December 31, 2007

LOW with Simon - Canterbury

The afternoon stop on the London Original Walks tour with Simon was to Canterbury on the River Stour.

We admired the city gate and other sites of interest along the way. Simon pointed out a dunking stool, a famous hospital (really an inn), a "Queen Elizabeth slept here" building that now houses a Nero coffee bar, and old A2 hiway signs to Dover / Chatham above a pedestrian street.
Simon told us we could view the gate (refurbished fairly recently) to the Canterbury Cathedral but the only way we could see the interior was to attend the Evensong service. Simon led the others to see more sights of the city while I attended my first (and possibly last) Church of England service in this very special cathedral.

LOW with Simon - Leeds Castle

Leeds Castle was the morning stop on the London Original Walks day trip led by Simon. Leeds Castle is sometimes called the "loveliest castle in the world" and it was very pretty. Leeds Castle traces its roots to a 9th century manor house and King Edward I made it into a royal palace in 1278. King Henry V accused his stepmother, Queen Joan, of witchcraft and imprisoned her there. King Henry VIII upgraded the castle for Catherine of Aragon. The American heiress, Lady Baillie decorated the home beautifully which is why Simon said the castle has more of a "stately home" feel than a castle. She loved her dogs and buried 3 near the lake.

After touring the castle, I visited the aviary with a great selection of birds, although I marvelled that they did not seem to mind the very cold day as much as I did.

Time was running out and I had to choose between getting lost in the maze or visiting the quirky and world's only "Dog Collar" museum - of course, I chose the museum. The collars looked too wide to be comfortable but I learned that they were to protect the necks of the dogs from bears, wolves, wild boar and other predators.

December 29, 2007

Shell Wildlife Photography Exhibit 2007

My favorite annual exhibition is the Shell sponsored Wildlife Photography Competition in the Natural History Museum in London. The photos are amazing and always energise us! Here are a few of my favorites (I loved them all) from the website: Stoat with Toast, Water Vole, Penguins (porpoising and climbing), Breaching Great White Shark, Kilauea Dawn.

November 28, 2007

AWC Christmas At Chatsworth

AWC organised a trip to Chatsworth, home to the 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The home and grounds were spectacular, even on this somewhat bleak day.

The highlight of visiting Chatsworth House at this time is that it is decorated for Christmas. It is one of the warmest feeling stately homes I have ever visited.

My visit was proceding normally - beautiful chapel with nativity scene.

Gorgeous dining room table set for the holidays with spectacular ceiling.

But a surprise! Decorating ancient Roman statues like this is the kind of prank for which I would have gotten into big trouble (But I swear, this was NOT my doing).

After visiting the home, I took a stroll around the beautiful grounds to admire the statues, out-buildings, fountain, cemetary, and countryside. After tea and scones, it was time for our 3 hour bus / train / tube trip home.

November 20, 2007

Singapore Sling and Zoo

One thing everyone "must" do is drink a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel. Here is a picture of my 20 Singapore Dollar (~$12.50) Singapore Sling at a more comfortable table NEAR the Long Bar. It was a pleasant enough drink but my next order was a white wine. We did consume an incredible number of peanuts.
We were not able to find an evening to go on a "Night Safari" but we did the next best thing - an afternoon at the Singapore Zoo. Our first destination was to see the "white tigers" and this exhibit had 3, one of which was wading back and forth in the water (the other 2 were pacing on land). All white tigers today descend from Mohan, who was captured as a cub in 1951 by Maharaja Shri Martand Singh of Rewa. After siring many cubs, Mohan died in 1970 and was laid to rest with Hindu rites and official mourning. The Maharaja of Rewa eventually turned Mohan's native forest into the Bandhavgarh National Park.

We enjoyed other animals we saw - molting polar bear, pygmy hippo, maned wolf, otter, false gavial, hamadryas baboon, white handed gibbon, cassowary, etc. The marine mammal show (starring a manatee and small penguins - no Shamu) got rained out by a sudden downpour. We ate an Indian lunch that was actually quite good, especially for a theme park.

We spent one business dinner at Il Lido at the Sentosa Golf Club. Sentosa is an island you can reach by car (our entrance fee was waived because we were going for dinner), Sentosa Express (monorail) or cable car. I would like to return someday during the day but instead had to "settle" for a delicious dinner in a top Italian restaurant with ultramodern decor overlooking the Singapore Straits at night.

November 19, 2007

Bintan Lagoon Resort (Indonesia)

The Bintan Resorts area is separated from most of the rest of Bintan (island in Indonesia) and is considered to be almost an extension of Singapore. We took Bintan Resort Ferries from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal (Singapore) to Bandar Bentan Telani (Indonesia). As the Bintan side ferry Port Manager (who happened to be sitting next to Kris) explained, the trip used to take 45 minutes but now requires an additional 15 minutes so the ferry does not get too close to the new American base. We got our Indonesia "Visa on Arrival" (fortunately Kris had thought to bring US dollars), were picked up by the Bintan Lagoon Resorts shuttle and taken to our hotel. The whole process was highly efficient.

I was very pleased with our sea-facing suite (2 balconies, 2 TVs, huge bath) and views.

We swam in both the ocean and pool.

We enjoyed a massage in the beach-side massage huts. The kitten hunting on the roof was precious, but we did not want to think too hard about WHAT he was hunting!

We could only admire the villas & golfers from a distance.

November 08, 2007

KCWC Rebecca Stephens MBE

I am glad this talk went well because I had recommended this speaker to Cindy Maceda who is responsible for all monthly programs for KCWC. I met Rebecca's mother Jane when she was leading a hike for the Seven Oaks Ramblers. Others on the hike told me Jane's daughter was the first British woman to climb Mt. Everest. I did some research and learned that Jane's daughter Rebecca was also the first British woman to climb the "Seven Summits" which is a list of the highest peak in each of the seven continents.

There are two lists of Seven Summits and Rebecca climbed the more challenging Messner list which includes the Carstensz Pyramid (Australia / New Guinea). The Bass List included Kosciuszko which Rebecca said could be done in an afternoon after a Sunday Roast.

Messner List by Continent, Summit, Height in Metres
1) Africa: Kilimanjaro 5,895m
2) Antarctica: Vinson Massif 4,892m
3) Australia-New Guinea: Carstensz Pyramid 4,884m
4) Asia: Everest 8,848m
5) Europe: Elbrus (NOT Mt. Blanc) 5,642m
6) North America: Mount McKinley (Denali) 6,194m
7) South America: Aconcagua 6,962m

As someone who really appreciates physical comfort and is a fairweather hiker, I realized soon into Rebecca's talk that climbing the Seven Summits was not for me (although a feisty Junko Tabei from Japan completed her 7th Summit shortly before her 55th birthday). On one of the summits (not Everest), Rebecca took her hands out of her gloves for seconds and watched frostbite start to form immediately. Once her group had to dig a snowcave and stay there for 8 days - imagine the (lack of) hygiene. She said many Everest climbers die because they simply "went too high" - no accident - you can barely breathe and your food doesn't digest at high altitudes. On one of the summits, her (male) partner who was essential because of his technical climbing expertise started to say something about "I don't think this mountain is worth dying for". She told him to put on another fleece jacket, eat a biscuit, and keep going. They got to the summit soon after. This is not me in this life!

Although physical endurance is certainly required, Rebecca said "Drive" is the most important success factor in climbing the Seven Summits or any other pursuit for that matter. Rebecca's current business as a Motivational Speaker and Leadership Coach for Seven Summits Performance Ltd is based on applying the lessons she learned while mountaineering to life.

November 07, 2007

KCWC Coffee Cup Reading by Psychic Sahar Huneidi

Susan and Mona hosted an event for us to learn about and experience a coffee cup reading by the Spiritual Intuitive Sahar Huneidi. I drank a cup of Turkish coffee and turned the cup over onto the saucer. I got help from several women who suggested putting a napkin between the saucer and cup so that the coffee grounds would dry and a pattern would form. I was reading number 26 of 28 - I figured Sahar would either be really warmed up or very tired for my reading! I had lots of time to socialize and consume vast quantities of middle eastern sweets while I waited.

My reading itself did not take long but a lot of information was imparted. Sahar would ask a question but before I really had time to answer, she would be on to the next topic. She started her reading (and I verified this with others) with information that only you would know or certainly no one else at the event would know. She then imparted some very specific predictions and a little bit of guidance.

What surprised me was that I received a recording of our conversation by e-mail the next day. I interpreted this as great self-confidence in her own abilities and very technically advanced! I was impressed and hope everything she told me comes to pass.