January - February 2020
  • Day1

    And we’re off...

    January 21 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 8 °C

    First leg of our journey Down Under - BA flight Glasgow to London (Heathrow). Thanks for the lift, Mags, and the hat, Ken. I’m sure it’ll look more appropriate in Australasia!

    Walking through Glasgow Airport, I noticed they had renewed a lot of their carpets. It reminded me of the days when, as Glasgow Airport Drama Club, we rehearsed at a tied house we were given use of to store our props and costumes. Also stored in this wee terraced house on Inchinnan Road were several rolls of ‘airport’ carpet - the black and white jazzy patterned type that was so familiar as you walked along to the departure gates. As it was no longer required, and was being discarded, I took some to my parents’ home to carpet the hall stair. My Mum was never keen on it, but my Dad thought it was great as it was so hardwearing. With his wry sense of humour, I remember he took great pleasure in standing at the foot of the stairs, stopping anyone who was going upstairs, saying ‘Passports, please!’

    On arrival at Heathrow, we had to change from BA’s Terminal 5 to Terminal 2, from where our Singapore flight would depart. As we had few hours to kill, we treated ourselves to a tasty meal at Heston Blumenthal’s Perfectionists’ Café. Not cheap but very tasty.
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  • Day2

    London to Singapore

    January 22 in Singapore ⋅ 🌙 28 °C

    Got ourselves psyched up for the next big leg of our journey - the 12 hour flight to Singapore. Our hearts sank initially when a screaming child behind us displayed an impressive set of lungs, but a few doses of Calpol soon sorted him/her out. The Singapore Airlines crew are all so slim, smart and beautiful. Complimentary drinks were available throughout the flight, but after a G&T and wine with our meal, we thought we better stick to water and Coke Zero thereafter.

    The entertainment was very good. Campbell managed to get through the whole of Season 1 of YOU. I managed a record 4 feature films - the Korean Oscar Best Film nomination Parasite; the schoolboy humour of Good Boys; and two classic black and white movies - Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, and one of my film noir favourites, Mildred Pierce. Who doesn’t love Joan Crawford with her shoulder pads, fur coat and a pistol in her pocket - marvellous! Needless to say we didn’t get much shut eye, so we were a bit zombie-like when we arrived at the lovely Changi Airport in Singapore. Given we had a 6.5 hour layover, we had hoped to take advantage of the free Singapore City tour on offer, but as our flight was slightly delayed due to a bit of re routing to (thankfully) avoid flying over Iraq / Iran, we just missed it. Thankfully we had been here a few years ago with Ken and Bill on a cruise, so had seen many of the sights of this wonderful city. We passed the time well, using the free WiFi and relaxing in the various garden areas of the airport - butterfly garden, orchid garden etc. Soon it was time to board another Singapore Airlines flight to Cairns - a doddle at only 7 hours!
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  • Day3

    Singapore to Cairns

    January 23 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    The next leg of our journey from Singapore to Cairns in Queensland, Australia was provided by SilkAir, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines. We were surprised to find that only a soft drink and a small packet of peanuts was offered by way of sustenance on this 7 hour flight, until breakfast just before arrival. This was compounded by the fact that, due to an emergency involving the evacuation of the control tower at Singapore, we sat on the plane for two hours before takeoff. After a bit of pleading with the steward, however, we were given an extra early breakfast. The entertainment too was not as good - there were no back-of-the-seat TV screens, and we were told you had to download their app before accessing movies on your own device (provided you had one). Unfortunately, this was difficult to do with no WiFi on board, and it would have been better if we had known to do this in the airport with its free WiFi before boarding. However, Campbell managed to sort us out with his Hot Spot (don’t ask!). On the plus side, we were assigned extra legroom seats above the wing, which facilitated my frequent nocturnal visits to the loo, thus saving the use of my emergency Tena Man supply (thanks, Rab!).

    Eventually almost 40 hours after we left Glasgow, we arrived in Cairns. Although we were pretty exhausted, we decided to keep going and get into the Aussie time frame. We were booked into the comfortable Mantra Esplanade Hotel, right in the centre of town. After a very welcome shower and change of clothes, we set off to have a look round. Cairns is an attractive holiday town, with numerous travel companies vying for your business to visit the Great Barrier Reef. There was no sign of any fire damage here, and the town was lush with vegetation everywhere. Although the town doesn’t have a beach, there is a beautiful man-made lagoon, complete with sand, right at the sea front just opposite our hotel. I opted however for a swim in the hotel pool in an attempt to cool down - only to find it was like stepping into a warm bath! For dinner, we opted for a Japanese ramen dish in a basic but highly recommended tiny restaurant. By 8pm we are ready for bed - Campbell is already out for the count!
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  • Day4

    The Great Barrier Reef

    January 24 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Had a great sleep and felt more human this morning. Enjoyed a tasty Aussie breakfast at the café next door. The Council workers were already out cleaning the streets and tending to the beautiful foliage along the kerbside - just like home! Everything here is so clean and well cared for. The parks are lovely, and there is plenty to do to encourage the residents’ and visitors’ well being.

    Included in our trip was a full day visit to Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef. What a beautiful day we had. A comfortable 45 minute crossing on the catamaran took us there in jig time. Also included was a trip on the glass bottom boat. I felt just like Doris Day. It was amazing to look down on the reef and see such a huge variety of fish and corals in this World Heritage site. We were lucky to spot a number of huge turtles too, and it was great to see them in their natural habitat. Also included was snorkelling on the reef, and what a fab experience - the size, colours and variety of the fish were breathtaking. As a boy, I always had a tropical fish tank, encouraged by my Dad, and this was as if you had put your head in a marine fish tank - he would have loved this.

    Green Island was small enough to walk round it in half an hour. It was a lovely walk through the rainforest with all the different noises of birds around you. Campbell however was convinced it was all pre recorded like the Tiki Tiki Room at Disneyworld
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  • Day5

    Kuranda and Koalas

    January 25 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 29 °C

    Today’s trip was one we were looking forward to - a journey on the Kuranda Scenic Railway - and it did not disappoint. The construction of the Cairns - Kuranda Railway was an engineering feat of tremendous magnitude. In 1873 the cry of ‘gold’ echoed through the mountains, and a reliable route had to be found, resulting in one of the most ambitious railway projects ever undertaken. Leaving Cairns aboard one of the original early 1900s carriages, we experienced the full jaw-dropping rainforest, gorges and waterfall experience. Highlights included the 180-degree Horseshoe Bend, the Stoney Creek Falls Bridge, and a photo stop at the spectacular Barron Falls.

    Kuranda itself was, as expected, very touristy, with markets, Aboriginal crafts and art works, rainforest walks and wildlife experiences. A must for us was the Kuranda Koala Gardens, where we were thrilled to meet a variety of marsupials, and even got to hold a koala 🐨 - how cute are they! So sad to hear of the huge numbers lost in the recent devastating bush fires. The adjacent Bird World was also amazing, with a plethora of exotic, brightly coloured birds, one of whom was determined to peck its way into my backpack - despite the fact that the only food contained therein was a half melted Fry’s Chocolate Cream, and the remains of a tin of M&S mints (courtesy of Ken).

    We opted to return via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. What an experience - floating above the canopy of the rainforest, with fabulous views over the mountains and down to the coast - breathtaking and so peaceful. This is a trip highly recommended to anyone visiting the Cairns / Queensland area.
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  • Day6

    Spirit of Queensland

    January 26 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Well, what a great time we had in Cairns, and we were sorry to leave this lovely city. However our adventure continues, and this morning we headed to Cairns Central Railway Station to catch the 0835 Sprit of Queensland train all the way to Brisbane - a journey of 25 hours - and still in the same state!

    The train was clean and comfortable with reclining seats and screen entertainment. It was fairly quiet until just before departure when a young, scruffily dressed, tousled-hair boy of about 10 came on ushering his parent on board. Initially I thought the parent, shoeless and wearing a dirty vest and covered in tattoos, was his father, but it emerged it was in fact his mother. From her demeanour she would appear to suffer from addiction and / or mental health issues, and in between devouring sachets of sugar, was constantly telling off and correcting her son. He wanted to watch Aladdin on the movie screen, and asked her what it was all about. ‘Just a riff-raff boy’ she replied ‘but people don’t realise he’s a Prince’. He suggested she watch it with him too, but she kept interrupting: ‘Anyway, I don’t like musicals, even though I used to be queer’ she declared. She continued to rant ‘Flesh, flesh , flesh, desire, desire, desire’ before flicking through her well-thumbed book ‘God’s Word’ and searching on the music channels for ‘Christian Music’. Campbell felt so sorry for the wee boy and, ditching his plan to take home yesterday’s koala, hatched a plan to take the boy home and adopt him, enrol him at Hutchie and give him the chance to become a real Prince.

    We had already been thinking of asking if it was possible to get an upgrade to Rail Bed accommodation - and our travelling companions made up our mind. The helpful on board steward made enquires and, for a reasonable fee, we were soon relaxing in our upgraded carriage, with spacious, comfy seats (which later folded down into beds), with all meals with drinks and toiletries included. Smashing!

    The train journey was memorable, with scenery changing from the lush rainforest of North Queensland to banana and sugar cane plantations, and prairie landscapes where eagle-eyed Campbell even spotted a few kangaroos hopping about the bush. We passed through Ayr station, but didn’t have time to stop at the Wellington for a fish supper. Surprisingly there was not much evidence of the bush fire damage which has devastated so much of Australia.

    The food and service on board was very good, and the Steward’s conversion of our comfy chairs into even comfier beds was amazing to watch - what a clever design. I managed to watch two movies (Yesterday / Red Joan) and enjoyed them both. Campbell’s choice was Galaxy Quest, which he claims is one of the best films ever made!

    Our cosy bed cubicles looked similar to the ones found on Business Class flights (not that I’d know), only with more space. Our complimentary toiletries were put to good use in the large shower room at the end of the carriage. The train itself was quiet and ran smoothly, resulting in a fairly good night’s sleep. We awoke to another sunny morning and a nice cooked breakfast served at our seat - one could get used to this!
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  • Day7

    Beautiful Brisbane

    January 27 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 30 °C

    Our train arrived at Brisbane’s Roma Street Station at 0950 - only 30 minutes late, which wasn’t too bad after such a long journey. We walked up through a beautiful though very steep park to our hotel - The Pacific. Hoping just to leave our luggage, we were pleasantly surprised to be allowed access to our room, even although it was only 10am. After showering and changing, we set off to explore Brisbane. Today (Monday) was a public holiday in respect of yesterday’s Australia Day. We took a pleasant (but hot) 5 minute walk down to the city centre, and visited the small city museum. We noted that the City of Brisbane was named after Sir Thomas Brisbane who was born in Largs, Ayrshire in 1773. (I remember now that we stayed at the Brisbane Hotel in Largs not so long ago). We then joined the excellent free tour of Brisbane City Hall, the main auditorium of which houses the magnificent Father Henry Willis organ which has more than 4300 pipes. To round off, we took the lift for the Clock Tower Tour, and enjoyed panoramic views of the city.

    Feeling the need to cool off, we then took advantage of the free City Hopper Ferry along the Brisbane River (so far today’s activities have cost us zero!). Seeing this beautiful city from the river was a great way to get your bearings. Visited the South Bank - an amazing complex of cultural buildings - theatres, galleries, museums, as well as beautiful riverside landscaped gardens and an extensive city beach with man-made lagoon. The place was thronged with families swimming, having picnics and generally enjoying themselves. A high quality of life does seem very important to Australians, and Brisbane seems to be a very family-friendly city. I remember our family almost emigrated here in the 1960s under the £10 scheme, and I wonder what life would have been like had we done so.

    We enjoyed a tasty dinner and cold cider at the Plough Inn on the South Bank, busy with locals celebrating Australia Day weekend. My half portion of barbecue ribs could easily have fed half a dozen and even Campbell couldn’t help me finish them off. Back to the hotel for an early night after a lovely day in this most attractive city.
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  • Day8

    Beautiful Brisbane - Day 2

    January 28 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    Before our tasty breakfast we did a big washing in the hotel laundry - how can we have got through so many clothes in a few days? We were then joined by my former social work colleague, Kylie, who had offered to meet up with us and show us around. It was great to see her again, and since I worked with her In Glasgow, she has returned to live on the Sunshine Coast with her husband Tam from Govan and their three children. Kylie took us on a trip to Mount Coot-tha, a favourite scenic point, which had fabulous views over the city of Brisbane. We then visited the beautiful Botanic Gardens, enjoying the shade offered by the huge variety of trees in view of the heat. On return to the city, we enjoyed a late tasty Greek lunch, before bidding farewell to Kylie after a most enjoyable day.

    Campbell and I then attended a small exhibition called Bittersweet, about the development of musical theatre in Australia. Although mostly obscure works we had never heard of, it included memorabilia and costumes from shows including The Boy From Oz and, of course, Priscilla. There was also mention of the latest hit musical, Muriel’s Wedding. Although it seems to have had great success here, I am not aware of any proposed productions on Broadway or the West End. The next Runway premiere perhaps? We then visited the much lauded Gallery of Modern Art, and on the way in we saw a pair of old boots on the steps outside. We wondered initially if these were actually one of the art exhibits, I have to say that the contents of the gallery were very highbrow, and we much preferred the architecture of the building to the art works themselves. Bring back Kelvingrove!

    We were planning on going to see the big show in town - The Book of Mormon - but as we both had seen the show before (Campbell twice!), and the fact that our body clock has still not quite adjusted to Australian time, we were worried we would fall asleep at the interval. Instead we settled for a walk round the old, historic quarter, viewing Parliament House, the Old Government Building and the City Botanic Gardens. By the time we walked over the pedestrian bridge over the river and caught the ferry back, it was certainly nearing our bedtime of 9pm.
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  • Day9

    Stunning Sydney

    January 29 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 25 °C

    Enjoyed an early morning pre breakfast dip in the lovely deserted hotel pool, before catching an Über to the airport (cheaper than the train). We were sorry to leave Brisbane - what a lovely, friendly, easy-to-find-your-way-about city. Our Virgin Australia flight to Sydney was quick and comfortable, and included complimentary refreshments. Getting into the centre of the city was easy, with a direct train from the airport to Sydney Central in 15 minutes (Glasgow Airport please take note!). Our hotel - the Rendezvous Central - was close to the station at a busy traffic junction, and more of a business type than the the more tourist-friendly ones we have enjoyed so far. With a cloudy sky and very British brick-like buildings around the enormous Central Station, it resembled a North of England town and, until the sun came out, I could have sworn we were in Wigan! Still it was handy for local transport.

    Following the advice in our guide book, we took the local train over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Milson’s Point, from where we walked back to the city over this iconic, world famous bridge. We had fabulous views over Sydney harbour and the iconic Sydney Opera House. Thereafter we had a walk around the now trendy Rocks area and Circular Quay, busy with numerous ferries plying their way back and forth to surrounding areas.

    After an early supper, we took the tram back to our hotel. We thought we could use our contactless cards on the tram, but discovered they had to be activated before boarding. I enjoyed the thrill of ‘dogging it’, (skipping my fare), although Campbell was convinced we would thrown into the Sydney equivalent of Sing Sing!
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  • Day10

    Stunning Sydney - Day 2

    January 30 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Our time clock still not fully adjusted, we were up again at 6am. Another lovely but hot day, we decided due to our limited time, to go on a Hop-on Hop-off city bus tour. The first part took us round the extensive Sydney city centre with its notable Victorian buildings - very British. In the afternoon we went to the famous Bondi Beach on the outskirts of the city. I had feared it might be a bit like Saltcoats with sunshine, but was impressed by the beautiful, spotlessly clean beach and crystal clear ocean. Excellent free changing areas and showers were provided, so I took advantage of a swim in the lovely waters. Had great fun splashing about in the crashing waves, ignoring the fact that I was a bit of a great white whale amongst all the svelte, tanned physiques. Ah, well it’s nice to be different.

    An over enthusiastic tour guide try to tempt a posh English lady with a trip to Tarunga Zoo - ‘you will see koala’ he promised. ‘I’ve seen plenty of koalas’ she replied dismissively. ‘What about Cockatoo Island?’ he persisted, ‘You can see a cockatoo’. ‘I’ve seen plenty of them too’ she retorted with a saucy laugh. It reminded us of the gag in ‘Allo, ‘Allo’.

    This being Campbell’s birthday, we changed and made our way to the Opera House. What a stunning building in such a fabulous location, with folk enjoying the harbour views from the surrounding walkway. A masterpiece of architecture, the Sydney Opera House is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We enjoyed a Prosecco and a tasty, but nouvelle-cuisine sized, pre performance meal inside, before enjoying a performance of La Bohème in the Joan Sutherland Theatre. We enjoyed the lovely singing and sweeping music, but didn’t really see the point of the 1930s Nazi setting. This beautiful 1500 seat theatre is just one of the performance venues at the Opera House, with the even bigger 2000 seat concert hall next door.

    After the opera, we enjoyed the walk back to Circular Quay admiring the illuminated Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Manhattan-like skyline. This time we did pay our tram fare, though jumped off at Woolworths for some cold drinks and another packet of Tim Tams (very popular Penguin-like biscuits), for our bedtime cuppa. Smashing! ☕️ We know how to live it up!
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