Tuesday 30 April 2013

Speedboat on the Thames

Today is Margaret's birthday and to celebrate, we have been on a James Bond themed speedboat ride on the Thames.
Unfortunately, we weren't dressed glamorously, but at least we all wore matching cagoules and life jackets as it was very nippy out on the water. (Not something I have ever seen James Bond take into account.)
We boarded at the London Eye and started slowly as there is a speed limit on the river. We looked at the sights including Big Ben, the Tower of London, the Shard and St Paul's Cathedral.
As soon as we went under Tower Bridge the speed limit stops so our driver stamped on the pedal, put the James Bond music on the loudspeakers and off we shot.
It was a real shock how fast the boat went and the driver started slaloming from side to side so that the boat angled dangerously down towards the water. I was relieved when the music ended and thought it would slow down, but then we had 'View to a kill' by Duran Duran, the Baywatch theme and a bit of Queen.
We eventually did a crazy u turn and whizzed back to the bridge where we slowed down again for a sedate drive back to the dock.
Fantastic trip and the bright sunny day made it perfect.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Back in London for Nanny's birthday

Travelled back from Malaysia to London on Thursday. Just getting used to the cold weather and getting over the jet lag.
Great to be in England - we will be here for about three weeks while we see our families and get ready for the next trip.
Lovely day today as the whole southern family got together for Margaret's birthday. Sky, Mia and Jemima looked beautiful in identical outfits, helped unwrap the presents and put on a mini gymnastics show.

Wednesday 24 April 2013


Putrajaya is an amazing place that is about 20 miles south of Kuala Lumpur. It was farmland until about 20 years ago and then the government decided that they were going to relocate all of the government offices to a central place, so they built a brand new city.
It has some fantastic modern buildings and bridges and all set around a man made lake. It has a whole infrastructure of three lane highways and cycle paths, but it is very strange because everywhere is so quiet.
There is a lot of building work going on so I assume it will get busier over the next few years.
We wandered around this afternoon and it is a really nice place.
It is also very close to the airport and there is a fast train that will get you there in 15 minutes, with no stops along the way.
We are staying here tonight before catching a flight to Heathrow tomorrow morning.

Monday 22 April 2013

Gurney Drive hotel

We have a new plan when it comes to where we stay overnight. Instead of always staying in mediocre places, we have started staying somewhere really cheap for a few days and then using the money we have saved to stay somewhere quite fancy.
For the last three nights we slept in a large cupboard in Georgetown, and last night we stayed in a mini suite with a sea view on Gurney Drive, the most upmarket area in Penang.
The hotel also had a pool and waterslide. We were the only people around so we made the most of all the facilities.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Drive less, cycle more!

Every Sunday morning in downtown Penang some of the roads are closed to cars and motorbikes, so lots of people cycle around the streets.
It is lovely and quiet and we joined in the fun.
Watch out for brides posing in the middle of the road though.

Saturday 20 April 2013

The cannon ball tree

We caught a bus to the Penang Botanical Gardens today. They are only about six kilometres away from Georgetown and we waited ages for a bus and when we got there it was very disappointing.
There were quite a few different areas to visit, but nearly all of them were closed, and there was hardly anyone about.
The best thing was that they had about ten cannon ball trees. They are amazing as the trunk is covered in branches with beautiful pink flowers that eventually turn in to what look like grapefruit sized cannon balls.
We went for a walk around the gardens and came across a whole troupe of monkeys so decided to avoid them and head for some lunch.
We picked the lunch time special at a local restaurant. I had soup that tried to blow my head off, spicy salad that would have done but I picked the big bits of chilli out and then pineapple rice that had no pineapple in it as far as I could tell. Maybe my tastebuds can't pick up subtle flavours any more.

Friday 19 April 2013

Kung Fu Girl

Tonight we are staying on a street called Lebuh Muntri and about three doors down from our hotel is a wall painting by Ernest Zacharevic. We saw her last time we were in Penang but didn't realise that the Kung Fu Girl was nearby.
She is probably about 15 feet tall and balancing on the top of two windows. Unfortunately, she is above the courtyard of a Chinese temple and the gates are locked, so it is not possible to get a picture of her straight on.
It looks as if she has just jumped over the roof and is hopping down into the temple grounds.
It is probably a good thing that she is so high up and enclosed, as the artist originally did eight paintings about a year ago, but only five are still in a reasonable condition.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Penang Marina

Spent a lovely day at Penang Marina.
The Marina and surrounding area is built on land that has been reclaimed from the sea. We saw photos from 2006 which showed where the old shoreline used to be. It must be really annoying to live by the beach and then a few years later be about half a mile away behind lots of tall and expensive buildings.
We also stayed for the evening and I had a Pacific Marguerita which was made with mangos and matched my teeshirt perfectly.
Unfortunately, it was not a patch on an original flavoured Marguerita so there are two lessons learned today - don't mess around with a drink that is already perfect and don't try to match alcohol with your outfits. (Actually, point two was just an accident.)

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Malaysian elections

Everywhere that we go in Malaysia now, we find hundreds of flags. This is because there is going to be the a general election on the 5th of May.
The newspapers are full of manifestos and articles praising the current government, and apparently, the opposition have never won. We spoke to a taxi driver who was really into politics and he said that all of the newspapers are controlled by the government, which is why they always write negatively about the opposition.
However, he says that things are changing now because of the Internet and he is really hoping that the opposition win this time.
Surprisingly, he also started quoting lyrics from a Cliff Richard song that we did not recognise, but you can't hold that against him.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Trying day getting to Penang

Spent the night in the Koreans spare bedroom/three star hotel and it was roasting as the aircon did not work and there was no fan. Decided not to stay for the second night so Darren told her this morning we were leaving (while I hid in a corner) and we set off for the bus station.
I went to buy two tickets to Penang.
The bus was supposed to set off at 10.30, but after a while it became obvious it wasn't going to go until they had filled it. It eventually got going at nearly twelve, so my patience was wearing a little thin. Also, the lady selling me the tickets hadn't given me my change and I had to return and get it from her.
Our bus ride turned into a magical mystery journey but we eventually crossed the bridge on to the island and could see Georgetown in the distance. I had checked before I bought the tickets that they were for Georgetown, but the bus stopped just after the bridge in the middle of nowhere and we all had to get off.
I was furious. We were told to wait for a local bus number 401 to get the last five miles but nobody knew when it was due.
After a day of inaction, I had no patience left, so we had to pick up our packs and start walking. We walked along the main road keeping an eye out for buses and eventually, after walking for about 40 minutes and getting hot, sweaty and bitten by something, we caught the 401 to town.
It was the same bus that came from where we were dropped off. The bus fare was the same, but I was so much happier after the walk and we got to Georgetown with a smile on our faces.

Monday 15 April 2013

'House' update

A bit of a strange day today. We decided to change hotels in KL as we wanted somewhere with a pool and a gym for a couple of days so that we could do a bit of exercise without getting too hot and sweaty on the streets.
Darren found a 'three room three star' hotel on Agoda that was really new on the site so had hardly any reviews. Reading between the lines we thought each room was actually a small apartment as it came with kitchenette, washing machine and living area.
Once we got here it became apparent that it is actually a rented apartment and the rooms are just bedrooms in the family flat. They are Korean and friendly, but the mother sits in the living room the whole time watching Korean tv.
We are just stuck in our room as we feel in the way and it has no telly!
We are here tomorrow as well and we have already paid, so rather than cause a scene we are going to stay and chalk it up to experience. Darren is also going to complain to Agoda as it isn't cheap and is taking the mick really.
It has a nice pool so it's not bad really, and we have been down and done a few lengths.
As soon as we got out of the water two local guys came over to talk to Darren. They looked a bit shifty and I wondered if they were going to try and sell him some drugs, but no, they wanted to know if they could have their photo taken with him on their phones.
Darren sheepishly obliged, and a security guard came over and told them off, so they went away.
I wonder if they wanted his photo as I think he looks like House from the tv series - what do you reckon?

Sunday 14 April 2013

Lee Chong Wei

We got up early this morning and caught a train from KL to a new city about 20 miles away called Putrajaya. It is a purpose built administration centre for all of the government offices and is full of modern buildings nestling amongst a man made lake.
It was a good day trip for a Sunday, but the pictures aren't very exciting as the day was very hazy, so they haven't made it on to the blog.
However, made it back in time for the Axiata Cup finals this evening.
The whole building was packed with enthusiastic Malaysian supporters with drums, trumpets, flags,tambourines and shuttle cases.
We had been reading in the papers that the Malaysian world singles number one player, Lee Chong Wei would not be playing as he was injured, and then last Friday his wife had a baby, so we thought he would be too tired and busy.
However, he was there and the crowd were on their feet chanting his name when they realised he was playing. He dominated his game and played effortlessly and confidently - a real crowd pleaser.
You probably don't know him, but it would be like Andy Murray playing tennis in Glasgow, or Usain Bolt running the 200 metres in Jamaica.
Sorry I didn't take the pictures of him, but I would have liked to have (and I was there).

Saturday 13 April 2013

Axiata badminton Cup semi finals day

In KL and watching the badminton Axiata Cup. It is the richest badminton tournament in the world and we had been hoping to support team Europe, but they finished fifth so didn't make it to the semi finals.
The line up today was Malaysia against Asia, then Indonesia against Thailand.
Malaysia played well, with excellent support from the very biased crowd. I sat next to a very loud local guy with a vuvuzela who kept making me jump then apologising. They won their first three games so didn't have to play the fourth as they were already through to the final.
We were really disappointed as it would have been the men's doubles which is by far the best game to watch.
In the next semi Indonesia were the favourites and also had very loud supporters. We were really pleased when Thailand won the first game because we thought that meant that we would get to see the fourth game this time, but unbelievably, Thailand won all of their first three games to get through to the finals and knocked Indonesia out.
The crowd were shocked and went silent, even the guy dressed in an Indonesian flag, who was carrying a pretend trophy and beating a massive base drum.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Farewell to Melaka

Really enjoyed our few days in Melaka and left today to catch a bus to Kuala Lumpur.
A friendly local man stopped us for a chat as we walked to the bus stop. He asked us if we were catching the slow bus or the express to Melaka Sentral bus station. We knew that there was only one bus so didn't quite get what he meant, but we pointed to where the bus had dropped us when we arrived. (There are no bus stop signs so it adds to the difficultly.)
He said that was the slow bus and the express was five minutes walk in the opposite direction. We caught it anyway and eventually understood what he meant. Our bus picked us up and did a huge  wander around almost every street in Melaka before heading back almost to where we originally boarded it and then set off on the two mile journey to the bus station.
The bus to KL didn't take much longer to do about 100 miles, but it was all interesting and we weren't in a hurry.
Arrived in KL and been out for some dinner. I had spicy carrot salad and it was so hot that I have burnt my tastebuds away completely. Hopefully they will return in the next few days.
Ps, thank you to Darren for lending me this fantastic photo of an ungainly and rather clumsy bird that we saw on the river bank yesterday near our hotel.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Melaka river cruise

We managed to find the starting point for the river cruise today and paid £3 each for an excellent 45 minute cruise.
It was quite an eye opener as we thought that we had already walked along quite a lot of the bank so we weren't expecting any surprises. However, suddenly all of the street along one side was beautifully muralled.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Highlights of Melaka

Busy day today, lots of highlights and some lower moments too:-
- There are three Tourist Information Offices in Melaka, two are closed for renovations. Found the closed two really easily and then wandering around for ages trying to third.
- Failing the above task so still without a decent map of the area.
- Trying to join the boat trip by standing on the jetty with my arm outstretched (like it said on the notice) and the boat going by without stopping, and all of the tourists on board smirking at us.
- Climbing through a window on to a roof terrace at the Birds Nest Soup place (apparently they have lost the key to the door) to see where the sea used to come to.
-Sitting in a bar, drinking a gin and tonic watching the swifts flying above, thinking of how much new spit they were making.
- Visiting the Baba and Nyonya Museum and being shown around by a very funny but extremely bossy tour guide. Taking our shoes off to go upstairs and then watching as a Japanese tourist who arrived late appeared at the top of the stairs wearing a suit and Daz's orange flip flops.
- Trying to decide what to do about the last point.

Birds nest soup

Did you know that birds nest soup really is made out of birds nests?
Today we are in Melaka and were walking along one of the heritage streets when a friendly elderly man said hello and asked us if we wanted to see how birds nests are harvested.
We followed him in to the house and it was really dark inside. All along the ceiling beams were birds nests and swifts were flying in and out of an open porchway.
He explained that the nests were made of swift spit and that they are a real delicacy and thought of as medicinal by many people.
The whole house was a mixture of factory, shop, restaurant and museum. We were the only people there and he spent ages showing us around. The nests are removed once the swiftlet has flown and taken to an area that looked like a laboratory. It was full of Indonesian girls who are employed to clean the nests. It is very complicated as the nests are full of feathers and dirt and it takes many hours. The material is then graded and the best bits are reshaped into nests and dried. The smaller pieces are graded into sizes and prepared for sale.
When we got to the shop, the most expensive nests were sold for about £4 per gram, even the small bits cost a fortune!
He said that the whole house opposite was full of nests, even though it was on one of the most expensive streets in Melaka. At those prices I am surprised that anyone lives in any of the houses at all.
We could have tried either some soup or pudding with birds nest in it, but somehow, I just really did not fancy it.
Fascinating tour through.

Sunday 7 April 2013

15 glorious years!

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary, and we wanted to celebrate it in style.
There is very little to see in Johor Barhu - the most popular things on TripAdvisor are Hello Kitty World and Legoland - so instead we tried to find a nice place to eat lunch.
We found a fancy looking Malaysian restaurant, but it was full inside so they put us on the balcony. I have never seen a balcony quite like it before, as it wrapped around the restaurant, but was inside a large exhibition centre. The centre had a very busy show on, so many people were wandering past constantly. Not exactly romantic, but interesting.
Dinner was nice, very spicy and with many ingredients, although nothing like we expected.
We then found a fantastic doughnut shop and bought 24 tiny ones to eat later.
Just had a swim in the hotel pool and looking forward to a great evening in our room with a bottle of oaked Chardonnay. Also, West Ham are playing Liverpool live on the telly at 8.30.