Paris in the Summertime: Fifty years on.

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June can be a wonderful season in Paris. It can also be bitterly cold. This year it’s also been bright, sunny and wonderfully warm too. That’s the way it’s always been. A bit like Melbourne really! Several seasons all in one day. Making my first extended visit to this inspiring City in more than twenty years, -a City so steeped in revolutionary history, made all those changes in temperature, wind, rain showers and glorious emerging sunshine seem so insignificant. It’s a chastening contrast to the rushed 24-hour stops I made to visit French suppliers. Paris is so special. At its heart it is still the Paris of my youth fifty years ago.

I first visited Paris when I was fifteen. I arrived after a rough Channel crossing on the old boat train, into the Gare du Nord station. In those days as you walked past the the engine driver, who would be hanging out of his train, you would bow in acknowledgement and say thank you! It was a fine April morning. I was accompanied by my chaperoning mother who was delivering me to an exchange family. I was near the bottom of the class in French and it was her stern resolve to see that situation changed. Immersion exposure to the French language in a family where no-one speaks any English, was the solution!

Before the handover we checked in at the Duminy Hôtel, just off the Rue du Rivoli opposite the Tuileries Gardens. In the mid-sixties this was a simple 2-star private hotel. Guests were largely people formerly of some means, immaculately dressed, but quite clearly needing to conserve their centimes. At least that’s my recollection. Today it’s very much a boutique hotel with 70 fully priced rooms to match.

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(Picture supplied by Duminy Vendome Hotel)

Back then it was not the George Cinq! As part of familiarisation for our new digs I was introduced by the bellman to the “Winston Churchill” or “Le Double Vay Cay” (phonetically), some doors away down the hall from my room. No inbuilt bathrooms. Learning one’s way around the hallway was important. The French were appreciative of old Winnie’s conquering ways twenty years earlier. But, naming the smallest room in the house after the great wartime leader did not appeal to my very British upbringing. More on WSC later.

After walking through the nearby gardens, witnessing that famous round pond memorialised by Kertesz, we window-shopped the little antique stops and small galleries that then occupied the fine Rivoli arcade. Sadly today much of it is run down and occupied by money changers, gift shops and pop-ups, as well as far too many displaced or impoverished migrants seeking assistance.

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That April 1965 evening my mother and I ate a quiet meal in the very small hotel dining room and made an early night of it. The hard tubular pillow was a new experience, but sleep came easily after the prior night’s travel adventures. Next day broke crisp and bright, though only discovered when we again ventured out. The little back room which I occupied allowed precious little light of any kind to enter from outside, tucked away as it was in the corner on the third floor overlooking the courtyard.

I was duly brushed up to look my best and at noon, a taxi was summoned for the short ride over the Pont d’Alexandre III, down the impressive drive approaching Les Invalides, and around the side of the great national war museum in the heart of Paris. It was just round that building and into a wonderful tree-lined street, the imposing Avenue Breteuil. We duly pulled up at Number 14 and my mother dismissed the taxi in her well-intentioned French.

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(This picture is as close as I can recall, identical to a Kodachrome taken fifty years earlier which I have somewhere back in Sydney on an archive scan.)

After pressing the bell, we were ushered in by the Concierge. She was dressed in regulation black dress. She wore round-rimmed glasses, all-seeing. Such people know more about the goings-on of Parisian Society than any law-breaking newspaper hacker, or even the infamous Canard Enchaîné scandal sheet. A tiny two-person lift transported my mother and I and my bag upstairs to the second floor. The door, as if by magic, opened. We were duly ushered in.

This was, even to my young eyes, an old-money apartment. A long hallway with doors that stretched to the 3 metre ceilings. Eight bedrooms, a salon, a dining room, a smoking room and a study. It was a world completely new in every sense. I was to ‘endure’ this for two weeks, before also ‘enjoying’ a third week in their house in Val D’Isère for my one and only (failed) attempt at skiing. The treatment continues but little progress in fifty years! But that’s a story for another day.

All this came flooding back as I walked the same route I remember walking most mornings. I was allowed to venture out by my hosts and spent much of the day sitting on the banks of the Seine River. It flows through the heart of the city and still has working barges weaving between the Bateaux Mouches tourist variety.  I was equipped with camera and sketch pad, drawing (badly) and taking the odd picture with my Ilford Sportsman, a 35mm camera loaded with Kodachrome 25, – a 13th birthday present. Although I had been at boarding school since the age of six (yes, seems unthinkable today) I really was experiencing freedom for the first time.

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The walk through the gardens is still breathtakingly beautiful. This year with my long-suffering French wife, I ventured further, discovering the beautiful Palais Royal for the first time. These days all the buildings are water-blasted to a pristine cleanliness that marks Paris out amongst European cities as something special. The Arrondissements around the centre of town, the 6th, 7th and 16th that I walked through in a four-hour re-discovery walk, have all maintained facade styles and height limits that were typical of the revolution period two hundred years earlier. Cobbled stones still pave much of Parisian streets. Scooters are everywhere, weaving within millimetres of buses and hapless tourist cyclists.

But for all that, Paris retains its essential character of superiority, history, reverence for its victorious armies and generals (and sometimes not,) as well as its royal history in the era of the Sun King and Versailles.

Going into Les Invalides on a Monday meant the main museum was closed. But still available was the great dome, containing Napolean’s casket, and other great heroes of five generations of La Grande République. There too the chapel within and its beautiful pipe organ, dating from the 1680’s. It produces a sound unique to French instruments, and no doubt a great inspiration to two great French composers, Saint Saens and Olivier Messiaen, in the twentieth century. The great Church and Cathedral Organs of Germany and England sound quite different.

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And in the middle of it all was a special exhibition exploring the history and quality of the relationship between Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill. In my childhood De Gaulle was the French President who, after being hosted by Britain throughout the war to enable him to bring together the resistance and re-invading forces and eventually restore French government, had rejected England in the formation of Le Marché Common, The Six as it was subsequently called from 1957. Yet with the passage of time, here was an exhibition celebrating the lives in parallel of two heroes of France, their military careers and their ultimate political rejection in 1945 in the case of Churchill, and 1969 for De Gaulle.

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(Source: French Government Picture)

And so it was that my first Parisian visit in which Churchill had been used to describe the Water Closet, fifty years on was to see his life celebrated in Paris in the holy-of-holies Musée des Armées, Invalides, alongside the greatest French leader of modern times, General François De Gaulle. A wonderful reminder that the benefit of time and distance allows people to be seen in true perspective and recognised for their true value.

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(Part of the Exhibition, depicting De Gualle’s BBC broadcast room,
De Gaulle & Churchill, running at Les Invalides through the summer months of through July 26th, 2015.)

Text and Photo’s © Copyright John Swainston, 2015, except where stated otherwise.

 

Recycling Cities II: London’s King’s Cross, Euston and St. Pancras

June 2nd 2015

(To view pictures larger, double click and be a bit patient! Takes a short while to grab the 1200 pixel version.)

Today’s post came initially with no pictures. (Editor’s note in November 2015: Some months later I have remembered that this post went up with no pictures, which I am now correcting.)

My MacBookPro decided to die on me. Or rather the battery did. Known problem apparently. But then I am 10 days into a five-week trip, so something one could almost predict. A power shut-down and black screen, but with a battery signalling 92% power remaining, suggests all is not well.

I am now in Paris. I took it in to The Apple Store at L’Opéra. Within minutes of queuing at the Genius Bar, they could see I had a Worldwide Extended Waranty and today I will collect it in less than 24 hours.

 

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It will be complete with replaced top cover, which I had damaged, a new keyboard which in two years I had hammered into several disappearing vowels, and new batteries. Yes, inconvenient, but another example of what I remarked on in my last post on Tesla: Apple, like  Tesla, is not just a product. It’s an integrated system that delivers, even when defective. And while I await collection, I can carry on writing up a WordPress post on my iPad. Now I get it. If I had all my photo’s in Apple Photos and not in Adobe Lightroom, you’d be seeing this with pictures stored in their cloud.

But for now, back to London and last Saturday afternoon, or perhaps to start with, a little bit further back. Fifty years in fact.

As a small boy, going to London’s Euston Station meant one thing. We were off to Scotland for the family holiday. Train was the only way it worked for me. Acute car sickness was an affliction that meant long journeys together in Dad’s ageing Mark 7 Jaguar were out of the question. He would drive up alone, my brother and I would go on our adventure with our mother.

We’d eagerly board the train at about 6.00pm. Soon after pulling out of the station, with an impressive outburst of mechanical strength, in a cloud of steam and soot, we’d be called to the restaurant car to eat a three-course dinner. It was such an adventure and so very grown up. We’d then retire to our seeminlgly sumptuous bunk beds for the night’s journey, often after a few rounds of Happy Families, a then-popular family card game. The night might be interrupted by the loss of motion from the long stop at Crewe, then British Railways big interchange station. Crewe linked the East and West Coast main trunk routes. It featured in songs by Flanagan and Allen and George Formby. A few carriages would be uncoupled and a few more added and after the shunting had finished, off we would go again.

When we woke the next morning and were summoned back to the restaurant coach for breakfast, the LMS steam engine was puffing its way around the West Coast lochs. I remember the long curves of the 10 or 12-carriage train, poking my head out of the window and feeling the exhilaration of the wind in my face, along with the inevitable grit in my eye from the steam train. We’d finally arrive in Argyle at little Dalmally station after more than 13 hours on board. Here the Station Master would personally welcome the ten to twelve passengers who alighted, as if members of his own family returning.

Revisiting London’s train stations today is a big cultural shock. As you approach from the City side to the south, on the face of things, nothing much appears to have changed. But get nearer to King’s Cross. The Great Northern Hotel has no soot on it!

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It’s bright clean brickwork and neo-gothic styling from the 1890’s construction is supplemented with glass and steel structures as contemporary as any station in the world. Inside it’s all ultra-modern, with new-gen LCD displays everywhere.

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Move over to St. Pancras and the old Station is now the Renaissance St. Pancras Hotel.

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The old ticket office is now an upmarket restaurant, with contemporary bar and music systems to match. Below, via glass and stainless steel lifts and elevators is the smart new home of St. Pancras International, – the start of the EuroStar routes to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. The old tea room is replaced by a plethora of boutique restaurants, coffee shops and major brand gift stores. The restaurants serve top quality gourmet foods.

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No room for PG Tips tea out of the old aluminium pot from an over-chatty East-end tea lady. No sign of a raincoat-wearing Trevor Howard or Celia Johnson and definitely no Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto as background music. Brief Encounter has given way to Broadway and fine dining.

Euston Station itself is the missing link. In an area buzzing with cranes and visible success, Euston is like a time-warp. Its 1960’s terminus was scheduled for redevelopment as part of the now-ailing HS2 (High Speed 2) project. For now everything is on hold. Government, local council Camden, and the HS2 consortium are at loggerheads. The long-promised link from London through the West Midlands, Leeds and Manchester, due to start as early as next year, has no viable London terminus.

But at St. Pancras and King’s Cross it’s a different story. Walk out of St. Pancras and a host of new high-rise office blocks is already up. Cranes to the North around the Regent’s Canal reveal old warehouse facades backed by modern new creative arts spaces, housing and cafés. Some are still work in progress and evoke visions of the dark satanic mills of the Dickensian past.bw_stpancras_dock_JDS5138-fbBig open area play-spaces for kids, with fountains and skate board riding areas attract people from many miles away, as it’s served by nearly 15 different bus routes and of course the London Tube.

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There really are cranes as far as the eye can see.  Even the old Gasometer that splits the St. Pancras and Euston rail lines is getting a preservation-led coat of paint alongside super new steel structures to eventully create new housing.

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As I wander past the door of  an experimental theatre centre, I come across Chinese students playing touch football on a newly laid playing field, amidst copious garden plantings and mixed affordable council-owned and owner-occupier properties. Another sign board announces an Architecture exhibition and prize.

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Busily working away are people who’ve created models of their planned buildings in the cleared space between old warehouse facades.

The only departure from solid signs of progress is a rather too large, too smart Mercedes for the district, with exceptionally dark windows. The unseasonably warm late May evening forces a window to be opened, and in passing one is uncomfortably aware of a financial transaction underway between two rather daunting gentlemen in dark sunglass cover, in return for provision of substances still illegal even in this progressive country.

Something made me turn south. And as I looked across the skyline of cranes, high rises and more signs of generational change in the use of urban space, I realised that the skyline was revealing to me over ten miles of view, over the Marylebone road trio of King’s Cross, Euston and St. Pancras stations, down over St. Paul’s in The City of London and way down south over the river, to London Bridge and the top of the remarkable Renzo Piano building, The Shard. When I grew up in London the air was seldom clean enough to see that far, heralding another change of environmental significance.

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An Indian restaurant, Dishoom, has a queue of several dozen as I pass. From reviews and friend’s comments this is setting new highs in a food tradition long the backbone of many Londoners, now enjoying a renaissance. People are at last venturing beyond Vindaloo, Beef Madras and Buttered Chicken, to the delights of Punjabi flavours from the north and superb textures from South India. But, as with much in London for Antipodean travellers, all at a considerable price!

As I eventually draw closer to home, I pass back by the GridIron building that sits just to the east of St. Pancras and adjacent to King’s Cross.

looking_up_JDS5330-fbThe starkly striking scrolled columns add softness to an otherwise metal facia’d multi-story building, look quite at home in the re-born cityscape. I feel I have unwrapped a brave new world in my journey. I rejoice in how much more one sees on foot than rushing through by taxi or driving.

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But on return, the comfort of familiarity in the converted St. Pancras Railway Hotel and its wonderfully converted grand spaces into today’s aptly named St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, is soothing.

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It’s so far removed from the bustling porters, the whistling fruit-stall vendor and the piercing paper boy calling out “Standard, Standard: Suez latest!” Today’s Evening Standard is now a free newspaper and the paper boy is now probably setting up a new incubator start-up in one of the emerging new creative business spaces within the area. He’d be finalising some new technology that will change the world as we know it and perhaps even make the wonders of today’s Apple System obsolete. “Plus ça change; toujours la même chose.”

(Updated and augmented 23rd November 2015 – John S.)

All text and Images are subject to Copyright of the Author. All Rights Reserved.

The Tesla Battery: What it means for Your Future Energy Needs

When Elon Musk stood up and made his dramatic, yet incredibly modestly stated, announcement of the Tesla PowerWall for home installations on April 30th just one month ago, a major tremor went through the boardrooms of the Coal, Gas and Nuclear industry.

A number of commentators have noted that Musk announced nothing technically new. What he did was he packaged up known technology, developed for his car manufacturing program and delivered the missing piece of the alternate power puzzle: A complete system.powerwall_front_angle(Image courtesy of Tesla Energy)

In doing so he followed in the footsteps of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, by delivering not just the interesting concept of a 7 or 10kWh battery storage device (With Edison it was the better light bulb), – but the necessary system to go with it. A storage system which captures both variable wind and solar energy and delivers it at times when the capture device is not able to generate electricity on its own allows a grid-free ecosystem. Edison had done the same by mapping out a network on how to deliver electricity to homes and industry that would make the better light bulb actually useful. Ford broke down multiple complex tasks and developed a system to make the addition of each of these managed steps capable of bringing affordable cars to the masses, so long as they chose the one colour he initially offered.

In a world where Climate Science is constantly questioned by people with an agenda to defend the status quo, the last remaining hurdle – meeting the needs of peak load, on or off the grid, with storage designed to deliver energy when needed, mainly between 4.30pm and 7.00pm or at midday in the tropics when air-conditioning demand on the hottest days can swamp home-cooking energy levels, is solved with economic battery storage.

The GigaFactory in which these PowerWall storage devices (that can be stacked in multiples for higher stored energy needs) will start churning out these devices later this year and reach capacity production early in 2016. The first year’s production was, reportedly, sold out within the first week after Musk’s announcement. Tesla may even start work on a second such factory, as the land has already been earmarked in the Nevada desert. Ironic that this was the same desert in which thermo-nuclear devices were first tested in the mid-1940’s before Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Although the Tesla system does offer new price/performance standards, Musk’s team will not be alone in having available solutions. Panasonic, the Giant Electrical Corporation of Japan, who two years ago acquired Sanyo largely for their battery technology, has also intimated that they will be bringing to market comparable offers. China, which now boasts the largest wind turbine and solar panel production capacity (and a rapidly growing installed base of both,) also suggests products about to come to market that will support base load grid-free electricity that is highly competitive, especially in remoter communities. The social impact on Australian remote Aboriginal Communities alone could be ground-breakingly positive.

It seems to be generally accepted that the raw cost of coal-fired power is typically in a range of US$0.04 – 0.06 per kWh. The price we pay is largely determined by the distribution network. In many countries this infrastructure is ageing, or has been recently upgraded at huge cost to consumers, so prices (as opposed to cost) now typically are north of US$0.25 a kWh, a price with which a 10 kWh solar + stored energy system, off-grid can compete with, largely without subsidy.

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) published a fascinating study into energy subsidies this week. The real meat of this 41-page working paper comes after Page 18. In the chart below we see the scale of the subsidy. Mainly to coal and oil. We are talking over 3% of Global GDP. And the reason is that the mitigation costs of pollution and environmental impact have now been added back in.

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(Chart from IMF Working Paper: WP/15/105 – How large are global energy subsidies?)

For the Australian government to carve $2B out of the ‘subsidies’ to solar and wind energy in their budget without also fully informing its electorate what costs we are subsidising in the production, transport and export of coal, is both bankrupt and misleading thinking. It’s straight bad economics, regardless of how foolish it is environmentally.

In the 2014 Energy Update from BREE (The Australian Government Bureau of Resource Economics) the 3 following facts on electricity generation caught my eye.

  • “Total electricity generation in Australia continued to decline in 2012–13, by 0.3 per cent to 249 terawatt hours (897 PetaJoules). This reflects the fall in electricity demand in the industrial and residential sectors in recent years in the National Electricity Market, although has been partially offset by continued growth in off-grid generation.
  • Despite a 7 per cent decline in coal-fired generation in 2012–13, coal remained the largest source of electricity generation in Australia at 64 per cent. Natural gas accounted for 20 per cent of the electricity mix in 2012–13, with gas-fired generation rising by 5 per cent.
  • Renewable generation rebounded in 2012–13 to rise by 26 per cent, to comprise 13 per cent of total generation in Australia. Most of this growth is attributable to increased hydro energy generation, although wind and solar energy also continued to grow strongly.”

Energy efficiency in household lighting and electronics is clearly contributing to reduced electricity demand. But so is the decline in manufacturing, which is long- term less desirable for existing jobs. If we are to make a meaningful impact on improved environmental outcomes to mitigate Climate Change in the world, we have to be clear what the true costs for each factor of energy production are. With efficiencies in solar capture rising each decade by several percentage points (Best practice efficiency in Solar PV is in the 21-22% level, with over 25% in labs), and integrated new generation systems from Panasonic and Sun PV, we should begin the debate on which subsidy is most consistent with the environmental outcomes we need for the future.

As Tesla now gives us real base load solutions, and others will be following soon after, the future for not only achieving the RET (Renewable Energy Target), but logarithmically surpassing it, is increasingly bright.

But it will also need an informed community. And to do that community funded organisations like Australia’s The Climate Council will need to be resourced. Funding is vital to ensure that agenda-driven media and existing Energy financial vested interests do not out-vote informed discussion and priority setting. Since the current Australian government is so hell-bent on placing it’s head somewhere clearly where the sun does not shine on environmental action, it’s up to you and me to ensure we play our part in moving minds for real action on Climate Change, now, while there’s still time.

In a future article I will explore ten quick steps most households and businesses can undertake to ensure a 15-20% reduction in their energy consumption and release of Carbon Dioxide and other human impacts stimulating temperature rise. Such low-hanging fruit frees up other resources to gain up to another 10% through use of new insulation and preventive losses, all with very fast payback.

© Copyright John Swainston, 2015

The Photographers’ Gallery, London: Deutsche Börse Winners Announced

Travel is always about learning from other cultures and discovery of the new. But you have to leave yourself open to the experience and be prepared to let it wash over and impact you, no matter which sense it is: Sound, Sight, Taste, Colour, Smell, Hot/Cold, Rough/Smooth – all are part of the Journey of Discovery.

Henry Miller, the playwright added to the many great insights on travel by stating “One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.”

Mark Twain, in his inimitable pithy tone remarked, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

The resonance of both these remarks seemed very apposite, as I walked from a special lunch with my wife at Ottolenghi’s innovative NOPI restaurant, in Soho.

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Continue reading The Photographers’ Gallery, London: Deutsche Börse Winners Announced

Gardens & Gallery workers Strike in UK: Arts Funding Attacked in Australia

Today, on her way from Buckingham Palace to the State Opening of Parliament in London, and the delivery of the famous Queen’s Speech, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth had to drive past an empty flower bed, as she rounded the statue of her famous forbear Queen Victoria and headed down The Mall. The garden workers were on strike defending working conditions they perceive to be under attack. What is Britain coming to?

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Continue reading Gardens & Gallery workers Strike in UK: Arts Funding Attacked in Australia

Recycling Cities: Hackney & Shoreditch, London

It takes seven hours to fly to London from the world’s most rapidly changing urban landscape, Dubai. The contrast is truly startling. A grey spring Bank Holiday gave opportunity to meet with family, seldom seen, in London’s East End. The projected 45-minute journey from London’s Cromwell Road to Hackney’s centre required one simple change: Tube to Holborn, alight, walk, board bus, arrive. Simple really!

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Continue reading Recycling Cities: Hackney & Shoreditch, London

Reflexxions on Robert Frost, American Poet (1874-1963)

As I watched the Dubai sun set into its murky haze, never quite reaching the horizon due to dust suspended in the Middle Eastern air, our hotel had lit a fire in this hexagonal hollow globe, allowing the light of the flames to reflect into the darkening pool on the shore line.
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Continue reading Reflexxions on Robert Frost, American Poet (1874-1963)

Flight over Troubled Lands:

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Picture: City of Dubai skyline from Jumeirah Beach, East of the City

After a one-hour delay, both technical and social, – our Qantas flight had to unload the bags of a passenger who “decided he didn’t want to fly with us today”, our gleaming A380 lifts us off from the world’s busiest International airport, Dubai. We say farewell to a wonderful set of new experiences, cultures and tradition, but a country facing multiple potential future challenges. Continue reading Flight over Troubled Lands:

United Nations of Dubai

Four decades travelling for business does not prepare one for the experience of a place like Dubai. A population of some 2.2 Million, only 15% of whom are local and 85% are expatriate guest workers makes for an eclectic mix. It’s a population that has doubled in ten years! It’s a city-state based on trade, which, in some cases, continues just as it has for centuries. This scene from the spice market reminded me how branding sometimes ends up in the most surprising locations and businesses. Conrad Hilton would be proud.

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The bulk of those expatriate workers are from a variety of Indian sub-Continent and other South-East Asian countries. The financial and business centre draws people from all major business groups and countries globally.

Our hotel, The Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach, is opulent, with wonderful Emirati design touches everywhere. You only retire once in your life, so these four days are no expense spared. Bread and dripping awaits in the UK.

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But then Dubai is reputed to be second-only to Geneva in the cost of hotel and restaurant accommodation around the world. Nearly all food is imported, so any western foods or restaurants are costly, to say the least. Sydney prices look quite moderate in comparison. And that’s saying something.

Cranes are everywhere. Jumeirah 2, our location, is constructing yet another artificial island to further extend residential possibilities into the Arabian Gulf. The famous Palm is already one of the new wonders of the world. Dust of the finest and most penetrating kind permeates the super warm 40°C midday temperature. I am surprised by the 50% humidity. I am taken by surprise by how much extra water one needs to drink to stay comfortable and hydrated. But at 10.00am the Peroni will have to wait, even for an Australian.   peroni_bar_JDS3003_fb  The beach in front of the hotel is carefully manicured between two massive earthwork projects adjacent. They work 24-hours a day. Nothing in Dubai is done slowly. The world’s tallest building, the celebrated Burj Khalifa, at 829M, took just 5.5 years from start to finish. Some European cathedrals took four or five centuries.

Dubai is one of seven of the Emirates in the combined UAE Federation, which is as recent as 1971. Oil, first flowing in 1966 makes it all work. Dubai airport is now the world’s No.1 international airport; Emirates flies the world’s largest fleet of Airbus A380’s. There is an insistence, it seems on being first, biggest, best, most etc…

Day One of a four day trip inevitably means recovery from a non-stop 14-hour plane journey. The hotel pool has all the deluxe touches. Service with a smile from one of the sixty-two nationalities employed here is friendly and welcoming, a value for which the Bedouin traders of generations ago were and still are renowned. Lawrence Raj, manager of the Four Seasons SUQ restaurant tells me that this 6-month old hotel started with 40% of the staff from other Four Seasons hotel properties around the world, to ensure a consistent and high standard. That’s so evident here.

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It’s not often such hotels find themselves with guests carrying pro camera gear and tripods to shoot night scenes around the building. I am greeted by Luis the Customer Service Manager, from Marbella, a seaside resort in Southern Spain, – who does not bat an eyelid and personally escorts me to the roof bar to ensure I am given every opportunity to record his hotel in the best possible light.

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The same sense of welcome was provided by the Orient Tours guide from India, booked through Qantas Tours, who narrated our afternoon bus journey in both English and German, through Jumeirah’s mosque, the Spice Markets, the Gold Market and on an old fume-belching diesel wooden ferry boat across Dubai Creek. “My dream was to be a wonderful host to my guests. Dubai has given me that opportunity,” he says.

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Dubai is an extraordinary sensation of smells and sounds that words and pictures alone cannot evoke. Despite the thin film of construction and desert-borne fine dust on every external exposed surface, the passageways and alleys around town are all meticulously clean.

Dubai: a day of fleeting glimpses and experiences, already very impressed.

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(Note: Am still finding my way around the technical challenges of sizing and colour spaces for images in WordPress, all of which are too small and lacking in punch RGB files in sRGB space no doubt. Over coming weeks I will update and improve.) All feedback and guidance from others more experienced is welcome.

Heading Off to Dubai

It’s a strange feeling. I have spent 44 years travelling for work. I’ve clocked up more than 5 million miles. In all that time I must have flown over or through various ports in the Middle East 100 times or more. But I have never once set foot there. Today’s journey is to Dubai. For a 4-day stay.

Today’s journey, which will see us land at midnight local time after 14.5 hours flying time in the giant Qantas A380 Airbus, will, if all is well, be met by a booked taxi service. If all goes to plan, we will be whisked into a new world of glittering excess and a modern hotel open for just six months, by someone we’ve never met, who only recognises us by our name on an email booking, likely displayed on an Arrivals iPad or other tablet. Continue reading Heading Off to Dubai