Sometimes While Flying ……

I am currently sitting upstairs in business class on the Airbus A380 heading from Sydney to Dubai; first leg of the long journey home. We are travelling at 38,000 feet and have approximately 7 hours to our destination. Which I think puts us at about half way.

2014-02-20 06.15.35One of the innovations on these new planes is that you can use your mobile phone as well as connect to the internet. Well the internet is in theory; it didn’t work for. But the use of the phone I can vouch for as the gentlemen behind me has insisted on talking very loudly into his phone for the last half hour! I have always thought that one of the benefits to plane travel is that you can sit in your own little bubble and escape for a few hours. The added advantage of business is that you have space to do those things that you enjoy, to allow you to while away some of the time. What you don’t need is to be forced to listen in on somebody else’s very important conversation.

Writing is a favourite pastime of mine and the ability to sit here are write down my thoughts while travelling at great speed over the oceans below, is a real pleasure. At the moment while I write, I have started listening to Led Zeppelin IV which is not an album I know; so another bonus. Added to which if I don’t enjoy it I can switch to Dark Side of the Moon, in my opinion the greatest collection of songs ever recorded. Please tell me you know who it is by!

One of the things I have become aware of while flying is that I often wonder away into my own world; just letting my thoughts drift off to where ever they want to go. This can lead to some very random ideas but it allows me to relax and perhaps clear some of the junk from an overly populated brain.

Out of the window at the moment there are little white clouds floating in a very blue sky. I am of course looking down on them….

Sydney has been a very enjoyable trip. Probably my best business trip in years, I certainly enjoyed my weekend off wondering the city and travelling out to Manly beach on the ferry. Over the next few weeks, before I return, I need to jot down all of the places I want to see, the things I want to do. I need to work on the basis that it will be my last trip to Australia and therefore I have to make the most of it.

“There’s a lady who’s sure, All that glitters is gold, And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”

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There are the obvious places such as Bondi Beach and the Blue Mountains. But what else; what other joys await a traveller? Some research on the internet is very much in order I think. I will of course be working and there will be other people from the UK with me, but I am determined to make the most of it. Also, all being well, Lauren will be able to join me for a few weeks.

Well I think that will do for now. Maybe a little more later in the trip as there is still about 14 hours to go!

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Manly Beach

Sunday 16th February 2014

I had decided while in Sydney on Saturday that I needed to take a trip on a ferry to see the harbour properly and Manly Beach seemed like a good place to go. I had also heard on the television that there was some kind of surfing competition going on, so why not head that way.

As soon as I was ready in the morning I set off for the train. I was in no rush so grabbed some breakfast in Starbucks over looking the harbour and used their free WiFi to catchup with the the news back home. I always find that a great way to start a Sunday, a habit I intend getting used to. The weather wasn’t great, constant, fairly heavy rain, but nothing like the storms in the UK which appeared to have got a lot worse since I have left.

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There are 5 wharves at Circular Quay sending and receiving boats from all parts of the harbour. But unlike other places I have been, each is clearly signed detailing destinations, times and prices. The ferries are an integral part of Sydney’s integrated transport system, maintained and operated by the same people as the buses and trains. Tickets can be purchased for a single trip on a train or multiple trips on all forms of transport.

My starting point was Dock 3. As I arrived I could see that I had 5 minutes before my boat departed which was plenty of time to buy a ticket, get on board and find a seat. As the boat left the wharf I headed outside, braving the weather to enjoy the view, which was absolutely spectacular. The pictures I took really don’t do it justice as it was so cloudy.

Sydney Map

The map above, which I really should have included in my earlier post, highlights the three main areas of interest during this trip. If you click on the map you should see a larger version. The green circle in the top left hand corner is North Ryde station, the start of all my journeys, very near which is the hotel that I have been staying at. The red rectangle is Circular Quay and the blue is Manly.

2014-02-16 07.16.42When you get off the ferry at Manly you simply follow what appears to be the main shopping street to the beach where the Australian Open of Surfing was being held.

There weren’t too many people on the beach when I got there but as the day went on more and more arrived for what was clearly a very important competition. I joined the crowds and watched for a bit, but to be honest it didn’t mean anything to me. What I saw were people bobbing about in the water and then occasionally riding a wave. Plus I could only spot the competitors by looking at the big screens and comparing that to those in the water. Either side of the designated competition area the general public were out enjoying themselves and I found this far better to watch.

2014-02-16 04.44.55One part of the proceedings which I did find interesting, but had nothing to do with the surfing itself, was the large drone that the camera crew had and was being flown over the surfers. Watching it take off you realise just how manoeuvrable it was and how great a tool for getting right into the action.

After lunch I headed back to Sydney. It was still reasonably early so I took advantage of a break in the showers and had a walk around the Opera House, up through the Botanical Gardens and past Government House before heading back to the hotel.

Harbour

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Sydney Map 2

Having included my first map it seems I may have started a habit! This one shows Circular Quay, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. The Rocks is the area to the left of the Quay.

I have also highlighted Wynyard Station my gateway into Sydney.

Bonus Evening in Sydney

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After a wet weekend, Monday evening was glorious! As I walked back to the hotel from the office I decided that I had to jump on the train and see Sydney harbour in the sunshine. By about six thirty I was there retracing my steps from the weekend; but what a difference the better weather made.

Clearly the better weather brought out my adventurous streak as I had Kangaroo for my dinner sitting at a quayside restaurant watching the world go by and the sun slowly set on my first Australian adventure.

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Monday 17th February 2014

A Building on George Street

Have you ever wondered why some buildings appear to survive despite the onward march of modernisation all around them.

As buildings seem to get taller, more sophisticated, complicated and futuristic; there are those that stand the test of time and survive. Seeming to resist the planners and the bulldozers simply standing their ground and almost defying logic. Of course there are those iconic buildings in every city which will survive forever. They have the protection of both the state and history, but there are also those buildings for which there is no obvious reason for their survival; at least from an outsiders view.

There is one such building on George Street.

I saw it one day while out for a walk. A fairly nondescript stone building, very simply in design. About five storeys tall with large two storey windows at ground level and more simple rectangular, single storey windows on the upper three floors. The only noticeable feature was the entrance. Built into the corner, it was secured by two 12 foot high wooden doors which look as old as they did strong. Brass studs have been punched in to them in an attempt to add decoration, but succeed  in simply making them look more fortress like. Above the doors was a simple, but decorative, wrought iron and glass fan light affording a very brief glimpse into the interior beyond. There were no names or signs of any kind, not even any obvious way a visitor might announce their arrival and seek admission. Nothing. Just a building.

I probably wouldn’t have thought any more about the building on George Street if it wasn’t for something which happened a few days later. I had popped into the “Fortune of War” for a quick drink and sandwich on my way home. It was one of those days when I’d enjoyed a reasonable lunch and simply needed something to get me through to breakfast. It was quiet in the pub so I sat at a table in the corner and took advantage of the WiFi service to catch up on the days news. A few people came and went, some I knew to nod a greeting to, many that I had not seen in the bar before. As I got up to leave a small photograph on the wall behind me caught my eye. It was of the building on George Street. The building itself was clearly recognisable but its surroundings had completely changed. When the picture had been taken the building was by far the most significant in the district. Where generally the other buildings around were of single storey wooden construction it stood tall and solid against the world.

As I stood looking at the picture a regular in the “Fortune of War” by the name of Jack came over and asked if I was interested in the building. I just answered that I had seen it on George Street a few days before and was surprised that it had not simply been brushed away by the march of time and developers greed.

“That building will be there forever,” was Jack’s reply. “It holds a secret which will protect it.”

Having a fascination for history and stories from the past I bought us both another drink and persuaded Jack to tell me the story.

Long before the city was even a settlement there was a man by the name of Paley who had settled his family on a fertile and sheltered piece of land between the river and harbour. He worked hard and with the help of his three sons made a reasonable success of his farm. However, during one particularly hot and dry summer things began to go wrong for Paley. The river on which they relied for fresh water began to dry up. Although it had been free flowing for years it was reduced to little more than a trickle with insufficient supply to keep the family and their animals alive. It was decided that two of the sons should travel up stream and see if there was any reason for the restriction in flow, while Paley and his youngest son would try to dig a well. It was just possible that the water had simply found an easier route to the sea below the surface and as such a small pit may be all they needed.

Over the course of the next week they dug. It seemed impossible that they found nothing. The ground was solid and dry. Not so hard that it couldn’t be broken through, but solid enough that the sides of the shaft supported themselves with no movement whatsoever. At the end of the fourth day, as the two men were clearing out the last of the days debris, a small crack appeared in the floor of the shaft. It was not possible to see anything below or to gauge how deep the crack may be. Too tired to worry about it they climbed out of the hole for the night.

When they climbed down in the morning things were very different. It appeared that during the night the crack had grown and the floor of the shaft had completely given way opening up into a huge cavern. They lowered a rope and climbed down. Immediately on reaching the cavern floor it was obvious that they had found water. A fast flowing stream passed out of one wall, across the floor and disappeared into another. A simple pump and decent length of pipe would be enough to raised the water to the surface. What wasn’t so immediately clear was what else they had uncovered.

During the rest of the day they set up the pump and the pipes. By evening they had water at the surface and were able to ensure that all the animals had enough to drink for the first time in weeks.

For reasons which were not entirely clear to him at the time, Paley decided that he wasn’t going to tell his older sons about the cavern, so he set up a simple pipe diversion which would leave them believing that only a small well had been dug.

Paley visited the cavern on a number of occasions as he found it a mysterious and mystifying place. It was during one such visit that he found what was to change his life forever. It was simply a slight glint noticed out of the corner of his eye that took him to investigate a particular corner of the vast space. He shone his light around but saw nothing. However as he moved it again the light flickered on something which caught his attention again. This time looking closer and brushing away some of the dust… Paley felt like his heart had stopped and then it was beating alarmingly fast! He looked closer still and was then sure of what he had found – a diamond. He cleared round the stone and in doing so found another, then another. Within the space of about 10 minutes Paley had recovered eleven diamonds ranging in size from very small to the largest being about the same size as his little finger nail.

A few days later, using the excuse of needing to buy some essential supplies, Paley set of for town. But he didn’t going to the local town where he was very well known, we went far further a field. It was important to him that nobody knew about his possible good fortune as it was his intention not to change his life, but simply to secure it, and to provide his family with security for as long as possible.

And so started a life long deception. Paley used the diamonds in his cavern very carefully. They were sold in very small and infrequent numbers in order to avoid suspicion. The money was stored away and only used to support his family, adding to the income from the farm. As time went by savings were accumulated from the workings of the farm, as everybody thought, which allowed the family to first buy a small shop in the nearest town. Then they opened one nearer their farm. A small hotel and saloon came next, again very near their farm. Small packets of land were sold around the hotel and shop leading to the growth of a new settlement.

It was as the town slowly took shape that George Street was first marked out, little more than a mud track it was named after the towns mayor at the time; Oswald George. Such was Paley’s extreme care that nobody had any idea that he was responsible for the very existence of the town.

Over the years a number of buildings had been put up over the entrance to the cavern. Initially very simply shelters, they grew into a more solid barn, then a workshop and finally a house. But as the town grew and George Street got busier, Paley decided to move his family out of the town and it was then that the current building was constructed. It was a very difficult process for Paley as he had to ensure that the building would be strong and solid, it was his intention that it would last forever, but it also had to be built over the cavern without anybody knowing of its existence.

Finally complete the building on George Street became the head quarters of Paley’s expanding businesses. Although he was a very wealthy man by now the diamonds had only ever been used to support his development. Had he chosen he could have been an instant millionaire, but that wasn’t the man he was. It was important to him that his sons became the men they should be and that, with care, his family would live in comfort for ever.

It was only as Paley neared the end of his life that he shared his secret with his youngest son, who swore that he would manage the secret in the same way as his father. And so it is to this day.

Only one person ever really knows the secret of the building on George Street.

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“Beware dear reader, for this post is simply the product of my imagination.

But I do hope you enjoyed reading it!”

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A Day off in Sydney

SydneyWe have all seen the main sights of Sydney on the television; the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Some have probably also seen the ferry boats hustling in and out of their moorings taking visitors and locals alike to numerous locations around the harbour and beyond. But did you know that their berth is called Circular Quay? I certainly didn’t. On scratching the surface of the city, which is all I can say I did in my one day visit, you find that there is so much more to see and experience, as well as the much wider city and harbour which I haven’t even seen yet.

My choice of transport into the city was either taxi or train. Now being a complete failure where public transport is concerned I decided to take the train!

North Ryde station is just a 10 minute walk from the hotel and a quick check on the internet confirmed that it was a straight route through to Wynyard which is right by Circular Quay. Perfect.

I headed off from the hotel about 8.30 having apparently confused the staff when I went down for breakfast way too early on a Saturday morning. The station was my first surprise of the day. From the outside it is a relatively simple and not particularly large building. However as you go through the entrance you find that the building is simply a shelter over a cavernous hole in the ground. You take two long escalators down to the ticket hall and then a further, shorter, one down to the platform. Clearly North Ryde is a new station, but as with every part of Sydney I have seen so far it was spotlessly clean. The second surprise, but I don’t know why as it is something you so often hear about Australians, everybody was so friendly; I have never had so many “mates”. I think this was a surprise as in London you rarely get a civil word let alone a smile and a joke. The lady in the ticket office at North Ryde couldn’t have been more helpful or friendly, even joking about the weather.

Sydney TrainNow for the third surprise, the trains are double decker. I really wasn’t expecting that. As you go through the doors you can either go down a few steps to the lower deck, or up. I chose up to get what I hoped would be a better view.

The journey into Sydney was about 20 minutes I guess, although I wasn’t taking too much notice. After a short distance the track is above ground affording an unguarded view of the city and its outskirts. A view, that because it is generally hidden from the eyes of the world is often ignored in many cities as it is considered to be invisible, this is not the case in Sydney, where the same care to keep everything clean and tidy has been applied to the track side. At home you hardly notice the rubbish, debris, spare materials, etc., alongside the tracks, it is simply something we have all become used too. In Sydney it is noticeable by its absence. Everywhere is clean and tidy. Even the vegetation is looked after.

2014-02-15 02.15.32As we rounded the corner just after one particular station, I am not going to say which just in case you get to do the same journey at some time, you get your first glimpse of the harbour and then, through the buildings, the bridge. At this point I was a little kid again getting so excited about seeing this world famous, instantly recognisable, landmark. Then it dawned on me that the track was going straight across the bridge; amazing, I HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN ACROSS SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE! I never realised it was so wide and that not only does it carry the trains both ways but also the road both ways. It seems I know nothing of this place.

Wynyard Station is on George Street and as I came up out of the ground I had a choice; left or right. I could have taken either; at that point I had no idea where I was or where as I was going. I turned left which was a good choice. It wasn’t long before I got another sighting of the bridge and knew I was heading in the right direction.

Following George Street takes you into an area by the harbour called the Rocks. It is full of galleries, craft shops, cafes and restaurants. It is very much Old Town Sydney with buildings that date back to the very earliest settlements.

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2014-02-15 03.53.18I just walked. Enjoying the sights and sounds of this wonderful city. Occasionally I would stop and have a look in a shop or at a stall; “How ya doing mate?” was often the greeting. Unlike New York where you get a well practised, but not too sincere “have a nice day”, in Sydney if somebody bothers to say it, you believe they mean it. Such a great friendly place to be.

2014-02-15 08.16.33Having spent a good few hours just drifting and enjoying this area, I moved on to the main ferry terminal at Circular Quay and then to that other icon of Australia, no not Dame Edna, the Opera House.

Circular Quay is constantly on the move with ferries coming and going from all over the harbour; trains arriving and departing at the elevated station; buses, cars and of course people. This description may sound horrendous to some but it is just movement in an orderly, leisurely and considerate way. You don’t often hear car horns blearing or people shouting and screaming. It is just constant careful, considered, movement. Certainly a place to sit, relax and watch the world go by. No doubt this is why there are so many bars, cafe’s and restaurants full with people doing just that.

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The Opera House is every bit as iconic as the bridge. The two, of course, are inextricably linked to each other, Sydney and Australia as a whole. It has been built on a peninsular jutting out in to the harbour. Behind it is the Botanical Gardens and Government House. Behind them the high rise towers of new Sydney. But the Opera House has its back to all that proudly stretching out to the water from which so much came to create the modern country we know today.

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Finally my afternoon was made complete by spending several hours chatting and drinking with Kelly and her husband Pete. Kelly works with me at our office in the UK but is currently spending six months in Sydney while Pete undertakes a software project in the city. We had arranged to meet in the Opera Bar; luckily Kelly spotted me as the place was packed! We moved on to a bar outside the Customs House looking out over the ferries at Circular Quay. It was great catching up, hearing about all the places to go and see and generally what it is like to live in Australia. There certainly don’t seem to be too many downsides.

After a long day drifting I headed back to the station and the train to the hotel. The weather hadn’t been ideal, drizzling on and off most of the day, but it had been a wonderfully enjoyable day.

My “Day off in Sydney” was on Saturday 15th February 2014. 

So many hours to Oz …

AustraliaAnd so the journey begins ……

Last Thursday I had no idea when my visa may come through and now, the following Monday, I am sitting in the Emirates Business Lounge, Terminal 3 Heathrow, waiting for embarkation and the start of the first leg of my journey to Sydney, Australia.

The first leg is a 6 hour 45 minute flight to Dubai, followed by a 3 hour stop over and then a 13 hour 45 minute flight to Sydney. If all goes well we will be touching down at 07:00 local time Wednesday morning. What ever way you look it is a very long flight!

A380-800According to my ticket I will be travelling on the new super-jumbo; the Airbus A380-800, the largest passenger aircraft in the world. This monster double-decker aircraft has required many airports to upgrade their facilities in order to cope with its size and weight. The configuration inside the plane varies to suit the requirements of the airline so I’m looking forward to seeing what is on offer to the weary traveller.

The first leg of my journey is now complete and I am sitting in the lounge at Dubai International Airport waiting to board for the second much longer leg to Sydney.

It is safe to say the A380 is an awesome aircraft. The entire upper-deck is given over to business class with the exception of a small area at the front which is allocated to first class. There is even a lounge bar at the back so that you can stretch your legs while enjoying a drink. On this first part of my journey I took advantage of the full lay-flat bed which allows you to stretch out and sleep in comfort. Even the food, which I would normally ignore, was excellent.

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The business lounges, which are generally available at all destinations, are a real bonus when travelling. They offer somewhere to sit in comfort, grab a coffee or even a full meal if you are hungry. At Heathrow there was even the added advantage of being able to board your plan directly from the lounge to save you having to walk too far. Here in Dubai everything is bigger. There are far more passengers and therefore the quality is perhaps not quite as good. But everything you need is available. Unfortunately as the airport is so much bigger it does mean that I have to walk just a little further to my plane.

A new section of the airport has recently been opened to cater for the A380 and so the walk was a lot further than expected and even involved a train ride! But no problem as there was plenty of time.

Time is now 04:00 (UK), 08:00 (Dubai), 15:00 (Sydney). Currently all in the same day!

Had lunch, although I have no idea what the time actually is; had a sleep and written some entries for my blog, both this and English History, and there is still 7 hours to Sydney! Sleep, films, sleep ….

One thing is for sure, going straight to work in the “morning” is going to be horrible.

It is now 12:00 (Sydney), 01:00 (UK), and I am in the office starting work!

Customs and immigration at the airport was far more straight forward than I was expecting. The slowest part was waiting for my luggage before going through Customs. Passport was stamped, landing card checked, straight through – no fuss, no bother. If only all airports were as good as that.

The Emirates driver was waiting for me and took me straight to the hotel so that I could have a shower and get changed before heading to work.

At the moment I feel fine, but just how much I get done today I don’t know. The guys here all travel regularly so know exactly what it is like.

Australia Bound!

AustraliaBefore Christmas I wrote a post about working abroad and how it isn’t always that much fun. Well I have finally received confirmation of one assignment I have really been looking forward to!

Next week I head to Sydney, Australia, for my first trip down under. Yes it’s work but because I will be there for two weeks I will at least be able to experience some of what the city has to offer. Plus the plans are that I will be going back for a longer period some time in March when I hope to see more of the country and coast.

This will have an affect on some of my other travel plans this year, but this is way too good an opportunity to miss, and of course plans change – roll with it!!