As for going where I haven’t been before…

A lot of locations for stories are based on places that I’ve visited.  So, any time I’m on holiday, I’m also discreetly observing, and noting, the places with an ulterior motive.

At some point in time, they’ll finish up in a story.

Places like Florence, London, Paris, and Venice have all been used in recent stories.

Of course, places change, and there are some that I can’t get to, so it’s useful having Google Maps and Street View.  These can either make up for lack of memory and a refresher.

Especially if you need to visit Africa.  Parts of my stories are set in Nigeria, not exactly a place I would go, no matter how much I wanted to get the lie of the land, nor would I go to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rwanda, maybe, but in investigating locations, it is interesting to discover that places like Kenya and Rwanda are reasonably safe.  Uganda is more or less the same, but whether I’d visit, as inviting as it might be to see the wildlife (animals that is) I’m thinking Google Maps will do for now.

And as a matter of curiosity when I was a child in school most of those countries were British colonies and held a deep fascination for any child.

How much has changed since?

Searching for locations: Rome, Italy

We visited Rome in August

It was hot.

It was verrrry hot.

We flew into Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino airport after a rather bumpy flight from London.  Unlike most other airports the plane parked at a satellite terminal and after we disembarked we had to catch a train to the main terminal.

The most notable memory of this airport was my daughter’s discovery of a salami shop.

We had booked a transfer to take us to the hotel the Roma Corso Trieste Mercure in Via Gradisca from the airport.  It was a white air-conditioned van and so far we had avoided the heat.

One of the rooms had a faulty air conditioning an absolute must as the rooms were very hot without it and necessitated a room change which was done quickly and efficiently.

The hotel was in the suburbs and without a car we were dependent on public transport.  According to the reception staff, there was a bus stop nearby, and a longer walk to the tram or light railway.  The bus seemed to be the best option as it would take us to the central terminal near the railway station, where all tour buses also operated from, and particularly the open-top buses that went to all the major tourist attractions.

That first day basically was given over to travelling, arriving by plane and settling into the hotel, thus we didn’t get to feel the force of the heat.  That came the next day.

After a walk around the hotel precinct to get our bearings and see what shops and restaurants were available, on returning to the hotel we were faced with the limited choices of room service or to go out for dinner.

My daughter and l go for a long walk up Via Nomentana to find several shops and a restaurant.  We went into the restaurant and sat down.   We waited for 10 minutes and got no service nor did anyone come and ask us if we wanted to order food so instead we left somewhat disappointed and go next door to what seems to be the Italian version of a delicatessen and order sandwiches and beer.   I bought a half dozen cans of Moretti beer two of which I drank on the way home.

It was still very hot even at eight at night and the sandwiches are delicious.  It just might be by that time we were starving and anything would have tasted great.

The next morning we are up and ready to chance the weather and some history.  Breakfast at the hotel is limited but very good.

We were going to use public transport and I’d studied up on the Internet.

Travelling on the bus required pre-purchase of tickets which could be bought in certain shops and locally when exploring the area near the hotel, l found a tobacconist.

Next, we needed to understand how to use the tickets. There was no one on the bus who could help so when l tried to scan the tickets and it failed, l gave up.  We had the same issue each day and in the end, the tickets never got used.

The trip to central Rome by bus took about 15 minutes.  In the morning it was reasonably cool and showed us a little of suburban Rome.  We also saw the trams but we would not be able to use them because our hotel not on a direct route.

That first full day we decided to go and see the Vatican.

Not understanding buses and which one we needed to get to the Vatican, we took a taxi.

Wow.  It was the metaphorical equivalent of driving over the edge of a cliff with a daredevil.  It was quite literally terrifying.

Or maybe we just didn’t know that this was probably the way people drove in Rome.

Shaken but delivered in one piece we found ourselves in the square opposite St Peters Basilica.

The square is impressive, with the statues atop a circular colonnaded walkway.  The church is incredible and took a few hours to take in and to top off the day, we did a tour of the Vatican museum which took the rest of the afternoon.

Then it was back to the delicatessen for more sandwiches and beer, and an interesting discussion with several elderly Italian ladies, of which I did not understand one word.

The second full day we decided to use one of the open-top bus tours and eventually decided on the hop on hop off tour simply because the bus was at the central transport terminal for trains and buses and it was getting hotter.

Our first stop was the Colosseum.  There were other monuments nearby, such as the Arch of Constantine, but as the heat factor increased we joined the queue to go into the Colosseum and gladly welcomed the shade once we got inside.

The queue was long and the wait equally so, but it was worth the wait.  It would be more interesting if they could restore part of it to its former glory so we could get a sense of the place as it once was.  But alas that may never happen, but even so, it is still magnificent as a ruin.

Outside in the heat, it was off to the ruins which were a longish walk from the Colosseum, taking Via Sacra, not far from the Arch of Constantine.  This day in the walkway there were a number of illegal vendors, selling knockoff goods such as handbags and watches, and who, at the first sight of the police, packed up their wares in a blanket and ran.

Included in these ruins were The Roman Forum, or just a few columns remaining, the Palatine Hill, Imperial Fori, including the Forum of Augustus, the Forum of Caesar, and more specifically the Forum of Trajan.  It was, unfortunately very hot and dusty in the ruins the day we visited.

We walked all the way to the Foro Romano and the Septimus Severo Arch at the other end of the ruins, past the Temple of Caesar.

I found it very difficult to picture what it was like when the buildings were intact, so I bought a guide to the ruins which showed the buildings as ruins and an overlay of how they would have looked.  The buildings, then, would be as amazing as the Colosseum, and it would have been interesting to have lived back then, though perhaps not as a Christian.

I lost count of the number of bottles of water we bought, but the word ‘frizzante’ was ringing in my ears by the end of the day.  Fortunately, the water did not cost a lot to buy.

At the end of the day, we caught the hop on hop off bus at the Colosseum and decided not to get off and see any more monuments but observe them from the bus.  The only one I remember seeing was Circo Massimo.  Perhaps if we’d know it was going to be twice as hot on the bus, yes, there was no air-conditioning; we may have chosen another form of transport to get back to the hotel.

The third and last day in Rome we decided to go to the Trevi Fountain, see the pantheon and walk up the Spanish Steps.  We spent most of the morning in the cool of a café watching the tourists at the fountain.  By the time we reached the top of the Spanish Steps, we were finished.

Searching for locations: Shanghai, China, by night.

When we arrive at the embarkation site we find at least 100 buses all lined up and parked, and literally thousands of Chinese and other Asians streaming through the turnstiles to get on another boat leaving earlier than ours.

Buses were just literally arriving one after the other stopping near where we were standing with a dozen or so other groups waiting patiently, and with people were everywhere it could only be described as organized chaos.

Someone obviously knew where everyone was supposed to go, and when it was our turn, we joined the queue.  There were a lot of people in front of us, and a lot more behind, so I had to wonder just how big the boat was.

We soon found out.

And it was amusing to watch people running, yes, they were actually running, to get to the third level, or found available seating.  Being around the first to board, we had no trouble finding a seat on the second level.

I was not quite sure what the name of the boat was, but it had 3 decks and VIP rooms and it was huge, with marble staircases, the sort you could make a grand entrance on.  The last such ornate marble staircase we had seen was in a hotel in Hong Kong, and that was some staircase.

But who has marble staircases in a boat?

We’re going out across the water as far as the Bund and then turn around and come back about 30 to 40 minutes.   By the time everyone was on board, there was no room left on the third level, no seats on the second level nor standing room at the end of the second level where the stairs up to the third level were.

No one wanted to pay the extra to go into the VIP lounge.

We were sitting by very large windows where it was warm enough watching the steady procession of the colored lights of other vessels, and outside the buildings.

It was quite spectacular, as were some of the other boats going out on the harbor.

All the buildings of the Bund were lit up

And along that part of the Bund was a number of old English style buildings made from sandstone, and very impressive to say the least.

On the other side of the harbour were the more modern buildings, including the communications tower, a rather impressive structure.

I had to go to the rear of the vessel to get a photo, a very difficult proposition given here was no space on the railing, not even on the stairs going up or down.  It was just luck I managed to get some photos between passengers heads.

And, another view of that communications tower:

There was no doubt this was one of the most colourful night-time boat tours I’ve ever been on.  Certainly, when we saw the same buildings the following day, they were not half as spectacular in daylight.

I never did get up to the third level to see what the view was like.

I want one in my backyard

Just what everyone needs in their backyard:  A Gazebo, or a small bandstand!

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Often when we go to different places, it gives us ideas, sometimes ideas beyond what is possible.

I have always wanted a gazebo, perhaps not on the same grand scale as the one above, but one where we can put a BBQ and a few seats, and relax on a sunny afternoon.

Shade, a cool breeze, a cold glass of wine or beer, and the aroma of meat cooking on an open flame.

But…

Reality sets in.  The backyard isn’t big enough, so my dream will stay just that.

But I will frame the photograph and put it in my office as a reminder that one day, maybe, it might be possible.

Searching for locations: The Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Now we’re walking to the Forbidden City, and it seems like we’re walking for miles and we’re practically exhausted before we get started on the main tour.  I’m not sure if we received a map of the city, but one is certainly needed so that you can navigate the many features, buildings, and walkways.

There are tour groups everywhere in the large courtyard outside the gate, most likely getting a lecture on the last of the Chinese emperors about that time Sun Yat-Sen proclaimed the new China around 1912.  We were no exception, and it was an interesting way to spend the time waiting to get in.  It was a tale of intrigue, interwoven with a 3-year-old emperor, and a scheming concubine who becomes the Emperor’s favorite, enough to bear him a son and successor.

Bribery and corruption at its best.

But its history runs something like this:

The Forbidden City is was once the imperial and state residence of the Emperor of China, as well as the center of government, from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, or 1420 to 1924.

It was built from 1406 to 1420 when the Yongle Emperor moved the capital from Nanking to Beijing and consists of about 980 buildings, and 8,886 bays of rooms (not the 9,999 as prescribed in myth) and covers 180 acres.  Over the 14 years, a million workers used whole logs of wood from the jungles of southwestern China, marble from quarries near Beijing, specially made golden bricks from Suzhou

Since 1925 it has been a museum and is the largest number of preserved wooden structures in the world.

The city is surrounded by a wall 7.9 meters high, and a moat that is 6 meters deep and 52 meters wide.  A tower sits at each of the four corners.  Each side has a gate, the north is called the Gate of Divine Might, the south is called the Meridian gate.  East and west are called East Glorious Gate and West Glorious Gate respectively.

But, back in the courtyard, we are ready to go in and follow the tour guide who has switched from her amplified microphone to a whisper device we all wear in our ears.  She talks and we listen.

We all make it through and regroup on the other side. This is where the fun begins because we are about to meet a large percentage of the 80,000, they let for the day.

It seems to me they have all arrived at the same time, although by the time we get to the entrance gate, it is very well organized, bags are scanned, people are scanned, and you’re in.

After crossing one of the seven Golden Water bridges, you begin to get some idea of the size and scope of the City, and in the distance, the first of the buildings, The Gate of Supreme Harmony.  On a hot day, that could be a long and thirsty walk.

From there it is one pagoda after another with buildings that surround the edge of the whole Forbidden City, as does the moat.

By the time we get to the second courtyard, it was time to have ice cream as a refresher.  Others head up to another exhibit, and it’s just too many stairs for us.

After this, it’s a walkthrough another courtyard, heading up and down some more stairs, we go and see the museum, with priceless relics from past emperors.

There are areas like the outer courtyard, the inner courtyard, yet another courtyard, and the gardens where the concubines walked and spent their leisure time.  It is not far from the emperor’s wives living quarters, though there’s precious little left of the furniture, other than a settee and two rather priceless so-called Ming dynasty vases.

We get into the bad habit of calling all of the vases Ming dynasties.  Above is one of the inner courtyards there were living quarters, and that tree is over 300 years old.

Out through some more alleyways and through an entrance that led to the area where the concubines lived, very spacious, bright, and filled with trees, plants, and walkways through rocky outcrops.

The whole area was made up of living quarters and waterways, rocks and paths, all very neatly set out, and it looked to be a very good place to live.

This is an example of the living quarters, overlooking the gardens

And there were several pagodas

From there its a quick exit out the northern entrance, and another longish walk to our bus, which arrives at the meeting point shortly after we do.

That done, the Beijing tour guide has completed her section of our China experience, and we’re ready to move onto the next.

It’s the end of June

And we’re all still here, in one piece, but oddly enough it feels like someone or something is picking us off, one by one.  You know, 100 green bottles standing on a wall…

I wanted to start this by reporting on my writing progress…

But…

I’m watching the world go to hell in a handbasket.  It’s not necessarily it’s leaders, those so-called wise men and women in government who are supposed to know what to do when there’s a crisis.  They can’t know everything.

They can try and get the best advice possible and pass it on.

And, it seems, a lot of them do.

There’s the odd maniac out there that has different ideas, mainly because their very instinct is to ask ‘what’s in it for me’?  It happens, and it will always happen, and sadly, a few million people have to die in order for them to realize their ambitions.

Fortunately, we don’t have many of them here.  We have leaders that make decisions that no one likes but begrudgingly follow.

Except for those few, and there’s always a few who think they are smarter, wiser, and better than all of us doing the right thing.

And they blame everyone else or play the persecution card when they perpetrate what can only be described as murder, because they disregard commonsense, go against all the proper things that they should be doing, get the virus, and then pass it on.

We have one such outbreak, a bad one, here, and it was started by selfish, stupid people.

There’s no other way of putting it.

To be honest, I’m all for public executions in the town square, but I’ve been told that’s a little harsh on one hand, and on the other, some would like to be the executioner.

But would it stop the stupid people?  No.

So, the bottom line is, it will come back, a few million more will get it, and those it didn’t kill before, it will kill them this time.  Why?  Because the longer we leave it out there, happily transmitting, it is mutating, as any ghastly virus does.

OK, I’m stepping off the soapbox now.

I’ve just been reminded that the COVID 19 virus doesn’t exist and it’s a Democratic hoax, that deep state (whoever they are – probably also Democrats) want you to think there’s a virus so they can control us.  Funny thing is, their not in power, so whose doing the controlling?

Are we going around in circles here?

It’s going away, it’s gone, it’ll be gone in a few weeks…  What will?  The Democratic hoax, deep state, a virus that doesn’t exist?

Hell, I’m just confused now.

But this just in … they’ve found a way to travel through time.

If they have I want to be first in line, so I can go back to when Russia and America hated each other, there was a cold, cold war going on, China made shoddy goods and we never heard from them or about them, and the British owned all the oil wells in Arabia.

Searching for locations: Queenstown, New Zealand, from the top of a mountain

You take the gondola up to the Skyline and get some of the most amazing views.

Below is a photo of The Remarkables, one of several ski resorts near Queenstown.

You can see the winding road going up the mountainside.  We have made this trip several times and it is particularly frightening in winter when chains are required.

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In the other direction, heading towards Kingston, the views of the mountains and the lake are equally as magnificent.

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Or manage to capture a photo of the Earnslaw making its way across the lake towards Walter Peak Farm.  It seems almost like a miniature toy.

Do you remember when…

We used to travel around in airplanes?

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And in planes that had seatback screens where you could watch the planes progress?

It feels like we are never going to be able to travel anywhere ever again, even in a country where the COVID 19 virus has basically been controlled.

Except…

It hasn’t.  We were doing so well when everything went haywire in the southern state of Victoria, and it proves that with a moment’s complacency, it will come back.

I suspect we will never get to travel again until a vaccine is found.

Certainly, we are being told overseas travel may not return until July 2021.

Let’s hope it’s not that long.

A side effect of COVID 19, more time to write

I’ve been watching our part of the world slowly come back to life.  It’s a small part because our state borders are still closed, and I have to say, in all the time I’ve been alive, those borders have never been closed.

It seems odd that once country has six states and two territories, and at the moment you can’t travel between them.

Perhaps no so funny, maybe, given the times we live in.

So, would it be worse than the day east and west Berlin finished up with a wall and saw families separated simply by finding themselves on the wrong side.

We have family in another state and we can’t visit them.  We have friends in other states, and we cant visit them.

There are places in this country we wanted to visit, but we can’t.  Not now.  Maybe not later, because some of those states are seeing a resurgence of the virus.

We are only allowed to visit our own state, but there are places we haven’t been, and things we haven’t seen, so maybe that will the prompt to do so.

But, the thing is …

We are all so used to getting on planes and going anywhere in our country, or anywhere in the world that takes our interest.  Now we can’t.

It’s had an effect on my writing because now I spend more time on character development rather than where the characters are.  Places are secondary now, the people, well, they’re becoming more than just people in a story.

And I’m getting to see more of myself, remember more about what has happened in the past, and more of an interest in the family tree, where we came from, who we were, and how I finished up where I am.

Australian’s always joke about the fact their forbears came out as convicts.  Ours were not, and as far as I’m aware, date back to the 1600s in England.  My brother knows more, but I’m sure we were not lords of the manor, probably the serfs who farmed the lord’s fields.

It’s something I have the time to investigate because until this virus goes away, we will not be going anywhere.

I scored a window seat – it’s like winning the lottery

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So, what do you do when you finally win the lottery?

Well, not the monetary one, the airplane one where you get a window seat, and a window seat you can actually see out of?

Because most of them are not aligned with the windows.  I remember drawing a window seat a while back, but …. you guessed it, there wasn’t a window.

I mean, really!

But now you have one, what do you do?

I’ve seen a lot of window seat travelers pull down the blinds to block out the view.  Seriously?  It’s obvious they travel a lot and have seen everything there is to see.  Why they would want a window seat is beyond me.

Like would they be looking for a lightning bolt to hit the wing tip?  An engine falling off?  Another plane flying too close alongside, like a menacing jet fighter?

Not today.  Not flying near a restricted air space, or foreign border.  Just going from one state to another, out of Melbourne on our way to Brisbane.

Of course, this was before COVIS 19 grounded everything.

Me, I look at clouds, check every so often the engine is still there, watch the wings flex, or the flaps move.

The last time I had a window seat we arrived in Brisbane from the ocean and the plane got awfully close to the water on its final run to the runway.

This time it was over the bridges after flying past the city, and over the Brisbane River.

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Sometimes you can see cruise ships.  There might not be another one of those for a long time to come.

And, yes, the engine is still there.

It was an uneventful flight, but I took a lot of photos anyway.  The grandchildren like looking at oddly shaped clouds.