26 October 2020
24 August 2018
Morning packing and getting ready to fly to Indonesia for more diving.
Taxi to the airport just 17 Sgd, so cheap in the context of an expensive city. You can choose a normal taxi or a "deluxe" one, which is more expensive, but the normal one is deluxe enough for us: clean, spacious and the driver is professional and friendly.
The only problem with Singapore's taxis is that sometimes it is hard to find one. Now there is an app, called Grab, a sort of Uber for South East Asia, which I am told is super efficient and even cheaper than taxis. Next time I'll have to download it.
Changi Airport is amazing, so well organized and pleasant I am always sorry to leave it. I could spend days in here shopping, eating, getting massages, ... But I am not going to buy anything today, no point carrying stuff to Indonesia, I will load up on the way back. I know I want some TWG, the famed Singapore tea brand. They just opened a store in central London, but it is cheaper here. Still not cheap at all, but cheaper.
Our flight to Jakarta is delayed, we are using Batik Air. Hopefully, we'll make the connection to Papua. There are not so many flights to Manokwari, in fact, we only have one useful connection per day, and I didn't want to risk missing the departure of our cruise therefore I built a buffer day in our itinerary, if all goes ok we'll have a day to explore Manokwari.
16 February 2017
As we drive past the Kowloon station I notice a lot of roadworks, and I ask our driver. He says they are building a new high-speed train station that will connect with the Shenzhen station just on the other side of the border and offer a seamless superfast connection with Beijing. One more way that Hong Kong is becoming more and more integrated with the mainland.
To fly to the Philippines you need to check-in at Terminal 2, but there are no gates there. After check-in, you can walk to Terminal 1, about ten minutes, or take a shuttle which takes virtually no time.
The Hong Kong airport is my favorite in the world. Bright, spacious, beautiful, full of great shopping and food, efficient. Of course, free and fast wifi everywhere.
After an uneventful flight to Manila, we have to wait a few hours for our connection to Bohol. Manila airport is a bit chaotic but we find a nice bench outside, it's a sunny day and wifi is free. Time goes by relatively fast before we are called in to board a Philippines Air flight. It's OK, nothing to write home about.
When we arrive in Bohol it's raining, not a good start. But it's warm and our driver has a comfy car with cool water and A/C, so the two-hour ride to our resort is bearable. Before setting off we stop at a large shopping mall near the airport to get some cash from an ATM, it would be our last chance here.
04 February 2017
And by the MTR train. The Mass Transit Rail that takes you to Hong Kong in a little over 20 minutes. At each station, luggage carts are ready for travelers, perfectly lined up in sets of three in front of each door of the train: solid, clean, smart-looking and free. I think back to Rome Fiumicino, where it costs 2 Euro to rent one and they are usually rickety and dirty. Never mind...
Meet and greet from our hotel. A very thin man, in his early sixties, come to help with our carts full of cases and diving equipment. he said he has been working for our hotel for 24 years. He leps us buy a ticket for the Airport Express, takes our trolleys to the platform, puts them in the luggage racks of the train car for us, tells us on which side of the train the door will open at our stop, and leaves after refusing a tip which I was handing him in gratitude.
23 August 2016
|Keeping Paro clean|
In order to save a dozen hours of driving (we'll have more than plenty anyway) today we're flying east from Paro to Bumthang.
The small ATR 42-500 (the only one in the fleet of Druk Air we were told) tooks off after a short acceleration and made a steep ascent into the clouds. Some 45 minutes later the pilot pointed the aircraft's nose down to make a stopover at Gelephu.
A few passengers disembark and new ones board. Again the turboprop was the only game in town at the tiny airstrip and as the turboprop headed up to the sky one more time.
Landed at Bumthang again in dramatic scenery. It took them forever to unload the plane even though it was the only plane at the airport (probably for the whole day). No problem, we sat around the runway and took pictures. Then headed to our hotel, the Yugarling 3 star resort and checked in.
At the end of our long walk we stopped at a tea house that doubled up as a souvenir seller. A young girl managed the shop and let us use the toilet. Some of us bought some tea.
Bhutanese mountain roads, much like in India, are peppered with road signs that encourage cautious and responsible driving. I noted them down, some were pretty funny and often rhymed, and would note them at the end of each post on the day I saw them. Road sign of the day:
only if you drive with leisure
22 August 2016
We land at Paro airport after a smooth flight from Bangkok which includes a stopover in the Indian city of Kolkata (the new name for Calcutta). Very few airlines fly to Bhutan, so the flight from Bangkok always stops in an Indian city to pick up passengers.
Many Indians go to Bhutan because they are the only foreigners (together with Sri Lankans I believe) who are allowed into the country without visa or currency exchange requirements. We would find out why in the course of our trip: Bhutan wants Indian labor to do its construction and soldiers to guard its frontiers.
Paro hosts the only international airport of Bhutan. They will explain us that the king decided to build the airport here because he did not want to create noise pollution in the valley of the capital, Thimphu.
I try to get window seat but no luck, yet when we board there are plenty window seats free, which is great to be able to watch the amazing landscapes of the Himalaya. Spectacular landing after a few tight turns by our plane as it finds its way among the mountains and into the narrow valley of Paro. Landing here takes special skills!
On the plane we met our group. Diverse mix of nationalities, age, and cultural backgrounds. It was always part of the fun in taking these photo tours: you not only get to know the country you visit, you also learn more about your own country, or anyway about fellow Western middle-class internationally curious photographers. This time we have quite a few nationalities represented: German, French, Chinese, Italian, American, Australian and British, both for and against Brexit!
Bags are quickly delivered to one of two luggage carousels in the cosy arrivals hall. Ours is the only plane on the tarmac in this balmy late morning.
After a quick and relaxed x-ray check we are out into the tiny parking area where we meet Matt, an Australian photographer who has organized this trip as a roving photo tour of Bhutan. We also meet Tshering, our local Bhutanese guide, who will turn out to be very knowledgeable and speaks excellent English.
We all go for lunch at a scenic restaurant near the airport. From the terrace of the restaurant you can see the runway. Not that it is a very busy, only a handful of planes land at Paro every day... if the weather is good enough, that is. Our first encounter with Bhutanese momo and other specialties.
Paro Rimpung Dzong (17th century fortress) and arguably the most interesting sight in town. Lots of local and foreign visitors. One young lady was breastfeeding on the steps of a prayer room. I was happy people left her alone, I read many times recently how in the US and in Europe it was considered socially unacceptable for women to breastfeed in public. How silly.
|Produce sellers on Paro's main street|
In the evening we dined at the Sonam Trophel Restaurant, a traditional local eatery in Paro. It is run by a friendly couple and their daughter, they make local as well as Indian and Chinese food. He is a local but she comes from India. We would see how both India and China have, or have had, great influence over small Bhutan over the centuries. We went for local fare and were quite happy with it.
Final task of the day is transferring to our accommodation, the Olathang, a 3 Star Hotel. Our first night in the supposedly happiest country on earth, we'll see, I am always skeptical of broad-sweep claims like that but the first impression is quite positive: a serene place.
20 August 2016
Destination Bangkok, where we plan to spend a night at a hotel near the airport before joining the rest of our group of travel photographers for a tour of Bhutan.
Bhutan has a reputation of an exclusive destination, and it is, mainly because their government makes it an expensive destination by means of a minimum daily expenditure, 250 US dollars to be precise, that goes toward the visitor's hotel, food and transportation in the country, as well as the mandatory local guide that will escort him or her every step of the way. The current king's father is credited with having replaced gross national product with gross national happiness: money is less important than spiritual contentment. But the spirit is evidently aided by a nice trickle of dollars.
This time it's British Airways via London. Good service, not great really and the plane looks a bit tired, but it's comfortable and punctual. BA seems to be among the few of the old flag carriers to survive. Let's try to get a good night sleep.
06 August 2012
As we approach Singapore the staff handed me the immigration form. Name, date of birth etc... and then a dry statement in capital letters:
OK could hardly be clearer than that. Singapore had a long history of opium smoking, dating back to the XIX century when the British actually encouraged it. Opium sapped the energy of society and memories last a long time in Chinese culture, so it is not surprising that there is such a determination to stamp it out today. Of course I keep reading that drugs are readily available in Singapore, so I am not sure about just how strong a deterrent the death penalty really is in Singapore.
|Changi Airport, I gave it an "excellent"|
In the evening Luca and I join a couple of friends for a seafood dinner at the one of the many restaurants along the famed Singapore East Coast. I want to try shark fin soup. Being a conscientious diver I am absolutely against the horrible slaughter of sharks that is perpetrated each year to privide for this fare, but let me try once. It is really nothing special, I can't understand what's the big deal about it, and I won't ever have it again.
You can watch a slideshow of my trip to Singapore here
12 August 2010
28 August 2007
Ciao Tonga, a presto, sono sicuro che tornerò. Anzi la prossima volta ci potrei restare, questo potrebbe essere un bel posto per venire a finire la vita!
04 August 2007
Tappa in andata a Los Angeles, per spezzare il volo lunghissimo e per godere di quanto questa città a volte trascurata ha da offrire, con programma di visite a Hollywood Universal Studios, Getty Museum e Villa, passeggiate a Venice Beach.
19 June 2007
When they decided to leave Italy to find a better future in America, in 1905, Fred Olivi's parents surely could not imagine that their son would become famous forty years later for dropping the most powerful weapon in history on the far away Japanese Empire! This is a personal history more than war history. The personal history of one of the many million Italians who contributed to make America for what it is, both in peacetime and at war. Fred joined the Air Force and on 9 August 1945 was assigned as copilot to the "Bockscar", the B-20 bomber that was to undertake the second nuclear bombing in history, three days after that of Hiroshima.
15 August 2006
25 July 2006
30 August 2003
Qualche mese fa avevo visto a Bruxelles un documentario sulle donne che in Iran vogliono imparare a volare in parapendio. Mi ero riproposto di cercare il loro club, e dopo aver chiesto un po' in giro sono riuscito a trovarlo, alla periferia nord di Tehran, su di una collina sovrastante la città, proprio alle pendici dei monti alle spalle della grande megalopoli.
Lì sono stato accolto da Hamid, che parla pochissimo inglese, un simpatico istruttore dell’aeroclub Aseman Abi (Cielo Azzurro), all’estremo nord della città. la sua email è firstname.lastname@example.org, cell 0911-201-0789, anche questa è un’occasione per conoscere iraniani (piloti ...e pilotesse in questo caso, interessante vederle volare tutte coperte dai veli) e passare qualche piacevolissima ora.
11 January 2003
Qui è stato tenuto prigioniero Gandhi. Ho visitato con una certa emozione l'importante memoriale. Credo che se vedesse l'India di oggi sarebbe molto preoccupato, ma forse ancora speranzoso.
Casa di Jaideep è tipica espressione della emergente classe media indiana, appartamento moderno, dotato di tutto, senza lusso ma comodo e funzionale. Il comprensorio è dotato di parcheggi che sono pieni di auto di categorie media e alta, nuove di zecca, piscina, campi da tennis.
Lui se la passa bene, dopo aver fatto l'università in America è tornato, si è sposato con una brillante architetta presentatagli dal padre, come ancora si usa. Però ci tiene a sottolineare che sono stati solo presentati dalle rispettive famiglie, e non obbligati a sposarsi.
Ovviamente sono entrambi Bramini, stessa casta e sottocasta. L'appartenenza alla stessa casta è ancora un fattore importante nello scegliere un partner di vita, anche se meno di prima.
Jaideep e Sharmila pensano che ai loro figli non importerà molto e loro non faranno pressione. Panta rei? Chissà? Son migliaia di anni che si accoppiano per casta, ma forse è ora di cambiare. Hanno un figlio ed una figlia e son contenti così. In India c’è ancora il problema degli aborti selettivi perché le coppie preferiscono figli maschi, ed il governo ha vietato di fare l'ecografia per capire il sesso del nascituro!
A proposito di usanze tradizionali, mi dicono che il sati, immolazione rituale della moglie quando muore il marito, è ovviamente scomparso come pratica corrente ma ogni tanto, forse una o due volte l'anno, se ne sentono ancora, soprattutto nel Rajasthan.
Nonostante siano Bramini non sono vegetariani. Anzi mangiano anche carne bovina, ma non in India perché siccome se ne consuma poca hanno paura che non sia fresca.
Loro sono entrambi bengalesi, e tra di loro parlano prevalentemente bengalese, ma con i figli che vanno a scuola a Pune prevale il Marathi. Tutti parlano Hindi che però è usato soprattutto in occasioni ufficiali, e alla fine in casa si sente anche molto inglese.
La convivenza di coppie non sposate è ancora molto rara in India, ma comincia ad essere accettata nelle città e nelle famiglie più moderne.
Sharmila e Jaideep vestono all'occidentale. Lei mi dice che ama i sari tradizionali ma li indossa solo in occasioni importanti, è troppo scomodo.
Moltissimi indiani e indiane, anche giovani moderni che hanno studiato all'estero, arrivano vergini al matrimonio. È considerato normale, anche per gli uomini, e svariate persone che ho incontrato in questo viaggio non hanno avuto nessuna difficoltà a dirmi che quella era stata la loro esperienza.
Adesso Jaideep sta facendo una rapida carriera in una azienda di sviluppo di software, anzi mi propone di collaborare per cercare nuovi clienti in Europa.
Hanno due donne di servizio che vengono tutti i giorni a pulire e cucinare (costo: circa 200 euro al mese ciascuna), ed un autista per portare Jaideep in ufficio e sbrigare commissioni varie. Però oggi chissà perché non cucinano.
Per cena Jaideep organizza un takeout. Portiamo la cena calda a casa e mangiamo subito sul grande tavolo. Con le mani naturalmente. In sala da pranzo c’è anche un lavandino con sapone per lavarsi le mani immediatamente dopo mangiato senza andare in giro con salse varie che grondano dalle dita. Molto pratico.
Tutto intorno a questo bel quadretto dell'India emergente però baraccopoli, bufali affamati che mangiano immondizia, fango, migranti senzatetto in cerca di un lavoro. Facciamo una passeggiata e Jaideep mi fa notare come gli spazi pubblici siano trasandati, sgarrupati, mentre quelli privati sono curati, puliti.
Questo sarà un ritornello nelle nostre conversazioni, lui è molto convinto della necessità di liberare le energie del settore privato per lanciare il paese. Io sono d'accordo anche se ci sono enormi problemi di diseguaglianze che solo il governo può mitigare. Ma questo è un altro ritornello, qui come un po’ in tutto il mondo.
Nel tardo pomeriggio rientro a Mumbai, sono meno di 200 km, il collegamento aereo dura solo 30 minuti (55 dollari solo andata) ma non avendo fretta ho preso il taxi collettivo che ci mette tre ore (bottiglia di acqua purificata in omaggio!) e costa 450 Rp.
Appuntamento in aeroporto a notte fonda ed imbarco senza problemi con la fedelissima Royal Jordanian per Amman; stavolta il bagagliaio è ben chiuso!
Sull'aereo della Jordanian i monitor delle TV indicano sempre la direzione della Mecca, anche se non ho mai visto nessuno pregare.
Ad Amman noto con curiosità che le molte ufficialesse al controllo di sicurezza sono tutte a testa coperta da veli solitamente neri. Al contrario, le commesse e le cassiere dei negozi non hanno mai il velo, anzi sono acconciate in modo decisamente accattivante.
Mi viene da pensare come l'Islam sia stato, nei secoli, la cerniera tra Europa ed India. Tra poco siamo a casa.
Anche questo mio terzo viaggio in India è finito, ma più ci vengo e più so che ci tornerò!
08 August 2002
15 August 1999
In the morning I go for a white water rafting tour down the Zambezi. You can do this for half a day, a full day, or several days. All things considered half a day is a good appetizer, I'd like to do more. But our program is already quite full, so there you go. Some of the rapids are quite easy, after one or two it almost begins to feel boring. But then we get a really steep one, and then a really terrifying one that make it all worthwhile! All the staff are local blacks, except one person who is white. I talk to to him and he is Italian! He says he's been living here a long time, and feels African. When he speaks English he does have a heavy African lilting accent! And especially striking, he has picked up that special African laughter!
In the afternoon I book an ultralight flight over Vic Falls. I miss flying my glider, and I have never really flown a motor plane of any sort. Paul is a young Zimbabwean pilot who makes some money taking tourists around. I meet him at the small Vic Fall airport and off we go. He even wants to let me fly it but I am not so sure this is the best place to try so I regretfully decline. Paul is white, so I asked him about black pilots and he says there are not so many, with a tone in his voice which means there is none really. No money, no education...
We fly over the falls, much lower than we did the other day with the helicopter. Can hear the noise of the water crashing down, the people walking by the walkway. We also fly over my cliffside hotel, I can see people sunbathing by the pool, and my room just a couple of meters from the cliff, facing south over the mighty Zambezi.
We then fly over Zambia, at the other end of the bridge that spans the two countries. We are quite low over a village and I can easily make out the huts, the people and the cattle. My pilot tells me he should not really fly so low, it is not allowed because it might scare the animals and disturb the people. But he does anyway because the tourists like it and the locals have ho telephone to call the authorities anyway. I am rather stunned and a bit irritated to be part of this but say nothing.
As we proceed to fly back to the airport, just before sunset, an airliner, a Boeing 737, is on its final approach to land. Of course we give it right of way! But we are on the ground right behind it, and I can't avoid being rather amused at how here a small ultralight can land or take off right next to a big commercial jet!
14 August 1999
Pleasant flight back to Victoria. We fly at low altitude, less than a thousand meters, so we can actually enjoy a detailed view of the savannah below us and not a few wild animals.
We reach Victoria Falls, and after taking leave from our pilot we are picked up by the driver sent by our hotel.
He is a really nice person, speaks to us about the situation in the country and complains he does not make enough money to take care of his family, especially now that his daughter is ill with heart disease and needs expensive treatment by a cardiologist. One visit costs 2000 zim, some 50 USD, a small fortune.
Back at the hotel we relax by the pool and make plans for the following days. After the helicopter flight, I'd like to take a flight over the falls in an ultralight and perhaps also over the surrounding savannah. They tell us it should be possible, though not cheap.
13 August 1999
Our plane is a single engine Cessna, and the flight to our destination is the most interesting part of this day. Once we get there, it's a bit of a disappointment. During a long and bumpy drive to the lodge, ohe local guide tells us it's the dry season (we know, that's why we chose it) and therefore it will be hard to see many animals as here they do not set up artificial water holes like in the main parks. Makes sense, perhaps, but I wish we'd been told before.
Accommodation is fairly basic, there are no tourists (wonder why?) and our hosts are not especially welcoming. I feel like I am being treated like a stupid city person whose only reason to exist is to pay exorbitant fees to white owners of so-called luxury lodges. Food is alright, no more.
I decide to cut this short and arrange to fly back to Vic Falls the next day. There are tons more things to do and see there, no point staying here.