Sunday, September 12, 2010

11 September 2010 Bangkok

Inside the Grand Palace complex

Inside the Grand Palace complex

Lyn and Mick outside the Temple

Mick and Lyn in the Palace complex

Our hotel room. Note the window enabling one to enjoy the view whilst attending to the call of nature or having a shower. Unfortunately it allows others in the bedroom to watch the proceedings! Note: there is an electrically operated blind for those requiring privacy.

Lyn and Mick on the cruise

Mick cruising! We had a brief shower which soon cleared hence the umbrella

Lyn with a pretty Thai lady

Lyn with a pretty Thai lady who was handing out fluorescent bracelets and necklaces

Lyn with the Thai 'Robbie Williams'. He had a really good voice. The female singer didn't sing as well but her looks made up for that!

Lyn and Mick waiting for dinner on the cruise

11 September 2010

In case you missed it in the previous blog....we'll tell you again...

***We were woken at 6.45am yesterday morning to the wonderful news that Lyn and Mick had become grandparents again to a little boy named Carter Aston West. Weighing in at 7lb 12oz (3.53kgs) and 50cms. Both Mum and baby are doing fine. Congratulations to our lovely son Simon and his beautiful wife Michelle and our gorgeous grandson Lincoln.***

Despite being really tired after poor nights sleep on the flight to Bangkok, Mick didn’t sleep well and two English girls arriving home late in the next room talking loudly and banging about helped neither of us. Such is hotel life.

We had to be up early for our pick up to take us to the Grand Palace complex.

As it turned out we were the only ones taking the tour so we had the tour guide's full attention.

The Grand Palace complex is a huge area of 218,000 square metres and consists of not only the Royal Palace and throne halls but also a number of government offices as well as the renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It was established in 1782.

When we went through the gate the guards were pinging people who were not appropriately dressed. We were informed when we booked the tour to wear long pants or skirts and ladies to have their chests/shoulders covered, shoes could be sandals or joggers, no thongs. If you got pinged for the wrong dress there was a stall across the street renting appropriate dress for a few Baht.

4 huge walls, 1900 metres in length, surround the area.

The Grand Palace is a really beautiful and ornate building with the usual gold trim although it is no longer used as the residence of the King and Queen who are very much revered here. The penalty for saying anything derogatory about them is 7 years gaol although the tour guide was not keen to talk about such things, but is keen to hear what the overseas press report.

Mick wanted to discuss the details of the Kings heir to the throne a son. Mick had read in an article in the press that he is apparently is a bit of a playboy and is always doing naughty things. Again, the tour guide didn’t want to talk about such things, but they do like to know what the media/people are saying about the royal family.

After visiting the Grand Palace, we went in to the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha where we had to remove our shoes before entering. It was a special place for people of that religion (including our tour guide) who kneel before the alter and bow touching their faces to the floor a few times.

After completing the tour of the palace complex, the tour guide said that as we had a bit of time left he would take us for a look around the town. This included a stop at a huge Jewelry store called the Gems Gallery and were greeted at the door by immaculately dressed, drop dead gorgeous Thai girls.

Mick said to the tour guide that all the girls are so beautiful and slim and he said that it was the same at the hotel and restaurant to which he replied the XL+ sized girls all work in the kitchen!

Anyway, we were then given a cool drink, and we needed it, as Bangkok is very hot and humid at the moment, before we were shown a video presentation of jewelry manufacture. This showed the various stones used in their jewelry manufacture including the fabulous Green Sapphires, Blue Sapphires and Rubies mined in Thailand.

Did Lyn score any baubles? I wonder.

It was then back to the hotel for a shower to cool down to get ready for an evening dinner cruise on the river.

This turned out to be a very well organized evening with great Thai food and music and much dancing on a huge boat. Each couple had their own table facing forward and the views were great. Lyn danced till she dropped and the Thai hosts insisted Mick did the same. The male Thai singer was a Robbie Williams in the making.

A great finale to an all too short visit to Bangkok and apart from the yet to undertake flight home via Thai airways, a great end to the final day of our Overseas Adventure.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9, 10 September 2010 Manchester to Bangkok

Front of our hotel in Bangkok

29 floors in our hotel

View from our hotel window

Lyn having dinner at a Thai restaurant. After all we are in Thailand.

Need a gold chain?

Unusual dummy

9, 10 September 2010

We were woken at 6.45am this morning to the wonderful news that Lyn and Mick had become grandparents again to a little boy named Carter Aston West. Weighing in at 7lb 12oz and 50cms. Both Mum and baby are doing fine. Congratulations to our lovely son Simon and his beautiful wife Michelle and our gorgeous grandson Lincoln.

The sun is shining and we had a heavy dew overnight here in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

This was our last day in the UK today after 4 hectic months touring.

We drove into the Thomas Cook shop in Newcastle-under-Lyme to pick up our Thai (Baht) currency so we would have some spending money whilst in Thailand, our next stop. Also Mick needed a haircut.

Afterwards, as we had some time to spare, we took Roy and Davina to have coffee at Trentham Gardens which have a café next to some lovely Italian Gardens. We also did a bit of shopping whilst there to make absolutely sure we were overweight on the aircraft!

We decided to leave for Manchester airport early to give ourselves plenty of time for check-in etc, as you never know what is going to happen on the British roads.

That turned out to be a good move as before we left Davina checked the BBC road reports, which is very up to date on the BBC Red Button (a sort of Teletext) and found that the main motorway to Manchester (M6) was closed due to an accident. This mucked up the plans we had made to take the A34 instead, as all the motorway traffic would be using it.

Roy said that if the M6 was closed then the A34 would be choked, so he kindly said he would lead us around the chaos in his car otherwise we would not make Manchester Airport in time.

Apart from a few delays this worked very well and having cleared the worst of the traffic, Roy headed home and left us to finish the very eventful trip.

We got to the Airport at about 4.30pm having left at about 1.15pm for what should have been a 50 minute trip.

The first thing we had to do was return the car to Hertz, as it had to be back by 5pm. When we got there the Hertz mechanic gave it the all clear and we took the docket to the counter to find they had charged us an extra £130 ($208). Mick queried this and asked what it was for. After a lot of phone calls they decided it was a computer error. The next problem was though that our credit card had already been debited by that amount and if Mick hadn’t noticed it, imagine the difficulty we would have had getting it back from Australia.

Anyway they assured us that the money would be credited back to our credit card and Mick got it in writing.

We then headed off through security to await our flight as we had already checked in on the Internet.

The A320 short haul plane left about 20 minutes late which we thought might be a problem as we only had 1 hour in Zurich before our connecting flight to Bangkok. This turned out not to be a problem as the Zurich transfer system worked really well and we made the connecting flight which left on time at 1850.

We were served a very nice Beef Stroganoff followed by dessert and Swiss Chocolate and Mick had a couple of glasses of white wine. He normally would only have one glass but they filled it up again before he could stop them!

When we arrived in Zurich we had to go through the security screening again and Lyn got a bit annoyed with the security people in Zurich as they insisted on emptying our backpack having run it through their x-ray machine twice and didn’t like what they saw. Mick had to tell her to calm down as he could tell they were becoming unhappy with her attitude. She walked away and allowed Mick deal with the situation in his usual calm manner.

Strangely enough we had also had problems with the Zurich security people when we came through on our way to the UK when they told us off for having 3 clear plastic bags for our liquid stuff instead of 1.

The Swissair plane which took us to Bangkok was a big 4 engine Airbus A340 but unfortunately it was the same type as we encountered on our inbound leg to Zurich and the bed conversion on type business class seats were awful.

We took off on time at 2255 and as Mick had expected, they came round with a dinner menu fit for a 5 star restaurant. Unfortunately, we had just had dinner on the Manchester to Zurich flight so we decided to have a small snack before settling down for the night. Mick also had a Tawny Port!

We both had a night with not much sleep, as although not rough, the flight was not as smooth as it could have been and the ‘beds’ were not very comfortable.

Ninety minutes before landing the crew turned night into day by opening the window blinds for us to have breakfast which was very nice.

The plane landed in Bangkok on time and as we were business class passengers we were fast tracked through Bangkok airport and the hotel transport was there to whisk us off to our hotel. Well not quite whisk as it took about an hour to get to the hotel and most of it, apart from the traffic jams in the city, was 110kph on a motorway.

The Pathumwan Princess 4 star hotel did not disappoint and we had a room on the 27th floor with fantastic views overlooking the city. Mick was unhappy that we didn’t have free WiFi though as the hotel was not cheap and we needed to do the blog!

We booked a couple of tours for the next day and went for dinner in the restaurant which was attached to the hotel as we were too buggered to go out and find anything else. That, combined with the fact that it was like an oven outside with the warm weather (29c) combined with the showers. (Like a sauna actually.)

After an excellent but expensive Thai meal (1850 Baht, about $70 which included a 25% discount) we walked through the hotel lobby to an enormous 7 floor shopping centre called the MBK and shopped till we dropped.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

7 September 2010 Jaguar Factory tour Castle Bromwich

Jaguar Factory

The mighty XK

7 Sept 2010 Jaguar Factory Castle Bromwich

Today we took a guided tour of the Jaguar Manufacturing Plant in Castle Bromwich just east of Birmingham.

The factory had a well laid out and welcoming visitors centre which had a showroom displaying the 3 models of Jaguar currently made in the factory. These are the XF, XJ sedans and the XK 2 door which comes with either a soft top or a coupe body with a fixed roof.

There is also a reception desk, small open theatre in the display area and a very nice gift shop containing all the Jaguar stuff one would expect.

The tour started with a 10 minute video of what might be called Jaguar propaganda before we (there were only 5 of us, 4 of whom were from Canberra!) were taken in a mini-bus to the factory entrance.

They have 1 very large building for each of the models built so they usually choose one of the models to concentrate on depending on the preference of the group. The Dutch guy was particularly interested in the XK which we thought wasn’t a bad choice as it’s a fabulous looking sports car.

We entered the amazingly clean factory and the guide (a retired factory manager) started with a few minute talk on the models made and the facts and figures of production. It takes 53 hours to build 1 XK and they produce about 200 per week. Mick should have taken notes as there was a mass of facts and figures. The other models come off the production line at a faster rate.

Except for the XF, the 'cheapest' Jag, the body structure of the others is made completely from aluminium. This reduces the weight of the vehicle significantly and therefore improves the power to weight ratio. The XF only has an aluminium bonnet.

After pressing the body panels in another building, the bodies are assembled almost entirely by robots. The robots use rivets to join the 3 aluminium body sections base panels as opposed to spot welding which is used on steel bodied cars.

We watched in amazement as the 3 sections which make up the base of the body were picked up individually and placed by the robot on a jig which them replaced it’s lifting head by a glueing head which laid sealant on the places where seams would be before replacing it’s glueing head with a riveting head and riveting the whole lot together.

No people are involved in the body making process and we could have sat and watched it for hours. It was very addictive and Lyn was absolutely fascinated by it.

We spent 2 hours walking through the factory viewing the building process, some of which obviously involved workers who worked on a very slow moving floor, installing such things as the dashboards, interiors, drive trains and wheels etc. Each section of workers had 12 minutes to complete their part of the process before moving back to the next vehicle.

The production line contained all different colours and configurations which have all been ordered already. No vehicles are made without an order and if you put an order in at your local dealer, you can attend the factory and watch it being assembled.
There were a mix of left and right hand drive vehicles on the line depending on which country the car had been ordered from. By far the largest customer for the Jaguar is the good ole USA.

After the assembly is completed, the cars undergo a water seal test, a wind noise test and a 60mph run on a static road (like dyno wheels). Also 1 in 25 is taken out on the road for a test.

Since all cars have been pre-purchased, they don’t need any storage at the factory. They load them onto rail cars at the factory and ship them to the rail head for onforwarding to their destination at the end of the assembly and test process.

The XK costs £70,000 in the U.K. It’s almost worth ordering one, coming over here for 12 months then driving it around for a year and then taking it back to Aus. Mick would have to check the current import duty/tax arrangements first!

Very impressed with the tour, we headed off down the A38 , joined the M6 Toll and subsequently the M6 to Newcastle-under-Lyme to stay with Mick’s cousin Davina and her husband Roy, to prepare for our flights home.

Very enjoyable day.

Monday, September 6, 2010

6 September 2010 Bridlington to Birmingham

Most of the poles in the streets over here have dozens of "Telstra" lines due to the multiple occupancy dwellings. The power is underground.

Who would have thought that these round rolls of hay can kill?

Some of these would only need a push

Motorway Service Centre

Watch out for the aeriel police over the motorways

Moto baby feeding station at the service centres (Road Houses)

Free baby food as well

6 September 2010

Fine sunny morning as we cleaned the flat and went to say our goodbyes to lovely Audrey who was so kind to us by letting us use her unit in Bridlington. We wished we could have stayed longer.

We headed off down the A614 to join the M62 at Junction 37 and then turned south onto the M18. We linked up with the M1 and stayed on it until we exited onto the A42 and thence onto the M42 to Birmingham. By this time a weather change was coming through and the cloud moved in in readiness for the rain forecast for tonight.

As we travel through the countryside, there are hundreds of these round hay bails (see pic) in the fields as harvesting is well underway. The radio talkback on the BBC is full of the news, and discussion of the death, of a founding member of ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) when one of these rolled down a sloping field, went through the hedge and flattened him and his van driving along the highway.

Also of note at the moment is that the trees are shedding their leaves which coupled with the chilly winds, means it's time for us to head back to Australia.

We only have an overnight stay in Birmingham to enable us to tour the Jaguar factory at Castle Vale before heading off to Newcastle-under-Lyme to prepare for our flight from Manchester to Bangkok and then home.

The Motorway cafes here are a bit like shopping centres selling all manner of goods and often offer free WiFi internet inside the building. They also have several cafes within them selling whatever food and drink one requires. And of course petrol at vastly inflated prices.

The one we stopped at today had a baby section with free baby food.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

4 September 2010 York

AA Road Service roadside box (NRMA/RAA/RACQ/RACV in Aus)

Juke Box in the museum and for 20p it will play a selected tune

Buildings sagging - quite common here

Police waiting for the fans leaving the football - last week there was a huge fight so they are ready

View from Cliffords Tower

View of a car park from Cliffords Tower

1950's room in the museum, there were lots of these and really well done

Giant Bull Weighed 1559kgs in the Museum

Giant Bull

Early weapons

Museum item - a young Mick Jagger

Clifford Tower

North Yorkshire Police Mitsubishi Challenger I think

Morris dancers in the town

York's finest

The River Ouse flows through York

Portcullis in the wall

Lyn on the city wall

Buildings often lean over here

No room for cars

Lyn shopping - no room for basketball players here

Guy Fawkes - remember him

York Minster front

York Minster


York Minster viewed from the wall

York Minster

4 September 2010

Today we decided to visit historic York. The weather was fine with patchy cloud and we left early as there was lots to see.

We took the A614 out of Bridlington turning onto the A166 at Driffield. Although the roads were single carriageway, they were smooth with sweeping bends, ideal for motorcyclists and there were a few about.

We made York city centre in about an hour and parked in a Coach/Car park which cost £7.10 for 4 hours. There was a very large coach park which was filling with coaches with many elderly folk amongst the passengers. Those that needed to go to the loo found that the there was a money collection booth at the entrance with the requirement to pay 50p (nearly $1) for the necessity of a wee. Bloody rip off.

We walked out of the car park and immediately found a sightseeing tourist bus waiting at the traffic lights which we boarded and after paying our £7 each started our tour. On weekends they come past their designated stops about every 15 minutes with the hop on hop off system. The whole circuit takes about an hour.

The breeze was cool so we decided to wear warm tops. The only problem was that Lyn had brought hers and Mick didn't have one. Still it was warm enough and Mick is pretty tough so he had to do without.

We decided to get off the bus at Clifford's Tower which stands high on a mound. The 11th century Clifford`s Tower is the last remaining part of York Castle. In 1068 William the Conqueror built a mound and the round tower, of wood, to establish his control in the North. which was a circular construction on a hill which provided a great view of the city.

Mick was keen to pay the £3 to climb the very steep steps to the top so Lyn waited below to wave to him looking over the parapet.

We then headed off to the York Castle Museum which is one of Britain's leading museums of everyday life. It shows how people used to live by displaying thousands of household objects and by recreating rooms, shops, streets and even prison cells. Cost £7.

It is best known though for its recreated Victorian street, Kirkgate, which combines real shop fittings and stock with modern sound and light effects, to evoke an atmosphere of Victorian Britain. Mick thought it was really well done but he would have needed half a day to do it justice so we had to move on.

We got back on the bus to continue the trip around the town and after about half an hour got off at a stop adjacent to Bootham Bar. York is surrounded by a huge stone walls with various entry/exit point into the town centre.

The Bar Walls of York are the finest and most complete of any town in England. There are five main 'bars' (big gateways), one postern (a small gateway) one Victorian gateway, and 45 towers. At two miles (3.4 kilometres), they are also the longest town walls in the country.

Also at the Bars you can climb steps to get onto the walls and walk around the outskirts of the town. It would obviously take a good while to do the whole walk so we chose the wall walk which gave the best views of York Minster. Entering at Bootham bar and leaving at Monk Bar.

York's cathedral, although known as a minster, is officially the "Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York ". By definition a cathedral is the site of a bishop's throne (a cathedra) but the word 'cathedral' did not come into use until after the Norman conquest. Mick explained some of this to you in the Grimsby Blog but include it just in case you had forgotten. In Anglo-Saxon times important churches were minsters, but not all were bishops' seats.

York Minster's history began in 627AD, when maybe there were a few Aboriginees and lots of kangaroos in Australia and not much else, and the building has gone through quite a few changes over the years since. (That would be an understatement). The Minster represents almost every stage of the Gothic style of architecture from 1230 to 1475.

After our wall walk we came down to street level and walked into the centre of the town which has the largest single pedestrianised area in the country. This area was very busy with people everywhere and we were surrounded by many beautiful old buildings which were mostly shops, restaurants hotels and bars. Lyn loved it there as she could step out of one shop and into another in just a few steps.

We had decided to make our way through the plaza area to get to Marks and Spencers which is four stories high and according to the lady doing the commentary on the bus, has the best view of York Minster in York from the 4th floor.

After spending some time taking in the sights and sounds of the town centre and watching groups of Morris Dancers, we found the M & S store and headed up to the 4th floor to a great view of the Minster which is huge.

After Lyn checked out some of the stuff for sale in the menswear shop, she was unable to buy some lovely shirts for Simon, our son, because she didn't know what his neck size was and in the UK they are in inches not centimetres. Oh, what a pity, said Mick as he hurriedly guided her out of the store.

We then walked to the lovely grassed area surrounding the Minster and sat down with an ice cream to look at this magnificent building close up. A portion of the building is undergoing renovations so there was quite a bit of scaffolding around it. We have found this a common sight around these buildings but I suppose they have been there for quite a while and their largely sandstone construction causes them to gradually erode.

As it was about 4pm, we decided to head back to Bridlington as we didn't want to get caught up in the afternoon traffic.

After an surprisingly uneventful trip home with dozens of motorbikes enjoying the smooth winding country roads and a stop in a lay-by for a cup of our 'free' coffee, we bought some fish and fresh haddock for tea.

Another lovely day and as Roy said, "You'll need 2 days to do York....". and we really would. Maybe next time.