things would get “challenging” if someone couldn't keep up the pace.   A number of members of our group contracted a cold, and although this didn't interfere with their ability to participate, it did illustrate that, had something worse developed, it would have been very disruptive (an outbreak of food poisoning must be every tour packager's worst nightmare!).

It's interesting that Wendy Wu uses a lot of internal flights. A couple of this company's packages do have overnight train trips, but they're in the minority.  Our itinerary had 3 domestic flights (on, as it happened, 3 different airlines).   In all, we either arrived or departed (or both) from 4 separate airports.  Each one was modern and efficient.  
Beijing smog
The hotels were basically of a good 3-star standard, although they varied slightly in quality, but the locations in  Shanghai and Beijing left something to be desired.   For  tour members  content to confine themselves to tour activities (the majority, I think), this wouldn't be an issue, but especially for people who add a night or two extra in order to 'do their own thing', this isn't optimal.   However, I suppose people in this situation will be comfortable using taxis and or the metro (in our experience, easy to use).

All meals were included on our tour.   Hence, we weren't required to make our own arrangements even for lunch.   This was appreciated, although all meals (except breakfast) were “Chinese-style” and occasionally you hankered for a pizza or something!   Nevertheless, the meals were all of a high standard, and the dishes provided varied quite considerably.   All breakfasts included a range of “Western” options, although sometimes the queue for the toaster could be a little long!

One of the best aspects of our group was its compact size (16).   A parallel group of about the same size also operated.  On top of this, the national guide couldn't be faulted.  He  was across every detail of the arrangements, always followed up any queries, checked with you shortly after checking in to your room that everything was OK and so much more.     In addition, there was a city guide in each city, so on each excursion, there were always two guides present!   The quality of the city guides varied a little, but we certainly had no complaints.
The Yangtze cruise was the highlight of our tour.  This isn't to say that the other aspects weren't good;  they were.  But the cruise component was outstanding.   We were on the Victorian Jenna, which I gather is just a little more up-market than the Century line vessels that Wendy Wu also uses.

It's interesting how well the members of our group adapted.    I guess we sometimes (hopefully silently) deride tour groups that we see in Australia, but our group (including people from Australia, New Zealand and Britain) quickly adapted:  we wore our ID lanyards, we followed our guides (holding the flag) and we conscientiously assembled at designated meeting points!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Home via Hong Kong

The trip home has been uneventful so far, and we're currently in transit in Hong Kong.    And I can directly access the Blogger site!     It certainly makes posting blog entries much less cumbersome, but I'll wait until I'm home to start uploading images etc.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

From China (13) - Last day in Beijing

Saturday 20 April 2013
We allowed ourselves an extra day in Beijing following the completion of our tour, so we broke out from our cocooned tour status to check out some parts of Beijing.

Our first activity was to investigate the Metro.  How easy!    Since the fare to anywhere is a flat 2 yuan, and few of the ticket machines seem to work, all you have to do is to front to the ticket window with your money, and away you go.   The biggest "problem" is working out where the stations are.  The system is being expanded at such a rate that the most recent map I could locate whch showed a few lines as being "under construction" was the most reliable!     (Of course, there are easy to use ande up-to-date maps at all stations and even on the tickets, although you don't get to keep these as they're gobbled up as you exit).

We headed off the the central shopping precinct of Wangfujing which has a variety of shops, ranging from the very  up-market Oriental Mall down.

We then headed off to the Drum and Bell Towers area (near Gulou station), pausing for a pizza and beer in a casual establishment.  Great pizza, and a welcome change from our recent diet.     We then wandered around the area, especially the busy more-traditional shopping precinct in the area to the east of the Drum Tower, before locating another Metro station and heading off back to the hotel late in the afternoon, after lots of walking, with plans to spend the evening getting ready for our departure in the morning.
Bell Tower

From China (12) - Busy day in Beijing

Friday 19 April - Beijing
Today was the last full day of our tour, and there was not let-up in the pace!   It started with a pre-7 am departure to beat the worst of the Beijing traffic to get to the Great Wall, followed by a "tour" of a jade factory (= buying opportunity), a viewing of the Olympic stadiums, time at the Summer Palace, an absolutely stunning acrobatic performance and then (after a short break) the final dinner of the tour.

I could comment in detail on each of these, but for the time being, I'll content myself with only the most important comments (with a view to filling in some detail at a later stage, along with some images).

Great wall
The Great Wall was more-or-less as I expected it, save that the location we were taken to wasn't actually part of the main wall at all!    It was the fortified village at the Juyong Guan pass.   But it had all the characteristics of the rest of the wall:   some extremely steep steps, ramparts, various watchtowers and so so.   And the village itself was quite interesting, too.

I don't propose to comment on the Jade factory, and although it was interesting to see the "Birds Next" Olympic Stadium and the "Cube" swimming stadium, there's not a lot to say about them.

Summer Palace







The Summer Palace surprised me, both as to its extent and number of pavilions, temples, courtyards, bridges etc.     To complete the picture, there were also a lot of shops and a vast number of tourists.

Summer Palace

The acrobatic show must be one of the highlights of the entire tour.  The skill and agility of all the performers was amazing, but most incredible of all was the final act: first one, then one by one additional, motor cyclists driving around in circles and loops INSIDE a mesh sphere just a few metres in diameter (significantly less than the width of the stage)   At the end, there were FIVE motor cycles!   We couldn't believe our eyes when the first motor cyclist entered, and the audience was gasping as each additional one did so.   It has to have been one of the most impressive acts I have ever seen.


The final dinner of the tour was a pleasant occasion:   photos were taken, email addresses exchanged, drinks drunk ....   it goes to show how a group of 17 people can bond in a relatively short space of time, each to go their own way in the next day or so.