Monday, July 30, 2012

Smile. Say jaws!

If you take into consideration that the sea was rough and bopping us around, that the camera was an underwater disposable point-and-shoot with a manual reload mechanism and film, that the visibility could've been slightly better on the day, that one cannot use the view finder while you are wearing a diving mask and that sharks don't stand still to have pictures of them taken, then I guess these ones came out pretty well. 

While I was in the cage, I tried to capture at least one decent picture, but it was really hard. Apart from all the things mentioned above, the little arm band on my camera was also lost when a friend of mine opened the packet. This meant I had to, among all the issues above, cling onto my camera so it wouldn't drop into the deep blue ocean. While taking shots with my arms extended to at least get a pictures of the sharks and not the cage only I also didn't want to stick my arm out too far where the camera with the hand could be lost due to the interest of a curious shark. I didn't have much hope for the end result, but what I got was much more than what I bargained for. Besides, this was a shark cage diving trip, not a photography trip....

Monday, July 23, 2012

Relaxing with Charles De Gaulle

I just saw an article on the Internet on the 20 airports in the world by Skytrax. What caught me first was that none of them are from Africa, but I guess that does not come as a surprise. I recall a conversation I had with my farther-in-law a few years ago where we both basically agreed that Charles De Gaulle airport was one of the worst airports to be stuck in for more than an hour. The restaurants were poor, there were hardly any seats and the few that they had was so hard it felt like they didn't want you to stay longer than an hour in any case.

Charles de Gaulle is not on the list and I am not exactly sure how these airports are being judged. For me as a traveller what I want is to have a few things to my disposal when I have to kill time at the airport, and when I arrived at Charles de Gaulle two weeks ago I was quite surprised by a few things that were different. For one there was really friendly people to assist, and they actually spoke good English. What was a nicer surprise was the new style of seating options they have. I didn't take pictures as I did't want to impose, but the airport have a few places where you can literally lie down on comfy benches and sleep. There is even spaces that have beach chairs and relaxing areas with soft music. For kids they even have PSP games. 

I must say I spend about 11 hours on the airport today and even though in the past I would've opted for a hotel room instead, I decided to stay at the airport and sit on one of the comfy chairs and work from there. They have created areas where one can connect laptops and recharge cell phone batteries, something that was few and far between in many airports a few years ago. The only thing they can still work on is a larger selection of restaurants. Today I was really in the mood for a large steak but most of the French type restaurants or coffee shops could not really give me what I wanted. I ate at a place called PAUL's but was totally disappointed with the food and the prices. Also if possible it would be really nice if the WiFi was free too, but I am sure that will never happen. But apart from this one can really see a huge improvement at this airport.

Flying the "Phoenix" again

I am sitting at Charles De Gaulle airport in France and if I have my gate number correct, then tonight I will be flying home on this baby. It will actually be the second time that I fly on this monstrosity of an aeroplane. On my way from South Africa I was also on the Airbus Industrie A340-600. I remembered watching that Air Crash Investigation series on TV where on of these aircraft belonging to Quantas had to do an emergency landing and I couldn't help but wonder if the problem has been solved after that episode. I think it had something to do with the Rolls Royce engines, but I don't want to get into that discussion now as I have to get onto this one in a couple of hours and I don't want to jinx anything.

When I selected my seat the first time, I wanted to sit upstairs. Little did I know that the upstairs is mainly for the better classes in Air France, the ones I obviously cannot afford, with only a few Economy Class seats at the back where the boot of the plane is supposed to be. We got in at the front and as I was walking towards the back I was rather impressed with the seats and layout. I thought we were heading into a better more comfortable way of travel all together. I got a rather disappointing surprise when I realised that I was walking through all the Air France classes from "Affaires" (Business class), through "Premium Voyageur" and eventually to good old "Economy Class" where I found my seat right at the back with exactly the same size seats that you would find on any other Air France flight. I was rather an embarrassing moment after I was so pleased with the bigger seats only to end up where the poorest of the poor usually sits...Cattle Class.

See the minute blue blocks at the end of the aircraft for Economy "Squeeze-in" Class

I have no idea if I am sitting downstairs or upstairs tonight. Frankly I couldn't care, as long as I can get home safely I will sit on the floor if I have to.

Metro Blues

For some people riding Metro trains it is like going to the bathroom, second nature. If you are one of the very unfortunate people who has to earn a living by having "Take the Metro" as part of your route plan to work, then you will probably know what I mean. For tourists the Metro can sometimes be quite an experience, very fast and very organized, especially if you are a South African who at home tries to avoid anything with the word "train" in it... suburban train, gravy train, whatever train. For some tourists it could be quite a challenge to figure out how the system works, and even though it is usually very simple, the colours and names and directions and zones really make it challenge to decipher the first time. Now add a language that you don't understand and see how your heart rate rises just by the thought of getting onto the Metro. 

I've just had my second ride on the Metro in Prague this morning. The most daunting thing about Prague's Metro is the names of the stations. They are quite hard to pronounce, but once you get the hang of it it gets better. When I arrived at Prague Airport I managed with the help of some other tourists to get to the station where I had to get off. Fortunately for me I did not have to change lanes, because in rush hour that could get you lost forever, like a stray dog falling in the middle of peak traffic in Johannesburg. You just don't know which way to run; you get knocked off your feet very quickly. This morning I took the Metro to the airport. My route to the airport also involved a bus ride from the last station. I hate figuring out bus routes even more than Metro routes. Bus drivers in foreign cities usually don't come over as the most helpful people and the fact that you have personal contact with the driver, compared to no contact in the case of the Metro, it even makes you more uncomfortable to ask a stupid question like "Is this bus going to the airport?". Fortunately my first trip to the hotel prepared me for some of the "obstacles" I might have to overcome on my way back to the airport and I arrived at the airport with absolutely no interferences or worries.

What amazes me most on Metros are the facial expressions of the people making use of this mode of transport. I guess we all look similar when we are on our way to work but I am sure most people look better when they are on their way home. On the Metro it is all the same, no matter which time of day it is. I absolutely avoid making eye contact, but somehow I still get the feeling that when I do the other person is saying to me "Please help me get out of here". I just get the impression that none of them really want to be there, but I might be totally wrong because for me riding on the Metro is like taking a roller coaster ride at an amusement park, never knowing what waits around the next corner.

This morning something weird happened. I was taking the Metro from the city centre to the outskirts of town. Because I was going in opposite direction than most of the people going to work, the train was getting emptier as I we were getting closer to the end of the line. Finally we were just about 7 people in the coach. A guy in his early twenties were sitting on a seat and was nodding off. I saw him nodding off, but didn't pay much attention to him. Then at some point he must've completely fallen asleep and fell from his chair hitting the floor smack bang with his face. I got the fright off my life when I heard the bang behind me and seeing this guy on the floor thinking at first that it might be a heart attack got me completely rattled. I wanted to jump up and help him, but then I noticed NO-ONE in that coach made ANY attempt to move. I was not sure what to do. The guy obviously did not have a heart attack or anything and slowly came up totally bewildered from his nightmare. I don't think he ever thought that getting knocked back to reality from a dream could be so unexpected and painful. What scared me most was that the other passengers' faces didn't move at all. No emotion, no nothing. 

I am starting to wonder if we are alone on this earth, or if we are sharing Metros with zombies from other planets. Is this what riding the Metro does to a person? If that is the case then I will stick to my F800 GS...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Strike a pose

After a few days in Prague I was getting tired of taking pictures of old buildings. Drinking beer also reached a limit so I decided to take pictures of people taking pictures. It actually started while I was sitting at a square looking at all the tourist and occasionally developing a smile on my face due to the strange behaviours of tourists when it comes to pinning down that memory they are probably going to bore their friends with or never going to look at again. 

What is funny though is that from all the tourists I think the Chinese has the weirdest way of capturing their holidays. They seem to pose in front of each tourist attraction. I just wonder how their conversation goes when they get home. "Here I am standing in front of the George Bridge. Here I am standing in front of Karlstejn Castle. Here I am standing in front of....". Somehow they seem to make sure they are on each picture that is taken.

Then of course there are the poses. Usually they just stand still, like a toy soldier, but sometimes they might sit down, bend down, or what they like to do is show the peace sign, or victory sign. Why they do that no-one knows. I know pictures mean a lot to tourists, but I am sure there are better ways of remembering your holiday than a picture with you standing in each one.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Karlštejn Castle by bicycle

I think it is a settled fact that I would rather spend time somewhere out in nature than in cities, no matter where or what city it is. I think doing something enjoyable is in any case better than just looking at something. When I got bored of the old buildings and many tourist in Prague I decided to take a bicycle ride to Karlštejn Castle about 32 kilometers outside of Prague. Here are some of the things I saw on my way there. Definitely the highlight of my time in Prague. I'll put the Czech beer in a different category....


Prague in 3 days

Friday, July 20, 2012

How Cool Is That..?

I cannot help but compare travelling in Africa with the rest of the world. When I tell people who has never been to Africa some of my stories, I can see that they sometimes find it hard to believe. When I travel in other parts of the world, then I sometimes understand why they would not want to believe me. Take the carousal for example. When you land in Luanda getting your luggage on the carousal is a story to tell in itself.  

Despite the recent upgrade on the airport, luggage retrieval is not a smooth process. They have a carousal that is somehow still too short to take all the luggage. What always amazes me is the fact that some pieces would go round and round and round and no-one collects them. I can only guess that the owner got stuck at Immigration with visa issues. The luggage handlers on the outside just keep throwing the suitcases on the belt and pretty soon you either have someone on this side throwing the suitcases on the floor, or you have suitcases on top of each other getting tangled up and you have a carousal that needs to be stopped to un-jam the situation. Now look at this cool video. At Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris I noticed when I walked in that all the the suitcases are neatly spaced on the carousal. "Wow, someone taking pride in his work", I thought, but when I saw what was going on I was yet again impressed with technology and the light years Africa is still behind the rest of the world....

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

As easy as packing your bag

Travelling can really be a nightmare, especially when you do a lot of it in Africa. I was standing at the airport in Congo when a fellow traveller struggled to get through security because he had no ticket on him to prove he was on the flight. The gentlemen tried to explain that he has his booking number, but that he could not print it because he did not have access to a printer. This is not difficult to understand, but for the security guard at Pointe-Noire Airport who has probably not travelled further than his own home before, not having a ticket to show just did not make sense.

I am sure travelling gets easier when you go to more advanced countries, and the more you travel the more you learn about the short cuts and ways to save time. Like checking in on-line, or checking it at the self-help desk. This makes it easier for travellers to get from one place to another without having to stand in line or fighting their way through security guards.

I like to check in on-line, it does not only save the time of checking it at the airport, but is also gives me the opportunity to choose a seat more to my liking. I get the feeling middle seat is the default for any flight, because somehow I always seems to be seated there unless I have the opportunity to check in on-line or check in early enough to have it changed.

On my way to Paris last week I was very disappointed when I was for some unknown reason prevented to check in on-line. I had less than two hours at Oliver Tambo to change flights, and an international flight is always somehow booked to capacity with travellers waiting hours ahead to get the best seats. So my chances of sitting in the middle again was quite good. When I arrived at the check-in, I was told to make use of the self-help desk, which added to my frustration. Fortunately for me there was assistance and the flight was not full, so I did eventually get the seat I wanted. But I was still a bit upset that I could not check in on-line. Apparently for this flight it was not possible.

I don't know over how many years on-line check-in will be a reality in Pointe-Noire, but today I just realized that we are still moving forward in air travel. I received a mail from Air France with my boarding ticket for my next flight on Air France attached, I did not initiate anything. I even still had the opportunity to change my seat if I was not happy with the one they gave me. Strangely enough I got a window seat which I am happy with. 

Now I am waiting for the next step in air travel where they come and fetch your suitcase at your hotel and check that in for you as well.....