Monday, September 3, 2012


24 June to 10 July 2012
Without a doubt, the past couple of weeks have dragged as we tried to rush time so that we could be on our way home via our planned ports of call.  After handing Harry over to the forwarding authorities on Friday 22nd June we had to kill time in our Paris hotel awaiting our departure from Charles de Gaulle airport and were quite anxious about not having Harry with us and also just wanting to get underway. We decided as our flight was due to leave at 5.00 pm we could easily spend a few hours at the airport looking at the shops and duty free etc so left to go out there around mid day. Yes crazy we know but as we had to check out from the hotel at that time it seemed to make sense.  On arrival at the airport we were greeted with the news that the flight would be 2 hours late in leaving due to some technical problem and the shops turned out to consist of a few small sized book stalls and a clothing store with articles priced so even Paul Getty would have snorted at the costs being asked. So off we went to duty free and found much the same. Boy could this mob take a leaf out of the Auckland terminals with its great array of shopping, both duty free and general.

Oh well, never mind we thought we would have lunch and eventually found a proper restaurant right at the end of the number 2 terminal so sat down to look through the impressive menu and then nearly choked even without having any food.  They made a big thing in their menu about offering great steaks or beef selections and the photos looked to be most appetizing but all turned sour when one looked at the prices to see them listed at between 62.00 and 67.00 Euros a serving but did include vegetables and fries!

Unbelievable when you think this was all we paid for whole beasts aged 3 months when we had our property in Auckland in 2007. Either the price appreciation has gone mad or we are too far out of touch so we had to settle for a salad each which was nice but which was priced at 16.00 Euros each. It would have been cheaper to get drunk I think.

Well slowly the time slipped by and our aircraft finally arrived and we boarded the Air Malta Airbus 319, a smaller version size than a Boeing 737 size aircraft for our 2.30 hour flight to Malta. Seated 3 across, we chose an aisle seat each so we were across from each other and had a little more leg room. The flight was quite comfortable and a light meal and wine was served (the white Chardonnay wine being a local Maltese product) which was all very nice. We had to get used to the PA announcements being made in Maltese, French, Italian and then English all of which are spoken in common on the islands. After landing and being taken to the terminal in the old styled buses and being assaulted by the heat we collected our luggage and “passed through customs and, immigration” which was non existent out to the waiting taxi organised by our hotel.

A twenty minute ride into town and into air conditioned hotel premises was a welcome change from the heat and humidity. The staff at the hotel, The Palace, were really very courteous and helpful so we felt at home again. Our room on the 3rd floor was quite magnificent, almost like a suite with all the facilities one could desire so it was a quick unpack, shower, coffee and sleep.

At 5.30 am next morning we were awake and ready to explore the hotel and all its facilities. Yeah, at last, 3 channels of English spoken TV mixed in with the other 12 unlike in the Paris hotel offering 16 channels and none in English. Three swimming pools including a heated indoor one with spa, steam and sauna rooms plus large modern gymnasium complex on the 7th floor and a bigger pool on the roof top plus a small plunge pool also with a large selection of quality lounges, seats and tables and even shade houses for the guests to relax. The bar and food service was good and the staff really attentive too. Nothing was a problem for the staff to attend to. The only bug bear and which I believe is a rip off is that while Wi Fi is free in the lobby and restaurants there is a charge of 12 Euros for 3 hours to be able to use it in ones own room.

As the day was fine and promising to be hot we had a good early morning swim and then dressed and headed down to the waterfront to have breakfast and do a bit of shopping. The main street along the foreshore is typical of resort towns with eating houses mingled in with general shopping so we chose almost the first we came across to partake in the selection being offered by a friendly waitress. I had a full English breakfast which was delightful with a large pot of tea for 7.50 Euros and Rhonda chose to have scrambled eggs, plus bacon despite it not being as that on the menu along with a good coffee. No problem for the staff to agree to our requests and boy did we enjoy it all.

After our enjoyable but over filling breakfast we walked along through some of the shops including the islands biggest shopping centre which while being large was not the size that one may be used to in the UK or even in New Zealand main centres but having stores like M&S, Debenhams, Espirit, etc it was great to be able to choose products with English names and familiar brand names so we were able to stock up as we had a nice refrigerator in the room. It was great to be able to get a cool wine, milk or soft drink or even fruit we wanted.

The slog up the hill from the water-front proved to be too much as it is a fairly long haul and steep and hot in the middle of the day plus being loaded with groceries and other shopping we chose to take a taxi ride (I can hear our good friend Daphne saying, “ Lazy B……s”) for 10 Euros to get us back to the air-conditioning and cool outdoor pool where we spent a good few hours of the afternoon along with a good nap thrown in as well. Very refreshing I have to say.   

As we were well stuffed with food from our sumptuous breakfast we both avoided lunch so were peckish by dinner time but still only went down to the outdoor eatery of the hotel and shared a delightful sea food mini salad along with an Asian tempter which was just delicious.  An early night followed as we wanted to arise early for a swim as even hotter temperatures were promised and we wanted to do one of the “Hop on Hop off” bus tours to the northern part of the island before the heat got to be too much.

Malta is really made up of two islands, one being Malta and one being Gozo and really are of being of little more than large rocks with the main island being only 24 ks by 14 ks and Gozo being much smaller and total population of the two islands of approx 250,000 people. Apparently this very religious country houses a church for every 1200 residents so all day long there are bells ringing from the bell towers and steeples which dominate lots of the skyline. Every village or city as they call them seems to celebrate some festival or another so there is plenty of activities to watch or partake in. They love their fireworks so at any time of the day ones ears can be assailed with the sounds of huge bangers sounding like canons going off in the sky. God help the poor animals and pets who are afraid of these sounds.  Each display goes on for several minutes at a time and can start as early as 8.00 am in the morning with the last being noticed at around 10.00 pm.

With beautiful deep water harbours it is quite understandable why seafarers from many nations have over run Malta since the first recorded landings in 800 AD by the Phoenicians over the Temple Builders who had been here since around 3600 BC and almost ever since the Romans, through to Bonaparte and on to Hitler to name just a couple of the big noters who led so many nations to over run these little dots in the charts of the Med and who had seen Malta as a gateway to the trade routes of the Mediterranean.

Due to the fact that the islands are so small it means that the currents wash easily by so no rubbish or junk is apparent hence the water quality is beautiful even in the main harbours and one can see boats keels and props etc clearly from above and swimming can take place almost everywhere despite there being a lack of sandy beaches there are marked off areas for this activity in almost every cove so there is no shortage of designated swimming areas.

While the coast is just beautiful, the same can’t be said about the rest of the land as wherever you travel the buildings are colourless due to almost all construction being of a sandy coloured lime rock and in general the roads are in pretty poor condition and despite there being developments of new hotels and shopping areas this is minimal compared to the size of the dusty town places.

Rhonda's Comment:  They only washed it the day before!!
We were amazed at the cars which were parked on the roadsides everywhere just coated in dust which looked to have been on them for weeks if not months or even longer.

We took the bus ride to the northern sector of the island and while really enjoying the coast and seaside town vistas the rest of the 3 hours spent on the bus was quite boring and dusty and being jolted along the potholed roads was not too much of a joy listening to a piped commentary which went on and on giving almost intimate details of the vast history of this island nation. With a language of its own, Maltese, being made up of Arabic, Italian, French, German and Greek words it is reported to be one of the world’s hardest languages to learn but as English is spoken by almost every body, communications are easy. The locals do however stick to Maltese when having a general conversation between them selves.

With so many sieges having taken place over the centuries of Malta it is too much to even try to report on them here but one can of course relate to the horrific attacks which befell Malta during WW2 when it is recorded that more bombs were dropped on these islands than on any other place on earth during that period when Hitler wanted to have Malta under his control; and the Allies needing it to maintain control of the main Mediterranean shipping routes and to harbour major warships in these great ports and coves, so the poor civilians suffered enormously and seemed to spend half of their lives living in destroyed building remains or below ground in bunkers existing at little better than starvation levels.  So severe was the bombing that King George VI awarded the people of Malta the George Cross for gallantry, this being the only time this highest award for civilian gallantry has been
awarded to a total population. 

Having such a small land area any agriculture is carried out in the centre of the island where very small paddocks are marked out with the construction of dry stone walls so almost every sort of vegetable and fruit is grown in these plots but it must be hard, dry, hot work as the heat gets up to the high 30’s almost every day of the summer season. Lack of water is also a growing problem and while aquifers are to be found on the islands tops there will come a time soon when water shortages will mean shipping in water from countries near by. The towns due to their age have very narrow streets so the buses have a huge task of negotiating the turns and twists adding to the general discomfort of public transport travel. At one stage we travelled along a road in our tour bus for about 2 kms and were not able to exceed 10 kms per hour so dreadful was the surface. Taxis are plentiful and are available from many location points but are quite expensive to hire.

We met up with another English couple who were holidaying at the same hotel as us. Ross and Michelle also own a house on the island but chose to spoil themselves with a stay at the hotel.  Michelle’s family all came from Malta to England but retained property here so it was interesting to hear first hand many stories about the islands from a local so to speak.

We decided that we would “do” another Hop On Hop Off bus tour to the south of the island being assured it was so much prettier than the northern one but sadly it was as bad if not worse and after 3 hours we were sight seeing exhausted so for the next few hours and the next day we spent at the hotel in the pool complexes and enjoyed all the great facilities.

We received word that Harry had been air freighted from Paris at last after a two day hold up due to some new vets decision to ban him until new tests had been taken. Talk about the air being blue while all this was resolved but the forwarder did a good job and finally he was on his way.

Finally we left Malta after spending a few hours at this beautiful super modern airport with all its great facilities, choice of shops, duty free stores and helpful people right until we came to go through immigration where we were quizzed for some time about the lack of stamps in our passports from leaving France but despite telling them that we had left from Paris and is wasn’t our fault because they (the French authorities) were too lazy to even look at our passports (not the first time this had occurred) we were scolded by the immigration staff saying that we should have demanded these stamps and after about 10 minutes of holding up the line we were waived through being told not to try and return again in such a manner. We told them that there was not a chance in hell of us ever wanting to come back to such a bumbling bunch of beauracrats and hurried into the plane.

The 4 hour flight to firstly was Larnaka in Cyprus where we had to stay onboard for an hour with no toilet use while cleaners rushed through and did a great job in cleaning before we loaded up for the final leg to Dubai. The Emirates owned aircraft was very comfortable but cramped so we were glad to land at Dubai to 39 degree temps at 2.00am in the morning. This airport is huge and amazing as it is super clean with magnificent tiling covering almost every surface and lots of cleaners scurrying about ensuring not a drop of dust or paper was left anywhere. From what we could see at this time of the morning it would appear there could have been 60 or more aircraft parked or operating on the aprons along the front of this huge terminal.

After collecting our luggage we fronted up to one of about 20 immigration counters where immaculate white robed officers sat and with the slightest wave of hand we were summoned to stand before him and to stare into a lens camera. Not a word was spoken by him as he examined our passports and then just stamped the appropriate page and waved us away without comment at all. Quite scary really. We took a cab into town to our hotel named the Movenpick at Jumierah Beach.  Not a speck of graffiti to be seen anywhere and the numerous tall buildings looked really impressive even at this time of the morning.

Rhonda's Comment:  It was so lovely but arriving at 2.00am it didn't stay on the bed very long!
We were checked in by extremely courteous staff who escorted us to our room where we found that as Rhonda had told them at the time of booking, we were celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary, they had left fresh fruit, a small chocolate cake with Happy Anniversary icing plus had folded two huge towels into shapes like swans complete with an adornment of rose petals. The aircon was set at 25 degrees which was nice so a coffee, shower and a sleep was what followed.

Rhonda's Comment:  That sand was soooooo hot.
To wake at around 8.0am after 3 hours sleep was a real eye opener as the sun was burning down on the beach and pools so a dash was made down to the pool for a swim. Air temp got to 40 degrees that day,  pool to 31 and the sea to 33. As breakfast was a part of tariff we partook in a marvellous selection of cold and hot foods so that was the last we ate at all that day apart from cool drinks.

Rhonda's Comment:  Ken and his new found best friend - hope he's rich!!
During our stay in Dubai I have to admit that the heat really hindered us from moving too far too often but we did venture to the world famous Dubai Mall which is just eye stretching if one can use that term. Showing of a huge 3 tier shopping mall with every brand of clothing,  jewellery, perfume and anything else you can think of was on display there plus huge shops selling the most exquisite and expensive ranges of everything one could want if you had the money which by the look of it the Arabs in their black burquas, many with full face coverings certainly did. Women often in pairs dressed like this wandered along either on their own, pushing or leading small children in tow behind male folk who one can only imagine were husbands. There were hundreds of these folk and they sure weren’t put off by the pricing so large shopping bags was the norm.

This mall offers a huge skating rink which looks really cool as it is surrounded by heavy duty acrylic walls and the skaters can have a wonderful time. Just further along was the world’s largest indoor aquarium housing 30,000 fish of seemingly endless varieties and with having appox a 20metre high acrylic viewing wall to watch nature at her best along with the divers who enter to feed and check on the fish, one could spend hours witnessing this splendour.

As if this is not enough, just further along the mall interior is a 30m high waterfall which has sculptured divers attached to the wall. The width of the display would be about 50m wide and is just amazing and you get such a feeling of movement due to the thousands of litres of water falling down these huge faces.

At 6.0pm we wandered out to the lakes side for a snack and to get to see the acclaimed water ballet which is a sight to see on its own. While it only runs for about 5 mins each half hour the choreography worked out as the fountains play to the great music is a wonderful sight. Spread over the lake of roughly two football size surfaces the piping and nozzles are set to play completely in tune and rhythm sending jets of water at all angles and heights up to about 30 meters. Worth a sit and wait for each session.

Apart from spending hours at the pool we made one visit to the nearby beach which was not fun at all. The walk over the burning sand was cruel even at 7.30 am and the water temp being 33 degrees was like trying to swim in a heated spa pool. Not cooling in any way at all and then we were faced with the trek of about 400m back over the burning fine soft sand to the hotel pool entrance, a cool shower and straight into the pool and aaahh that feels good again. No more visits to the beach but in winter months here it must be very nice. Even the cold water taps run warm due to the fact we think we are on the 23rd floor of this tower block and it is not easy to get a cold shower either. Still the families seem to arrive in the late afternoon and stay until the beautiful sunset sends everybody home. I guess that as it is free the local poorer folk make the most of the opportunity to let the kids have a gallop and so on.

Today we decided to take on another Hop on Hop off bus experience to give us a real look at this wondrous city. As the coach is air conditioned and water is handed out free to all who ride with this company we saw this city and learned about its history from a well learned tour guide by way of earphones. The old town which is situated at the mouth of the Dubai Creek where for centuries it was a sanctuary for the small dhows which plied these waters and was home for the pearl diving fleets up until the Japanese developed cultured pearls so for a long time little or no growth took place here until the old owners decided to develop a modern town to attract traders from all around the middle east as Dubai is right in the middle of the trade routes for the UAE. With the finding of oil by the English development took off and today oil only adds 7% to GDP as trade has become the hub and real money.

Just to give an idea despite the huge multi storey tower blocks and sky scrapers we are used to seeing pictures of all lined up along the waterways, the business sectors are huge with every name brand you can possibly think of having main offices, warehouses and even factories here. Every media organisation has huge studios and production houses ranging from CNN, BBC, SKY, NBC along with every country from China to Russia and so on is here with huge buildings and premises standing proud. It is too difficult to describe the wonders of this place and while I have always been very sceptical as to how will it keep going if the world trend away from tourists carries on, the Arabs sure don’t see it in this way and are currently building five more huge 5 star hotels alone on the base area of the Palm sand development. Everywhere you look huge building and road developments are underway as are additions to the new Metro type rail which runs entirely without drivers.  Every station is air conditioned with escalators and travelways linking foot paths to platforms.

The entire place is throbbing with vitality and maybe the Development Cities contained within the main city where overseas businesses are welcomed with minimal trading, tax and employment restrictions ensuring that every country in the world is scrambling to get to Dubai and to start doing business. With only 1.8million residents they welcome 20 thousand tourists per week so it seems as though the money will keep on rolling in. With petrol currently at 40 cents per litre it is cheap to run a car.  No income or sales tax is applicable either so other countries sure have a lot to learn.

With a huge availability of cheap labour from India, Malaysia, Indonesia and North Africa to name a few, staff is plentiful and as the Arabs don’t want to do any menial work the imported staff readily fill every vacancy at all levels of competency from doctors and nurses to the labourers who toil out in the sun from dawn to dark.

All of the hotel staff apart from a few managers are imported and are very good at their jobs in fact both Rhonda and I consider that the treatment we have had here at this Movenpick Hotel is the best we have ever come across anywhere in the world. Nothing is a problem and every request is met with a smile and they really appreciate it when we take a moment or two to stop for a chat about their day etc.

Rhonda's Comment:  You can just see the Atlantis Hotel through the heat haze.
As this is a Muslim dominated country there are large numbers of Mosques to be seen in fact there are reportedly over 500 to serve this population alone. The courts are set up in three categories. A/ Is the traffic court, B/ is the domestic matters court , both of these follow the Egyptian standards and C/is the domestic, family court which follows Sharia law so can be quite brutal. Just last week a driver was caught breaking some form of the driving law and sentenced to a 12 month jail but then admitted he didn’t know what he had done wrong because he had been drinking so the court reduced his sentence to 5 months but then referred his case to the Sharia run court and he was then sentenced 20 lashes for drinking alcohol. Goodness help some of my mates over the years…..

Well today I had to go to one of the local hospitals to get my ears flushed due to wax etc and the treatment there was superb. At one stage I had five nurses attending to me plus a doctor so felt really spoiled. While it took about an hour to get and complete the treatment it was pleasurable to be able to sit in very clean premises and to be attended to as though my problem was of major concern.

Rhonda's Comment:  Raffles Hotel in Dubai
This is an amazing city which can only be appreciated by visiting and by coming here in Jan, Feb or March would be a great time to enjoy warmth without the searing heat like the 43 degrees we experienced yesterday. Well after a very pleasant week we left our hotel to go to the airport at 6.0am still in 40 degree temps but with little traffic on the roads so one gets an even better idea of how big and modern this city is and to what a great infrastructure it has of roads and public transport needs. No sign of any cycle lanes alongside the spaghetti tangle of carriage ways and so on so most of the main linking roads allow 100 kms so traffic certainly flows along the 4 or 5 lanes running each way.

The airport is immense and only in daylight can you get any idea of what a sprawling complex of terminals and runways it offers. I just could not see from one side to the other but most of the terminals are shaped to look a bit like huge caterpillars and hundreds of air bridges stick out like insect legs. I think we were to check in at gate 104 which was a walk and a half for sure from the main entrance to this particular terminal and even after this trek we were still required to walk down 3 flight levels to board buses to take us on a 15 minute bus ride to the aircraft which was parked right across the airfield as they said there was a shortage of facilities to take our aircraft. This was followed by a climb up to the rear doors of the airbus which had us all puffing a bit in the heat and the frustration of having to endure this sort of treatment at this time of the morning.

Rhonda's Comment:  Dubai Marina
I just could not believe how many people were at that airport and it must have been in the thousands so of course there were planes scheduled to go to all parts of the world which is sort of amazing considering the population only being under 2 million but I guess as it is the hub for Emirates airlines which in itself is huge so this dictates the traffic movement. We were booked on a Emirates Airbus 330 which was nicely fitted out and with the aircon running cool, settling into the seats was a relief. Sadly we were told that due to our already delayed take off time due to traffic congestion we would be further delayed for another short period which turned out to be almost an hour while traffic ahead was cleared, however at last we were cleared for take off and we were up, up and away.

Onboard was like being in the middle of a Muslim express with so many seats occupied by people draped in black robes, with or without full face masks. Even some of the men were cloaked as well so we knew we were well protected by Allah and his helpers. After a few minutes the purser who was an Aussie came on to the P.A and told us about our flight details saying that we could expect some turbulence over the first 2 hours of the flight but then it would be clear smooth flying from there on so normal cabin service would go ahead as normal. Quite calming words really to those of us who have an inbuilt dislike of turbulence so we sat back, had our breakfast etc and easily tolerated the light bumping across the Arabian peninsular and then over the Indian Ocean to the horn of India. With all cabin announcements being made first in Arabic followed by another few languages before English got its turn, it seemed forever before we learn’t what was being told to us.

As we left the east coast of India and were over the Bengal Sea we were again warned about pending turbulence and all of a sudden we hit it which sent crew literally running to their jump seats and with each increasing bump the squealing of the passengers got worse and even Rhonda who is not prone to let turbulence worry her was more than a little scared I can tell you.  Thankfully we passed through the troubled area after the pilot announced he would take us up to a higher level and did so accordingly. The rest of the flight was without incident but it does remind one as to how vulnerable we are to mother nature’s whims.

A couple of days spent in Singapore was very pleasant and after the heat of Dubai we found the 23 to 25 degree temps to be very nice and even slept without the aircon going for most of the time. We did some last minute shopping at the huge shopping malls where we were amazed again at the volume of people making Sunday their big day out for shopping and socialising in these areas. The shop keepers are very keen to make sales and have all the answers and often it is hard to get away from their approaches but we did manage to get what we wanted and then packed our bags for the last leg to home. Another swim in the lovely pool and it was time to get to the airport for our respective flights.

Rhonda's Comment:  The building in the background is a new hotel in Singapore.  Ken sat next to a fellow on the plane who hired the whole penthouse apartment for $10,000.00 for 3 nights!!!!
I was very spoiled in that Rhonda had used my points to get me a business class seat home but it did mean travelling on Jet Star, the discount leg of Qantas airline via Melbourne so despite me leaving before Rhonda on her regular Qantas flight via Brisbane, she arrived 2 hours earlier than me so had met up with our friends Liz and Kerry who had driven up from Napier some 6 hours drive away, picking up our “new” car in Tauranga and bringing it on to Auckland for us. By the time I arrived all had unpacked at the motel and had the wine cool ready for my entrance. Just wonderful really and apart from me “claiming” the wrong bag from the conveyor belt or as the baggage people said, it may have been the other party who claimed mine first but as luck would have it, we had bought a new silver metal type suitcase which was unusual and had added red ribbons to the carry handles and of course the other persons bag was exactly the same and with red ribbons tied to it. Well after an hour and a half of waiting at the luggage desk we got our bag out of customs and Ministry of Agriculture where it had been thoroughly examined and headed back to the motel to have a genuine Kiwi feed of mince, steak and chicken pies. I had waited for 4 years to get these again so what a tummy full I had.

The next morning was set down as the time to go to quarantine and pick Harry up but as usual with government institutions where nobody can use common sense or read, the locals said that his paperwork from France was not complete so he could not be released. On top of that they had found a flea on him so it had to be sent to the analysis laboratory to ascertain where it came from and type etc. After poor Harry having been treated with Frontline every month for the previous 7 years and in the month prior to (one has to question the value of these so called “all round flea and tick” treatments. Even the owner of the quarantine service centre said they get lots of complaints from dog owners who find the same problem as us. Had he taken the matter up with the manufacturers? No way. But I sure will be doing so) being shipped from France had been treated again with Frontline on the 5th May. Again on the 15th of May and again on the 4th June as well as being bathed with a special shampoo which purportedly kills fleas, and ticks etc before being air freighted out to New Zealand and all of this done by French vets and his passport endorsed accordingly.
This meant that we had to pay for this analysis and on top of this they then questioned whether Harry was a “complete” dog and had he mated with any other dog in the past 40 days. Well as his paperwork and passport showed he was neutered some 6 years ago but nobody read it and he was also put under question as to whether he was one of the banned fighting dogs not allowed into New Zealand so the French government vet had to then DHL courier to NZ govt vet, Harry’s original papers. Why these had not been sent in the first place we can’t begin to guess. On top of this they emailed us during his quarantine period to say the Harry had a slight ear infection and asked “did we want them to get a vet” to which we replied that we were aware that he used to get a slight infection for which we had drops for but they went ahead and booked a vet who said exactly what we had told them but he said it wasn’t in need of any treatment but still charged his fee plus travel time etc.

Rhonda's Comment:  Reunited again
The whole matter of this poor little fellows delays to travel from Paris again by the airlines vet not reading their own French government vets paperwork so further tests were required and more inoculations required which made him start to lose his hair etc.

Rhonda's Comment:  Back home again to be with our great grandchildren and beautiful daughter.  Happy Days
I only go on in detail for the benefit of any other potential animal shippers that despite us paying “for the best service” overall cost to take Harry to France and bring him back again now exceeds NZ$10,000 of which only NZ$4,000.00 is the airfares. As owners, I believe we are ripped off and while I support strict controls on animal movements etc having followed every request regarding preventative treatments while we had him in France and had all treatments verified by Govt approved vets at the end of the day, that all counted for nothing so be warned. I would not suggest anybody does what we did as it is so unfair to the dog and as much as we love him and enjoyed having him with us while doing our “big adventure” it is unfair on the animal.

Just to complete my tirade over this sort of mean, expensive treatment as I said that I flew back via Melbourne so it meant that I had to go via the transit system at Melbourne airport so as the aircraft was full of mainly Asian folk and it seemed as though most were transiting, we were lined up (approx 200) in this narrow hall way to be processed. With very second person sneezing, coughing or one was actually throwing up, we were all eventually sent off through the scanners. Not a mention about health or hygiene matters though so goodness only knows what was being carried into Australia and onwards.  It is only fair to say that Singapore arrival cards were the only ones I recall asking about ones health status. A far cry from the dog status requirements.

Rhonda's Comments:  The flagpoles go up and The Blakies are in residence.
Well after lots of phone calls and emails, at last we got all matters cleared up and Harry was released to us and what a welcome we got from him. For the first time ever he went crazy with excitement and made a huge fuss of Rhonda and me then Liz and Kerry as he also must have remembered how they spoiled him when he they were on “Somewhere” with us last cruising season.

Well as we are now a complete unit again we can look forward catching up with family and friends and to settling into our new home in the Bay of Islands and to experiencing whatever comes our way, so again to all our readers we say a big farewell and a huge thank you to all the friends who supported us in so many ways over the past 4 years and ask that you keep in touch at least via email and we wish each and every one of you great adventures and experiences and say again, JUST DO IT.

Rhonda's Comment:  The wine is on the table, the TV has been put in place and the sign has gone up on the wall. 
Au Revoir from Ken, Rhonda and of course Harry xxxxx


Tuesday, July 31, 2012


May/June 2012

Rhonda's Comments:  Ken's last salute
Well I know when I finished the last blog that we felt that would be the last one as we had sold the boat and were heading back to New Zealand to start a new life.  Following publication of that blog we received over 400 responses ranging from readers saying good bye to others asking that we continue on with our blogs at least until we had got home and settled down again. Some of the emails were quite touching and from people whom we were not aware had even been following our adventures but admitted having done so for the past 3 and a half years. It was amazing and when we considered that they lived in almost every country one could think of, we were touched and so decided to bash out another blog to cover the handover of “Somewhere” and onward to our trip home.

Rhonda's Comments:  Hope you have just as a wonderful adventure as we did Steve.
Despite the hassles of making the sale of the boat a smooth transaction thanks to the interference of the buyer’s London based Marine Solicitor, all was finally been resolved and we welcomed Steve onboard on Sunday the 13th May, signed our sale and purchase agreements and handed the keys over on the Monday. As a reward for Rhonda putting up with me for 3 and half years living on the boat (and I have to say I could not have done it nor enjoyed it without her) but I guess it is just as well I am so relaxed and easy to get on with. Yeah………. I took her to the Moulin Hotel in Moissac for dinner and the night as a treat. For those who don’t know the hotel is sits right on the Tarn River and was originally a mill built in 1457 so the brickwork and underground areas which are now steam rooms and spas etc are amazing. We got a room looking up the river over the very spot where we had moored up last summer for a week or two before being driven back to the canal as the rising water levels can make mooring dangerous there.

It was strange to sleep in such a big bed again and to have ceilings about 6 meters above ones head. The lamb diner meal was delicious and dessert a real spoiler. The free spa bath and sauna were really nice too and we finished it all off with a delightful continental breakfast. Even Harry enjoyed the room as he could see out of the floor to ceiling windows which opened out on to a balcony, hence he could see the dogs and people walking by below. It will be a rude shock for him when we go back to New Zealand as dogs aren’t generally allowed in any shops there let alone hotels or motels unlike the UK and Europe where he has been made welcome almost anywhere and everywhere including all hotels and restaurants even a couple of Michelin Star world class establishments we have been fortunate enough to visit during our time here.

Steve, the new owner moved onboard and settled into the strange new surroundings only to find that when he went for a shower the water would not drain away so despite our best advice on how to correct this problem he had to wait for the local Capitan to attend to the problem. Isn’t it always the way that some difficulty shows up when you are trying to make it all go well for all. I remember our first night onboard for us when we were so tired after 30 hours flying across the world and we kept hearing the water pump going on and off and if it hadn’t been that we were so tired we would have been awake all night I think until by fluke, I discovered that the bathroom tap was sensitive to being turned off by being put into the upright position otherwise the tap trickled causing the pump to switch on and off. Oh dear, life on the waterways.

Rhonda's Comment:  I knew I was short, but
this is ridiculous! 
Later that day we drove down to our friends farm house just west of Agen to look after it until late June while he headed off to meet up with his family back in New Zealand so it was a case of learning how to feed, water and amuse his two pigs, feed and pamper his dog who was feeling a bit neglected with him going away plus re-learning how a huge house works with all its French idiosyncrasies including the water supply, the swimming pool and cleaner and the ride on lawn mower of course. Oh well it will be fun for sure. After dropping Andrew at the station in Agen we went shopping to a huge nearby supermarket and stocked up on food and drink to suit for our stay and then snuck back to sit down and finally relax in this beautiful rural area in peace and quiet.

With time to relax and ponder over what has been, I have also been able to catch up on some reading which included a book which Rhonda had read and recommended to me. For anyone interested in the French life style with all its quirky little characteristics including all about its unusual structure of local government and rules etc this book titled “Au Revoir” by the Australian author Mary Moody who ‘ran away’ at 50 to spend 6 months living in the south west of France, is an absolute beauty. The book is written so descriptively we can only say you won’t read better if you have any thoughts of coming to spend a period of time in this great country. It will make you laugh and want to make you cry as she takes you through those 6 months of living on her own in villages mixing with the ‘real’ French. Truly it is a fantastic and very real read.

Apart from the changeable weather we have experienced which while being unusual for this time of the year is disappointing as we had hoped to be swimming as soon as we moved in. Last night we had a thunder storm which was the biggest I have experienced for many years and which went on for nearly 6 hours coupled with heavy rain so the fruit trees were damaged quite a lot. We awoke to find that the electricity for the water pump and pool filtration had blown so had to get that fixed so I could water the pigs which are fenced at the bottom of the yard. Harry took to cramming up against us in his usual “S*** and a Shiver” when conditions like this come along and even Sativa, Andrew and Laani’s dog which we are looking after, decided that it was a good idea to push her way into our bedroom too and slept on the floor jammed up against the side of the bed. Talk about keeping dogs for our protection. What a joke.

After three days of continuous heavy rain with mind and feeling as though we were in another country rather than France as this time last year we were soaking up the sunshine and swimming every chance we got to visit a local piscine (pool). We had a couple of our boating friends come to visit for lunch which should have been outside under the shade shelter but we had to sit inside but had a good chat anyhow. They were moored up on the Lot where we had started to head for when the deal for the sale of the boat came good. With all the rain we were asking how was this area and they expressed concern over the rising waters but later that night after even more heavy rain the VNF marine authorities had to move boats from any river moorings to inside the locked area away from the effects which was good but for those who couldn’t be shifted, the owners had to vacate to a gite (hostel) nearby and with the rising waters it picked up a few of the smaller boats and sat them on top of the jetties or pontoons. Very frightening but our mate Terry stayed on board his 12 m cruiser and “rode” out the storm. Braver man than me for sure.

Well like all good things and all bad things there is an ending and the rain stopped and the sun came out and all was at peace with the world again so the skimmer and the pool cleaner were switched on and yesterday Rhonda and I had our first swim for the season. Just beautiful too once you got used to the temperature of the water. We had three visitors who called unannounced. One was a painter and decorator who claimed he had to come and do some work on the outside of the building but after a text to Andrew in New Zealand he was told to “go away” as one does as he is typical of the bands of gypsies who infest the country at this time of the year and try to gain work. How he knew we were here on our own baffles me but the gates got securely locked again. Later that day a ring on the front door and again a couple who we didn’t know wanted to come in but as they couldn’t speak English we refused them entry but after a lot of gestulating and showing us keys the penny eventually dropped that they were in fact the owners of the whole property and wanted to get into the locked shed to get tools etc. Another reason why we should have learned French before we came to this country but it all ended up well after he rang his daughter to get her to speak to us in English.

Last but not least was the appearance of a meter plus long snake which came slithering along the pool decking and scared the heck out of me only to disappear below the pool banking then the next day as Rhonda sat out buy the pool it came swimming past and again slithered below the deck. When we mentioned this to Andrew in one of our emails, he said “Do not kill it whatever you do as it serves as a rodent disposer”. If he thought for one moment I was going to get any closer than a double barrel shotgun would allow, he is sure mistaken as I am terrified of them. Oh well lets hope the dogs don’t decide to chase it.

While all of this carry on has been going on, we were negotiating to buy a property for our retirement north of Auckland in the Bay of Islands which has always been a favoured spot of ours due to the magic scenery and aquatic activities for which the area is world renowned. We made an offer subject to our final approval when we were due back in New Zealand in July but were told that we would not get the property so should make an unconditional offer as another party also wanted it but needed some time to get their matters into order so in true Blakie mode we made an unconditional bid based on the photos, write up and visit to the property by our good friend Jenny who knew the area well and also what sort of home we required.

Well you may imagine how the mind was racing with all the questions “Have we bid enough? Have we chosen the right place?” and so on. Well while we sat here in the dark awaiting advice from New Zealand in their daytime we really felt like two kids at Christmas time and then the email came through with the news that our bid had been successful and we were the new owners of this wonderful property. I am sure our behaviour was quite childish really but we now have a home to go to when we get back. I am sure we will hear comments from our family and friends suggesting we have lost our sanity but we really wanted this property as it did as they say “ticked all the boxes” so we have it now and also we have been able to negotiate over the furniture which was shown in the range of photos listed and which has been placed in storage while tenants moved in for a short period. So all being well this array plus our own container load which is also in storage in Auckland should allow us to settle in as soon as we get home.

Our great pal Kerry from Napier has been assisting in the hunt for a suitable car for us so when we spotted the one on Trade Me which we wanted and Kerry was able to check it out, he will drive it to Auckland so we will have wheels awaiting us when we get off the plane so to speak. It was Kerry and Liz who were going to house Harry for a period after quarantine until we got home but due to us now having a house we can collect Harry ourselves but they still want to come with us to collect Harry so we will have a great time together as they are staying overnight at the same motel as us.

The kids and friends are excited that we are coming home after four years away so dates have been written on lots of calendars and I am sure when we do get there we will enjoy lots of greetings, kisses and cuddles not to mention all the chat, cups of coffee and tea plus wine and other such tongue looseners as the days go on but of course we have yet to complete the journey and we do look forward to our next few weeks stay here and then our drive to Paris over 6 days while we look at some more of this wonderful country. We then fly to Malta for 6 days then to Dubai for 7 more days followed by 3 days in Singapore then home.

Rhonda's Comments:  We are so going to miss lunches like this with great friends, Alan & Nicki.

In the meantime of course, we have several activities here to complete like seeing folks who have become friends and who are still in this area plus enjoying or enduring depending on ones point of view, 4 days of almost non-stop TV viewing of the Diamond Jubilee from London. Rhonda’s love of the royal family meant that she watched every moment of any bit of TV coverage from the pre-event activities to the full day Thames river 1000 boat flotilla to the concert outside Buckingham Palace to the church service at St Paul’s Cathedral and the following lunch at Westminster Hall with the Fly-Past finally closing the official events late on Tuesday afternoon. I know there were interviews with folk who had slept out overnight to be in the right position to “see the Queen” with thousands queuing from 6 am each day to ensure they would have good views of the passing parades and activities. Amazing when you consider that over 4 million people have attended the Jubilee activities, yet only 29 arrests were recorded for anti-social behaviour for the whole period. Imagine the behaviour if that many had turned up for footy games…….

Rhonda's Comments:  More farewells but we hope we will see you all on this side of the world soon.
It says something about the wonderful example set by the Queen showing dignity, standards and restraint which rubbed off on the visitors and when you consider that thousands stood for up to 10 hours in the rain on the Saturday, uncomplaining to watch the flotilla navigate that stretch of the Thames or to get only a glimpse of the Royals attending a particular event. One has to be impressed to say the least. Again it was a showing of the stoic attitude of the British people and may it long continue.

On Friday the 15th of June we packed up the rental car and headed off on the last land sections of our French adventure. We drove to Brantome for a delightful lunch and to see the oldest church spire in all of France. This town is set alongside the river Drone and a large part of the old town is set right into the limestone cliffs and these caves include at least a part of everything from restaurants and housing to commercial car parking. A fascinating place and well worth a visit for sure. After a few hours of sightseeing we headed off to Limoges for an overnight so we were at the town of Oradour-sur-Glane for first viewings the next morning.

Oradour-sur-Glane is a town which during WW2 was a simple small community of under a thousand people just getting on with life despite having German troops camped outside of town. On the morning of the 10 June 1944 the troops entered the town herding all the occupants into the town square where they ordered all the women and children of all ages to go to the church which had only two doors which could be opened. In the square they made the men folk start digging a large trench while they started to hang from trees or buildings any “listed” Communists or Spanish emigrants plus local officials like the mayor and religious ministers etc. This was done in front of the standing locals and then the soldiers were given the order to fire, and every person in that square was executed by these firing squads and the atrocities carried on as officers walked on the bodies to shoot any person showing any sign of life. They then turned their attention to the women and children locked into the church and they poured drums of oil and petrol and diesel in through the windows and set it alight. One can only imagine the horror of those poor souls as they fought and scrambled to try to get away from the flames and trying to protect their children while the soldiers fired upon any persons trying to escape the inferno. In all, over 600 people were killed with only three escapees in total living to be able to relate to the world this horrible event.

As if this wasn’t enough the German soldiers looted every house and business and then lit fires in every building, destroying all standing structures and throwing the remains of the bodies into those fires to try to eliminate any traces of this evil deed. As a tribute to the town folk the government at the end of the war decreed that the town skeleton would stay as a memorial to the 600 plus who perished. The photos we took are only a small reminder of what must be regarded as a very dark day in Germany’s history.

A new town has been built almost alongside the old ruins and is laid out in the same pattern as the old. Well worth a visit and some thought as to man’s inhumanity to mankind.

Following the visit we headed off across some great farming countryside (huge plains of slight rolling country for hundreds of kilometres) using the minor roads and on to the city of Tours which is a really large city in every respect. We stayed out on the outskirts as we have become folk who don’t like big towns or cities if we can avoid them.
Rhonda's Comment:  A visit to Chenonceau.  Harry was
even welcome inside the Chateau.

Tomorrow we will drive again on the country roads to Bayeux where Rhonda hopes to visit the UNESCO listed famous tapestry denoting William the Conquerors’ conquest of England in 1066. This embroidery is almost 70 meters in length depicting 600 people, 200 horses and forty or so ships plus hundreds of animals and mythological figures and was completed in the 11th century and in the following 900 years it has been hidden umpteen times and protected from destruction and now hangs for all to see and marvel over.
Rhonda's Comment:  Harry has the best seat and view in the car as we head north to Paris.

As we were staying at Bayeux which is just a short hop from the beaches with names like Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword all famous or infamous as being the beaches where the Allies landed on 6th June 1944, D Day, to begin the liberation of Europe and generally named as the beaches of Normandy, we made a visit to the area. We went to the coastal town of Arromanches which is in the central area of this landing zone and where the famous Mulberry Breakwater which was towed in sections across the channel from England and was anchored into place to provide a harbour-like shelter for unloading facilities for the Allied drive and proved very successful until storms late in August destroyed it but not before 18,000 tonnes were unloaded from the ships and landing craft every day over a period of a month. It was called Winston Harbour after the British Prime Minister of the day and many of these huge concrete monoliths are still visible from the shore today.

The beaches as listed above are still places where tourists and servicemen, including some who served here during the war pay homage to the 100,000 personnel and civilians who lost their lives in this region and who are buried in a number of cemeteries nearby. What a sad, wicked loss of life for all nationalities who were involved. To visit he American cemetery alone where some 9,500 servicemen are buried is a very sombre sight indeed. The continued drive across this beautiful country was a sombering few hours as one reflected on what had gone all those years before.

After a nights stopover at Evreux, we headed to Monet’s Home and Garden in Giverny where we spent a couple of delightful hours wandering through the great layout and visiting the water gardens where he painted some of his wonderful works of art and lived in these magnificent garden surroundings. As the day went on, I bet there were a thousand or so sightseers paying their 9.50E to take a look with most carrying cameras and snapping on almost every scene and flower that was there. With gardeners working in every plot it seemed, I wondered just what it would be like to be able to sit back and order all this work to be carried out to ones whim. Oh well another lottery ticket may solve the problem.

While in this area we visited a huge model train layout housed in an ex-farm barn, so one gets the idea of the size of the layout inside. Dominated by the German model train maker and Faller the model building manufacturer it was just amazing. With some 230 locomotives, 430m track, 650 houses and buildings, 1,250 vehicles and people, more than 2,500 lights, it included little working features and structures such as cranes, concrete mixing trucks, fairground attractions, cable cars running up the mountains, helicopters and even an ice skating rink with the figures pirouetting around ever so beautifully. With a number of trains running on the tracks at any given time, there is so much to see for kids like me.

From there we headed into Paris to get everything sorted for Harry to go off to quarantine and then on to his flight back to New Zealand followed by 10 days in quarantine there before we are able to pick him up. I bet if they made humans tolerate these sorts of controls there would be no shortage of seats on flights or availability of upgrades to business class etc. Never mind, it will soon be over and we too will be home in Godzown ready to settle down (who knows) into our next adventure.

I have decided that we will finish the run of our blogs now when to avoid boring you with domestic type details so will take this opportunity to say “Farewell” and “Thank you” to our friends, readers and followers who we have had so much encouragement from and to use the famous Virgin CEO, Richard Branson’s wonderful title from his book which is so apt, “Screw it, Just do it”, and the great saying from our dear friend and solicitor in New Zealand, Andrew Stokes who used to tell Rhonda and me “Life aren’t a dress rehearsal, just get on and do it” and thank goodness we did. Maybe you can follow these wonderful sayings yourselves too.

To all of our readers whom we haven’t been able to contact directly to say “Cheerio” we now do so and thank you for your moral support as we have tried to keep you informed of our travels and adventures and do sincerely hope that you too get the chance to “JUST DO IT.”

Happy Cruising
Ken, Rhonda and of course Harry