All Black Autumn International Tickets for Sale online NOW

Sports Tickets International are the “official” ticket reseller for NZRU are well known to Kiwis in the Northern Hemisphere for whacking a massive 50% on to the face value of All Black tickets. Last year I estimated that this dodgy practice earned them around 1.8 million New Zealand dollars from five tests. The New Zealand Herald even rand a story on it titled titled Fans put hard word on NZRU over agent’s ticket charges.

I wrote a blog entry on it and one fan even commented that he and his mates had sued STIL for breach of terms and conditions and they had won thousands of dollars.

The other problem with STIL’s offering this year is that ALL of the ticket packages include the All Blacks v Barbarians match at the end of the tour on the 5th of December. To me this is the test I am least likely to attend.

STIL’s ticket packages are available to purchase here.
http://www.stilrugby.wb.gs/bookings.html

The test dates for the end of year tour are as follows:

31 Oct All Blacks v Wallabies Tokyo
07 Nov All Blacks v Wales Cardiff
14 Nov All Blacks v Italy Milan
21 Nov All Blacks v England London
28 Nov All Blacks v France Marseille
05 Dec All Blacks v Barbarians London

As far as I can tell NZRU haven’t made any official announcement regarding last years Herald article so it’s hard to know if fans will be any better off this year. Anyone looking to book tickets for the Italy, France and the Barbarians tests online and avoid any mark-up form STIL can buy them from these alternative sites.

To buy tickets for the Italy game on the 14th November try this link:
http://www.ticketone.it/EN/chooseProduct.jsp?cdProduct=RCSS2009TE1114

To buy tickets for the Barbarians game on the 5th December try this link:
http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/event/1200428695CB3654?artistid=930704&majorcatid=10004&minorcatid=225

To buy tickets for the France game on the 28th November will have to register on this link:
http://partenaires.ticketnet.fr/shop/en/manif.asp?idmanif=175060&idtier=1493223

Kiwis in Edinburgh

Last weekend Grant, Masha and I went up to Edinburgh for the wedding of Magnus and Katie. It was a fantastic Scottish and English styled wedding just north of the border with loads of bagpipes, kilts and whisky (we spoke English).

Mags and Katie cutting the cake at their wedding

On the Sunday we had some time to do so we went to the Royal Highland Show where we saw all manner of huge beasts ate great farm food and watched all manner of farming related food and events.

Wooly Bully at Royal Highland Fair

By pure coincidence Grant and I ran into a teacher from our high school who was teaching there while we were there. Miss (Carolyn) Aish runs a small business that sells Kiwi made products in the UK. In her own words:

KiwiKate brings to the UK possum, possum-merino, merino and sheepskin lovely, warm, practical wear from The Land of the Long White Cloud, Aoteoroa, NZ. Awesome.

If you are looking for great Kiwi gifts for people in the UK then you should visit http://www.kiwikate.co.uk/

Hip hip hooray

Yesterday was my birthday and I got the best present ever.

My mum has been struggling with her dodgy old hips and has been on the waiting list to get them replaced via the New Zealand Health service. Yesterday after months of waiting they finally said she had done enough and admitted her to a private hospital to get the first one replaced.

Because she is a tough old bird they did it with keyhole surgery without a general anaesthetic. All mum had was an epidural which made her completely numb from the waist down. The last time my mum has an epidural was um lets see almost exactly 37 years ago when I was born :)

I spoke to her this morning and she is s in great spirits although that might be the morphine wearing off.

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.

Tooting Bec Lido is FILTHY

Tonight I rode across London to the Tooting Bec Lido because the Lido near my house at Parliament Hill closes at 6pm for some bizarre reason. The weather was warm and the ride was awesome.

Tooting Bec Lido is the biggest outdoor pool in England and it’s lucky that it is because they have to cram a lot of filth into it. The list of things I managed to identify on the bottom of the pool included: dirt (lots of), sand (lots of), leaves, twigs, band aids, toilet paper (I think) and a panty liner. Disgusting.

As one of the other swimmers said it was, “it’s good for your immune system”. My personal opinion is that if you swim regularly in the Tooting Bec Lido and you don’t die then you probably have nothing to fear from swine flu.

This photo is stitched together from two photos taken using my not-very-wide-angle Canon Ixus 970 using the magic of photoshop.

Tooting Bec Lido - London's filthiest pool (stitched)

Thames Barrier Cycle Ride

Today after meeting some friends in Holborn for lunch I rode to the Thames Barrier. I’ve been meaning to get down there for ages to take some photos.

The Tames Path ride isn’t really what I expected. At several places along the Thames, apartments have been built right up to the edge of the river so you have to cycle back to a road to keep heading in the same direction. Sometimes when travelling on one of these back roads the Thames Path is signposted back towards the river and when you get there the path only goes for fifty meters or so before another apartment block forces you back on to the road you just came from. The net effect is that you end up with the feeling that you are zigzagging down the river and sometimes you end up a bit lost or on a main road.

A bit frustrating and not really what I expected from a quite cycle down the Thames.

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.