Soundtrack: Call and Answer, by Barenaked Ladies. The call to ‘Rebuild… Rebuild…’ at the end of the song went through my head as I was walking around Christchurch city centre.

Google Fit stats on Monday:

  • Activity: 3 hours 6 minutes
  • Distance: 10.7 km
  • Calories: 1,683
  • Steps: 16,709

All the travel started taking its toll today. Even so, the Google Fit stats have picked up from their usual torpor level. I think the time difference has confused it so some of Monday’s activities appear to have bled into Tuesday’s stats.

The flight was uneventful (yay!) and it was a short taxi ride to the hotel. We stayed in Chateau On The Park because, well, that was where we stayed 10 years ago. It’s a nice hotel a little bit out from the centre of Christchurch. You have to cross Hagley Park to get to the CBD, but the park is nice so it’s a pleasant enough 20-30 minute walk. Also, they had a cat when we were here last time - Sebastian - who helped when SWMBO was missing her own wee furballs. Sebastian has passed on, so those duties have now passed to the current Hotel Cat, Gary. I think hotels having cats is a nice idea, even if part of me wonders if it’s just to keep the vermin count down.

We got to Chateau On The Park, dumped our bags and got ready to go out. Then SWMBO took a bit of a pre-migraine turn and needed to sit down. I think it was just tiredness and jetlag finally catching up with her - she had been on the go a lot. I went to the bar to try to find some crisis-worthy coke and crisps (salt and sugar sometimes help) and had to wait for the nice folks to get the keys to the bar because it wasn’t open yet. Finally succeeded and brought the ‘medicine’ back for SWMBO.

Medicinal snacking seemed to do the trick so we headed out soon after, just a little later than planned.

Christchurch suffered a lot in the 2010 earthquake, and was then devastated in the 2011 earthquake just a few months later. We loved Christchurch when we were here in 2005, before all the quakes, and were shocked by some of the scenes we saw on the news. My heart really went out to the people we’d met here.

It’s a lot flatter now than I remember

Even though we’d seen pictures and videos of Christchurch now, we still weren’t really sure what to expect. I’d heard that there was a lot of work going on in the city centre still, and it was still mostly demolition rather than construction. And I’d heard of the shopping mall made from shipping containers. And the cardboard cathedral. But even so, seeing the city so changed was a shock.

How the cathedral square looked 10 years ago

How the cathedral looked 10 years ago

We headed straight to the centre by the cathedral, since that was a lovely spot to congregate when we were here last time. Bits of it looked a little familiar but so much has changed. The tram lines are still there, the square is still open, and the cathedral is in the same place but… broken.

We both had lumps in our throats as we sat there looking at the cathedral square.

They haven’t decided yet whether to knock this down or fix it

When we were here 10 years ago we were surprised by the earthquake warning notice in the basement of the cathedral. Looking back now it seems like good advice.

Good advice from the cathedral basement 10 years ago

It’s clear that they want to rebuild the city, but that it’s taking time. I think what I was told about there being mostly demolition at the minute was a little out of date - folks say that things have improved lately and that the centre has come a long way in the last six months. I hope they’ve turned that corner. They do appear to have wanted to rebuild the city the right way, rather than the fastest way.

It was lovely to see small pieces of art work scattered throughout the city. When a lot of buildings have been removed, there’s a lot of space for temporary art installations. Frequently you’d come across something small and remarkable, often with a story behind it.

I thought this was a nice way of symbolising growth

By this stage we were getting a bit hungry and although the cathedral area was nice to see, there really wasn’t much happening. It used to be a hive of activity.

We decided to head to the Re:Start container mall for some food. I was a little worried that SWMBO was getting exhausted, and this wasn’t helped by much of the Re:Start mall being shut by the time we got there.

SWMBO and cats

I guess the lack of activity and the lack of restaurants was deliberate, to try to keep people out of the centre while so much work was ongoing. I should have thought of that. But I didn’t, so we were left walking around the Re:Start mall trying and failing to find somewhere to eat.

We gave up on finding somewhere serendipitously and opened Google Maps to try to find somewhere - anywhere - near us that would serve us. (By this stage I was tired and thirsty and SWMBO was very drained.) The mighty Google pointed us at Orleans which turned out to be a pretty excellent place for us. Just what we needed. Yay for free data roaming!

Then we walked back to Chateau On The Park and had an early night.

Soundtrack: Young At Heart, by The Bluebells. (SWMBO spotted some bluebells in the park.)

Google Fit stats on Tuesday:

  • Activity: 4 hours 27 minutes
  • Distance: 22.1 km
  • Calories: 3,020
  • Steps: 14,303

Up out and relatively early the next morning, across the park to the Re:Start container mall again. This time it’s open! It’s a really nice idea - all the shops and stalls really are modified shipping containers. I suppose it’s a quick way to put something together but it has an interesting, practical vibe. New Zealanders always come across to me as eminently practical, and Re:Start is just one example of this practicality.

There’s a genuine vibrancy about this place

Even though it’s quite early in our holiday this is probably the last good opportunity we’ll have for souvenir shopping. Other places will be smaller and probably much more touristy - selling the kind of tourist stuff we’re not really interested in.

Sometimes I like the idea that by buying stuff in Christchurch rather than elsewhere we’re more directly helping those folks who have stayed in Christchurch. Then I think that’s just me being up myself. Ah well. Still, we bought some wee things there, and we didn’t buy things we didn’t want just because we were there. And I resisted the urge to buy anything in the All Blacks’ store - I’m still hoping Ireland can surprise us all.

Then it was time for the Rebuild bike tour.

Our guide Clare, describing how things were and how things will be

Yeah, another New Zealand city, another bike tour. My bum still hasn’t recovered from the last one.

We met our guide Clare at 1pm at the Antigua Boat Sheds. And the bikes this time have gears. The gears proved troublesome for me and I don’t think it was just down to my inexperience.

An art popup

Clare had lots of tales of the earthquakes and the ongoing rebuilding. It was a more hopeful day than yesterday, hearing about the growth and the people rather than just seeing the devastation. Definitely worth doing, even if you can’t get the hang of the gears.

SWMBO and Clare at the cardboard cathedral

Late lunch was Lebanese souvlaki, once again at the Re:Start mall. It’s a nice place and, in truth, there’s little else around compared to 10 years ago.

The tram tours still run though, so we hopped on the tram to get a different view of the city.

I was too tired and zoned out to try taking a picture of anything outside the tram

By this stage exhaustion was catching up with me again and I zoned out a bit on the tram. Still, it was nice to see some more normal looking streets.

Nice to see a street that mostly survived the earthquakes

Then the very-long-feeling walk back to the hotel. It would’ve been a shorter, more normal walk if I hadn’t taken us in entirely the wrong direction for a bit.

The very tolerant SWMBO on our elongated walk back to the hotel

10 years ago SWMBO asked me if I wanted to eat at Dux de Lux. Of course I said yes - I like duck and ‘Ducks Delux’ sounded lovely.

Dux de Lux was a vegetarian and seafood restaurant. They didn’t, needless to say, serve duck.

How was I to know it was ‘Dux de Lux’ (something to do with the Duke of Luxembourg) and not ‘Ducks Delux’ (an awesome way of preparing a duck-based meal)? It’s not like I could hear that in the pronunciation!

Failing to learn from my mistake (kidding - it was lovely), dinner tonight was in Dux Dine. The original Dux de Lux was in an area that was closed to the public for a long time so the owner opened Dux Dine further out. This was very convenient for us because it was quite near our hotel. The food was once again delicious, and the beer and wine also really hit the spot.

Tomorrow we’re up early for the train to Arthur’s Pass. That’s the bit I really think of as the holiday - Arthur’s Pass. All the places we go before it are just preludes to the main event, all the places after it are nice additions. It was such a fantastic place 10 years ago, and I really want it to be just as good this time. I hope we haven’t built it up too high in our expectations.

Tags: Personal
Created by on Logo15659OpinionatedGeek Ltd.Logo15659

Soundtrack: Take Me To Church, by Hozier

Google Fit stats Saturday:

  • Activity: 1 hour 21 minutes
  • Distance: 2.9 km
  • Calories: 696
  • Steps: 6,882

Google Fit stats Sunday:

  • Activity: 1 hour 33 minutes
  • Distance: 4.5 km
  • Calories: 803
  • Steps: 8,105

Another airport. We're checked in for our flight from Rotorua to Christchurch. It'll be our last flight for a while, something for which we are both very grateful.

I managed to catch some of the New Zealand rugby game. It was on at 7:30 in the morning, but y’know, jetlag and all that meant we were awake anyway. The All Blacks seem to be on scary form, as usual. Wonder if there’ll be an Ireland - New Zealand game while I’m here.

Saturday was another family day, this time for SWMBO's side of the family. Her uncle B moved out here many years ago, and has brought up his family here. I met B a few years ago but this is the first time I met the others.

SWMBO, B and me (looking like I could chew an apple through a tennis racquet)

SWMBO had talked about K, how she had lived in Norn Iron for a year when the whole family moved back, how she and J had come over to travel for a while when they were older, but I didn't know what to expect. I was even more surprised when I heard they were bringing their kids over to see us too.

First up, we went to Skyline. It’s a gondola/cable-car system to take you up to the top of the hill that overlooks Rotorua.

Family on Rotorua Skyline gondola
I suspect digital fakery, since the gondola was in the terminal when they took the picture

The gondola rides are a bit scary. I kept thinking of Where Eagles Dare. Time to confront that fear again.

(Looking up) ‘Hold me!’

(Looking down) ‘No, seriously, hold me!’

Everyone else was, of course, absolutely fine.

They also have a pretty cool ride up there - The Luge:

It’s more fun than it looks here

Safety first! (No, the luge didn’t damage my teeth. They’re always like that.)

It’s basically a simple gravity-powered cart. You get a brake and handlebars to steer and that’s it. ‘Kids’ ride!’ you say? I say ‘Yeah, probably’ but it was still a lot of fun. We all had a go. It turns out SWMBO’s uncle B is a bit manic on the luge. He was the biggest kid of all.

And every time you get to the bottom of the luge, you get to ride a ski-lift kind of thing to the top again.

What was that about confronting fears?

Yes, it turns out there’s a lot of potential for fear-confronting over here.

Lunch portions were huge. SWMBO and I both looked at the picture of what we were ordering and were gobsmacked when what we got was three times the size. I wonder if this is a general New Zealand thing.

What do you mean, ‘cheesey’?

Right next to the base of Skyline there’s a small wildlife park called Rainbow Springs. It wasn’t too late in the afternoon so we went there too. There was a, let’s call it a ‘minor tussle’ over paying entrance here. I feel bad about these guys coming to Rotorua to show us around so I really didn’t want them to have to pay as well. B was, well, quite insistent. Cue a scene the person taking the money described as ‘from The Hunger Games’. In the end I gave in. My excuse is that I didn’t think I could win without hurting him.

They have all sorts of native New Zealand wildlife - parrots, parakeets, and a couple of kiwis. And a very ugly fish:

A very ugly fish

While we were watching, this fish (or one of its brethren) attacked a duck that landed on his pool. I’ve never seen a fish attack a duck before. I’m still pretty surprised about it. I felt sorry for the duck.

It was getting near closing time when we got to the kiwi enclosure. The enclosure is kept dark during the day, so you can watch the nocturnal kiwis going about doing kiwi things without having to come along in the middle of the night. While we were in the enclosure, they said they were going to bring the lights up to simulate daytime and let the kiwis know it was time to go to sleep. This was great (‘fentestic’?) and we were able to get a much clearer view of the kiwis than we otherwise would have. Lucky timing!

After that, we went on the Big Splash ride.

Big Splash ride at Rainbow Springs, Rotorua (correct orientation)
Everyone else looks like they’re having fun. I look in abject terror.

We got wet. Some of us got wetter than others.

I may have looked worse, but it’s my camera!

As well as the drenching, B lost his cap. This was apparently a Big Deal - the hat was a gift. We couldn’t find the cap, even though we knew where it came off, and B was pretty inconsolable. After stopping the ride a couple of times and poking things with a pole the staff were able to find and retrieve the cap, with only a moderate amount of duck poo smeared into it. Happy B!

B’s trousers were a little damp from the ride too, but the sun coming through the window in the cafe was warm so he stood up on the chair to angle his trousers at the sunbeam. Then he moved the trousers a little to encourage drying.

Put simply, he stood on the chair and twerked at the window.

The lady at the table outside the window got up and left.

B, who was facing the other way to twerk at the window, was oblivious to all this.

After that we got a lift back to our motel and said our goodbyes. Had a great day with them all - the kids were little angels the whole day, it was the grown ups that were trouble... OK, let me be honest here – it was me and B that were trouble.

Rotorua has a street they call Eat Street, where there are a lot of bars and restaurants. SWMBO picked a place (after some considerable research over the previous month, I suspect) Atticus Finch. The food was excellent, and they had a nice range of cocktails. It seemed to me a glaring omission that they didn’t have a cocktail called ‘Tequila Mockingbird’. I feel like I should start a campaign to get them to create such a cocktail and add it to their list.

Atticus Finch’s menu is crying out for a Tequila Mockingbird, isn’t it?

Then it was back to the motel, a short dip in the hot tub, then bed.

Sunday arrived and it was the first day in a while where we had no travel scheduled and no relatives to see. A day off and a lie-in!

And then the hot tub again.

I get sore feet. Plantar fasciitis is the official term, but really for me it just means my feet get sore. Anyway, the regular hot baths in Rotorua mineral water seems to really help ease the pain. Long may that continue - I reckon SWMBO will have me walking a fair bit.

In absence of anything planned, we took a taxi out to the Maori village Whakarewarewa. I was a bit worried about this. It would be easy to see this ‘living village’ as a display to point and laugh at, or something put on just to get the tourists in. I was relieved when it didn’t feel like that at all. It does come across just as they say - a living Maori village, surrounded by geothermal features, that you get to walk around and ask questions about.

Oh, just a geothermal vent letting off steam next to the buildings

The buildings really are separated by lots of geothermal features. They said they can’t bury bodies in the village because if they dig 3 feet below the surface the geothermal activity can be too much.

Ooh, get him, taking a fancy panorama with his phone

You can take a tour of the village with a guide and get some corn cooked in the geothermal steam. We took the tour (it was good). We didn’t get any corn. That bit had closed by the time we were done asking questions and walking around. Ah well.

I learned a bit about the Maori language here too. The letter ‘r’ is rolled. (I was told to roll it like I was a kid pretending I was shooting a machine gun.) I was surprised the first time I heard Rotorua pronounced Rrrotorrrua. The ‘wh’ combination is pronounced as an ‘f’. So, Whakarewarewa is (I believe) pronounced like Faka Rrrewa Rrrewa.

I didn’t know whether to generally pronounce words with the ‘r’s with the rolling or not. It’d be pretty clear I was new at it if I tried, but would ballsing it up be worse than not trying? And should it depend on who I’m speaking to? Generally I aimed for what I figured was the least offensive option for the person I was speaking to. I hope I got it right.

Korotiotio means ‘grumpy old man’. Make up your own joke here.

While we’re on the subject of language, people here - in Rrrotorrrua, not just Whakarewarewa - use the word ‘geothermal’ as a noun. I guess when they talk about it so much it’s easier to shorten ‘the geothermal activity’ and ‘the geothermal feature’ to just ‘the geothermal’. Seemed odd to me at first but I got used to it.

Just look at those geothermals

There was a bit of a show put on by the villagers as well, all in traditional Maori costumes. I have an easier time with this kind of thing, given how often diddly-dee music is played back home. And it was fun. Some nice performances, some nice singing.

And then they did the haka.

And it was scary.

I can see why they did it to terrify the enemy (or their opponents, in the case of the All Blacks). It is quite intimidating to be on the other end of it.

Each of the moves, each of the actions has a meaning, so the wide eyes and the tongue are significant. Overall it’s a challenge, and Kerry (the ‘fentestic’ guide) said yesterday that doing the haka at games was the All Blacks’ way of honouring the opposing team, of saying they were a worthy challenge. I like that idea, but it seems simpler to say it’s designed to scare the shit out of you. It did make me wonder why they were allowed to do it in tournaments when other teams don’t do anything similar.

Then I started wondering what the Ireland team could do, to intimidate the other team or to respond to the haka. All I could come up with was them dropping their shorts and mooning the other team. I don’t think that would go down well. (This is why I’m not in charge of any sports teams. Well, that and my lack of ability.)

This guy also sang an incredible version of Pokarekare Ana

After the haka, they sang Pokarekare Ana, a lovely tune I first heard on the end credits of Billy Connolly’s World Tour Of New Zealand. This version was slower, more dramatic, and had Significant Hand Movements. (I have no idea what the Significant Hand Movements signified.)

Then we wandered around looking at more geothermals. (That still doesn’t sound right to me.)

I have no recollection of taking this photo

They have one big geyser called Pohutu that erupts regularly, and - strangely, I think - the smaller Prince of Wales Feathers geyser beside it always erupt first. So you can tell when there’s going to be big eruption soon just by watching the smaller one. Handy.

Among all the geothermals SWMBO noticed a small pond with a whirlpool of sorts in it. It seemed natural, and I’m not sure where the water was going, but it was interesting. People poo-poo the idea of the Coriolis effect having much to do with the direction the vortex swirls in such small systems so I figured this would be proof.

Here comes the science bit:

The Coriolis Effect is the observed curved path of moving objects relative to the surface of the Earth. Hurricanes are good visual examples. Hurricane air flow (winds) moves counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. This is due to the rotation of the Earth.

According to that, the swirl in the vortex due to the Coriolis effect should be clockwise here in New Zealand. Here’s the (unedited) video of the vortex swirling anti-clockwise, just to prove to me that the Coriolis effect wasn’t at work here.

After all that Whakarewarewa-ing we headed back into Rotorua. Had a beer or two in Brew where a girl duo called ‘Aves’ were performing. Just two girls and an acoustic guitar, but they had a very good sound and presence. They did a kickass version of Take Me To Church. I find the verses in that song to be hard going, a bit of a plod to get through before the great chorus, but Aves carried it off well.

‘What are you looking at? You never seen a black swan before?’

Finished off with a dander down to the waterfront to see the black swans again, before back to the motel for another dip in the hot tub and bed.

Monday morning was my last chance to use the hot tub, so I did. That makes it 6 times I’ve used it - every morning and evening we’ve been in Rotorua. Feet certainly feel much better for it. I don’t know if it’s just the heat or if the minerals have anything to do with it, but I’m happy that my feet are happy.

Then we packed up and headed for the airport for the flight to Christchurch.

Tags: Personal
Created by on Logo15659OpinionatedGeek Ltd.Logo15659

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
Created by on Logo15659OpinionatedGeek Ltd.Logo15659

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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