Mother’s Day

My delightful little cat brought me a present for Mother’s Day:

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I guess he got hungry and ate the other other half.

I feel sick. Present or not, he’s now banned from going outside for the rest of the week.

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From south to north

We left the south of Argentina, and headed north. Of course we had to change planes in Buenos Aires, as almost all of the internal flights in Argentina go to or from Buenos Aires. WHY? Now there’s a question. Presumably they like Aeroparque Airport to be over-crowded. Anyway, I digress.

We went from this in the south:Dry dusty south

To this in the north:Super wet north

Clearly a very wet place, and it continued to pour for the next two days solidly. Roads were flooded:Floods

And people sellotaped up their cars to prevent the water seeping in the bonnet:
Taping carsI swear to you that’s what he was doing.

Anyway, on the day it stopped raining, we headed off to the ‘nearby’ city of Posadas. Which is *only* a 5 hour car journey away. With the vast distances between places in Argentina, that’s considered practically adjoining.

Once we were in Posadas, we were just across the river from Paraguay, which I’d never been to. Felipe didn’t want to go. However, I’d been asking to go to Paraguay for about 3 years, so finally he relented and off we went!

I was worried the bus would be over air-conditioned, so I made sure I wore jeans and brought a jumper with me. Given the state of the bus, I needn’t have worried, and instead just boiled in my thick clothes.

On the way to ParaguayYou can see Felipe’s brother grinning in the background!!

We went by bus because this was the queue for cars:Queuing

Buses don’t have to queue!

Once in Paraguay I initially thought we’d made a tremendous mistake. It was rather ‘rustic’ and we were the only people wearing sunglasses, like we had a big sign over us saying ‘foreign, mug us.’ But then we found the right bus and headed to the beach, which was beautiful:Paraguay Beach

Paraguay BeachThere’s me on the beach – that’s Posadas in Argentina in the background. Jeans rolled up as it’s still boiling hot!

We had a few beers in the little bars on the beach

Beach Bar

…then once the sun setSunset in Paraguay…headed back to Posadas. This is where things started to go wrong.

We had to go through passport control to leave Argentina and to go into Paraguay. However, the bus driver didn’t actually stop at the Paraguayan passport control on the way back, so technically I’m still there.

He did stop at the Argentinian passport place though, so we all got off and they stamped our passports / documents. Our fellow bus companions were running into the building, which we thought was a bit odd, but we followed them and brought up the rear.

When we got out of the building, it became evident why everyone else had been running: the bus had gone.

It had left, and we were stranded on the bridge between Argentina and Paraguay.

There was only one thing for it, we had to walk. After about 10 minutes, my lovely husband trod on the back of my flip flop and broke it.

Now I was walking with only one shoe.

A man watched Felipe break my shoe and called him over the road to say to him, “To teach her a lesson, you should take her round the corner and buy her a horrible pair of shoes from the market.”

“Teach me a lesson”?! For what? For walking too slow? Getting my feet in the way?! People in Posadas are cuckoo!

That scared me into tying my shoe back together and hobbling back to the hotel. It took so long to walk, that we were late for dinner and were told off by Felipe’s dad.

That bus driver has a lot to answer for!!

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Wandering around on a glacier

I’m back!

We’ve just returned from a fantastic trip to Argentina. Obviously it’s always good to see Felipe’s family, but we also managed a weekend in El Calafate in the south.

El Calafate is the nearest town to the Perito Moreno glacier, which is absolutely stunning.

We decided to take part in a ‘mini-treking’ expedition, which takes you right onto the ice.

Here we are wrapped up in our 4 million layers…

Perrito Moreno

…only to discover that it wasn’t actually that cold!

The glacier was absolutely enormous. The groups of hikers were like tiny little ants:

Treking

I have to say the description of the tour was a little misleading. It wasn’t exactly a trek. A trek is a ‘long arduous journey’. This was more of a potter around on the ice. You wander around in circles for an hour and a half, then head back.

On iceI’ve been told the hat doesn’t do anything for me…but I love that hat!

Anyway, we also took a trip on a boat. There are many boat trips and most of them are packed with people. We went with MarPatag who are slightly more expensive, but have far smaller groups. In fact as we went near the end of the season, there were only two other couples on the boat! That saved us fighting for the best spot!

Glacier

It turns out that glaciers are surprisingly dirty, as they pick up so much sediment from the underlying earth as they scrap down the valleys.

IcebergThey’re also very blue, particularly on the bottom, so if an iceberg has just rolled over, it’s a very intense blue colour.

This wasn’t our boat. And given that only a tenth of an iceberg is ever visible above the water, I’m not sure I’d want to get this close anyway:

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I was surprised how noisy it was. There’s the sound of water gushing and the ice is cracking all the time. Little bits fall off into the sea, and make an almighty bang as they hit the water.

IMG_0550If you travel to Argentina, it’s a must-see.

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Livin’ la vida Doha – part II

Corniche PastyWhilst the Tripod were in town, we went to the Corniche Pasty to see how much it had changed in the five years since their last visit.

This is how it looked 5 years ago:

Doha 5 years ago

Not many cities have changed quite as much in just half a decade.

It wasn’t only Doha that had transformed. ‘You’ve changed’ became the catch phrase of the holiday, as Dilster admitted that he’d started going to the gym, and Hoskins dropped the bombshell that he didn’t drink Capri Sun or Red Bull anymore, but had started drinking coffee. At least he still ate tomato ketchup with everything, so he was probably not an impostor.

We went to the golf club for lunch, and ended up actually knocking a few balls about, which was hilarious given that none of us play.

ShelleybeanThen a trip to the beach in the north of the country:

Northern Travels

…which was surprisingly like a trip to the beach in England: we spent most of the time in the car, and had just about enough time to eat our sandwiches before we had to travel home again!

Basking on the beachAt least it was sunny.

Dilster and Shelleybean had to leave on Sunday, so didn’t get to see the Souqs, which was probably a blessing in disguise. The rest of us stumbled across the animals:

All natural coloursI’m sure those chicks aren’t supposed to be that colour. As we left, Hoskins said “I think I’m scarred for life.”

Can’t wait for his birthday, guess what’ll be arriving in the post?

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Livin’ la vida Doha – part I

As a special birthday treat, Dilster and Hoskins came to visit me in Doha, five years to the day since they visited last time.

They’re looking good, I think you’ll agree:
The tripodThis time was rather different, as the tripod are now all paired up, so it was a double-trouble tripod.

I took them out to see Sheikh Faisal’s Museum, which I’d never been to before. It’s the Sheikh’s personal collection of things, which you can visit if you email sfm.reservation@yahoo.com and make an appointment (it’s closed Friday and Sunday).

The museum is 25 km out of Doha. To find it you have to drive out of the city on the Dukhan Road, from Qatar Foundation as far as the camel racing track. When you reach the camel racing track, you do a u-turn, and it’s about 3km on the right.

After a little bit of random off-roading trying to find the place, we arrived at this huge building which was full of a eclectic collection of treasures.

From the initial designs of high heel shoes:

Taking walking to a whole new level

To penny farthings:A balancing actOld ambulances:  Ambulance

The odd aeroplane:
Flying Machines

And even a dinosaur:Dino the last dinosaur

Quite staggering considering this is just one man’s collection of things.

As we left, the weather was perfect: Doha clouds

Shelleybean asked, “Steff…are you taking pictures of clouds?”

Ummmm….

I guess they’re not so rare in Manchester.

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Doha Logic

I fondly call Qatar ‘The Land That Logic Forgot’, and here is another example.

I went to the bank today and saw this sign:


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Where do you think I was supposed to park?

a) Around the back of the bank, in the direction of the arrow on the sign.

b) In the opposite direction, around the front of the bank.

c) Behind the sign.

d) It’s a trick and there’s no parking.

After driving around the bank twice, I gave up and parked in a random stretch of sand.

I asked the teller, where exactly the parking was: it turns out the correct answer was (c). Obviously.

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Crafty workmanship

Last year in Doha, new number plates were phased in.

You have to register your car every year, to prove you have insurance and your car is roadworthy. When you registered it last year, they kindly made you some brand spanking new number plates. Plates here used to have both Arabic and Western numbers, but they’ve decided to get rid of the Arabic ones. The numbers are now far larger and clearer…and presumably easier to scan and record for booking and fining reasons. Eeek.

Anyway, last year when you registered your car, they asked you whether the number plates on your car were long and thin, or short and fat.

If you got it wrong, you ended up with a number plate which didn’t fit on your car properly. This mean you either had to pay for a new number plate, or do a bit of crafty fixing.

Wonky Plates

I saw this one on my way to work today – I’ve blanked out one of the numbers to spare any blushes!

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Doha in fog

FogDoha
A stunning photo from the sunny side of the city – the top half! Taken from Zigzag Towers by Ovidiu Bogdan.

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Rocky road

My parents are here for Christmas!

They’re here for a whole ten days, but there’s only so much you can do in Doha. After 3 days they were a bit sick of shopping, so I took them off to see some other parts of Qatar.

Over the other side of the peninsula is Zakreet, where there are some pretty impressive rock formations.

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To be honest, I’d never actually made it over to Zakreet before, and it is worth a look.

It’s just a shame that we managed to pick one of the few cloudy days of the year!

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China

What a fantastic country! Random, crazy and rather strange, but it’s been a place I’ve wanted to visit for years.

We first landed in Beijing, but flew straight up to Shenyang, which is just north of North Korea. It’s a bit of a random place to go, but my sister’s best mate Kevin lives there. He’s lived in China for nine years, so if there’s someone who can show you what it’s really like to live there, it’s him.

Shenyang was cold. Very cold. Outside, inside, everywhere was freezing. This is how cold it was:

That is seriously cold.

The reason it was so cold inside, is because it’s up to the government when to put the heating on. They usually put it on at the beginning of November, so because it was only the end of October, the heating had not been switched on yet.

Then it started to snow. And still there was no heating.

There are some very strange customs that we noticed in the cold. Firstly, some places have a kind of team building exercise at the beginning of the day:

After gathering outside their place of work, they are then all forced to do something that looks vaguely like the Macarena.

Rather than team building, the only thing that really seemed to be building was hyperthermia.

Unlike the poor workers, we were able to go inside and warm up. Or get less cold. At first we were disappointed with the size of the beer:

 But soon found we could fill them up as often as we liked!

Now if I’m honest, there’s not really a great deal to do in Shenyang. In fact one of the only things is to go to the Imperial Palace. Oddly, once you’re in there, you get the chance to dress up in traditional clothes.Yes, the clothes were rather odd, but actually many of the clothes that I saw in the shops were rather peculiar as well. This was probably the strangest jumper that I saw, but it was a close run race:

Chinese people also had a strange habit of wearing glasses without lenses in. The height of fashion at the moment seems to be really big and round, so we tried some on for size:

After a few days of freezing fun, it was time to leave Kevin and head south. First stop was at the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an.

Rows and rows of warriors protecting an Emperor on his journey to the next world. They really were vast and impressive. In the museum though, it mentioned that they also buried live horses with the warriors as well. I don’t think I wanted to know that.

I made a new friend,

and then it was time to hit the road – to the hot springs:

These were stunning, and just at the back there’s a cable car, which takes you up to the top of the mountain.

Then it was back to the airport and to Chongqing (pronounced Chong-ching), which was where the cruise down the Yangtze departed.

We didn’t board the boat until about 6pm, so in the morning we went to the zoo to see the pandas.
The pandas seemed quite well looked after, but the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the animals. There were loads of people feeding all the animals, despite the signs saying not to. Even when the whole fencing was glass, with just a small region with bars at the top for ventilation, people were still throwing things up through the bars and into the animal’s cage. No one was there to stop them.

Then, on the baboon’s cage, the zoo staff were welding the cage together. Sparks were raining down into the cage below and the two little baboons were visibly frightened and flinching, but no one cared.

If you look closely you can see the sparks on the right of the picture, and the baboons covering on the left, with no where to go.At this point I had to leave.

That evening we boarded the cruise. It was rather a regimented affair, with tannoys telling you when you should be getting up, and having breakfast or whatever, but the scenery was stunning:

If you go on a cruise down the Yangtze, don’t go on the first shore excursion to the Ghost Temple – it’s awful. Yes, I’ll come off the fence and tell you what I really think. It’s supposed to be about 500 years old, but only about 5 stones seem to be. The rest is only a few years old and it looks like Disney Land.

Don’t do that, but DO make sure that your cruise goes to the Lesser Three Gorges as they’re absolutely stunning:

One other thing to note, is that when the cruise drops you off at Yichang, you won’t be able to get a taxi from there. They don’t let taxis into the port area and there’s a really steep climb up to the main road, so make sure you arrange a transfer. Unlike we did. Ooops.

Anyway, next stop was Shanghai, which was fabulous. On one side of the river were these amazing Dubai-like buildings and on the other were fantastic historic buildings from the 1920s. There’s a tunnel, called a sightseeing tunnel, that will take you under the water from one side to the other. Why it’s called ‘sightseeing’ I have no idea. It’s completely random in a Chinese way…

If you go to Shanghai, a great place to stay is the Astor House Hotel. It’s certainly not short of history, and it’s not a million pounds either:

Then after a few days in Shanghai, we hopped back to Beijing.

Of all the sights I saw on this trip, the Great Wall was the most breath-taking. It was incredible.

We didn’t go to the most popular part at Badaling, we went to the slightly more remote Mutianyu. There were only a few tourists on the wall, a couple of people selling water and beer, and we were really lucky with the weather. The leaves were turning russets, whilst the skies were bright and blue. It was incredible.

What I didn’t realise was that the top of the wall isn’t flat, it’s made up of 4 million steps. We walked for about 3 hours up on that wall, and it was exhausting!

Please don’t run or chase in the Great Wall Tourism Area

The best thing about Mutianyu there was a cable car to take you up to the wall and a tobogan to take you all the way back down again!

And then it was time to fly back to Doha, happy in the knowledge that I’d avoided eating anything random like chicken feet or pig’s snouts. But it was probably about time I left…I was beginning to get quite attached to those glasses…

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