Wandering and Wondering

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dusty Namibia

For the last few days we've been travelling through Namibia. After leaving Cape Town, we stayed for one night at a campsite a few hours drive north. In the morning the truck wouldn't start due to flat batteries, so we tried giving it a push start. Without power for the steering, however, we ended up pushing the truck into an orange tree, and had to get a jump start instead:

Problems with the truck

It was a pretty cold night, so the next day we stocked up on extra blankets. The drive to the Namibian border was quite picturesque, with lots of wildflowers:

Field of orange

The truck has canvas sides over rollbars, so usually we roll the canvas up to get a better view. The only problem with this is that it gets pretty cold with all the wind:


After getting our bags searched when leaving South Africa at the Namibian border, we stayed the night at a campsite called "Felix Unite". The next day we spent canoing down the Orange River, which is right on the border between South Africa and Namibia, so at one stage we did actually cross back into South Africa.

The following day was an 8 hour drive in the truck to Fish River Canyon. For most of the way it was only a dirt road, so we had to contend with dust as well as cold:

Dust protection

Dusty road

Different people had different ways of keeping entertained on the truck:

Playing cards in the truck

Keeping entertained in the back of the truck

Glamour magazines are a little out of place

The next day we were up before dawn to watch the sunrise at Fish River Canyon:

Fish River Canyon


It was then back in the truck for the drive to the diamond mining town of Luderitz. This morning we visited an abandoned mining town. Tomorrow we head towards the giant red sand dunes of Namibia.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Cape Town

Well, I've finally arrived in Africa! My first impression of Cape Town wasn't all that good. Upon leaving the airport feeling rather jetlagged after 20 hours of flying and stop-overs, the first thing I was greeted with as the shuttle bus drove towards the city was a sprawling shanty town. The next thing I noticed was all of the razor wire covering most of the fences and buildings to stop intruders. After getting a good sleep, however, the next day I took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain. Upon reaching the top I was greeted with some of the most amazing views I've ever seen. Looking north, the city was spread out below with fog covering the harbour:

Fog in the bay

Looking south I could view the 12 Apostles shrouded in mist:

Misty Mountains

And looking west over the Atlantic ocean was a sea of clouds instead of water:

View over the clouds

The next day I headed into an area of the city known as the V&A Waterfront (funnily enough because it is on the waterfront). This is probably the most up-market area of the city, with fancy shopping malls and waterfront restaurants. I was planning on doing a tour to Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandella spent many years as a political prisoner under the apartheit regime. Unfortunately the tours were all booked out for several days, so I had to miss out. Instead, I wandered around the waterfront and watched all of the street performers and musicians:

Song and dance

African beats

After the rather dismal weather during my stay in London, the weather so far in Cape Town had been fantastic, with mostly bright blue skies and lots of sunshine. The next day I decided to do a day tour to visit the Cape Peninsular national park. In the morning, the clouds started to roll in over the mountains:

Clouds rolling over the mountain

By the time we reached the Cape Peninsular national park to do some cycling, it started to drizzle. When we finally reached the peninsular, it was pouring down, so we decided to forgoe the hike up to the lighthouse in favour of hot chocolates in the restaurant at the bottom. We then proceeded on to the Cape of Good Hope, and the rain stopped just long enough to get this photo:

Cape of Good Hope

Even with the rain, it was still quite an enjoyable day trip. Our tour guide gave a very interesting commentry on the history of the country and how things are beginning to change after the end of apartheit. As we drove along, he would point out towns or parts of towns that were designated as either "white only", "brown only" or "black only". Today, people are free to live where they like, but change doesn't happen overnight, so many of these areas are still inhabbited by 99% of their original populations. It will take many years before whites and blacks are truly living side by side.

After a not so good first impression, I've come to really like Cape Town, and wish I could stay a few more days as there is so much to see and do here. Today I met up with the rest of my tour group, some of whom I'll be spending the next 8 weeks with. Tomorrow we say goodbye to Cape Town and head up the west coast towards Namibia.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Africa Bound

My flight from London to Cape Town leaves exactly 12 hours from now tomorrow morning, so by the time you read this I could already be in Africa. Apologies for the sudden rush of my last 5 blog entries, all of which I've written today instead of spreading then evenly over the last 10 days since my last entry. But for the next couple of months my blogging and photo uploading is likely to be a lot more sporadic given the nature of where I'm travelling, so you'll have to get used to it. See you in Africa!

Bristol and Cardiff

Last weekend I caught the train to Bristol, 2.5 hours west of London (although my journey actually took 3.5 hours, but lets not talk about that now - I'll leave my rant about the English train system till the end of my article), to catch up with my old uni friends Ian and Gez and their (almost) 2 year old son Jayden. Here's the little tiger:

Run to the camera

The weather was actually nice and sunny for a change, and the local kids made the most of it:

Enjoying the sunshine

Ian and Gez showed me around town, including a hike up to the Observatory Hill where we got a nice view of the suspension bridge and the farmland beyond:

Suspension Bridge in Bristol

Of course, the tour wouldn't have been complete without visiting a few of Ian's favourite watering holes along the way. In the evening we went to a local pub near their house and I sampled the English favourite of Gammon and Eggs (basically just a thick hunk of ham and eggs).

The next day I said goodbye to Ian, Gez and Jayden and caught the train for the short journey to Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. Here I visited most of the usual tourist sites, but probably the most interesting was the Senedd building, which is where the National Assembly of Wales meets to debate:


The building itself is only a few years old, and I remember reading about it when it was finished. It incorporates some interesting design features for saving energy, the main one being a giant wooden funnel that draws air out from the building, reducing the need for conventional air-conditioning:

Wind funnel at the Senedd

I also visited the Dr Who exhibition, a TV show that used to really scare me when I was a kid:

Dr Who scared by a Dalek

At the end of the day I headed to the train station for the ride back to London. It was at this point that I discovered my mistake of purchasing one-way train tickets instead of getting a return ticket. The reason I got one-way tickets was because I wasn't returning to London from the same place (ie I was returning from Cardiff instead of Bristol). Logically, two one-way tickets shouldn't cost that much more than a return ticket, so I didn't think it would matter that much. Wrong! A one-way ticket to Bristol costs £49, and a return ticket only costs £1 more! So, basically I ended up paying around £100 for my return trip instead of £50 (the one-way ticket from Bristol to Cardiff was only around £6). Who came up with such a stupid pricing policy? And why are train tickets so expensive anyway? My flight from Milan to London only cost AU$110 (about £40), which is less than the one-way train ticket from London to Bristol. My flight also wasn't late by an hour. I've even seen advertisements for flights from London to New York for only £129, which is only slightly more than what I paid for my return train trip. What makes it more ridiculous is that they should be trying to encourage more people to use trains instead of planes because the carbon emissions are a lot less. So here is my message to the new primeminister Gordon Brown: Fix the train system!

Ok, that's enough ranting for now. Apart from the trains, it was a good couple of days in Bristol and Cardiff.

Parks and Gardens

One of the great things about London is that there are heaps of parks and gardens everywhere. One of the biggest is Hampstead Heath, where you can forget that you are actually in London and pretend that you are somewhere in the Scottish heathlands:

Hampstead Heath

Then there are the small parks dotted all over the city, such as Victoria Tower Gardens, where office workers go on their lunch breaks:

Reading the paper in Victoria Tower Gardens

Not to forget the Royal Parks, such as Hyde Park, St Jame's Park and Greenwich Park, with their perfectly manicured gardens and lakes:

Flower garden in Greenwich Park

There is plenty of wildlife, including ducks, pigeons and squirrels:

Feeding the ducks in St Jame's Park
Pigeons in flight in Regent's Park
Squirrel sitting on the fence in Regent's Park

It is great to have somewhere you can go to relax and have fun, away from the crowded tube stations and busy city streets. For instance, you can go for a roll down the hill in Greenwich Park:

Rolling down the hill in Greenwich Park

Or you can relax and listen to the Hampshire Constabulary Band playing in St Jame's Park:

Hampshire Constabulary Band in St Jame's Park

Then there's card games in the park:

Royal Cards in Hyde Park

You can even take part in an army training drill and learn how to launch rockets at your enemies:

Army training camp for kids in Regent's Park

In concluding this blog entry, I'll leave you with the following poem from a deckchair in Regent's Park:

Deckchair poetry in Regent's Park

Sky is blue
Trees are green & brown
Flowers are red, white, blue, yellow, pink & orange
Grass is green
Water is blue
Ground is brown

Greenwich Flower Garden

Shops and Markets

Last weekend I visited a couple of markets. On Friday I headed out to the famous Camden markets, which is made up of a number of smaller markets all linked together. To be honest I've never really been a big fan of markets (apart from food markets), as they often just have lots of low quality junk at exhorbitant prices. Still, you occasionally find an interesting shop such as the following one that claimed to be the "best shop in the world", with crafts from all over the globe:

The Best Shop in the World

The other interesting shops were those selling punk and gothic clothing and accessories (and the interesting clientelle that they attract). Adding to my suspicions that London is being assimilated by The Borg (see my earlier post where I sighted what looked like a Borg spacecraft in downtown London), one of the shops called Cyberdog looked like they were the official clothing supplier for the Borg. I borrowed the following image from their website which shows an example of the cool stuff they sell:

The next day I met up with Ash and Tara for lunch at the Borough food market:

Borough Market

Ordering a falafal

Since I've left Italy, I haven't been doing that much cooking, so I decided to buy some ingredients for a pasta. In Italy the food from the markets is pretty cheap, so I was a little shocked to discover that my 7 tomatoes, 1 onion and a bunch of basil cost a whopping £7! Still, they probably weren't as expensive as the following vegetables from London's most expensive shopping destination, Harrods:

Vegetable shopping at Harrods

Harrods is where you go to shop if you've got money to burn. The most expensive items I could find on my short visit were the following pair of watches. The one on the left is priced at £20,000, while the one on the right is £48,950 (that's over AU$120,000).

Tomorrow I'll be leaving London bound for Africa where I'll no doubt find lots of stuff at ridiculously cheap prices (provided that I can get the local prices and not the tourist prices) to help provide some relief to my bank account.

Museums, museums and more museums

For my last week in London I must have spent around 50% of my waking hours walking around museums. Here is the complete list of museums and galleries I've visited since I've been in London:
  • Tate Modern
  • Tate Britain
  • Kensington Palace
  • Kenwood House
  • Museum in Docklands
  • British Museum
  • Photographer's Gallery
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Science Museum
  • Star Wars Exhibition
  • Royal Observatory
  • National Maritime Museum

The great thing is that most of them are free. Tate Modern is definitely one of my favourites. They are currently showing an exhibition called Global Cities which looks at urbanisation and its impact on the way we live. One of the exhibits showed the population densities of 4 different cities via 3D graphs:

Global Cities exhibition at Tate Modern

Another one of my favourites was the Surreal Things exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum. Unfortunately no photography was allowed in this particular exhibition, so I can't show you any of the interesting objects they had on display. Apart from this exhibition, the rest of the museum was a little boring (in part due to a bit of museum overload on my behalf), although the sculpture gallery was worth a visit:

Sculpture Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The British Museum is fascinating due to the sheer number of artifacts they have on display. This is testament to the wealth of the British empire, and how much they've prospered by exporting the wealth of other countries onto British soil (a fact which the museum makes up for in a small way by allowing free entry). My favourite exhibit from this museum is a photo of a Buddha statue meditating on a picture of himself displayed on a TV screen:

Meditating Buddha

Even when you are not inside a museum there is always plenty of art to view around London, such as the African Poems on the Picadilly line trains or the deckchair art in Regent's Park:

Deckchair art

Capitalism vs Socialism

On Friday my plan was to have a wander around Canary Wharf and get some photos for the street photography project that I've been working on. On my way to the tube station, however, I chanced across a demonstration in the street by striking postal workers:

Police watch over the demonstration

Strike leader

Striking postal workers

Postal Workers

Socialist newspaper salesman

After the demonstration was over, I caught the train to Canary Wharf. Canary Wharf is a relatively new area of London which has been massively transformed over the last 20 years from one of the busiest docks in the world to a modern financial centre with skyscapers housing major offices of many of the world's banks. As soon as I stepped off the train, the blue collar workers at the strike were replaced by white collar office workers walking about in suits on their lunch break:

Time is money in Canary Wharf

Lunch in Cabot Square

Full speed ahead for consumerism

Canary Wharf sky-scaper

Overall, the symbol of captitalism which Canary Wharf represents made an interesting contrast against the symbol of socialism as represented by the striking postal workers.