Riding from London (Russell?s) to Brussels

Cam, Russ, Grant, Steve, Phil and I rode from London to Brussels for fun. Since we started at Russell?s flat in Balham we coined the ride ?From Russell?s to Brussels?.

Kelvin and Louise kindly offered to drive a support van for us. Nothing happened between them and Steve has nothing to worry about.

The Route

London to Harwich (overnight ferry to Hook of Holland)
Hook of Holland to Amsterdam
Amsterdam to Breda
Breda to Brussels

The total distance was about 550kms but I?ll never really know as my Garmin 910xt stopped recording new route information after Breda. Note for next time, record each day as a separate ride. http://connect.garmin.com/activity/186271823

Day 1 ? London to Harwich

Started the day with Steve getting a flat, followed by Phil. Steve likes to get the first flat on these long rides.

Great warm sunny flat ride all day to Harwich. Harwich has a Morrisons right next to the Port which was excellent for refuelling hungry cyclist prior to the ferry.

The overnight ferry was affordable, good quality, comfortable beds, brilliant showers and a it had a bar ?. Just what everyone needed after a long day in the saddle.

Day 2 ? Hook of Holland to Amsterdam

Day 2 did not go well. Despite the ride being in June/summer the weather was shockingly wet and cold. Hardly anyone had the right cold weather gear to keep warm in the conditions. Luckily I had enough of my commuter cycling clothing so wasn?t too bad. Also the non-commuters had no experience of riding in snow and sleet so it was a bit of a shock for them. At midday we found a mall to hide in and drink lots of hot drinks for a couple of hours. Even luckier the mall had a cycle shop and the boys blew around three hundred euros on cold weather gear.

Day 3 – Amsterdam to Breda

Weather greatly improved but still not really summery. Spent the day getting lost. Amazed by the cycling facilities in Holland.

Day 4 – Breda to Brussels

Final day into Brussels followed by a massive team meal and session on the rums.

All in all a fantastic ride with good mates and lots of good memories.

Photos
http://www.flickr.com/photos/hubbers/sets/72157630008071968/with/7159342389/

New Zealand (1), Singapore (86) Malaysia (87) and Brunei Darussalam (88)

New Zealand

Expensive. While travelling I heard a couple of stories about how expensive NZ was. This correlates with my impression of prices at home where I though NZ prices compared to London prices even though I am pretty sure Kiwis don’t earn London wages. One Canadian couple moved to NZ to work and travel for six months and had to leave after three because they ran out of money.

Why do books in New Zealand cost so much?!?

Singapore (86)

Nice. Clean. Lots of shopping. Honest taxi drivers.

Dragon in Singapore harbour

Malaysia (87)

The Malaysia taxi scene isn’t quite as good. My first attempt to catch a cab got me a quote of 20 dingbats. The next was either 15 or 50. The third driver agree to use a meter and the final fare for a short drive was 4.60 (about a pound). Another taxi annoyance is that using the official taxi touts at the Sentral Train Station cost twice as much walking out to the road and flagging one down.

The weather here is something else. The average temperature is often well into the 30s and grown men carry umbrellas around to shelter from the sun. Thankfully when it rains it rains hard and that cools things down for a while afterwards.

I did an overpriced Han Travel day tour to Malaka from KL where the guide rather unfortunately started the commentary with the comment that Malaka is really a two to three day destination. Thankfully he was dead wrong. All of the tourist highlights of Malaka like the ‘old well’ and the ‘run down church from 1710’ can easily be seen in half a day. Met some cool people doing the tour.

Taman Negara national park was the next stop. Another tour but a much better one. Day one was a slow boat ride through the rainforest up the Tembeling River to Taman Negara National Park. Loads or wildlife to see along the way like eagles, wild pigs, lizards, a snake, monkeys, water buffalo and crocodiles. Thankfully we only had to get out and push three times when the boat got stuck on sandbars. The last time we go out and pushed all of the passengers had to walk across a small island while the newly buoyant boat took another charge at the rapids. At night we did a ‘night safari’ where we walked around the resort looking for wildlife. Basically that meant insects but a group two years ago saw a tiger and one last year saw a tapir. Our luck was in and we saw a deer on top of our collection of creepy crawlies. All things considered my day wading through crocodile infested rivers and walking through tiger infested jungles could have gone a lot worse.

Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia

The next morning we did a jungle walk trough cool jungle paths to scenic viewpoints and along treetop walkways. Not an overly hot or exerting experience but I still managed to drink 4 litres of water.

Sweaty Hubbers, Jungle canopy walk, Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia

Later in the day our group took a long boat up the river to visit a local tribe. This was probably the best tribe visit I have ever been on. The first thing they taught us was how to make fire from wood in under two minutes but the best part was when they showed us how to make poison blow darts and let us take target practice at a Scooby Do doll pinned to a tree (yes I hit it). After the shooting we took a tour of the village handing out unhealthy snacks to shy children. As usually happens at these things we all suffered from massive voyeur?s guilt from intruding on their lives and we headed to the river for a swim.

The river we stayed on only floods once a year. But when it rains it REALLY rains because in three or four days the river can rise as much as SEVENTY FOUR METERS! No wonder all of the restaurants are the floating kind.

After the rainforest experience I took my Han Travel organised ‘transfer’ to northern port town called Kuala Besut instead if catching a local bus. I spent the 8.5 hours driving around Malaysia picking people up and dropping them off. By contrast the bus probably got to the port in 3 hours. Oh and it probably cost me more! I would recommend people avoid Han Travel and travel independently in Malaysia.

While travelling I have met two English couples who are migrating permanently to Australia. They all had the feeling that England was going down the drain and Australia offered more. Good luck to them.

After the jungle I went to the Perentian islands for some diving. The island were beautiful and I dived with sharks and baby sharks for the first time in my life which was exciting.

From the Perentian?s I flew to Tamau in Malaysian Borneo via KL. I had started to worry that I was not famous any more as I hadn’t met anyone I know unexpectedly while travelling. I needn’t have worried as Robbie, a friend from London was on my fight to KL.

My first stop in Borneo was Semporna where I dived off Mabul Island. I only had one day so I crammed three dives in and I have to say these were three of the best dives I have ever done. Even the refresher dive off the beach was crammed full of colourful and interesting fish I have never seen before. A small golden travelli swam on the edge of my mask for the entire dive, which apparently means I will have seven years of good luck :)

While on Semporna I have been hanging out with the guy who owns www.malaysia.com. His life is pretty good he lives cheaply in KL, has a Malaysian girlfriend and travels around Malaysia taking pictures and writing stories while the money pours into his website.

One of my dive instructors was Alister Lee who takes excellent underwater photos http://alisterlee.blogspot.com and whose great grandfather was a head-hunter! Head-hunting is a Boeneo tradition where headhunters sneak up on people and slice their heads off before they know you are there so they die with a smile on their face. A good smiling head is useful for burying in the ground to make sure a bridge doesn’t collapse (so much for structural engineering and the laws of physics). Presumably a non-smiling one is just good for decoration in the living room chatting about how much fun you had beheading people when you were younger. The most prolific headhunter was some guy who had 32 heads to his name. He even beheaded his best friend! Talk about someone who you would never go around to their house to watch the rugby! At 32 however his village decided he might be insane so they beat him to death.

Diving, Mabul, Malaysia (Borneo)

After my brief diving adventure I spent a day in Semporna where I was lucky enough to be passing through town on the day of the Semporna Regatta. Highlights included a demonstration by armed water police raiding a fishing boat. Don’t ever do anything illegal on the water in Malaysia because they have cops on jetskis with machine guns! Other highlights included dragon boat races, tug of war rowing races and a display of brightly decorated boats that parade along the waterways with the most beautiful being crowned the winner.

Regatta Lepa, Semporna, Malaysia

Bus journeys in Malaysia often show a movie to keep you entertained. The criteria for these movies seems pretty simple. They must contain loads of graphic violence (but no sex) preferably with lots of flashy explosions. Also, the movies should be relatively unheard of. The quality of these movies seem to exist in a quality category just below that of ‘straight to dvd’ called ‘straight to bus’.

Next stop was the oddly named Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre. This place really interested me partly because I think orang-utans are magnificent but also because I wanted to know what drove them to drink. Perhaps it is because they are ginger.

Palms. Malaysia is covered from top to bottom in palms. They grow them for the palm oil which is used in a large percentage of foods you can buy in the supermarket. The first problem with having a country that almost exclusively grows palms is that it means that your country don’t grow a lot of other foods to feed your population. The other issue is that if the palms get attacked by a parasite that kills them that will wipe out you entire agriculture industry in one go. So then you have no palms and nothing you can eat. Oh yeah and they probably cut down rainforest to create the palm plantations. So there you have it a short paragraph on the shortcomings of palm cultivation exclusivity. In summary. Palms, bad for monkeys and all eggs in one basket risk.

Brunei Darussalam

Brunei Darussalam

I also visited Brunei Darussalam (88) where I had the good fortune to stumble into the very odd De Royalle Cafe for dinner. The entire menu is on differently sized laminated flip cards with one food item per card with each menu item on a separate card. When questioned further about items on the menu the waitress (gorgeous) and the owner (who had the wacky idea for the flip cards) had no idea what was in each dish. My favourite menu item was Jane’s Healthy Zip which contained icecream, chocolate and milk. It turns out that the owner isn’t as mad as he seems and is in fact a famous local reporter.

Got talking to some expats about one of the princes, who is attending a local school. Every day at lunch a limousine turns up with his lunch in a hamper. It also turns out that not all of the school is air conditioned so the entire schools schedule was rearranged so that all of his classes are in air conditioned rooms. In addition the principal was booted out of his office and it was turned into a private space for the prince with satellite tv and gaming consoles etc.

Brunei’s history goes a bit like this. They were just about to become part of Malaysia and then they discovered oil so they changed their mind and went on an audacious spending spree that still hasn’t stopped.

85 percent of people in Brunei ‘work’ in the civil service where ?work? practices are quite relaxed.

It feels like Brunei is a country of have nothings (imported labour) haves (people connected to the government and civil servants) and the SUPER MEGA HAVES (royals).

65th Anniversary of D-day landings in Normandy

As previously mentioned I went to Normandy in France to see the historic sites associated with the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944 to free the world of Nazi tyranny.

On the fist day we visited strategically important Pegasus Bridge the site of the first action when British commandos landed gliders and surprised the German defenders to captured the bridge with few casualties. Later we visited the Merville Battery where allied paratroopers attacked a heavily defended German artillery position encased in concrete and surrounded by machine guns, barbed wire and land mines. Expecting to have over 700 paratroopers for the assault the allied colonel in charge found he had only 150 men and none of the heavy equipment he needed. Knowing that the battery could fire directly onto the landing beaches causing massive loss of life they charged the battery anyway eventually routing out the last of the defenders with brutal hand to had combat. When the guns fell silent only 6 Germans were still unscathed from 130 and 65 allied soldiers were dead. The story of D-day is a lot like the attack on the Merville Battery. The chaos of the night time glider and parachute landing meant that Allied troops were badly scattered and often had to improvise and attack with who and what they had to hand. The Germans didn’t realise that this was the the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany defended bravely and both side suffered huge loss of life.

During the weekend we visited the Ranville War Cemetery and Ranville Churchyard, Bayer Cemetery, Normandy American Cemetery and the German Military Cemetery which combined contained tens of thousands of graves of young soldiers who fought and died in Normandy. The cemeteries are very well looked after and very moving especially when you consider how young they all were. One thing that surprised me was the number of allied veterans who visited the German Military Cemetery to pay respects to the young German men who had died trying to kill the allied veterans.

Our coach had six veterans on it. One from the Gulf War, one from the Korean War and four from the war against the Nazis in Europe. One of our veterans even got an OBE from the King for charging all over Europe shooting people with nothing more that a camera and a few spare rolls of film. Shortly after D-day he had to dive into a bomb crater with some other soldiers to escape a German fighter strafing the beach. When the danger had passed he got up and said “well that was close chaps” before he realised everyone else in the crater was dead. Another veteran I met at Arromanche called Dick was shot twice in the back while retreating from a German counter-attack in North Africa. A retreating Maori soldier picked him up and carried him to safety. He only found out what had happened weeks later when he woke up in hospital. He never met the man who saved him and he didn’t even learn his name. The more you talk to the vets and the more you hear their stories the more you realise that war is a complete lottery for all involved.

Three veterans sheltering from the rain, Arromanches, Normandy, D-day commemorations 2009

During the weekend we also visited Sword Beach where the Brits came ashore against relatively light defences and advanced inland several kilometres. Next we visited Gold beach where defences were stiffer and finally Omaha beach where the American 1st and 29th infantry divisions were cut to pieces by veteran Germans defending inhospitable terrain. The official record stated that “within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded […] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue”. Looking at the narrow gulley that the Americans fought their way up it’s hard to imagine how any survived.

On Saturday we tried to visit the Arromanche museum but it was close because of visiting dignitaries. Two hours later of standing in the rain with hundreds of veterans who were mostly over 83 years old and Prime Minister Gordon Brown turned up to rapturous booing from the British in the Crowd. The booing was so much fun loud it made international news.

I have followed politics in NZ and England since I was a teenager and never before have I seen a politician unite the public against themselves so effectively. Several times during the weekend random people I was chatting to raise the subject of how much they disliked Gordon Brown. And I wasn’t even wearing my “I hate Gordon Brown” t-shirt :)

Heading home after a thoroughly enjoyable politician booing we realised that our coach was one veteran short. Two hours later we had finally tracked him down. Can I just say that there can be few harder places to find a white haired old veteran in a blue blazer with loads of medals on the front than at a Normandy beach on the anniversary of D-day. It was like a really hard version of Where’s Veteran Wally.

Overall the weekend was excellent an my coach full of oldies were excellent value. I might go back one day when it isn’t so crowded and I have more time to wander around the sites.

Normandy Landing

Tomorrow morning I am heading to Normandy in France to take part in the commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France. I will be doing it the easy way taking a luxury coach and a ferry from Dover to Calais. Not the hard way like the American, British, Canadian and French soldiers who did it under a hail of artillery and machine gun fire on the morning of the 6th of June 1944.

The weather looks pretty average but I will try to get some photos for flickr for when I get back.

Libya was pretty awesome

This month I went to Libya with Grant and Masha. Libya requires you to be on an organised tour to get a visa and as such it is probably the most expensive place I have ever visited. It was still worth t though.

On our first two days we saw the Roman ruins Sapratha and Leptis Magnam. Sapratha is pretty amazing and has a huge reconstructed roman amphitheatre. Leptis Magna is in another league altogether and is probably the best roman ruin I have seen in my journeys around the Mediterranean. Leptis Magna’s main advantages over other roman sites around the Mediterranean are that an African Roman emperor called Septimius Severus was born here so it flourished under his rule. Also no later city was ever built on top of it which definitely helped preserve it. On the down side most of the good statues etc were plundered by the French and are now on display at Versailles. The beach at Leptis Magna is even lined with beautiful green marble pillars that never made the final boat to Europe for some reason. A disappointing but not uncommon story.

THE GREEN BOOK

The Green Book is a series of three small books written by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi the revolutionary leader who took control of the country in a near bloodless coup in 1969. The book is an excellent window into the mind of Libya’s leader. You could argue that the world of politics would be a better place if more leaders wrote long essays about what they actually think. The opening section is a tirade against democracy because in a democracy up to 49% of the people are being ruled by a dictatorship that is against their will. The good Colonel who has been the self appointed unelected leader of Libya for nearly four decades seems blissfully unaware of the concept of irony. Other parts of the book are better. Like he believes women are equal to men and has passed numerous laws strengthening the rights of women to the point where the legal rights for women in Libya are probably the best in the Middle East. I think is hugely impressive for a Middle Eastern man in the 1970s considering most other men in the Middle East are still at the prepubescent pinch and stare stage nearly four decades later. The other quite cool thing about the Colonel is that his personal body guard is made up entirely of women in blue jumpsuits. Grant has likened this to the Robert Palmer video, addicted to love. Hot.

Music

While in country we listened to loads of Arab music which apparently often comes from Egypt and sometimes Tunisia. Masha put on her iPod one day and I was staggered to learn that neither our driver or guide had ever heard of global super band U2.

DRIVING

Riding high on hay. Health and Safety in Libya

Like most middle eastern countries the drivers in Libya seem to lack a sense of self preservation. I admit they don’t seem as bad their neighbours in Morocco or Egypt but they are still pretty mental.

Libyans think nothing of suddenly stopping on the side of the motorway or even the narrower onramps leading onto the motorway. They don’t even seem particularly concerned about pulling right over to the side of the road. On our first day here we even saw a guy driving the wrong way down the motorway. By the time we left ten days later we had seen dozens of vehicles on the wrong side of the road for a variety of reasons. To make matters worse for the gutsy locals the roads seem to be very poorly planned. They’re brilliant if you want to go from a to b but there are almost no facilities for turning left across oncoming traffic which leads to the ubiquitous and unnerving sight of vehicles doing u-turns across the middle of busy multi lane motorways.

The pedestrians aren’t much better either. The lack of official crossings and the fact that drivers completely ignore the few that there are means that the pedestrians have perfected the art of calmly walking through fast moving traffic.

Ghadmes

Berber fortified granary, Qasr, Nalut Libya

From Tripoli we drove to Ghadames. On the way we stopped off at the very photogenic Qasr Al-haj, a stone grain store built in the second half of the 12th century. Next stop was Nalut with a cool hilltop grain storing castle with spectacular views.

On the way we saw signs of massive construction of infrastructure in the desert. The road we travelled on was well maintained and a huge water pipeline was being dug into the desert and hundreds of new power pylons were being erected.

After the castle Grant noted that the guy who quietly offered us the souvenirs he had personally carved was the first person to try to sell us anything in our four days in Libya. This is exactly the opposite of all other countries I have been to in the Middle East. In other countries the main tourist sites are lined with numerous shops all selling the exactly same stuff and the shopkeepers stand out front verbally accosting every tourist that walks by. They even use all the same lines to get you interested like: “welcome”, “where you from”, “just look, look is free” and “I give you special price”. This last one is my favourite as it often roughly translates to “if you are dumb enough to by this I will put another floor on my house”.

To complicate matters further when a Libyan shopkeeper gives you a price this is usually the actual price of the merchandise, not double, quadruple or even ten times what a local person would pay.

The Libyan approach kind of refreshing and makes for a much more relaxed travel experience. But at the same time part of me misses the constant pressure and the relentless battle of the wits that you get in other Middle Eastern countries.

At Ghadames we visited the beautifully restored old town which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The old town is made up of 1250 houses with several mosques and religious schools. The traditional Islamic doctrine that men and women should be separated meant that outside the house men went about their lives in the passageways and tunnels on the ground level while women lived on the rooftops under canvas canopies. The town was constructed in such a way that women could cross the whole town without leaving the rooftops or ever seeing a man once.

After a hot mornings walking we headed out to the desert salt lakes of Ain ad-Debanah which are a beautiful place to spent a hot afternoon relaxing. Once refreshed we headed to the historic castle of Ras ah-Ghoul where you can see over the border into Tunisia and Algeria. To finish the day we climbed some huge orange Saharan sand dunes to watch the sun set over the desert.

After Ghadames we drove back to Tripoli so we could fly even deeper into the desert in southern Libya. Driving isn’t an option because of the huge distances involved.

The internal flight on Air Libya was interesting to say the least. We were delayed over three hours and when we walked out onto the tarmac we found our luggage on the ground next to some trolleys. Not sure why this was but we all had to pick up our own bags and put them on the trolley so that they would be loaded onto the plane. While we were doing this two children were running around the tarmac under the wings and engines (that were warming up) throwing their soft toys up in the air. All this while two cabin staff, a couple of baggage handlers and several airport security officials watched them or just chatted quietly amongst themselves. Two bags were left over after all the passengers had boarded so the helpful cabin staff just threw them on the trolleys anyway. The cockpit had the new reinforced doors that have become the norm since 9/11. But because it was Libya Air the pilots flew with the door open. Well I guess some countries are net importers of bombs on planes and some are net exporters of bombs on planes.

SEBHA

Prehistoric rock engravings, Matkhandoush, Sahara, Libya

The next day we got up early for a long drive through desert to the prehistoric rock engravings at Matkhandoush.

Camping in the middle of nowhere Sahara style

That night we slept in beautiful orange sahara sand miles and miles from civilization and any other human beings.

Chatting to Khari, our guide and driver the subject of my recent woman troubles came up. Harry is very good looking and has many local girlfriends in Libya as well as foreign ones in Italy, Ireland and Spain who are chasing him. Khari has stated that he cannot be with just one woman. I am not sure what the local euphemism is for a guy like Khari but If I had to make one up I would probably go for, he has a women at every oasis.

Khari had the following advice for me (and all men):

  • Women want sex strong. Sometimes up to seven times a night.
  • You cannot talk to a women like a man. Women everywhere have the mind of a child.
  • Always listen very carefully to women. But don’t take any action.

This is timeless desert wisdom handed down from father to son through the sands of time until I got hold of it and put it in the internet.

GERMA

Ancient Gerama mudbrick city, Libya

I the morning we visited the mud-brick ruins of the ancient capital of Garama. It’s quite run down and it doesn’t really compare to the roman ruins on the coast. Here’s a hint for ancient city builders who want to foster a legacy of tourism that will keep your descendants in business with tourists. Don’t use mud-brick. Even if your city is in a really dry place where it only rains once every few years a mud-brick city will still last a lot less long than one made of stone.

Ubari (salt) Lakes in the Sahara north of Germa, Libya

Later we went for a swim in one of the beautiful oasis in the Ubari sand sea. The oasis was quite salty which means that any little cuts or scratches you might have really sting but it also means that you are massively more buoyant that you are in fresh water or even the ocean. The other really weird thing is that the water gets really warm about four or five feet down so your feet are kept nice and toasty while you swim.

The Lonely Planet describes the local museum as terrific. The LP for Libya was excellent but you got the feeling that the author had been in country too long and had maybe drunk the kool-ade a bit because the museum was actually pretty average.

After that we flew back to Tripoli for a look at the amazing national museum and then flew back to London.

Mosaic high five, Tripoli Museum, Libya

LIBYA AND TOURISM

The main barrier to tourism in Libya is the fact that the government won’t let you have a visa unless you are on an organised tour. Because of this visiting Libya is very very expensive. To put it in perspective I have probably spent more money visiting Libya for ten days than I spent in nearly two months in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.

Libya also probably suffer from a bit of a PR problem because of their governments involvement in global terrorism including several bombings, assassinations and the infamous Lockerbie bombing where 270 people were killed when a Libyan bomb exploded on a passenger jet over Scotland in 1988. To their credit Libya have made massive steps to compensate for their mistakes in the past and Libya have now been welcomed back into the fold of by the mostly-good countries. From all of the construction we saw it seems that regular Libyans might now be reaping the benefits of this change of heart.

To help with their PR efforts I have come up with some slogans that the Libyan tourist board can use free of charge:

  • Libya: we did some bad things but we’re sorry and we’re better now
  • Libya: we’re on your side now
  • Libya: way more honest than Egypt and Morocco
  • Libya: come now before thousands of other tourists wreck the place
  • Libya: where the beer is alcohol free
  • Libya: it’s great for your liver
  • Libya: surprisingly good

SUMMARY

Libya is full of amazing sites that compare favourable to other countries in the region and it is still reasonable untouched by the taint of western tourism. If you want to see it like this give your bank manager and go now. If you are on a budget then wait a few years until they are more open to independent travel and then get in quickly.

Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (83)

Today I am travelling to Libya or Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya as it is more accurately known.

Straight off the bat I want to say that there is something that really concerns me about Libya. No it’s not their history of terrorism or the fact that they are a socialist dictatorship. It’s not even the fact that their flag is entirely green with no other colours or features even though they are the only country to have a completely plain single coloured flag.

It’s the fact that Libya is dry. And not dry like the fact that Libya is mostly a desert and some parts only get rain once every five to ten years. No Libya is dry like a blue light disco is dry. All forms of refreshment with alcohol in them are completely illegal and this law is rigorously enforced by the local police.

Actually after hanging with South Africans for the last few weeks my liver etc could probably do with a holiday with the rest of the body for once. Not like the usual holidays where the body gets some time off but the liver has to do overtime.

Lybia is the 83rd country I have travelled to since I arrived in London just over ten years ago.

A very South African Wedding

For the last three weeks I have been in South Africa for a holiday, a wedding (not mine) and a honeymoon (also not mine).

Several of us flew out on the 19th of March and there was one hell of a 14 hour party flight. Some time during the night the Kiwi boys had a nap but the South African girls powered through. To the point where one of them fell over in the aisle of the plane and other passengers threw rubbish at them. A classy start that would set the tone for a fabulous three weeks.

I was writing a day by day diary in my Blackberry but it was stolen from my hotel room during the evening of the wedding. This is a great metaphor for the South African experience. So much about the country is amazing but in the background there is an undercurrent of crime that effects everything. Thankfully this was the only negative to an otherwise wonderful three weeks.

One of the things that I was writing about were stories that I picked up from the local newspapers. Like the fact that a government agency has just dropped 16 serious charges including racketeering, money-laundering, corruption, fraud and tax evasion involving about 4m rand against the (probably) incoming ANC president Zuma. I know this is global news but it’s staggering that the South African people will elect Zuma without him clearing his name in a court of law (he says he is totally innocent). Another story was about how nearly 9000 guns have gone missing from South African police stations in the last three years. No official explanation has been given but it is basically understood that cops have been stealing the guns and selling them to criminals. Unbelievable. Sadly the other things I wrote down are all on my blackberry. If the cops spent more time doing their jobs instead of selling their guns you might have been be able to read some of them.

Matt and Bronwen’s wedding itself was beautiful and everyone had a funnel great time. The party went on to all hours and ended in a state of undress in the pool.

Matt and Bronwen's wedding at Diemersfontein Wine Farm, South Africa

After the wedding we all went on the honeymoon together to Bronwen’s family batch in Die Kelders where some of us went great white shark cage diving. Basically you sit around in a cage in freezing water while the guides attract natures most perfect killing machine with big chunks of tuna. We saw a few big sharks but sadly none while we were actually in the water.

Divers in the cage waiting for a great white shark, Die Kelders, South Africa

After Die Kelders the honeymoon moved to Langebaan where we did some water skiing and swimming. Finally we moved back to Cape Town which I have to say is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to.

Hubbers 'exploring' Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

On the whole the honeymoon was a huge success and I think I may have a change of career into honeymoon coordination on the horizon.

A weekend in the South of France

Recently I went to Nimes in France for a couple of days work. Nimes is a beautiful little city with beautiful old French and Roman buildings in the middle of town.

Maison Carrée, Nimes

I have been to Nimes before so after I finished up on Friday night I went to see some of the other cities in the south of France.

First stop was Avignon which is a town that the Popes once lived in when the murdering and the warring in Italy got a little too much for them. When things calmed down to the normal level or warring and murdering they went back to Rome. Avignon has dined out on the legacy of once being Pope HQ ever since and as such is a bit of a tourist trap.

The Popes Palace (Palais Des Papes) Avignon

My second stop, Montpelier was a young student town that has a really party feel to it. The party atmosphere was considerably helped along by the gay and lesbian mardi gra that happened to be in town the night I was there. The G&L’s certainly know how to party, maybe that is why organised religion hate them so much, pure jealousy.

Montpellier gay and lesbian festival was in town

Montpellier

Lastly on Sunday I went to Perpignan which smells like pee.