Our holiday to Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore - Summer 2000

This is a collection of jottings originally sent as many e-mails during the three weeks of a holiday to celebrate 30 years of marriage.
All exchange rates are correct when sent to printers. All times are local time. Hong Kong is 7 hours ahead of UK time.

Monday July 31st - Swanmore to Hong Kong.

17:30 -We were so excited at home and we could not wait until 18:00 to leave so we decided to leave early. My Daddy drove us to Heathrow.

18:30 - We arrived at the airport with 3 and a half hours until our plane is to take off. Daddy handed Mary the car keys and she drove away.

19:00 - We checked in at our check-in desk, and found that we were sitting individually, but we had reserved our seats together, so my Mummy did a bit of complaining and got us upgraded to BUSINESS CLASS.

20:00 - We got through the customs and found a lounge where we would sit down. I left my parents while they sat and read (boring!). I went and played on a monopoly game to try and win money but I only lost £1.

21:30 - We boarded our Boeing 747 Business class seats and I could not find the TV then Mummy told me that you pull it out of the arm rest. We had 18 channels, 10 of which were film channels. The seats were large and reclined to almost horizontal. Our Flight I watched Independence Day twice during the journey. For the meal we had smoked tuna for starter, and steak for our main course. We all slept through some of the 12 hour journey. At 7am (UK time) I was awoken by a stewardess who asked me if I wanted to go up to the flight deck – I went with Daddy and we met the Captain and chief engineer, they showed us the flight deck and all the instruments, pointing out the artificial horizon as it was cloudy outside. We then went back downstairs for breakfast.

Tuesday, August 1st - Arrival in Hong Kong.

16:30 - We arrived at our destination, collected our luggage, and got a red taxi to the Conrad International (our hotel).

1800 - The journey took about 45 minutes. Our room has a king size bed and they bought a roll-in bed for me. We had an orchid on the pillow and a teddy bear. The maid brought us a teddy bear each and a plate with 3 oranges and another orchid, also a pot of tea and 3 china cups.

20:00  - We went searching for something to eat and found a small little Chinese restaurant in an alley. It cost us HK$87 (£7.86) which is HK$29 (£2.45) per person. We had a bowl of soup each followed by a bowl of rice topped with chicken and vegetables in a sauce, fish in a sauce with vegetables and another one with seafood. It was all quite adequate.

21:30 - We arrived back in our hotel room on the 40th floor and went to bed. Daddy was asleep by 10pm but Mummy and I took a little longer.

This segment has been written by Master Stephen J Lawrence of Stephen & Co. ©

Wednesday August 2nd –  Stanley Market

10am - I (Jane) did not get back to sleep again until 6.45 this morning!!!! It rained very heavily in the night and Graham and Stephen slept through most of it including the thunderstorms. We are now getting up and using the wonderful facilities in the bathroom – there is a large bath and a rubber duck!!!!!! Also we have a separate shower and 2 washbasins. The loo is in a room on its own. We bought some watermelon last night and are going to have it for breakfast with the 3 oranges, as breakfast is 20 pounds each.

9pm - We have had a very interesting day, hot and clammy all day – we carried umbrellas but did not need them. We went on a double decker bus across hills to Stanley Market and had lunch there -–Stephen bought a small scooter – the latest craze! For 15 pounds and was very pleased with himself. We then got the bus back to Central and walked around finding the Travelator and going a short way up it. We then saw many more shops and were getting hot and tired. We took the Red Star Ferry over to Kowloon and walked around before having a meal in another Chinese restaurant. We saw the Peninsula Hotel but decided not to go in as it is very expensive. After we had eaten it had gone dark and we looked over to Hong Kong Island again and saw the wonderfully lit up skyline. Some of the buildings are very pretty. We are now back at the Hotel and I am just about to go swimming with Stephen, the pool looks so inviting!!

Thursday, August 3rd - Victoria Peak.

At 9:45 am. Graham wakes up and decides the others have slept long enough so we eat some grapes, drink a coffee and leave the hotel in search of a circlip. Stephen's 15 pound scooter has started to fall apart and a circlip has fallen off so let's go out into HK and look for one. It rains a lot in HK and it's hot. We got into the street and it was just like walking into a hot shower – the specs steamed up. We plodded round Wan Chai going into all the hardware shops but no one sold circlips. We were advised to go to Kowloon. We had lunch, 3 large bowls of soup with noodles and meat and 3 glasses of fruity cold tea costing ten pounds in all. Off we went once more in search of circlips in the rain. We found the only shop in HK that sells circlips but not the right size. Let's hope we can find some in Oz. In mid-afternoon we took the subway (75p each) from near our hotel out east to where the tram ends, about 6 miles, and returned on a tram (20p each) to the base of the tallest building in HK – the Bank of China tower. We then walked and took escalators up to the Peak Tramway terminus. HK is full of covered walkways and escalators. We took the Peak Tramway up to almost the summit of Victoria Peak. The track is a very steep incline, probably about 60 degrees at its steepest and the views were magnificent even though it was cloudy. Above the end of the top tramway station is a restaurant with a panoramic vista. Kodak spots abound. We treated ourselves to a meal and watched as all the tower blocks below lit up their neon lights. The trip down the mountain was interesting as we went down backwards in the tram. We took a quick stroll through Hong Kong Park in the dark back to our hotel, something we probably never dream of doing in England for fear of getting mugged. HK is a clean and friendly place despite having 6.5 million people, 95% of whom are Chinese.

Friday, August 4th - Kowloon.

We are on the 40th floor in the hotel and looking out of the window at 9.30 this morning showed nothing – only cloud – we could not see any other buildings – it has cleared now, raining again. We've decided to have an easy day today so we went to Mong Kok - a shopping area in Kowloon. We took the MTR to it – that's the name of the Underground. When we got out of the station it was raining so we ambled south looking in shops for whatever. At lunch time or shortly after we decided to eat so we searched for a restaurant. Being a bit bored with Cantonese food we selected Korean. Actually we went into a restaurant, there are many down all the side streets, and it happened to be Korean. We cooked our own barbecued chicken. There was a gas ring in the middle of the table and a metallic hat with a hole in the top was placed over the ring. Water was poured into the brim. We cooked the marinaded prawns, beef and chicken on the hot exposed lid and the vermicelli in the hot water of the rim. After lunch we continued our ambling southwards until we reached the Peninsular Hotel where we indulged ourselves in afternoon tea. The Peninsular Hotel has a colonial air about it - gilded columns supporting an ornate ceiling with a string quartet playing in a corner, pretending to be Max Jaffa. The hotel used to be on the edge of the seafront at Kowloon but is now some hundred yards in land. In the evening we opted for an Indonesian buffet. Eating in McDonalds, Pizza Hut and anything with a hint of European cooking is strictly forbidden on this trip.

Saturday, August 5th.

Captain (Jane) is not feeling too well today and decides to stay in the hotel room and pack.

Sunday, August 6th - Hong Kong to Port Douglas.

Such a lot has happened since I last wrote anything. I was ill on Saturday, food poisoning, and spent all day in bed when I was not packing, we had the room till 1600, then we checked out and went to the airport. Stephen and Graham went to lunch and walked around a bit. We had 3 hours at the airport, which was a bit uncomfortable for me but we did sit near the loos. The flight took 6 hrs to Cairns and yet another time difference of 2 hours – we arrived at 5.15 in the morning but our bodies thought it was much earlier and we had had little sleep. Going through customs a sniffer dog detected a nice smell in one of Stephen's bags and we had to go through a customs check! They were asking about fruit, flowers etc. as it is illegal to bring them into Australia. I explained that it was his bag he used for school and packed meals so they accepted it was probably that – we then were let through and found the bus to take us to the hotel. On arrival, we were shattered and were given a villa, but found it was occupied. They took pity on us and gave us a hotel room for us to sleep in. We slept until midday and then moved in to another villa which is wonderful – 2 bedrooms and bathroom upstairs and a kitchen, living room, utility room with washer and dryer and a loo and shower downstairs. I am sending you this now and we will update you on wonderful Australia and how we are getting on here in a few days time.

Monday, August 7th - Daintree River.

We were picked up at 8am by a large Australian sumo wrestler with a large enough beard who would have been the suitable subject of an Edward Lear rhyme. He was called Reece and he introduced us to the 4 others who would be our companions for the day's trip in his 4WD. We visited Mossman Gorge and a walk in a rain forest, the Daintree river and a cruise on the river where we saw, amongst other things, 2 crocodiles, a tree snake and pair of frog-mouthed owls. We then went to a very picturesque waterfall with a pool in which Jane and Stephen swam. The swim was followed by lunch of barramundi (sea-perch) and exotic fruit salad. After lunch we crossed the Daintree River on a cable ferry and were taken to Cape Tribulation where we walked on the beach and admired the views. On the way home we walked amongst a mangrove swamp. Reece was extremely informative about the local fauna and flora and added further information such as the development of the local sugar cane industry by a Jamaican many years ago, the tea plantations started by some other immigrant and the ship-wrecking of the then lieutenant James Cook. We didn't see any coffee plantations but they do exist in Queensland. We returned to the hotel at 6pm and immediately went into Port Douglas for food and watering and the next day's breakfast, returning to the hotel to watch the Oz version of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' – how sad!

Tuesday, August 8th - Barrier Reef.

We got picked up by a mini-bus and taken to the marina in Port Douglas where we joined 35 others on the Poseidon, a catamaran which would take us to the Great Barrier Reef.. It was pouring with rain but stopped shortly after we left the harbour. On the way to Agincourt Reef we were entertained by 5 humpback whales which cavorted around for five minutes and our benefit. When we arrived at the reef, which surprised us by being submerged, we donned our snorkels and swam around. We visited three different reefs throughout the day. We'd bought a disposable under-water camera in Port Douglas the previous evening and Stephen was our cameraman in the sea. The fish were brilliantly coloured and the coral was magnificent. Stephen spotted a Moray eel, a very large clam and an octopus. Hopefully we'll all see what Stephen saw when the film is developed. For our evening meal we dined in our villa where we ate tiger prawns and mud crab washed down by the Australian champagne delivered by the hotel as part of the welcome pack. We're enjoying our holiday.

Wednesday, August 9th - Kurunda.

Beautiful clear blue skies greet us today. This is the first clear blue sky we've seen since arriving on Sunday. We have a bit of a lie-in today and set out on a mini-bus at 10am to go south to the outskirts of Cairns for a trip on the Skyrail, a cable car that is suspended above the rain forest for 7.5 km to the aborigine village of Kuranda. We walked through the village to a butterfly farm where a 6in wide electric blue and black Ulysses butterfly takes a fancy to Jane's red top. We failed to buy Stephen a didgereedoo or a go on the Sky Screamer, a form of bungey jump where you are put in a cradle and lifted high in the air and then dropped. It's just like being on a swing, apparently. After a light lunch, meat pie and chips, we visited a bat rehab centre where an enthusiastic woman gave us an introduction to the bats she was caring for. The largest bat she showed us was a spectacled flying fox, which was about 1 foot tall with a furry body. After the bats we went on the Kuranda scenic railway which winds its way down the mountain side till it reaches sea level and takes about 1.5 hours to do so. The scenery was wonderful with the sea in the background. On returning to the hotel at 6pm, Jane and Stephen weren't tired enough so went off to the swimming pool. Graham had a beer and relaxed.

Thursday, August 10th - Port Douglas to Sydney.

We awoke at 7am as we had to catch a bus at 8 to go to a place called the Habitat. We walked into a huge Aviary where we were to have Breakfast with the Birds, it was an amazing experience. We had a truly great breakfast – all the exotic fruits that they grow locally, followed by Bacon and egg, sausage etc etc. and as much as you could eat. At 9.15 we were given a tour of the Habitat which consists of 3 major areas, the first one had Emus, Kangaroos and Wallabies with all kinds of Ducks and pigeons and Pelicans. It also contained 2 sorts of crocodiles, freshwater and salt water, they were amazing and looked as if they had plants growing over their bodies. The second main area was a huge Aviary made up to be a rainforest habitat, with lovely coloured birds – all sorts, parrots and others I do not know the names of now. The final area was to the Koala patch and we saw the Cassowaries, which are amazing birds of the Emu family. Stephen was allowed to stroke a Koala Bear and feed it, it held his hand – quite an amazing experience all round. Thursday, August 10th continuation. We packed our bags and checked out of the hotel and found we had an hour to spend before getting the coach to the airport at Cairns so we walked to the beach and marvelled at the sight of 'Four Mile Beech' – deep blue sea separated from the palm trees of the rain forest by a strip of golden sand., just like a tropical island. The 2.5 hour flight to Sydney was uneventful but when we got there we were expecting to be met by Ian and Sue but there was a surprise addition to the welcome party – Emma. Emma had been staying with Ian and Sue since Monday so as to see us. Ian and Sue have a house that overlooks Sydney harbour in a suburb called Greenwich. Stephen has found that the water goes down the plug-hole clockwise. Is it anti-clockwise in England?

Friday, August 11th - Home and Away.

Graham got up at 7am along with Emma and Ian to go for a trip in Ian's 4 metre tinny around the harbour. It was a very bracing experience as it is the middle of winter here yet the sky was clear blue. We went under the harbour bridge that Emma had climbed last Sunday and passed the Opera House then back under the bridge and up various creeks and inlets and back to the house avoiding all the ferries taking suits to work. After breakfast all 6 of us piled into the truck and headed north to Palm Beech where we took a stroll up to Barrenjoey lighthouse before having a seafood barbecue at Ian's life savers club called the 'Cabbage Tree Club' next to Kerry Packer's house. A cabbage tree is a form of palm tree. Stephen was more interested in seeing the bits of the beech used for 'Home and Away' and was photographed in front of the 'Summer Bay Surf Club'.

Saturday, August 12th - Sydney Highspots.

Today we've decided to make full use of Emma's three weeks of Sydney knowledge and let her act as our guide. We leave at 8:30am and catch the ferry to Circular Quay. Ferries in Sydney abound. On arriving we discover its no longer circular. The Australians have discovered how to square the circle but then disprove this by build a circular tower in Australia Square. We walk around the Rocks which contains the oldest pub in Australia – 1788 and other old buildings. We visit David Campese's shop but decide he has no clothes to our liking. We then saunter through the city passed the GPO in St. Martins Place which is the equivalent of Notre Dame in Paris and Charing Cross in London i.e. Kilometre 0. We end up at the AMP tower, a 1000ft structure which is a miniature version of the CN tower in Toronto. From the observation level you can see for 50 miles. Our back-packing guide pointed out, amongst other items of interest, the airport, the Blue Mountains, the town hall, St Andrews church, the Olympic village, Botany Bay and so on – sorry we don't want to bore you. We left the tower and after a drink in the City Extra, where the menu is written as a newspaper and the waiters have shirts that look like newsprint, we took a ferry to Manly Beech where they sell lots of designer clothes. Emma's sponsors distributed their largesse to enable Emma to expand her wardrobe. At 3pm we took the ferry back to Sydney and then we took another ferry to Greenwich. The evening was spent in a BYO restaurant (called The Dish) in Crow's Nest where the food was excellent as was the wine which we provided ourselves thus the BYO tag. We dropped Emma at a taxi so that she could be taken to the Slip Inn in Darling Harbour to say goodbye to her mates at the hostel on the edge of Hyde Park.

Sunday, August 13th - Wagstaffe.

We got up early, despite it pouring with rain, as we were going to see Ian and Sue's weekend retreat at Wagstaffe. We drove north for an hour and then east and south for another half till we arrived at Wagstaffe which is a small fishing community situated on the northern side of a promontory that is across the water from the Barrenjoey lighthouse. The retreat is a 1920's fisherman's single storey house built of wood with its own jetty. After a quick cup of coffee we set out for a ninety minute walk over the hills and returned 2 hours later. We were introduced to the Angophora tree, some galahs, minah birds, and sulphur-crested cockatoos as well as numerous wild flowers and the Banksia bogey man. After a quick lunch of fish and chips we returned to Sydney to await the arrival of Ian and Sue's daughters, Megan and Victoria and Sue Nash and her daughter, Katie. We had first met Sue as Sue Abney-Hastings in Shedfield, 27 years ago.

Monday, August 14th - Sydney Aquarium & Art Gallery.

Graham got up at 6am today to make sure Emma caught the 7am ferry to Circular Quay. Ian took Emma and Graham to the ferry where Emma was waved good bye and wished good luck as she left with her backpack on her way to Nundle where she is going to stay at the Dag Inn and earn her keep by shearing a sheep. Shouldn't be too bad after sampling the Hunter Valley wine in the afternoon. At 8:30am we all left with Sue on the Rocket (a catamaran) to go to Darling Harbour. Sue got off at Circular Quay to go to work. We went round the Aquarium and saw lots of the fish some of which we had seen at the Barrier Reef and a couple of duck-billed platypuses. How the animal has survived we don't know. It's about 18 inches long and feeds under water with its eyes, ears and nostrils closed and when it walks on land it keeps on bumping into things. Next we walked through Hyde Park and onto the New South Wales Art Gallery where we met Ian and Sue. Sue is one of its guides and gave us a short tour of some Australian artists and explained some samples of Aborigine art. We then drove to Bondi, beach which has now got a large Olympic stand, built to hold the beach volley-ball finals, occupying the centre of the beach. We walked from Bondi to Bronte beach and got a taxi back to Bondi. After eating Donar kebabs we got taken round the burbs of east Sydney.

Tuesday, August 15th - Blue Mountains.

Another early rise so as to beat the peak hour traffic. Today we were driven west along the Great Western Highway to the Blue Mountains. We passed the Olympic games complex which we'll visit tomorrow and through the sprawling burbs of west Sydney and up into the Blue Mountains. They really are blue. The colour comes from the eucalyptus leaves and the evaporation of eucalyptus oil. We parked in Katoomba and, after a drink to warm ourselves as it's cold and blustery (we remind ourselves that it is the middle of winter here), we descend the 916 steps of the Giant's Stairway, passed the Three Sisters rock formation, to a footpath that hugs the side of the escarpment. The footpath is about half way up the escarpment. In front of us are acres of red gum trees and eucalyptus trees stretching for miles. In the distance are the vertical sandstone walls of the canyons that surround the Blue Mountains. We traipse along the footpath and for once Stephen is like the Bondi Tram – he's raced on ahead of us. After an hour we come to the Katoomba falls which come hurtling down the escarpment face. Five minutes later we board the Katoomba Scenic Railway to get back to the top of the escarpment. Emma had told us that the descent is frightening. At the bottom the train stops on an almost horizontal platform. A notice states that passengers should take care of all items including infants as they could fall out. We sidle our way onto the benches which have their seats sloping at 45 degrees facing down hill. The roof of the carriage is an open wire cage as is the far side. With our knees pushing against the bar on the back of the bench in front we are hauled up the mountain side for just over 400 metres at an incline of 52 degrees according to the Guinness Book of Records certificate which hangs in the souvenir shop at the top. We decline to take the cable car across the ravine but opt for lunch in Leura at a surprisingly good restaurant called Silks. Ian introduces us to some more good Ozzie wines and after lunch we visited a sweet shop where all the sweets in the world are displayed in jars. Stephen was advised to call the Child Helpline as we did not let him buy any. Next we visited the largest wine retailer in Australia, Barmans, which has underground cellars housing row upon row of dusty wine bottles costing up to 400 pounds a bottle. We returned back to Sydney via the 'Bells Line of Road', named before the convicts had got 'O' level English.

Wednesday, August 16th - Syndey Olympic Village.

It's Jane and Stephen's turn for the harbour trip in the tinny. It's a bright morning but the wind is cold. – Jane here – the tinny trip was absolutely wonderful. We went down through the harbour for an hour and a half, down as far as the Bridge where we went under and then turned round – we saw the most wonderful houses on the banks. There is a man made inlet hewn out of sandstone, built by a Thomas Morton, which has now been taken over by the harbour Police for the Olympics. The sun was out and although a little rough in places it was a great experience. After the trip in the tinny we were taken to Homebush Bay which used to be the site of the state abattoirs, a large brickworks and several factories. The whole area has been transformed into the place where the majority of the Olympics will take place. Most of the facilities are now closed to the public but we did have a tour around Stadium Australia where the opening ceremony and all the track events will take place in a month's time. The stadium will hold 110,000 spectators. It is massive. Ian and Sue have volunteered to help run the Olympics. While Sue is selling ice-creams Ian will be chaperoning the Romanian VIPs. We have inspected their uniforms and they both will look bright and smart. Look out for the white straw hats with a Nike swish on the band. In the afternoon we picked up a hire car (Ford Falcon) and drove out to dine with Charlie Wallace, an erstwhile employee of Jane, and his family at Kings Langley, a western suburb of Sydney.

Thursday, August 17th - Sydney to Canberra and beyond.

Time to say goodbye to Ian and Sue and their son Lachie who has already started his day's studies at the university. We head out to the south west of Sydney on to the M3 motorway and then onto the Hume Highway towards Melbourne. On the way to Canberra the radar detection device switches itself off. In other words, Jane falls asleep. Unfortunately the boys in blue did not and Graham is handed a piece of paper which will require him to write a letter pleading mitigating circumstances in order to avoid having to pay the 184 dollar fine. We took a tour around Canberra ably conducted by Stephen using a bus route we acquired at the information centre. Our next stop was to have been Albury on the border between New South Wales and Victoria. To get to Albury we decided to take the road that goes via Tumut over the Snowy Mountains (part of the Great Dividing Range) as this would save us going back north to Yass. After 50 km we came across some roadworks which appeared to be where the road was being resurfaced but this was not the case. The tarmac had run out and the road was now, what the Aussies call 'unsealed'. It did not become sealed till we had completed a further 52 km which took us over the Great Dividing Range through snow and ice and passed wandering wild wallabies in dense pine forests. Our excitement was further enhanced by the petrol warning light coming on to indicate that we might just make it to Tumut if we were lucky. Jane tried to bring some calm to the situation by testing the signal strength on her mobile phone. She must have been joking. Why would any sane telephone company put up signal transmitters when there are no sane people to receive the signals. We did make it to Tumut with a litre or less left. After filling up with petrol we found a bed and breakfast place. Our meal in the local Chinese restaurant started off with Jane and Graham having a double scotch to celebrate the conversion of a potentially mundane journey into a nightmare to remember. We will be taking the Ford to a car-wash shortly.

Friday, August 18th - Tumut to Bena.

At Ron and Pat Morrison's B & B, called Crawley House, we had a full English breakfast with home-grown oranges, quince and damson jams surrounded by lots of antiques. We left Tumut, which had been the centre for the development of the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Scheme and drove to Albury. We crossed the Murray River and entered the state of Victoria. We made our way to the post office in Wadonga and paid $3.75 for a day pass on the Melbourne City Link which we were going to drive along 300km south. We then drove across a lush grassy plain in which masses of sheep and eucalyptus trees were growing haphazardly. In NSW the grass had been parched and brown. We were driving on the Hume Highway named after the person who, along with Mr Hovell and six convicts, had first found the route between Sydney and Melbourne in 1828. Australia is steeped in history but has forgotten all except the last 202 years of it. We washed the car at Seymour and had a meat pie and a drink. Meat pies are more popular than fish & chips in Oz. We then drove into Melbourne staying on the Hume Highway which seemed to finish as we entered Coburg and met the tram system and ethnic population. Where was the City Link? After crossing the centre of the city we found the Monash Highway and drove for another 90 minutes till we got to Rob and Sue's farm near Bena. Rob is an old university chum of Jane's. We ate home-grown steak and the neighbour's cheese washed down with wine from the local winery. There is a lot of good culture in Oz – viticulture.

Saturday, August 19th - Phillip Island.

Stephen got up at 6:30 to help milk the cows and found that the smell of the yellow cow effluent made him nauseous. He then slipped and covered himself in the brown cow effluent so had to give farming a break and take a shower. After breakfast Stephen returned to farming and rode on the tractor to help Rob distribute hay. Meanwhile Graham wrote a grovelling letter to the Director of the Infringement Processing Bureau as suggested by the policeman who had stopped us. We then drove to Phillip Island and visited a wild life centre where we saw wombats, dingoes, Tasmanian devils, echidnas (a porcupine-like animal that lays eggs and is a monotreme as is the platypus) and other native animals. We fed the kangaroos that roam freely around the centre and scurried away from the emus. Jane had a long conversation with a cockatoo based on the words in the phrase 'hello cocky how are you'. After a short tour of the island we went to the Penguin Parade where we sat on the sand in front of the viewing stand and waited for darkness and the fairy penguins. At 6:15 the 2400 of them started to emerge in teams of twelve from the sea. The birds are only about a foot tall. The teams waddled up the beach and on to the surrounding grass where they split up and searched out their burrows. We walked along the illuminated boardwalk watching the penguins find their homes and we went back to the car to drive to Cowes where we met Rob and Sue outside the Isle of Wight hotel and went for a meal. Jane indulged in some more oysters. Let's hope her body copes better with them this time.

Sunday. August 20th - Bena to Melbourne.

We left Rob and Sue at 8am – will we ever get a lie-in? Graham drove north then south down the Mornington Peninsular to Sorrento, site of the first English settlement in Victoria in 1803. We got the 10am ferry over to the other side of Port Phillip Bay. The ferry takes 40minutes but it is not as far as Dover to Calais. We then drove into Torquay (home of Rip Curl and surfing capital of Oz), stopping to look in the surfing second shops for Stephen. He bought another shirt! We continued down the picturesque Great Ocean Road through Anglesea and Lorne and arrived at Apollo Bay in time for lunch. We have omitted to mention that the Wattle or Mimosa is in flower over here and grows in abundance in the hedgerows along with the gum trees. We see sulphur-crested cockatoos and lorakeets (a very pretty parrot type bird, green and red), everywhere and birds like a magpie and a minah bird. Both the flora and fauna are very different from that in England. After lunch we turned northeast and drove up to Melbourne arriving around 5:30 and found our hotel in the centre of the city. We have just returned from a very good and substantial meal at a Chinese restaurant in nearby China Town. We have not yet seen much of Melbourne, although we did pass a few sites on the way in. Australia are just being beaten by South Africa in the third indoor cricket match taking place at the Colonial Stadium which we passed. Tomorrow is sightseeing day!

Monday, August 21st - Melbourne site-seeing.

We walked out of the hotel, which is right in the centre of Melbourne and a short walk from anywhere, at 10am and got on the City Circle tram to take a trip around the city centre. The service is free and a man on the tram gave us a city plan and pointed out the interesting places. The centre of Melbourne is built in a rectangular grid formation on the north-east bank of the Yarra River. There are several English-style churches, such as St Paul's Cathedral, nestling amongst the skyscrapers. Wide boulevards lined with plain trees and the occasional quirky incongruous sculpture remind us of Paris. We got off the tram at Melbourne Central Station, admired its glass conical roof and the old building it surrounded, and then wandered down Swanston Street to the Information Centre where we found out how to get to Ramsey Street. Raising a couch potato has its price. To offset this we visited the National Art Gallery of Victoria on Russell Street to view some more examples of artists we had seen in Sydney. After this we visited the Old Melbourne Gaol where Ned Kelly, the bushranger, was hanged in 1880. We all agreed it was the best gaol we had visited. In the evening we went to the south bank of the Yarra River to stroll around the Crown Complex which houses the casino and sophisticated water fountains as well as shops and eateries. The average cost of a main, such as a 500gm T-bone steak, in Oz is £8 ('main' = 'main course' in British English). We've all put on weight over here as the food is so good! The Aussies are whinging about the price of petrol as it approaches $1 (40p) a litre.

Tuesday, August 22nd - Neighbours.

We decided to treat ourselves to a buffet breakfast before embarking on the great pilgrimage. We checked out of the hotel and took the M1 to the south-east of the city. Following the instructions provided by the information centre we arrived at Ramsey Street. It's a small close consisting of about eight houses called Pin Oak Court in the Glen Waverley district of the city of Monash. Stephen was disappointed as he had expected something much larger. He recognised a garage but not the large white limo parked in one of the drives. Photos were taken as proof of the visit. Next a trip to the Mambo shop where a T-shirt was acquired for Stephen. We then made our way back to Melbourne returning to our previous hotel to retrieve the watch Stephen had left in the bedroom as a tip for the maid but had now changed his mind. We then booked into the new hotel where we got a room on the 12th floor overlooking the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) and the Tennis Centre. Graham took Stephen off to the Scienceworks Museum, where there were lots of buttons to push and knobs to twiddle. Jane had a well-earned rest. In the evening we took the tram into the city. Trams are everywhere. An honesty payment system is used. A machine on the tram excepts coins and delivers tickets. We tried to get it to work but failed. The natives agreed we should have a free ride. We ate in one of the many cheap Chinese restaurants in Little Lonsdale Street and returned to the hotel on a tram. The ticket machine on the tram was in full working order.

Wednesday, August 23rd - Melbourne to Singapore.

During our trip to Oz we've noticed that a different English is spoken here and our reading of 'Let's talk strine' did not fully prepare us for the trip. For example 'The crim drove his de facto in the ute to the burbs' translates as 'The criminal drove his common law wife in the 4 wheel drive to the suburbs'. (That's enough – Ed). After a light breakfast Graham took a stroll through nearby Fitzroy Gardens to visit Captain Cook's Cottage. Many of the trees in the park have metre-wide bands of plastic wrapped around their trunks to protect them against the possum, which is destroying a lot of the trees. Captain Cook's Cottage is the oldest dwelling in Australia. It was built in 1755 in Yorkshire and rebuilt in Melbourne in 1934. Meanwhile back at the hotel Jane and Stephen went for a swim in an outdoor heated pool. It's still winter here. The temperature is 14C. Jane has had a slight back problem since walking down the 916 steps in the Blue Mountains and thought swimming would be better for her than more walking. We left Melbourne on the 3:45pm flight to Singapore. At Melbourne airport, Jane was bought an early birthday present of a digital camera so you may get a photo soon with these notes! We passed over Ayers Rock on our way across the barren middle of Australia. Ayers Rock was easily visible as its redness contrasts with the surrounding brown of the scrub. We're not impressed with Qantas. The food is poor as is the visibility of the screens from our seats causing instant complaints from our couch potato. We landed in Singapore at 9:10pm, which is 2 hours behind Melbourne time, and took a taxi to our hotel. They drive on the left here and have the same plugs. The hotel is very posh and has a huge atrium very nicely decorated with plants. We will see more of Singapore tomorrow.

Thursday, August 24th Singapore Harbour trip.

We met Grace in the hotel lobby at 9:30am. Grace is a Singaporean who worked for Jane in 1980. They have exchanged Christmas cards ever since but never met. We walked to Clifford Pier to reserve places on the 3pm boat trip and then wandered round the finance district which has the usual allocation of skyscrapers. Singapore has about 3.5 million people who speak any combination of English, Mandarin, Malay or Hindi. It is not as bustling as Hong Kong and there aren't as many mobile phones. Everywhere is litter-free. There are lots of trees and greenery. It was hot (32C) and humid so we decided to have an early lunch in a Singaporean food market hall cooled by fans. While we were seated, Grace wandered around the stalls and selected our food for us. We ate Chinese carrot cake, which is like an omelette with white carrots and rice, and a selection of other spicy delicious items. Grace showed us how to use the MRT (underground train) and we were left on our own to wander round air-conditioned shopping malls. We took a taxi to the boat as Jane has now got a blister on her foot. The boat was an old Chinese junk and there were only 20 other tourists on it. The boat took us to a dozen of the 57 islands that belong to the main island of Singapore. In the distance we could see Indonesia. At the island of Kosu we got off and looked at the Chinese temple and tortoises that swim in the pools. Stephen said tortoises don't swim and claimed they were terrapins. We took a taxi back to the hotel to wait for Grace. We went with Grace to Boat Quay, which is a stretch of low buildings overlooking a narrow band of water and close to the finance district. It's full of restaurants and tables at the water's edge and people. We ate a tasty Indian meal and took the MRT back to the hotel.

Friday, August 25th - Singapore Zoo.

We left the hotel and walked along the Citylink, impossible to do in Melbourne as it is a motorway we did not find on entering the city. In Singapore the Citylink is an underground shopping arcade that runs from near the hotel to the City Hall MRT station. We bought recyclable plastics tickets and went to the platform, the edge of which has a glass partition with automatic doors, which open when the train arrives. We travelled to Ang Mo Kio to meet Grace. No food or drinks can be consumed on trains (Fine $1000), no smoking (Fine $2000) and no inflammable/explosive liquids (Fine $5000). We have yet to see a policeman. Grace joined us and we got on a bus to the zoo. You need exact change to use the buses and flimsy paper tickets are issued. The zoo is on a promontory that juts out into one of Singapore's lake-like reservoirs. Most of the animals are housed on islands surrounded by moats and lush rain-forest trees and shrubs so do not appear to be caged in. We watched the primate animal show where Orang-Utans performed feats of strength like de-husking a coconut and drinking the milk. Next we took the tram around the zoo getting off at several stops to look at the animals like sheep grazing on sand and polar bears swimming in an icy pool. We voted the zoo the best we had visited. We all piled into a taxi and went to one of Grace's local eating places where we had chicken rice and a vegetable with seafood mixture. After lunch Grace put us in a taxi and we went to Clarke Quay, a place similar to Boat Quay but where clothes are sold. We bought a silk dressing gown for Emma whilst Stephen played on machines in a games arcade. Afterwards we took a bus to Orchard Road, Singapore's equivalent to Tottenham Court Road. We searched high and low for an MP3 player for Stephen but failed to find the one he wants. We took the MRT back to the hotel and waited for Grace to pick us up in her brother's car. Grace brought along Clement, her 13-year old son. Grace drove us to the Singapore Seafood Centre on the east of the island. We ate in the very popular Jumbo Seafood House. We had butter prawns, garoupa fish, chilli crab, fish paste cooked in banana leaves and several other dishes. It was the best Chinese meal we have had and cost only £9 per head. After the meal Grace drove us around Singapore showing us various sites such as Little India and the hotel Emma stayed in.

Saturday, August 26th - Singapore Botanical Gardens.

Jane and Stephen went swimming and declared the hotel pool the best they had ever swam in whilst Graham stayed in bed to ponder on the meaning of life. We thought about going to Little India but decided not to as it was too hot (33C). Instead we took a taxi to the Botanical Gardens. It was just like walking in an extremely large greenhouse – palm trees everywhere. We've never seen so many orchids in such abundance as in the orchid gardens. We met lots of new trees such as the cannonball tree, the monkey-pot tree and the parrot palm. Stephen took lots of photos with Jane's new toy. For lunch Jane and Stephen ate a spicy Malayan concoction in an open-air food court whilst Graham spent just as much money on a Tiger beer. A taxi dropped Jane and Stephen off for another MP3 hunt whilst Graham was allowed to return to the hotel. Jane and Stephen returned reasonably quickly having had an extremely successful 15 minutes shopping expedition. They had found the only shop in Singapore that sells the new Philips MP3 player that plays CDs with a saving of 35 pounds on the US price. Stephen spent the next couple of hours playing with the MP3 player and also downloading all the photographs taken today in the Botanical Gardens. Here are two examples: Grace picked us up at 6pm and took us on a guided tour of the western section of the island and then on to a Hokkien restaurant. Hokkien is a style of Chinese cooking where you construct pancake and bun packages from various ingredients. It was another tasty meal. We then adjourned to the Raffles Hotel where we drank our post-prandial Singapore slings and absorbed the atmosphere which was also very hot and humid. The Brits certainly knew how to construct opulent hotels in days of yore. Grace drove us back to our hotel and we thanked Grace for her excellent informative tours and hospitality.

Sunday, August 27th - Singapore to Swanmore.

We packed up, searched to see if Stephen had left anything for the maids, and checked out of the hotel at 9am. A taxi took us to the airport. The driver told us what sights we should see next time we visit S'pore. At the airport Stephen noticed that if you bought more than $40 of certain whiskies you could get a prize. We succumbed and bought two large bottles of Glenfiddich. We struck lucky and got $50 and a miniature bottle of Scotch – well done Stephen. We failed to get upgraded to business class but the headrests had screens in so our couch potato was happy. The flight took just over 12 hours, 4 of which were spent flying over the clearly visible desert from Karachi to Turkey. We landed at Heathrow at 5:45pm where we were met by Mary who drove us into the setting sunset, rain and home, whilst the list of credits rolled through the sky.

Errors and Corrections

Because our journalistic outpourings were constructed either late at night or very early in the morning it was inevitable that some errors would have crept in as the chief editor was asleep with a DO NOT DISTURB notice. Our readers have been quick to point out discrepancies but we took an editorial decision not to halt the flow of drivel by inserting corrections but feel so much indebted to our readers that we should make amends in due course and after deliberations. Here then are some of the printable comments we received and our reponses.
Jane did recover from her tummy bug acquired in Hong Kong and did not get sick after eating the second lot of oysters.
To the person who was most impatiently awaiting the report on Melbourne and confirmation that we thought it is just Paradise on Earth we hope they were not as disappointed as we were. Jane considers that the Barrier Reef and the Orchard Garden in S'pore were closer to paradise. Stephen thought Summer Bay was closer. Graham's response is not printable.
To the person who wrote 'Got up at 7.30am and washed up remains of yesterdays meal. Hoovered carpets, washed kitchen floor, cleaned windows and dusted everywhere. Went to Sainbury's and got rained on, came home and prepared meal. Do I detect a hint of jealousy? I bet you wish you were here.' - No, we were happier where we were.
To the person who wrote 'Sorry I haven't been in contact, I have been so busy travelling up the coast and doing lots of fun things. I should be in Brisbane in a couple of days I reckon. It depends how long I stay here (somewhere in the middle of nowhere with lots of sheep near Byron Bay). The bus is great fun with lots of fun people. I hope you are all OK and having a great time. When are you getting to Sydney and I'll ring you at Sue's when I get to Brisbane. I don't have a number you can ring me on.' - How come you got back to Sydney in time to meet us at the airport and create the greatest surprise of our holiday?
To the person who grumbled that the bulletins seemed to be getting shorter we hope they were not disappointed with the one from Singapore.
To the person who gleefully pointed out that when we travelled over the Snowy Mountains we had not appreciated that in Oz they do not have petrol stations every 20 k's - you should have heard what Graham said when he was told there were only 2 litres of petrol left. Stephen wanted it reported verbatim but the editor said that Stephen's grandmother would be offended.
To the person who told us that 'the definition of a ute is not really a 4 wheel drive. It is a sedan front with an open back - they drive them a lot in the country on the farms etc. They can be 4 wheel drive vehicles but not a full sedan.' - Thanks for the American English translation but we Brits drive saloon cars not chairs with poles attached unless we live in Ealing or Warsaw.

Cheers, The Chief Editor & International Travel Agent and her amanuensis.