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Each winter,since we both retired,we have been searching for the sunniest parts of the world thus avoiding the cold weather in UK. For a few years lately, when we come back home from the holiday, we have been saying, ‘This is the end. We can’t keep avoiding the winter here. We have got to get used to it’ but, when winter comes, it has been difficult to do so.
Is the sunny weather always available in the places where we go? It all depends on the yearly global weather patterns. We have been more times to Florida in the winter than anywhere else and warm and sunny weather is not always guaranteed. On some rare occasions, the cold winter wind from the northern States blows downwards and brings cold and cloud to spoil the fun.
From our experience, there are various places where you can get the sun and the warm weather for sure. Australia, Dubai, Southern Asia and South Africa are some of them. We have picked two of our winter holidays from the past to highlight our winter sun experience. This includes our observations of some economic, political and cultural life of the places we visited.
WINTER 2007 /
The first thing to notice when travelling on the Metro is its cleanliness. It is unbelievable to see how they can maintain such a standard with so many people using it each day.
We just love Australia. It seems that every time we visit we love it more and, in particular, the long distance train journeys across the outback.
Adelaide is one of our favourite cities. This place seems to provide everyone with a choice of things to do. You can wander about the city, admiring historic buildings, sit in a cafe watching people, walk around an old market or take time to relax on one of the city's several beaches.
Coffs Harbour beach Brisbane City and Brisbane river during sun set.
Brisbane city centre is busy and noisy throughout the day. However, within a quarter mile walk, there is a botanic garden where everything seems to be quiet and peaceful, except for the birds chirping.
Landing at Singapore's modern and efficient Changi airport is always a pleasure. I remember the last time we came here, thousands of passengers were going through immigration, within minutes of arriving, and a few steps away their luggage was all ready waiting for them. Nothing has changed, there was the same service and same efficiency. One minute we were on the plane and a few minutes later we were heading to the taxi rank pulling our luggage. You can't help but think how far you have to walk to get to the luggage belt and then wait, at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, before you see your luggage.
The weather at this time of the year (November) in Singapore is tropical, hot, humid and rainy. No matter how severe these conditions are, it is just a relief to get away from UK's dark,cold and miserable days and be in a light t-shirts, shorts and sandals.
It is not surprising that Singapore's way of running a country is a dream for lots of other nations all over the world. You can see the super efficiency everywhere, starting from our taxi journey to our hotel. The taxi was immaculately clean and reasonably priced. It would be nice to say the same about taxis in other cities such as New York or Miami. Looking out of the taxi window, the streets, the parks and buildings are very clean. The last time we came here, 5 years ago, I tried to spot chewing gum or graffiti in the main shopping avenue (Orchard Road). I counted 3 chewing gums then and I wondered how many I may find this time.
UK with 244,110sq.km (94,251sq.miles) is 392 times bigger than Singapore. This tiny island is packed with a population of 4 million and 90% of them live in a high rise apartment towers. With such a crowded space, maintaining an orderly and clean life style seems to be a miracle.
Singapore's population is a mix of Chinese (67.8 percent), Malays (13.9 percent) and Indians (7.9 percent). These ethnic groups speak their own languages and English is used as the language of administration and business. There is strong harmony between these different religious and ethnic groups.
There is some kind of general work ethic or discipline which Singaporeans seem to abide by. You see it everywhere. Services in shops, restaurants, hotels and public offices have some kind of uniformity and it is nothing but first class. As a visitor you can get addicted to the services and spend lots of money, shopping and eating out in the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Japanese restaurants. Even the locals seem to ocupy themselves with shopping and eating. Shops and restaurants are always crowded.
The problem of visiting a country as a tourist for a week or two is that it is not enough time. I left Singapore with some questions in my head. I would have liked to know how many prisons and prisoners existed in this country. Haven't they got dysfunctional families who practice alcohol and drug abuse and give minimum care to their offspring and do the children end up as criminals? Where are their street beggars?
Some critics suggest that the Singapore government is authoritarian. There are penalties for things such as dropping chewing gum and not flushing public toilets. Offences such as drug smuggling or other serious crimes lead to severe penalties, even caning and death are still applied. For visitors from the western world, this sounds terrible. Singaporeans though believe that their law and order is the basis of their social and economic success.
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In the centre of town very old buildings such as temples, mosques and houses are mixed with very modern high rise buildings. One of the tallest (88 storeys) buildings in the world, Petronas Twin Towers, is a land mark. You can spot the them from any direction of the city. Inside these towers there are shopping malls, concert halls and an interactive science centre.
I will always remember Malaysia for two things. In the first place, living is very cheap.Evening drinks and a meal for two of us in a five star hotel, (Shangri-La), where we stayed in the city, cost £21.59. Petrol is £0.9pence per litre. In the second place, I will never forget how polite and respectful the people are. They greet you with a bow and, whenever they pass you things, they use both hands as a mark of respect.
Some years ago we travelled from Alice Springs to Adelaide on The Ghan train and we enjoyed it. We couldn't wait until the railway from Alice Springs to Darwin opened, which was then under construction. Now it is finished, we are here in Darwin ready to hop on the Ghan and travel down to Alice Springs and on to Adelaide.
Considering that Darwin is the Capital of Northern Territory it is very small. In fact, it is the smallest Capital in Australia. You can walk around the centre of town and cover the whole place within a few hours. It is not surprising why it is that small though. Darwin is very far away from any other town or city in Australia. It might be small but you can see so many different nationalities in town. It is a cosmopolitan centre where up to 45 to 50 ethnic groups live in harmony.
The time of year (December), when we visited Darwin, is most probably noted for its high temperatures. Every day it was between 36 and 40 degrees Centigrade. I remember walking from our hotel to the town, which was about a mile away, during the middle of the day and nearly fainted with sun stroke. On the way back to the hotel, heavy rain poured down and we were soaked to our underwear, but we didn't mind as we enjoyed the cooling effect from it.
After travelling for two days and nights on The Ghan train from Darwin and covering up to 1862 miles, we arrived in Adelaide, one of my favourite cities. There are so many things I like about Adelaide.
The centre of town is about 1 mile square and surrounded by green public parks. The population is just about 1 million and the traffic jam lasts only 20 minutes. The Torrens River cuts across the city with its tow paths on each side of it. The tow paths are very well used by the locals. You see them walking, jogging and cycling every day. In the distance you have views of the surrounding hills of Mt. Lofty. A short ride away, on the tram or a car, you can get to one of the popular beaches such as Glenelg, or others on the south coast.
The main shopping street (Rundle Mall) is wide with no traffic access. You can walk freely, browsing about the shops or sitting and watching the world go by, with a drink in one of the cafes in the middle of the mall. The city is almost flat and the roads are built on a grid system. You can establish a good sense of orientation very quickly. Everything is situated conveniently and anyone can walk from place to place with minimum effort.
After a week in Adelaide, we headed to Melbourne on The Overlander train, covering 454 miles. The second largest city in Australia and with population of 3.5 million, life in Melbourne is a bit faster than any of the places in Australia we had been so far. The streets start to fill up with people and traffic early in the day. I have never ever seen so many cafes, bars and restaurants in one city before. They are full all day long, with people drinking, eating, chatting and enjoying themselves
The workout brigade such as joggers, walkers and their fitness instructors fill up the parks. You see, and hear, the rowers huffing and puffing on the Yarra River, right in the centre of the city. I felt I was left behind and got up about 6 am the next day and went for a jog in the park. At that time of the morning, the park was seething with fitness fanatics. I am not talking about the usual number of people you see jogging in city parks such as London's Hyde Park. I initially I thought there was going to be some kind of marathon race and they were just getting ready for it. Then I was told that it is just a normal daily workout routine for everyone there.
It is not just the residents who pack the streets. At this time of year, tourists pour into Melbourne from all parts of the world. It is not very difficult to gauge the volume of tourists in the city. There are a number of tourist information centres and booths within the centre of the city and the queues are very long each day. I must say the authorities are very well prepared for the tourist influxes. There is a free city tour bus and tram just for tourists, both of which run very frequently. These all have guides who describe the areas visited & there is also plenty of free information available..
Melbourne is a very atractive city. Somehow the old Victorian-era buildings mix very well with the modern skyscrapers. The Yarra River in the middle of the city and all the buildings on its border seem to fit in well with everything else in view.
Australia's largest city is 542 miles away from Melbourne and we travelled by The Countrylink train to get there. When you mention Sydney, what comes to mind normally is The Opera House, Sydney Bridge, the Harbour, Bondi and Manly beaches. These are all great, but for those who think Bondi and Manly beaches are wonderful, they can hang on to their thoughts, until they see the extended beaches of The Gold Coast and Byron Bay. I found one more thing in Sydney which I missed the last time we came here. It is Sydney's Botanic Gardens.
We headed down 181 miles south from Sydney to Canberra, on The Countrylink train. Canberra is a modern city where every part of it is pre-planned. The streets are wide and lined with trees. They say there are about 12 million trees in the city. I am sure the autumn colours would be marvellous. The city is built around Lake Burley Griffin and surrounded by hills. There are so many green parks and beautiful gardens in Canberra.
The Parliament House is a unique architectural structure. It is built on the foot of a hill and the roof is totally covered with grass and you see children running about and playing over it. Standing by The War Memorial and looking across to Parliament House, through Anzac Parade, gives one a splendid and unforgettable view.
When we finished our tour of Canberra, we planned to go to Sydney and travel across to the west coast Australia on The Indian Pacific train. Four days and three nights later, covering 2704 miles, we arrived at Perth.
There is very high business activity in Perth. This is the result of foreign and local investment in the Western Australian mines. There is no doubt that the city is benefitting from this economic boom. Business men and workers from the mines fill the city's hotels, bars, restaurants and shops. This means the traffic volume in town is high. However, the authorities are working very hard to improve the transport system. Bus journeys within the city are all free and other buses and trains are inexpensive. There are very good connections to any part of the outskirts.
There is no chance of getting bored in Perth. There are so many things to do and what you need is some time and energy. You can go shopping in the centre of town in old arcades and the big malls. The shopping area is compact and very close together which means you don't have to walk far. You can go to one of the biggest public parks (Kings Park) in town, up on a hill and enjoy the beautiful city views. The best beaches, such as Scarborough and Cottesloe, are a few miles and a short bus ride away. You can surf, swim or just relax and sunbathe. A few miles out of town you can visit a wildlife park, (Caversham Wildlife Park), where you can hand-feed kangaroos and come close to koalas, wombats, emus, cassowary and various types of Australian birds.
From the time we arrived in Johannesburg, on the way to our hotel, my perception of the country started to change. I decided South Africa is socially and economically far more advanced than most of the African world. Johannesburg's roads and most of the houses are as good quality as any of the western world. I had no expectation of a well maintained busy motorway in Africa. Of course there are still crowded townships such as Soweto.
Most of Johannesburg's poor South Africans live in South West Township (Soweto). However, there are up to 3000 residents who live in the millionaires row of Soweto. Yes, there are millionaires in this township. The population of Soweto is estimated to be 3 to 4 million. Each day people travel to Johannesburg city centre and the surrounding areas for work. The poorer people live in Match Box houses and shacks. Each street of shacks has a water tap and outside toilets, which are shared between groups of residents.
Johannesburg's central area is very busy with people, in particular Hilbrow, where the African immigrants live and work. However, the area has been abandoned, by big businesses, at the end of the apartheid era. They moved to the newly developed business and shopping centre of Sandton. This seems to be the place to be seen in Johnnesburg nowadays. Mandela Square is where people are lounging in trendy cafes, restaurants and bars, watched by the huge statue of Nelson Mandela.
When we finished our visit of Johannesburg, we travelled to Cape Town on The Premier Classe train. It took a night and a day to cover 990 miles.
The first impressive sight of Cape Town for visitors is the surrounding mountains, in particular Table Mountain, on which, on a clear day, you can see a flat top where climbers roam about and enjoy the great view of the city and the sea. Quite often on a sunny day, the view of the mountain from the town is spectacular. The white fluffy cloud comes over and makes it look like it has been covered with cotton wool.
centre of Cape Town for me is too crowded with people, traffic and
places, especially Greenmarket Square, where lots of African craft work
displayed. Most of these items are beautifully made. However, there are
many traders selling the same kinds of craft work. They are over
beyond market demand, and there is very little space for anyone to move
Cape Town people and the authorities deserve an award from someone for their great development of the two oldest docks into a remarkable business and entertainment area. Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a complex of restaurants, shops, hotels and entertainment centres. Everyday you see a crowd of shoppers and tourists wandering about and lounging in the bars and cafes, entertained by African traditional street dancers and many other musical groups.