Category Archives: Travel

I’d always wanted to go on a Boeing 707 …

I didn’t make my first independent overseas trip until I was 32, though since then I’ve made up for it by flying more than a million miles. For years it was a matter of regret that I’d left it too late to be a passenger on the icon of the jet age, the Boeing 707. And then ….

In November 1997 I made a short trip to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The flight from London to Harare used a 767, and I was expecting a 737 for the short hop from Harare to Bulawayo. But no, to my surprise and delight this flight would be on a Boeing 707.

Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 707

Even better, in contrast to the usual African prohibition of taking photos at airports, the security officer was more than happy for me to take pictures of the plane (this is a scan of a slide, and so not the best quality).

The question I didn’t ask myself was “Why is Air Zimbabwe using a four-engine transcontinental jet for a flight with a duration of about 40 minutes?” – I was too excited at my wish coming true.

I found out later (assuming my informant was correct). The plane had failed its airworthiness checks so Air Zim couldn’t take it out the country! Apparently a couple of weeks later the pilots refused to fly it. But at the time it seemed fine to me, one air trips I will always remember.

Random memories of living in Mexico City

Not many people know that I spent two years living in Mexico City, 1957-59. I was three when I went and five when I returned so my memories of this period are very vague. Looking back I now wish I’d pumped my parents for information but it’s now too late. Here’s a summary of the little that that I do know and remember:

  • We went to Mexico because my dad was posted to the British Embassy as Labour Attache, one of six diplomats working under Sir Andrew Noble, Ambassador.
  • We went as a family (dad, mum, my younger sister and me) on the Cunard RMS Media, sailing from Liverpool to New York, then getting the train from NYC to Mexico. The Media (not that I remember it) was an interesting ship, the first built for Cunard after WWII. She entered service in 1947 and was a combination 250-passenger/cargo ship.
  • My dad was not a total stranger to diplomatic life as he’d worked in the British Embassy in Venezula in the late 1940s (he and my mum met through a penpal club – the immediate postwar version of internet dating!), but for my mum, coming from a working class background, it was an enormous challenge, but one she rose to. Not only was she expected to accompany my dad to diplomatic functions, but was expected to host them too.
  • Our home in Mexico City

    Our home in Mexico City

    We lived in two embassy-provided houses. I don’t remember the first, but would instantly recognise the second if taken there – looking from the road, at the right hand size there was a steeply dropping drive down to a double garage. To the left of this was the house, entered from the street by walking across a ‘bridge’ – the principal entertaining rooms were at first floor level. At the bottom of the garden, over the fence, was some sort of stream or small river.

  • We also had an embassy car (a Ford Consul or Zephyr Mk.1) and driver, Augustus. It was in Mexico that  my mum learned to drive.
  • My sister and me with our maids

    My sister and me with our maids

    We were assigned two Mexican maids, Dolores and Mercedes. Apparently I quickly became a fluent Spanish speaker but lost this just as quickly on returning to UK.

  • I went to an English-speaking nursery school run by one Mrs Bone. I remember nothing of it unfortunately.
  • Our best friends were the Wade family: David Wade was a Shell executive so presumably met my dad via the embassy. We and their two (at the time) children were good friends and maintained contact for years after we returned to Twickenham and Sidcup respectively.
  • Dad was awarded an MBE in the 1957 birthday honours list. He was presented with it when Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent visited Mexico in 1959.
  • We returned to UK in 1959. To get my dad back to work in London asap, they put him on a plane (then the more expensive option), leaving my mum to cope with two small children on the long train journey back to NYC, then the transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary – not half as enjoyable as it might have been for her with two small children to look after and no spouse to share the load.

Postcript

  • Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

    Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

    In July 2010 after visiting Dallas for a software conference I took a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade! See Two Queens and me

Visiting the McKean Rehabilitation Center, Chiang Mai

I’ve been a supporter of the Leprosy Mission (TLM) for something like 20 years and I’ve made an annual visit to family in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand each year since 2013.This year I made the connection and was able to visit the McKean Rehabilitation Center in Chiang Mai, one of TLM’s associates. Many thanks to TLM Australia for arranging my visit and to Ling for showing us round.

Statue of James McKean

Statue of James McKean

The centre is named for Dr James McKean (1860-1949), an American missionary. With his second wife, Laura Bell, he arrived in Chiang Mai in 1889 to join another American missionary. With a Thai assistant they set up a dispensary which became known as the American Hospital.

Helping those suffering from leprosy, then untreatable, was one priority. In 1905, Dr McKean gained the support of local dignitaries to create a home for lepers on Koh Klang, a river island off Chiang Mai. By 1908, there was an embryonic leprosarium, consisting of three cottages and six adults. Over the next twenty years, under the care of McKean and his team this fledging operation would grow dramatically.

A bio records:

… Dr McKean retired from the mission in Chiang Mai on March 10, 1931. At By the end of his career McKean had made substantial contributions to public health in Chiang Mail. He had helped to build up the American Hospital (and directed it for 24 years). He had also established a vaccine laboratory and the leprosy asylum, as well as 4 churches and over 45 leprosy villages. the leprosarium, there were more than 500 inhabitants, including 350 leprosy patients, in 143 buildings, including 116 cottages, 9 dormitories, a church, an impressive administration building, recreation center, a road for most of the island, a school, sewing factory, tool and furniture factory, and a form of self-government^.

McKean Center resident's cottage

Residents cottage

After WW2 effective drug treatments for leprosy became available and it is now all but extinct in Thailand, though periodically cases are detected in those who have come from neighbouring countries. McKean continues to treat such cases.

By the early 1970s more than 5,000 patients had been treated in McKean, nearly 1,000 still living there.  The emphasis shifted to making it possible for residents to return to their former homes. For some this is not possible, and McKean will be their permanent home. McKean extended its remit to supporting all disabled people both at the centre and through community outreach.

Church

Church

Our ninety minute tour took in the museum, cottages, the two churches, the outside of the 1993 hospital, hostels for those who cannot look after themselves and, of course, the beautiful grounds. All a great testament to James McKean and others who, inspired by their Christian faith, gave (and continue to give) their lives to serve others.

Leprosy Mission Australia   CityLife Chiang Mai visit to McKean

 

Riding the Overland

History

Overland crest

Overland crest

From the beginning both South Australia and Victoria used broad (Irish) gauge (1600mm) for their main lines, so providing an inter-capital connecting service was just a question of joining the lines. The Melbourne-Adelaide train has operated since 1887 when South Australia’s Adelaide-Wolseley line was extended to meet Victoria’s broad gauge line at Serviceton. The service was given its current name, The Overland, in 1926. Diesel locos took over in 1953.

In 1995 the line was converted to standard gauge, finally enabling through running between all the mainland state capitals.

Today

The Overland ready to leave Adelaide

The Overland ready to leave Adelaide

The Overland now operates a twice weekly daytime in each direction, the journey taking about eleven and a half hours.

The train departs at 0745 with passengers asked to check in from 0645. Checking in is more like airline checking in, though thankfully without security scanning. Checked baggage travels in a baggage van and is collected at the journey’s end.

Enjoying the Overland experience

Enjoying the Overland experience

Most  passengers travel in standard class carriages, 15 rows of seats with 2+2 seats per row. I paid the $100 extra for a Red Premium seat – these seats are in a separate carriage, arranged as 12 rows of 2+1 seating, each seat having a retractable tray table. The additional fare also includes meal service at your seat – breakfast, morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea. For lunch I opted for camel curry and it was very acceptable.

Look below the seat armrest and you’ll see a small foot pedal. This lets the seat be turned round to face the direction of travel, or you can set two rows to face each other as you can see behind me.

The first part of the journey leaving Adelaide includes some demanding climbs, the rationale for Shea’s ‘big engines’ but after this it’s through open country, with grain stores giving way to sheep country. The last section of the journey is arguably the most interesting to rail enthusiasts, the standard gauge line following the broad gauge line from North Geelong to Newport, then diverting round the Sunshine freight line and back through the Footscray Bunbury Street tunnel to arrive at South Cross platform 2.

All in all a very pleasant trip and one I’d do again.

Two days in Adelaide

Work in progress

This visit to Adelaide, my third, held a special interest. Since 2014 I’ve been a volunteer at our Newport Railway Museum in Melbourne which had given me a special interest in visiting the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide.

Saturday

Off the Golden Princess at 0700, train to the city to dump my stuff, then train back to Port Adelaide to visit the Railway Museum, then the Maritime Museum – the Aviation Museum will have to wait for my next visit.

NRL Class 500 loco

NRL Class 500 loco

As I’d anticipated, the NRL is a much larger operation than Newport. It’s open seven days a week, has a small paid staff and most of the exhibits are contained in three large buildings. Our Newport locos and carriages have stood outside for fifty five years (a few getting roofed over last year) and show it. The undercover NRL exhibits are in showroom condition.

Just before my visit I read Kings of the Iron Horse, the biographies of Alf Smith (1868-1951), Chief Mechanical Engineer of Victorian Railways, and his protege Fred Shea (1891-1970). By the early 1920s SAR was on the point of collapse and a Canadian, W.A.Webb, was brought in to turn them round and Fred Shea was recommended to him by VR for the post of CME. Shea’s principal achievement was the acquisition of a fleet of ‘big engines’, some of the most powerful ever seen in Australia.

Sunday

Art Gallery of South Australia

Art Gallery of South Australia

I started the day at Flinders Street Baptist Church, one of Adelaide’s oldest, then spent most of the afternoon exploring city centre attractions, principally the Adelaide Museum and the Art Gallery of South Australia.

As it was a fine afternoon, I took the tram (Adelaide currently has just one tram route) to Glenelg, a seaside suburb about 30 minutes away.

Finally, back to the city for an early night as I needed to be at the Overland terminal by 0645.

 

Golden Princess mini cruise March 2018

Year by year my calendar seems to get fuller. When I came to Australia in 2008 the one fixed point was my promise to go back and see family and friends once a year – always, for obvious reasons, during the British summer so as to escape a few weeks of our winter. An annual visit to Thailand to catch up with my brother and family was added in 2014, then a post-Christmas mini-break to somewhere new in Australia, and from 2017 a short cruise.

The Golden Princess at Port Melbourne

The Golden Princess at Port Melbourne

This year’s cruise couldn’t have been more mini – just two nights/one day sailing from Melbourne to Adelaide on the Golden Princess. At 109,000 tons she is a large ship, though not the largest by a long way.

Thursday – embarcation

Boarding took a little while with 800 new passengers joining the ship. Once on board I made for the Horizon Court buffet restaurant for a late lunch and was then on deck for our 4.00p.m. departure (most cruise ships leave at 6.00). At that point I realised that we’d be sailing through Port Phillip Heads (the narrow gap that separates the Southern Ocean from the bay) in daylight … but I’d opted for early dining so would probably be eating when we passed through the Heads.

Port Lonsdale lighthouse

Port Lonsdale lighthouse

I made my excuses to my table companions, skipped dessert, and made it on deck as we just passed through the heads, passing Point Lonsdale lighthouse, somewhere I’d visited on land a number of times. Being tired I didn’t stay up for the late night entertainment.

Friday – at sea

Before breakfast I joined an informal Bible Study group – six of us, three from Melbourne, one each from UK, Sweden and Switzerland. As with a number of other affinity group meetings, the crew has no part in this – a venue is nominated and it’s up to those who turn up to decide what they do. Then – putting diet aside – a full cooked breakfast in the Horizon Court. In my defence I always used the lifts and on Friday, according to my phone, smashed my 6,000 steps a day target, managing 11,046 steps. A good talk by a retired Federal police officer on scams, then lunch, then afternoon tea.

Music
Starlight string trio

Starlight string trio

Before dinner I enjoyed listening to the Starlight Trio. Tonight’s excellent dinner was unhurried, then into a packed theatre for the production show.

More music
Colin Salter, entertainer

Colin Salter, entertainer

My intention was to have another early night but I was attracted by one Colin Salter singing while accompanying himself on the piano. “Just one more,” I told myself, then another and another.

Saturday – back on land

I was awake at six to see us docking at Adelaide’s Outer Harbour. Time for another Horizon Court breakfast, then off the ship for my weekend in Adelaide.

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

Two Queens and me

As I write this, the magnificent Cunard flagship RMS Queen Mary 2 is docked at Port Melbourne giving her 2,500+ passengers a chance to sample our wonderful city and surroundings. Her time as the world’s largest passenger ship was short (being overtaken by Freedom of the Seas in 2006), but she still has a special place in my heart.

1959

Between 1957 and 1959 my father worked in the British Embassy in Mexico City – it was a good life in a fine embassy house, two native maids (with whom I could apparently communicate in native Spanish) and a driver. On the outward trip we crossed the Atlantic on the Cunard RMS Media, a 250-passenger/cargo ship, then on by train from New York.

On the Queen Mary with my sister, 1959

On the Queen Mary with my sister, 1959

Two years later dad’s contract was over. Back then there were no ‘family friendly’ policies so for the homeward trip the British government put him on a plane so as to get him back to work asap, leaving my mum to cope with two small children for the four day train trip to NYC, then a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary.

This is a picture of me with my sister enjoying the crossing. Not so much fun for my mum though: with two small children and no husband to hand she had next no chance to enjoy the ship’s amenities. 1959 was notable as being the last year when more people crossed the Atlantic by sea than by air. By the mid 1960s the writing was on the wall and in 1967 the Queen Mary with withdrawn from service and sold to the city of Long Beach for use as a floating hotel and tourist attraction.

2004

The end of the twentieth century saw cruise ships becoming more and more popular. In 1998 Carnival Corporation acquired Cunard with a view to re-establishing it as a premium brand. In 2000 they placed the order for what would become the  Queen Mary 2, a true ocean liner, not just a cruise ship. For several years she held the distinction of being the longest (1,132ft) and largest (148,528 GT) passenger ship ever built. The QM2 entered service in 2004.

Queen Mary 2 2004 shareholder tour brochure

Queen Mary 2 2004 shareholder tour brochure

At this time I was still living in the UK. My mother held a few shares in Carnival and received an invitation to visit the new ship and I was thrilled to be able to accompany her on a special shareholder open day at Southampton, 24 May 2004. The programme (cover above) is one of my treasured possessions.

2010

By now I was living in Melbourne. I decided to turn my annual trip to visit family into the UK into a round-the-world trip, going on to the Software Industry Conference in Dallas, followed by a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade!

Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

It was a wonderful experience, especially being able to explore parts of the ship that would have never been open to passengers during her revenue-earning days.

2017

We get an ever-increasing number of cruise ships visiting Melbourne and I have taken many Sunday afternoon trips down to Port Melbourne (a short tram ride away) to see them sail out. I was thrilled when Queen Mary 2 made her first visit here in 2014. I was even more thrilled to see that her 2017 itinerary included a 4-night cruise from Melbourne to Kangaroo Island and back to Melbourne, both affordable and compatible with work. Needless to say, I booked immediately.

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

And even better, I got upgraded from a balcony cabin to a suite! At first I wondered why since I wasn’t a long-standing customer but I now think that it’s because they were short of single men.  Apart from the suite itself, this meant that I was now dining in the more exclusive Princes Grill restaurant. On my table of six my dining partner was a very pleasant retired woman …. from Twickenham, living not a mile from where I’d spent my first 50+ years! The cruise was a wonderful experience: the ship, the staff, the food and table companions who might have been chosen just for me.