Although it was a scam place it did have an interesting urinal.

I enjoyed a total of six days in Ho Chi Minh city also known as Saigon.  

I was fortunate to make some friends at a local coffee shop outside of the tourist district.

The coffee shop was also a custom T-shirt shop.  I chose this image for my first T-shirt, for obvious reasons.  

After three days away to the Mikong Delta I returned to Saigon.  I stayed in this hotel in the foreign district, on the eighth floor.  You can see my windows one from the top because the hotel is only one room wide!  Looks like a short version of a Tokyo building.

The backpackers district of Saigon is very hectic and has a very developed nightlife.  I don’t usually go out drinking but on one occasion I did.  Here you can see me with two girls I met from England.

Soon after meeting them I had us join a group of locals who were dancing at their table.  They were very generous with their quantity of beer coming from a tap on their table.  We tried to refuse but they insisted.  Some time later I was taken by the hand and told to come along as we all ran outside.  In the street we all continued to run.   It took me a few minutes before I realized that the locals had dashed on their bill.  And I had joined them!

There are many scams in the bars in Saigon, so I discovered in my one night out.  At this particular bar the scam was this.  One was presented with a menu that only showed the prices for premade drinks.  These prices were all very normal and standard.  The scam was that their cocktails were priced at nearly 10 times the standard rate for the neighborhood.   So if you saw their menu and then asked them if they had a rum and Coke, you would be very surprised by the price if you did not ask to see that specific menu.  Beer was about 20,000 dong, $1.  A wine cooler expensive at 100,000 dong, $5.  But who would have expected that any other cocktail, on a separate menu , was priced at 330,000 dong $17.  Whereas at all the nearby restaurants the same cocktails were two dollars.

I encountered my next scam at the next bar we moved to.  That was me and the British girls, not the locals who ran home.  This bar had all their drinks marked at double the going rate.  This was acceptable because they had a permanent two for one drink special.  So the three of us ordered two cocktails get two free, each having one and one third with the fourth as a refill.  Then we ordered two more and did the same with the four arrived.  

This was my first time drinking for several weeks.  I asked for the bill after having had five drinks that night.  The bill was much more than I expected but I was confused after drinking by the exchange rate which is difficult with such a large denomination.  (20,000 is $1).  I paid the 600,000 for our drinks and then parted company.  Only the next day did I realize they did not honor the two for one special.  I went back but they said sorry I have no proof.  I am certain they present every customer with this double bill and then pretend it was an honest mistake if the foreigner notices.  

After I had paid the bill but before I had told the girls it was my treat I asked one of them if she could send me a text with our photo.  She said no because it would cost her money.  (About 5 cents.). I signed her in to Wi-Fi to get the photo but I felt hurt.  Although she didn’t know yet I had just spent $20 on their share of the drinks when she didn’t want to spend five cents on one text.  

Although it was a scam place it did have an interesting urinal.   Click on the image below to see the video showing what I mean.

Insert your note video here

 This was another interesting urinal experience.  For your enjoyment we have installed a mirror above this low urinal so that you have no privacy from everyone who enters this bathroom.  Well designed.  

While in Saigon I also had my hair done, a pedicure, and a manicure.  I am still recovering from that traumatic experience.  

Bus, Boat, Carriage and Bicycle. Exploring the Mekong Delta in Vietnam

I’m going to see if I can do a blog post during the actual day. I spend so much time on transportation and I have installed cellular connections on my tablet and phone, so it may be possible if there are times where the views are not so interesting.  Today I leaving from Saigon going inland to the Mekong Delta.

I am using my voice recognition, creating this posting on my cell phone then editing and adding videos with my tablet.

This posting contains short videos. If you received this by email, click on the title to open in your browser so you can view the videos or click on the first video image when you get to it and it will open in your browser automatically.

I’m not sure if this is my receipt or my bus ticket.

Our guide suggested that Vietnam is 80% Buddhist 15% Catholic and 5% Christian and other.

This is the area we are visiting today. Mostly by boat.

So far today I have ridden a bus, a boat, and a horse drawn carriage. Soon to add to that a bicycle and a different more traditional boat.

Click on the image below for a short video of the horse drawn carriage ride.

I enjoyed cycling to explore another island for almost an hour.

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Click on the image below to view a video of cycling about.

src=”https://personaltravelstories.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/img_2764.jpg&#8221; alt=””>

Some views discovered on my bicycle.

And another video from cycling about, click on the image below.

Floating homes in the Mekong River

Innovative use of plastic sheeting to build this home extension.

A close-up.

Click on the image below for a video clip of where I got my bicycle.

I bought a new hat to blend in with the locals.  I think it was quite effective.

I found a snake.

 

The locals waving to the Tourists is very sweet.

Later I would ride boat like this one

Stay tuned for more photos from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam

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A Strategic Ant Farm for People

(This posting has some short video clips. If you received it by email, click on the title in blue to open the posting in your browser so you can view them. Or when you click on one of the video images it will open in your browser at that time.)

The Cu Chi tunnels are a network of more than 200 km of underground tunnels near to the city of Saigon in Vietnam.  They were famous as a unique defense hold against the American military during Vietnam war.  

Here you can see a typical entry point to one of the tunnels.

Click on the image below to see me entering the tunnel through this entry point. This was the original opening size, made so most Americans would not be able to fit through. Only three of us tried to fit.

The Vietcong designed many innovative traps for the American soldiers to encounter.  Most of them involve hidden trapdoors blending in with the ground.

Click on the image below to see this particular trap in action.

The tunnels have a variety of entry points some hidden and not some not.  These were all strategic and caused confusion for the American soldiers.  It would seem that the Vietcong would disappear and reappear in many different places.  This would also cause their numbers to seem expanded.  Their ability to move about underground would have almost seemed magical to the American soldiers above ground.  But not magical in a good way.

 We were told that tanks destroyed where usually buried to be made into bunkers.

The entry of this tunnel would have been made larger for the tourist.  But the tunnel itself was authentic.  I made my way through this one and was very happy not to encounter other people inside.

These huts built into the ground apart from the roof for water drainage were hard to see from any distance.

Thank you for joining my visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam.  

Click on the image below as I look for the nearest exit. The tunnels continue on with many exit/entry points throughout. Although we were told these were authentic dimensions, I have no doubt many tunnels were much smaller. Also, although there was not much lighting, there was some intermittent lightning and they would have had none. Seemed like an ant farm for humans, with chambers and features within, although I didn’t seen any.

I hope you’ll join me next time for more of my Asian adventures! Click on “follow” below the list of entries at the right and enter your email address to receive my posts to your inbox. You will receive nothing other than my postings and you can unfollow at anytime clicking “unfollow” on any of the posts you receive.

Cheers!
Darren

Beautiful English Countryside of the North York Moors from staying in a Country Hotel

This is a very short posting. I may change my posts to become weekly from now as to have more time to work on each story and improve the quality overall. Expect some more interesting stories coming soon!

I stayed in a beautiful country hotel near to Scarborough in the North York Moors. Sadly, I would not recommend this hotel no matter it’s lovely surrounds due to the extreme incompetence of it’s staff unless you are looking for a Faulty Towers type of experience. I did write a piece during my stay there but it seems to have completely disappeared.

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View of the country hotel from the car park.

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A lovely view from the grounds of the hotel.

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The lovely dining room where I had breakfast the first day. I didn’t bother to have the included breakfast on my second day though.

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WIFI was available in the well-appointed bar. This was a place where we were off the grid, no cellular signal here so WIFI was the only communication available with the outside world.

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This was a lovely place to sit and work. Less so in memory if you later lose your work, as in my case.

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Despite being advertised, lunch was not available. The ducks asked me to share my veggie snacks that I had brought with me but then spit them out. Click on the next image to view a short video.

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Hiking on little trails around the property.

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A hotel guest fishing for mackerel.

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Another view of the hotel.

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The charming green lounge off the main hall near reception.

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Looking across the pond.

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So beautiful, but I do warn that the staff were very untrained as of my visit in June, 2013. It was as if none of them had ever been to an inn or hotel before. Or the people in charge had gone to get some eggs and never returned. Some years previous.

Thank you for reading my blog! I hope you will look around and click on “Follow” at the bottom right of your screen so you don’t miss an adventure! One easy click to unfollow so it’s no risk. Cheers! Darren

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Walking around the lovely city of York, Part One

Walking Tours of York

I joined my first walking tour of York the morning after I arrived. A very relieved Doris, originally from Scarborough she moved here in 1982, was happy to see me. A woman of about 70 years, it wasn’t me in particular she was happy to see. It was just if I had not arrived she would have made the effort to come into the centre of York for no purpose. The walking tours have a minimum 2-person policy. This is not for the financial aspect primarily but because situations have the potential to become awkward when it’s one-on-one. “I wouldn’t trust Doris alone either!” I laugh as she turns red and gives me a gentle elbow with a big smile.

I have enjoyed the few walking tours I have encountered over the past 7 weeks travelling in England so when I saw the elaborate collection of tours available here in York I was quite excited. Some tours are run more than others so I have strategically chosen one or two walks for each day I am here. It could be that I end-up with other plans, but I am happy to have these starting out.

Our tour, “Mansion, Cellar, and Priest Hole,” starts with a location that is only appropriate for a handful of walkers at best, probably four would be the most that could attend this one as a group. Our guide unlocks a gate, followed by a door, followed a small stair and then by another door at the back of The Parish Church of All Saints North Street. This is not something I could have stumbled upon on my own, I don’t have keys to this section of the church.

Up the stairs we stand in a small storage room with boxes, spare candelabras, a monitor, and active WIFI hub. It has lovely windows matching the church although this is a later addition. A small square trap door of perhaps just over a square foot opens into the church on it’s rear wall high above the floor.

Until the 1960’s, this church had resident hermits living here. The hermit could enjoy the services and comings and goings of the church without having to actually move amongst the people. Imagine, until so recently. Our guide, Warwick, describes Hermits as being religious recluses. Some hermits had a tendency to prophetic words so in some cases it was beneficial to have the services of a resident hermit to predict the death of kings or the overthrow of churches and such. He tells us that there are 6 such dwellings attached to churches within the city of York. But it is a bit rare to see inside one, he has not taken guests here in some months. Our group size dictated this inclusion on our tour.

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We don’t just visit this church, our guide has the keys to allow us entrance to the private areas attached.
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This odd little attachment to the church does not block any window while creating a living space for a hermit who can view church activities through a spy hole. (Called “Priest Hole”)
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Today, the hermit quarters is used for storage and such. However, this was a living quarter into the 1960’s!
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Also interesting in this photo is the pulley system to lift the elaborate font cover for when the font is needed for baptisms. Notice the dark square towards the top left of the window where the rope also meets the wall; that is the shuttered door into the hermits quarter from which the hermit could spy on the activity below.
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Main areas of the church.
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Here is another pulley system. This one lowers these ropes to within reach to ring the system of bells.
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A placard informs us that spectacles are very rare to be seen in medieval glass.
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Our tour continues in to a tudor building with the name place “Jacob’s Well”. This building had a varied history that Warwick explains to us and shows us by drawing diagrams as we sit inside sipping a coffee. In the Bible there is a story where Jacob went to a well where he met his future wife Rachel. In one of this building’s carnations it was a pub. The name of Jacob’s Well suggested that it was a place for gentleman to come for drinks and to find wives. Except not wives, in this case they also added some bedrooms upstairs to facilitate those meetings.

At some periods this building was used as church rooms, it has experienced various renovations throughout the years to become what it is today.

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“Jacob’s Well”
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This lovely front door was constructed in 1905, perhaps from reclaimed materials. A kitchen now stands on the other side of the original entry door.
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Here you can see the original exterior wall and exterior door which now leads to the kitchen at the side.
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This emblem and number place was originally on the exterior of the house. This was to show that the owners had paid for fire insurance. In case of a fire, a private brigade of that company would come to the rescue. If they couldn’t find the emblem they would pass on by.
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The original certificate that ties to the fire insurance remains.
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We have time for one more sight on this 90-minute walk. We now happen to the Mansion. Over the main entrance is the sign “ace York”. Warwick points out features from the street that could be easily overlooked. Slight non-symmetry of the windows. Holes where a second gas lamp would have been suspended. A cut-out in the iron work where coal could be poured down a chute.

Today this is a boutique hostel. He is known to reception and they are happy to let us take a look about. One could never happen off the street, be allowed to poke around and know all the odd little corners and hallways and doors he takes us through. Our guide shows us evidence here and there of this having been two homes combined to make one larger one. This was the city home of a family who had their estate in the country. They would have stayed here for a month or two at a time during their city stays.

We wander up the staircases to see the attic rooms where house-staff would have housed and wander through the now-finished basement that originally contained a kitchen of the smaller of the two joined homes, as well as storage rooms, wine cellar, and such.
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The front of this gentry pied a terre that was originally two smaller homes.
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Originally the dining room, now this is the dining hall.
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Who’s that? Oh, it’s me!
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The gorgeous main staircase with three variations of palisades.
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Wonderful ceiling details at the top of the main staircase.
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This view from one of the upper floors showcases the lovely York Train Station. *CORRECTION: I was misinformed, Dorris had told me and our guide agreed but they were mistaken. It is so easy to have these mistakes happen because how do you know someone is wrong with their information. Anyway, it is a nearby hotel, Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa. I walked past it the next day. When you see any such mistakes in my postings, please do point them out in the comments so I can fix them. It’s impossible not to have some mistakes when presenting information about different places all the time, it’s not like I am an expert on one specific place that I talk about over and over so that a mistake would be shocking. ((Sorry, I had several really rude correction notes from Indian residents who said I was lying about some facts (I was accused of lying about place names and some names of buildings. Not sure why I’d do that.) rather than accepting that I made a few mix-ups.))
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At the conclusion of our walk Doris walks me to the centre near to where we started and helpfully points me towards the information centre. I stop for lunch at Browns, sitting in an open central square where I key in this account before attending my next walking tour at 2:15. I hope I meet Doris again this week, she is keen to explore her city of 31 years. She too had not been to the three locations we visited today.
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This gentleman played the violin near my table where I had lunch in the square. Sadly, I had no coin left and my smallest bill was a £10 ($15) which was a bit too much to show my appreciation.
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After dining, I took this photo of the area as I left.
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Afternoon Tour

I joined a tour called “Snickelways” in the afternoon of my first day in York. The word Snickelways was coined in 1982 as a combination of three words that refer to the tiny little pedestrian alleys that exist here and there throughout the city of York. In Edinburgh they were called Closes.

We had a very dramatic tour guide who was passionate about history and historic details. In fact, he was so dedicated to showing us the wonderful attributes of this city that our tour went over by nearly an hour.
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This tour was far too long and too details to possibly remember all the things we saw. 90 minutes would have been a better stopping point.
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A bit of York University. This coat of arms currently being refurbished.
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An entrance into what was the walled city.
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Here is our first Snickelway!
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One comes upon the very imposing York Minister when wandering the narrow streets.
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According to our guide, this is one of two cathedrals in the world with it’s own police force. The other is the Vatican.
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What! Who’s that!
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I am sure he said something interesting here, but then there was fully two more hours of him presenting us facts and figures and my brain dumped much of what he said.
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That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it.
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Some shots around York as we wandered about.
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Most interesting to me about this medieval room is the fire area in the middle of the floor, fire places with chimneys were only invented in the 1500’s!
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Another snickelway.
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This lane was originally called “Groppe Cunte”. Yes, they did mean what it sounded like, it was a street of brothels and they highlighted that in the street name. Don’t blame me for being crass, I am just the middleman. (Later, another guide said that Grape was more simply changed from Grope and that there are Grape Streets all over Great Britain that have been changed from their initial spelling which was to help travellers find the local lanes of “women of negotiable affections”.)
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The reason he included this church wasn’t for the church but for what was in it’s front garden.
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No, not this, silly. This is just the back garden where they put the dead people. Who, according to our guide, number more than 1.5 million in York. That’s a lot of fertilizer.
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Oh my goodness, birds of prey on leashes. That little guy to the right behind the sign is a real owl!
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I was really surprised how calm these owls were to be approached and held.
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We are told that when walls sit on top of the floor boards overhanging the wall below, it creates a stress on the boards that keeps the floors within straighter and in need of less floor joists.
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At one point the many priests of York Minster lived separately. It became known that some of them were leading secular lives of playing cards and visiting ladies and such. At some point it was ordered for them all to live together here so they could keep an eye on each other. We are told that 50 or so priests had quarters here.
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The inner courtyard.
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Dutch House is entirely build with bricks from the Netherlands. Dutch traders used bricks as ballast in their ships coming from Holland to return home with quarried rock. Do you see the cute window detail, here because of the name of the street?
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Here it is, a little owl! Seems to be a theme today!
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York is no longer completely walled due to some removal to improve roadways a century ago or so. But most of the walls remain.
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Thank you for visiting http://www.Personal Travel Stories.com.

I hope you will visit some more of my postings, as of August, 2013, mostly of India, Great Britain, Manhattan, and a little Los Angeles.

I hope you will also follow my blog by clicking on “follow” at the bottom right of your screen. I try to share my current adventures every 4 days. No worries, you can unfollow with just a click if you change your mind.

Cheers!
Darren

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Visiting the Lovely City of Bridges, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland

I approached the lovely city of Newcastle from the North after having visited my former home of 18 months, Edinburgh. Situated near the East Coast of England in Northumberland, the first thing I noticed about Newcastle was how it lies in the valley along the river Tyne. All roads lead downwards towards the Tyne, this kind of feature creates an extra visual interest as well as very strong orientation cues when wandering about.

After checking-in to my quayside hotel and depositing my car behind the old fish market, I set out for some initial explorations. The second thing I noticed about Newcastle was how friendly the locals are. Known as Geordies and Tyne-siders, I found that everyone I interacted with from the hotel reception to strangers on the street were warm and helpful. After determining my plan for tomorrow, I return to my hotel. On the way, the third notable aspect to me are the handsome bridges that span the Tyne. They really add to the character of this town.

I start the next day having the Full English Breakfast that came with my room. This happens all too often, I find it hard to turn down the fry-up to have the cereal and yoghurt alternative. Staying in mid-range places, many of them do include a full breakfast, but most of them do not include having a fitness centre to work it off. I will need to start balancing this better, traveling more than not as I am. But, there will be other countries to have daily fruit and coffee for my morning meal, I tell myself. Oh, the excuses.

I walk up lovely Grey Street, the Victorian corridor that curves up the valley climb that was named after Earl Grey. I’m going to the information centre to join a walking tour that starts at 10:30. I have so often missed these tours by minutes or hours by having not known about them until it was too late so now this is something I look into straight away. These are a fantastic chance to be led around an unfamiliar place by a local who has studied lots of interesting details. It’s also nice to meet some other travellers, especially when travelling alone, dining alone, wandering alone, driving alone; you get the idea. Originally I was not interested in meeting non-locals, but this has changed over time from coming to understand that it can be harder to meet people than I had anticipated.

I join a retired couple from Phoenix, Arizona (but originally from and sounding as from New Orleans), and a young man from Blackburn as we are led around the centre by a volunteer guide from Gateshead. (Gateshead is basically the continuation of Newcastle on the other side of the Tyne.)

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This lovely Victorian Shopping Arcade is just around the corner from the Tourist Information Centre in Newcastle.

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The lovely Grey Street with a wonderful variety of Victorian Architecture.

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This unique building also on Grey Street.

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This Monument to Earl Grey was in honour of his good social and civil works. The tea “Earl Grey” was named in his honour, it was not a concoction of his making and he was not in the tea business.

Following the 90 minute tour, Amir, the 21 year-old from Blackburn, and I decide to continue for lunch. This turns in to quite a tour itself as we look for halal alternatives. There are lots around for dinner, not so many for lunchtime. “There are only two mosques here and they are both in the university.” Amir tells me by way of explanation. We happen by one person who notices Amir and greets him traditionally. There are not a lot of Muslims in Newcastle, at least not in this area.

Amir wants to visit every possible art gallery and we go in to two different shops when we happen upon them. He does not see the difference between a store that sells paintings and a public art gallery. Having been a store owner, I do. We are lucky at one of the galleries, the artist, from Harrowgate, is actually present today. He has some very interesting paintings on 3-dimensional canvases. He paints in reverse perspective, basically painting the exact opposite of the perspective that our brain would expect and interpret. Smaller things look like they are further away, views diminish with distance. In his work, the opposite is true which makes for fun brain confusion.

Af first when I look at them I see the dimensions of the canvas, but after a few moments they appear flat to me and my eyes strain to interpret what is in front of me. Quite fascinating, I’ve never seen them done quite like this before. Amir is excited to meet the artist but has nothing to say or ask. In fact, he led us into the gallery and then toured around as if navigating a maze rather than looking at the artwork beyond periphery glance. This he does in all three of the galleries we view today.

Outside the galleries we continue our search for food Amir can eat. He had originally only wanted take-away to keep his budget, but I am happy to treat to have a sit down meal. I need this kind of break when touring around. “There is something that I have been wanting to talk to you about,” Amir says, “but I’ll wait until we’re sitting down.”

“What!?” I am thinking. I only met him a couple of hours ago and he has already been pining to tell me something for which I should be seated? I’m not sure I want to hear whatever this could be. He’s already told me how he left his abusive father with his mother and two sisters seven years ago, and has not keep in contact. (He would have been quite little, only fourteen and the oldest of the children.) I know he has had issues that had him delay his schooling and that for the past two years he has worked at charity shops in Blackburn. I know that he wants to have four masters degrees, an odd detail of ambition I didn’t think about when he said it. Four separate masters degrees. I don’t think he’s started uni yet. I know he has a fixation on libraries, he joins the local library everywhere he goes. He has twelve library cards and today he hopes to make his favourite number, thirteen.

I’m sure he’s harmless though. Very possibly a lunatic, but safe. He’s just little too.

We finally set on Italian where he can have a vegetarian pizza. I didn’t know what a Muslim could eat but if he had shared this before we could have easily eaten an hour ago. Anyway, I order a cappuccino before we look at the menues and continue to wonder about what he could possibly want to talk to me about. He’s a traditional looking Muslim guy, a 21-year old with olive skin and a long beard stands-out. Maybe he’s struggling with being gay and wants to confide to someone outside his circle? Or maybe he’s going to ask me for money, I hope he doesn’t ask me to sponsor him to university or something. Finally the time is right, he is going to talk about whatever it is he has been waiting to share.

“So I’ve had this pen pal for 2 years and we finally met and I really like her,” he starts,”but there’s this other girl too who I think I like.”

Ha,ha,ha on me. He just wants to talk to me about his girl troubles. An older guy who is not Muslim so will not have the bias of that particular religious perspective to be the sounding board for what he should do. Of course I am instantly relieved and have to force myself not to laugh as he concludes, “so I’m kind of in a girl sandwich.”

It does sound very complicated in that to date either girl he needs to nearly concede to eventual marriage, neither girl would date without that aim in mind. As of this moment he has barely spoken to either of them, one works in the library and giggles when he speaks barely able to fuse any sort of response. The other shared buckets when there were pen pals (a type of Muslim online dating site), but became typically shy once they met in person and has barely spoken since. Anyway, it’s interesting for me but I encourage him to perhaps forget about both girls if he is being true that he does not want to marry until he’s about 30 since he knows both girls are looking for a springboard to marriage. If he doesn’t want to offer them that and he knows that is what they are both looking for then I don’t quite understand the conundrum. He’ll probably be married within the year.

After lunch we cross the incredible Gateshead Millennium Bridge. A really interesting engineering project, the pedestrian bridge is a partial loop when flat over the water, with a counter-balance hovering above. When turned on it’s axis, the horizontal walkway made vertical creates a large opening over the water. It’s very cool and adds an extra dimension to Newcastle’s lovely collection of 7 bridges.

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St Nicholas Cathedral, with one of 3 Scottish Gothic Crowns. (Other two in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.)

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Close-up you can see how it looks like a crown.

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For perspective, our guide told us that these figures are life-sized. (The golden statues at the corners.)

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I thought this was a rather optimistic clock. I’m not sure how often this clock using sun shadows would be effective. Not today anyway!

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The most famous Tyne Bridge designed after Sydney’s Harbour Bridge by the same company.

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Because Newcastle is in a valley, the higher bridges span partly over city streets which I thought made for really interesting cityscapes. This is a very handsome city.

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Another bridge, this one green, crossing over buildings until it reaches land level beyond.

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The World’s First combined road and railway bridge, called High Level Bridge, was built in 1849.

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Another view of Tyne Bridge.

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Any lover of bridges must visit Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

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Walking across the Swing Bridge (pivots in the middle) with a view of the Tyne Bridge.

On the opposite side of the bridge we enter the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Here we enjoy wonderful views from two viewing platforms, as well as see a few art pieces such as a square soccer ball and a large plain make-up mirror with lipstick writing on it. It said something like, “I love you” in French. It wasn’t exactly that, but it was forgettable. Clotheslines of bedsheets hanging as if to dry. That kind of thing.

Amir notices a boat tour as we approach the very impressive Sage Gateshead, a triple concert hall that reminds me of an Aubergine. It is an amazing space. Amir runs up to the concert ticket desk and asks, “How much are boat tours?” I have not yet entirely clued in yet that he is perhaps a bit off, so I find it funny that he has approached this question like a 6-year old. “Those adults at the big desk look official, they’ll know.” I imagine him thinking.

“Well, we sell concert tickets,” a kindly man replies, “but I could look that up for you on the internet.”

“I’ve been to all the cities in Yorkshire!” Amir informs and starts listing all the cities he as visited over the past two years on day trips.

“There’s an open bus tour you can take to see all of Newcastle,” a friendly adjacent ticket agent offers.

“Oh, no. I don’t want to do that. I already went on a bus tour in York so I don’t need to do that again.”

“But this is a different city, I’m sure it would be an entirely different tour?” She looks to me now with eyes a little bit widened as if looking for some glimmer of comprehension. I’m rather taken by surprise myself by his response. He has such a high function in some ways but is a very young child in others. His memory is exceptional, but memory is not intelligence. It can look like it though. I had been surprised that he includes specific dates when he talks about things he has done and when he told me of his girl troubles. “So on March 2nd I saw her a the library with my friend and she only listened from far away but on March 9th she actually talked to me.” “I went to York on April 23 and to Leeds on May 12th and I went to Liverpool on February 7th.” I am one easily impressed by details of memory because if I don’t write it down I may forget where I was three days ago. Or what I had for dinner last night.

So I have found the boat tour information using my phone before the gentleman at the counter has, distracted as he is by Amir sharing all the details of his day trips. “We missed the last one at 3PM, that’s the one we saw going.”

Next door this is a Heritage Information building where Amir inquires as to whether he can get a library card and what the library hours are. Again, the people here are very friendly and do their best to answer his random questions, but I have the answer using my phone before any of them are able to conjure it. “It closes at 5:30,” I tell him.

We cross the River Tyne over the swing bridge this time. This bridge is manned in a little office 24/7 because it needs to be operated locally. Any happening vessel, even a private yaught, can request it’s opening so hands need to be ready. All this information according to our guide, who has toured it’s interior during a specialty tour. He thinks the bridge only opens about a dozen times a year, certainly less than 20 times. That’s a lot of man-hours in waiting. Perhaps vessels should be required to phone ahead to have it opened rather than it be constantly staffed. Or, a signal could come from a bridge up-river to indicate the need to open is approaching.

We make our way to the Central Library where another kind and warm local does his best to turn off his auto-script when signing someone up to get a library card. “So when you use our online services. . . .” “I don’t have the internet.” “Right, so when you take out a book . . .” “I don’t take out books. I just want the library card. This is number 13.” “Yes, yes, you said you live in Blackburn.” The librarian seemed quite entertained and amused by this young man collecting library memberships everywhere he goes.

Amir was really excited to have his 13th card. It made the entire day with it. Three hours coming and three hours back by train to be here just the day. The ticket cost him £72 ($100 ish) which is a huge expense for him. It would be cheaper for him to stay in a hostel and visit a different nearby city before returning home, but he does each trip as a completely separate day trip. Some of the cities are very near to each other and quite far from Blackburn, but it is his way and I am not sure he could alter that. Stay overnight? No, no, I go home at night.

We stop for a milkshake at what makes Amir’s 12th different shake place, but this is only if he counts having a shake at Costa Coffee and that’s not a shake place so he’s not sure if it really counts. Not strictly, I think, but really he should make his own rules for what he has created as accomplishments so I don’t offer my opinion.

I leave Amir at the train station and wander in the direction of my hotel by the water. He insists on giving me a bag of crisps that he bought 2 for £1. I’ve not bought chips once during my trip but these don’t last the night. Oops.

What an interesting day, I’ll never know just how quirky or possibly certifiable that little guy is.

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What a fantastic building, the Sage Gateshead is a triple concert hall.

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A view from inside the Sage Gateshead.

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Here you can see the counterbalance of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

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Now you can see how it curves when it sits flat over the water.

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Watching the bridge rotate on it’s axis to give way for sea traffic, you can see where it got it’s nickname, “Blinking Eye”. Mostly it opens as a tourist attraction, no boats passed underneath when we viewed it’s scheduled opening.

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Looking up the Tyne from the viewpoint of the BALTIC. See Gateshead to the left and Newcastle to the right. Magnificent.

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View from my window at the Waterside Hotel. I enjoyed staying here but the hotel is for sale, in case you are looking for one.

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You can see the Waterside Hotel in this photo, around the middle, a creamy-coloured building.

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Walking under a bridge near the castle.

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This is a medieval castle but it replaced the new castle from which Newcastle got it’s name. So this is the new, new castle.

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A busy pedestrianised shopping zone. I will miss these pedestrian zones when I leave England.

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It was my cousin Kate’s birthday so I took this photo for her Facebook.

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Tomorrow is Father’s Day so I took this for my Dad back in New Brunswick, Canada.

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Just some random last photos around Newcastle. My car is parked behind this lovely fish market building along the Tyne, in the hotel’s car park.

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This sculpture reminds me of the larger white baby sculpture in Monaco.

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Coming from Canada, I had no notions as to what to expect in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Only after did I read that it has a hold-over reputation as being industrial and dirty. I can say with complete confidence that this reputation should be washed away. Today, NewcastleGateshead is a very handsome, thriving, clean and interesting city and I am very happy that I included it on my itinerary. Definitely worth a visit, I will probably be back.

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(This is the sculpture in Monaco I mentioned above, on a trip with my niece in August, 2012.)