......stories that endure......



Helen and David's trip to London
and the Eden Project Cornwall May 2007


Sunday 22nd April 2007
the Netherlands and London

Most of the Amadagio passengers were up bright and early to catch flights elsewhere and it was certainly necessary at Schiphol airport where the line to go through passport control was 20 abreast and took 45 minutes to get through. I saw Jenny fleetingly in the distance then her line surged forward and she was lost forever... I then queued for half an hour to reclaim my VAT on the bags only to find that can only happen when I finally leave the EU in 10 days time, so I was pretty fed up with air travel by the time I got to London. It was a great relief to open our hotel door and find David's things scattered around as it proved he had made it successfully also. He was out following the London Marathon and taking some photos.

houses of parliament

Big Ben

leading females in Marathon

Once we had caught up on our news we went out for a walk along the Thames embankment through the remnants of the Marathon runners, watchers and supporters. There were still a few stragglers including a blue chicken, the roads were closed, every second person was limping and there were police everywhere. We ate at a French restaurant near the Festival Theatre and walked back to the hotel past the London Eye: would have been the perfect time for a ride but of course the vouchers were at the hotel! David reckons he walked 35 miles today!

Monday 23rd April 2007
Bus Trip around London & Westminster Abbey

The newspapers are full of the Marathon today - chiding the organisers for not providing enough water for runners in the "stifling heat" of 21'C: several people are ill, one quite seriously. However organisers say they shipped in 2000 extra bottles of water to each check point

western entrance

We got on the Big Bus at Lambeth Palace, which is our nearest bus stop and did the red circuit. The weather forecasters had it quite wrong and we shivered on top of the bus but hung on gamely as we had front seats up top. David had planned this for yesterday but all the roads were closed for the runners. He was fascinated to see all the things he'd heard about for so long and I enjoyed the different perspective from my fleeting visit 8 months ago. We missed out on morning tea however, and here I am starved of good cups of tea...

After lunch we met up with a guided tour to 'do' Westminster Abbey and put up our hands as seniors - funny how they believe you without ID. I had thought it would be a good way to see the Abbey but in fact it was too long at 2 hours and by the time we got to the nave where there were SEATS David and I both fell on them, thus proving our eligibility to be seniors.

Of course the Abbey is glorious, chock full of history and interest. I love the tombs of historical personages - Queen Elizabeth I's tucked away with Mary I and a much more elaborate one for Mary Queen of Scots - plots under-foot for non-royals, Winston Churchill with only a simple plaque on the floor reading: REMEMBER WINSTON CHURCHILL. Legend says that he refused a Westminster Abbey burial, saying privately: "I've never been walked on in life and I'm damned if I'll be walked on in death!" We've both been reading the novels by Michael Dobbs about WC so have an interest in him.


Mary Queen of Scots' tomb

Elizabeth 1's tomb

Isaac Newton's tomb
We were very obedient about not using cameras inside Westminster Abbey - so the 3 photos above are taken off the internet.

The homely touches on the tombs are great, the dogs tucked away and a hedgehog at the foot signifying help in getting to heaven, the subjects' children parading around the base of a tomb - the deceased ones carrying a skull, which is not exactly homely. Isaac Newton's tomb is on The Da Vinci Code tour, but our guide was rather contemptuous: "the author hadn't been here - wrote from tourist brochures."

Poet's Corner is a revelation with flashy great tombs for the men and discreet small plaques for Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. We were shown where the Coronation took place and where everyone sat for Princess Diana's funeral, royalty to one side and the Althorps to the other. Next time I'd have the self-guided auido tour so you can rest for a bit. We were still sitting down when the choir boys crocodiled by on their way to practice so we listened to them then went into the church for Evensong. All boys in the choir, pure and ethereal-looking in their red gowns and snowy white surplices (yeah, I bet!) a dozen or so clergy and one nun we were intrigued to see.
 It was early to bed: too tired for anything other than sleep in our nice comfortable room. The hotel is Plaza on the Embankment Apartments, very new with every mod. con. including washer-dryer and 2 flat-screen TVs: pity there's nothing on TV worth watching. I'd sooner watch the laundry go round... It's rather a desert over here on the south side of the Thames: we're right opposite the offices of the MI5 and can see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben but it's quite a hike to get to them and a 1km walk to the Vauxhall tube station.

Tuesday 24th April 2007
V&A, Gloucester Road, theatre

The seriously ill Marathon runner has died.

Today we're trying the buses as the concierge says the bus outside the front door will take us to the Victoria and Albert museum. Yes, sort of - but he didn't say it stops half a mile away... He did say we could see the Kylie Exhibition which was really interesting, all those great costumes and photos that have been taken of her. I guess she's an 'icon' now that there's an exhibition about her! I really liked the sculpture at the V&A and the fabulous plaster re-creations of European masterpieces including David. (Last trip Jennifer and I ducked in out of the rain and only saw the gift shop.)


After lunch at the V&A we walked up to the Gloucester Road, which is where I stayed last time, and checked out the second-hand bookshop, where David treated himself to a 1st ed. Dick Francis with dust jacket, and the thrift shops where I bought a nice Biggles and a tie for David in case we go to a posh place for dinner. I picked up the April edition of Books and Magazine Collecting with a Biggles article in it and an advertisement for a Children's Book Fair this Saturday at Hounslow Mddsx. Wonder where that is and if it's accessible to us? Then back to the hotel on the Underground, really getting the hang of it now and can push our travel passes into the slots with aplomb - though I'm always slightly nervous that they won't reappear... Biggest worry is not about bombs but - are we going east or west, north or south? So far, so good.

Connie Fisher as Maria
Showered, rested and refreshed we returned via the Underground to Oxford Circus, where we had dinner before going the see The Sound of Music stage show. Last visit my sister Jennifer and I watched a TV programme called How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? in which 100 girls auditioned for the starring role. We watched over 3 weeks as the numbers were reduced till finally it was between two with the final decision made by viewers - guided by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Connie Fisher won and she was terrific! The viewers of Britain chose well. (David thought she was a clone of Julie Andrews - but how could she not be?) It was an excellent production: I laughed and cried - did not sing-along slightly flat like the lady behind me. I had to turn around and give her A Look so she'd shut up. We had good seats in the dress circle and loved the whole thing.

Afterwards I wanted to walk, didn't feel like being cooped up in the Underground so struck out bravely. "Where are we going?" says David. "Towards the river" I say vaguely. We walked and walked, the traffic thinned out until only the occasional car and no other pedestrians, we went down Portland Place (very posh) and I fantasised seeing Richard Hannay escaping from the bad guys in The 39 Steps, then into Park Place which was a beautiful crescent of white-painted houses, down a busier street until smack bang into a statue of Sherlock Holmes outside the Baker Street Underground. Oops! Exactly the wrong direction - so much for my fabled bump of direction... Never mind, it doesn't matter in London because there's always an Underground to rescue you.

Wednesday 25th April 2007
Madame Tussauds, Rules

It turns out the Marathon runner died of too much water! He drank so much it diluted his bodily fluids to the point that ion exchange couldn't take place - or something, I might not have that correct...

Now that we knew how to get to Baker Street Station it seemed like a good time to go to Madame Tussauds. We had planned to do it on a rainy day but the way the weather was behaving there wouldn't be one - in fact it was the warmest and driest April in 350 years of keeping records. Unfortunately 11 o'clock was too late as the place was infested with school groups - not particularly educational to have your photo taken with a model of Tom Cruise I wouldn't have thought! They seemed to be European high school kids and there was no way of getting away from them, British high school kids are in the midst of exams so they're not visible. The models are amazingly well done, every hair follicle is visible when you can get up close enough to see. No-one but us was looking at John Howard so we were able to examine him in detail. Prince Charles stands opposite Princess Diana and still doesn't have Camilla with him. Didn't see Elton John or Dame Edna Everage, but surely they'd be there. How awful to have your model removed from view... a mini-death! I hated the torture scenes in the dungeon and thought the 8 minute film at the end was weak - so no, not very impressed with Madame T's.

Mel Gibson and Helen
Lance Armstrong won

Princess Diana


David discusses politics

don't talk about the War!

Emerged, blinking, into the outside, to find it raining - the only rain for the whole trip.


Tonight we went to Rules for dinner with David's tie in his pocket, but they didn't insist on him wearing it. Rules was established by Thomas Rule in 1798 making it the oldest restaurant in London. It serves traditional British food, specialising in classic game cookery, oysters, pies and puddings and every wall is decorated with some interesting picture, deer's head or ship model. The maitre d and waiter were rather sniffy and we didn't like the restaurant as much as we should have - perhaps if David had worn his tie... He had squab which he loves and I had beautiful Devon lamb so there was nothing wrong with the food.

As we were rather early for dinner (due to the Underground being so efficient) we looked around Covent Garden and discovered Henrietta Street and a bar called Henry's so had to pop in there for a drink in honour of our cat Henrietta.


Thursday 26th April 2007
Kew, West End theatre

We set aside this morning for Kew Gardens as the weather looked like remaining fine, so arrived there by 10am for early entry before the school groups ( - we're learning!) I really wanted to see the bluebells and this bluebell season, fortunately we've become hardened walkers and it was nothing to leg it to the furthest corner and see the sheets of gorgeous blue. The Spanish bluebells are taking over in England so Kew works hard to keep them out and the native variety hardy - it has the florets on one side only so it bends in the breeze and has a different bluer blue. I met a lady who said she comes every year to photograph them but she never gets it quite right. David was fascinated to see pheasants just wandering around as if they own the place... The rhododendrons are spectacular and so are the lilacs: all the spring flowers are wonderful. We didn't bother much with the famous hothouses because we were going to the Eden Project, so were quite ready to leave at lunch time.

Palm House Kew

Queen Charlotte's cottage

David and pheasants


English bluebells


We found the Maids of Honour tearoom nearby, which I'd discovered on the internet as a great place for afternoon tea - we were quite prepared to compromise and have lunch, as the chicken pie looked terrific and then scones after. The chicken pie was magnificent and the scones the best we had all trip. Legend says Henry VIII came across Ann Boleyn eating little cakes from a silver dish with her maids of honour and ever since then those little cakes have had the name Maids of Honour. Newens Bakery has been making them since 1860 (where were they in betweeen?) and I bought two for tonight's supper, not cheap at £2.30 each and tiny - but very nice, like a custard tart really.

Maids of Honour teashop

azaleas at Kew

rhododendron at Kew


Underground again to the West End for Spanish tapas dinner near the theatre and then to see Spamalot.

It was an unashamed take-off on Monty Python and the Holy Grail and while it was funny, the jokes were awfully familiar. It can't have been a good year for musicals in 2005 - more like a pantomime really.
The funniest bit was buying a pair of underpants at "Ye Olde Rippe-Offe Gifte Shoppe" as a gift for Jon at £15 - "We smell an opportunity!" said the label.


Friday 27th April 2007
Harrods of Knightsbridge, Churchill War Museum

David's idea of holiday attractions does not include visiting a department store, but I lured him to Harrods with the promise of lunch and once there, cunningly took him straight to the six food halls. Well, he was blown away, as anyone must be, by the huge array of perfect high quality produce. Ever an avid fisherman he loved the fish displays with all those strange varieties lying there sparkling and shiny and the large scallops like jewels each in its own case. We lunched at the Fish Bar on bouillabaisse, exquisite fish soup full of prawns, scallops, turbot, and generic fish and watched the shoppers. We separated after lunch for me to do some shopping and David to wander: he didn't know you're not supposed to take photos in Harrods and here's his results: note the price of Wagyu beef!

the biggest scallops

beautiful fish

= AU$274 per Kg - some beef!

Harrods of Knightsbridge


Even the art works are different: the fossil fish wall-hanging is from Montana and can be yours for a mere AU$130,000.
I bought a jacket and some souvenir bags but am not owning up to any prices.


£54,000 fossil fish


David's afternoon was spent at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. Shortly after becoming Prime Minister in May 1940, Winston Churchill visited the Cabinet War Rooms to see for himself what preparations had been made to allow him and his War Cabinet to continue working throughout the expected air raids on London. It was there, in the underground Cabinet Room, he announced 'This is the room from which I will direct the war'.

Churchill War Museum

Saturday 28th April 2007
Hounslow, pub walk in Hampstead Heath

At last - the day of the booksale! We set off in the Tube with two hours to spare, soon arrived at Hounslow East, then after a 10 minute wait caught the 111 bus to Heston to the venue of St Leonard’s Church Hall. (That was the longest wait in 9 days of using London Transport: the buses and trains are incredibly frequent.) We were 1 hour and 15 minutes early! “Oh well, we’ll be first in the queue” we said and I wished I’d brought my knitting, remembering I’d knitted half a sock in the queue at Dunedin Book Fair last year. We sat in the sun in the churchyard amongst the ancient leaning tombstones and watched people bustling in and out with boxes and arranging their wares.

A quick glance at the displayed books during a trip to the loo revealed (a) high quality and (b) high prices – so I dashed off to find a Cash Point (ATM to us). That was quite exciting, like winning at the pokies, as bells ring and notes come fluttering out one by one (but I’m always happy just to have my card returned at the end of it…)

Back in the churchyard we were still a queue of two until David was collared by The Oldest Parishioner and taken off for a tour of the church with its 12th century bell tower, mediaeval door and 14th century lych gate, Joseph Banks’s grave somewhere inside the church – they’ve forgotten exactly where as they keep moving the flagstones – and the grave of the last man flogged to death in the Army. What a burden the upkeep must be for the ageing congregation of 90-odd! The church warden told me they’d recently spent £20,000 fixing the lych gate and the tea lady said sadly: “We’re all getting old and the young ones aren’t interested.” She was outside filling in a few spare minutes with some weeding “because the Bishop is coming next week.”

lychgate & St Leonards

inside St Leonards

his memorial plaque

As I was chatting to the organiser Christine Harris, I heard a familiar voice: it can’t be – it can be – it is – Hilary Boulton! a UK member of Abbey Girls of Australia whom I met at the last two biennial conferences in Australia. Which just goes to prove that the children’s book world is fairly small… Hilary was present as a dealer trying to clear her stocks to make way for more purchases (a common story!) She pointed out the other dealers and described what they'd be selling which was very helpful information.

By opening time the queue had swollen to six and we were officially allowed to pay our 50p entrance fee and go in. The awful problem is: shall I spend all my money at the first stall or look around first, by which time the things I wanted at the first stall may be sold? There was so much to choose from and I wanted everything from rows of white-jacketed Chambers Chalet School hardbacks, to gleaming rows of Malcolm Saville, pristine shiny GGB and Bettany Press, Famous Five with lovely dust jackets and other Enid Blytons, Lorna Hill, Elsie J. Oxenham, old Girls’ Own papers, Dorita Fairlie Bruce – all the sought-after authors – though no Jills.

Eventually one has to plunge in and buy – and in half an hour the pile of notes from the Cash Point had melted like snow in summer and I had a heavy bag containing three M.E. Atkinsons, a Lorna Hill ‘Marjorie’ series, Arthur Ransomes, School Friend annuals of my era, two Pamela Browns, a most desirable 1st edition “No Mistaking Corker” by Monica Edwards and two heavenly Ameliarannes, plus an adult ‘BB’ for David.

Hilary's stall

the book sale

Buying books is thirsty work so we bought cups of tea from the friendly weeding lady then set off on the trek back to Central London. Next problem: how to pack an additional 31 books into our luggage. Fortunately we have expanding suitcases which are essential for any travelling bookbuyer.

This evening we Undergrounded to Hampstead Heath to join an organised pub walk by the same group that took us through Westminster Abbey - different guide, who arrived 15 minutes late without a word of apology as the crowd around the station entrance grew larger until there were 30 of us milling around wondering if we were in the right place. Once he arrived it was worth the wait and we moved through the streets at a spanking pace while he expounded on the history of Hampstead Heath. Because it's elevated it was where people came for clean air: it retains a village feel and the residents fight fiercely to keep it that way: even Macdonalds is a very discreet presence in the High Street. Property prices are high and I recently read about a man who had been squatting - unchallenged - in a shed for 26 years. When property developers tried to evict him he went to court and was given his shed and land. "I don't care if it's worth £1 million or £2 million" he said: "It's where I live".

pub walk
Property development is big, with any old convent, church or barn being made into luxury apartments. The guide said it so often that soon we were chanting along with him: "luxury apartments". There was over an hour of fast walking past cemeteries and Robert Louis Stevenson's house until we came to our first pub - which was just like an Australian pub on a Saturday night - jammed with people. We overflowed into the street with the dual hazard of cars and irate neighbours. You have to stay behind the yellow line or risk the pub losing its licence, or worse still having chamber pots emptied on you I suppose. Moral: don't buy your £2 million house next to a pub.


Hampstead Heath itself is not the large flat meadow I'd always vaguely envisaged: it's large but very undulating with hidden pockets, almost private-looking. It was getting dark by now so we moved through there quickly to get to the next pub. David wanted to stay as they were showing Australia versus Sri Lanka at cricket on the widescreen TV, but history called and off we went on the last leg.

Sunday 29th April 2007
the London Eye and Hampton Court

Sunday morning seemed like a good time to have our pre-paid ride on the London Eye: trouble was, every other tourist in London had the same idea. They have a weird system whereby even with a pre-paid ticket you have to line up and change your voucher for a ticket and it became so crowded in the ticket hall they had to ask for only one member per group to line up. Why not just buy your ticket on the internet and that's it? Even airports can do it...

20 million people have ridden on the London Eye since it was opened in the year 2000 - that's everyone in Australia! It's a terrific attraction and very efficient once you have an actual, not virtual, ticket. It's quite easy to step into the moving capule and soon there you are way above London and looking down on the tiny model of the Houses of Parliament.

Helen and David

London from the Eye

London Eye at twilight

Spending the afternoon at Hampton Court turned out to be a good idea - perfect weather and a wonderful venue. David's first photo is true to his forestry background: the strange blobs in the tree below are balls of mistletoe called witches' brooms. David was stunned by the weaponry display and a friendly guide, seeing his genuine interest, turned his back so that he could photograph it. It's set up in a waiting room so that any ambassadors or foreign dignitaries waiting to see King Henry VIII were impressed to see such an array waiting for a battle. There are panels all around the room and regularly one is off being cleaned and each piece checked to make sure it still works.

witches' brooms
Hampton Court

weapons in waiting room

I've read about the famous Hampton Court maze and always thought it would be easy: sure enough we got to the middle in no time flat! However—coming out was another matter and we ended up back in the middle three times until finally we called it quits and escaped through the panic gate... Well, it was time for afternoon tea... with scones.

easy to find the centre!

lost in the maze

afternoon tea

Monday 30th April 2007

Today we caught the train at Paddington, off to Cornwall to visit the Eden Project. We saw it in the year 2000 while it was being built and were fascinated so here we were fulfilling an old vow to return and see it functioning. The train trip should be rated as one of the great train journeys of the world: "This is how to travel" I thought, sitting in comfort with my knitting and watching the green fields and beaches glide by for four hours. "No wrestling with horrible traffic and finding a parking spot."

But my bubble was broken as we went to alight at St Austell! Passengers in coach H (us and 2 ladies ) had to move up to coach G to get off on platform. By the time we'd realised we couldn't get the door open the train had started again and we were carried on to Truro. The train manager regarded as idiots for not knowing you have to lower the window, reach out and open the door from the outside—well, silly us! Fortunately it didn't matter to us as we only had to wait 20 minutes for a train going the other way. The taxi driver waiting at the St Austell station had already heard of our predicament: that's small towns for you! We've only ever had nice taxi drivers in Cornwall, unlike train managers.


Boscundle Manor

We stayed 2 nights at Boscundle Manor, an excellent small hotel not far from the Eden Project and after a revivifying cup of tea set out for a walk around the property and the nearby village. We stopped at the Post Office for stamps and a chat with the post mistress and asked her what changes the Eden Project has brought to the area. "Gridlock" was her emphatic reply. The increased traffic is too much for the road system and at the peak of the summer you can't move. She's definitely married to a local: her husband sleeps in the same bed and room as he was born in above the Post Office.

We had dinner at the Manor, excellent food but a very formal atmosphere.

Tuesday 1st May 2007
The Eden Project

It captured our imagination 7 years ago and we've been eager to have a look at how it has developed. This is how they describe themselves on their website: "More than just a green theme park, then? Eden is about connecting plants, people and places. We are a living demonstration of regeneration and we aim to reconnect people with their environments locally and globally. We don't have all the answers, we don't want to tell others what to think; what we do is invite people to explore their world afresh."

Hmmm. Wikipedia says: "The Eden Project is a large-scale environmental complex in the county of Cornwall in England in the United Kingdom. The project is located in a recycled china clay pit, located some 2 km from the town of St Blazey and 5 km from the larger town of St Austell. The Eden Project has quickly become one of the most popular visitor attractions in the United Kingdom. The complex includes two sets of giant interconnected transparent domes made of ETFE cushions, each emulating a natural biome, that house plant species from around the world. The first emulates a tropical environment, the other a warm temperate, mediterranean environment."

None of that prepares you for how fantastically interesting it is!


theatre & biomes from the entrance

honey bee

restaurant surrounded by lettuce

The emphasis is on education, especially educating children, in how important plants are to us and our survival. Almost everything we do every day involves plants and plant products and the giant honey bee symbolises how much we depend on it. They're very big on using things reponsibly and they make great efforts to recycle. Even the pen you use to fill in the entrance card is made from recycled CDs, the restaurant has separate bins for waste, the cutlery is made from wood - and on it goes. I particularly liked the winding outdoor path in many colours, made from recycled sneakers.
(Note the prevalence of red hair in the school group...)

recycled sneakers

school group having lunch

accessible information
The tropical biome is WARM - just how warm you don't realise until you emerge back into the Cornish air - which was another beautiful spring day. (The UK had its warmest April in 356 years of record keeping while we were there.) Warm enough to grow bananas which were ripening nicely, and the largest flower in the world—which gives off the smell of rotting flesh to attract pollinators (fortunately it wasn't in full swing.) There are crops of sugar and a Malaysian house set up: they maintain close links with Malaysian botanists.

tropical biome

bananas ripening in plastic

largest flower

tropical flowers

Restaurants link the two biomes and of course we had to have a pasty for lunch with special Eden ale for David and elderflower cordial for me. David souvenired the wooden cutlery - which is one way of recycling. Tomato sauce is available and comes in a big container from which you scoop out how much you want: none of those nasty little unopenable containers here!

pasties for lunch

eat them at your own risk!

The Mediterranean biome was a lovely place to be, just the right temperature and with familiar plants and smells to us, perhaps less so to the British. I can't get away from tulips: there has been a big display here on Tulip Mania though the flowers are coming to an end and being pulled out of beds by the tractor load. Once again I'm struck by how decorative vegetables are: the beds of lettuce are beautiful. And so neat, not a weed in sight! I talked to a lady who was walking around: she turned out to be security. What a cushy job I thought, but just then she was called off to an emergency so maybe not.

mediterranean biome

statues in the grape vines

beds of lettuce

Here we met Dave who was sitting on a wall near the lettuces rubbing a brass bowl with a wooden stick to see if it would hum. (It did.) Here's another cushy job I thought—but in fact Dave is a manager (the manager?) engaging in some PR and meeting his clients. He was a very nice guy and he and David settled down to a really good yarn about trees and botany.
David enjoyed telling him that the few eucalypts they've got growing aren't labelled correctly.

Dave making the bowl hum


David examining the eucalypts

spiral garden
The spiral garden is part of the educational garden and evolved from a challenge to contruct a garden interesting to children on a limited budget. It's grown from willow which roots and shoots wherever you stick it.
They've grown it as a maze which adults can stand in at the entrance but it gradually gets shorter until only children or adults on all fours can reach the centre.
Very clever!

The gift shop is full of delightful eco-friendly products: I bought note paper made from banana leaves for presents. Did you know? Bananas don't grow on trees. The plant is a herb.

Yes— the Eden Project lived up to and exceeded our expectations. I'd like to live nearby and be a volunteer: it has an atmosphere of hope for the future that is most seductive. We'll certainly be back in about five years time!



You can't come to Cornwall, even for such a short time as we have, without seeing the sea, so we a took a taxi down to Mevagissey for a fish dinner.

There was just enough light at 8.30pm for David to take a photo of a fishing boat and the houses behind.

Wednesday 2nd May 2007
Cornwall to London

Another nice train trip, and this time we knew how to get out of the carriage!
Overnight at an airport hotel.

Thursday 3rd May 2007
Heathrow to Dubai

These early morning calls are not nice - but at least it's not far to the airport and Heathrow has got its act together so that the security checking is quicker than last time I was here. You still have to take your shoes off and put your lipsticks into the tray - and there's no point arguing that lipstick is a wax not a gel, it's regarded as potential to make a bomb with! I waited longer to get my VAT back: I think they deliberately make it difficult so that people give up and go away with it unclaimed, but having gone to the bother of getting receipts stamped at Harrods and waiting so long at Schiphol I wasn't going to give up. Having retrieved my money I promptly spent it all on chocolate.

The 7 hour flight to Dubai was uneventful: with the time change it was dark when we got there and into our car to Jumeira Beach which is about a half hour drive through heavy traffic on a 14-lane highway. It's as hot as hell, well as hot as Florida anyway, 40' and humid but we kept our room at 21' which was like being in the frig. Sumptuous hotel, the Mina al Salaam 5*****, part of a huge complex ringed about with canals (bit like Amsterdam in that respect) and to go anywhere you hail an abra (water taxi). But we were worn out from all that arduous flying and eating so went straight to bed.

Friday 4th May 2007

There's nothing to do except lie around the swimming pool, take an abra ride around the complex, go shopping in the souk which lasted 5 minutes, have little naps and plan where to go for dinner - in an abra of course. That's OK: I planned this to be total relaxation, and it is.

hotel and water-taxis

from swimming pool

the souk

There was the usual wonderful breakfast of mind-boggling choices, but you usually end up having more or less what you always have—except that on the way out was a mountain of slabs of hand-made chocolate, and it seemed a shame to disappoint the chefs by not taking any...

After our siesta we took the shuttle to the Mall of the Emirates to have a look at the indoor skiing and found it bustling with lots of people - quite different from my previous visit during Ramadan when it was like a morgue. Friday night appears to be family night with everyone buying from the terrific shops, more pouring in as we were leaving and the ski slope busy. It looks so bizarre to see them wrapped up in parkas and gloves and know that outside it's 40'!

ski Dubai

I love travelling with David but he hates shopping: however I held him down and made him buy two shirts from Debenhams.

Drinks in the lobby before dinner with a pianist playing and a constant flow of people to watch was fascinating: there's a strange mix here from men in flowing white robes and women in black with just a slit for their eyes to British and European families often with children. In fact at breakfast we seemed to be in the minority without two well-behaved, well-dressed children in tow.

An abra took us to the neighbouring hotel Al Qasir, which seems to be even posher than ours, where we had dinner in the Spanish restaurant. Very quiet—we eat unfashionably early.

Saturday 5th May 2007

This is the day set aside for Wild Wadi, a water-theme park which I enjoyed last time and wanted David to try. The temperature was 40' C so a water-park is as good a place as any! We were the oldest people to be seen, but too bad, it's fun! We found ourselves a nice spot near Leila's fruit bar and set up our towels, drinks, sunscreen and books ready for a hard day.

First we went on the float around the perimeter of the park in a tube, very relaxing. Then getting more daring we went on the flume where you're hurtled up and down slides by the power of water. It hurts when you hit a seam and I've still got the bruises on my bum to prove it! but exciting when you come screaming down. There's a really huge one (water-slide that is, not bum) that very few people were going on: it's supported by what looks like a few twigs but I guess it must be OK really.

The wave pool was very popular though it was compulsory to wear a life jacket and to really get cool you just had to stand under Sinbad's bucket and wait for it to empty itself all over you.

just floating...

wave pool quiet

wave pool waving

We left it too late to go to the Burj al Arab for a drink and a look-around. Being a super-posh hotel they don't allow the peasants in between 5.30 and 11.30 pm. Never mind, we could look at it from Wild Wadi...

Our final night of holiday before the flight back and we went again to the neighbouring hotel, this time for a steak dinner, David's choice.


Burj al Arab

last night's steak dinner