Thursday, 11 February 2016

India Again!–well why not?

After a plane ride from Heathrow on Sunday,  we arrived at 11 o’ clock in the morning in Mumbai. After travelling for miles and miles on trains, in Tuktuks and taxis, we arrived at our hotel at 2 in the afternoon. Mumbai is a BIG place and home to 16.5 million people.

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This first few pics are of the area where our hotel was situated. Our train journey from the airport highlighted for us some facts about rail travel. The train carriages are divided into ‘women only’ / ‘First Class’ / ‘disabled and those with cancer’ (there’s a Tata story behind this one) / ‘all others’. The trains don’t wait at the platforms very long either – having to squeeze onto a very crowded First Class section, James just managed to get one case on, then half the other one, before the train pulled away. He was then unceromoniously hauled in by two kind passengers as he ran along the platform! Doug was already safely on board of course!

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Wonderful fresh fruit and vegetable stalls line the streets in our neghbourhood.

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Although everywhere is terribley run down there’s an air of industry and business wherever we went. We (James particularly) got stared at constantly. We were literally the only ‘white faces’ to be seen and, with James towering above everyone else, we stuck out a mile! That said, everyone was extremely friendly and helpfull.

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A row of woodworking sheds close to the hotel with metal working businesses across the street.

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Ox carts still seem to have a place on the very busy streets.

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A couple of Holy men walking down our street in the morning.

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On Tuesday we took the train from Mubai Central Station down to the south of the city. This is the entrance hall – as big as Grand Central in New York but not quite as grand.

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The southern part of the city (towards the bay) seems to have most of the fine old Victorian buildings erected by the British in the late 19th century. This lady sells balls of animal feed which you then feed to her cows. Clever bit of trading!

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The south part of the city is much more open with grand buildings and terrifying amounts of traffic.

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They’ve had good attempt at making a red London bus but it looks a bit as if “Fred” made it in his back yard!

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The beautiful Gateway to India however, was not made in anyone’s back yard. It’s huge bulk stands proudly alone, at the head of the bay, and it seems to do exactly what its name suggests.

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Lying back on the opposite side of the enormous plaza from the the “Gateway” is another huge bulk. That of the Taj Palace (Taj Mahal Hotel). Showing nothing of it’s recent tragic past the building is both magnificent and quite beautiful.

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After veiwing the Gateway and Taj it was time for breakfast: Three cheese toasties and two cups of coffee – just £1.10! All the shade of a Banyan tree.

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We took a taxi around some of the more interesting sights to be seen in Mumbai. As we didn’t know the city, and as it’s so huge, the taxi was a good idea and the driver very helpful to us during the three hour tour. First stop was Fishermans Village.

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Poor it definitely was – men and dogs sleep on the floatation bags.

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The fisherman and their families live in the most basic of housing while luxury flats rise behind them.

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A pretty harbour scene very much hides the desperate poverty and hard work for the people who exist here.

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A child and his dog sleep in the sunshine.

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Fish meat drying in the sunshine.

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The Victoria Railway Station was by far the most stunning building we saw during the day. Superlatives fail!

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Just a couple more very proud structures, kept clean and in prestine condition.

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Getting down to Marine Drive and the waterfront of the Bay. Everything being so huge and vast, and with the combination of heat haze and the city atmosphere ……..

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…….. we could only just make out the limits of the bay itself.

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A truly awesome privilege was to visit “Mani Bhavan”, Ghandi’s residence from 1917 to 1934.

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James especially is a great fan of M K Ghandi – a truly humble but great human being who’s strenuous efforts eventually lead the Indian people to indendence. To be able to walk where this great man walked was a very special experience.

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Photographs of the fifteen items which were Ghandi’s soul posessions.

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The room in Mani Bhavan where Ghandi lived and worked (when he wasn’t living in a tent in the garden!)

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A photo for posterity.

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Next we saw the Hanging Gardens. So named because there is a huge groundwater reservoir beneath which the root of the trees “hang” down into.

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Beyond the Hanging Gardens is an area of jungle, tended by people who live in these dwellings. The area is used for “air burials” – where the bodies of the dead are placed in the open for the birds of prey to pick the flesh from the bones.

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Large numbers of eagles and kite circled overhead above the “air burial” ground.

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Hundreds of very well behaved school children having their lunch in the Hanging Gardens.

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From the Hanging Gardens you get a great view of Bombay’s “Bay”.

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Our last place to visit was one of Mumbai’s biggest laundries. Probably the querkiest of things to visit it almost left us speachless! The taxi driver said he’d take us to see it but we had no idea what was in store for us.

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Men work almost waste deep in concrete wash baths with little or no shelter from the sun.

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This is obviously the Denim Section!

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It was an amazing day we had in Mumbai, seeing many things we didn’t expect to see (including a “ladies only” train would you believe!). It’s the biggest and busiest place we’ve ever experienced. Truly amazing are the sights, sounds and smells of a city, home to 16.5 million people.

Well, eleven hours on the overnight train to Goa awaits us. And another unique experience no doubt!

Friday, 5 February 2016

London and things

We spent a couple of days in London last week (we needed a capital fix!) and apart from chasing visas around embassies and wasting precious time ……..

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…… we arranged to meet John and Nicola, (our delightful cruise friends from our last Caribbean cruise on “Arcadia”) at the Victory Services Club.

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We had a splendid 3 hours of eating, drinking and (most of all) enjoying each others company. John and Nicola recommended us to stay at the club when we next spend time in London and we think we’ll do just that.

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After leaving the club, just off the Edgeware Road, we took a few seconds to pay respects at the site of “The Tyburn Tree” at it’s very busy position where the Edgeware Road meets Hyde Park Corner. Sobering to think so many Londoners, innocent and guilty, were hung at this spot.

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At 4 o’ clock, and late for another planned meeting with friends, we took the bus into town. There seem to be more buses than anything else in central London these days which is hardly suprising. London Transport really have pulled the stops out to provide one the best capital transit systems there is.

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A quick look at one of our old haunts, Paddington Basin, showed a few empty moorings. Although none of the spaces have been allocated to winter moorings this year there were few, if any, visitors boats to be seen.

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Having bought a year’s ticket to the Historic Dockyards at Portsmouth a while back, and it being only just down the road so to speak, we thought we’d pop along again and see another one of it’s fine exhibits. Last time was Mary Rose this time HMS Victory. Victory has been undergoing a multi million £ restoration over the last umpteen years with another 15 years before the present work is finally complete! Like a beached whale, it’s slowly collapsing under it’s own weight and there’s major work to be done inside, outside and even the foundations of the dry dock she sits in have to be reinforced. The upper parts of the masts have been taken off to lighten the load on her ancient timbers.

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It’s all very magical when you get aboard. One of the first things we saw was where Admiral Lord Nelson fell when he was hit by enemy fire during the Battle of Trafalgar. Aiming to stop the invasion of English soil once and for all the battle was one of the most decisive we’ve ever fought. Had it not been successful we’d probably all have been speaking French right now!

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This kitchen area is splendid. Very well preserved but small considering it had 800 or so men to feed.

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Below decks it’s very cramped but clean and tidy and as health and safety conscious as they can be for the tourists. A far cry from the days when she went into battle.

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Headroom and living space is minimal in many places. Nelson was only 5’ 3” but Captain Hardy, his right hand man, was 6’4”. They must have cut an odd picture together – a bit like a couple we know!!!

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Near the end of the very informative tour we visited the spot where, three hours or so after he was first wounded, Nelson died. If an ordinary seaman died he would be sewn up in his hammock (with the last stitch through his nose to make sure he was really dead!) and then put over the side. If he died in battle there was no time for the hammock, he’d just be pitched overboard there and then. For the Admiral of the Fleet there were arrangments in place should something happen to him. Nelson was put head first into a large barrel and then it was filled with brandy and sealed for the six weeks it took to get him back to England. Just before he died Hardy (who WAS asked to kiss him!) told Nelson that the battle had been won.

Well, here endeth the lesson and the great afternoon we had in Portsmouth Historic Dockyards. There’s far too much to see, even in a day, so we’re glad we have an annual pass. We’ll be back again soon hopefully!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Fort Lauderdale - Count in Billions!

One of the highlights of the last three days we’ve spent in Fort Lauderdale has been a water taxi trip around the canals and waterways of this VERY well healed part of the world.

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Outside our hotel was Steven Speilberg’s yacht “Seven Seas”. $220m to build and, if you feel like chartering it then bank on $1.5m per week! You won’t have to polish it as it includes a crew of about 24. Oh, and you get a chef!

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This is one of it’s ‘garages’ with one of the launches which is hydraulically lifted in and out of the water.

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This ‘captain’ seems happy to be in charge of his own vessel!

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The mansions and yachts we saw on our way around on the water taxi were amazing. For values of the mansions in the pics think of between $20m and $40m and for the yachts think of anywhere between $30m and $100m unless otherwise told. Enjoy the ride!P1060119

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“Atomic” was built as a surprise for the billioniare owners family. Guess they may may have been mildly impressed!

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This is “Galant Lady”. the owner named it in honour of his wife’s battle with cancer. He has six yachts like this – all with the same name.

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Mr and Mrs ‘Millionaire’ on a little trip down the shops!

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Most mansions have launches or speed boats with lifts to keep them out of the water.

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The wash from the bigger craft would damage the smaller boats if they stayed in the water all the time.

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The water taxi needs the bridges to open at high tide as it can’t quite squeeze under.

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If you need more power then just bolt on another!

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This is one house. It’s lived in by an old couple – if they have a row at the start of the week they dont see each other for days, after which the row’s been forgotten.

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After these mansions are built the gardens are landscaped and all the palm trees are brought in fully grown  and planted  ……..

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…….. this mansion is huge and goes a long way back along the channel. Valued at $50m, the special palms were brought in at a cost of $30,000 each.

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This mansion was bought by a local multi millioniare as a birthday present for his niece. No doubt the garage was filled with suitable cars as well!

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If you look carefully you can spot iguanas in the trees.

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They can be difficult to spot – there are two in this pic.

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Some of the new builds can be a bit different to the older styles but all new ones are built to withstand hurricans.

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On our last day we caught up with friend David who is currently working on Cunard’s “Queen Victoria! - which just happened to be in port for the day. So, with Lance and Vanessa, we all piled into Denny’s for a late breakfast.

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Sadly our last day was very wet so much of it was spent in the shops, in taxis and in various eateries. Mind your fingers Lance!

Well, we fly out this evening at 23:00 hrs after a grand 10 days at sea and on land. Thanks Lance and Vanessa for your company and friendship –it’s been a hoot!