Day 17 – London

Today we caught the bus into town, which was great as we had a chance to have a look at our surroundings on the ride in. We got off at Kensington Palace, which was the home of Queen Victoria, and had bit of a look around. It was too early for a tour so we walked the gardens and had a look at a few of the monuments and sights.

There was a tree (or what was left of a tree trunk) loaded with little ornaments and statues like gnomes and animals throughout. It was pretty cool and we spend a bit of time doing a couple of laps, checking out all the inclusions.

We continued walking towards the city and found ourselves outside the gardens and in Notting Hill. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t see Renee Zellweger or Hugh Grant.

We re-enter the park and found ourselves in Hyde Park (it comes after Kensington Gardens on the way into London). There was a Half Marathon underway with half the British population either participating, or on the sidelines cheering. It was pretty cool. Almost made me want to consider running – NOT.

We went to the Princess Diana memorial fountain which was not at all what we expected. Rather than a fountain throwing water up into the air like a traditional fountain, it was more like a stream, in a circular shape, rolling over uneven ground. From the high point, water fell/flowed in both directions, across carved stone creating a ripple effect, meant to replicate her life. Its kind of hard to describe, but it was very special.

I’m not really a Diana tragic (Mum takes up that role), but being there made me reflect on the charity work she did, and where I was the day she died. It was a moving experience.

We left the park and found another Bike Hire station, so we hired some more bikes and headed towards Buckingham Palace.

Arriving at the palace was spectacular. There must have been 10 000 people there, all taking photo’s and admiring it. We spent about 20 minutes just staring at the fence, and the carvings and the building itself. I was even half plotting a plan to storm the castle and declare myself the new King of England. There were only two Beefeaters on Guard, so I liked my chances, but in the end I thought better of it. (Does anyone know if that would even count?)

We left the front of the Palace (through the Australia gates of course) and before long found ourselves at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Again, an incredible site, and an emotion thats hard to explain, being in front of symbols of Britain and democracy we had grown up with.

Big Ben sounded for 12 o’clock, and chimed 12 times, which again was pretty cool.

We tried to get into the Abbey for a look but it was closed (It was Sunday, its not open to the public on Sundays) so we just rode around it, in absolute awe of what we were seeing. The architecture and attention to detail on these buildings is so incredible, and so hard to describe. I can not imagine something like the Houses of Parliament every being rebuilt in our modern day.

Our second “Boris Bike” ride ended the same was as the first, with us spending another hour trying to find a spot to drop the damn things back. Riding bikes through London was excellent, but trying to find the stations (which are not in prominent positions rather tucked away in back streets and behind buildings) really did my head in.

We had arranged Sunday lunch/dinner with my two great Aunts that live in London so once we found the bike station, we grabbed the Tube and headed to their place for Dinner. A traditional Sunday Roast. It was nice, and especially interesting to reflect on how family works.

One of the Aunts I had never met. The other, only a few times, and not for more than 10 years. Both are my Grandmothers sisters. And yet, like families do, we talked and laughed and joked and shared stories like we had know each other for years.  After being away from home for a few weeks, it was great to have someone other than each other to speak to, and to be in a family home, with personal effects and belongings instead of hotel/apartment style accommodation.

Second day in London complete, and I love the place. I’m scoping our locations for an office and trying to work out what I might be able to sell in this city.

Day 16 – London

This morning we headed into London (without a plan). We went to the Tube Station and asked for direction – when asked to where, we told them we had no idea – a little confused, they suggested we should head towards the Tower of London. So on their advice, we bought the ticket, and jumped on the train.

It was cool to be on the London Underground, but in hindsight, we didn’t see anything on the way in so that was a bit disappointing.

We arrived at the Tower just in time for a tour, and a very entertaining Yeoman told us about the history of the Tower, including the key locations, some of the former guests including prisoners and royalty, and even Mel Gibson (in Braveheart).

The Tower is an old fort nearly 1000 years old, which was used by former Kings (and Queens) of England as a Palace and a residence, as well as a prison. Currently it serves to hold the Crown Jewels (which are owned by the UK, not the King or Queen of the day) and a collection of Armour and History from previous times. The tower was also the site of the original Mint, and stored records.

The Tower was where a lot of prisoners who were to be executed (by the heads being chopped off) were held before the execution. Inmates were marched outside the Tower complex to the Tower Hill, to be beheaded. Past prisoners included Kings and Queens though they were executed within the grounds at a special Royalty “deheading” spot.

A very interesting and bloody history of royalty in England.

We went into the Tower itself, and looked at the Crown Jewels. They were amazing and every bit as impressive as you’d expect. It was quite a contrast to see how they were displayed compared with the Egyptian jewels a few days earlier.

We went into the Armory where there were load of medieval weapons and Armor, including King Arthur III’s armor. He had a cod piece that was ridiculously large. It was the talking piece of the day from the Yeoman to other tourist and even made its way to our dinner conversation.

We crossed the River Thames by the Tower Bridge, which reminded me of a story my Grandfather told me about how an American had purchased the London Bridge many years ago and had it pulled down, brick by brick, with each brick being numbered and transported to the US to be reconstructed. You can imagine his disappointment to find out the London Bridge (a pretty regular looking bridge) and the Tower Bridge (the large and impressive one) are two completely different bridges.

Following the tour we went to a museum remembering the Blitz, and the war children that were sent to the country during the war. It was pretty cool, with loads of original newspapers and propaganda on the walls, replica bomb shelters, and scenes of the results of a bombing raid, including devastated buildings and busted pipes. There was even a clip of Churchill’s “we will never give up” speech, which was excellent as Mikeala and I had only been speaking about it a few days before hand.

In all it was pretty cool, and gave us all a bit of an understanding of what the war was like in London. Should be interesting when we get across to Europe next week to see the other side and more of the front line.

We went for a bit of a look and walk around London and found the banking district. When I say the banking district, it literally is a district full of banks. Block and blocks of nothing but banks, from every country and region, and religion you can imagine. I now get why London is considered a Banking Hub.

We found ourselves at Burnhill Cemetery, one of the oldest Cemeteries in London. Tombstones that were hundreds of years old; so old it was hard to make out what was originally carved into them.

We hired a “Boris Bike” from the London bike scheme (same as Brisbane and Melbourne) rode a little around London then spent over an hour trying to find a station to return it too. Ridiculous really. When we finally found a station, it was full, but at least we managed to find a map, which pointed to another location.

We called it a day and got the tube home. We would have preferred the bus, but had no idea which one to get on, or which direction to head.

First day in London done.

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.

Cairo Wrap Up

We have been fortunate to see three different countries in Africa, and had 3 very different experiences.

Like the two previous African countries we visited, the people here are exceptionally friendly and helpful, although the Arabic language make you wonder. When they talking between themselves as they look to be fighting and arguing and quite aggressive – even when they are laughing. It like everything Arabic is the inverse of English.

The food was good and I managed to eat a lot, but I don’t know if this was because I had simply given up on worrying or just needed vegetables in my diet; although I did get an upset stomach on the last night – perhaps the McDonalds wasn’t as clean as we’d hoped.

There were serious amounts of rubbish in the streets, including the river and irrigation channels. We seen fisherman fishing the channel, but having to dodge and pick out the garbage. In one part, it was so thick, a weed was growing over it. I swear you could have walked over it – possibly even driven a car it was that thick.

When I say garbage, I don’t mean litter, I mean actual piles and piles of garbage, on every spare block of ground and river bank. It is disgusting.

Sewerage was being pumped directly into the channels and the channels were being used for irrigation by local farmers – the whole thing was quite discussing and the only blight on our time Cairo.

Business opportunities – I’m sure there would be some here, but nothing that I found or identified in my conversations. Certainly if you could help with Garbage, Traffic or finishing off some of the buildings, I’m sure you could make a fortune. There may even be an opportunity for shopping centre type developments, as we didn’t see anything like this in any of our travels.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time an Egypt and I look forward to returning again. Two days was never going to be enough, but it gave us a taste and we liked what we seen. Next time, Id like to visit Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, which is in south of the country, and Alexandra, which is in the North on the Mediterranean. I’d also like to visit the Suez Canal. All three have now been added to my bucket list.

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.