A fortnight in Yorkshire

The last two weeks have seen me assimilating myself into life in the UK. Most of the time has been spent at my parents’ home in Penistone (click here for map) or my brother’s place nearby in Huddersfield, however I spent my first full weekend back catching up with my friends Craig, Craig and Holly (Yes 2 Craigs). Craig and Holly are expecting their first child in December and so Holly was rather larger than when I saw her last Christmas). They live in Bromsgrove, south west of Birmingham. Craig 2 (I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him that!.. Craig B is probably better) lives between Penistone and Birmingham, in Lincoln. On the Monday, I met up for lunch with my friends Neil and Kelly who are originally friends from my days at Halcrow Fox. It was great to see all of them!

Craig 1 (Craig S) and I worked at Atkins together and both he and Kelly (who now works at Atkins… oh do keep up!) did a very good job of convincing me that Atkins was worth considering now I have returned. I have an interview with them next Monday after I have returned from 4 nights in Madrid with my brother. The following weekend, which is also my birthday, the whole family is going to Whitby, on the North East Coast of Yorkshire. We had several happy holidays there and I have not been back for a long time – from recolection not since I was doing my MSc at Newcastle University in 1995.

My current plan is to rent an apartment in York and work there or in Leeds, about 30 minutes away by train. That does of course depend on me getting a job. I have at least 2 other companies interested… which is very flattering.

Köln, and back in the UK

Compared to Düsseldorf, Köln is less of an attractive city, however the cathedral is immense and dominates the skyline. It took around 600 years to complete and like most other similar buildings there is a constant battle to keep up with repairs. Raf and I mistimed our visit such that we arrived just as a service was about to start but we did manage to climb the 509 steps to the top of the tower to catch some spectacular views of the city.

After an enjoyable day looking around Köln, I took a German ICE train to Brussels to connect with the Eurostar to London Waterloo. It was my first time travelling on the first section of the high speed line in the UK, although the last section to St Pancras will not be open to the public until mid-November.

On arrival at Waterloo I caught the Jubilee line to Canning Town before getting the Dockland Light Railway from there to my hotel by the City Airport. After a short wait at the Travelodge, my room was ready and I dumped my bags before heading back to Canary Wharf to buy a few things from the shopping mall beneath the office complex. At the same time I arranged to meet my ex-colleague and good friend Nick at a pub near Kings Cross – the first time we’d met up since I’d left the UK nearly 3 years previously. Nick’s girlfriend Katie joined us for a short while and it was good to catch up on news from the rest of the Australian Atkins contingent.

The next morning, I had a lazy start before crossing the city back to Kings Cross to catch my train north to Wakefield. Kings Cross still has the annoying wait on the concourse before boarding the train 10 minutes before departure so I just waited with my bags until the platform was announced. I had found a cheap deal that allowed me to travel in First Class with free wireless Internet access, which allowed me to catch up with emails etc.

I was met at Wakefield by my parents and returned to their house in the hills above Barnsley. After filling the washing machine with 10 days’ accumulated dirty laundry, it was good to catch up with news and just be in the bosom of my family again!

The rest of the week was spent visiting the Meadowhall Shopping Centre (still recovering from the summer’s floods) and Leeds, before meeting my brother for some drinks and a curry in Huddersfield on Thursday night.

Düsseldorf

After a good night’s sleep in the airport hotel, I called reception to find out that I had the luxury of a noon check out. First of all I used the room’s broadband connection to book a hotel in the city centre (a smart looking 5-star place) and then I popped across to the airport for some breakfast (McCafé do a Flat White here!) and then returned to the hotel to use the gym (once I found it). I was the only person using it and the equipment seemed brand new – it was a relatively short session as I haven’t been going lately and my muscles protested somewhat, still it got the endorphins going.

I then went up to the airport Observation Deck which was quite interesting as its a busy little airport and the runway is quite close to the terminal. I took a few photos of planes in unfamiliar colours. After checking out of the hotel, I took the skytrain to the main airport railway station and caught a train into the city centre.

I liked Düsseldorf immediately. It’s a classic German city with a mixture of trams rattling through the streets and all the other sounds of a true European city (church bells tolling in that slow, sonorous way and lugubrious police car sirens… which seem to say “yes, I know it’s an emergency but hey… this is Europe.. I’ll get there when I can”…). The hotel was close to the station and my vague sense of direction, memory of street and hotel name served me well and I found the place almost immediately (actually it was probably more like good luck). It was 1pm so I was able to check in and go to my room immediately. After a nice cup of tea, I went for a wander around the city – which is superb and I want to come back for a longer trip now.

I’m now waiting for my friend Raf (I met him while in New Zealand) to turn up, so we can go for a couple of steins of beer!

Dubai Stopover

I arrived in Dubai around 5am, tired and looking forward to a sleep. The temperature even at that time of the morning was 33 degrees Celsius and that, along with a bus transfer from the plane to the terminal did not help my mood! After getting through the terminal and getting some cash, I caught a taxi to my hotel. On arrival I was told I couldn’t check in (despite having given them warning of my early arrival) but they had a sister hotel nearby that had a room free. So it was back into the taxi and another 20 minute trip through busy traffic to the other hotel. On arrival there, it was good to get into air conditioned comfort but less good to be kept waiting for 20 minutes while they tried to find a room for me. Finally, I was shown up to my apartment – which was huge and welcoming, although quite dingy. After a few hours’ sleep, I put some washing in and then went and used the gym and sat by the pool for a while, before venturing out into the city. Traffic was still very bad, even at 7pm so I made the rash and very foolhardy decision to walk. Within about 2 minutes I was soaked through with sweat and managed to cool off in a shopping centre before diving out into the heat again. It was like walking in a sauna. By this time I was hungry, tired and in need of a beer and finally ended up in a hotel restaurant/English Bar which seemed informal enough to let me sit in the corner with a book while I ate my food. The steak I ordered was delicious, while the two beers were the best I had tasted (even though it was just Heineken!). I got a taxi back to the hotel.

In the morning, I tried (but failed) to use the advertised wireless internet facilities in the hotel and so had to use the Business Centre. After a short time looking it became apparent that my original plan to go on a desert safari that evening would not be my cup of tea (especially without somebody to share it  … Camel riding, belly dancing etc..). Within a few minutes I found myself checking the availability of flights to Düsseldorf (my next planned destination, but on Friday). I found that there was a flight that afternoon and made a quick decision to try and get on it and, if unsuccessful, to find a new hotel. While checking out, the hotel staff tried to charge me twice for my room, made me wait while they checked the room for damage and then told me they hadn’t got my passport. After 10 minutes fruitless searching in my bag, I asked another member of staff who found it in a drawer within 10 seconds. That was the last straw!

After catching a taxi to the airport, I was booked onto the afternoon’s flight to Düsseldorf within 30 seconds of arriving at the Emirates ticket desk and without being charged anything extra. Within 20 minutes I was airside. Unfortunately, on trying to board the plane, we were delayed while the air conditioning was fixed and then after boarding we seemed to taxi for a long while. Emirates have a forward facing camera on their planes which you can view from your seat and so, watching us draw forward into a remote stand, I was less surprised than my fellow passengers when the captain asked cabin crew to prepare the doors for arrival! It was explained that some passengers had reported a grinding noise from the front wheel while taxiing and the captain was concerned enough to have it checked by maintenance staff.

We finally took off over an hour late and, quite sadly, I was very glad to see the back of Dubai. I may well go back when its cooler and with company as there are some interesting parts to the city. I will be sure to be more careful booking my accommodation though.

I finally arrived in Düsseldorf at around 10pm and went straight to the airport hotel to check in (having not had chance to book a hotel beforehand). It was expensive but I was just glad to be back in Europe again!

Perth

I arrived in Perth at about 9.30 in the evening and checked into my hotel, which was pretty central. I was too tired to do much and so was soon in bed and asleep. On Saturday, I started by having breakfast in a cafe on one of the main pedestrianised streets reading a newspaper – a very relaxing Saturday morning! Afterwards I browsed around some shops and ended up buying a few things … the retail therapy was much needed although it was nice to just wander around. Perth is a compact city centre with plenty of lovely old brick buildings – the Spring sunshine made these even more attractive.

In the evening, I went for a walk along the riverside and up to Kings Park – quite a long walk as it turned out but very pleasant in the soft evening sunlight. To get up to the park, I had to climb Jacob’s Ladder (a series of steep steps) which was quite an effort. I was made to feel even more unfit when passed by a number of people who were obviously doing the same thing a number of times… mad people obviously. The view from the park across the city was incredible and I enjoyed just soaking up the atmosphere – as were a number of other people including a wedding party. I went to a cafe at the Botanical Gardens and sat down to a meal and a beer, looking out over the city and texting friends in New Zealand and the UK. I also had the new Bill Bryson book about Shakespeare with me and that made the whole evening very pleasant.

On Sunday I rose early, forgot my UK bank card PIN number and promptly lost the card to the machine. Damn. Luckily I had other sources of cash, although I will have paid charges for withdrawing money. I then caught the train to Fremantle and was able to catch a ferry across to Rottnest Island. The trip across took 30 minutes and on arrival I booked onto a tour of a WW2 gun battery that afternoon before retiring to a cafe for eggs and bacon. There was some time until I had to catch the little train up to the gun battery so I went to the museum and wandered around the old buildings, some of which had originally formed a harsh prison for Aborigines and then went for a walk to the island’s airstrip before catching the train.

The gun battery was built to defend Fremantle against Japanese ships but was never used in anger – the two 9.2 inch guns with a 28km range were a good enough deterrent it seems. The tour around the battery took us deep into the hillside to see the engine room, cordite storage and ammunition store. The gun itself was very impressive, as was the network of railway tracks built to serve it. The railway from the main township to the gun had been rebuilt by the islanders from the original infrastructure built by the RAA.

The return journey on the train returned to the jetty in sufficient time to buy an ice cream and relax in the sun before catching the ferry back. In Fremantle I browsed around the bookshops and stores, although being 5pm on a Sunday, most were closed. After returning to Perth on the train, I had a quick dinner in the city before retiring to my room with a bottle of wine!

In the morning, with just a few hours left before catching the plane to Dubai, I tried (unsuccessfully) to retrieve my bank card and then took one of the free buses back up to Kings Park. I then just had enough time to return to the hotel to pick up my bags before getting a taxi to the airport. After advice from a cabin crew friend, I managed to get my bags sent through all the way to Dubai despite travelling on different tickets to and from Singapore. That made the journey far more pleasant and Singapore Airlines clearly showed why they are always so highly rated by travellers… made a change from Qantas!

I arrived in Singapore at about 10pm and had about 4 hours to wander around the airport and catch a short snooze before catching my onward flight to Dubai at 2am.

Priscilla in Sydney

After an unexpected bonus of flying on one of Air New Zealand’s new long haul aircraft (including an episode of Yes Minister on the seat-back entertainment), we arrived in Sydney mid afternoon on Wednesday. We had time to check into the hotel and chill out before going to Darling Harbour on the monorail to get some dinner before going to see the Priscilla Queen of the Desert musical at 8pm. The show was absolutely spectacular, with great costumes and set, as well as an enthusiastic audience.

The next morning, we walked to the Opera House. What a sight it makes in probably the best harbour in the world. We had some brunch by the bridge before walking across it to the North Shore. High up above us were people walking up the huge arch on the Harbour Bridge Climb. After relaxing in the sun on the North Shore for an hour or so, we got the train back and then a ferry to Manly. The trip took 30 minutes and was a great way of seeing the harbour. As it was getting to late afternoon by then and starting to get chilly, we didn’t stay long. It did mean, however, that I got some shots of the sunset behind the Harbour Bridge. After relaxing in the room, we went out rather late and couldn’t find anywhere decent open and so were very decadent and had room service!

On Friday, we had a browse around the shops and then returned to Circular Quay and just sat on the grass looking out over the harbour – taking in the view of the Opera House, Bridge and the city. We had lunch on the waterfront before collecting our bags from the hotel. As Nigel was returning to Auckland and I was flying to Perth, we got off at different stations. Our goodbye was a bit hurried and too brief but I’m never very good at long goodbyes!

Weller, Weller & Weller in Wellington

I am writing this entry from an hotel room in Wellington. I have just been with my parents for a wonderful meal at Tinakori Bistro down the road. I had lamb, which was delicious, while my parents both had salmon. The atmosphere was great and the staff pleasant and attentive.Earlier in the day, we went to the national museum on the waterfront – Te Papa – which was fascinating. We also took a boat across the huge harbour to a pleasant little place called Days Bay where there were brass bands playing by the beach in the bright sunshine, in fact the weather this weekend has been fantastic.

Unfortunately, being in Wellington I missed the excitement of Queen Mary 2 being in Auckland. I did manage to see the ship before we left Auckland, but it was berthed in the container port (too big to fit at the usual cruise terminal) and so difficult to see clearly. She made a fine sight though. There were fireworks last night as she left Auckland for Sydney to join the QE2 there.

I am working in Beca’s Wellington office tomorrow before flying back in the evening. I then join my parents in Rotorua next weekend.

Parents Return to New Zealand

My parents arrived back in New Zealand about 10 days ago and have been staying with me for much of that time. They arrived on Waitangi Day and so I was able to meet them at the airport without taking any annual leave (which was used up on my trip home at Christmas). They seemed remarkably unaffected by jetlag, despite their long journey via Dubai and Melbourne. On Saturday, we went to Auckland’s art gallery which has some excellent portraits of Maori by Goldie, so lifelike they could almost be photographs.

On Sunday we took the ferry across to Rangitoto, sailing close to the QE2 which had docked in the port earlier that day. She made a fine sight and her grace and style was in contrast to many of the brasher cruise ships that come to Auckland. Rather than walk up Rangitoto, we took the easy option – a 4WD tractor and carriage which took us close to the summit. There was then an easy walk along a boardwalk to the summit for lunch and fine views of Auckland.On the way back down we were sat right behind the tractor and by the time we reached the ferry wharf we had been coated in a fine film of dust. It was good to see other parts of Rangitoto – there is more to the place than just the volcano.

Mum and Dad then left for Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula on Tuesday in a hire car before returning today (Friday). Tomorrow we go to Wellington together. Its the first time I’ll have been there since 2003 and for them it will be a chance to look around properly. When they were last here, Dad had a bad leg and they spent part of their time their sorting out a presciption. We are now pretty certain that, despite the doctor in Rotorua saying otherwise, he actually had a mild form of DVT that time. I will be working from Beca’s Wellington office on Monday so that I can have a longer weekend down there. I return to Auckland on Monday night while they travel by car east to Napier and then north to Rotorua, where I will meet up with them again on Friday before catching the plane back from Tauranga on Sunday evening.

Although we will be leaving around 8.30 tomorrow morning to get to Auckland Airport, we hope to have chance to go and see the Queen Mary 2 cruise liner which is due to dock in Auckland just after dawn. In fact this week there have been no less than 9 cruise ships visiting Auckland and it has been noticeably buiser in the CBD this week.

Family in Penistone and New Year in York

On Saturday, my mum’s brother Eric and his family came to Penistone for the day. My cousin Edward is also my godson and it was great to catch up with him and the whole family again. With Eric and Christine, 3 cousins, my cousin Jonathan’s girlfriend Donna and the three of us (Matthew was nursing a cold back in Huddersfield) it was quite a full house but everyone had a place to sit and it was an enjoyable day.

On New Year’s Eve, I got the train to York where I was picked up by Craig and Holly and we went to our friend Dave’s house on the outskirts. Dave had lunch ready for us and we followed that up with a trip to a local pub for a couple of pints. After another meal cooked at home by Dave, we got ready for a night out in York to celebrate New Year. We walked into the city and started at a cosy pub close to Bootham Bar where some of Dave’s friends joined us, before moving on at 11pm. Just before midnight we joined the throng in the square outside York Minster and celebrated with the crowds – the Minster’s bells were almost drowned out by the cheering!

Afterwards we returned to another couple of pubs for a few more drinks before finally catching a taxi home part of the way at around 2am at the end of a great night. In the morning, the first of the New Year I awoke feeling far better than I ought to have done and chatted with Craig, Holl and Dave for a while and then to Dave after the other 2 had left.

Tuesday was spent visiting Mary and then catching up with Matthew for a few drinks before the whole family joined up at Matthew’s local curry house for our last family meal together.

Christmas with the Family

After visiting Manchester, Christmas was spent with my family. I stayed with my brother Matthew for a few nights and enjoyed visiting his local curry house with his friend Jackie, who I have known for 10-15 years now. We went Christmas shopping together in Leeds, which was remarkably stress-free, and I managed to buy a few new clothes for myself. We later retired to a Spanish restaurant for some well-earned tapas and a couple of beers.

For Christmas we had a family day with our friend Mary who used to babysit Matthew and I when we were somewhat younger than we are now. It was great to enjoy a home-cooked meal togther – our first Christmas together for 3 years.

Yesterday (Thursday) I went to York with Matthew and we had an enjoyable day walking on the city walls and visiting the National Railway Museum. Unfortunately the weather was rather murky and by the time we left a restaurant around 6pm it was beginning to get quite foggy. Today, the three men of the family met for lunch in Huddersfield, although we ended up going back to Matthew’s since most of the decent cafes in the town were shut.

Tomorrow we are being visited by my aunt, uncle and cousins and it will good to catch up with them all, especially my godson Edward who I haven’t seen for a few years. On Sunday I return to York to spend New Year with Craig and Holly at our friend Dave’s place there. For Craig, Holly and I it will be a re-run of our New Year celebrations in Auckland when they passed through on their round the world trip. I’ll then be returning south to London via Birmingham before flying back on Friday 5th.