Wednesday 30 November 2011

Emirates Business A380-800: review

An A380 Airbus is nothing like a bumblebee. I had thought it was: after all, 580 tonnes, 500 passengers, two levels, it sounds physically incapable of flight; but, just like the bumblebee, it defies common sense and does exactly that. The bumblebee makes it look hard work, though, dipping and blundering along while, I was told, I wouldn’t even notice the Emirates A380-800 taking off. Generally speaking, I find it reassuring to note the moment that an aeroplane becomes airborne — it’s so much more preferable to continuing to trundle along the tarmac until it runs out — so this wasn’t as comforting a comment as it was intended to be. But it was true: the plane lifts off with very little fuss, too heavy to rattle and vibrate like the small fry, and lands the same way, more gently and undramatically than most smaller planes I've flown on.

And what's it like on board? I can't *cough* speak for Economy as I was flying Business, upstairs (not that I actually noticed I was upstairs, the first time, thanks to entering over a different airbridge. I realise that sort of lack of observation immediately discredits this review but, nevertheless, I'll proceed). My first impression was that Emirates has nobly sacrificed passenger numbers for comfort and space, because the individual seating areas are staggered so that at the side, for example, there's only one seat for each row (and two across the middle). The downside of that is that only every odd seat is next to the window, while the evens are on the aisle with the odd seat's legroom between it and the window. Also, because you're so high up and on the upper level, the curve of the fuselage means you can't see down that well. These things are important to people like me who enjoy looking out of the window.
So I was on the aisle and felt a bit exposed - though at least I had my own space. The alternate centre seats are placed so they're right next to each other, for couples travelling together who might want to talk to each other (I KNOW! Who are these people?) I liked that there was lots of space to put my stuff and even a little minibar (of juice and cute little cans of soft drinks). My feet fitted into a cubby hole with a locker for my shoes, and the headphone socket was accessible so I could use my own earphones (though they did supply noise-cancelling ones). I could also have charged up my phone or plugged in my laptop, though why would I want to with 1200 channels of entertainment available?
I found the controller less easy to use than on other airlines (and in fact, despite much wrestling, never in a total of 28 hours discovered how to remove the little control screen from its stand. Yes, too much in touch with my masculine side to ask for assistance there) but there was an excellent range of very recent, even current, movies and TV programmes, and though the screen was smaller than on Cathay Pacific, it was conveniently positioned (I had a back-of-seat screen once that was too far away for me to read the subtitles - shocking!). The table didn't slide back far enough - must be because I'm so very slim (!) but they did their best to fix that with some great meals, starting with hot nuts including macadamias, which won me over instantly.
There weren't that many loos, considering, but since they were positioned right next to the bar, it wasn't a penance waiting for one. Hmm, the bar. (Officially, the 'lounge' - the UAE has an uneasy relationship with alcohol - though there's plenty of it on the aeroplanes). It's a bit of a novelty and not really that useful: looks great in the photos with elegant people decorating it, but these days no-one feels obliged to dress up for business class and so, with only rumpled, comfortably-dressed passengers standing there, it had none of that class. They had nice snacks available, and the barman was very chatty and obliging, but the seating was narrow and slippery and who wants to pay all that money for a fancy seat and then not sit in it?
Come bedtime, the seat didn't go completely flat, no matter what they claim, so it was less comfortable than, again, Cathay - but the pillow was lovely, and it was all good enough. The staff were pleasant and helpful without being obsequious, and they were the smart ones: the Emirates uniform is one of the best.
As for punctuality, Emirates takes that so seriously that they're positively hard-line about check-in times: I've just read that they're now going to shut the check-in desk an hour before take-off, so that's something to look out for - especially at their shiny, spacious new airport in Dubai, where you have to hike for miles to some gates. They don't tell you that the special Business and First Class check-in terminal necessitates a route march to the shops and the gates.

But I would happily fly Emirates again. The plane is comfortable and has lots of little touches to keep me happy; and my complaints above are just quibbles. They have an extensive network of routes and deserve their reputation as one of the best and most popular airlines to fly with. And I'm not just saying that because they were hosting me, by the way.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Back to front

This is Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi where an eternal flame burns above the simple black marble platform and an endless stream of school parties, pilgrims and tourists - as well as the odd world leader - come to pay homage, walk around the tomb three times, and visit the two nearby Gandhi museums. One of them is in the house where he was living when he was assassinated, and where his last footsteps have been replicated in concrete leading up some steps to the little gazebo where he was killed.

He is, of course, rightly and understandably venerated in India and all around the world, and his campaign of civil disobedience and passive resistance was one of the things for which he's remembered and seen as an inspiration. But he wasn't the first to think of this way of reacting to oppression by a stronger force. Fifty years earlier, at Parihaka in Taranaki two Maori chiefs, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, led their people in exactly that when Government surveyors came onto their land: they politely removed the pegs and fences and ploughed up the settlers' crops planted in Parihaka soil.

It all came to a head on 5 November 1881 when 1500 armed troops rode into the village where children welcomed them with songs and dances and offered them freshly-baked loaves, while the adults sat silently on the ground. The chiefs and hundreds of their followers were arrested and imprisoned without trial, the village was pillaged, the women raped, the houses destroyed, and the land seized without compensation. Parihaka never recovered and the settlement dwindled to almost nothing, from a population of 2500 down to four.

Now it's being resurrected, and groups of tourists, like us last week, are being welcomed and fed just as the soldiers were (except with a very tasty 4-course meal), told the story and shown the grave of Te Whiti, which is almost as simple as Gandhi's. It's a good thing that Maata and her people are doing there, but shameful that it's the only way that New Zealanders can learn the detail of such an important event in our history and about two such influential men, who are commemorated nowhere else.

Gandhi has a statue in Wellington, though.

Friday 25 November 2011

Cruising the Rhine: it's da bomb!

There's a paragraph in the paper today about a drought in Germany which has dropped the level of the Rhine so far that unexploded bombs from WWII are now a threat to shipping on the river. It says that bomb disposal experts have had to blow up an incendiary bomb near Cologne and are working out what to do with a bigger bomb lying in just 40cm of water near Koblenz. As well, a grenade was spotted earlier this week on the river bank near Bonn. All highly disruptive, no doubt, to river traffic which as well as a number of cruising companies includes thousands of busy barges 24/7.

This is all of great interest to me, having cruised along the Rhine earlier this year past, yes, Cologne, Koblenz and Bonn, and heard the captain tell us that because of low river levels, we might not be able to complete the journey all the way to Amsterdam. We were all pleased to hear, the next day, that there had been heavy overnight rain in Switzerland that was expected to raise the river in time for us to stick to Plan A. Hooray, we all thought, no buses for us! We would have been even more joyful had we realised that a bit of Swiss sogginess was all that stood between us and Kingdom Come, courtesy of Bomber Command.

This man busily poking his metal detector into the water from a previously-unexposed shingle bank should have thought twice too, about exactly what sort of treasure he might be unearthing.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Chicks and choppers

This morning, at the very moment that I was writing about the helicopter trip I took with Heliview in New Plymouth last week, another chopper being used to set up the seven-storey Christmas tree down at Viaduct Harbour in the city got tangled up with a pole and crashed in a muddle of metal. Fortunately the pilot wasn't seriously hurt - though as TV cameras were there filming the whole thing, his professional standing has taken a bodyblow and he's never going to live it down.

It was my fourth helicopter ride: the first was a mere hop across Lake Wakatipu after finishing the Greenstone Valley Trail, but the second was the real thing, swooping around in the Red Centre in Australia to get another perspective on Kings Canyon, which is spectacular enough seen from your own two feet, but even more amazing from the air. The third was great fun too, whale-spotting at Kaikoura one golden evening, hovering over a sperm whale as it came up to breathe and rest, and then buzzing back across the water to land on a bluff high over the bay. And then there was the Taranaki trip, when sadly we couldn't fly up to look into the crater of the mountain which was covered in cloud that day, though we did still get great views of that green-as countryside. I enjoyed all of the trips, thanks to expert and laid-back pilots who made it all seem super-safe. Ha!

And in other aerial news, I rescued a young thrush that I found this morning lying on its back on the road when I was out walking (after being hit by a car, I fancy, rather than just having chosen an inappropriate spot for a bit of a zizz). I brought it home and put it in the cat basket under a towel to see if a rest in the dark might do the trick - and happily it did. After an hour or so it was recovered enough to fly away as good as new. Yay, I thought, and wandered into the garden to pick flowers. Where I found the tiny corpses of two baby blackbirds lying on the grass, blown out of their nest perhaps or possibly preyed upon by other birds - magpies? - and dropped. Won one, lost two. Damn.
(Photo by Dean Mackenzie)

Tuesday 22 November 2011


Look, I'm sorry to keep harping on about this mountain, but it's pretty spectacular - pretty and spectacular - you have to agree: certainly Ellen in St Louis does, envying our having to drive only 4 hours or so to get to it. She would have to drive for a day, she says, to reach a mountain, and even then it wouldn't be as pretty as Mt Taranaki.

But of course there are lots of stunning mountains in the US, although rather further away. I have to admit to a preference for the volcanoes: they're so much more satisfyingly shaped, there's something very aesthetically pleasing about that regular cone. I was thrilled to see Mt Baker so clearly when we were in Washington state last year, poking up unexpectedly on the horizon behind Seattle and becoming clearer and clearer as we drove north. And then when we came back across Puget Sound from the San Juan islands, there it was, looming up over the sea, white and sparkling and huge.

It's in the photo I chose for November when I was compiling my calendar for this year, so it's there on the kitchen wall right now, a white triangle peeping up behind a mass of brilliant orange pumpkins growing out at a pick-your-own farm where families were wheeling their toddlers round in barrows, scouting round for the best-looking ones for their Thanksgiving decorations. But it's the coastal one I'm going with today, because the shape shows up better. Remarkably similar to Taranaki, don't you think?

Monday 21 November 2011

Poltergeists, poultry and a prediction

There's nothing like the roar of the surf just twenty metres or so away from your bed to ensure a good night's sleep, despite the actions of the petulant poltergeist that hurled a glass light fitting to the bathroom floor just before I entered my cosy cabin at Oakura Holiday Park, and later poked a halogen light bulb out of its fitting to bounce on the bedside table, making me jump as I sat there blearily catching up on the day's notes.

But the friendly bantam who popped by in the morning to check up on me more than made up for those goings-on. I'd also have welcomed, but didn't see, the duck with the gammy leg who's another regular according to Al, who runs the park with his wife Jan. They both came with us to the Butlers Reef pub last night where the food was great and the company jolly. I'd've had more to drink, though, if I'd known how bumpy the flight back to Auckland was going to be, in that little plane. It didn't help that I kept remembering the montage of newspaper front pages on the wall of the airport cafe in New Plymouth reporting the miraculous landing there of an aeroplane on only one wheel. What on earth was the designer thinking?

So, Taranaki done and dusted. Well, hardly - far too much to see and do there in a scant three days: more of a Taranaki dip and degustation. I'd like to go back for a proper look, at leisure. And why not? It's only a four and a half hour drive away, along a very pretty route; and that way there'd be no airborne lurching. Next time I'll listen to Chaddy: he warned us there would be a storm today. "Chaddy knows," the locals in the pub said. They were right - and so was he.

Sunday 20 November 2011

A poser, puha and a pun

Honestly, this mountain is such a poser. Lurks behind cloud cover much of the time, tantalisingly giving glimpses through holes in the cloud or veils of mist and then, and only when it feels like it, ta-rah! It's a fabulous sight from any angle, but I must say the foreground of all the blooming rhododendrons at Hollard Gardens framed it beautifully. It's ages since I've been to a big garden, and this one is so lovely: heaps of rhodies and azaleas, but also great trees, long sweeps of fine lawn and masterfully natural plantings of annuals and other bright flowers in the borders. And it's free - of the people, for the people.

Our main focus today was Parihaka, a Maori settlement to the south of New Plymouth where passive resistance was born in 1881, at great cost to the local tribes but inspiring Ghandi, apparently. We had a really delicious lunch there served by Maata's children and were entertained by them too. Then we had a superficial look around the village, which is struggling to come back to life after being abandoned and burnt down in the 1960s. It's a complicated tale that we weren't able to investigate very deeply, unfortunately, as nothing is rushed on a marae and greetings and meals must take their time. But we felt welcomed and even a short visit was better than none.

We ran out of time at the end, so our cruise with Happy Chaddy was cut short - perhaps as well, since the wind was up and with it the sea - but it was fun to slide down the ramp in a real English-built lifeboat the same age as me, and bob out on a circuit round one of the nearer islands to see fur seals, sea birds, a historical location that linked with Nigel's museum, and 'NZ's last real moa'. Actually, it was a reel mower - and the fact that Chaddy went to all the trouble of rowing out to this precipitous, rocky island and dragging an old hand mower up the cliff to fix in place, all for the sake of a pun, tells you everything you need to know about the entertainment value of his cruise. I'm a fan.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Sometimes you get the breaks...

"Taranaki's so nice, it's as good as anywhere else. I don't know why people don't come here." So said Nigel Ogles, model-maker extraordinaire at Tawhiti Museum today.

He might be right about the people, but as for being as good enough - well, when the mountain comes out as it did this morning, could it get any better? It's a stunner, and we had a great couple of hours scrambling along its flanks with Dave, a local man and DOC manager, who knew everything about the history, vegetation and mythology of Taranaki. And he was enthusiastic and cheery and ready with a helping hand when the steps and rocks got a bit slippery.

And then we went to see the marvels that Nigel has been working on since throwing it in as an art teacher twenty-odd years ago. I love me a good diorama - and have the forehead bruises to prove it - but Nigel's work is up there with Weta Workshop. The great Richard Taylor himself has come and been staggered, and you can't say more than that. History with art, humour and passion: it's a winner.

Friday 18 November 2011

High and low

I could get used to being taken places by chopper. Just climb aboard, clap on the headphones and away you go, no fuss, no time wasted, and the views are terrific. Richard was at the controls, a veteran of 6 years in the British army - which is slightly unnerving in a pilot, you hope there won't be any sudden moves, but all was well. We swooped over New Plymouth and the port, clattered down the coast past the long black beaches with their long white lines of surf, and then inland over what must surely be the neatest and greenest farmland on the planet.

The mountain was hidden in cloud today, alas, so we couldn't get eye-to-eye with the summit, but we snooped over the tucked-away farms and houses to the north before setting down in a distant valley where Bob and Karen took us up some precipitously steep tracks and along knife-edge ridges in the ute before we walked through the bush to see what they were doing there in the name of conservation and specifically kiwi preservation.

Inconveniently nocturnal, the kiwi were naturally a no-show, but we did get to hear the clicks on the radio transmitter that showed Maru was where he should be, down in his burrow conscientiously incubating the eggs while the female that laid them was out recovering from the effort. (Kiwi eggs are about one-third of the bird's body size. Eye-watering.) It was a good walk, and even better to meet people with such drive to improve the environment for everyone's benefit.

Tuesday 15 November 2011


When you go for a drive into the country, you expect to see sheep (this is New Zealand), cows, cattle and horses; and birds - a few hawks, pukeko maybe; always some dead possums. If you're very lucky, you stop to take a photo of a bridge and there, right above your head in a flame tree, is a tui feeding from the flowers, swinging about from the twigs like an acrobat. Not that the purists would accept this as a valid tui image, since it's not in a native tree. But it is better than my only other tui photo, of one having a bath in the guttering of our house. And the sound track of singing sky lark (another non-native, tch) was just icing on the cake.

I was doing a roadtrip story about SH16 which heads north-west from Auckland straight into the wine country around Kumeu, where serious tasters were solemnly spitting into - do they call them spittoons? Surely oenophiles have a fancier word (like oenophile). Anyway, not swallowing. There are more vineyards around Kumeu than you can shake a stick at, famous ones, too: Coopers Creek, Matua Valley, Nobilo, Soljans Estate... All very neat and flushed with new green, the roses at the ends of the rows just in bloom.

Then it was out into the real country, where the horses are knee-deep in buttercups, the fields are pricked out with curving lines of new crops just sprouting, and the hayfields are long and lovely and lush (thanks, GM Hopkins). I was looking for a private sculpture park owned by a millionaire (450 times over) who likes to think big. The little old ladies in the op shop at the pretty little Kaukapakapa Church told me "You can't miss it, it's just past the concrete bridge. There's giraffes and all sorts!" And you know what? They were right. Giraffes, eh. Not at all what you expect to see on a country drive in New Zealand.

Friday 11 November 2011


I've just realised, from the information on the camera, that I was one second short of taking this photo at 11:11:11am. Bummer! I wonder how many other anal people around the world are, progressively, taking a photo like this - more than 11,111 I bet. But I must have been one of the first, so yah boo sucks to everyone else handicapped by the International Dateline.

See you back here next year, 12 December, lunchtime. It's a date.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Apples have been around forever

Tonight's TV news report about the parlous state of the Italian economy included a shot of this sign, outside the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, a place I briefly visited in May. It was a strikingly modern sight in a city that's attractively historic - even if much of it is reconstructed history after the, ahem, last unpleasantness.

The city is grander than it should be because in 1949 Frankfurt expected to be made the new capital of Germany and was rather put out when the vote went to Bonn, especially since they'd already erected a bunch of fancy buildings and all. So instead it was made the financial centre, which has been a nice little earner for the city ever since.

The other big event for Frankfurt is its annual Book Fair, the biggest in the world, which it muscled in on claiming Gutenberg as their own, whereas he was actually a Mainz man. (New Zealand, incidentally, is going to be the guest of honour at next year's Fair, which means that there's going to be a lot of German attention focused on not just NZ literature, but the country as a whole.) It is true that he sold his first printed Bible there in the fifteenth century. There's a big statue of him and various city fathers in the main square, featuring bits of printing press, and I was most impressed by the sculptor's inspired vision of the future of books demonstrated by this woman holding an iPad.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Before the event

Another of my Downton Abbey stories is out today in the Christmas issue of Next magazine; and in the travel section is a story by another writer about Copenhagen, with the photos showing all of the things I saw, except in a rather better light. The weather was the main disappointment of our visit there - that, and the timing, just a week too early for the Christmas markets, sob - and it would have been lovely to have had some blue sky and sunshine to bring out all the colours. It was lucky, at least, that our first afternoon had a decent gleam of sunlight; and the last morning was getting better again.

Photographing the Little Mermaid against even a watery sun wasn't as easy as I would have liked, though. She's been decapitated twice, poor thing, and has a noticeable scar around her neck. She's got about a bit though: she was in Shanghai last year for the Expo, and I was there too, just before it began, when the city reeked of wet concrete and there were traffic barriers, cranes and big machinery all over the place as they rushed to get ready. It was the same in Delhi when I visited just before the Commonwealth Games - and no doubt it's how London is going to be next year when we go there a few months before the Olympics. It's getting to be a theme.

Back to Copenhagen: despite the whingeing, above, there is still something to be said for misty, moody days, and the view from the hotel across the harbour was positively Turner-esque when the sun rose:

Monday 7 November 2011

One hump or two?

Tomorrow is the big day at the races in Christchurch - or one of them, at least: Cup Day at the Addington trots, and a welcome chance to dress up and have some fun for Christchurch people. I was a bit disappointed in Dubai not to see any horses, other than in statues and sculptures, since Arabs are such a beautiful breed. If I'd had more time, I would have tried to go for a ride. Arab horses have rounder, flatter hooves, you know, to help with not sinking into the sand.

But I did see racing camels. I'd heard about camel racing last year while lurching through the Outback near Pichi Richi in South Australia with Graham, a 4th-generation cameleer who has worked as a trainer in the Middle East with racing camels worth up to $8million, which is pretty rich going for a place (in Dubai at least) where gambling is forbidden. The prizes tend to be luxury cars, in compensation. The camels can go surprisingly fast: I was told 50kmh for the females, half that for the males.

We saw a training session in progress outside the city, dozens of camels loping along, some with jockeys and the rest with the new robot jockeys, that have taken over from the young boys who used to be used, often in less than desirable conditions. Now the camels have little machines strapped to their backs with whips attached that whirl round in circles, radio-controlled from the 4WDs that drive alongside. Modern technology, eh?

Sunday 6 November 2011

Lounging around

I'm back in Dubai's shiny new airport, all marble and stainless steel and reflective surfaces over vast areas of space. There's a separate entrance for First and Business class passengers that's most spacious of all, but they don't tell you that after you've been wafted through check-in, you have an enormously long hike to get where the action, and all the plebs, are.

I had a small stoush with a bolshy young Arab lady who tried to push in the queue at the shop where I was offloading the last of my local currency: boy, did she argue! But I stood my ground and she, in a hurry, eventually stormed off with a lot of huffing. The Brits may have moved out of Dubai sixty years ago, but that's no reason to abandon one of their most useful gifts to civilisation.

And now I'm in the lounge, disappointed that I can't get my iPhone to connect wirelessly (hence no photos), struggling with a public keyboard with most of the letters worn off, and rather tempted to have my shoes shined, for the novelty of it - the last time was in New York, years ago - but anxious that it may involve tipping, and I have no more cash (see above). I do have some Samoan currency that I forgot to put into the big glass charity jars back in Auckland, but pretty though the notes are, I doubt they would be welcomed. Certainly the man at the Dubai Mall money exchange yesterday laughed with genuine amusement at the very idea.

This is a very big lounge, and somewhere in it is a rack of newspapers that evidently includes the Sunday Times, so that's my next mission. I do keep busy, on these trips.

Cosmo diary, with dates

It's been a very cosmopolitan sort of day, literally: Dubai is that sort of place. Only 20% of the population is made up of local Emiratis, and everyone else comes from the rest of the world. My guide Tareq said (but then he would, wouldn't he?) that they all get on famously, and no-one resents the fact that the Government looks after the locals so well, giving them houses, wedding money and children money, free health care and schooling and so on - and, since no-one has to pay taxes here, perhaps they really do.

So this morning's tour took in mosques both Arab and Turkish, and this afternoon I was left to wander in that western place of pilgrimage and worship, the shopping mall. Specifically, the Dubai Mall, with 1200 shops, in which no big retail name was absent - Bloomingdales, Galeries Lafayette and, from England, Debenhams ha ha but also Marks and Spencer - and where the people-watching was epic. Every permutation of the burqa was there, and traditional clothing for the men, as well as the full gamut of western dress. There was a huge ice rink where little boys in what looked like white nightgowns pushed plastic penguins across the ice; an equally huge aquarium with sharks, rays and Kelly-Tarlton tunnels; a three-storey waterfall with diving men frozen in mid-plunge; and outside a vast artificial lake where a fountain show took place at 1pm against the backdrop of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa at 828 metres or 160+ storeys (which no, I didn't go up because you have to book). It was actually so tall that I didn't see it straight away, through not looking high enough.

There were also markets today, fish and fruit and veg (including, shockingly, kiwifruit from Iran), lots of dates - there are 300-odd varieties, all different in taste and appearance, and I also tried the fresh ones, yellow and crunchy. I saw men crouched over big copper vats stirring syrup with a wooden paddle to make a honey and date sweetmeat for the holiday of Eid tomorrow - the same one I was in India for a couple of years ago, that involved very many decorated goats there. Here there were also sheep and cows on the backs of utes being transported through the city centre, looking docile, not knowing that for them, it wasn't going to end well. I feared the doleful-looking fish in the tank beside which I ate my Chinese dinner tonight have a similar fate ahead of them, alas.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Happy socket...

... is happy. Though I'm a bit sorry to leave Copenhagen today, now that the sun is gleaming through the clouds again, and I had such excellent fun this morning cycling along beside the harbour to the Little Mermaid. The cobbles rattled every tooth in my head, but I really enjoyed it, even feeling a little Danish - though they whip along MUCH faster than I did.

And now I'm waiting to board the plane taking me back to Dubai and its 35 degree heat. It's never dull, eh?

Friday 4 November 2011


Hmm, I see on the way to coming here that this blog has had a visitor from Hanover - which is a coincidence because Copenhagen is full of rampaging Hanover football fans decked out in green and white scarves. They were marching about in groups, carrying crates of beer and singing randomly, though cheerfully. Something happened while I was in a museum however, nosing happily through an excellent, if unexpected Titanic exhibition - I could hear lots of sirens despite the headphones of my audio guide - and when I walked back to my hotel, the big square at the end of Nyhavn, though empty of fans, was awash with an appalling tide of litter, crushed beer cans and broken bottles. I hope the Danish police, many of whom get about on bikes wearing endearingly unflattering black and reflector-strip shorts, were able to cope with the Germans.

Today was grey and cold again, alas, so the autumn colours went to waste, and when I explored the Rosenborg Castle it was hard to appreciate the treasures within because the lighting was so dim in all the rooms. That was a shame because there was no surface not covered with fine glass or china, old tapestries, portraits big and small, or carved wooden panelling - however, it did speed up the inspection process. I lingered in the basement treasury, though, where the crown jewels (Denmark has the oldest monarchy in the world) were gleaming in their cases and I felt sorry - well, not really - for the woman who had to bear up bravely with a monster ruby the size of a goose egg hanging from her neck.

At lunch I sat in the rooftop restaurant of the old Post Office and had a little feast of Danish specialties, including a crispy fried plaice fillet, smoked salmon with cream cheese and a small beef steak with mushrooms. It was all very tasty and I enjoyed it, but it was filling and I'm still not feeling empty enough to be looking forward to dinner tonight, which is in a restaurant that's impressed the apologetic young man at reception here (he's called, inappropriately, Raphael). And it's just tragic that I haven't had room at any time during my stay to indulge in any street food: not the hot roasted and/or candied nuts, not the crepes with nutella and banana, not the organic hot dogs, and not - sob - the sweet breads and pastries that make such gloriously-smelling use of sugar and cinnamon.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Better by design

Sadly we had a leaden sky all day with not even a glimmer of sun, so my toiling up the Round Tower was a bit of a wasted effort as far as the view over the rooftops was concerned; though the tower itself is worth the visit. It was completed in 1642 and is remarkable for the spiral road to the top inside it. Peter the Great rode up there on a horse, a car has made the journey, and there have been lots of bike races in it; but what surprised me most today was that no-one seems to have been tempted to set loose one of the big round pumpkins sitting in the window recesses as Halloween decorations. Such a well-behaved people.

There's an observatory at the top, but it was closed - and there wasn't much to observe either, as fog came down and rubbed out the tops of all the towers, unfortunately. So today was about interiors: of warm and inviting Baroque churches where music was being played; the Lego shop with its lolly-bins of brightly-coloured bits; the Royal Cafe where we had Smushi for lunch - beautifully-presented open-faced little sandwiches, a cross between traditional smorrebrod and sushi; the Design Centre, which took its form follows function philosophy seriously and was not just hands-on but bums-on in its display of stylish Danish inventions, from egg-cups to chairs. They're nothing if not practical, the Danes: proudly included were also colostomy bags and hernia knickers.

It's a good city for walking around, though the cobbles are punishing; but it was a shame there was no sunshine to bring out the colours of the autumn trees and the painted buildings. Perhaps tomorrow.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Onsdag morgen

Creamy pumpkin soup and delicate brill for dinner last night at cosy organic restaurant Cap Horn along the quay, where hardy souls - not all of them smokers - sat outside in the chill, wrapped in the rugs that were draped over the backs of the chairs. Along the edge of the water is a row of little kit-set huts being assembled for the Christmas market that begins next week, so we'll miss it unfortunately. They were busy yesterday slotting the huts together and stringing spruce garlands across the cobbles and around the windows, and fixing up the lights. It's going to be very pretty.

The waitress last night started speaking to us in Danish and then apologised sincerely when we looked nonplussed - as if it was unreasonable of her to have done that, here in Denmark and all. Of course, like everyone else we've spoken to, her English was perfect, even down to the regional accent, which was appealing. When I encounter a Dane speaking Brummy, I'll be enchanted.

This morning is dull and overcast, so I'm glad we did the canal tour yesterday even though we were rumpled and tired after our travel. For a moment there, we were thinking - madness! - that this was a holiday.


It's lovely to be back in Copenhagen after, cough, 30 years, and this bit doesn't seem to have changed at all. Nyhavn is still a short canal lined by 4 and 5-storey houses painted strong colours - one of them, number 67, once lived in by Hans Christian Andersen, rather sweetly known here as HC Andersen - between narrow cobblestone roads, with lots of old wooden sailing ships moored along the wharf. Our hotel is right at the end, where the canal meets the harbour, and I have a lovely view of the Best Restaurant in the World, straight across the water: Noma, in a tall brick warehouse. We're not to eat there, unfortunately, though I'm sure we'll do just fine at the places Wonderful Copenhagen has picked out for us.

We took a canal cruise this afternoon, in bright sunshine and a sharpish breeze, scraping under low bridges and delighted by the towers and spires, bikes and boats, brick and stucco in the low sunshine. Back at the hotel, the nice young man at reception was amazed that we should have come all the way from New Zealand to see Copenhagen. "It's not Paris, you know," he said apologetically. But it's lovely, and I know we're going to enjoy exploring it over the next few days - and staying in this cosy old hotel, 71 Nyhavn, with its beams and odd corners and shapes.

It took six hours to get here from Dubai, by the way - a daylight flight this time, and I looked out at just the right time to see a gigantic snow-clad mountain spread out below, surrounded by brown arid land. According to the airshow, it was halfway between Van and Tblisi, and Google suggests tonight that it was Mount Ararat, in Turkey. I do wish they'd put proper maps in airline magazines the way they used to

Tuesday 1 November 2011

A day in Dubai

What a long day! Despite sleeping well on the plane, I was awake at the equivalent of 3am here, landed at 5.30am, got to the hotel and had second breakfast like a good hobbit, and was out again at 9am on a city tour. Then lunch at 1pm, a short break, and out again at 3pm for the Desert Safari which returned us to the hotel at 9pm. And tomorrow we're due down in the foyer at 6.30am for the next leg of the trip to Copenhagen.

Where it will be considerably cooler than the 38 degrees it was today as we skimmed along wide, neat, clean and modern highways past those amazing skyscrapers and miles of fancy villas and apartment blocks, the bright blue Creek and sea, ranks of date palms and dozens of mosques with graceful minarets. We popped into souqs specialising in spices, gold, clothing; went on a river ferry; to the underground museum; and did a circuit of Palm Island, that literally fantastic creation in the sea built in the shape of a palm tree.

Then tonight we bucketed over sand dunes in a 4WD Chrysler, slithering and swerving; watched racing camels being trained with robot jockeys; saw a falconry demonstration - peregrines can reach 369kmh, you know; glimpsed wild oryx with 90cm horns; watched the sun set over the desert dunes; had a camel ride; drank Arab coffee; had a local meal that was served just like in a school canteen; and watched agog as a scarily manic Russian belly-dancer whirled and gyrated like nobody's business. And now, hooray, it's bed time.


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