Hong Kong- Out and About

If in Adelaide and Melbourne you couldn’t fail to notice that Christmas was imminent, despite the blistering weather, in Hong Kong the festive season was underway with a vengeance, displays on speed. In the smoggy, humid atmosphere, enormous, glittering decorations hung eveyrwhere, vast Christmas trees constructed from lurid toy figures, a full sized, glitzy, Cinderella-style coach.

I often like to pick up a small Christmas tree decoration from places we travel. They are a welcome reminder, in the depths of a UK winter, of our trips and travels and take up very little space in the luggage. In the night markets of Hong Kong there there was no shortage of knick-knacks along the rows of stalls lining the streets in a blaze of light, colour and sound. It was a simple matter to find gift items like beautiful silk scarves in jewel-like colours.

A must-do tourist activity is going up Victoria Peak, from where there can be stunning views. We got our funicular tickets and duly rode up to the top, which was entirely shrouded in thick cloud. All there was to look at was a tawdry collection of stalls selling trinkets.

Friends who’d been following the same trail [from New Zealand and the Rugby World Cup, to Australia and now to Honk Long] were staying in a hotel on Hong Kong Island and we’d decided to meet up for an evening meal. Wanting to sample something authentic, we spent some time selecting a restaurant, eventually choosing one with a first floor dining room that looked comfortable and smart. It was quiet, only a couple of other tables occupied. When the waiter came and gave us menus we couldn’t make head nor tail of them, but looking at the other diners, it seemed as if we were to cook the food at our table! Who knew? We were baffled, the staff knowing neglible English [this was before the advent of Google translate, you understand]. Our friend, D, peered at the waiter and asked if we could ‘just have a stir fry’ which, I have to admit, struck me as so amusing at the time that I became quite helpless with laughter.

Eventually we ordered something or other and it was edible. But I’d so have liked to have had a gourmet guide on our trip to Hong Kong because I’m certain we missed out on a wonderful gastronomic experience.

Another day we got the gondola ride up and over to Ngong Ping village to look at the big Buddha, a statue which looks out over the mountains and green landscape. Again, the humidity had prompted thick mist to descend, resulting in low visibilty for the ride, although once we’d gained the top it was sunny and clear, the Buddha impressive in its inscrutability. And there, in another surprise, were our friends again! We wandered around the inevitable tourist stalls then climbed into a gondola car together for the descent.

For our last evening in Hong Kong we joined the spectators at the harbourside for Victoria Harbour’s nightly sound and light show, which was impressive.

By now Christmas was very close. It was, at last, time to turn towards home. We’d been away for three months, the longest trip we’ve ever taken, before or since.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Borovets 96: Mastering the Basics.

Borovets was beautiful; a sparkling picture postcard of snow-clad pines and white peaks dotted with rustic chalets. Horse-drawn sleighs adorned with tinkling bells slid by, tempting at the end of each punishing day for a ride back to the hotel, rather than a painful clomp in the excruciating discomfort of the ski boots.

Having just about got the ‘hang’ of the button lift and having mastered the snow-plough stop, after a fashion, by our second day we were to ascend a little higher on the nursery slopes and would need to use the chair lift. It seemed an enormous relief after the nasty button contraption that filled me with dread and I was happy at the prospect of less humiliation. Surely the revolving chair-lift with its comfortable, air-born seats wouldn’t pose any problems? You only had to hop on, skis dangling, ride to the top and hop off. What could go wrong? I was soon to find out.

I waited my turn and sat into the chair as it came round. Then, as the safety bar locked me in the chair began its silent glide up the mountainside between the pines. Mesmerised, I fell into a reverie, woken only by the panicky shrieks of the group. The non-stop chair was about to turn and the lock bar had loosened. In the ensuing moments the ground began to fall away. ‘Jump!’ they shouted. I straightened my skis and hopped from the chair-just as it turned the corner-and I landed on the small hillock of snow before skiing sedately down and receiving yet another round of applause from the gang.

We began to learn how to ski down a slope and use snowplough turns to zig-zag our descent. These were still shallow gradients, nothing approaching a ski-run. At lunchtime, rather than returning to the base of the peak we went to an alpine, wooden shack where the interior was heated by a log brazier and we sat on benches at a long table.

One enduring memory of our Borovets hotel is the meals. They were terrible. Each evening the offerings were much the same; cobbled together stew-like concoctions made with tinned or frozen ingredients. They were barely palatable and the only escape was to order the ‘vegetarian’ option, an inevitable omelette. Wine was offered with every dinner and was always ‘Tesco Bulgarian Red’, which amused us. A more recent visit to Bulgaria revealed that the cuisine has not made monumental progress…

One evening, with some energy left over, we went outside to the floodlit snow and tried the toboggans, which were fantastic fun. Another night out was down to the village and to a dingy bar, where we had beers accompanied by plates of chunky, greasy chips. These tasted wonderful after the bland hotel fare.

The week was passing quickly. We were soon using the glorious ‘gondola’ to ascend to the higher parts of the mountain where the skiing was more challenging. To stand at the top staring down was nerve-shredding, but Georgi coaxed us down each time and we were proud of our progress.

On our last day he left us to our own devices. We were, he assured us, ready to tackle a ‘blue run’, the easiest level of ski run, the toughest being a ‘black run’. We were all up for it but we’d stay together and help each other. By now, some of the snow on the pistes was becoming degraded and icy and we found parts of the run tricky. In order to avoid these glassy, treacherous patches we tried to keep to the sides and it was here that I crashed into a tree, losing a ski and tumbling to the ground, feeling that my arm was, at best, broken. From then it was a painful limp back to the hotel. The arm wasn’t broken but I was to return home with a colourful bruise from shoulder to wrist, although I was not downhearted. I felt like I’d learned to ski.

We had a last evening together, entertained in the hotel bar by a lacklustre group of dancers. Next day I was to take an earlier flight home than most and spend an afternoon touring Sofia before going to the airport. I no longer feared lone travel. At the small airport a backlog of flights was building up as the weather closed in, leaving the tiny departure lounge clogged with waiting passengers, many of whom sat around on the floor. A small kiosk struggled to cope with supplying drinks and snacks. Heathrow this was not.

After several hours of waiting my flight was called and I boarded the plane, its porthole windows obliterated by driving sleet. The plane taxied to the runway and as it began to gather speed it lurched drunkenly across the tarmac then back again like a ghastly parody of a slalem run. We, the passengers, gave a collective gasp and at last the aircraft lifted off and away from Bulgaria.

I grinned to myself. Now I could plan my next lone adventure. Where to? Somewhere hot, colourful and thrilling…