Hong Kong to Moscow transit.

Up early, dressed, breakfasted, packed, checked out and off to the airport all before 8am to race to the Hong Kong International terminal because all the information on the Aeroflot literature insisted that check-in for flights CLOSES 2 hours before scheduled departure time… only to get to the airport and be faced with completely empty counters, devoid of signage or staff.  So we waited, and waited…  Check-in eventually OPENED a little over 2 hours before scheduled departure times – le sigh, so much for that!  We did the thing, got rid of the luggage and then had a bit of time in what should be Duty Free Shopping Mecca. It should be, but each time I’ve been through here, it invariably disappoints.  Loads of expensive cosmetics, clothing and watches – Burberry, Fendi, Rolex, Chanel, Coach, Tiffany & Co, and other hoity toity fancy shit for sale, as well as all the alcohol in Christendom – but nothing is actually any cheaper than what you can buy for retail if you are prepared to shop around a little.  Even the electronics are ‘airport prices’ rather than duty free prices… what’s with that?

Meh.  Found a cafe and had a smoothie while waiting for our flight instead of shopping the hallowed concourse of Hong Kong International Airport.  Our flight was scheduled to board just before 11am and we made it to the right gate with heaps of time.  We had a very strange flight… strange, and yet also familiar.  We had booked seats in what Aeroflot calls their ‘Comfort Class’, which looks like premium economy, but given there is this or First Class, I guess it is what passes for Business Class too.  We were severely outnumbered on the plane (and this is where the familiarity came in)… 90% of the plane was probably Chinese folk?  And judging by their queuing and personal space behaviours – I’d warrant not many of them were from Hong Kong.  It was like being on China Eastern Airlines all over again… children running in the aisles, people speaking really loudly in their seats, personal devices with the sound turned on.  :/  Needless to say, this is not my happy place.

Thankfully the ‘Comfort Class’ (I hate that term… maybe something to do with reading a book recently on the Korean ‘comfort women’ of WWII), was half empty so it was mostly quiet – except for those two kids that kept running up from the back of the plane so they could start thumping on the floor for no discernable reason.  Immediate impressions of Aeroflot premium economy seating – nice, large comfy chairs, with a lot of extra legroom, nice cosy pods, foot rests, food served on china, real cutlery and all good things.  Later impressions of Aeroflot premium economy – chairs have no lumbar support, the extra legroom meant I couldn’t actually reach the footrest for it to be useful to me without seriously slumping in my seat, the food was lovely, but they ran out of the main choices (and I know not how – there were only about 15 of us in that cabin), drinks came luke warm, and ice was a long time coming… shan’t complain, I could have been back there in that tide of Chinese humanity all hacking up lugies as loudly as possible.

Our flight was uneventful – just the way we like ’em – but, at 9hrs, was another fairly long haul.  I managed to watch a pile of stuff on the in-flight entertainment system (in spite of having a headphone jack that only provided input to one output… would madam like the sound in her right or left ear, today?)…  Table 19, Passengers, Collateral Beauty and some episodes of Billions kept me from boredom.  Mr K spent most of the flight reading ALL the academic papers associated with the Thredbo conference that we are attending – which I thought was particularly diligent of him, and excellent news for me because I got the TL;DR once he was done.

As is customary in these situations we eventually arrived at our destination where upon we made our way off the plane on a rather shabby and filthy air bridge (well compared to Hong Kong, you know), along a corridor, and down two flights of stairs – no escalators, just one of those chair staircase lifts down the side that your elderly Aunty Mabel might install so doesn’t have to move house – that spilled into a space about the size of a large McDonalds restaurant for the EIGHT HUNDRED people that had just teemed off two flights from Asia.  Straight away, an immigration official tried to direct us (in Russian) into the ‘Returning Citizens’ line, then recognised his mistake as soon as I said, ‘Um, sorry, I don’t speak Russian’.

You know, I’ve always railed against the Disneyland-esque rope lines that direct you in places like airports and busy events – but seriously Moscow airport… you need them!  We were in among hundreds of Chinese for whom queues simply do. not. exist.  I swear the one guy who was trying to tell people to go to the back of the queue was my hero this afternoon… he was vociferously trying to stop these people from jumping the line and cutting in everywhere, and I swear it nearly came to fisticuffs at one point, but eventually people got the idea and waited in the lines that had sort of formed which meant half of them were on the flights of stairs with standing room only.  Thankfully, those Comfort Class seats paid off, and we had disembarked at the front of our flight, which happily landed us about 12 deep in the queue. You’d think that would be a cored advantage, but it still took us over an hour to be processed out – an hour stood standing about with Chinese people staring and pointing at me, some weird cat toy noise going off constantly (which after about 45 mins we discovered was an actual, seriously distressed, cat in an animal carrier in the middle of this mess), a French family in front of us who were standing there for 30 mins before realising they were transiting to France and should have gone left for ‘International Transits’ instead of walking into this wall to wall loud Asian clusterfuck, and the weirdest immigration official I have ever seen!  This lady had clearly – clearly! – had enough for one day.  She was processing in tour groups of Chinese people, and each person is supposed to sign an immigration form that

This immigration lady had clearly – clearly! – had enough for one day.  She was processing in the tour groups of Chinese people, and each person is supposed to sign an immigration form that they keep on them and hand over when they leave the country… but she was obviously sick and tired of trying to tell these non-Russian, non-English speaking people where to sign, so she was giving them a pen, waving the paper in front of them, scribbling on the paper in the two spots HERSELF and whisking it away from them straight away.  No shit, she was physically forcing them to grab the pen, hold it near the paper (for the benefit of cameras), and then ‘signed’ the official Russian immigration papers for about ten people while we stood there watching… mind you, it did make her queue move quicker, that and the frequent stepping out of her booth to yell at the tour operator to tell the people to just stand up and hold the damn pen, don’t do anything else.

Thankfully the lady processing our queue was not so riled up, and she let us sign our papers ourselves (we are supposed to carry them everywhere and while it is unlikely that we could be stopped and asked for our papers, I don’t want to be explaining to a Russian cop that that wasn’t my signature…) and we were eventually deposited out in the baggage claim area.  All up from alighting the plane to picking up baggage – about 1hr 15 mins – and we were barely 12 deep in the queue with hundreds behind us.  Baggage collection was a little interesting.  There were four carousels and none of them working.  Guys came in pushing massive trolleys with the bags and unloaded the luggage all over the not-moving carousels.  Just scattered the bags all over the place for people to come find.

I had a sneaking suspicion that dealing with a decided lack of language skills, various public transport options in a post-long haul flight fatigue was not going to make for a comfortable or easy transit into the city, so I took the path of least resistance (which I rarely do) and ordered a transfer through our hotel.  Some guy in a suit, (who failed to introduce himself, but who I was calling Ivan in my head anyway), was happily standing outside the airport gates waiting for us and led us to a smart shiny black Mercedes for what I hoped would be a speedy ‘where’s my seat belt?’ ride into the city.  It is supposed to be 43 mins from the Sheremetyevo Airport into town, but alas, Muscovites can’t fucking merge, and even though there were no traffic hold ups, it took exactly 1 hr and 58 minutes to get there.  Three hours early to the airport, ten hours sitting on the plane, two hours stuck in a traffic jam, a five hour time difference from Hong Kong, so roughly 1 am for us by the time we arrived at the hotel. Dead tired.

Pringles in the fridge? Who does that?

Checked in, did the thing, found the room, sorted the power for everything (when did that become such an overwhelmingly important part of travel – keeping your laptop, ipad, phones, camera, power banks and shit all charged?!), put shoes back on, went out for supplies and something cheap, cheerful and forgettable for dinner.

Now – to bed.  Be back tomorrow night with hopefully something interesting to report of Moscow!



Hong Kong in a Hurry!

Success!  I had the worst, dreadfully awful, long haul flight home from Barcelona last July, and promptly decided I had to do something (anything!) about my weight/size… most of us do not fit comfortably in an airline seat for 20+ hours at a time, and I certainly didn’t enjoy doing it seated all squashed in beside a wall of solid muscle in the form of a very nice, but very large, member of the Kuwaiti military!  I unfolded myself from that flight and decided it was time to get fitter, stronger, and very importantly – smaller!  I am happy to report that after 12 months of making better food choices and hard work (three months of that spent on a luxury cruise ship avoiding food!) I am just over 25kgs smaller than last July and now I fit much more politely in those uncomfortable airline seats!  So, yeah. Huge win to get off the flight to Hong Kong feeling moderately human for a change.

We arrived late Monday, worked our way through the airport, immigration, collected the luggage, did the customs bit and were then spat out unceremoniously into the taxi ranks… whereupon we were slapped upside the head with the 33C heat and what must have been over 90% humidity.  Being Queenslanders, this isn’t normally much of a problem – but having a sturdy dose of man flu, being overtired from the long boring flight, and being dressed for Brisbane winter, (jeans and a jumper) this wasn’t making for an even remotely comfortable proposition.  We eventually transferred into an air conditioned taxi and thence to a seriously (too cold), air conditioned hotel.  We swiftly changed into more suitable attire and head out for a walk in the hopes of eventually finding some dinner.

We chose to stay at the Nathan Hotel in Kowloon this trip, having stayed on Hong Kong Island last time we were here.  It is very centrally located, moderately priced and is quite a nice hotel – lovely modern rooms, comfy beds, well-appointed facilities, lots of universal power points, great buffet breakfast included and wonderfully helpful staff.  My only reservation, if I had to find one, is that the walls between us and the neighbours/corridors seem a little on the thin side.  Where was I going with this before it turned into a hotel review…? Oh yeah, that’s right.  We are right in Kowloon off Nathan Road and that means we are a stone’s throw from the famous Fidget Spinner Street Markets – the Temple Street Markets, as was.  I remember last time we were here, shopping for jade and silk scarves, but now – the place is swamped in fidget spinners as far as the eye can see!  So we wandered off in a that-erly direction looking for Farfetch’d, and food… in that order.   😀

We wandered around the Temple Street Markets, marvelling at all the bright coloured ‘stuff’ for sale; rather unexpectedly found Farfetch’d quite smartly, and then head towards a little dumpling house, the Canton Kitchen’s Dimsum Expert, for dinner that was right next to our hotel.  BEST GODDAMN BBQ PORK BUNS EVER… no seriously – add it to your list.  Never have we had such delicious BBQ pork buns before.  Had a lovely meal all around and then came back up to the room to crash, after what was quite a long transit day.  I’m quite fond of this breaking up the trip thing…

Next morning saw us up and out and about, bright eyed and bushy tailed… and if you believe that – you’ve obviously never met me.   We had a few work related things to cover off today, but other than that, the day was predominantly free.  I’m not going to post stuff about work in this blog – I’ll leave that to Mr K on his FB account.  So – breakfast at the hotel, work sorted, and then we went for a walk down to Harbour City – an enormous, and I mean, enormous, high-end shopping centre that must cover about six city blocks.  On the way we went past a park with the ‘Avenue of Comics’.

Every single designer brand known to man was in there.  And we bought exactly nothing. Lots of overpriced clothes, handbags, shoes and shit like that.  I had another one of those ‘you don’t belong here’ moments in the ladies room at the mall, when three (obviously mainland, and possibly rural), Chinese ladies all stopped what they were doing when I walked in – they stared at me, elbowed one another, pointed at me and talked excitedly among themselves.  You know, I get this all the time… it’s because of my uncanny resemblance to Michelle Pfieffer and I should be used to it by now!  Though seriously – I was mostly just glad none of them pulled out a camera and started taking my photo or taking selfies with me in the background. I know I’m extraordinarily ‘white’, but being treated like a circus freak is not my idea of fun.

Anyway we pottered through the shops for a while, enjoying the long walk through the air conditioning, and found a nice sushi place for a quick lunch, before taking the ferry over to the Island to spend about an hour and a half doing bus transport stuff (yes, I know, exciting lives we lead!) before making our way slowly around the island and back to Kowloon via said buses.

Lots of building and traffic construction happening everywhere on the Island at the moment – I am both enamoured and a little freaked out by the use of bamboo scaffolding for highrise buildings in many Asian countries.  Once back in Kowloon, we head straight out of the heat, back to the hotel for a siesta to catch up on GoT and an afternoon kip.

After it cooled down a bit, we were off looking for Zapados (another saga entirely that doesn’t need to be included here) before heading for another wander through the local stores and markets.  After last night’s successful pork bun adventure, we were on a mission to find the best dumplings in the area… and I think we totally nailed it at Nanjing Jinling Dumpling.  We had a fantastic meal comprising entirely of entree dumplings, gyoza, spring onion cake, and steamed buns, and the most amazing long bao dumplings ever – so good, I plan on spending the ten minutes necessary to find/reset my Trip Advisor password so I can leave them a review!  I have screen grabbed the map so we can find them again for next time.  Just delicious.  🙂

After dinner we took a bit of a wander, took some photos, did a little shopping, bought a little nothing, and then back to the hotel for an early night. Because… tomorrow another long haul flight to Moscow, baby yeah!  Am anticipating exciting Russian adventures punctuated by moments of ‘holy fark! the what now ?’ because unfortunately, we speak none of the Russians!  :/

Nice driveway!  😉

Hong Kong – The Peak and Temple Street Markets

Mr K’s birthday! So all his favourite things in one day – which means, escalators, cable cars, taxis, subway trains and NO FUCKING BUSES! 😛 
Nah, just kidding. We had planned to take the long line of escalators that go from Wellington Street to Conduit Court, then go up Victoria Peak via the historic tramway. The escalators are very cool, they go for nearly a kilometre and mostly straight up… a very clever way to move people around. In the peak hours, they reverse directions, so in the morning when everyone is coming down the mountain to go to work, they take people down instead.





 About half way down the long trip, there was an Octopus Card refund point, where you can wave your Octopus Travel Card, and get a $2 refund onto your car as an incentive for walking to work rather than taking a bus or a train – many of which are over crowded. Mr K thought it was a great idea.

  After our ride up all the escalators, we went over to The Peak Tramway, which is one of the world’s oldest and most famous funicular railways. It rises about 1300 feet above sea level in just a few minutes. It is so steel that the buildings and trees that you pass by, look like they are leaning over – it varies from a 4-27% incline. It’s a well known visual illusion that exaggerates just how much the lean appears to be… due to alteration in the subjective vertical. (You can Google that shit if you want.) 



The Peak has been an important point in Hong Kong since it’s earliest days when it was used as a signalling point for for incoming cargo ships that would use signal flags. Whenever a mailboat came in a gun would boom across the island to let everyone know the mail had arrived. Many prominent residents and various British governors used to travers up and down the Peak by sedan chair carried by uniformed bearers, but this is hardly a comfortable mode of transport. By 1880, there were as many as 30-40 families spending their summers in the cooler area of the Peak and in May 1881, a clever Scotsman named Alexander Findlay Smith devised a plan to build a funicular railway. The tramway came into operation by 1888 and has been running ever since. It is now one of those ‘must do’ things when you come to Hong Kong.

The views from the top were nothing short of spectacular, and we just happened to choose such a lovely day to be up there.





 The afternoon saw us heading back to Mannings Tailor for suit fittings. Mr K seems very happy with his wash so far – bespoke suits, how very fancy.


 After that we went in search of the Temple Street night markets, which were full of all the knock-off crap known to man! Or woman! 😉 Knock off handbags, watches, shoes, electronics… oh and there was plenty of pashmina, scarves, jade (doubtful authenticity), souvenirs, plastic stuff galore (figurines and luggage tags mostly). Just stuff! We wandered through and I bought only one small HKD$29 scarf. 🙂 Mr K, who loves to haggle, didn’t even bother to bargain with the guy. Who could complain at AU$5? It was a lovely relaxed evening of wandering through the markets before taking the subway back to the hotel.  





 One more sleep and then we have an epic packing extravaganza to deal with in the morning and will be off to the airport, headed home!  

Hong Kong – Harbour Cruise and City Lights

We have a couple of days in Hong Kong now for Mr K’s big Norty Forty birthday. It feels good. It feels… like China, but not like China – in a good way.

  First things first, recover from the last of our Chinese airlines experiences. Then, go hunting for dinner, and found a quaint little Italian place that did the most delicious mushroom and seafood risotto. Followed by a good night sleep with no need to get up and transfer the next day.

Woke up feeling not at all refreshed, and thanks to my now screaming bad back, still waking around 5am even though I have no where I need to be until about 10am. 

This morning, we went off to a tailor to get Mr K fit for some new work suits. Now, I hate shopping, and this probably would have been particularly tedious were it not for the loads and loads of fabrics swatches to look through. 🙂 

  A couple of hours later and a measurements taken for a few suits and plenty of shirts, and it was off to find lunch. As fortune would have it, Gaylords, a Michelin starred Indian restaurant was just up the street, and we thought a curry would make a great change from all the Chinese food we’ve been consuming. They do a fantastic buffet lunch for barely AU$20 each, and the curries were awesome

  After lunch it was on to Sneaker Street. Mr K when he decides to shop, really decides to shop – it’s rather alarming actually. Sneaker Street, much as the name suggests is an entire street comprised on nothing but sports shoe stores with the occasional other shoe store in between. Adidas, Nike, New Balance, Converse, Asic, Reebok, Sketchers, blah blah blah – you name it they are all here in spades. We were expecting some good outlet sort of prices, to to be honest, prices were roughly what we pay at the DFO at home. I thought I’d take on the challenge of trying to find yaleman some Asic or New Balance size 15 shoes – odds were if there was a pair floating around somewhere they would be hard for them to get rid of and might be on the cheap. But no such luck. The FIVE stores I asked for size 15 shoes actually had the store clerks laughing at me, and saying they only stock up to 11. Not so surprising in a country of short people. Sorry yale, I tried.

  After wandering around Sneaker Street, we had a bit of a wander around the Ladies Market, so named for being the women’s clothing district, but mostly what we saw was souvenirs, electronics and what we like to call ShitForSale markets. Picked up a few knick knacks for the kids, but that’s about it really.

Came back to the hotel for a bit of an afternoon siesta before heading out again in the evening for a cruise on the Aqualuna. The Aqualuna is a replica of a Chinese junk and spends its evenings sailing around Victoria Harbour ferrying tourists about to enjoy the view. The trip was bout 45 mins (we chose to go at sunset) and costs about $33pp, and there is a complimentary wine or beer when you get on. It was lovely to see Hong Kong Island and Kowloon from the water actually, and such a lovely time of day to capture it. We had a relaxing little jaunt and got off on the Kowloon side to watch the Symphony of Light thing that Hong Kong puts on every night.





 The sailing trip was lots of fun, bobbing around on the choppy Victoria Harbour (mostly so choppy due to the sheer volume of boats and ships passing each other in every different direction), but the Symphony of Light show was somewhat underwhelming. Not sure what we were expecting, but with a Disneyland just around the corner and a world renown landscape like the Hong Kong skyline to work with, I think they could do much better. Just need a decent designer/choreographer and some better buy in from the all buildings on the Island’s waterfront.

  After that, a quick ferry ride back to the hotel and our ‘quiet day of pottering around Hong Kong’ (scoff!) came to an end.