6 Countries in 6 weeks
When I was younger I remember seeing ads for Disney Land and I thought that that is the only place in the world that I wanted to go. When I got married Digby asked me “if I could go anywhere in the world where would I go” and I only had one answer “Disney Land”.
Well after 17 years of marriage and two kids later we are about to travel around the world. I have grown a little and now realise that there are more things in the world to see than just Disney Land, however as the kids are 11 and 9 it only seems fair that I take them to Disney World.
Our plans initially started out as going to visit Digby’s relatives in the UK but once we started plotting our course the trip grew and grew. We decided that we wanted the kids to experience all the major icons so that they would remember the trip. At the end of the plan, which was a year in the making, we were to visit 6 countries in 6 weeks, so here we go!
With a six hour wait before our flight to Singapore, we decided to hop on a train and show the kids Circular Quay and did some last minute shopping at the Kathmandu shop. As we were heading back to the airport a policeman sat next to us on the train. I remember Jake sitting there playing his gameboy when the policeman said “what exciting things are you up to today”. Jake looked up from his gameboy and said “nothing much”, I said Jake you are about to hop on a plane and go around the world, he said “oh yer that’s right”.
We bordered the plane for Singapore it was going to be a 7-hour flight. Luckily Digby and I are Qantas club members and most of our flights departed around meal times, which was convenient for the kids and us. The kids are a bit excited as they have in-flight movies, a game console, a kid’s pack, a care pack along with the kids menu which included chocolate! Yeah kids sorted!
We arrived into Singapore late at night, it was dark and the streets had all been washed down, it looked extremely clean. Our motel was ok and the kids were just keen to go to bed. This morning we went to breakfast at the hotel and this is when the kids started to realise that things are different overseas, the food didn’t taste the same as home. We took a day tour out to the “Merlion” and did the tourist things; on our trip to the botanical gardens we experienced a downpour for about 30 minutes unfortunately it stopped us from having a good look around the gardens.
The next day we walked around the local area, we were staying in the area known as “Little India”, we noticed that none of the shops were open and it was just past 9 am, found out that stores open from 10 am to 10 pm. We went looking for the cheap electronic shops as we were told that you could get a few good bargains there. But once we looked at the products and the warranties there was not a lot of difference in price for what you can get from home. The local shops we walked pass along the way, all had incense burning and everytime Amy smells incense she said “Singapore smell”.
From Singapore we headed to “Heathrow airport” where we were to catch a connecting flight straight to Paris, we are to meet up with Derek on this flight. So 14 hours later we arrive, had to wait for customs clearance and then we ran to catch the flight. Derek was already seated in the plane and I think he was starting to worry that we would miss the flight, but we made it with 3 minutes to spare.
Once we landed in Paris, it was a matter of jumping onto the train and head to our motel. Whilst outside the Charles De Gaulle airport we were waiting for the blue B line bus to take us to the train station. When a French soldier was trying to push us away from the bus station, Digby was trying to explain that we had to catch the bus and this was the correct station. He didn’t seem to understand or care about what we needed and pushed us behind the glass bus barrier. Then we heard an explosion and didn’t know what to think, the soldier then let us go back to the bus stand. Later we learnt that there was an unclaimed package on the sidewalk and they had to blow it up. Welcome to France!
We had some difficulties trying to explain where we needed to get to because we had to change trains to get to our motel, luckily I had printed out some common words in French and that seemed enough to try and work out which trains to catch. Our motel was about 5 km outside of the Paris city centre so we had a general walk around the area. The kids were happy as they had found a McDonalds outlet and felt like they could have a decent feed.
Once we were able to check in, we got settled into a self-contained unit. I was a little shattered and didn’t feel like tea, so Digby went out to get a pizza, what he didn’t realise that being 5 km outside of the tourist area meant that not many people spoke English and Digby definitely couldn’t read French, so he had to try and come up with a pizza that would be close to something the kids would eat.
The main thing we noticed in Paris besides the chewing gum and dog poo everywhere especially on the sidewalks was the architecture. It was amazing, you know about history but you don’t realise it until you see it. We hoped onto the tour bus, Digby and I knew straight away that we would becoming back to Paris. On the bus I was pointing out all these beautiful things to Jake and only got a “yes” response when I turned to look at Jake he had his head down in the gameboy. I was horrified I said Jake look at all this history and then promptly removed the gameboy from him.
We were travelling through the main streets of Paris when our bus was moved aside and actually had to mount the kerb to get out of the way. Then a line of police vehicles were lined up on the road, they were the riot police and they just take up whatever road or position that they need. Then after a few minutes they moved on, but everything stopped, it was a very unusual sight.
That night at the motel, Digby decided to go to the local store where he picked up some mince, spaghetti and sauce and made dinner for everyone in the room. I decided to do some washing at the laundry mat a couple of doors up. Whilst there I was talking to a young French man and he asked where I was from I replied “Australia”, he jumped up excited and said “there is one no, no, no two things he would like to do before he dies” he said “one was to travel the world and the second is to travel to Australia”. I was a little put back because last time I looked Australia was part of the world, but for a French fellow it may well seem like a whole different world.
The next morning we headed down to the tour bus again, but were redirected to different streets, the normal path we took was all cordoned off with police tape. Our bus was not allowed to pick us up, there were police helicopters flying above us and we had no idea what was going on. As the tour bus was not going to pick us up we decided to head into town on foot, which wouldn’t have been an issue if it was just Digby and I, however the kid’s and Derek didn’t overly appreciate the walk (about 5 km), once we got into the city centre we saw why the roads were roped off, it was the Paris marathon. Since we had lost so much time by not being on the bus, we had to do a quick dash for the Louvre to see the painting of the Mona Lisa. Derek was shattered so he stayed on the bus and went around the city again (having a little cat nap) while the rest of us had a fast forward view of the Louvre.
We decided to catch the train up to Aimes and then hire a car to Pozzieres to go out to see the Australian war memorial and to locate Digby’s great grand father’s name on the burial stones. This in itself was not an easy task as we thought the hire car depot was located at the train station, however again this was not the case. Not only did the staff not speak English they had no idea of where this depot was located, luckily Digby found a taxi driver who had very limited English but was able to take Digby to the depot and locate the car only the next problem was trying to remember to stay on the opposite side of the road.
When we arrived at Pozzieres we located the memorial stone and found the information including his rank and name – Sergeant Major Thomas William Brown with the Border Regiment 5th Battalion and he died on 21 March 1918. At the Australian memorial 23 000 soldiers lost their lives at the Battle of Somme. The memorial sites are so well maintained and it was wonderful to know that the French cared for these sites with a lot of pride.
The French have a lot of respect for Australian’s but it is a pity that they do not show the same respect for the British and vice a versa. I suppose it only came to light when Derek being a Brit refused to acknowledge the French even with a little bit of courtesy. It came to bite him on the bum when we were in Aimes to catch the train home and he needed to cash some Euro, Derek decided to get some lollies from the shop and because he didn’t try to speak the language ended up spending 40 Euro which was approx $120 Australian on lollies, hence to say we were right for lollies for the remainder of the trip.
On 11 April we flew back into London and had to catch a bus to the train station and then the train into the city. Most of the train stations did not have elevators or escalators only stairs, luckily the one outside Heathrow had porters so they were able to lug Derek’s suitcases. When Digby asked the conductor where we had to go he said “platform 102” in a very broad accent, Digby said thank you and repeated “platform 1 or 2” the conductor said “no, no 102 and Digby again said “1 or 2”, the conductor again was shaking his head going “102” then we were all yelling “102”.
When we arrived at Piccadilly station we had to go up to the top level platform for a connecting train, problem was no escalator or elevator, so I was lugging my suitcase and then Digby would drop his off , go back down stairs and get the two kids suitcases, then he had to bring up Derek’s bags which was another issue because before Derek left Australia we said you just need one suitcase and a back pack, however as soon as Derek got into Singapore he went and brought another suitcase, so here is Derek trying to steer two suitcases and lugging a big back pack. You would think that that was ok, however the next problem was that there was a little old lady who was trying to lug her suitcase, so Digby had to go back down and lug her gear, then a young lady with a baby was at the bottom of the steps, so again he went down and helped her which her gear. All the time the conductors were standing at the top of the platform watching him. Welcome to English hospitality.
We had a couple of days in London and saw all the sites like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the Tower Bridge; we went on the London eye. We went to the London Dungeon – it was pretty gruesome with the torture chamber and the plague, the great fire and Jack the ripper. But the best part according to the kids was a visit to Hamleys Toy Store, which was 5 stories high and filled with, heaps and heaps of toys. We got to go to Madame Tussauds, which was amazing.
On 13 April we jumped onto another train and headed down to Exmouth to Digby’s Aunt Carol and Uncle Terry. Carol and Terry have two daughters, Dianne and Helen. That evening we had a typical English stew made with beef, carrot, potatoes and black pudding. During the dinner Jake asked what black pudding was and we had to stop everyone from telling him because he would have thrown up all over the place.
Whilst in Exmouth we visited a donkey sanctuary where any abandoned donkeys are sent to live out their lives, you can adopt a donkey and all the money is placed in a trust to look after them. We also went for a drive along the Jurassic Coast and Derek brought the kids a fossil that was 150 million years old. We really enjoyed our time in Exmouth even though we only saw the sun on one day out of the four days we were there.
From Exmouth we headed back into London where we caught the plane to Egypt. Luckily when we arrived in Egypt we had a guide named Wally who met us at the airport and got us through customs, not that we needed him because we would push Amy up to the counter and the staff were fascinated with her blonde hair. One gentleman offered us 4000 camels for her; if only they went to 5000 it might have been a different story. – Only joking Amy we would never!!
Wally had organised our transport to the motel thank god. Our first impression of Egypt was pure chaos, the traffic was horrendous the cars were on their horns the whole time; some didn’t even have their lights on. There were whole families traveling on the back of a motorbike – without helmets except for the driver, it was compulsory for him to wear a helmet. When we got to the motel the kids were hungry so Digby went for a walk and low and behold there was a Pizza Hut store and a McDonalds.
The next day we had an English-speaking guide named Mona, our second impression was that it was hot! And that Cairo which is about the size of NSW had 20 million people living there, which is the same population as the whole of Australia. We did all the tourist sites the Cairo Museum, which included Tutankhamen’s treasures, which was impressive to say the least. We went to the Citadel of Salah Al-Din, which is a replica of the Blue Mosque in Turkey. The kids were asked if they could have their photo taken because they were blonde, we went to the carpet school where a lot of people send their children there to work because they cannot afford to send them to school, if the kids didn’t go to carpet school they had to work in the fields.
But the main reason you go to Giza is to see the pyramids, we were lucky enough to be able to go inside the pyramid, we had to crouch over and climb up steep stairs into the centre of an air chamber. The air was so thick and both Jake and I got claustrophobic and had to get out of there. We both bolted back down the steps, pretty much on our butts. At night Cairo is a different city it is so full of colour and looks clean, however during the day it is brown and all you can see is a brown haze. The houses always look unfinished like it is missing a level and we found out that is the way families live because once a family member marries they just build the next level up and it continues on like that.
On 22 April we headed out of Egypt and across to Istanbul as we were to head down to Gallipoli for ANZAC Day. Turkey was a complete surprise from Egypt because everything looked so colourful compared to Egypt. The food in Turkey was a surprise to the kids in particular and they were not eager to try anything new so had a pretty staple diet of croissants.
The next day we caught the bus down to Canakkale, when we arrived the first thing you saw was the Trojan horse from the movie “Troy” it was pretty impressive. The next day we caught the ferry over to North Beach then went to see ANZAC Cove, the kids were on a task to locate PTE John Simpson Kirkpatrick’s headstone. PTE Kirkpatrick is famously known for returning injured soldiers back on his donkey. We went to the Kapatebe War Museum, which was interesting.
We went up to the Nek where we were in the trenches, it was surprising to see that the Turk trenches where only 3 metres away from the ANZAC trenches. We had to return at 9.30 pm that evening to be in position for the 5 am service. I have never been so cold in my life; the breeze coming off the Aegean Sea straight up the face of the Nek was unbelievable. We were so cold that I had to go and buy a blanket from the peddlers. Digby was cranky that I couldn’t just tuff it out, but he was keen to jump under it once I got it back, he made me carry this blanket with me for the rest of the trip.
To participate in an ANZAC service at Gallipoli is something every Australian should do, however if you really want to savour the place and feel it is worth going a couple of days earlier when it is not so busy because you are pushed through the sites quite quickly and don’t really have an opportunity to see things at your own pace. One thing that did surprise me was the large amount of young Australians who were there. Thinking that they were quite patriotic I was disappointed to learn that most of them were working in England and there is a magazine that they all get and there is a checklist of things to do, including participate in an ANZAC Day Service and other things like running with the bulls.
I was disappointed on one aspect of the service, which was at the Lone Pine site, where the young people were sleeping in their sleeping bags propped up on the head stones and the amount of rubbish that they left behind. Overall thought I am glad that we did it.
Digby and I had a spare afternoon and took a trip up to see the ruins of Troy, you could see about 9 levels of building at this site. The view across the plains to the sea was spectacular and you can understand why they built on that site as you had such a clear view of the surrounding area.
On our arrival back into Istanbul we caught the tram down to the Great Bazzar, it was huge and it was just stall after stall and everyone trying to get you to come into their store. To our surprise there was a McDonalds but we didn’t have time to stop for a feed as we had to head out to the airport and back to England before catching another plane out to Orlando. We stayed at a motel across from the airport, when we woke in the morning we went downstairs for breakfast and we couldn’t believe how hungry we were, we were scoffing down bacon and eggs like our life depended on it. So we were quite full by the time we got to the airport because that was a disaster.
It took us 2 hours to get through check-in, and the clerk was apologising saying that he never thought he would be working for the US Government because of all the checks that had to be done before we could even board a plane for the US. Then the plane had technical problems and we were delayed for an hour and a half. On arrival into Orlando the computers were down and we had to wait another hour before we were allowed to leave the airport, I know that the US Government has our fingerprints.
The first impression of Disney World is the one that stays with you the most, clean – clean – clean. The lawns are immaculately manicured and no rubbish lying around anywhere. By the time we got to the motel we were all totally shattered and just went to bed, we would tackle Disneyworld tomorrow.
First up Magic Kingdom it was fantastic we used the fastpass for the most popular rides, that way we knew what time we were booked in and you could go and explore the rest of the park without having to wait in line for the preferred ride. Our favourite ride at Magic Kingdom was Splash Mountain and the big thunder mountain railroad. We had brought the Disney meal package which was a ticketing system that allowed you to have a meal at any takeaway store, restaurants or motel facilities, the only problem was that for breakfast and dinner you had to pre-book where you wanted to eat, so that made it hard to utilise as we never knew where we would be that day or evening.
The good thing with the meal package was that it allowed you to have a snack with it as well and that included an ice cream, chips or a drink. The food in Disney World particularly the fast food outlets are high in fat, some places offered sticks of carrots or a bag of apples instead of fries, however all meals included dessert. The meal package was a great idea, if you could plan where and what you were going to eat each day.
The motels are fully theme orientated we were staying in Port Orlando so it had a southern feel, all have their own restaurants, gift shops and facilities, we could even order a pizza. That afternoon we headed over to the Epcot Centre to have a look around, it was pretty amazing to see some many different cultures on display, we enjoyed the Mission Space ride, it really felt like we were in space. We stayed for the fireworks spectacular which was very good.
The next day was spent at Animal Kingdom and the best ride was the dinosaur ride, it scared the crap out of all of us. In the afternoon we went to Disney downtown and did some shopping and that evening we went to MGM studios and went on the tower of terror and the rock n roll rollercoaster.
30 April and a change of pace we took a bus trip down to the Kennedy Space Centre, we saw a real live astronaut doing his G-force training, saw the launch pads and went inside a space shuttle.
Back to Disney World and went on the rides that we had missed out on the days before. On our last day there we split up Digby and Amy and Jake and I. The objective of the day was to go to all 4 theme parks and go on all our favourite rides. Our week at Disney was great and I think that you definitely need a week to capture it all as well as a days sanity break. Staying in one the Disney resorts was great and there wouldn’t be anything that we would do differently except maybe have a camera for just happy snaps.
New York, USA
3 May we are off to New York today, the traffic is chaotic, yellow taxi’s everywhere, I had to hop into a yellow cab as I remember Julie telling me one day that she just wanted to go to New York just to ride in a yellow cab. We caught the tourist bus so we could get orientated to the city and know where and what we wanted to catch up on. We ate a New York hotdog, which was not very nice really. It was a big day and everyone was in bed by 5.30 pm.
Next morning all fresh and rearing to go, we jumped on the bus and headed down to catch the Straten Island ferry, we went past the Statue of Liberty, didn’t really get to see much of it as Digby was trying to get the perfect picture and it was just passing us by. That afternoon we went to “ground zero” where the twin towers once stood, it was quite eerie as right next to ground zero is a little church which is now called “the little church that stood” and the reason for this is because when the towers came down not one window was broken or a tile missing from that church.
Today Derek and the kids head home, they had to catch the flight from New York to LA, then LA to Sydney and then Sydney to Tamworth. The kids thoroughly enjoyed Disney World and they liked Egypt the least mainly because it was hot and dirty.
Now Digby and my holiday can begin, as much as I enjoyed discovering these places with the kids and with Derek (which was like having a 3rd kid), in that we catered for their needs first. So now we could just hop on an inner city train and see and do what we liked.
We caught a flight upstate and then a quick drive out to Nigara falls, I was a bit blown away when the tour guide said “if you look over to your left you will see the mist from the falls”. Well to my horror all I saw was skyscraper buildings and I was a bit taken back as I expected to see the waterfall in a forest somewhere not in the middle of a town. Either way it was a fantastic experience.
We were catching the train from New York to Washington DC, before we left I asked Digby to buy me a “bacon and egg McMuffin meal for breakfast” after about 20 odd minutes I asked him what took him so long and he said “there were 15 different choices of bacon and egg meals and I knew if I didn’t get the right one you would crack” so apparently the Canadian bacon and egg muffin meal was the closest thing to Australia.
Washington DC, USA
The train ride to Washington was interesting as you got to see some of the back streets of Philadelphia and Baltimore, which we would not have normally seen. On arrival into Washington it struck us as very isolated, it was difficult to find a convenience store. However we did the tourist thing and visited all the appropriate sites and museums, although we were really impressed with the Smithsonian Museums. We also liked the Korean War memorial.
We spent a day out at the Arlington Cemetery, the history is absolutely phenomenal, we saw the changing of the guard, all the presidents grave sights, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, although it was noted that they had identified all remains from the Vietnam War from family DNA. The cemetery was broken up into specific sections for example the Civil War Unknowns Monument, Confederate Memorial, Pan AM Flight 103 Memorial and the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial. To see all the white headstones of deceased soldiers was quite moving, it was interesting to note was that the gravesite of MAJ Audie Murphy is the second most visited gravesite in the cemetery, President Kennedy’s is the most visited. Another significant memorial was the Iwo Jima, which was quite impressive in size.
That night we went to a national baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburg Pirates. We had a beer which was hot and a hotdog which was disgusting. We all had to stand for the National Anthem which to my surprise no locals sang the words to, when I asked why they said that they didn’t know the words, this struck me as odd. There is all the fanfare with the baseball as there is with the basketball, playing “charge” at the appropriate time but it was at the 7th innings that everyone stood and sang “take me out to the ball park” well I couldn’t believe it the locals all knew the words for that song but not their national anthem. I was also surprised to learn that if there is no clear leader on the board at the bottom of the ninth innings they continue to play until there is a result – hence we left at 11 pm and still to this day we do not know who won that game.
From Washington we caught a flight out of the Dallas International airport, it was amazing how they had this caterpiller service that ferried you around to the next terminal. We had to stop at Chicargo airport to change flights and we were amazed to look out the window and you could see planes lined up for a mile, like in a traffic jam, waiting to take off. We landed in Nashville which is the busiest airport in the US, as it is the connecting route for all the US postal, so all planes land in, change over cargo and fly onto the next route.
We stayed in the Heartbreak Hotel in Memphis; it was a nice hotel with a big picture of Elvis over the bed. We toured “Graceland” and the grounds and the museum, it was interesting at the gravesite, as Elvis’s grandmother had actually outlived them all. There was letters, toys, bears and so much stuff around Elvis’s grave, but every month the groundsmen come in and clean it all away only for it to be filled up again and again. I am glad we went to “Graceland” it was just one of those bucket list things for me.
Las Vagas, USA
From Memphis we flew into Las Vegas, well what an eye opener, first thing we saw was the poker machines at the airport! We stayed at “Excalabar” it is a replica of a medevil castle. When we had a tour around we realised that you really didn’t have to travel the world to see everything, because it is all in Vegas! There are the pyramids, the Effile Tower, the NY skyline, Venice the lot. What a place. The only issue I found with being in the US is the fact we have to tip, a concept that we really are not use to. Even when I could lug my own bag or when we said we didn’t have any change and they pull out a big wad of money to give you change.
I was so over the whole tipping thing by the time we left Las Vegas, that when we went to the airport to leave there were check out’s out the front and Digby didn’t want to use them, but I was adamant that it was their job and they should process us and I had no intention of paying them, but Digby did.
Well we rock up to the terminal and handed over our tickets, we were looked at and moved to a separate que to be processed through, little did we know that our tickets were marked with a “SSS” so we got extra special treatment, that being a physical search and a drug swab. We later found out that it was because we had paper tickets for one way only – so that flagged us as possible drug smugglers.
Finally we were able to board our flight to San Francisco and onto Los Angles.
Los Angles, USA
Los Angles, we were so buggered by this stage that we really didn’t feel like doing any sightseeing, so had a quite time at the movies and just a general look around. After a couple of rest days we did do the tourist things, but we were ready to head home. I remember when we arrived in OZ and were waiting for our connecting flight home, I just wanted vegimite on toast, that’s when I knew I was an Aussie.
This trip was the beginning of our love of travel and planted the seed for us to continue on our adventures with or without the kids.