Zurich - Rome - Delhi - Singapore - Hanoi - Bangkok - Beijing - Seoul - Sydney - Auckland - San Francisco - Las Vegas - New York
UK - Zurich
We set off today on the Global Explorer. A Thirty two day adventure visiting 14 cities in 12 countries and covering a distance of 31,000 miles. Wow.....
We have started our journey in Lucerne, Switzerland - a charming little city in the Swiss Alps nestled between the mountains of Pilatus and Rigi and at the tip of Lake Lucerne. It was lovely to see the group of 34 enjoy their first day. Three of the group are even previous Global Explorers from the trip we did in 2016 and it was so nice to see them back again, eager for this new adventure that awaits. In fact it was great to see the whole group excited for this epic trip around the world. We started off by crossing the wooden Chapel Bridge, bedecked in summer flowers, and which has long been the city’s iconic landmark before heading off to the famous Lion Monument. The monument commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred during the French Revolution in 1792 and was once described by Mark Twain as the “most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world”. We ended our first evening at the Stadtkeller - a Cheese fondue and Swiss Folkore. What better way to complete our first day! There was yodelling, alpine horn blowing and accordion music.
We started the morning with a beautiful boat trip in the glorious sunshine on Lake Lucerne. The weather could not have been more perfect. The mountains were clear for us and from the lake we could see all the snow-capped peaks clearly. Once we started climbing Mt Rigi, the views just got even better and we could even see the Matterhorn from the top. The weather really made the trip and after the obligatory ‘selfies’ most people enjoyed a picnic lunch at the top of the mountain. Switzerland had proven to be a wonderful opener to this epic tour!
The early evening flight brought us to the Eternal city of Rome. After a long day, some settled in to the hotel bar but a few of the more energetic ones joined me for the short walk to Piazza Venezia to see the Vittoria Emanuelle monument - otherwise known as the ‘Wedding Cake’!! The monument really is at its best when it’s all illuminated at night.... We finished the day with a cocktail overlooking the Colosseum. What a welcome to Rome.
Another baking hot day in Rome but we all made the most of our time in the city. Some went off to the big market, some basked in the glory of Piazza Navona, the most beautiful square in Rome - in my humble opinion! Others in the group came with me to discover the riches of Rome beginning with the blessing by Pope Francis himself. We got in prime position for the blessing and had a great vantage point for the window where the Pope later appeared. It didn’t take long for the square to fill to capacity. We hadn’t realised that it was Pentecost this Sunday so the square was really full. Pope Francis did not disappoint. He came to the window at exactly midday and 10 minutes later. How could we finish our visit in Rome without a stop for ice cream so this was exactly what we did in the beautiful Piazza Navona. Tre Scali’s ice cream, one of the most famous in Rome, didn’t disappoint with its speciality chocolate ice cream topped in cream!
India has been hot hot hot. We arrived after a night flight and a 2 hour delay and hit the ground running. Literally. This has been our first delayed flight and with the best will in the world its part of the experience of travel. At this time of year Delhi and Agra are at their hottest. We had a good introduction to Delhi, visiting Humayan’s Tomb and Qutub Minar. We drove by India Gate and saw the beautiful Lutyens designed architecture of the Parliament and other government buildings. We even got to experience the chaos of Delhi traffic.
Next morning, we headed off early to Agra to see the wonderful Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world. Despite the temperature reaching 45 degrees, the Taj didn’t disappoint. For many in the group, it was their dream to be here to see this opulent declaration of love. A few even said they felt Goosebumps when they first set eyes on it. By the time we reached the Taj, the heat was really sweltering but it didn’t stop anyone from having their photo taken on the famous ‘Diana’ bench or posing to make the Taj look like a giant teapot! After a rest over lunch and a chance to enjoy some much needed air conditioning, we continued to the Fort of Agra, which offers a great view of the Taj from the other side of the river. It was then back to Delhi and a chance to experience more chaotic traffic!
This really is a tour of contrasts! Imagine on Sunday we were being blessed by the Pope in Rome, the next day we were driving past the India Gate in Delhi. The next day we were baking in 45 degrees in Agra looking at one of the world’s most lavish declarations of love, The Taj Mahal. The next day we are being served ice by robots in Singapore!!! What a contrast....
The robots - this is something that has amused me greatly. Not only do they serve ice but they also deliver room service. I left this morning and the little robot was being charged ready for this evening’s busy schedule. Love it!!
Back to Singapore..... Whilst it’s warm and humid here, the temperature is somehow more bearable than India and the group have loved their first day here. The day started quite relaxed with a visit to the orchid garden followed by a short boat ride through the financial district of the city. The afternoon saw a visit to the Buddhist temple and a little light shopping in Chinatown. I think most people finished afternoon with a dip in the pool before a nice chilled out dinner on the waterfront at Clarke’s Quay. All in all, this has been a relaxing day in this well ordered corner of Asia. We said our farewell to Singapore in true style... trishaw rides through Little India followed by a Singapore Sling at the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel in the bar, Ce La Vie. (Their spelling not mine!). The views from the top were amazing and we all decided that we loved Singapore Slings!
The next morning we set off early for Hanoi, Vietnam. The temperature’s a bit cooler - now 36 degrees BUT now with humidity at 97%. Blimey it’s hot! It’s like walking through a steam room!!! However, the group are coping well in the heat and everywhere is air conditioned. Thankfully! We took taxis in to Hanoi’s old quarter to experience some traditional life and after a little walking tour to show them the highlights, the group split off in to smaller groups to sample the local cuisine.
The next morning we began the day with a cyclo ride through again the old quarter offering another perspective of the traditional life of Hanoi. We had a learned morning visiting The Temple of Literature, saw the Mausoleum of Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) but with queues of 7kms to go inside the tomb and with no water allowed, we skipped through to the complex itself and observed the house where he lived his simple life. Lunch was in one of my favourite Vietnamese restaurants here - Le Tonkin - and dinner was in Wild Rice, another of my favourites. It’s great that our Global explorers are sampling the local food in all of these cities. Most have decided that Vietnamese is their favourite so far!! The highlight of our day in Hanoi had to be the Water Puppet Show! Fortunately, unique to Hanoi and as a one-time event..unmissable. Second time....????? Well you should probably only experience the water puppets once. A lot of splashing of puppets in tanks of water... an ancient tradition of Hanoi. Hmmm....
Another day, another country. We are still melting in the heat and humidity but everybody is loving the contrasts of each country. In the early evening, we headed off to the local eateries to sample some Thai Cuisine. Although these Asian countries are so close together geographically, everybody is noticing just how different they all are culturally. The people are as culturally diverse as the food they eat and each has its very own unique identity. It’s very much the rainy season here in Thailand and each day we have experienced a tropical shower. It doesn’t last long but as the saying goes, it doesn’t rain but it pours. And here it really does. In the Grand Palace, there was such a storm that we had to postpone our tour until the rain subsided. Not a group to waste any time, they managed to entertain themselves with some ‘singing in the rain.’ A cliché of course, but it was funny nevertheless....
The afternoon here in Bangkok we enjoyed some cooling weather on the water of the Klongs, the waterways of the city, and one last visit to a little temple. It’s a Buddhist Holiday today and luckily for us we have whizzed through the city missing the heavy traffic that the city is renowned for. Next stop.... Beijing tomorrow....
Today had been a long day travelling with a relatively early start but the group of Global Explorers are still enjoying every minute and taking it all in their stride. Our first day in Beijing was spent visiting the iconic sights. For example Tiannmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven and with unusually clear blue skies we weren’t disappointed. Some went off to the Kung Fu Show in the early evening. Not Kung Fu, in a sense that you would imagine. This Shaolin version, known to be the most majestic one, tells the story of the little monk born in to the Shaolin temple. For many this was a highlight of their stay in China!! The next day we headed off, again with perfect blue skies, to see another Wonder of the World - the Great Wall of China in Badaling. The group showed great stamina as they set foot on the Wall and given the challenge of the hard section or the ‘harder’ section, they of course rose to the challenge and took the more difficult one. We ended our stay here in Beijing with a great Peking Duck Dinner overlooking the Birds Nest, the site of the Olympic opening ceremony back in 2008 when Beijing hosted the Games.
Seoul, South Korea.
This was my first visit to Seoul and, like the rest of the group, I really didn’t know what to expect. So what is South Korea like? Well, the first thing I noticed on Saturday evening when we arrived was just how young everybody was. On the streets of Seoul on a Saturday night, there was nobody under the age of 30! I felt old here. Really old!, The city itself was bouncing with life and music. Bars, restaurants and clubs were pulsing and it was only 6pm! Remember we had just come from Beijing, a much more sombre city in many ways and where people seemed to spend their life simply commuting. The restaurant that was chosen for our first night dinner was typically Korean -full of young people, noisy music and everybody cooking their food on hot stones. It seems that Koreans like to go out to dinner and then do all the cooking themselves!
Our full day in Seoul was spent driving out to the DMZ - The De Militarised Zone. We then headed down Tunnel number 3, wearing our hard yellow hats and looking more like construction workers than tourists.
We then drove to the observation platform where we looked through binoculars at the dictator led country of North Korea, saw the two flags of North and South Korea, the mass of triple barbed wire to ensure that nobody crosses the border either way and apart from that we saw nothing of life on the other side of the fence that remains elusive to us. We then headed to the railway station where one day there may be a train that links North and South Korea but for now, one train arrives each day at 11.40am but we had to leave the platform before it actually came. We had however, by this time taken our historic photos of the station and the platform that receives so few trains. This was a strange visit to what felt more like a theme park than a historic relic of the Cold War. In fact they’re about to open a new camp site in the DMZ so young people can take their vacations there! Dinner was at the Korea House where we were entertained by a rather stunning and futuristic performance with amazing graphics and lasers, followed by more traditional dancing and foolery.
Sydney, famous for the iconic sights of the Harbour Bridge, Mrs Macquarie’s chair, Bondi Beach and of course the not-as-white-as-you-think Opera House have not disappointed. For many it’s their first trip in Australia and even despite the cool, wet weather, the visit has whetted their appetite to return and explore the country further. This tour is after all a sampler but I think all of the Explorers will agree that there really has been ample time in each city to get a good flavour of the highlights that each has to offer. Whilst in Sydney, we went over to the Blue Mountains and were lucky enough to see the Three Sisters peeping out just enough for us to take our snaps. The exhilarating train ride at Scenic world, in fact the steepest in the world, provided 8 minutes of pure excitement to the tune of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Featherdale Park gave us (myself included) a chance to have selfies with some of the native koalas. How often do you get the chance to pat the furry bottom of a koala? We fed the kangaroos, saw the exotic bird life... all of which we enjoyed. Some on their free day showed nerves of steel as they scaled the Harbour Bridge and others soared through the Harbour in a helicopter. To conclude our stay here we enjoyed a dinner cruise to enjoy the vivid light festival here in Sydney. We’ve been lucky enough to time our visit with this incredible light display. Wow.... what an amazing last night it has been here in Sydney. The wine flowed, the dinner was superb and the light show was spectacular. What a way to end our stay in Sydney! Tomorrow, early morning, we head to Auckland for another couple of cool days....
New Zealand, was a brief stop over and although Auckland was a delight to visit, we weren’t sorry to leave winter behind. The blue skies of San Francisco welcomed us on arrival and after a champagne reception at the hotel, we didn’t hang around too long before everybody went off to discover the eateries of the city. The hotel, right in the centre of Union Square, was once host to our Queen Elizabeth and it is still one of the grandest in the city and perfectly located for restaurants and shops nearby. The next morning we had breakfast overlooking the harbour in Fisherman’s Wharf with noisy seals not too far away in the distance. A city, famous for its sourdough bread, this was a firm favourite for people to try over lunch. In the afternoon, small groups went off in all directions to make the most of their free time. Quite a few of the groups chose to escape TO Alcatraz, some chose the beach of Sausalito to simply chill out for a few hours, and others took an exhilarating helicopter flight under the Golden Gate Bridge. We all fell in love with San Francisco and most want to return to California. Next stop Vegas....
Love it or hate it. Vegas is Vegas. Every hotel, restaurant and even the supermarkets have slot machines and the sound of the roulette wheel in this city never stops. Located in the heart of the desert in Nevada, the place simply never sleeps. It really is open 24/7. The hotels are huge. And I mean massive. Most have in the region of 2-3000 rooms. Ideally they should come with a GPS to help you navigate your way around! In terms of occupancy, Vegas is pretty unique. These enormous hotels run at 90% occupancy all year round. Nowhere else in the world can boast these kind of figures. People just flock to this city to be entertained. These days it’s so unusual to see people smoke in public areas but in Vegas anything goes and this has to be that one last place where smokers can do their thing without being condemned. The hotel rooms are non-smoking but anywhere else, smoking is permitted.
We are in the middle of the desert here in the middle of summer with temperatures to match. 41 degrees all day long but with virtually zero humidity. How on earth they get the swimming pool to be so cold remains a mystery to me but it was freezing. Refreshing. But cold! My crazy group of mad dogs spent time this afternoon by the pool after visiting the Grand Canyon. But boy was it hot!! The group took different options to experience the canyon - from planes that soared over the top to helicopters that landed in the canyon itself, they were experiences not to be missed!
Vegas by night went down a treat.....We watched the Belaggio Fountains perform at sunset to the music from Titanic, we saw the Eiffel Tower from Paris and we walked through St Marks Square and over the Rialto Bridge in Venice - We finished our night trip in Old Vegas in Freemont Street with the largest overhead canopy in the world. Crazy people zipping along the roof while music and videos played out on the roof. Very different! Vegas is a town like Marmite. You either love it or hate it.... but somehow just once in your life you need to experience it just to see for yourself what a ‘bonkers’ place it is!!!!
The neon lights dazzled those that hadn’t seen Times Square before but we remained focused to get to the Diner as quickly as we could. We got to the Diner at 10.10pm and we looked at the queue which was still stretching half way down the street and some I could see were looking disappointed. While the group were lining up outside, I spoke to the staff and within 15 minutes we were bypassing the line and sitting down ordering our very late dinner whilst being entertained by the budding Broadway future stars. Nobody got to bed before about 1am but this really is a group who want to miss nothing!! And who needs sleep eh??
The next morning we did our tour of the city taking in the highlights. Ground Zero, always a sobering stop, gave people time to reflect. Some remembered the Twin Towers from previous visits whilst others simply remembered where they were on the day of 9/11.
The evening, our last, didn’t disappoint. We boarded the Bateaux New York for our farewell dinner cruise. The drink flowed, the meal was great and Manhattan passed before us from sunset to dark. We loved the views. The Statue of Liberty all lit up at night, the Brooklyn Bridge, Tower 1 all proved spectacular distractions for the evening. When they sang New York, New York most of the group were on the dance floor. I’m not a dancer. In fact the thought of dancing just brings me out in a cold sweat but even I was cajoled on to the dance floor. The song proved to be an emotional end to this wonderful tour and I was spun around on the dance floor, totally out of my comfort zone but the group just made it fun! I’m not one that likes to be the centre of attention, but there I was in the middle of the ring being whizzed around by each in turn and I don’t think there was a dry eye on the dance floor!
A month is a long time to travel together. 32 days, 11 countries, 14 cities and 31,000 miles. Wow. What we have seen and done in a month leaves most people breathless but we have journeyed around the globe. We set of as strangers and finished as friends. We’ve been like a ‘giant’ family going on our journey but one thing that has remained constant throughout has been the kindness and care shown to each other. This has been a group of differing personalities that have come together to share this incredible journey.
Today was my first lie in a month but one of them has left their camera on the boat.... these trips are never over until they are over. Now I’m going to see if I can find the camera!!! The last blog of this epic journey. Hope you’ve enjoyed following our trip!!!!!