Europe ’14: London-Hong Kong-Sydney-Canberra

 After five days in London we headed for home via a 30 hour stopover in Hong Kong.  The train to Heathrow is expensive so we took the shuttle option. When we arrived at Heathrow we were impressed with the speed and friendliness of the customs process but it was a different story on the outward journey.  My metal knee replacement always makes the metal detector machine go “ping” and I am resigned to being asked to remove my shoes and belt.  At Heathrow, however, the body pat down was the most intrusive I have ever been subjected to and my carry on case was unpacked for no apparent reason.[teaserbreak]

 Hong Kong is encouraging travellers to use the train from the airport but we had already booked a shuttle so missed a ride.  Christine visited Hong Kong in 1988 and was amazed at the development since then.  There are new highways and bridges and row after row of gleaming residential towers, some about 40 storeys.  We noticed some outdoor clothes drying and lots of drying/airing rooms adjoining the balconies – a sensible feature in a city as hot and steamy as HK.  We didn’t spot any solar panels or wind turbines in Hong Kong.

 Hong Kong has a busy underground rail network that we didn’t get a chance to sample.  We did however travel on a couple of the city’s well patronised double decker buses and one of its ubiquitous red taxis that are a lot cheaper than Canberra cabs.  The buses still take cash collected by the driver.  The required fare is shown at the door, speeding the boarding process.  The cash fare process was a step back from London’s excellent Oyster Card system that enables swipe and go access to all metropolitan trains and buses.  Rome has machines that dispense tickets that allow one journey, daily, and weekly use on their public transport but the each mode of travel requires a different form of ticket.

 One of the features of HK is the positioning of restaurants.  Because the footpaths are so crowded there is no al fresco dining at all, a huge contrast with Sicily and Rome where the alleys are dotted with restaurant tables.  Ground level shopping space in the HK CBD is devoted to jewellery stores and other high value merchandise such as Gucci and other international brands.  Consequently, many HK restaurants are located on the 1st or 2nd floors.

 After our brief Hong Kong stopover we headed for Sydney.  We were surprised that as well as the usual security screening at customs everyone’s carry on bags were searched on the air bridge just before boarding the plane.  This is apparently routine in security conscious Hong Kong.

 There was a bit of drama on our flight to Sydney as the plane had a pressurisation problem and we returned to Hong Kong where we were transferred to another jet.

 Although my (entirely self-funded) six week trip was mainly for enjoyment I did learn quite a lot relevant to issues that Woden Valley Community Council regularly deals with.  Most significantly, it reinforced my belief that modern cities cannot function without effective public transport.  Mega cities such as London and Rome are able to shift vast numbers of people by underground rail systems that are not compromised by street congestion at ground level.  Light rail can be used for cities, such as Florence, where heavy rail is impractical or, as in London and Rome, an adjunct to the metro.  Buses still have a role in Rome, London, Florence, Hong Kong, Naples, and Syracusa.  They can reach places that rail can’t and are generally easier to board.  Cashless ticketing across all forms of public transport makes the system run much smoother in London, Rome and Naples.

 Renewable energy is being embraced across Europe.  As there are fewer opportunities for domestic solar in highly urbanised areas, Italy in particular has installed many medium density solar systems on factories and other commercial premises.  Large solar farms are common across rural Italy.

 Canberra has a lot more green space than any of the cities I visited.  Other than a few soccer fields, it was hard to spot any green spaces when flying into London.  I didn’t hear any birds twittering in London, Rome, Hong Kong, Florence or even Syracusa.  Woden has already lost its pitch and putt course: we should treasure our Philip Swimming Pool and Ice Rink, Hughes tennis courts, Eddison Park and skateboard facility, Philip Oval, and nearby Capital Golf Course.

 Keeping the travel diary for WVCC made my journey more educational.  I hope you enjoyed reading the diary and viewing the photos.


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