Tag Archives: expensive


Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a small country of 41,000 square km and a population of under 9 million.

It is bordered by Italy (south), France (west), Germany (north) and Austria and Liechtenstein (east). Once again I was here in 1996 but had a single stop in the Swiss Alps (with no real recollection of which mountain).

A Google search of similar trips to the one I took suggests that the mountain was most likely Jungfrau.


This was a quick stop off as we transited towards Liechtenstein. Sargens is a small village of a bit over 6,000 people that serves as a fairly major transportation hub.

Sargans is known for its castle, which dates from before 1291. Since 1899, it has been run by the local church and now houses the Sarganserland museum.


Zurich is at the northern tip of Lake Zurich on the Limmat River and is a global centre for banking and finance. And oh my god isn’t that obvious!

This place expensive.

Seriously expensive.

Our first exposure to the city was an economic one. The prices charged here in Geneva are obscene at best and when you couple this with a rubbish exchange rate it makes Zurich almost out of reach for us poor Australians. One Swiss Franc will cost you $1.70 Australian and the prices that you pay back home are generally a lot lower than the ones charged here.

We checked into our hotel and did the usual search for nearby restaurants for dinner. This is where the wheels fell off. An entree soup was 15 francs ($25) and the cheapest steak was 56 francs ($95). Ok time to recalibrate our expectations here. How about a pizza – starts at 19.50 ($33), ok how about a burger – starts at 16.50 ($28), umm maybe a salad – starts at 26 ($44).

Oh, this is going to hurt. We found a kebab shop nearby, they’re cheap right. So we went and bought a (very ordinary) kebab and a soft drink each. The final bill came to 36 francs ($61.30). Anyway, we were fed and would be out in 2 days.

The next thing that we got to experience properly was the public transport system. As we were staying a few km from the centre we chose to tram it in and out of town to the train station and walk from there. This was both easy and efficient. The train station is truly something to behold. It is split over 3 levels with 15 train lines coming in and out of each level, 44 lines in total.

Zurich certainly has a stunning location on the shores of Lake Zurich and the historic old town with amazing buildings is right in its center.

There are about 50 museums and 100 art galleries within the city to keep you amused if your interests run that way. And if you’re after rest and relaxation, you can be in the Swiss mountains in less than an hour.

The twin towers of the Grossmünster are one of the most recognisable images of the city.

According to legend, Charlemagne discovered the graves of the city’s patron saints Felix and Regula and had a church built on the spot.

Construction started in around 1100 and it finished around 1220.

The Fraumünster church in Zürich which was built on the remains of a former abbey for aristocratic women which was founded in 853.

After the Reformation, the Fraumünster came into the possession of the city.

The Bahnhofstrasse is the main shopping street that connects Lake Zurich with the train station, Zurich Hardbrücke. It runs a distance of 1.4 kilometres with all of the usual high end boutiques, department stores and watch shops.

St. Peter’s church is the oldest parish church in Zurich.

The original foundation walls from the 9th century are still visible under the choir.

It also has the largest church clock face in Europe (measures 8.7meters in diameter). There are five bells in the tower, dating from 1880.

Beyond the big ticket items, there are lovely old buildings with amazing architecture and styling almost everywhere you look. The people tend to keep to themselves but are mostly friendly, if a little stand offish.

Our time in Zurich was really nice. Getting around was a breeze thanks to a super-efficient (if a little confusing at times) tram system. The old town was a great wander as was the newer section (although we had no interest in the high end shops). The only real detraction was the price. It quite literally costs about 3 times more for anything that you would get back home.

Our meal situation was overcome by going to Lidl and Co-op and buying groceries. The hotel gave us a well priced ($26 a head) continental breakfast which saw us set up for the day and the shopping run got us through the rest of the day reasonably painlessly. It is amazing how far cheese, tomato, avocado and some decent bread rolls will get you. On our last evening we did treat ourselves to some local beers, but I still ate a ($12) salad in my room.


After the tourist hell that was Mykonos, I have sort of been dreading coming to Santorini. From all I had seen in advance, it was the prettiest of all of the Greek Islands, the striking white villages perched high up on the cliffs, overlooking the sea. Yes it would be stunning, but these views have attracted steady streams of tourists for many many years. And this is the bit that was troubling me.

Santorini is the most visited of all of the Greek Islands and is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. It lies 200 km southeast of Athens. Pre-Covid Santorini was getting around 2 million tourists each year.

Santorini is shaped like a half-moon as it was originally formed in around 1650 BC after a huge volcano erupted and the island is the remains of the caldera. The five villages of Fira (the one we are in), Oia (the famous sunset one), Imerovigli, Firostefani, and Akrotiri all sit atop the caldera and offer spectacular views into the crater.

Having hopped the midday ferry from Naxos, we did the 2 hour journey to Santorini which was relatively calm until…It was time to get off. And almost everyone got off. Thousands of people, on one of the big ferries, all trying to get their bags and get off the ferry, it was bedlam. Add to this all the vehicles and trucks on the ferry that had to wait for the hordes to exit before they could move.

From here you spill out onto the docks to find almost the same amount of people trying to cram themselves onto the ferry to leave. Add to this the tour group operators (that Jill has come to despise) the busses, taxis and motor transports all trying to find their passengers. To say this was a debacle would be underselling it.

Once in your transport, you then get to watch the traffic and graffiti for the next 40 minutes or so. The road out is a series of ever-diminishing switchbacks (8 in all) to climb the incredibly steep cliffside. This climb is done by everyone, busses, trucks, cars, transports and motorbikes. The road is narrow and only just allows these vehicles to pass on the straights. So at every switchback, the bus or truck invariably spilled over into the other lane jamming up traffic. Did I mention the thousands of people? A full coach only holds around 50 people. So we are talking 60-70 buses, along with minivans, trucks, lorries and fuel tankers all inching their way up this cliff.

Fira (with a population of about 2000) is the capital of Santorini, it is the cultural and economic centre of the island. On the west side of the island, it sits at the centre of the caldera. Fira apparently got its name through the mispronunciation of the word “Thera” in the late 18th Century when piracy stopped existing in the Aegean. 

There are more than 1,000 beds per square km, more than any other isle after Kos and Rhodes, and in a destination of only 76 sq km, more than 700 restaurants, cafes, bars and bakeries – the vast majority concentrated in Fira, the main town.

There are two ports in Santorini, the old and the new. We got off at the new port. The old port is reserved for cruise ship tenders that drop their passengers at the bottom of the cliff (unless you have booked a day trip, then you get dropped at the new port to a waiting bus). Local laws were passed in 2015, limiting the number of cruise ship passengers allowed on the island each day to 8,000. But this was quickly thrown away and now up to 7 cruise ships (3000-5000 per boat) could be parked in the bay during peak times. Once you get off your cruise ship and have been dropped at the bottom of the hill you have 3 options:

  • Ride the cable car to the top (for 6 euro each way)
    • Walk the 587 steps and climb up to the town
  • Or hire a donkey to walk the stairs for you for 10 euro each way (25-35 mins)

Whichever way you get there, once up the cliff you are surrounded by the island’s iconic white-washed buildings and blue-domed churches. And there are tons of churches. We found this out at the crack of dawn the next morning when the bells went off, for about 20 mins, repeatedly.

The main show for the Catholics is the Cathedral of St John the Baptist which was was built in 1823 but restored in 1970 after an earthquake (1956).

The main show for the Greek Orthodox is the Candlemas Holy Orthodox Cathedral which was built in 1827 and was also renovated after the earthquake.

But it is the Three Bells of Fira that is the money shot that you see on all of the postcards and Instagram shots. Officially it is the Aghioi Theodoroi Church (Saint Theodoros Thira Holy Orthodox Church) in the village of Firostefani (which is really just part of Fira).

The biggest challenge that you get here is to find an angle where you can avoid the Instagrammers while also cutting out the the cruise ships from the photo. If you are patient enough this can happen.

Ignoring all of the hustle and bustle, the township is quite pretty and you can certainly see why it is such a popular tourist destination. The one thing missing was Greek people. The shops and bars were mainly staffed by foreigners and there were very few locals that we could find. Doing our research we found that unless you worked in the tourism sector, you could not afford to live here. This rang true on Jill’s booking experience, the first place she booked was closer to town. By changing our location to a bit further out we managed to save $500 on accommodation (we only stayed 2 nights).

Santorini has started its own beer brand and sells it everywhere it can. We figured that we should give it a try. They are predominantly IPAs which means they are too malty for my tastes. I tried the lager but it was too fruity. Talking to a barman (at another place) he said that there were no preservatives and therefore they must be kept cool or they go off. This may have been the case, as my lager was very ordinary.

Also in town were the Museum of Prehistoric Thera and the Archaeological Museum. We did not go in, but for those interested, they are options.

When googling what to see and do in Santorini the top things that come up are sailing cruises around the bays and a range of wineries. The number one thing that comes up is the hike from Fira to Oia. When you look a bit deeper, you find that this is a 10+ km journey along a pathway up and down, along the edge of the caldera. I looked at the images and the various photos were spectacular, but I’m not doing that, as long as my ass points towards the ground, I’m not doing that.


So instead of doing a ludicrous walk, we paid about 2 euros each and caught the local bus to Oia. Every evening the local buses, along with private coachloads of tourists, descend on Oia. The crowds push their way along the village’s packed central alleyway, they head past the shops selling luxury gear and trinkets. All with one goal to find their vantage point of choice (the eateries and bars that line the clifftop rim), so that they can settle in for sunset while they pay top dollar for cocktails and panoramic views.

Now this town is stunning. It is the sunset point that everybody craves and with good reason. It is set up perfectly for it too. The front strip is brand new (rebuilt after a major earthquake) and is full of cafes and restaurants, all facing west. And of course, the prices are obscene and every Instagrammer is dolled up and ready for their vanity shots.

Every now and then you pop up on a place that has not had a makeover, but for the most part, this place has been fully revamped. As terribly expensive as this place is, the good side is that the top thing to do is free. And that is to walk and just simply enjoy and admire the view, which is truly amazing.

A check of the accommodation sites shows you that a villa in prime position, built into the cliffside overlooking the volcanic caldera, can cost up to €15,000 ($25,000) a night. And with growing demand for the spectacular views as a backdrop for weddings, marriage proposals and vow renewals, everyone is booked solid.

Leaving Oia (before waiting for sunset) we headed back to the bus stop to return to Fira, only to find about 200 people in line waiting to do the same thing. Now, now only about 50 people fit on a bus and they only come every 30 mins. We were not waiting 2 hrs to get home. An opportunistic van driver was parked nearby offering immediate departure for €10 a head. So once his 11 seats were filled we went and he made €110 for a 20 minute drive.

Santorini Beaches. Due to the the volcanic nature of Santorini, the beaches have become their own attraction. The past volcanic eruptions not only shaped the island but also the beaches. There are distinct differences in the colours of the sand (red, white and black) as well as some covered in volcanic rocks and pebbles. The tourism blurb claims that “the dissimilar beaches will please everybody”. 

Perissa and Perivolos offer the best long beaches covered with black sand and pebbles. Kamari Beach is also a black sand beach but according to the locals, the beach itself is not the best, since it has pebbles and small rocks which hurt your feet. All of these come equipped with beach umbrellas and sunbeds with beach bars and restaurants nearby.

The White Beach in Santorini or Lefki Ammos, as called by the locals, is a beach of black pebbles and grey volcanic sand under high white cliffs. The sand on the beach is not white, as its name clearly indicates.

The Red Beach of Santorini is surrounded by volcanic cliffs and rocks, leaving the black and red pebbles and red sand

Ancient Thira

The Mount of Prophet Elias is the highest point of Santorini. From up here you can see the whole island! Most notably you see the huge difference between the tourist side on the cliffs to the west and the traditional side on the flat part of Santorini to the East. Our short time did not allow us to visit here but the photos look nice.

On our last day, we had a few hours to kill as we had a 4pm ferry out and had to be out of our room at 11am. So I settled in to write this, while Jill got into a long chat with the manager/receptionist of the hotel. In this chat, a whole lot of things came up that we had no idea about.

The number one for me was that this place did not run all year round. I knew that there was a tourism window from April to November, with peak times in July and August. What I did not realise is that from the end of November, everything shuts down. Apparently, there are only 2 restaurants open and virtually all hotels shut their doors. December and January everyone leaves, and in February/March the cobwebs get dusted off in preparation of the next run.

We are used to tourism in Australia where everything runs all the time. Sure there are peaks and troughs (school holidays etc) but it never just stops dead. Well, it does here.

As much as I dreaded coming to Santorini, both Jill and I enjoyed it. Yes, it was obscenely overpriced (especially in Oia), and it was full of Instagrammers and plastic people. And yes it was a tourism mecca and the crowds were crazy, but we still enjoyed it. We chatted and tried to work out why we liked this but disliked Mykonos so much. We don’t have an answer, but we really did not enjoy Mykonos but did Santorini.


Mykonos is one of the most famous Greek islands and has become widely known as the Ibiza of Greece. It gained a world reputation through the 1960s as a summer resort for hippies, artists, and the wealthy. Since then, it has also become a welcoming destination for the LGBTQ+ community. And this bit is clearly obvious.

Mykonos is full of traditional cube houses that have been whitewashed (typically with blue trim). Talking to the lady who ran our villas she advised that the island has a normal population of 11,500. During the day at least one cruise ship and any number of ferries arrive swelling this number to about 3 times that. She then told us that during peak season (July and August) that there are generally around 400,000 on the island each day.

Having taken a 40 minute ferry ride from Syros, we checked in and crashed for a bit as Jill was not feeling entirely well and after a nap we headed into the town. This involved about a 1200m walk downhill and we were right in the middle of everything. the first thing that you run across is a tiny beach in the heart of town (Chora) jammed with wildly inappropriately dressed people.

Probably a good time to pause and reflect upon some of the fashion choices that have become evident since our arrival in Greece. The first and most notable item is the track suit. Greek men happily sport these at every opportunity. The women however have taken it to another level with the revival of the velour tracksuit. These are worn with pride, usually 2 sizes smaller than they should be and in varying degrees of see through.

The next is the seemingly apparent lack of mirrors within houses anymore. Surely this is the case as there is no way some of these people would leave the house looking like they do, if they owned a mirror. Jill has now banned me from passing comment anymore.

Lastly, I am not sure where in the world has the highest concentration of botox and fillers, but this place must be a contender. The number of duck lipped women that we passed in an hour was simply astounding. Add to that the LGBTQ+ community of vain men and the place is awash with plastic people (as Jill likes to call them). And finally the current trend of having the biggest blackest eyelashes has left a whole generation with huge black caterpillars on their faces.

After the beach you hit the town centre proper. This is stunningly pretty but is a mass of tourist shops and (hugely) overpriced restaurants. They look amazing and are right on the water and certainly make the most of the beautiful weather with outdoor seating. But the prices are obscene for what you get. By way of example, the giros that we had been buying in Athens and Syros for 3.5 euro has now leapt to 15 euro. The real food was exorbitant.

The streets are narrow, the shops are funky and generally the vibe is good. Some of the tour groups off the cruise ships can be a bit ignorant but in shoulder season it was all still pretty manageable. Heading down and around past the old port you come to a quieter section which is the home of the Church of Panagia Paraportiani. It is located at the entrance of the Kastro neighborhood, right by the sea. The interesting thing about this is that it is actually five small churches, built on top of or next to the other.

From here you keep walking around the corner and hit a maze of restaurants running right along the water. Once you have zig-zagged your way to the other end you will find that you have just passed through the Little Venice of Mykonos. The tourist spiel tells you that it is one of the most romantic places on the island, replete with elegant and gorgeous old houses situated precariously on the edge of the land. All I found was a mass of humanity trying to squeeze past each other on a tiny alley between restaurant patrons. Once you get to the end, if you turn around, you do actually get to see the 6-8 houses on the water.

The construction of the Little Venice neighborhood is estimated to have taken place from the 13th to the mid-18th century. During that timeframe, the island was under Venetian rule.

As you pop out past the mass of people you come upon the island’s official trademark – the traditional windmills.  They stand on a hill overlooking the harbour and can be seen from most places around town. There are 16 windmills on Mykonos, seven of these are on the hill near town. For the most part, they were built in the 16th century by the Venetians.  

By this time you have ticked all of the tourist boxes (around town at least) and you are about an hour into your trip. There are a few other things around to see (such as the town Hall, and Museums – Agricultural, Archaeological, Folklore and Nautical) but from here on it is about wandering the streets or heading out of town to some of the beaches.

Having hit the main tourist spots, we stopped for a meal. Our last meal in Syros had been our most expensive in Greece so far. Our first meal in Mykonos blew that out of the water by adding about another 50% on top of that bill. And we had chosen one of the more reasonably priced restaurants in the back streets and not one of the ones on the water. The meal itself was lovely, but the tourist markup was massive.

Mykonos Beaches

The average water temperature on Mykonos ranges from 16C to 25C (60F to 77F), depending on the time of year, but reaches about 27C (80F) in August.

The majority of beaches on Mykonos are private. This does not mean that they are secluded but rather that you have to pay to use them. Being Australian the beaches pale by comparison to what we are used to (a common complaint) but they can still be nice nonetheless. We did not go beach hopping but for the sake of the blog I have included some of the more popular ones from the tourist spiels (most notably from www.mykonosbeachesguide.com).

Agio Stefanos – the closest major beach to the port, it offers shallow waters and romantic sunset views. Because of its central and wind-protected location, it can often be crowded with people of all ages, who relax as the ships go by.

Elia – is the largest beach on the island and nudity is common. It’s known as Mykonos’ “gay beach,” but it attracts all kinds of people. Much of it is taken over by umbrellas and sunbeds, but there’s a small section for those who prefer to lie in the sand.

Kalafatis – Popular among windsurfers and families, this is the beach for you if you enjoy water sports or are traveling with the kids.

Ornos – the most family-friendly beach in Mykonos and one of the trendiest for young people and couples. It’s a frequent stop for boats and yachts, and has many places to eat and drink.

Paradise is the famous party beach, filled places to eat, drink, and shop. Once a popular gay destination, it’s now largely straight, as the gay crowds currently prefer Elia.

Paraga – a party atmosphere during the day, it’s relatively quiet at night. The right side is more secluded and tends to attract naturists.

Psarou – this small beach is known to have some of the clearest waters and best sand in Mykonos, and for being a spot for celebrity sightings!

And the beach that they rated the highest was Platys Gialos. The tourist spiel claims that is is: Beautiful and with crystal-clear waters, Platys Gialos (sometimes spelled Platis Yialos) is the best beach in Mykonos. It’s a convenient starting point to discover other beaches, on foot or on an hourly water taxi, and home to some of the best hotels on the island, located right by the sand and facing the sea. It has restaurants and bars serving meals and drinks throughout the day. This is not a party beach, but it has a lively atmosphere. Parasols and loungers cover most of the sand, and the shallow water is perfect for refreshing swims.

Mykonos is a world for the vacuous, those that want to see celebrities (who regularly visit) and be seen by all. It was too touristy, too expensive, too full of drunk teenagers and too plastic for us. If we are brutally honest, neither Jill nor I really enjoyed Mykonos. While it is nice to be able to say that we have been here, I do not see a time when either of us would choose to come back.

That said, we do see the attraction and if you wanted to kick back and chill out, our hotel was ideal. Stunning views, relatively quiet, super friendly. It was just the inevitable forays into the tourism central that would keep us away. Our last day in town was spent kicking back at the hotel and generally just enjoying the view and the laid-back lifestyle.

Our time on Syros (ignoring the stairs) was much more enjoyable.

Phuket, Thailand

Our introduction to Thailand was atrocious…the first impressions were that of money hungry, gouging prices. We went in with our eyes open and were expecting it to be more expensive than the places we had recently been…but this took things to another level. To use an ATM here…any ATM…you must pay between 150 and 180 baht to withdraw funds. This is between $6-8 to get your own money out…further to this they limit withdrawal sizes…so that you must pay this fee over and over.

We arrived at the Bangkok airport (not the main one) at lunchtime and had a 3 hour layover until we could fly on to Phuket. We cruised the food options to be shocked at the prices…a subway sub was over $13 (once converted), a McDonald’s meal was well over $10 as was Burger King, a latte was $9. Now I accept that airport prices almost everywhere are high…but these prices are almost double the Australian prices…and as we all know Australia is expensive. We settled on 2 Burger King whoppers and we shared a large fries and a coke for $26 Australian.

We thought that after 14 months away a 2 week break by the beach in Thailand was the perfect way to wind down before returning back to Australia. The beach time may have been awesome…but Thailand…at least Phuket…was not it. This place is the pits. Having been through the last few countries…any one of these would have been a much better choice than coming here to Phuket.

IMG_4558Thailand is the home of the girlie-boy…officially titled the Kathoey…they are much more visible and more accepted in Thailand than the transgender or transsexual communities in Western countries. As Thais generally believe in Karma they tend to believe that being a kathoey is the result of transgressions in past lives, therefore kathoey deserve pity rather than blame. They are everywhere…you can see them working in shops, movie theatres and clothing stores…but mostly you see them working at massage joints. And mostly they are grabbing tourists offering massages with happy endings.

We settled in to an ok hotel in the middle of the tourist area near Patong beach. This is the most famous beach resort on Phuket and is tourism hell. Thousands of foreigners (mostly Russians and Aussies), bars, restaurants, touts, trinket shops, tourist shops, tailors and massage joints. Add to this the constant cacophony created by people touting for tuk tuks, massages, the nightly Muay Thai martial arts bouts or the Ping pong shows and this place sucks.

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IMG_4553The main tourist strip is Soi Bangla or Bangla road. This is about a 500 metre long street running between the beach and the main shopping centre Jungceylon. The street is lined with bars that double as strip joints and knock shops. The road gets blocked off every evening at 6pm and the fun begins. Hookers spill out along the street, shake their asses (poorly) on poles, and sidle up to drunk, sunburnt tourists who are too under the weather to notice that 70% of the girls are blokes.

The prices reduced from the initial shock of the airport but are still about 400% higher than each of Thailand’s immediate neighbours. Jill, Cathy, Brett and I all went searching every evening on the hunt for the various culinary delights that were on offer…and there is a lot on offer. While the nightlife is scary the food scene certainly is not. We did find some incredibly good meals…but we also paid a lot of money for them.

The beach was nice…sort of…it is kinda tough to get excited about foreign beaches when you grow up in Australia. The last time I went to Hawaii I complained about crappy beaches…the beaches here are much nicer…but the water is dead flat so there is nothing surf related. As I mentioned earlier the main groups here in Phuket are Aussies and Russians. The Aussies that come tend to fit 2 categories…parents with kids… Or single blokes looking for the nightclubs, hookers, bar girls and the rub and tugs on offer everywhere.

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The Russians however fit into one category but 2 age brackets. There are the early 20’s Russians who wear tiny shorts and muscle shirts, while the girls are in bikinis or G-strings and topless on the beach. And then there are the Russians in their late 50’s who are also in bikinis or G-strings and topless on the beach. I will not say too much on this subject for fear of instilling mental images that may never leave. Needless to say…we have seen some things that cannot be unseen.

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One of the more amusing aspects is the oldies…they are to afraid to get amongst the action on Bangla Road so they take up position on the opposite side of the road and just watch the goings on. We stopped in at the tailors and got a cashmere wool suit made up each…we figured that upon our return we would have to be grownups and get jobs and things. And this would mean job interviews etc…Yucko.

While here…I found the perfect shirt for my father in law but my wife overruled its purchase for fear that we may offend my mother in law. Anyway…sorry Jim…no shirt for you.


Hohhot – Inner Mongolia


The original plan for Hohhot was to look around while we got our visas to go to Mongolia proper…then head in to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival this proved to be incredibly cost prohibitive with the visa and transport options adding up to a ridiculous amount. We would have had to get a train to the border (8hrs), hire a private jeep to cross the border then 10-11 hours on local train or busses on the other side to get to the capital.

Wiki travel tells us that “Mongolian buses are notorious for being late and on some routes for not even arriving on the scheduled day”. Otherwise the flight would have been $700 each plus the visa costs. We both have the trans-Siberian railway on our bucket lists (Beijing to Moscow) which goes through and stops in Mongolia several times so we decided to skip it. We tried to arrange the trans-Siberian train on this trip but not having Russian visas we would have had to use a broker and the bill got over $10,000 very quickly.

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Having decided that Mongolia was out we had time to kill and plans to make. The hostel we stayed at had organised private tours of the desert, grasslands, Great Wall etc…but they were all very expensive. The Great Wall in this section is really just a mud heap, the desert involved camels which was an immediate no vote from me, and the grassland was just too dear.

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So we stayed in town and checked out the local sights. Firstly, this part of China is very different to the rest and is a little more like our Indian experiences. The street is often used as a toilet here and the sights and smells in certain areas of town reflect this. The development that is in the heart of town has not spread to the inner ring so the drainage, toilets, footpaths and the normal Chinese efficiency did not exist. There was a lot of construction underway to remedy this but alas we were not there yet.

The local busses were their usual cheap and efficient selves with a ride costing 1 yuan each and busses coming regularly enough that only peak times had the sardine squash. Our first ride took us to the museum which was in a complex of four of the largest buildings I had ever seen. The museum was built to resemble the Mongolian steppes so in a way was quite similar to Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra with the building and mountain merging into one.

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It was spectacularly huge with one of the greatest dinosaur exhibits…bear in mind that this part of China is dinosaur alley with lots of fossils etc located in the Gobi desert nearby. We normally don’t take photos in museums, as they tend to be dioramas, but here we found ourselves snapping away. Add to this the local culture exhibits and possibly most impressive of all was the China space program exhibit (with actual space suits and capsules) as well as the mock ups and back stories behind the evolution of the space program and its participants.

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After this we were off to the usual, temple and mosque run and of course our adventures in food land. My first find was the breakfast bao zi shop, then the supermarket where Jill found a semi reasonable muesli, and then GOLD…an imported food shop…with NZ tasty cheese, smoked oysters, pate, prosciutto…there is a god. The next night we hit the restaurant strip after a long day’s hiking in the heat and settled in for some cool ales.

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While drinking our refreshing beverages we watched the next table be delivered an entire leg of lamb on a spit…I went over and asked what it was and to point to it on the menu…being Chinese they immediately offered me some and the deal was done…we had to order this. The menu said it was 48 yuan ($8.23) so we ordered this, some mushrooms and some tofu and a mystery menu item that I randomly pointed at.

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Our lamb came and it was spectacular…alas we later found out it was 48 yuan per half kilo…so our leg was almost 4 times more expensive than we thought…but it was good. The mushrooms and tofu were fine but the mystery item I pointed at turned out being a toasted jam sandwich…don’t ask. This was now our most expensive meal in China at 304 yuan ($52.12) but we had a huge leg of lamb, 6 beers (600ml each) and some small nibbly bits.

Back to the hostel the next day for beers with the others and to watch the World Cup game between Germany and France washed down with many more ales and some pizza from the joint across the road…which actually wasn’t too bad. We met up with the guys we had met on our first day who had disappeared on the overpriced grassland tour and having chatted with them upon their return…we made the right choice as they claim that the tours were not worth the expense.

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It is quite interesting to see how our idea of value has changed during our time away…we always knew that Australia was expensive however the last 10 months has crystallised just how obscene the prices in Australia have gotten. Of course you can have fine dining here and pay through the nose for it…but within a 5 minute walk you can have a huge meal for two, with beverages, for under $20 and more often than not under $15. A single beer can be bought at the local store for between 50 cents and a dollar…everywhere…this will be hiked through the roof to about $2-4 in a restaurant and most main meals will cost about $2-8 depending on the venue.

Long story short is that we will suffer a huge culture shock when we finally decide to return…