Soundtrack: Let's get it started, by Black Eyed Peas. (The holiday can start now that there are no more long flights for a while.)

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 2 hours 58 minutes
  • Distance: 4.1 km
  • Calories: 1,983
  • Steps: 8,531

SWMBO, just arrived in Auckland

We went to bed on Monday then got up for our first flight.

Then we went to bed in Kuala Lumpur and got nearly 5 hours sleep.

Finally went to bed again, this time in Rotorua. And now it's Saturday. Time really does fly. This also explains why we’re so tired.

The flight from Auckland to Rotorua was an internal New Zealand flight in a Q300, and it was a whole lot more relaxed than any of the other flights so far. Internal Air New Zealand flights are awesome - you wait until boarding, then you board, none of the herding and gathering nonsense that other carriers do. It was the most stress-free flight I’ve taken in years. Just as well because we didn’t get any sleep overnight in Auckland airport.

The moon and Venus from Auckland airport

We got to our Rotorua motel (the Malfroy Motor Lodge) about 10am and (since the room wasn't ready) immediately headed out to explore.

And then we did a 3-hour bike tour.

I'd heard that exercising once you arrive somewhere is a good cure for jet lag but I don't really think we needed one. We just needed to get some sleep.

Rotorua is beautiful but smelly. There are natural hot springs and geysers around the place which are lovely to look at but give the whole area a bit of a whiff. The sulphur in the hot springs gives a nasty rotten egg smell which is unpleasant but not as pervasive as i thought it would be. Or maybe there's an underlying smell but my nose has already acclimatised to it.

The park in the centre of Rotorua is quite spectacular.

I kept expecting Yoda to emerge from the swamp

Every so often there’s a pile of rocks in the path, with steam rising.

Probably best you don’t walk or cycle over the rocks. Or sit on them.

The sheer expanse and variety of the geothermal activity is beautiful and hard for me to wrap my brain around.

Steam rising from a geothermally-heated lake

The bike tour covered a lot of ground - I think we did 5 miles. I'm glad Rotorua is mostly flat! Kelly was the tour guide - a former chartered surveyor, he prefers taking bike tours these days. And everything was 'fentestic'. The black swans, the mineral pools, the mud baths, fentestic. I haven’t got used to the New  Zealand accent yet so I found this funny. I hope Kelly didn’t notice.

SWMBO and Kelly getting ready to cycle

A government agency is creating an artificial wetland bank out of recycled plastic bottles. As if it's not cool enough creating the largest artificial wetland, it is seeded to spell out 'Rotorua' in very big letters. The plan is to transfer it up Lake Rotorua to the airport once the growth is complete, so that every plane taking off or landing sees it from the air. A lovely idea. Can’t see Belfast doing that for either of our airports.

After the bike tour we went back to the motel and finally checked in to the room. One of the reasons we picked this motel was it had a private mineral bath. SWMBO found the place and we both thought it might be nice to try it out. There are other places in Rotorua that you can go to for a mineral bath (like the Polynesian Spa) but that felt like a hassle - possibly an expensive hassle - compared to having one in the motel itself.

The Malfroy Lodge’s own little mineral pool

Boy did that turn out to be a great decision!

I don't really take baths much, preferring showers, and I've never enjoyed a sauna, but the hot mineral bath was great at easing aches and pains - especially my sore feet. I had a 30 minute soak last night, and a 20 minute soak this morning.


Then it was time to wash the minerals off using The Most Complicated Shower I’ve Ever Used. It was from Midocean Sanitaryware and it looked kindof like this one:

The Most Complicated Shower I’ve Ever Used

Awesome as the shower was, and incredible as the mineral bath was, I still have a sore bum from cycling. This is one of the many reasons I don’t like cycling.

That evening we bought some things from the Countdown superstore and then I watched S2’s team play netball in the tournament in Bangkok. Yes, I’m in New Zealand and through The Miracle Of The Internet I’m able to watch the live stream of a school tournament in Bangkok nearly 6000 miles away. This seems quite natural to youngsters these days but I still find it incredible.

After all that, sleep.

Now we’re refreshed, up and ready for the day. Today SWMBO’s uncle B is coming here with some of his family to show us around. I’ve met him but never the rest of the family. Terrified I’m going to make a fool of myself or embarrass SWMBO. Keep your fingers crossed!

Tags: Personal
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Soundtrack: *cough*, *splutter*

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 1 hour 9 minutes
  • Distance: 1.7 km
  • Calories: 597
  • Steps: 4,560

Another day another flight.

The previous flight got pretty rotten towards the end. Lack of sleep really affects SWMBO, and the headache it gave her was nasty. She got a couple of headache tablets and they helped, but it was getting off the plane that did the most good. It disappeared pretty quickly then, leaving just an extreme tiredness. She didn't even get the 2x20minutes I got on the flight, and I was so sleepy I was talking gibberish.

Anyway, off the plane into Kuala Lumpur airport. The airport is huge! It's so big it has an internal railway to take you between gate areas (not terminals). Side note - the one we took had American-Sounding Racist on it. Not sure what he made of all the 'foreigners' around him.
We got through immigration pretty quickly, and our bags were among the first out (once we found the right carousel), and then we were out meeting J.

My sister J is great. She's one of those people who can light up a room just by entering it. I don't see her enough, and I feel guilty for that (it's my fault we don't travel more - I haven’t seen either sister in too long, and my other sister G lives much closer). So we decided to have a one-day stop over in Kuala Lumpur since that's where she and her family are living.

Our windscreen picked up a reptilian hitchhiker leaving the airport.

First on J's list was getting to her home for a brief relaxation, with an introduction to the two dogs (Sookie and Sidney), and the new cat. This wee cat was found outside in the street in a bit of a bloody mess. They've taken him to the vets, got him fixed up and are looking after him now. He still doesn't have a name. SWMBO has decided he's called Simon, and called him that repeatedly throughout the day. I'm not sure it has stuck.

SWMBO stringing 'Simon'

I was (and am) a bit worried about the cat. He hasn't been vaccinated yet (he has a respiratory infection the vet wants to clear up before vaccination) so I was worried being around him with things that had been around Fergus. And (since he has an infection) I was worried about taking things he'd sneezed on back to Fergus, infecting him too. This didn't seem to bother possibly-Simon, who would quite happily come up to me and chew my clothes. Or my toes. Or play-fight with my hand. Hope he gets better soon.

(Side note: cats in Malaysia often have a forked tail, and A tells me it’s prehensile too. That’s a worrying trend - I think the only reason cats tolerate us is because we can open the food sachets. If they can do it themselves, how long until they discard us?)

Next, J had booked us tickets for the Petronas Twin Towers. These are great to see, but visibility was quite poor - Malaysia has been plagued by a haze for a while now because of forest fires in Indonesia. The fires are far away, but so big and so intense that it's causing health problems and flight delays in Kuala Lumpur. When I heard this I started wondering if my light cough and dry eyes were a result of this haze rather than just a post-flight dryness. One more thing to add to the Checklist Of Worries. Another thing to add is that worrylist J and family all have to live with that haze every day.

Haze in Kuala Lumpur from the Indonesian forest fires, seen from the Skywalk of one of the Petronas Twin Towers

But yes, the towers are very high. We walked across the Skywalk (42nd floor, 170 metres up) and then went to the observation deck (86th floor, 350 metres up). Very impressive, but the haze meant we couldn't see as far as you normally can. J didn't come up the tower with us - she's done it before and she's not fond of heights.

Haze in Kuala Lumpur from the Indonesian forest fires, seen from the top of one of the Petronas Twin Towers

I wanted to get a picture of me and SWMBO on the observation deck, so I asked a kind passing Australian to take a picture using my phone. He tried but didn't really succeed, but I thanked him anyway and moved on. In a different part of the observation deck I asked a lady (also Australian) to take a picture of me and SWMBO. She said she couldn't (she was sitting because of an injured leg) but that she'd get her husband to do it.

She did. Her husband was the same Australian that couldn't take the photo last time...

In the end he did manage to take a photo. I had to point out the button to press, tell him not to touch the screen anywhere else, and to tap the button, not hold it in. But after that, we got a photo. It felt like an achievement. I prefer it to the green-screen photo they took of us before we went up the tower. That just felt cheesy. (Also, must remember to wear green next time I'm doing something like that, just to confuse the software.)

The photo, eventually

After the tower we had lunch. We all had Nasi Lemak, a local dish. I had the fish version, Nasi Lemak Penang. It wasn't particularly to my taste but I'm trying to try new things this trip. SWMBO had Chicken Nasi Lemak. Then a visit to a few shops for essentials and then it was back to J's home for The Most Glorious Two Hour Nap I've Ever Had. I felt a bit guilty for it since we were only in Kuala Lumpur for 24 hours, but by this stage I was talking nonsense and not thinking clearly so it was for the best.

After that it was just a relaxing afternoon and evening with family. S3 has grown into a beanpole since I saw him last - taller than me now, and very skinny. A's looking good these days too. H and M (A's brother and sister-in-law) came over for dinner too - I think the last time I saw them was 1996! Was lovely to catch up with them. That evening with family was just great, and reminds me that I should do things like that more.

This was followed by a whopping 5 hours sleep. I had no trouble dropping off.

Then it was up, re-pack and out for 6am. J's family were all flying out as well to watch S2 play in a tournament in Bangkok. I think the furthest I went for a tournament in school was Lisburn. They truly are living in a different world.

Checking in was lengthy but straightforward. I wanted to ask about an upgrade, given how hard we found sleeping on the previous flight, but this took us to a couple more desks and talking to people (not my strong point). In the end we found out it would be possible to upgrade but it would cost £350 each. Didn't think it was worth that.

Turned out OK though - we got Emergency Exit row seats, so plenty of leg room this time. And there's only two seats in this block rather than 3, so SWMBO and I have it to ourselves. I think she's managed to nap a bit this time by propping herself up against the window. This may annoy the man in the seat behind her, who paid for an exit-row seat and didn't get one.

Another day, another plane

And that's up to where we are now - inbound to New Zealand, a 13 hour flight scheduled to arrive about 3.5 hours from now.

Tags: Personal
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Soundtrack: A loud, constant whine.

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 42 minutes
  • Distance: 1.6 km
  • Calories: 361
  • Steps: 3,633

I don't like travelling.

I like being in other places, I just don't really like getting there.

There are 11 hours still to go on this flight. This does not auger well.

I hope to share a lot of photos and memories of this trip, and I really hope it isn’t as down as this post is going to be. There may even be a few videos.

The itinerary is:

  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Rotorua
  • Christchurch
  • Arthur’s Pass
  • Lake Moeraki
  • Queenstown
  • Invercargill
  • Stewart Island
  • Auckland

It’s the trip of a lifetime for us – and it’s the second such trip of a lifetime we’ve done. The first one was 10 years ago, when we went to New Zealand to get married. For our 10 year anniversary we plan on being in the same place.

Right now though I’m cramped on an Airbus A380. I'm cramped, so that generally means people around me are cramped. I'm in an aisle seat so that means only one other person is affected - SWMBO. She's very good about this and insists it isn't a problem, but it can't be easy for her sitting there with me encroaching on her territory.

20151006_111857The double-decker A380 in question.

Things have gone smoothly so far today. We got up at a silly hour, and got the taxi we'd booked for 5am. I was only 5 minutes late. This is an achievement. I'm not usually a late person, or I try not to be, but leaving the house for a flight is difficult. I hate it, so my brain plays tricks on me. It's not just like having a checklist of things to do before you leave, it's like having a checklist and not being able to check anything off it. It's one of the things that makes me not want to fly.

We got to Belfast City Airport in time - before the check-in had even opened. So we waited. Waiting is horrible. Waiting just gives me more time to go through my checklist of things that may not be right even though I've checked them. Anyway, enough of that. Check-in opened, we used the automated check-in terminals, and dropped our bags off to go all the way through to Kuala Lumpur.

I'm not at all sure the bags will be there when we arrive at Kuala Lumpur. (Another thing to fret about!) Checking bags through to the destination is great, and I've never had a problem with bags not turning up, but I do know others that have. And it used to be much easier - nowadays it seems to be rarer that it's an option. When it works it's great though.

We went through security easily enough. Channel 2 was sending everyone through one of those awful backscatter X-ray machines so we avoided that by going for Channel 3. (Not obviously avoiding it, not enough to single us out, but avoiding it nonetheless. We'll get enough x-rays on the flight to New Zealand without adding to the problem, and just because they say they think they're safe that doesn't mean they're safe - remind me to tell you about the fight to end x-raying pregnant women some time.) Channel 4 opened and we skipped a few people by joining that line, only to then be told Channel 4's machine was broken and we had to re-join Channel 3, a few places behind where we left it. Technology, eh?

The flight to Heathrow was quick and easy. The Aer Lingus plane was surprisingly roomy. Roomier, I think, than where I am now. That may be the fondness of hindsight, but I don't think so. Maybe they’re trying to make an effort on their fairly-new route.

Off the plane, caught a bus to Terminal 4, had to go through security again. It was easy this time. There was 1 person in front of us in all of security, and when there are so few people around there's much less pressure. Everything went fine for us but the only other person wasn't so lucky. Let's call this person American-Sounding Racist (ASR). (I guess I’ve been lucky that most Americans I’ve met have been genuinely nice, warm individuals so this was a surprise.) ASR's stuff was selected for further screening, and he wasn't happy about that, or the fact that, well, I'm not sure what he didn't like but it was down to the supervisor not being English. He said it was as bad as Seattle, where 'they were all Ethiopians'. I tried to do the minimum interactions to get away.

Then the hard part. We had to check in at a Transfer desk for the flight to Kuala Lumpur. This should have been nice and straightforward (the constant checking of the checklist sees to that) but after a long wait we discovered:

  1. Someone had helpfully put a note on our journey from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland, to ensure we had a visa.
  2. We don't need a pre-arranged visa for travel to New Zealand.
  3. The note prevented the check-in person from printing our boarding cards until it was dealt with.
  4. The check-in person couldn't see the note because it wasn't for the London flight - the only flight she had access to.

Technology, eh?

All of this held us up a while, but on a brighter note ASR was behind us so it held him up too.

I think we were able to reassure the check-in person that we didn't need a visa because she just went ahead and printed the boarding passes after her supervisor had fixed the note. And she assured us that the tags were right and the bags were checked through to Kuala Lumpur.

I wonder if we'll ever see those bags again.

This got us through to Terminal 4 in time to buy neck pillows for the plane, carabiners to attach them to our bags, and not much else. The gate opened and we had to head there because boarding was starting soon.

Boarding did not start soon.

We declined to eat in all the fancy places Heathrow offers just so we could get to the gate in time, only to find out we needn't have bothered.

It's a big plane so the allow 1 hour for boarding it. 20 minutes before we were supposed to take off, they let us on the plane. Once on the plane, we waited some more. With all this practice I'm getting you think I'd be better at waiting. But no, I'm not. (What if we really do need a visa, and the web site is wrong or out of date?) We took off about 1 hour 10 minutes late.

I hope we're not too late arriving, or I hope J notices the updated arrival time. I don't want her wasting time because our flight was late.

I think one of the reasons we were late taking off (apart from losing our slot) is the safety demonstration. They have a fancy prerecorded safety demonstration that plays in the video screens in every seatback. It didn't work. Even after they rebooted it. The cabin crew had to go to a 'live demo' which felt wonderfully underpracticed. Seriously - there was nothing wrong with it, it just felt a bit unrehearsed. Everything else the cabin crew has done has been so slick, it's nice to see they're human.

And since this is a long haul flight, there are a couple of regulars we've been allocated. The regular Screaming Child is in the row in front of us. The regular Sneezer is across the aisle on my right. In preparation I brought some Boots Cold Defence Nasal Spray. I wonder if it’ll work. Guess we’ll find out in the next few days.

We've been served a few drinks and a meal so far. I asked whether the chicken dish had mushrooms but didn't really get a sensible answer, so I went for the beef curry. It was nice - quite mild, made for people like me who don't like curries too hot. SWMBO had the chicken. It didn't have mushrooms in it.

And that's up to where I am now: typing on a Nexus 9 with the folio keyboard, with small keys and the carriage return key where I expect the apostrophe to be. (That takes a lot of annoying editing.) The Nexus 9 itself started acting funny when I paired the keyboard with it last night, and when I went to turn it off in Belfast City Airport it was sitting at the bootloader screen. I don't know how long it had been like that, but down to 50% battery. I have a USB charging cable and the seatbacks these days have USB charging points on them (or at least this A380 does). My USB port isn't charging though, so I've had to plug in to SWMBO's seatback's charging port. Good thing I brought a long cable.

Technology, eh?

About an hour left of this flight, and it hasn't been super.

The lights were turned off and it was night out there, but we didn't get a lot of sleep. I think I managed about 20 minutes of sleep, twice. I don't think SWMBO managed as much. Neither of us are good at sleeping on planes.

That means I'm tired, but SWMBO has it much worse. The lack of sleep and the discomfort of her neck and back while trying to sleep has given her a bad headache. Usually when she gets a migraine it's a matter of sleeping it off or going somewhere quiet for a few hours, but there really wasn't much opportunity for that with Screaming Child. I just know she's sitting there fretting about our 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur now.

And I have a toothache. Just as we were taking off on the first flight of the day, from Belfast, SWMBO gave me a chewy mint. As the plane lifted clear of the runway, the chewy mint got a bit crunchy... Turns out that crunchiness was a bit of temporary filling. I already had an appointment to get that filling done properly, so I'm not that worried about it.

That's not the tooth that's sore.

The tooth that's sore is on the other side of my mouth, where I just had some root canal work done. Given the root was taken out, I'm not sure why it's sore. I'm hoping it's because of the air pressure in the cabin here and not something more serious. The bite does feel a bit different on that side of my mouth but there's nothing sharp or jaggy there so I'm hoping it's OK.

It'll be really nice to get off this flight.

Tags: Personal
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‘Too Obscure For Me’
Score: 2/5

Simon Ings

I suspect there’s a nice plot in here somewhere but I’ve no idea what it is.

I spent most of the time reading this book a little unsure what was going on. Now that I’ve finished it, I’m still not sure. I’m not sure what to make of some elements of the story – why were they there, and what were they supposed to add?

The whole thing felt too obscure to me. It’s possible it’s one of those literary masterpieces I just don’t get. It’s possible (even likely) that some bits of it are supposed to represent something or other and I just don’t see it.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Dry Towards The End’
Score: 4/5

Neal Stephenson

I get the feeling that the last third of the book is what the author really wanted to write, and the first two-thirds were just to get us all to that stage.

Unfortunately, it was the first two-thirds of the book that I preferred.

There’s a lot to like throughout the book. It’s quite imaginative, and the research from companies he’s worked with also really helped. There are, as always, a few good yarns too.

The last third of the book felt less like a story (or part of a story) and more like a dry non-fiction history that just happened to be of a fictional universe. I preferred the more direct narrative approach of the first two-thirds.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Imaginative And Thought Provoking’
Score: 5/5

Cixin Liu

The follow-up to The Three Body Problem is just as good. It’s quite different in setting and tone – I’m not sure how much this is to do with a different translator – but it’s just as imaginative. Very thought provoking.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Nice History Of Typefaces’
Score: 4/5

Simon Garfield

The details of typefaces aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but for some people they are an obsession. Some of those obsessed people are the ones who create new typefaces, so we have plenty to thank them for.

If you’ve ever wanted to know the history of Comic Sans, why there’s a backlash against Arial or if you thought Ikea should have stuck with Futura then this book could well be for you.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Alien, Hard Science Fiction’
Score: 5/5

Cixin Liu

This book describes a world quite alien to me: China from the 1960s onwards. I knew a little of the history, but not very much. This book gave me more of an appreciation of what went on.

I’m not a fan of translated books. They always feel a little clunky to me, which is understandable I suppose. Here the translator says it’s deliberate – the translator deliberately wanted to give readers ‘a glimpse of another culture’s patterns of thinking’. It worked, but I think I’d still prefer it if the text flowed a bit better.

The book itself is quite imaginative, and pretty ‘hard’ science fiction. I wonder where it’ll go next.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘MacGyver, Stranded On Mars’
Score: 5/5

Andy Weir

If you liked the technical stuff in Exo, you’ll love this.

Someone described it as making an entire book of the intense scenes in Apollo 13, where NASA were trying to figure out how to power up the Command Module. Or a book length episode of MacGyver.

That’s all true, but it doesn’t really cover how well the central character is drawn. His sense of humour really does come through.

The movie is now showing here but I haven’t seen it yet. I wonder how well the book will translate to a movie. I hope it does the book justice.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Techie Details And Fun’
Score: 5/5

Loved this book. Very easy to read and a nice story.

Steven Gould

It covers one of the first things I’d have wanted to try if I was a Jumper, and given some of the details I hadn’t considered I’d likely have wound up dead very quickly! Nice technical information but also fun.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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