Day 21, 22 Singapore

                    Day 21 and day 22 in Bubba’s trip to go “East” and our trip to accompany him.

Heading east from Dubai would take me somewhere like the Himalayas, China, North Korea.  Maybe I should veer southeast instead.  I’ve heard that crossing the equator causes your hair to fall out so maybe I will stop just shy of the big red line on the map.

            Singapore is 80 or so miles north of the equator so I should be safe.  We stayed in the Chinese quarter at this hotel that once was a Chinese temple.

          They have a Bubba sized model of what the area looked like back in the day.  Our place is the short one in the middle that still looks pretty much the same.   

          Up in our room, we found some goodies to commemorate the Mid-Autumn festival.  I’m always ready to munch sweets and check out the view of the market from my room.

            Singapore is an almost mystical blend of the past and the up-to-the-minute present.  A wander around the neighborhood took us back to the historic side of this part of the city.  We came across this temple, still in use.  This place has some beautiful carvings and is a sacred place. 

          So you know the bit over your front door?  No one really looks there; they are ringing the bell.  In this place, every surface is filled with carvings with deep religious meanings.  This is the Thian Hock Keng Temple or Palace of Heavenly Happiness first built around 1821. 

            Inside there are places devoted to the different gods.  Each have a deep meaning and each have their own offerings left behind by devotees.  This being Singapore, one of the friendliest places I’ve ever visited, a man standing near heard us admiring the work and explained some of the things we were seeing.  He was a professor at the local university who would explain things to tourists during his visits.

                                  What is that offering I see at the foot of the God with the big tongue?

                                                        It is indeed a can of Guinness! 

These two are Generals Fan and Xie, the guardians of hell, also known as the Black and White Guards of Impermanence.  One can imagine the significance of the can O’ Guinness. 

It is a little hot and damp today.  Illegal forest clearing in Indonesia contributes smoke to the mix.  It is downright melty out here.

                           It is time for something to cool my soul.  I’ll ask this guy for a ride.

“You know where a guy could get a cool drink in a classy place that represents Singapore’s past?”

                    This is, of course, a not so cleverly done set up for the next bunch of pictures.

                                                   Take me to Raffles Hotel! 

            The hotel’s roots go back to the 1830’s and it was eventually named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore.  It is a classic colonial British building.  I could sip tea on the veranda.

            Nah! That isn’t my style.  I’ll head to Harry’s bar.  This is the place where the Singapore Sling was invented…and they have free peanuts.

Warm day, fans overhead gently moving the hot, moist air, and a nice tropical cocktail.  I can’t help overhearing someone speak of a tiger hunt and I think he actually said the words, “Dash it all!” and “My word!”  It is a dozy kind of day.

            You must forgive Bubba in letting his imagination roam a bit.  This is a modern bar with all the trappings from the past so it is easy to send your mind back 100 years or so.

            Time to go back to the room for a nap.  Let’s see if I can find it.  It had red shutters and looked out over the shopping arcade.

                     Yeah, one of those.  Tomorrow I’ll check out the modern version of the city.

Day 20. 21 Hitting the slopes in… Dubai, United Arab Emirates

          We made it on the flight that took forever and arrived in Dubai.  I thought I’d look around and see if there was anything interesting to see.  If you look west you see the Persian Gulf, look north (with better eyes than mine) you see the Strait of Hormuz and maybe the coast of Iran, south is sand and east…one…big…building.

Up there

          That is the Burj Khalifa.  The tallest building on earth.  It reaches 2722 ft., I’ve been told.  I didn’t measure because TSA took my pocket tape measure.  I had to find a way to get up there.

Maybe I can take a helicopter to the top.

 

          At about a half mile up, it looks like I’m in some type of aircraft but no, this is a shot out of a window in the building.

Big View

          The nice lady helped me get just a little higher to see better.

          You can get in a line at the bottom and buy tickets to go to the 125th floor, or if you think you are clever you can get in the shorter line.  The shorter line costs about twice as much but gets you on a very long elevator ride to the 148th floor. 

You know you are in a different world when you are met at the elevator door by a uniformed attendant with a tray of sweets and a glass of fruit juice.  It gets narrow up this high so it doesn’t take long to walk around.  You can even go outside and take in the somewhat hazy view.  There are about fifteen floors above you here.

And 146 floors below.

          Closer to earth, I thought I would look for other attractions.  I’m here for a short time, what wonderful sights await me.  It is hot outside so I didn’t see any parks.  Not much in the area of natural green color plants at all.  You could sit on the beach.  Hot sand melts the plastic off me so that would be a “no”.  I like to visit historic…  That’s problematic too.  While the history of the region goes way back, Dubai really wasn’t much to look at before the 1990’s.  Since then there has been an explosion of growth resulting in some very stunning examples of modern architecture but not much in the way of historic.  So what do you do?  We went to the mall.  That is the air conditioned place to go and the people here make the most of it.  We visited two; the Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates.  We barely got to scratch the surface.  The Dubai Mall alone has around 1,200 stores. 

 There is artwork.

          These aren’t swimmers and they aren’t guys leaving the Big Building taking the express way down, it is art, man.

There is the chandelier of all chandeliers.

Kind of that jelly fish effect.

You can go ice skating.

Or meet this guy.

          I think he is supposed to be a penguin but looks more like a duck to me.  There aren’t’ a whole lot of penguins here to complain about misrepresentation.

          Yes, the sign behind him is correct.  Here, in the desert on the shores of the Persian Gulf, you can go snow skiing.

Don’t bump your head on the ceiling when riding the ski lift. 

          Dubai is a pretty mind bending place.  A building so tall it looks like it has to be Hollywood special effects, snow in the mall, and a chalet of sorts, with a form of fireplace.

Or at least a video of a fireplace.  It is too hot here to even think of such a thing. 

          This is a place unlike anywhere we have been and before my mind explodes, it is old world customs meeting with modern technology in the desert.

I think I will get in a plane and head east again.

Day 19 Doha, Qatar and Dubai U.A.E.

To go further east we headed to Doha in Qatar where we would change planes and go to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.  The trip should be easy enough except…

Bubba and I watched on the seatback monitor and realized that the phrase “as the crow flies” doesn’t apply to commercial aircraft.  We were doing a little zigging and some zagging to avoid “conflict zones”. 

          We traveled east to Germany, turned south east down the coast of Italy, took a hard left to skate over Greece and the north part of Turkey, a hard right to go south and wander back and forth along the Iraq-Iran border to the gulf where we made a pretty hard right (west) to skim down the coast of Saudi Arabia to finally land in Doha.  By this time, we were late for our connecting flight and had to spend a few hours at the airport.  Bubba speaks.

            This isn’t where we planned to be hanging out.  Since we missed our flight, we were a little concerned about what to do next, but we were met at arrival by a kind lady with new tickets.  Seems they kind of knew we weren’t going to make it on time and went ahead and rebooked us. To go from arrival to our new gate we had to go through a security line.  We ended up on the other side with a lot of time and no cash.  We had US dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros, and Dirham but no Riyals.  We finally were called to boarding and Rick was in the last row and Spider in the second to last.  After a delay, we started to taxi.  A down side to traveling with a pilot is she notices things I try to ignore.  As we taxied, she turned back and whispered, “I smell smoke.  Something is burning.”  Not something you want to hear on a plane.  And, just as I was saying, “Nah, just your imagination”, the flight crew advised us we were going back to the terminal with a “technical issue”.  I may have been tired before that, but I was wide awake now.  We stopped a little short of the terminal and the flight attendants went to the emergency exits, took off the little party streamer things, and stood next to them.  There were looks back and forth and some quick calls on the cabin phones.  Eventually, they relaxed a bit and we turned around and headed back to the runway.  The plane took off with everyone sniffing for the duration of the flight to Dubai.  It sounded like a flight of bloodhounds, sniffing for, but not wanting to smell, smoke. 

 

You may have noticed a lack of photographs in this narrative.  That would be because I was hiding deep in a pocket and Rick and Spider had a tight grip on the armrests and were not letting go.

We arrived in Dubai around one AM somebodies time.  I lost track and quit trying to change my watch several time zones ago.  Although late at night, the city was lit up  a Christmas tree and was quite enchanting.  Like a refinery at night enchanting.  Like the spaceship landing on Close Encounters enchanting.  Lots of lights on lots of tall buildings.

Tomorrow, I need to pick up a few supplies.  We have been on the road for 19 days so far, time to restock.  I wonder if I’ll be able to find a little shopping mall around here.

Day 17 Waterloo

Bubba is on day 17 of his quest to go somewhere east.  Heading back from the Ypres area toward Brussels, we passed near the battlefield at Waterloo.

On June 18, 1815 The forces of France led by Napoleon Bonaparte met the European forces aligned against him led by Wellington and Blucher near the hamlet of Waterloo in Belgium.  We could not pass this area by without a stop.

            Battlefields generally look like an empty field and you have to use your imagination to reconstruct things.  Waterloo is a little different.  In spite of being 200 years ago, there are still some relics and, over the centuries, new sites have been laid out.  A little Bubba sized person like me has problems seeing such a vast area but I’m told there is a platform where I can get a better overall view.  It was easy to find, up by the big lion.

Waaaay Up

How do I get up there? Oh look, a staircase. Just a few steps to go.

But once you get to the top, you get a great overall view of the area with a chart showing the battlefield highlights.

The mound was put in about ten years after the battle, so things were still pretty fresh. Left on the site are a farm that figured prominently, another farmhouse where Napoleon spent the night prior to the battle. There is also a Panorama housed in a round building put in about 100 years ago and a great museum. They chose to build the museum mostly underground so as to not interfere with the views.

                We stopped off at the museum and there was the man himself. Kicked back in a chair checking the polish on his boots.

          I like the cut of those uniforms. The beats my shirt any day and they get some pretty cool hats instead of this peg thing on my head.

Hey guys!! Do you have a place for me? I’m looking for a laid back position, with maybe some built in nap time.

             It must be time to leave now. I’ll go look at the farmhouse where the Emperor spent the night prior to the big battle.
His bed and desk are still there.

He must have left in a hurry. He didn’t make the bed. One more stop to pay homage at the spot that was the last stand on Napoleon’s Old Guard.

Back to Brussels for a brief stop before boarding a plane and heading east again.
Travel tip: The world is so rich in history. With a little research, you can find some bit of history, a notable place, a tiny museum, near to anywhere you happen to be standing. Give yourself some time to hunt out these places so you can visit and enhance your trip that much more.

Day 15? 16? Ypres, Belgium

The next part was pretty serious.  Bubba didn’t come out much because we spent several days in WWI battlefields.  The scope of the slaughter was stunning and the cemeteries dotted here and there, filled with fallen youth was sobering and a real eye opener of the extent of the loss of life from that war.

Tyne Cot Graves

     There are nearly 12,000 graves in this cemetery, named Tyne Cot, alone. The cemetery is located on the battlefield and some of the fortifications were incorporated into the memorial.   Remains are still being unearthed in the area and are reburied with honors.  If they can be identified, their names are removed from the ranks of the missing.

     The names of the missing just from this area have been inscribed on a memorial at the Menin Gate but they ran out of room.  Tyne Cot’s walls are inscribed with a further 35,000 names of missing from the battles held near here.   

Wall of the Missing

     100 years on and the families of those lost still visit and leave reminders that these were real people with families and descendants they never knew.

     There are several places where the trenches have been preserved.  You can get a tiny taste of what life on the battlefield was like.  

     At the time, the trees were all blown away and during the height of the fighting, the trenches would be filled with water and deep mud.  

     The Menin Gate, located in the city of Ypres, was the medieval entrance to the city.   During the war, it was a strategically contested area and the city was devastated. The gate was restored as a memorial to the missing from the battles held here.  Over 54,000 names were inscribed before they ran out of space. 

     Since the opening of the gate as a memorial a ceremony has been held at 8:00 PM every evening. When the area was occupied by Germans in WWII, the ceremony was suspended until it was liberated.  The ceremony was continued with the sounds of the second world war in the background. 

     Shortly before eight every night, the street is closed and the crowds begin to gather.  At eight sharp silence descends and a bugler sounds the last post as a group of veterans dips their flags. Families lay wreaths and units are honored.  When we were there, a family from Australia, escorted by soldiers from the lost soldier’s Australian unit, laid down their wreath.  

 

     The missing and the lost and their families to this day, made their sacrifices in the “War to End All Wars”, so their decedents would know only peace.  We must not forget the sacrifices they made for our sake.

 

 

 

Day 13 Or so Bruges, Belgium

Bubba started from Sacramento California 13 days ago.  He vowed to go east as far as he could.  He is now going west in order to go east again.  It made sense at the time.

I parked the rental car in the square next to the truck.  It won’t stand out.  Nobody will figure out I’m an American.  Just a couple of Belgian cars, right?

I wish this was the rental!

We were welcomed by this stylish, sinister gent and his two ladies.  The guy on the far right seems to have his doubts about this group.

Monsieur Sinister and his ladies seem to be watching me.  Maybe not.  I’m sure they are just local citizens out for a stroll.

Bruges is another city where the old buts up against the really old.

  The art and architecture blend into a space where you walk around with your head back and your mouth open.

I feel like someone unusual is watching me.   Wait, no, nobody unusual here.

I found this guy and shook his hand.  He looked like a good guide I asked if he would be my friend and he said it looked like the beginnings of a beautiful friendship.

He said his name was Rick Blaine and he had a little café in Casablanca.  He showed me some of the old and new and new old buildings.  Plenty of light, plenty of windows.

Whoa! Sometimes you shouldn’t look in the windows.  Are we back in Amsterdam??

Bruges has its own set of canals that give you a good view of some it the city’s finest buildings.

I still have that feeling of being followed.   Are peacocks waterfowl?

I mentioned the movie “Monuments Men” in the last post.  Bruges too has a work of art that was recovered by those WWII heroes.  The Madonna of Bruges by Michelangelo.

No joking to do here.  This is a work of art that truly leaves you standing still in front of it with no words to utter.   Its mere presence compels you to walk quietly and with reverence.

Straying into too much culture again.  I finally found a museum I like, The Bruges Beer Museum.  And I have a token!!

Now this is the stuff.  The Beer Museum gives you an iPad to guide you through and at the end you exchange it for three drink tokens or six if your companion doesn’t drink.

Properly beered up with for real Belgian Ale, it is time to put my earlier paranoia away about strangely garbed people following me away and get back to the hotel.

I sense a move to the east would be in order.

 

 

Day 9, 10 Amsterdam

Here we go, back in a plane and heading east once again.  I got on the plane, I got off the plane and I am now at my hotel.  The streets here are not paved with gold, they are paved with water.  I’m in Amsterdam.

 

Another beautiful city with a look of its own.  For most people, Amsterdam is a bike riding town.  For a Bubba sized bike, it would take some time to get around.  Amsterdam is also a great walking town. Moving too fast would mean missing the incredible views of all the unique Dutch architecture.

The people here are extremely tolerant and laid back.  To show wealth is seen as a sin by some while sins here come with a different definition.  Some of the houses here have funny red lights out in front.  I’m not sure what that means.

It is also a city of culture. The Rijksmuseum can be a several day distraction.  Many of “those paintings you only see in books” are located here.

   The Night Watch by Rembrandt is here.

 

And this painting by Vermeer.

That is one cute Amsterdamian girl!

Rick liked the library.

WOW! I found the girl pouring the milk.  How do you say, “Wanna party like a Dutch girl?”

Or how do you say, “Just kidding Millie my dear.”

After the museum, we went to a world famous sporting event.  “The World Cup!”  Well, sort of.

Amsterdam is one of those places where it is hard to take a bad picture.  It is a supermodel of European cities; it always photographs well.

As much as I like Amsterdam, I’m on a semi strict time schedule.  I must head east once more.

I’m tired of planes so the next step will be by train to…