Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Excellent value

Some examples of great value for money during my final few days' spending splurge :

* A Krakow evening meal of (large) chicken schnitzel, potatoes, peas, carrots and a Coke Zero drink for NZ $10 (UK £5).

* Bangkok supermarket shopping for four shaving razor blades, two large tubes of Colgate sensitive teeth toothpaste, two good quality pairs of socks, three cans of Coke Zero and a box of six Belgian chocolates... all for $14 (£7).

* Also in Bangkok I got two pairs of New Balance shoes and four nice t-shirts for $220 (£110). I think one pair of the shoes alone would have cost close to $200 in Wellington.

Photo Post : Krakow

Lucas and Marcin.

Soup in bread. Yes, the soup is inside the bread. This is not the beetroot soup I've written about, but a different meal.

Rynek Glowny, Old Town square.

Pope John Paul II. From nearby Katowice and formerly Archbishop of Krakow.

The Mound, from where I was able to look down on the city.

Another vantage point. A balloon which is tethered and only goes up and down, ie not on any journey.

Wawel Castle by night.

The Benedictine abbey in Tyniec, outside Krakow.

Selling snacks on the walkway beside the River Vistula.


I greatly enjoyed my return to Poland. The last time I visited was in 2008 (and the time before that perhaps in 2002). Luckily, the weather was kind and I was able to experience the busy main square in Krakow's Old Town without an umbrella ! I also got to see inside Wawel Castle, which I hadn't previously had time for. I had forgotten what excellent value Poland when it comes to food and drink prices. Astonishing, in fact.

The best part of this year's visit was spending time with two wonderful Polish friends, Marcin and Lucas. They were very kind and took me driving to a vantage point overlooking the city and on to a Benedictine abbey. Later, we went to Nova Huta, where a Communist-era conglomerate was responsible for employing everyone and built a huge city suburb for the workers. Marcin and Lucas also bought me a delicious lunch of beetroot soup with dumplings and a separate plate of fried cheese in breadcrumbs. The really good thing is that they are keen to visit New Zealand, and would consider emigrating there too.

I'm writing now from Bangkok, where I've got a two night stopover before returning home to a (currently) snow-bound Wellington. In transit at London Heathrow I had planned to collect a tax refund on a purchase from Sweden. I very quickly abandoned that idea when I saw the size of the queue. It had to be done in London, because that was my final point of departure from the EU. Well, never mind. I've done some very cheap shopping here in Bangkok and will collect a tax refund on that (shoes and t-shirts), which will make my purchases even cheaper.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I had a nice (albeit brief) stay in London, during which I caught up with a long-standing friend and former colleague at lunchtime.

After that, I enjoyed a cup of tea in the Waldorf Hotel with another friend who I know from Wellington, then we took the Thames Clipper river service to the Docklands area to have another cup of tea at her flat there.

In the evening, I had dinner with another friend of more than ten years' standing in the Kensington area. That's where I was staying for the night in a hotel. I have never seen so many police officers patrolling the streets in my life. In Kensington, many of them were armed. Just down the road was (the Royal) Kensington Palace and a street full of embassies, including the Israeli embassy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Photo Post - Prague

Municipal House.

Tram and Church of St Nicholas.

Petrin tower.

Ham cooking in Old Town Square.

David Cerny's comedy sculpture of Good King Wenceslas on a dead, upside down horse.

Another Cerny sculpture.

St George Square, Castle grounds.

Franz Kafka statue.

Signing the John Lennon wall.

Castle guards.

Castle main gates.

Anatomical clock.

Charles Bridge.

Charles Bridge by night.


Czech Republic - country 72

I've heard great things about Prague from many people. I've also heard that it is very touristy, and in some ways spoiled. People say Budapest is the new Prague, with marvellous buildings and bridges but not so many tourists.

The things I heard were true. Prague is packed full of fabulous and photogenic things. There are indeed a lot of tourists there, which makes it difficult to get great photos. Never-the-less I have taken a very large number of photos. That was partly because I treated myself to a new camera in one of the duty free shops at Heathrow Airport.

Since Prague, I've been back in Britain visiting my parents again. The big news here - apart from the financial meltdown in the Eurozone and the United States - is the rioting in London and other cities in England. I'm due to be in London for a night tomorrow. I'll watch the situation tonight before deciding whether to alter that plan.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Photo Post : Stockholm

A Dougal-type dog. Lots of them around !

River bank.

Old Town, colourful buildings.

Old Town side street.

Big water feature.

Royal Palace guards.

Sweden, country 71

Well, it was a few days ago now that I took an overnight bus from Oslo to Stockholm. I had thought it might be a comfortable ride, with large seats that recline; something like the bus I was on in Thailand last year, on the way from Bangkok to Pattaya. No such luck. The seats were cramped and hardly reclined at all. Luckily, I had kept hold of my British Airways pack containing ear plugs and an eye mask. Both of these things helped me get about five hours' sleep.

So I arrived in Stockholm at about 7am. Big bonus points go to the Queen's Hotel, which let me check in at that time (rather than having to wait until 2pm). I was able to freshen up before meeting my friend Ben, from London, who I have now travelled with in at least four cities since we met in New Zealand a few years back. He had already had a few days in Stockholm, so I basically relied on him to be my guide and was happy to be led around the old and new parts of the city.

Stockholm is larger than Oslo. Its Gamla Stan area, in particular, has lots of nice cobble-stoned streets to explore. There are also hidden gems of open space to sit and relax in. We took a 90 minute cruise for the equivalent of about £8 ($15 NZ) for another view of the city.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lovely Norway

What lovely people Norwegians are. Every one of them friendly, polite and cheerful - despite the dreadful crimes that had been committed against them less than two weeks previously. Oslo has a lot of positives. I wish I had more time in the city. I am very certain that I shall return to Norway and spend a good deal longer there.

I arrived quite late at night and took the express train from the airport. I already knew it included a replacement bus service for half of the journey. When I reached the central station, however, it was my understanding that the ticket would include a Metro ride to my final destination, two more stations along the line.

At that point, I discovered that the Metro is also closed at the weekend for some works. A replacement shuttle bus is running, but I wasn't allowed to board it. I was told that my ticket was with the wrong company. So I returned to where there were representatives of the airport express train and explained the situation (this was at about 11:45 pm). The manager there was outraged on my behalf, picked up my bag and went briskly over to talk to the other officials who had turned me away. They had a robust discussion, after which he announced he would put me in a taxi instead.

He wrote out a chit to cover the cost of the taxi ride, and off I went. The relatively short journey by road ended up costing the airport express train 155 Norwegian Krone. I had only paid 170 for my ticket, so they didn't make much money on the fare I bought ! Excellent customer service, however, in the circumstances.

The next day, I took a tour which had been booked in Wellington. It began with a one hour boat cruise, and continued with four hours by bus, visiting the main museums with a guide in traditional costume (although she was German, and only in Norway because of her boyfriend). We also went to the ski-jump which is hundreds of metres up a hill above the city, then to the Vigeland sculpture park. So, many of the highlights of Oslo.

Down by the waterfront, where the tour began, I had also seen the Nobel Peace Center and the City Hall. During a walk earlier in the day I had seen numerous sites where floral tributes had been placed for the victims of Anders Behring Breivik. The main focus of remembrance was at the Domkirke, where a special service was taking place and TV crews were in attendance.

Photo Post : Oslo

Some of the Vigeland Park sculptures

The Nobel Peace Center.

Remembering the victims of the Utoeya shootings.

People continue to leave candles and floral tributes outside the Domkirke and at other locations throughout the city.

Karl Johans Gate, leading up to the Royal Palace.

The Holmenkollen ski-jump.

One of the wooden buildings displayed at the Norwegian Folk Museum.

A ship dating back to the year 800 or 900, at the Viking Ship Museum.

Some more recent ships, at the waterfront area near the City Hall.


After Israel, I spent a night and most of the next day visiting friends in England who had the cutest puppy, Harvey. Harvey had recently won "best puppy" in the local area dog show, and rightly so. He's delightful, full of energy and very well behaved for a seven-month-old. The next evening, I was back at Heathrow Airport for my flight to Oslo.

Leaving Israel: A short-ish play

It's another hot day in Israel and the traveller who has just enjoyed a little over a week on holiday there has taken the Nesher shared taxi service to Ben Gurion Airport. He's already shown his shop receipt and clothes purchases to the tax refund desk and had his application stamped and approved. He has also changed from shorts and t-shirt into his flying clothes and is ready to proceed to check-in.

The traveller joins the queue for security, where people are being questioned before they can go up to the airline counters. After about 30 minutes, the traveller gets to the head of the queue and an Israeli security agent asks for his passport and e-ticket.

Agent : How long have you been in Israel ?
Traveller : Eight nights.
Agent : And where did you go in that time ?
Traveller : I had three nights in Tel Aviv and five in Jerusalem.
Agent : What was the purpose of your visit ?
Traveller : Tourism.

The security agent spends a couple of minutes scrutinising the passport, then looks directly at the traveller to compare his face with his passport photo. She then turns to another agent and says something in Hebrew. The second agent then takes the passport and looks at it in detail. He addresses the traveller, introducing himself and says he is working for Israeli security and apologises in advance if he repeats some of the questions that have already been asked. He then proceeds to repeat all of the questions and adds some more.

Agent 2 : I see you have been to Malaysia.
Traveller : Yes, I had a couple of nights in Kuala Lumpur last year.
Agent 2 : Why did you go to Malaysia ?
Traveller : I think it was a stopover. Just a couple of nights I believe.
Agent 2 : What did you do while you were there ?
Traveller : I went up the Petronas Towers.
Agent 2 : While you've been in Israel, did anyone give you any gifts ?
Traveller : Yes actually, a friend in Tel Aviv gave me a t-shirt.
Agent 2 : What is your friend's name ?
Traveller : Rotem.
Agent 2 : We ask about gifts because sometimes people might be given a gift and actually it contains explosives.
Traveller : Well, I don't think this would. It's just a t-shirt.
Agent 2 : From now on, do not accept anything from anyone you meet in the airport. OK ?
Traveller : OK.

Agent 2 proceeds to put various stickers with numbers and bar codes on the traveller's bags and says he should now proceed to the x-ray machine. He does this, and the check-in and carry on bags are x-rayed. It's the biggest and most powerful looking x-ray machine he has ever seen at an airport. When the check-in bag comes out, another agent tells the traveller he must now go to different queue for a visual inspection.

The queue is short, but processing is slow. Eventually, the traveller is called over by another security agent who puts on gloves and wipes the outside of the check-in bag all over with an explosives testing swab. She goes to her machine and comes back after a few minutes. She then asks for the bag to be opened and swabs it extensively. She goes away, comes back, swabs again, goes away, comes back and asks to see the gift the traveller was given. He produces the t-shirt, which is still in a shop carrier bag and has not been worn. Swab, disappear, come back, swab, disappear, come back. Presumably, the tests found no traces of explosives.

Agent 3 : OK, you can go to check-in.
Traveller : Thank you. (Closes up bag, goes to walk away).
Agent 3 : Just a moment please.
Traveller : Yes ?
Agent 3 : I have to accompany you.
Traveller : OK.

The security agent accompanies the traveller to the British Airways check-in desk. She takes him to the First Class check-in, where there is no queue. She says he is getting the special privilege of a speedy check-in because of the long delay he has had with security. She then stands and watches until check-in has been completed, the bag has disappeared along a conveyor belt and the boarding pass handed over. Only then does she walk away, without another word.

The traveller proceeds through Departures, where hand baggage screening is conducted as normal - although the x-ray machine is again very large and presumably very powerful. The agents here are courteous and smile. All done in a matter of minutes, then the traveller is stamped out by immigration. He goes to the VAT refund desk in the Duty Free area, where he collects his 71 Shekels, minus 11 Shekels "commission" (there is commission on tax refunds ?).