Day 19 – Warwick Castle

Day 2 Cotswalds – Warwick Castle

We headed into the town of Warwick to visit Warwick Castle. We were not really sure what we were going to see, but as usual, we were happy to just let the day play out, and take it as it came.

It turns out the Castle is now owned by Madame Tussauds the famous Waxed Figure company and has been largely restored, with Tussauds including scenes in the  castle rooms using their waxed figures.

Warwick Castle, the former home to the Earl of Warwick, had played a key role in English history, including at one point, holding the former King of England in one of its towers, which Josh and I accidentally found via an open door in one of the towers. Now an empty shell, it was still pretty cool, and a little exciting knowing we probably shouldn’t have been in there.

The castle is home to the worlds largest Trebuchet – a sort of catapult, which it fires twice a day. During the presentation, they explained to us that when you lay siege to a castle, you don’t necessarily want to use your weapons to break down the walls. Who wants a Castle with a big hole in its outer wall? No instead, you mostly want to terrorize the residents inside, by throwing fire balls over the wall to burn everything down, or dead animals, or the heads of your prisioners or human waste to spread disease. In some cases, they even launched things like baskets of snakes.

Enough of this, and eventually, the people in the castle just give up and open the gates.

Back to my plan to storm Buckingham Palace. A couple of these should help with the job.

We did a tour of the dungeon which was very well done, with actors and animations explaining things like the Kangaroo Court System. Ros was charged and found guilty of witchcraft – apparently she was dancing naked and conjuring up a man. The judge mentioned she was not a very good witch, because all she could manage was me.

The tour included the torture chamber, including tools to remove the tongue, and even something like a cigar cutter, doing a similar thing (cutting) to a particular part of the male anatomy. I cringe just writing about it. Ouch. I give up. I’ll tell you anything.

Warwick Castle had a bit of a reputation as a party castle and one of the former Countess’s “Daisy” had a bit of a reputation with the Men. Her loyal and loving husband stood beside her despite her having a child (her only child) with another man and she was even a known favorite of the future King Edward the VII.

The final act of the day was a second firing of the Trebuchet, in which they fired a fire ball – a flaming missile. That was pretty cool.

Once again, letting the universe take care of our agenda had turned out the be a winner. We had a great day, learned a little about English history and had a bunch of fun doing it.

Day 18 – Stonehenge and Bath

For our first full day in the Cotswolds, we decided to head to Stonehenge and check out the hanging rocks. Its was a miserable day, the sort you expect to find in England. This didn’t bother us, as we had been expecting this kind of weather anyway, so we just set out, determined to enjoy it.

More country roads/lanes, more little villages, more traffic parked in opposing directions.

Along the way to Stonehenge, we found Woodhenge, which was built around a similar time, and contained groups of pilings (originally in wood, now of concrete) arranged in 6 circles. According the the display, no one really knows what it is or was.

It would have been interesting except, it wasn’t. Nothing was left of the original structure, it was just some concrete. But the name got our attention, and we had our photo taken standing one one of the pylons just the same.

A little further up the road we found what we were looking for. Stonehenge is right beside the highway so we could see it well as we came over a hill and into the car park. We paid out entry price (everything here has an entry price, even 6000 year old rocks you can see from the road) and headed in.

They had these cool audio tours, a bit like an old mobile phone, which gave the story of Stonehenge (meaning Stone Hanging – Henge = Hanging). Some of the audio was on the physical appearance of the rocks, and the way they were carved and attached to each other. It was interesting to think about and see the remains of the 6000 year old craftsmanship.

Other parts were simply guesses as to how the rocks came about, why it came about and how it was used. They even had some of the more crazy stories, such as giants building it. These stories were entertaining, but they really were just stories.

The best part of the audio tour was as everyone had these to their ears, listening, which meant they weren’t speaking, which gave us a chance to soak up the significance of the Henge and take in the atmosphere.

It was pretty cool and pretty interesting.

It was also interesting at this point to consider how much things had changed with regard to how as a society, we now treat and view our historic landmarks. Whilst we were kept well back from the rocks themselves, it wasn’t all that long ago, that the blacksmith in town sold little chipping hammers, and encouraged you to visit the rocks and “chip a piece off” as a souvenir.

Following Stonehenge, we moved on to Bath where we visited a 2000 year old bath house, built by the romans. Built beside (and on top of) a hot spring, this too was incredible. The Romans managed to have hot running water and even steam houses, 2000 years ago. There was also a collection of memorabilia including coins, tool and even a coffin/casket.

The more I’m immersed in historical locations and consider the skills, tools and technology of the times, the more I wonder what went wrong, and what have we as a civilization been doing for the past 2000 years. Did we just forget stuff or what?

Whilst in Bath we managed to find another phone shop, and this time purchased a portable wifi hotspot, already connected. We even connected our phones (Ros, Mikeala and I) in the shop to make sure everything worked. You’ve never seen a happier family then the Ridleys, when we all had a good wifi connection. Our very own connection. For the first time since leaving Australia.

The smile couldn’t even be removed when we returned to the car and found we’d received a parking ticket.

Day 15 – Moving Day (Cairo to London)

We had a mid morning flight, so we had planned a quick breakfast over looking the world again, then a 6:30 depart to the airport. Apparently Friday is the first day of the weekend in Cairo, so our guide assured us traffic will be fine.

Unfortunately, we all forgot to set an alarm. I had been lying in bed awake for about an hour just waiting for the alarm to go off, when finally I decided to look at the time – and found it was 6:25.

We hadn’t even fully packed.

It was great to have a day time flight. Didn’t have to worry about trying to sleep or even get comfortable. Just 5hrs of day time flying and airline movies. Speaking of which, I watched Mirror Mirror with Julia Robert – and really enjoyed it. Funny movie – if you haven’t seen it, check it out.

We arrived in London without a plan or a destination.

We had our cottage in the country booked for later in the week, but we had 3 days in London that we needed to organise ourselves. Our plan was to do it last night, but after the Mcdonalds, we were in no mood, so we planned to do it this morning, but after the sleep in, no time. So here we were at Heathrow airport, without a destination.

We had a couple of ideas, then decided to grab a coffee and some wifi, and work something out. That was a stroke of genius. For the first time since leaving Australia, I was able to get a real coffee – and it was M A G N I F I C E N T.

And we found real food. Mikeala even had a large bowl of fresh Strawberries.

Oh yeah, and we found a room at Hammersmith.

We checked the price of the train, but for 4 of us, it worked out cheaper to grab a cab. So we left the airport and headed to the cab rank.

To our absolute delight, we gabbed a London taxi and headed to the city.

Unfortunately we also grabbed London’s grumpiest cab driver. We had no idea that the cab held four passengers in the back (two facing forwards, two backwards), with no passenger seat beside the driver (this is where the bags went), and he made no effort to help the new arrivals understand the system. Still, we worked it out, climbed on board and headed to town.

I was buzzed (probably thanks to the coffee) to be in England.

When we arrived at the apartment, I managed to have a blew with the cabbie, over the fare. Its was 43 pound. I had 42.75, and another 20 pound note. He kept saying I was 25p short, but wouldn’t take the 20 pound note instead, and keep saying surely one of us had to have another pound. After trying to be polite a few times, I got frustrated and asked him what part of “we’re from Australia, just arrived from Cairo and only have limited English currency is it your not understanding”.

He still didnt get it, so we borrowed 25p from the guy on reception, paid up our tab and let him on his angry way to harass more tourists.

Finally, we had arrived in England. Yeah.

Ros and I ducked around the corner to the store and grabbed some groceries and Ros cooked up a steak and vegetable dinner. It was the best meal I’d had since leaving Australia. There’s nothing like a home cooked meal.

Day 14 – Cairo (Museum and Mosque)

Day two in Cairo started with breakfast overlooking the city again.

Following breakfast, we met our guide and went to Cairo Museum, which was just across the road from the hotel – even so it was still a 10 minute car ride.

Outside in the garden there were more Statues.

Inside, on display, were goods from King Tutankhamun’s Tomb, including toys, furniture, clothes – even his underwear. He had a folding camp stretcher, where the base was made of three pieces of wood, connected by hinges. The hinges looked incredibly modern, like something made round the turn of last century, but I was assured they were over 4000 years old.

We went into the Jewel room, where jewels from Tutankhamun’s mummy were on display. They wrapped Jewels between the layers of cloth on the mummy, as well as to pronounce other parts of the body like the hand. Included and on display was his head dress (placed over the head of the wrapped mummy). This was the piece that you see in all the references to King Tut and it was magnificent. Considering it was made 400 years ago, it too was something else.

Amazing and Incredible the technology skill and ability these guys had to produce this type of work at this quality.

We also visited the Mummy Room, where there were a number of Mummies on display, mostly former Kings and Pharaohs. It was incredible to be looking at these people – real people – who had lived and ruled Egypt so many years ago now mummified and on display.

Most still wrapped, had their head showing and some of their arm and hands.

Included in the display was King Rames II. He was about 90 when he died, and although his body was well mummified, it was easy to see the age and frailty of the body.

It sounds a bit off, to be looking at real dead people, but there was something about seeing these mummies after a few days in Egypt that seem to make it ok. There was actually nothing “yuk” about the experience. It was all “ok” and very very interesting.

We then visited the Mosque of Mahamad Ali (not the boxer), built inside a fort on top of a hill overlooking Cairo. We took of our shoes and went inside where our guide explained the religion and the process they go through 5 times a day to pray, as well as other ceremonies and parts of the religion.

Most surprisingly, the men and women are separated in the Mosque, and never pray together. This means that when it comes to things like Weddings, they are not done in the Mosque. Likewise the burial.

It was all very interesting, and a real privilege to have our guide share her religion with us in such a significant and beautiful place.

Following the mosque, we had lunch on the Nile in a floating restaurant – which incidentally was directly opposite our hotel and one we had been admiring since we arrived in Cairo.

We finished out the day with a trip to McDonalds, which was a bit of a highlight for the kids. Big Macs and Quarter Pounders all round.

Day 13 – Cairo (Pyramids, Sphinx, Carpet School)

We started the day, 30 floors high, with Breakfast overlooking the city and the Nile, and the traffic below. Its said that Cairo does not have a “peak hour” for traffic, it just has “peak traffic” every hour of the day.

We were met by our guide and taken to Giza, where we were to visit the Pyramids. The city is built almost right up to them, so it wasn’t long before we could see them in the hazy distance from the vehicle.

Arrival at the site was incredible. Seeing Pyramids for the first time, in all their size and glory was really something else. They were huge! As much as we had seen load and loads of pictures and images all our life, it was still not enough to prepare us for what we were looking at.

There were three large Pyramids, all in good order, plus about 6 others in various amounts of decay – although they all looked pretty good for 4000 years old to me.

We went inside the Largest Pyramid – the Pyramid of King Cheops and walked up to the Chamber, where he was entombed. Everything was removed, but it was a massive room made of Granite, right in the middle of the Pyramid.

Getting up there was a challenge, as we had to navigate up a stretch nearly 40m long at about a 45 degree incline, in a tunnel which was less than 1m high. We were passed by someone on the way down – just before we commenced our climb – and they were huffing and puffing and sweating, and I couldn’t understand why – until we begun the climb.

It truly was hard work.

We spent a few hours in the area and looking at the other Pyramids as well. There was something special and magical about the area. I don’t know if it is real or imagined, but I definitely felt it. The same feeling I had a few years back on a visit to Uluru.

Afterwards we went to the Sphinx and took a tour of a tomb at the front. Again, something quite amazing about this place, in the air and in the sand. You can just feel it in your bones. Not to mention how amazing the actual Sphinx itself is, the amount of detail in the monument and the fact that they created it so many years ago.

Next we went across to another side of town, and another Pyramid, the Step Pyramid – which was under restoration. Unlike the earlier pyramids, which had rows of blocks making up their sides (kind of like a very large set of steps about 2m high at each layer), this pyramid had large sides to it, and only about 4 or 5 to the top (probably 10m+ for each layer). It was very different to the first Pyramids we were looking at.

It was odd, looking up at this 4000 year old piece of architecture, and seeing scaffolding on one side (for the restoration).

Whilst at the step Pyramid, we also visited a tomb, and seen the hieroglyphics on the walls, as well as the chambers where belongings and offering were placed. This was not a Kings tomb, more an advisor to the king but still a great burial chamber.

The guide explained to us that the Egyptians did not kills their subject to burry them with the king, but the Kings key advisors (and hairdresser, butcher and even the guy who did their nails) would often have great tombs around the base of the King or Pharoh’s Pyramid and would be buried there once they died. This was one such tomb.

On the way into the Step Pyramid, we went past all these “Carpet Schools”, so we requested our guide to stop so we could have a look at one.

Children as young as 9, (because they have small fingers) work in the factory, and learn how to make carpet. The public school system is so busy and over crowded that they do two shifts at school, and when the kids are not at school, they work shift at the “Carpet School”

Not sure about this – seems to be just a way to try and legitimise child labour. Once the fingers grow, there are very little opportunities for these kids – so I just don’t get it. The work was really very good, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to knowingly pay for something that was manufactured by child labour.

We also visit a Papayra Shop on the one way home – making paper out of Nile River Weeds. They showed us the process, and how strong the finished product was – which was no doubt why we still have papayra scripts today – that stuff is strong.

We purchased a drawing of the Key of Life, with our Family name – Ridley – drawn in hieroglyphics as a catouche. This is our souvenir from Egypt.

Victoria Falls Wrap Up

Victoria Falls was everything we expected (rightly or wrongly) Africa to be.

Poverty, wild animals in the streets, old, tired and worn out infrastructure, hot. It seemed to me that the place was empty of tourist and most things were well past their use by date.

However the people were warm, friendly and couldn’t do enough to see that we were having a good time. We were fortunate to have two excellent guides, who shared their personal stories and stories of their country freely. Everyone was optimistic about the future, and the changes that will take place after the next elections.

Interestingly, time and time again, it was mentioned to us about the use of the American currency. People were pleased that hyperinflation had been addressed, but felt a sense of loss about not using their own dollars. This made me think about the significance of having your own currency and what it means to a country. A bit like a flag and a national anthem – I guess its part of the identity.

The weather was hot and dry – exactly what we were expecting. After the weather in Cape Town it came as a shock.

Food was a struggle. Some of the local dishes were simply inedible (for me anyway) and the fruit and vegetables were poor quality (at least by Australian standards). I really missed my vegetables, and felt a lot better when I gave up and just ate the local produce.

The highlight for me – was camping out. I really enjoyed being out in the bush and by the river. Seeing Ros and Josh enjoying the animals in their natural habitat was also really nice.

For my friends in business, I’m told Tourism and Mining are where the opportunities are. And apparently, its not all that hard to get a start in either, nor does it require a lot of capital, you just need to know which officials to be in touch with – but there’s people who can help you with that.

With regard to returning to Victoria Falls – I’m afraid its not high on my to do list. It was a little to raw for me, and unless there is major investment in infrastructure or a business opportunity that comes my way (watch this space for a 4WD hire business in partnership with one of the guides), I don’t think I’ll be heading back.


Day 12 – Welcome to Cairo

The plane arrived early and when we disembarked, we had to board a bus to the terminal.

The bus was about 30 years old, and the steering wheel had duct tape holding it together. The ride to the terminal was forever, and we must have circled nearly the entire airport to get to the gate.

When we got through the gate, we met our guide Mohab, who requested our passports. We went to the bank and purchased our entry visa – you buy them in the bank at the airport, then the guide took us to immigration. He told us to go through, while he spoke with the agent. Not entirely sure what was going on, we were a little uncomfortable with this complete stranger handling our passports and our entry into a new country.

After collecting our bags, we had to pass through customs. It was a bit like Vic Falls, where their was a declaration and no declaration line, but again, no one appeared to be manning the declaration line, so following our guide we just exited without speaking to anyone further.

The ride from the Airport to the hotel was a lot like driving in Manila. There were no lanes on the road to speak of, and with a honk of the horn before creeping into any available space (even if the traffic was heading in the opposite direction) you just keep moving forward.

Cairo is an interesting city with most buildings still being built (apparently you don’t pay the building tax until completed, so nearly every building has two floors on top that are not completed) and everything was dirty and sandblasted. There were piles of rubbish in the streets and people everywhere. 22 Million people live in this city. To me, everything about it reminds me of Manila, except in a sand blasted, 2000 year old shell.

Given our overnight flight, today was a designated rest day, so we checked in to the hotel and went to bed.

The hotel is in down town Cairo, right across the road from the Museum, and on the Nile. The noise when you open the window is one of a busy city, with plenty of horns honking, as well as the local mosques calling people to prayer. Also on the river are the nigh party boats with their music playing loud to get peoples attention.

Mohab (our guide) had suggested we might like to do a Nile River Cruise for Dinner, so we booked it in.

One the boat, we had a buffet dinner, including one of the largest cooked birds I have ever seen. The chef said it was turkey, but I have a feeling it might have been an Ostridge. The entertainment on the cruise was a belly dancer, and a Tanora Dancer.

The Belly Dancer was good, but the Tanora Dancer was outstanding. For about 20 minutes, this man stood on one spot, and spun around in a circle. He had a costume which spun with him making him look like a top. To music, (and all while spinning) he took layer upon layer of his costume of, entertaining and involving the crowd. At one point, he turned his skirt into a baby, and pulled a bottle from his shirt to feed it, before throwing it perfectly to his handler – all while spinning and not missing a beat.

Then, once he was done, he simple stepped off the stage, right up to us. Straight as a die. It was incredible and one of the most amazing things I have seen for a very long time. I cant describe how excited and mesmerised I was by this act.

After the show we met with the dancer for some photo’s and thanked him. Not only was he a great entertainer, he was also a wonderful person, sharing and engaging with us freely.

So far, I love Cairo. Everything about this city (except the garbage on the street) make me smile. I’m just sorry we’re only here for a few days.

Day 11 – Moving Day – Vic Falls to Cairo

In the morning, we work and immediately checked the waterhole from our balcony. A large herd of Water Buffalo had moved in for their morning drink. Josh (who had been up for a little while) mentioned they had walked right under our balcony. It was pretty cool.

3 of the big five now checked.

We had breakfast overlooking the waterhole (everything at the Safari Lodge happens “overlooking the waterhole”) and watched more animals move in and out, and the Crocs get excited then relax before checking out and heading the the airport. Us, not the Crocs.

Vic Falls Airport didn’t fail to meet our expectations.

The departure hall was full, with people lined up back out the door. It seems all flights arrive and depart pretty much at the same time, as they were checking in at least 4 airlines. Boarding passes and bag tags were all hand written, and even the scales where like something from the early 1900’s (big, red, a manual dial etc).

I took a picture, but was warned by a guide to put my camera away. Photo’s aren’t allowed.

Eventually we were checked in and had to clear immigration. They stamped our passport without really checking it and it seemed that everyone was just going through the motions. At least this time the xray machine was working, although the kids got annoyed they had to take their shoes off – wait till they get to America.

When we arrived in Johannesburg, we had about 7hrs to wait before the flight to Cairo. We went to check into the South African Airlines Lounge (we had flown from Vic Falls in Business Class), but they told us as our next leg was economy, we couldn’t come in. Very pissed off, we found another lounge at the airport which offered a “pay per use” service then availed ourselves of the boardroom table, their free wifi, food and drinks and a hot shower.

We managed to get a pile of work done, which was really the first time since we left Australia we had even looked at work. Its amazing no matter how many people we have working for us, or how good a job they are doing, there always seems to be work left for us to do.

At 9.30 we boarded an EgyptAir flight for the red-eye to Cairo. And a red-eye it was.

After waiting at the boarding gate for over an hour, we got under way, but no matter how hard Ros and I tried (including moving to other seats) we could not get comfortable or to sleep. The kids meanwhile had found each a space with two seats, made themselves quite comfortable and slept the entire way.

It was odd being on a flight where English was the second language.

Day 10 – The Safari Lodge and Boma Dinner

Once we left the river, we checked in to the Safari Lodge (where I dropped the bags earlier in the week). To my great pleasure, when completing the check in paperwork, John, the bellman came past, recognised me and told me our bags were still there and safe. So perhaps it wasnt a hustle after all.

The Lodge had a multi level deck overlooking the National Park, with a large waterhole. We sat in the bar and had drink watching the waterhole and the crocodiles stalking there prey. Everytime a troop of baboons or a herd of Impala came to the waters edge, you could see the Croc’s move in, just hoping for a chance. Unfortunately for us, (but fortunately for the animals), we didn’t see any action.

Josh had a swim while the rest of us managed to check emails, catch up on news, have a shower and do some washing.

For Dinner, we were booked in to the Boma – the place of eating. It was a pretty big deal in town, and everyone we mentioned it too said it was great. Even the Aussies from our river trip were due in for a feed that night.

When we arrived, everyone was issued with a sheet of cotton, which was wrapped around us and tied on the shoulder. Left for guys, right for girls (I think). We also received a small face paint. A line for the boys, 3 dots for the girls.

At the table we ordered starters, and everything else was a self serve buffet. Nothing unusual here except, the meats were things like Warthog, Buffalo, Impala, Guinea Fowls, Kudo. I tried the Warthog, Buffalo and Guinea Fowl. The kids tried some of the others.

The Boma could have been a great experience, but we were all really tired and just wanted to get home to sleep. So we bailed early and headed to bed.


Day 10 – Second day on the Zambezi

Day 2 started like day 1. We all woke (earlier this time) having had a great nights sleep. Through the night, we had heard the Hippo’s barking and fighting, as well as some hyenas, which we only a few meters from the camp. We also noticed about 3 troops of Monkeys and Baboon they lived close by going about their morning routine.

We did a morning safari drive before breakfast in search of the 4 big five that had still alluded us, but again we came up short. We did manage to see a few more giraffe though, including 3 small ones, which were very young.

Another full blow breakfast, and we were joined at camp by a group of 8 who were joining us for the day – all Aussies would you believe. We watched as they were given the briefing and like us the day before, the shear terror on their faces when explained about the Crocodiles attacking the raft.

There was quite a strong head wind, but we pushed off, dodging Hippo’s and looking out for Crocodiles. The new crew were bloody hopeless, running and bumping into us all the time. It was nice to have new people to talk to, but it was easier on the river without them.

Josh and Mikeala ended up in the one canoe with Casper the guide as the second guide from the day before was needed at the camp to help pack up. The kids had a blast with Casper taking them over a set of rapids backwards, just for fund.

We came around a bend, and up ahead in the river on the Zambia side we seen about 10 Elephants just doing their thing. They were a long way back, but still it was pretty cool.

2 of the big 5 scratched from the list.

The going was tough and the pace a lot faster then the previous day. On some quieter parts of the river, I took to splashing the kids with the paddle, which they didnt appreciate…, until they realised they could splash back.

I was obviously superior, so Mikeala jumped ship (literally) and joined Ros and I in our raft.

We finished in time for lunch, but not before a couple of races with Casper and Josh. In the first, we realised the chance of beating them was limited (they got a head start) so we decided to push them onto a sand bar. Victory to US!! – though Josh will argue they won as they did make the sand bar before us. Another race on the final stretch, and Ros and I clearly won – and rounded out the day as rowing champions.

Lunch in the bush, packed up the canoes and headed back into town to our lodge – Safari on the Zambezi River and in the Zambezi National Park was done.