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Newsletter » Letters from the past » America and Brazil 1990
.......We started this trip basically in February 1990 when we asked the Sheraton for a transfer, or else if nothing was available, then I would effectively resign as at June 30th 1990. Margareth and I had felt that the 26 months were long enough in China, especially seeing the first year was very busy for us and then going through Tianamen Square episode in June 1989 and the changing attitude prevalent in Beijing after that. Coming down to our departure date we still didn't have a new contract, although had been one in Sanai (Yemen) that we turned down and waited for a few more maybe coming up. Our holiday plans were in trying to get to America, but all flights to America were full for when we wanted to travel. Near the last minute we were offered Bali Sheraton and to come for an interview, the travel agent was able to book us through to America via Hawaii and so the race was on. The packers came in, we raced around for the visas that only I needed, (Australian Passport) as Marg had a British passport and left Beijing early morning on the 9th of September. We needed to go through Hong Kong to place our valuables in a safe Deposit Box, arrange for travelers cheques, meet some people for lunch and be back on the plane 5 hours later - which we succeeded in doing. When we arrived in Bali there was nobody to pick us up (Editor - which should have been a good indication of what was to come later!!!) Only by chance did we book a room in the same Hotel in the Sheraton Staff, so had a look around for a day, agreed to work here - and left the day after. Into Hawaii flying a bad airline (American of course - United) - where through contacts we were able to stay in the Royal Hawaiian Sheraton Hotel complimentary - and in a VIP Smile!

A great 3 days here - getting burnt on the beach, touring the island in a hired convertible and trying out the restaurants. I was quite impressed with it and so was Margareth. Only problem was the 2 hours spent arriving through immigration along with thousands of others. Leaving the islands was much better. Next stop San Francisco, staying at Fisherman's Wharf Sheraton - only 50% discount on the room here! We also enjoyed our time here even though again only about 3 days. Visited and ate at the Fisherman's Wharf - enjoying the atmosphere but crowded with tourists, trying out the Californian Cuisine and the Californian wines, taking Boat trips on the Bay and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge and riding the trams up the steep streets as always shown an TV. Onto New Orleans and where the Gumbos, Creoles and Jambalayas are very popular, plus the music and parties - it is after all the place of Louis Armstrong and the Old Jazz Hall. Great place this, great food trips and Paddlewheel boats on the Mississippi River, boat rides down the Bayou's, and walking around a very historical port of the country. This was the first time that we came across the homeless problem in America - not a surprise but still a bit of a shock. We spent 5 days here and enjoyed every minute of it. Good to spend some time in a place where everyone speaks English.

Next into Mexico for eight days, which most of the time we spent in Mexico City. We would have to have traveled to the Mexico Caribbean too but time was not on our side. Mexico was the only place I was disappointed in, in the city and the food. The City place was full of Churches, and even though all the churches had been forced to leave the country during the 1800's you still do not see any closed there. Some of the churches were quite fantastic, although with all the churches, temples and other religious activities I have seen on my travels so few - plus being totally uninterested in religion anyway - I am getting tired of looking at them! But we also managed to do a couple of day trips to nearly towns which was so interesting to see the countryside and also visit the Temple of the Sun and Moon from the Aztec Empire - quite an amazing structure, it always gives me strange feelings when I stand in a doorway at a house platform, knowing that they would at been standing in the same parts hundreds year ago - dressed and living a totally different culture, but still seeing what I was seeing. Also if I was alive then, I wouldn't have been allowed anywhere near their compound, but would have lived with the peasants! As I said we didn't enjoyed the food here, finding it more family style cooking, very basic and tasteless, not at all like the Mexican food we are used to in our country's Mexican Restaurants. Our room here was in a Hotel right on the main Cathedral Square (the Sheraton here was too expensive), and every morning at 6 a.m. soldiers marched out playing their trumpets and drums to raise the flag and every night at 6 p.m. repeated the procedure in lowering it. We were here for 10 days, took some nice photos and then left for Rio de Janeiro.

In Brazil we did stay in the Sheraton Hotel again where the Chef and RM. there were very pleasant and helpful. As in Mexico communication was a problem and all our efforts to get up to the Amazon failed, apart from the fact that the art price was over 1700 US$. Before traveling to Brazil, buy a Brazil pass outside the country as its much cheaper. In the end we spent a week up in northern Brazil, in two towns called Maceo and Salvador. Both had nice towns and beaches, where our food was much improved and both were towns that had been fought over by French, Spanish and Portuguese over the centuries. One thing about Brazil is its crime. Everywhere you go you do not feel safe - and at night you are ultra careful. In Rio there are parts of the city you just don't go even in daylight - although Taiwan was similar to that as well. In Salvador Margareth had her bag cut while we were packed in an elevator, but luckily nothing was taken as she is pretty careful how she carries her bag! The crime rate is affecting the tourists as they are going elsewhere. Two people we met had their room emptied, another couple robbed on the beach while they were sun bathing - many stories. It was good to go and see Brazil, but we didn't find it all that enjoyable, apart from the time on the beaches and it was not as cheap as we expected. Saw the typical tourist sites though, like Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Statue of Christ on the hill, and of course Copacabana. Also went up into the hills to see Petropolis, where the royals had their Summer Palace. The beaches were nearly empty as it was winter, but I did go in few times and taken a swim in Rio, finding the water very cold. Copacabana beach is wide, white and easy to imagine being in summer full of people. They really look after their bodies and love to preen themselves in the beach. There is also a good bit of history all over Brazil, with parks jutting out in strategic places, and many churches once again. We had hope to have seen more, but what we did see whetted appetites to come back and see the Amazon, the Andes, and to visit more of the interior of this continent. I also found the Samba shown to be much more colourful, and with more action than the shows I was to see later in Paris, and then there is a local style of dancing, a combination of African and Brazilian, which is also very interesting to see.

Next stop were then London, where, if we hadn't accepted a position in Bali, we would have seen some people there about a new contract, as most of the executive placement firms I use are based in London. Also I hadn't seen Debby for a number of years and caught up with her there, where she was working on the Docklands project in London as a structural engineer. While we had no real plans, we would definitely need to be back in Bali, so travel back to Indonesia was made while Deborah had a few days off work so we could spend some time together. Amazing how little I had found my sister had changed, even with her new responsibilities on one of the major building sites in London. It was good to see her though and we enjoyed the time together. We had a couple of weeks spare and our initial plan was to travel in Europe before going through Cairo, back to Bali, but could only make travel arrangements from London, so Marg. went to Glasgow see her parents and I bought a European rail pass and headed down through Dover to Paris. Spent there three days in walking all over the city. Even walking up to the 2nd stage of the Eiffel Tower, looking at the Arc de Triumphe, Notre Dame, a trip to Versailles and up the Seine and taking in the atmosphere of the city and food of course! Not a least once. Stayed in little hotel here, as in the rest of the trip, finding them as I arrived at each city, reminding me of Heidelberg in Germany. As I was on a very tight time scale, I only spent of full day in each city, but was by myself, with long legs and no great need to keep stopping for refreshment and drinks! So as a result, I was able to see the cities I went to quite comprehensively, and if I liked what I saw, planned to go back one day with Margareth to visit the major points of them, such as Museums, good restaurants and the night life. Lyon, Marseille and right up to Milan had beautiful places where I stayed, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around their cities. Paris to Lyon and then I traveled to Marseille, where I made a point of trying their Bouillabaisse, a mixed seafood soup famous all over the world. Went into the old part of Marseille, but only in daylight as pretty dangerous there, and climbed the highest point in all there cities to get panoramic views of them. Managed to head into the country from here and visit Aix de Provence, a nice little country town, and with a surrounding area having quite a selection of ruins scattered about.

In the mid afternoon had a train ride through the French Rivera coast, and then overnight onto Rome. What a great city. Very much impressed and will definitely go back one day. Everywhere I turned I could have taken a photo - as it was I look three rolls of film that day - and I walked few miles, heading out to the outer walls, and St. Paul's Church, to St. Peters and the Vatican, the Coliseum, The Roma forum, Pantheon and the majority of other buildings and monuments scattered around the city. Headed into the little side streets, finding the little squares all with their statues or their fountains, sitting at the out door cafes, drinking coffee and beer, and generally soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying every minute. Two times the little street kids come up and surrounded me with sheets of newspaper and cardboard, or tried to, the idea being to distract you while others in their group frisk your pockets and rob you, but each time, once with a word, and once with a swinging right arm, I was able to carry on in peace. Like I said, a great city and I was sorry I didn't have more time here, but it was onto Florence, and another beautiful town, with its bridge across their river, covered in shops, as in ancient times, it's churches on the little, and the cobbled streets crowded with shops. From here it is also a short trip to Pisa, and I went there specifically to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It can be done in just a morning trip, which I did and I was not disappointed, although now you cannot walk up it, at least it wasn't covered with scaffolding and sheeting, which so many other monuments were. There seems to be quite a lot of effort in cleaning and renovating old buildings there days, - even I did it in Brisbane with my house! Blue skies and warm weather, the travel was perfect photograph material and I took quite a few. In much of there places I tried the local food, but did not have time to delve into it as much as what I wanted, although in Milan my local restaurant had a wood fired cooked Pizza oven, something I couldn't leave Italy without trying! Florence has an unusual Cathedral, being in green and white, quite fascinating, but Milan's Cathedral was great! Such gothic work, the amount of detail on it, I classed it even above Colognes Cathedral, and certainly high above the disappointing Notre Dame, who's inside was totally plain. At Milan was the first wet weather, but was able still to go up to the roof of the Cathedral and admire the work at first hard, very close. Not a pretty city is Milan, being quite industrial, but the Cathedral and its Monument Church yard, make it worthwhile to go and visit. The grave monuments in the churchyard are miniature Cathedrals in themselves, while others are fantastic statue groupings, each are belonging to one particular family. The only sad sight - seeing the ages of the people - so many killed in each of the world wars.

The trains is Italy were also rated the best, having no faults and very punctual - but I finally arrived two hours late in Frankfurt, my next destination and a bit like a homecoming for me. Here I saw all my friends from the Sheraton Hotel, caught up on the latest news, and took a bit of a break from the traveling I had been doing. By the time I had seen everyone - done a bit of shopping and packed my bags it was time to take the train again to Luxemburg, specifically to see my Bank, as I in moving it from Hong Kong so I don't have any troubles later on, but was also surprised at how nice this city is also. A big valley runs right through the center of town, all the banks are on one side with their main Square and Cathedral, and shops and railway are on the other. Beautiful bridges span the gap and it's kept free of buildings and planted with trees and shrubs. Seafood time here, as a wide range of fresh seafood is bought in for the restaurants. Drizzle all the time here, and not all that much touring about so I took an earlier train to Brussels, my last stop on the continent. Here the weather cleared enough to see the city, with its Palace and Palace of Justice, the E.E.C buildings and its parks and gardens. Found a nice restaurant in one of the side streets and had a great meal, meeting the Chef Owner and the other workers, so while I waited few businesses to close and to treat them to a few brandies, we then went back to the Main square, ringed by grand old buildings, and was treated to the main building, the Town Hall, having a sound and light display that lasted for about half an hour. It was quite unusual.

All too soon time to leave Brussels, and head through customs for the hydrofoil to Dover again and then onto London. We had only a day in London before heading to the airport for our flight out - as Margareth had also arrived in London and we left together. Apart from being late, an uneventful flight was had, first on Philippine Airlines and then onto Singapore Airlines and while we have never lost luggage on any flight, this flight also kept the record - and so safely in to Singapore, which should have been only for 1 week, but turned out to be 10 days waiting for our Visa to Indonesia. Because of this, we weren't able to visit Malaya as planned so that's a trip for the future, but looked around Singapore waiting for all the paperwork to arrive from Indonesia. If nothing else, we were able to catch up on some shopping and had a good rest before heading into Bali.

We're been here in Bali a couple of weeks now and found it very pleasant living, staying in a small hotel ten minutes away from the Sheraton, as ours is only half finished so far. It's been clear weather so far and stays quite hot, so a good climate. We love having breakfast every morning on the veranda with the birds, the people here are very pleasant, unlike China, and we are able to get out and about much more often. The beach is nice, with clean warm water, but at low tide it is too shallow to swim out on the reefs. We're been swimming and snorkeling already though as usually I get to swim each night when finishing work. Margareth cannot work, but is just enjoying the break at the moment, and generally it is as we planned, a nice relaxing place to be after China - although work is keeping me very busy and is a lot more involved than what I had imagined opening in hotel would he. Thanks for hearing me go on in this letter - I'll finish here.

With all our very best

Willi and Marg