Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Fabulous balloon flight in Camden and chilling out at Rose Bay

PHIL: Day 42/28 Mar

beautiful sunrise over the misty landscape of Camden
Only four hours after getting to sleep we drag ourselves into consciousness again to drive out the 60km or so to Camden where our friend Rick Gillespie runs a balloon ride business.

It is very chilly at 0430 in the field at Cobbity Bridge where he has chosen to take off from. Other passengers include a well-known (to Australians) moto-cross rider and his moll plus two Bondi gays celebrating a birthday. 

The flight ends, after a magical drift through radiation mist, on the glider airstrip at Camden Airport where, conveniently, Rick has arranged a serious breakfast with Phoebe. 

Phoebe is a lady of uncertain age who looks, and talks, like the heroine aviatrixes of the inter-war years. Her father founded Camden Airport in the 1920s only to lose control to the military in WWII. 

Captain Gillespie has brought us safely down!
Only her small but exquisite bungalow remains to the family alongside the aerodrome boundary, but her tales of early Australian aviation are ineradicable.

Filled up with Australian ‘champagne’ we retreat to the beach at Bondi to recover – Allie by swimming amongst the surfers, me to doze and watch the ‘beautiful people’ of both genders (and, no doubt, both orientations) gradually fill the sea and sand. 

Bondi is timeless in appearance, and recalling the great worldwide surfing era of the 60s and 70s the inevitable ‘Beach Boys’ tunes ring in my head.

chilling out at Rose Bay
Nearby Rose Bay, devoid now of the stately Sandringham flying boats which served Lord Howe Island when I first worked in Sydney in 1969, still has bobbing seaplanes amongst the yachts. 

Sydney Harbour is one of the world’s truly beautiful marine/urban combinations and we discuss our affection for the others in San Francisco and Bristol.

ALLIE: DAY 42: Wednesday, 28th of March

Another Ballooning adventure and a swim at Bondi Beach
mysterious morning mist over Camden
3.00am! What a time to get into a car and drive out of Sydney for 60km to an airfield called Camden. 

That’s where we meet Nick Gillespie and his team for our second flight in Australia. With some 10 odd punters we drive out into the fields and look for a suitable launch site. 

It’s very cold and I am glad that by 05.55 we finally get in the air and the heat of the burner makes it a bit more bearable. 

Just a few minutes later the sun rises above the clear cut skyline of Sydney and create a magic light. Haze and clouds of fog stretch over some parts of the countryside and the shadow of the balloon reflects in them creating a great scene for a picture. 

passengers enjoying the magic views
The winds are very light and Rick manages to fly us a box. So we cross over the airfield and drift towards the town of Camden nearly getting stuck with no winds over the police station. Lower level winds then take us back towards the airfield where we land after a 50min flight.

Rick really seems to enjoy his job as pilot and as entertainer; he cracks one joke after the other (when he presses the remote control of his camera to take a picture of all his punters, he just says: ‘this makes all the garages down there go up and down!’).

Since we landed so conveniently on the airfield, it’s just a two minutes walk back to our cars and the breakfast place. 

Here an old lady, called Fhoebe, invites us into her lovely home situated right in the middle of this local airport. Her grandfather obviously founded this airfield after some distressed aircraft had done an emergency landing on his farm grounds. 

with Rick after a lovely flight
Being a gentleman he not only helped the pilot but also thought that planes were wonderful and started to invite more pilots to land on his grounds. Such the creation of Camden airfield. 

Up to date this is a very active airstrip with a pilot training school and loads of antique aircrafts (my husband of course going all mad about taking pictures of them!).

After lots of nice Australian champagne we manage to say good-bye to our friends and Fhoebe and drive back towards Sydney with a stop a the notorious Bondi beach. 

surfers braving the waves  ..
It is THE beach in Sydney and I have to see it, Phils says. Indeed it’s got a lovely wide sandy beach and beautiful clear water. But the waves are high and the currents fierce.

...and me running away from them!
So it’s not really a place to do serious swimming. You should rather be a keen surfer to enjoy the 2m high waves. It’s quite impressing actually to watch those surfers in their numerous vain attempts to reach the top of their surfboards and skate within or on top of the waves.

Most of them crash after nanoseconds in midst the foam of a clashing huge wave. No a sport for me I decide and fall into a tired doze.

A short stop at Rose bay to check out the seaplanes (they are not operating at the moment I must gladly admit to say, otherwise Phil would have been very tempted to fly in one of them) and back to the car hire place to drop our car. Unfortunately Avis seems to try and hide from the outside world and we drive 10 times around the stupid place and cannot find access to the building.

Trying to find a sunset bar in Sydney seems to be impossible. We end up buying ginger ale and tonic water from a shop and sit on a bench to watch the setting sun over Darling bay. 

It’s not really our lucky evening as the “Lord Nelson Hotel bar” also decides to be against us having any food there. So we end up nibbling cold sweet bread with cold cheese and a few pickles. Yummy!

Monday, 27 March 2017

Climbing Sydney bridge, a stroll around the Botanical gardens and Carmina Burana in the Opera house

PHIL: 27 Mar/Day 41

Allie returns from her morning run through the Botanical Gardens bewitched by Sydney and titillated by having seen a couple having sex on their balcony at the waterside Hyatt.
On the famous bridge overlooking Sydney
We debate doing the Bridge Climb but, at $160 without being able to take your camera (for safety reasons) and the likelihood of my vertigo freezing me half-way over, decide to walk the normal walkway and climb just the concrete pylon. 

It is well worth it an light conditions are exceptional. Helicopters, seaplanes and boats mill around everywhere with gawping tourists like us.

We call at the Opera House box office on the off-chance of returned tickets for the evening performance. 
spectacular views to the harbour

To our delight they have ‘standing’ seats which turn out to be rather better (and much cheaper) than most of the allocated seating. 

A thoroughly 20th-century programme of  Bernstein, Barber and Orff follows in the impressive main concert hall which, on all my previous visits to Sydney, I have not been inside before. Hickox is as dominating as I remember him and considerably more corpulent.

Another clash of wills with Allie. Her universal habit, bred of claustrophobia (or is it actually agoraphilia ?) ,of brinkmanship at airports, train stations and now , opera performances results in us nearly missing Carmina Burana. 

Her statutory loo visit at the end of the interval leaves me agitatedly waiting outside the ‘ladies’ whilst urgent recall bells become increasingly insistent. She saunters out to find me alone in the vast mezzanine whilst attendants prepare to refuse further entry to the auditorium. 

I suppress my annoyance but perhaps insufficiently. She claims never yet to have missed a time-critical event by trying to maximise her time in the open air, but I don’t want to be there the first time she does.

ALLIE: DAY 41: Tuesday, 27th of March

Exploring Sydney, a walk across the bridge and a concert in the opera house

A morning jog is always a wonderful way to explore a city. I run around the botanical gardens and hear this most amazing noisy sound like a thousand birds. 

But it turns out they are ‘flying foxes’ or fruit bats (pteropus poliocephalus) returning form their wild nights out to hang themselves upside down in the trees of the gardens to rest for the day. 

But what a smell, noisy and battle! Sydney seems to be a very fit city since I am definitely not alone on my run. Young, old, fat, slim – everybody is trotting and jogging around the bay.

After a delicious breakfast at our cosy B & B we set out to explore the downtown area on foot. Phil has worked here for BA 30years ago, and so we try to find his old office in Pitt Street, but its no longer there. 

What we find though is “Phillip Street”! The old central post office for the whole of the country has been turned into a variety of exclusive shops and restaurants. It used to be one of the largest and most elaborate buildings of the town, but now in the time of email and mobile phone the post office is squeezed into a tiny corner.

Our long walk takes us back through the botanical gardens and along the bay, then up to the opera house to check a last time for tickets. And we fortunate: we leave with two standing tickets for Carmina Burana tonight!

At lunch time we meet with Phils ballooning friend Rick Gillespie and his wife Heather. 

The weather now is sunny and warm and it’s great to sit near the harbour and watch the world passing by.

with Rick and Heather Gillespie

We start a discussion about the particularities of the Australians compared to the Brits. Two topics come to our observation. One being that the Aussis seem to be proud of everything. 

You see labels announcing that this beer was ‘proudly produced in Australia’ or that the ferry company is ‘proud’ to take you across to the zoo where you can watch our ‘proudly in the Sydney zoo raised koalas’. 
The Brits would scorn this attitude as being too arrogant. 

The other being the fact that the Australians make quite a big fuss about their ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Armoured Corps) day. 

That is a memorial day in honour to all the casualties and soldiers that fought in all the wars and battles that Australia and New Zealand have been involved in. It would be quite impossible especially in Germany (or even in the UK as Phil tells me) to celebrate such a thing. 

A bite to eat and a pint (or two in the boys case!) at the “Australian Hotel” and then I get ‘ants in my pants’ and want to move on to walk across the famous harbour bridge. The bridge was built in 1932 and had just celebrated its 75th anniversary. What a view!

Standing on top of one of the pylons we enjoy stunning views over the many bays of Sydney, the skyline, the ferry boats … 

We watch the bridge climbers that have paid an expensive 200 Dollars just to walk across the bridge being bound together on ropes and wearing fancy suits and caps. 

The light couldn’t be better and the only thing that would have made my husband even happier was if he could have flown in one of the seaplanes that we see cruising over the bay.

We want to hire a car, but it takes us ages to cross the city first by taxi to get to Avis and even longer to drive back through the evening rush hour. Parking is a nightmare in this city and the traffic lights seem to be forever red. 

it is undoubtedly a stunning building!
Not much time for a quick bite to eat, then we rush off for our great concert at the opera house. 

It’s Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and  Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 conducted by Richard Hickox. 

The concert hall is packed, we have to stand. But the musical and cultural experience is absolutely worth it. 

Half dead we drop to bed at 23.00 knowing that there are a mere 4hours left until we have to get up again!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Arrival in Sydney

26 Mar/Day 40

Head out of Cairns on Qantas to Sydney. Not very good service which I consider might reflect staff antagonism to current plans to sell the airline to institutional investors (it was until recently, I believe, owned 25% by BA).Flight delayed an only a mumbled apology – none from the Captain, which I always think makes any excuse sound a bit more sincere.

approach to Sydney
All this is compensated for by a superb view of Sydney Harbour, the bridge (75 years old only a week before and built by the company – Dorman Long – in Middlesborough for whom my uncle Gordon worked many years ago.), and the Opera House on final approach to Mascot/Kingsford-Smith Airport. Can’t get used to everywhere  feeling it must call itself ‘………International’ these days instead of a bit of variety and local history.

Allie and I have a slight contretemps over whether or not to take a taxi. Ever the thrifty Schwabian, she thinks bus/train might be (and undoubtedly is) cheaper. I, equally committed as a minimum-hassle-unless-the-cost-is-outrageous adherent, plump for taxi. This has mixed blessings as the taxi driver, I guess a Greek by origin, clearly does not know our hotel despite an exact address and ends up doing circuits of the Rocks area (at my expense).
the famous Sydney opera house
The B&B I chose on the internet is perfect and within 500m of the Opera house and even closer to the Bridge. We saw an advert for a performance of Carmina Burana  at the former tomorrow night and rush down before the box office closes only to be told it is sold out. 

Particularly disappointing as Karl Orff is buried at Kloster Andechs near our former Tutzing home. Richard Hickox is musical director, I notice, and I recall seeing him conduct a concert including pianist John Lill at the church on Wandsworth Green in 1984.

ALLIE: DAY 40: Monday, 26th of March

Flight to Sydney the harbour city of Australia

Another wonderful sunny morning. I run to the beach and dive into the sea whilst Phil is ‘allowed’ to have another quiet hour in bed – the perfect marriage arrangement!
The rest of the morning is spent on the internet or with writing and packing. Then we are off to the airport to drop our hired car and check in for our flight QF 925 to Sydney.

stunning views across Sydney harbour
The flight is delayed, but once we are up in the air it’s only 2 ½ hrs. We cross parts of inland Australia. 
What a huge deserted country. How must life be in these outback farms where your next neighbour lives 100km away from you and the only medical service can be done by the flying doctors?

The approach into Sydney International airport is stunning. We are lucky to sit on the left side and get an excellent view over the downtown city area, the opera house and the famous harbour bridge that had just celebrated its 75th birthday.

Within 25min of a taxi drive and we arrive at our small “TheRocks” Bed & Breakfast.  The location is excellent. We are right in the middle of the ‘Rocks’ the quirky and lively old town centre. 

It’s just 5min to the bridge and to the harbour side. We take an evening stroll to the famous Opera house and ask for tickets for tomorrows Carmina Burana. But alas it’s already sold out. What a pity!  
The harbour front is full with ferries and lined with trendy coffee shops, oyster bars and expensive restaurants. 

You certainly need to earn a fat salary in order to live here comfortably. Everything is very expensive. 

That’s part of the reason why we end up later at an Irish pub eating bangers & mash and fish & chips and not at an harbour front Trattoria eating oysters and looking at the illuminated opera house. 

But we have life music and the band even plays a special song for me! Phil says, he never should leave me alone for a minute, I always get chatted up by some boys.

But if I am left to buy the drinks…that’s what might happen!

Friday, 24 March 2017

Relaxing on Fitzroy Island

PHIL: 25 Mar/Day 39

Allie wakes to find a crystal-clear dawn but no sign of her ‘boogie (waist-bag) with money, keys etc in it. She concludes that she must have left it in an alcoholic haze at the cafĂ© where we had ‘early doors’ wine last night. By the grace of God (and Australian honesty) an early-morning cleaner at the establishment locates the bag intact.

on our way to Fitzroy Island

Set out by ferry to Fitzroy Island which sounded a more civilised option (96% National Park) than the alternative, Green Island, which offered every conceivable entertainment to the masses. 

Looking at the people in the streets of Cairns – the headquarters of Australian defence against anticipated Japanese invasion in 1942 – it is clear that, whilst the Japs might have failed back then they have certainly succeeded in the early 21st century. 

Apparently as the nearest piece of tropical Western-style civilisation to Tokyo north Queensland is the prime destination for Japanese desperate to make efficient use of their short holiday entitlements.

ALLIE: DAY 39: Sunday the 25th of March

A leisurely day out on Fitzroy Island

A beautiful morning! Bright sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. But disaster strikes me just after I get up – where is my moneybelt? I must have left it at the bar yesterday. How utterly stupid of me. Race back to the pub, but of course its Sunday morning 7.20 and nobody there. But my fortune angel is with me, and a minute later the cleaning lady turns up, opens the doors and we find the purse with all my belongings in it. Not a cent stolen! How lucky was that?

Later that day, my husband looses a strip to secure his glasses (which we bought to prevent loosing them!). But like me, he is lucky today and the thing turns up a bit later. We swear to ourselves to be more careful, but actually we are quite careful about our things, but nevertheless we tend to loose things at the rate that we buy them!
exotic flora
Anyway, our day trip out to one of the small islands in the Great Barrier Reef is saved and we drive to Cairns to board a catamaran that takes us in 45 min to Fitzroy Island. The Island actually belongs to the national park, but a tiny stretch of land is privately owned by the company that runs the ballooning opposition to Johns Company.

Since it’s still off season, the boat only has one service a day and so the odd 40 people that have arrived with us are the only visitors on this island. But even they seem to disappear after a short while on various other tours and Phil and I find ourselves alone on Nudey beach. Well, it could be indeed a nudity beach, since we feel like Robinson Crusoe with nobody around us, just the blue sea and the lush green jungle around us.

We put on our hired black stinger suits (Phils resemblance to James Bond now is remarkable!) and dive into the warm clear waters. A fantastic underwater world opens up: corrals, fish and fantastic colours make the snorkelling a really great experience. I swim through what seems blue deer antlers, yellow human brains, long red hair and landscapes like the karst hills of Guilin. 

Suddenly I find myself surrounded by a huge swarm of little fish. It’s amazing how quickly they all react turning and moving in the same directions. My greatest discovery is a big sea turtle, the chelonia mydas. Out of the world wide 7 species 6 of them live here in Australia. It doesn’t seem to be afraid of me and I can follow it just a meter above. It moves very gracefully just paddling with its front legs and then disappears into deeper waters.

empty beaches on Fitzroy island

It’s a pity to see that this island won’t stay as it is for long. The company is planning to build a huge hotel with 3 swimming pools and all the rest of the entertainment junk. 

So at 4 pm we wave good-bye to one of the last remaining paradises near Cairns and return to Trinity.

We celebrate our last evening and enjoy a nice dinner at the L’Unica Trattoria with John. The wine is so good again that back home I immediately collapse into a very deep sleep.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Finally up in the air again: Australia, country 22 for me!

ALLIE: DAY 38: Saturday, 24th of March

My 22nd country and Australia in the Ballooning logbook!

Finally, ballooning again! We both felt some sort of withdrawal symptoms after nearly 4 weeks without it. But getting up at 3.00am in the pitch dark morning makes you think “you are mad!” And it’s raining!

We drive the 56km up the windy roads to the Atherton Tableland. Still drizzling we set out with the rest of the team and 3 big balloons (the biggest being a 450cu feet balloon-bus) to drive to the launch site. By 4.30 we launch a few test balloons.

finally air-borne over Australia!
The sky looks stunning. I have never seen such a clear wonderful shiny milky way. We spot the southern cross and know we a to the north of it! All the preparations are done by just the pilot and one crew man – and in the pitch darkness. 

By 6 am the busses with the passengers arrive and the balloon is ready to be fully inflated. Even before sunrise we take off into a magic looking sky. The first flight takes exactly 30min and takes us over mango and banana plantations, before John pops into a tiny field to exchange passengers.

But we may stay on to enjoy a second flight with even more spectacular sights and much better light. The sun breaks through the dark clouds and creates a mysterious light like out of ice age at the time of the first dinosaurs. 
flying over the Atherton Table land

We are reminded to be in Australia when we spot a few kangaroos jumping away from the noise of the burner. This time John does his final landing in a big field that is inhabited by some zebu like cows.
They don’t seem to mind and he lands the big balloon gently in the middle of the field. The retrieve crew soon arrives and we all help to pack this “biggy” with its 1000kilos away.

Its time for a hearty breakfast and the obligatory champagne. We drive a few miles to a little farm where a plentiful breakfast is served (there is even miso soup and rice for the Japanese passengers!).

I talk to Martin, a German, who has chosen Australia as his new home. He loves living out here but gives me the secrets in how to obtain dual nationality even though the German government only allows you to have one.

The secret is paying 300 Euros to a bureau in Cologne, waiting for 7 months and the being allowed to keep your passport. But he said, getting the Australian one, just took him 30 min on the internet and a quick hello to somebody. And now he is officially Aussi!

Phil and I decide to use our time whilst already being up on the plateau and we drive down highway….Phil gets his share of aeroplane spotting with a stop at a war museum which features a few wrecked aeroplanes and the Mareeba airstrip with another few aircraft.

On to the little hippy town of Yungaburra where we stroll along the monthly market ( a bit tacky with lots of handicraft and food stuffs) and taste history in the old hotel pub of 1910. 

The town looks to me like out of a cowboy film. Very hippie and laid back. The town is also famous for watching the Australian beaver like species called Platypus. But its Saturday lunchtime and even they must have decided that its time for a break from visitors.
packing up the balloon
Now its time for my share of our “travel-deal” (after being to 3 aeroplane spots in only 24hrs!) and we drive to the crater lake of Eacham. But I spare Phil the task of a 4 km walk around the lake when I discover that its allowed to swim here. 

The water is beautifully clear and warm (even though the Lonely planet talks about it being cold). The drive back to Trinity is a windy pass with endless bendy curves. We both nearly fall asleep after such an early morning start.

Later more work on the compi and emails, a drink at the favourite beach bar and another home cooked dinner. This time it’s lamb with cuscus and salad.

PHIL: Day 38/24 March

great Australian breakfast after the flight
Up at 0300 to go ballooning with John up on the Atherton Tablelands. A false start as Allie realises, after 5km of following John on the tortuous route, that she has left the camera behind.

I bite my tongue but speak to her gently  in a tone reserved for sub-humans. Then we have a depressing hour’s drive in drizzling rain over the coastal ranges and into the plateau around Mareeba.

After several stops to review possible launch sites we take off, in company with four other big tourist balloons, as the Southern Cross fades in the clearing dawn sky reminding us we are truly in the Southern Hemisphere.

A slightly depressing day around Cairns

PHIL: Day 37/23 March

A disastrous day. We discover that our rental car – with a $2700 insurance ‘excess’ – has been ‘grazed’ by an anonymous green vehicle whilst parked in Port Douglas. Then I notice that our new digital camera, only bought in Hong Kong as a replacement for the one stolen in Namibia, has a deep crease in its casing. 
Neither of us can remember it being dropped or squashed, so I conclude that I must have inadvertently stumbled on it in its case in the darkened bedroom last night, with understandable consequences from the application of an unexpected 80kg.
A day as spiky as those mangroves!

To cap it all one of our camera batteries appears to be missing. I am seething with anger and railing against the injustice of our collective misfortunes, a mood shared by Allie and only marginally assuaged by the subsequent discovery of the absent battery in one of our suitcases. 

We soothe the pain with lots of red wine over barbecued chicken at John’s.

ALLIE: DAY 37: Friday, 23nd of March

A day around Cairns and some disappointments

We don’t go ballooning this morning. What a pity. I had been looking forward to it. But the weather forecast wasn’t too good, so John recommended us to try tomorrow.

This is today's first disappointment. The second was to find a dent in our newly bought camera. We both don’t have a clue how that happened. The third annoyance is a scratch in our car – again, not done by us. The fourth thing is, that none of Phil’s favourite aeroplanes that he wanted to fly in, are operating right now, and the last annoying thing is, that someone has corrupted an article that I had written.
best not to try and swim here!

So we do our usual morning emails and then set off to Cairns to explore the city. Its surprisingly low-rise and quite traditional in many ways. We find a lot of wooden houses and historical looking buildings with nice brass balconies and roofs. 

A walk around the botanical gardens through some jungle area gives us an insight in the countryside of Queensland.

 A bit frightening is the poster that says “Crocodiles have been spotted here. Beware of them. Don’t go to near the water!” Hm, we are just walking on this boardwalk which doesn’t have a fence and is only about 50cm above the marsh waters. In a way I’d love to see one of these reptiles, but maybe not right here!

that part of the coast looks better for it!
A visit to the Flying Doctors Museum proves to be quite interesting. In 1928, John Flynn (now honored by residing on the front of a 20 Dollar Note!) invented this service that nowadays is the major source of medical aid in the out backs. 

The base in Cairns is the largest outfit in the whole of Australia and every settlement that is more then 100 years out from Cairns has to rely on their help for medical treatment. A very impressive service and all for free!

Back past the Cairns airport for Phil to take some more aeroplane pics. He is iffing and blinding about the fences and restrictions to get decent shots. 

I try to stay calm and remind him, that that’s the case now all over the world, and nobody will get much better pictures of aircrafts then him.

I need decent swim in the sea. The waves are not as strong as yesterday. Feels good.  Walk back and start on my pile of emails again.
John cooks us a nice dinner and we stay at home preparing for an early morning start.  

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Exploring the coastline of Queensland and Port Douglas

PHIL: Day 36/22 March

Head for Port Douglas up the very tropical-looking coast. Sugar cane, banyan trees, mangroves along a windy road which eventually leads to Cape York in the extreme north another 1000km towards the Torres Straight. 
mangrove swamps along the coast

Port Douglas is evidently experiencing a real-estate boom with condos and luxury bungalows going up everywhere, rather detracting from the historic atmosphere of its history as a gold and sugar export point. 

Between torrential downpours we circle the boutiques and bars – one offering cane toad racing daily at 7.30p.m., which we decide to give a miss to.

I was keen to get a flight out to the Great Barrier Reef in an ancient de Havilland Otter seaplane, but their office tell me the aircraft is ‘on maintenance’ because of the ‘low’ season, so I must wait until next time to take this opportunity.

history museum of Cairns
Evening planned at a sea-side restaurant at Yorkie’s Knob, the nearby point where the Cairns marine Pilot sets out to guide big ships through the treacherous surrounding reef. A very sophisticated yacht club ambience prevails.

ALLIE: DAY 36: Thursday, 22nd of March

Up along the Queensland coast to Port Douglas

Had a fantastic night and slept until 8.30! A very rare thing. Have to go to the near by shopping mall to get some food, since dear John – obviously being a bachelor (or rather now divorced for a long time) - doesn’t have anything in his kitchen except a long row of tiny ants.

We start to explore a bit of the coastline by driving up north to the small town of Port Douglas. 

This place was first discovered by the Brits in the late 19th century as a sugar cane country. Its been rediscovered in the 80ies by property investment firms and the sporting or tourism agents. But prices are dear in Australia. 

Whether it’s property, drinks or food, it’s in the same price category as the U.K. if not even more expensive.
We walk around the town, are showered by a huge rain shower and escape to the harbour bar for a drink.

I agree to my husbands request to visit the local airfield, but all we find is a helicopter and a guy that flies the microlights.

Back to Trinity its time for a proper dive into the sea. Since the coast here is pestered by stinging and quite dangerous jellyfish it’s recommended only to swim where the country provides big swimming nets and live guards. But it doesn’t feel as nice as swimming in the open sea. The enclosed area is quite small. All one can do, is to swim a few meters up and down. Still, lovely temperature and water.
Phil and John at the guitars
The rest of the afternoon we spend in catching up in writing, washing clothes and going out for a meal with John to the Yacht club in Jorkey’s knob. 

The wine we are having is a Shiraz 2004. Compared to most of the other wines that state elaborately how great they are, this just says “the Lodge Hill produces Shiraz of distinctive qualities. 
This wine is a reflection of the vineyard and the 55 years we have made Shiraz in Clare.” We certainly enjoy it – and the Kangaroo steak!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A day on aeroplanes flying to Cairnes

ALLIE: DAY 35: Wednesday, 21th of March

A day travelling on planes from China to Australia
Flight CX 103 takes us around midnight again across the equator, past Indonesia and Papua New Guinea – and alas even past Cairnes – down to Brisbane. 

over the Great Barrier Reef
Just an hour later we get on the same aircraft to fly the 2hrs back up to Cairnes, our final destination. 

And I certainly have enough now from flying, sitting and eating. The coastline below me looks stunning and I can’t wait to be out in the warm, sunny weather and dive into the sea.
We hire a car and drive the 20 odd Kilometers up north the coast to a small community called Trinity where we are invited to stay the next days with John Medlock, a ballooning friend of Phil. He emigrated from the UK to live and work here.

Phil and him haven’t seen each other for 15 years so there is much to catch up in talking over a drink at the nice sun-downer pub near the beach. I’d rather go for a walk and get some exercise after hours on aeroplanes.

The temperature is wonderful. Humid, breezy and 28 degrees. A barbeque dinner at home is the last I can remember before collapsing into a 12 hours deep sleep.

aerial view over the 'highlands'
PHIL: Day 35/21 March

A day mostly spent in aeroplanes, overflying Cairns only to return there about five hours later. Attempts to hire a compact (=cheap) saloon fail, but we end up with a ‘deal’ on a Toyota LandCruiser which is enormous but fun to drive – especially after the really crappy VW we had in Namibia. Find John Medlock’s house  in …..Beach without too much trouble. 

At John's house, Phil relaxing with wine and guitar
John is a professional balloon pilot who was introduced to his trade by me in the early 80s when he ran my local pub, the ‘Six Bells’ on Warborough Green near Oxford.

He’s now more-or-less permanently established in Queensland flying very big balloons for Japanese and Chinese tourists up on the Atherton Tablelands inland from Cairns

We try to catch up on the intervening 20-odd years over a couple of glasses of excellent Oz wine at John’s regular watering hole on the beach before a steak ‘barbie’ and early bed.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum and flight via Hongkong to Australia

PHIL: Day 34/20 march

Sun Yat-Sen , father of Chinese proletarianism, is buried in a memorial park nearby. Allie tries to unravel for me the complexities of 20th century Chinese politics including the ‘Last Emperor’, Pu Yi, Japanese puppet Emperor in Manchukuo, Chiang Kai Shek’s KMT Nationalists and Mao’s Long March Communists. Very complex and incestuously inter-related once you add Western interests and WWII.

entrance to the Sun Yat-Sen mausoleum in Nanjing
Flight to Hong Kong and then a long transit awaiting Cathay Pacific to Cairns, our destination, via, illogically, Brisbane. The wi-fi works at both Hong Kong and Brisbane, however, and we catch up on news. 

Not before I am in trouble with Allie for packing the laptop power lead in our checked luggage, so I creep off sheepishly to buy some expensive replacement which offers power in cars, on aeroplanes and even from Australian plug sockets. Our aircraft, however, has none of these.

ALLIE: DAY 34: Tuesday, 20th of March

Bye-Bye to China and on to the land of down-under!

Since we are already used to worship ‘great leaders’ we don’t want to miss the founder of the republic of China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen. His memorial grave is set against the green hills of the purple mountains with a long fleet of steps gradually climbing up towards the mausoleum.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen

Dr. Sun Yat-sen died in 1925 just 13 years after the abolishment of the monarchy in 1911. He is highly revered even today by the Chinese people for his progressive ideas of democracy, equality and peace.

The weather is beautiful and it’s nice to be outdoors before we have to spend the rest of the day in transit lounges and on aeroplanes. 

Three things I find remarkable: the masses of Chinese tourists here (it’s 10.30 on a Tuesday morning), the incredible high entrance fee of 80yuan per person and the noise and laughter around his tomb. 

So far for Suns ideas of equality, or paying reverence to their great leader. If North Koreans would watch this amusement here, they certainly must be shocked.

A quick visit to the Lingyu Temple and then its time to say good-bye to Nanjing and leave for the new Pukou Airport, 37 km to the south of the city. At 15.00 we take off and fly down to Hongkong. 
long stairs up to the Memorial

The service of China Eastern is not our favourite (cold beef with white and also cold noddles!) but the flight only takes 2 hours. 

Alas immigration prevents me from exiting the airport and seeing my friend Teresa again, but at least we have a nice chat over the phone.

The Nanjing balloon factory, my alma mater university Nan Da and meeting my Chinese teacher

ALLIE : DAY 33: Monday, the 19th of March

A nostalgic tour around Nanjing and a historic meet with my Chinese teacher

After a wonderful breakfast with cereal, fresh fruit and strong real coffee (we realize now what we had missed for the past 2 weeks!), we set out to visit the largest balloon factory in China. Meitie lends us their driver Mr. Cai and he manages indeed to find the compound. 

Mr Cui and myself in discussion
A friendly and straightforward Mr. Cui greets us and shows us around his factory.

He used to be a parachutist with the Chinese military until in the earyly 80is he started to set up his “aerial sport equipment factory” in the south of Nanjing.

They don’t only produce hot air balloons but also parachutes, gliders and other aerial sporting equipment. 

We of course want to know more about the balloon production and I engange Mr. Cui in a pile of questions translating to Phil what I can gather as information. 
inside the Nanjing balloon factory

I won’t elaborate now on all the contents, but it was very interesting for us and surprisingly in formal: “Yes, you can take pictures, no problem!”
Clearly worlds between North Korea and the ever so liberal and open seeming P.R.China!

Chinese burner system

Mr. Cui invites me to join next years ‘International female pilots flight over the Great Wall of China-Competition” and I eagerly say “Yes!” (notes by myself: it never happened and I never heard a word again from them!).

Mr. Dai drops us at the Fuzimiao, an area that used to be full of nice old shophouses and lots of interesting shops. But in 2007 even this area has changed into the usual modern outfit and doesn’t impress us very much. 

infront of the main entrance to 'Nanda'
We move on the explore my ‘alma mater’, the Nanjing University, shortened in Chinese to 'Nan da'. It is very frustrating and sad: all our nice dormitories have been demolished! 

Gone room 201 forever, but not the memories of it. I used to share my room with Yukiko, a nice Japanese girl. Since she didn’t speak any German, and I didn’t speak Japanese, we were forced to communicate in Chinese. 

But that’s certainly helped both of us to progress fairly quickly with our spoken Chinese. It also gave me a first insight in how different Japanese Culture and behaviour was. 

When most of us foreign students had to leave China after the disastrous massacre in Beijing, I went to Japan to live with a Japanese family for a year. 

The culture shock that I was faced with in adapting to Japanese culture was far greater then coming from Germany to China and I had taken me months to get used to it. Not so in China. 
The Nanjing massacre memorial

I made many Chinese friends and enjoyed my life there so much that I would have loved to spend another year in Nanjing.

Sadly everything changed after the crack down of the democracy movement in which even we foreign students took some part.

I could talk now forever about my experiences in China in 88, but that would fill another book. So I better move on…

After driving to the Japanese Massacre monument which sadly was just under construction, we strolled around the Mo Chou Lake park and relaxed with a cup of jasmine tea and popcorn. (Even this park which used to be in the outer countryside of Nanjing is now surrounded by high rise modern housing estates).

me and Jing laoshi
Another highlight of this interesting day was meeting my former literature teacher at a small coffee shop near the university. 

We haven’t seen each other for 18 years but we still could recognize each other, there was Jing laoshi. A bit of a rounder face but still the same nice man as he was then. 

He loves coffee, he told us, so we had to choose from the 6 different types of freshly brewed coffee in his favourite coffee house. 

Even though Jing laoshi had spent a year in the States, his English was very poor and we communicated better in Chinese.

There are 2000 foreign students now at Nanda (as Nanjing Universtiy is abbreviated in Chinese). He also went to Turkey to teach Chinese. Live is definitely better and lots of rich Chinese afford to send their children to universities in the States or even in Britain – self paying!

our fancy dinner at the Sofitel
The rest of the evening is spent with an opulent and expensive dinner at the brand new Sofitel, where we also happen to know the food and beverage manager Laurent and the hotels general manger Christophe Lauras (but even this doesn’t seem to help to be invited for this meal!). 

Never mind, it was a nice and enjoyable evening with good seafood and interesting conversations!

PHIL: Day 33/March 19

After a night in the sumptuous residence of Herbert Bock, Siemens software chief in China, his driver is put at our disposal for a visit to China’s main manufacturer of balloons who just happens to be based in the city. 

at the balloon factory in Nanjing
Set in a semi-military industrial complex there is, to our surprise, no call for identity documents or permissions to enter the guarded main entrance. In a yard around the back a single ‘bottom end’ has been set up for our inspection.

It is  crudely finished by western standards and seems to reflect outdated technology & practices from the ‘80s, but I’m sure it works.

The envelope manufacturing floor seems mainly occupied with military work on parachutes and all is plush velour office furniture out of the Mao era. The section manager, in suit and tie, is friendly but not very informative.

By taxi now to the Nanjing Massacre memorial which turns out to be closed for refurbishment (the 70th anniversary is in December 2007), followed by a walk around a typical Chinese urban park with boating lake and restored pavilions now surrounded by high-rise apartments which dwarf the delicate willows and flowering cherries.

student reading in garden of Nan Da

Allie learned her Putonghua at the University here, so it offers many nostalgic turns, mostly dispelled by the passage of time since 1988. 

lots of student bicycles infront of the University
Her old student dorm has given way to a characterless block and most of the old shop-houses are now in the clutches of Starbucks or KFC. 

Her former language lecturer meets us for coffee but seems not to have changed as much as his surroundings, apparently.

The evening is a contrast with drinks and dinner in the Sofitel with its two French expat managers joining us – though still leaving US to pay the bill.