ANZAC Cove 24th April 2015

The Queen Elizabeth anchored quietly off ANZAC Cove in the early hours of the 24th of April. She was there to represent the Cunard Line, which had lost a number of ships and many crew members in the First World War.

The ship’s arrival was more than 24 hours before the official formal commemorations ashore but in the pale early dawn we could see activity around the cove as preparations were underway for the crowded days ahead on the 24th and the dawn of the 25th on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

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Commemorations on board Queen Elizabeth were a solemn affair. Down aft we had 300 shivering people who were determined to be part of the dawn ceremony in memory of those who fought and particularly in memory of those who died in the ill fated Gallipoli campaign.

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The stern of the ship was turned towards the backlit outline of Chunuck Bair as the sun rose. With the Poppy Wall as a key feature, the formal ceremony began in the chilly pre-dawn light.

One hundred years ago to the day, HMS Queen Elizabeth had been the flagship of the invasion fleet and had used her 15” guns to bombard the shore batteries that protected the entrances to the Dardanelles.

HMS Queen Elizabeth Dardanelles Feb - May 1915

The significance of the name of that ship 100 years later was a fitting reminder that the naval campaign was as much a part of the whole attempt to exploit what was supposed to be the ‘soft under belly of Europe’ as Churchill so eloquently called it. He could not have been further from the truth as the ANZACs found to their detriment.

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It is appropriate to acknowledged all the sailors of the Allied and Turkish navies who had fought and died in the bloody conflict.

The ANZAC ceremony began with a formal march on deck of Queen Elizabeth’s officers followed by an address from the ship’s captain. I was called to deliver a keynote address about the impact of war on the Christophers family and an overview of the Christophers boys and their involvement in World War One.

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I don’t know that I have ever felt so empowered. This was justification. This was payback. This was honouring my debt of gratitude to my family. A very personally held conviction but lived out in a very public forum. Standing and talking about the family felt so right and it was something long overdue but not something that could have been done easily at any other time.

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Each Christophers boy was given an appropriate sense of dignity as I spoke. Such a personal thing for me needed to be shared. My feelings of loss and respect and sadness are reflected in the feelings of many New Zealanders. These feelings remind us never to forget the tragic circumstances that the war delivers in such a cruel way.

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Messages from the memorial book were read out by Marguerite and other passengers to represent the diverse heritage of people on board the ship and to acknowledge people’s gratitude to their forebears.

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We pulled up anchor as the sun rose and sailed away towards Istanbul with one last wreath floating on the water in memory of those who dies 100 years before.

Marguerite Herb Mark Germaine 20150424_064638

Later, we drank warm rum and milk and ate ANZAC biscuits.

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Bottleneck at Suez

This is a late addition to our travel blog and I will continue to add more as the time allows. It is amazing how normal life changes priorities when you are back home!

The Gulf of Akaba fell quickly behind us as Queen Elizabeth sailed at full speed through the Strait of Tiran around Ras Mohammed at the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula to get into the Gulf of Suez and up to the Canal. At some stage in the preceding day, a ship had run aground in the 165 km canal and blocked shipping in both directions.

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Unless we got to the canal quickly there was a possibility of serious delays and the knock on effect would mean missing the dawn at ANZAC Cove on the 24th. April

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We arrived at the city of Suez by mid afternoon on the 22nd but waited impatiently with a gathering armada of ships in the hope of getting through the canal in daylight.

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As it turned out, at 1am the next morning on the 23rd we joined a convoy of more than 65 ships travelling sedately in line astern through the vital arterial route to the Mediterranean Sea.

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As the sun came up we could see that the Suez Canal was undergoing renovations.

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The enlarged canal will allow ships to sail in both directions at the same time. These alterations will double the capacity from 49 to 97 ships a day. –Given the size of our convoy, we were lucky to be squeezing through en masse.

Along the shores of the Suez Canal, debris from the Yom Kippur War of 1973 between Egypt and Israel had not been cleared away. I was fortunate to have made friends with a former Swiss Army officer who had studied the conflict during his time in the military While we ran on the gym treadmills with a panoramic view over the top of the ship’s bridge, he was able to give an exacting account of the battles in the 70s as relics of war came into view.

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One of the ship’s officers set himself up on a cycle trainer down aft and ‘raced’ the ship through the full length of the canal. He was doing it as a fundraiser for soldiers wounded in the line of duty.

Drifting through the landscape was an eerie feeling as the normal life went on around us.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think the Egyptians have high hopes for developing the Sinai and the upgraded Suez Canal and associated links across it will add an economic impetus to the region.

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When we eventually got to the Mediterranean, there were masses of ships waiting their turn for the trip South through the Suez Canal. The work to put in a series of secondary canals is behind schedule but judging by the volume of shipping, it cannot come soon enough.

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Aqaba – Wadi Rum

The head of the Gulf of Aqaba is the meeting point for four countries.

Sunrise Saudi Arabia

As we sailed in at dawn, we could see Egypt and Israel on the port bow, Jordan and Saudi Arabia on the starboard bow.

Israel Egypt

Jordan sits quietly between its volatile neighbours and the strategic port of Aqaba is developing into a resort town.

Ruins Aqaba Ruins Aqaba1

It is filled with ancient ruins as the civilisations that have passed through have all left their mark.

Aqaba Castle2 Aqaba Castle

The big attraction for the bulk of shore going passengers was a trip to the ancient city of Petra. To many, it’s the tourism equivalent of Mount Everest but like Mt Everest, it’s a bit crowed these days.  With the prospect of more than 30 busloads going from the ship to Petra and many less capable souls among them who would struggle with the long hot walk, we opted for a Bedouin meal in the Wadi Rum Desert. What a great option!

Aqaba Castle1

As with many of these trips, getting there with a good guide is the lynch pin to a successful day’s outing.

Mohammed did not disappoint.

Mohammed Mohammed2

His interpretation of the local history and political balancing act that Jordan undertakes, was very interesting.

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Parked outside the tent when we arrived in the middle of the desert were ‘Japanese Camels’ as Mohammed called them –a row of Toyota Hilux’s.

Wadi Rum

Of course there was the obligatory ‘rent-a-camel’ on site at the desert lunch stop and baby camels are really cute and very photogenic.

Baby Camel Mum Camel

The ambience created in the tent brought a smile to my face.

Cushions Bedouin2

The local musicians were a perfect accompaniment to the quality food that was presented.

Bedouin Food

Muso1 Muso2

Another interest I had in the area was the activities of Lawrence of Arabia who based himself in Wadi Rum.

Desert Rock

It was T.E. Lawrence who helped in the Arab revolt of 1916 and he was instrumental in the taking of Aqaba from the Ottomans in WW1. Even the 1962 award winning film with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif about Lawrence’s exploits, was made here.

Back in Aqaba in late afternoon with time to kill while we waited for the others to return from Petra, we wandered into the older part of town. A wizened old shop owner kept trying to sell us junk and when we kept deflecting him, he insisted we go behind the back curtain and down to the dimly lit smelly dusty basement.

Pots

We found ourselves looking at a huge pile of genuine Bedouin hand made carpets and piles of used copper and real pieces of a disappearing culture.

“Ahhh! Why did my son leave this camel rope here?” he said as he threw objects around, raising clouds of dust and tickling our noses.

We resisted the temptation to buy anything although that may end up being a big regret!  That copper coffee pot will linger long in my memory. Maybe ‘$130 American’ will look super cheap by the time I am on the plane home!

Desert, Marsh and Mountain

The arid landscape, hills behind and low-rise buildings of Salalah were in stark contrast to Dubai.

Omani fort

From 3rd century BC ruins to pivot irrigators, Salalah was on a human scale that was more comfortable to travel around.

Old  Old and new

The artesian water supply makes this relatively modest port city a good respite from the hot desert climate.  Still, it was going beyond a modest 38 degrees when we arrived.

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There are Government sponsored houses popping up everywhere. I don’t think I have seen so many piles of dirt and half completed buildings!  The city limits are expanding but never above 5 stories – More in keeping with the feel of a desert oasis.

Building3 Building2

We were a bit early for the market shops so when we arrived only a handful were open. Even so, the goods on display were modest local products at reasonable prices.

Antique Jewellery  Scarves

A bit of pathetic bargaining bought me a typical hat that let me blend in to a greater extent with the locals.

Incense seller  Looking local

Maybe if I didn’t have camera it would have been easier!

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A man called Wilfred Thesiger was in this region in the 1930s and his book tells of the Arabian people before oil. Here in Salalah, there were glimpses of that older culture still proudly on display.

Baskets  Insence burner2

Oman has had a delayed development with oil but that seems to have given them time to plan a more sustainable future.

There was a lot of emphasis on education and environmental concerns. It seemed like a place that’s heading in a good direction. Petrol was about 30 cents a litre. In spite of that, most cars were still rather modest.

We stopped at an artesian spring in the foothills behind Salalah. The water supply attracted roving camels, birds and tourists.

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Dry-land shrubs and the occasional frankincense tree dotted the landscape that gave way to a green smudge around the spring.

Frankinsence  Guide1

The songsters in the trees had me stumped. I’ll have to do some ID work when I get back home.

Bird2  Oman songster

My bird identification is being sorely tested! There were so many species in the estuary near the 3rd century BC ruins. Spoonbills, egrets, herons, gulls, terns and a number of birds too far out of range to even hazard a guess.

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More time here would be nice. Maybe there will be a next time.

Dubai

This place is still developing fast.

Ferrari

The cars on the dock say it all-A vast array of 4WDs to be swallowed into the expanding, ever-changing metropolis of Dubai.

Mercedes

This is consumerism at an amazing scale. Buildings that are merely 30 years old are bowled to make way for the next major high-rise development. Photos from the early 60s show a desert landscape with very little infrastructure.

The modest taller buildings from that era are viewed as quaint relics from the beginnings of an economic giant.

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The even older buildings from about 100 years ago have an air conditioning system that works in a similar fashion the ‘green building’ trend in the western world with towers that exchange cooler air for rising warmer air. Ingenious.

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Somewhere in the world there is a huge shopping mall – Dubai makes a bigger one.

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Tall building? Let’s do the tallest! More land needed? Let the reclamation start.

Burj Kalifa night

Quality hotels are the norm but the Burj Al Arab Hotel on the Jumeirah coast is supposedly a 7 star hotel on an international scale that goes from 1 to 5. Work that out.

Burj Al Arab

And so it goes. This place is breathtaking in its boldness.

Like Abu Dhabi before, without much tangible history apart from remnants of fishing, pearl diving and spices, the traders in the markets are from other parts of Asia and the Middle East.

Fishing boats Shoes

Spices

The essence of the United Arab Emirates is hard to find so maybe I was looking in the wrong places.

Falcon

What about their nation symbol, the falcon? I saw a wild one flying in Abu Dhabi but in Dubai I found a falcon in the worlds largest mall under the Burj Kalifa tower. I was not sure if the bird would speak New Zealand Falcon but it responded sharply by turning its head when I gave my best karearea call.

The mall was also a place to see a genuine Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. Imported from Wyoming.

Adjacent to the mall was a large fountain that plays every half hour in the evening to music of different genres.

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Again I run out of superlatives. I think it’s the biggest fountain of its type in the world. If not, I am sure they will expand it to ensure that it is.

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We sat at an outside at an Arab restaurant full of locals.

Restaurant2 Restaurant1

All around us Hubble bubble pipes were going and Emirati men and women alike were puffing enthusiastically on the contraptions. I understand that there is the equivalent of a packet of cigarettes in each filling.

I could easily spend a longer time here- I didn’t even get to ski in the Mall of the Emirates and there was still the 50-hectare Penguin Iceland Water Park.

Dubai does feel like a skyrocket. I wonder if it will ever become just a burnt out stick?

Love it!

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Abu Dhabi

The development of the United Arab Emirates is only decades old – inside my lifetime. Pearl diving, which accounted for a high proportion of the national income, was a high value risky business but with the advent of cultured pearls in the mid 20th century, the value of natural pearls plummeted and so too did the fortunes of the Emirates.

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The wealth that has come from the discovery of oil has transformed their former life style to one of blatant lavish prosperity.

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The Al Kalifa mosque takes its name from the founder and benefactor of the United Arab Emirates and is one of the few buildings that I have seen in my life that has left me struggling for superlatives.

Sheik Kalifa  AD Mosque1

The approachability, the quality of the finish and attention to detail are difficult to convey. Not since the Taj Mahal in Agra nearly 40 years ago have I seen such a beautiful marble building.

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As with any Islamic site, obligatory dress codes for women are enforced. Because Marguerite’s blouse was a light, loose fitting white number, it was deemed to be too transparent for the conservative Muslim dress code. I took the shirt off my back and gave it to Marguerite and I squeezed into her blouse, which on me resembled a muscle shirt. I could only take shallow breaths! Problem solved.

Marguerite  Herb shirt

The interior of Al Kalifa mosque was a privilege to see and so well proportioned. In spite of the modest crowd, the sense of being alone in a meaningful space was conveyed through the scale of the vaulted ceilings and the clarity of everything. Sounds odd? – Difficult to explain!

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AD Mosque 6  AD 1 Mosque

Looking for antiques in town was a mission. Apart from gold and pearls, the country just does not have much tangible history that translates into objects of curiosity.

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The souvenirs, and to some extent the cultures that goes with them, are all imported. So are the people selling them. Only 15% of the population of Abu Dhabi are Emirati. The rest of the people are from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines and beyond.

Lights  Flowers

Our taxi driver back to port was Nepali. As we approached the gates he slowed down to allow the birds in front, time to fly away. His Hindu beliefs were an accepted part of the eclectic mix of people that drive this economy and a more caring attitude to the environment by everyone might account for the surprising diversity of birdlife I saw in Abu Dhabi in spite of being on the fringes of the vast Arabian desert.  Birds like the place too.

Mumbai, Gateway to India.

The British taught the Indians about bureaucracy and they have perfected it. From getting the visa in Wellington to going ashore in Mumbai, our return to India after 35 years was a convoluted process.

Police

They do this with good reason.

Windows Lunchbox carrier

The 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai left nearly 170 people dead. Security is now a priority and the visa applications and screening processes ensure that people’s wellbeing is looked after.

Once all the formality is over, India charmed us right back. The smells of Mumbai, the press of people hanging onto the coat tails of a growing economic giant -the chaos of humanity that fills every corner of this grubby gem.

Truck  Sweeper

To make the most of a short time in Mumbai, we opted for a ‘Highlights’ tour that was organised by Cunard.

Cricket

True to form, the better part of our time was spent stuck in traffic jams watching the vibrant city squirm around us.

Traffic

Temple goddess  Sandlewood

One of the most colourful sights was the dohbi ghat where laundry is done daily the old-fashioned way, by hand. Thousands upon thousands of garments go through a ritual cleaning process with each male clothes washer doing approximately 500 garments each per day.

Dhobi Ghat

Cows to the left, temples to the right and cars and buses as far as the eye could see. Weaving in and out of the cars were people, bikes, scooters and oxen hauling carts. The sky was filled with house crows, kites, pigeons and parrots. The vultures are conspicuously absent – poisoned by a contaminated environment.

Eggs

The pressure on the environment is staggering. The otherwise beautiful three kilometre beach looked like a horizontal rubbish tip. I am sure that a swim in the Arabian Sea off Mumbai is a life threatening activity. I guess that’s why on a stinking hot day there was not one single soul in the water.

Beach

Beach wide

Local

Sadly we could not spend enough time ashore to reacquaint ourselves with the street food we fondly remember from decades back. We had to settle for chicken tikka masala onboard that night. Anticipation was better than the reality. It was like mashed spud and gravy. I think we left our taste buds in Mumbai.

Crow

Damned good excuse to come back.

KL to you

In Malaysia, they seem to like abbreviating things. KL is Kuala Lumpur, KLT is Kuala Lumpur Tower and KLCC is the downtown shopping centre under the Petronas Towers and so on.

k Petronas  k Flowers2

The Muslim influence on architecture was a welcome change from a recent diet of Western and Oriental inspired structures.

k Street  kStreet man

Dumped downtown, we took the subway to the local market area and were pleasantly surprised to find a nice place not filled with ‘genuine fakes’.

k China town

The food in the back streets was good and the local Chinatown was full of tempting junk.

k Duck

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Some of you may know that I have a thing for collecting ornamental ducks or birds and I make a point of checking out junk shops given half an opportunity.

Imagine my complete surprise to find the mother of all wooden waterfowl in a shop in Kuala Lumpur.

k Swan

Standing at 1.7 metres, the swan was at least twice natural size and carved out of a single piece of wood. I hastily calculated how I might get it home and decided that the idea was ludicrous.  The price would have been astronomical too. And anyway, where the hell would I put it at home?

The food choices were memorable. Small steamed morsels of seafood, tangy sauces over divine mushroom balls and how do they keep those vegetables so firm yet soft and delicious?

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k Cages  k Streetman2

k Station

The British had built one of their memorable colonial railway stations in the early 1900s and that was worth staggering out into the 38-degree humid air to look at.

On the other side of town, like a couple of giants, the Petronas Towers dominate the skyline. The tower podium is filled with the ubiquitous Louis Vuitton and Prada and Starbucks.

The type of people the shopping centre attracts, means that others take advantage of the concentrated wealth in one spot. We witnessed a bag snatch as a man ‘fell’ on the escalator. In the confusion that followed, he deftly disappeared through a convenient trade entrance and the victim was looking left and right for the culprit who had stripped him of his shoulder bag.

A little later as we assembled for our transport back to the ship, a couple of ‘locals’ stood among us. As I directly eyeballed them, they seemed to find something urgent to do on the other side of the mall.

In spite of this last minute issue, Kuala Lumpur was a very pleasant surprise and we reluctantly got on the bus without a wooden swan, to sail off into the sunset.

k Sunset

Singapore

Things changed for the better when Marguerite came on back onboard at Singapore.  After a timely flight from New Zealand, she was already at the Marina Bay Cruise Terminal when we docked at 7.30am and after I went ashore, we dumped her luggage and went exploring.

s Oil

The land around the terminal had recently been reclaimed from the sea and only partially developed to date. With space running out even for high-rise buildings, Singapore has increased its land area to cope with the demand for business development.

What a contrast from Cambodia. Singapore’s leadership style of a benign iron fist in a silk glove has seen the amazing transformation from an island fortress for Britain before World War 2, to an economic dynamo that has the welfare of all its eclectic inhabitants well in hand after splitting from Malaya in the early 60s.

s Old street  sParrot

The legacy of British colonial rule is everywhere even in the retention of street names. The heritage buildings are a nostalgic reflection of a bygone era of the British Empire at its height in the late 19th century. The Raffles Hotel exemplifies this.

s..Raffles

A Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles is one of those ‘must dos’ for visitors and I have to say the anticipation was better than the reality but the monkey nuts at the bar were a bonus.

Singapore Sling  Raffles

I think it is the only time you can deliberately drop litter in Singapore when you throw the empty shells on the floor. Tradition lingers.

The last thing I expected to find in Singapore was a climbing shop. Not only that, it sold coffee and cold beer! Being inside for a quiet beer was a welcome relief from the oppressive humidity outside. Much cheaper than a Singapore Sling too!

s Plant Raffles

s buildings

The future for Singapore looks to be well in hand and I have no doubt they will continue to be an ‘Asian Tiger’, even if they have killed off all the real ones a long time ago.

S lights

Bangkok

The memories I had of Bangkok from years ago were of very little sleep from horns perpetually sounding throughout the night from un-muffled scooters. I understand the traffic levels have intensified.

Red flower

So, when I was offered the opportunity to go ashore for lunch with a few onboard friends to a restaurant relatively nearby, I jumped at the chance.

I wondered where we were going. A cheap taxi ride took us about 30 minutes. The restaurant was called ‘Cabbages and Condoms’.

Cabbages Erotic

Here we were in Thailand and the prospect of some sleazy dive was not what I had in mind. I need not have been concerned. The resort complex was called ‘Birds and Bees’ and the attached restaurant was a fundraiser for a family planning organization.

Aerial Roots   Red leaf

The food was amazing. With a view out into the sea from an open deck, the small parcels of Thai entrees wrapped in a spicy leaf were just the ideal starter. The garlic chili prawns tasted wonderful.

Pattaya Beach

The green Thai curry was superb and the beer was chilled just right to make a really memorable meal.

Margaret fish  Cynthia table

The tag line for the restaurant was ‘Our food will not make you pregnant’

Condom Table

The décor was a little tacky but I had to laugh at the manikins dressed in clothing made from condoms, the table tops covered in condoms and the coupe de grace was the free condom instead of after dinner mints when we finished.

Mickey Condom    Spores