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May - enroute to Abu Dhabi
Got to bed at 1.15am after attending to all and sundry. Just closed our
eyes and the alarm went of at 4.45 am for us to rise, complete any
outstanding items, take breakfast and head off to the airport.
We had a 5 hour layover in Sydney which was just enough time to have
lunch with Anna, Anton and their children. Luke and Rachelle couldn't
make it because their boys had Saturday football commitments. Matt and
Trish didn't make it because they are both visiting England at the
moment. Mike and Renee are of course back in Nambucca Heads.
We're flying with Etihad Airways to Europe via Abu Dhabi. Etihad is the
United Arab Emirates Government sponsored airline. They started flying
in and out of Sydney from late March 2007 with some irresistible opening
price deals we couldn't resist.
There's nothing good one can say about long plane flights. Suffice to
say we arrived at Abu Dhabi in the U.A.E. at midnight after a non stop
flight of just over 14 hours.
13th May - In Abu Dhabi
Surprisingly easy entry formalities. No customs or immigration forms to
fill out. Just step to a counter, present passports and receive an
instant 30 day visa stamp.
Huge consternation at the baggage carousel. Our first two bags arrived
as quick as a wink. However our 3rd bag did not arrive and gradually we
became the last folks waiting at the carousel at 1.00 am in the morning.
Furthermore a search through our documents located baggage tickets for
two bags but no ticket for the missing one. With heavy hearts we set off
to find a baggage problems office. Lo and behold when we got to the
other side of the carousel Lynn noticed about half a dozen small bags in
an orphaned pile on the floor and our missing bag was amongst them. Who
took it off the carousel and why will never be known but we were hugely
relieved to recover this bag.
The room which our son Matthew booked for us in the "Le Meridien
Abu Dhabi" is quite luxurious, super spacious and well beyond our
expectations. We weren't expecting it but we ended up with a two room
suite plus huge bathroom and a massive balcony. To give you an idea of
the spaciousness, the bedroom is about 12 metres by 4 metres, the living
room is the same size and the balcony is also the same size! Then the
very large bathroom has two showers, a bath and the usual bits and
If it wasn't 1.30 am we'd have felt quite regal. The first sign of our
elevated status was upon lifting the toilet lid and finding an artistic
arrangement of rose petals floating in the water. Then we noticed the
bidet was filled with crushed ice and a bottle of French champagne (no,
get over it… the bidet embellishment is a sick joke Brian just
couldn't resist ).
Photos of our suite appear hereabouts in this web page.
And so to bed at about 2.00 am and then to wake again at 7am to blazing
The newspaper predicts 42 celsius degrees temperature for today. Just as
well we won't be here in July when it often goes up to 50 degrees! The
same newspaper carried an article reporting that "Mr Fathi Sudki
Khalil Dwaikat departed for heavenly abode on 11th May 2007". It's
a destination we ourselves hope to visit on some future itinerary at
some future date yet to be confirmed.
Had a brilliant buffet breakfast in air-conditioned splendour
overlooking the pool. However, looking around the breakfast room, it's
hard to understand how so many western female visitors could be so
insensitive to Muslim customs and dress in such skimpy singlets, short
shorts and so on when visiting an Islamic nation.
We did some laundry and placed our clothes out on our balcony table
where they dried in a little over an hour. It's scorching out there so
we spend most the day in our room just recovering from our flight and
the days leading up to our departure.
We stepped outside for a walk through town at about 4.30pm. Within 400
metres Brian was gasping for breath and weak at the knees. We walked
through avenues of austere, off white concrete buildings for about 1,500
metres taking our lives in our hands at very street crossing. Nothing
really interesting but we did enter the occasional shop to browse….
more to grab a bit of air conditioning than anything else.
Abu Dhabi is a very wealthy city-state of about 900,000 people and one
of the 5 emirates that makes up the United Arab Emirates. It's a very
oil rich place. Apparently few of the locals choose to work. The whole
country is run with migrant workers, mainly from Turkey, Pakistan, India
and South East Asia.
Dubai is another Emirates city-state about 130 kms through the dessert
but only 45 mins journey the way they drive around here!
14th May - From Abu Dhabi to Brussels
Today we fly to Brussels where the expected maximum is going to be 14 or 16
degrees depending on which website you believe. Seeing we don't arrive
until 6pm we're guessing it will be around 10 degrees on our arrival. In
choosing my outfit for today (a rather grand term for my set of rags), I
have to opt for either boiling in Abu Dhabi or freezing on arrival in
Brussels. Or to be more candid with you, I have to decide whether I'd
rather look like a goose in Abu Dhabi or look like a goose in Brussels?
I've decided to boil in Abu Dhabi. After all, I aint never coming back
this way no moe, no moe. They say it's MUCH hotter in the middle of
Summer. Jeez, give us a break!
The seven hour flight to Brussels reactivated all the sore muscles and
joints that were just beginning to recover from Saturday's flight.
Still, 7 hours in the air is a heck of a lot more tolerable than 14
hours. And daylight flights always seem more bearable than evening
flights, particularly if you're unable to sleep on aeroplanes.
The walk from our flight's docking bay to the Belgium immigration desk
must have been fully one kilometre or more in length along a perfectly
straight tunnel which disappeared into the distance before our eyes.
After immigration and customs formalities we had to join a long, slow,
snaking taxi queue outside the terminal. We just about choked on the
cigarette smoke from many chain smokers in the queue desperately trying
to restore their nicotine levels after hours of deprivation. We finally
reached the head of the queue jumped into a car and sped, nay careered
out onto the freeway under a drizzling sky. This Belgium driver was good…
there's no denying that. But I didn't feel all that happy about lots of
rapid lane changing at 120 kph on a wet freeway. Anyhow, after $57 worth
of mild terror we were safely delivered to the older style studio
apartment we had previously booked in the suburbs of Brussels.
"Chaussée Saint Pierre" is a modest but quite spacious
bed-sitter apartment with a small bathroom and kitchenette within an
older style residence here in the Brussels "burbs". It is
perfect for our needs and much more to our taste (and pocket) than a
typical international downtown hotel. A photo of our apartment appears
We were both feeling very jet lagged and exhausted. We purchased a half
baguette, made up a couple of instant soups, then collapsed into bed.
15th May - In Brussels
Our hosts supplied directions to the nearest Metro Station which is
about 800 metres walk away.
Usually one has to spend a couple of days coming to grips with the train
system in a large foreign city but the Belgium Metro was a snack. It is
also very cheap. A ticket worth about $1.70 allows unlimited travel
within the system for 90 minutes. Alternatively one can buy a "Day
Ticket" for about $7.00 which gives you a whole day's worth on the
We spent the morning wandering around the centre of Belgium just soaking
up the atmosphere. It looks and feels so much like a moderate size
French city and our very limited French language skills were adequate to
read most signs etc. Mind you, literally everyone seems to speak good to
near perfect English in addition to the two official languages of French
During the latter part of the morning we strayed into what was obviously
the Restaurant Quarter. We've never seen so many restaurants, cafes and
bars in one place before. There seemed to be hundreds of them in a
series of densely packed lanes. All had indoor and outdoor seating and
all seemed to have the cane and wicker-work chairs so beloved by al
fresco style restaurants throughout Europe. It was about 11am as we
strolled through the le restaurant quartier and although there were no
diners there was frantic preparation activity. There was no doubt in our
minds that come noon thousands would descend on this area, the lanes
would become choked with people and the "lucky ones" would be
packed shoulder to shoulder at tables the size of two handerchiefs.
We've seen it before in similar places, especially in France and Italy.
Our own plan is to walk through to an adjoining district to lunch at a
famous restaurant called Comme Chez Soi as a "once in a lifetime
treat". It's supposed to be one of the five best restaurants in
Europe and we booked a table some time ago. If you want to check it out
then click "EN" at the bottom of the
Home Page to enter the English version of their website. We won't dwell
on the meal. Suffice to say some of the little dishes were brilliant and
the others were very good. The whole thing was far too expensive however and
hardly a relaxed occasion. Still, it realised a long held dream and now
we can move on.
The sun was shining brightly as we left the restaurant so we enjoyed
some more explorative walking until our feet gave out (those
cobblestones are killers).
On the way back to the Metro station we came across a 15th century
church and decided to explore. A non English speaking and almost
toothless giant of a guy attached himself to us and became a bit of a
pest handing us leaflets and explaining things in a mixture of French,
Dutch with a few English words thrown in for good measure. Finally we
were able to shake him off and spend a few quiet minutes of reflection
in the main part of the church. However, when it came time to leave our
"old friend" corralled us, jabbering away and obviously wanted
money before we left. He had obviously set himself up in business within
the church and was now into shakedown mode. Well Brian just feigned
incomprehension whereupon the con man started to rub his thumb and index
finger together as a form of financial Esperanto anyone could understand….
Except Brian who still played dumb even when the guy followed us outside
and for a short distance down a lane as we fled the district. Still, at
least Brian didn't take a whip to the money changers and false tourist
16th May - Day trip to Brugge
Today we are off to a city called Brugge in the Flemish (Dutch speaking)
part of Belgium. No trouble taking the neat and modern (privately
operated) Metro train to Gare de Centraal which is part of the
Government owned rail network. The Central Station was a dirty,
run-down ghastly shambles of a place, covered in graffiti, full of touts and
beggars and just plain awful! Still we had no trouble buying a ticket on
an out of town train to Brugge. Finding the right platform was a snack
and we were soon seated in comparative luxury within a carriage
containing only four or five other people. Brilliant... we seem to have
fallen on our feet in choosing this carriage. Ten minutes after our
journey began along came a ticket inspector. "Monsieur et Madame is
in the wrong carriage. Your tickets zay are for Second Class."
"Oh", said Lynn, "Do we really have to move?"
"Mais oui" said the patient inspector, "you must move to
zee other carriage or pay the supplement".
So Brian quickly checked an adjoining (almost full) Second Class
carriage and decided to hand over the extra Euros so we could stay where
we were for the balance of the hour's journey.
The day was very grey and cold and Brugge was filled with tourists.
Nevertheless, Lynn had acquired a walking tour of Brugge off the
internet and our plan was to largely avoid all the restaurants,
boutiques, tourist shops etc by walking ourselves around the
quaint narrow lanes and canals of this very old small city.
A bus dropped us at The Markt which is the main square in Brugge. We were
dismayed to be confronted by two large temporary grandstand structures
of grey pipe and orange plastic seats full smack in the middle of the
square. Obviously these had just been erected for some weekend event or
concert! What a bummer… it was almost impossible to take a decent
photo anywhere around the Square.
Unfortunately we had also apparently arrived on garbage collection day
and literally every house and corner shop had bags or neat stacks of
un-bagged rubbish on the extremely narrow footpaths, doorsteps and
window sills. A lot of potentially good photo opportunities had to be
abandoned because the shot would also contain a dozen or more garbage
bags along the street. Still not all was lost and we have been able to
include a few decent photos in this website to prove that Brugge is
actually a worthy sightseeing destination on more auspicious occasions.
The trip back to Brussels was uneventful and a tired travelling couple
had a quick Won Ton soup and Riz Saute at our local Restaurant Chinoise
before hitting the sack.
through to the next page.