Seven Wonders Tour
Author: Stuart Cheese
In my capacity as the UK Director of Operations for One World Tours Limited, I am often asked about the destinations I have been to and how it all began in the first place. 10 years ago I embarked on my second trip around the world and I suppose you could say that this is where it truly all began.
I decided to visit the Seven Wonders of the world in eight days. Firstly I had to decide what actually constituted the Seven Wonders of the World in the end came up with the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Golden Gate Bridge, The Empire State Building, Sydney Opera House and the Pyramids of Egypt. This would notch up a staggering 42,000 miles in 8 just days. The airlines and a chain of leading world-wide hotels thought that it would be a great promotional stunt and sponsored the whole trip so all of the flights and accommodation was free. Sounds like a brilliant blag eh? However nothing was guaranteed and my fate was entirely in the hands of the airlines.
So on the first leg of the trip (18th February) India and the Taj Mahal, I realized that I was on standby tickets and began to wonder if the trip would start at all. I think that once I saw the very beautiful Indian stewardess wrapped elegantly in her red and gold sari, I knew my trip had begun.
Arriving at Delhi airport and in order to continue on to the next stage of the journey I had to find out how much a taxi would cost to take me to Agra and back to see the Taj Mahal.
Eventually I was ushered towards a driver willing to attempt to take me the 300 miles in about 8 ½ hours for the price of £130. I remember the name of the driver and the journey to Agra very vividly. Ashok, drove like a madman, honking his horn and driving towards oncoming traffic on dual carriageways in order to help me complete my mission.
On reaching the Taj Mahal, I was very impressed by the stunning creation of love that stood before me, definitely the stuff that fairytales are made of! I did not have too much time, 15 minutes, so I quickly set about taking photographs of the beauty before me that was intended for the publicity for the sponsors. I took enough photographs to prove that I had been there, along with a duplicate set in case the first ones did not come out and then one more lot for luck! The sun was beginning to set and it gave everything around that wonderful orange glow, a fitting end to a brief but memorable experience.Well the high speed car ride back was even more hair-raising as we did the whole thing over again but in the dark this time!
Day two of the trip was to be mostly taken up with flights. I left Bombay after 6am to arrive in Hong Kong (stopping off at Bangkok) at around 3.15pm. I then had to take another flight to Beijing to arrive at 9pm that evening.
I was fortunate enough to experience the beauty of flying into Beijing at night with the added bonus of the magnificent fireworks in celebration of their New Year.
The hotel, the Tianlun Dynasty Hotel was very grand affair with staff spoke limited making it almost impossible to try and organise for a taxi to pick me up at 4am the next morning, to take me to the Great Wall, my next destination. I then had to catch a flight from Beijing to go to Sydney at 11.30am! With the limited communications it was very difficult to get across exactly what it was that I wanted and I had to do drawings in order to communicate. To be honest I did not see much of the Great wall as it was still dark being so early in the morning!
Back to Beijing airport on to Shanghai instead of directly on to Sydney as I had expected . The Quantas crew were very lively, and I assumed that it was because there was hardly anyone else on the flight so they could let their hair down a little. I was even invited to sit in the flight deck as we came in to land at Shanghai.
I arrived at Sydney airport at about 6.30am on the 21st of February. It was all too obvious that I would not be using a hotel until the next day in San Francisco, so I decided to leave my luggage in storage at the airport. I had a whole day to kill in Sydney and the first thing that I did was to catch a bus to Sydney harbour. I took a whole bunch of photographs of the Opera House and its surroundings
To waste a bit of time I went on a cruise of the harbour. I found it very hard to stay awake, the travelling around over the last few days finally catching up with me.
I left Sydney airport about 40 minutes later than scheduled. This was a little worrying because I was supposed to be making a connecting flight in Los Angeles an hour and a half after I arrived!
There was a problem with the next part of the trip. When I had originally planned the trip, I remembered that the international dateline would be crossed, meaning that although having left Sydney on the evening of the 21st of Feb, I would be arriving in San Francisco on the afternoon of 21st of Feb! The people that had rearranged the original schedule had not taken this into account.
In effect it meant that I would be arriving one day earlier than was planned, it also meant that I did not have anywhere to stay that night, as I was not booked into the hotel until the following evening! It actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I had missed the connecting flight anyway. I eventually arrived in San Francisco in the early part of the evening and took a taxi to the intercontinental hotel.
Having topped up my sleep on the flight over and now feeling refreshed from the shower I felt alert enough to experience San Francisco by night. Thee streets were incredibly steep and I wondered how on earth the parked cars managed to stay in place.
After having a good night’s sleep I got up early and took a cab to the Golden Gate Bridge.
I took the necessary photographs and treated myself to an ice cream. As I sat admiring the scenery I overheard someone mention that they could see Alcatraz in the distance. I had no idea until then that Alcatraz was so close and as I had a whole day to waste until my next flight, I decided that visiting Alcatraz was not the worst way to spend the day. Having just missed the afternoon departure I decided that I would take the three-hour evening tour.
I was quite excited about the prospect of actually visiting Alcatraz; it was to be an unexpected bonus to say the least! None of the so -called Wonders had given me such a rush. I had seen the Taj, Sydney Opera House, The Great Wall, The Golden Gate Bridge, but I could not believe that I was going to Alcatraz!
I was allowed to stand in the solitary confinement cells and I found it to be an extremely eerie experience.
You could still feel the history that the place was seeped in. I saw the exercise yard and the dining hall and for a grand finale heard the guards slam the cell doors closed. It was dark when I left the island and San Francisco was truly magnificent by night.
I flew out of San Francisco at about 12.30am and touched down in New York at 9pm.
I got up early and traipsed the streets of New York looking for somewhere to have breakfast and then made my way to the Empire State BuildingI walked down to Battery Park and caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
Then from JFK airport New York it was back to London. The flight to London was due to arrive at 6.20am the next morning. It was 40 minutes late and arrived at 7am instead. I had to take a taxi form Heathrow to Gatwick in order to catch the 10am flight to Pisa.
It seemed very strange to be back in England, so much had happened in such a short space of time.
I arrived in Italy at 2.45pm and I had a lovely view of the Swiss Alps as I had been sitting near the window again on this flight. I left the airport and took a taxi to the hotel Granduca which was nestled in the Italian countryside and was very pleasing to the eye after New York. After a quick shower I took a cab to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa where I took the appropriate photos. It didn’t seem possible that I was now in Pisa when hours before I had been in New York. It was very difficult to take in those last few days.
I had to be up at 6am to catch a flight back to Gatwick. It was roughly 6.30pm when I dropped off to sleep. The malaria tablets that I had to take had to be taken at the right time and once a week I had to take an extra one. Can you imagine how difficult it was with all the different times I had been through to make sure when I had to take them? I had to set my alarm to make sure that I took them at the correct time. I awoke at 12pm with a start, took my tablet and I remember telling myself that I shouldn’t have gone to bed so early as I would never get back to sleep now! Next thing I knew it was 5.30am the following morning. That was definitely the most sleep I had had in one go since I had left home.
I was a bit disappointed that I had slept my time away in Italy yet I had needed the sleep to revitalise myself.
When I arrived at Gatwick I took the speed bus back to Heathrow, the place where for me the trip had begun. It became apparent that I had got a four and a half-hour wait until the flight to Cairo. It was the longest four hours of the trip.
Finally the gate number came up and I rushed up to where I expected I would be leaving from for the most exciting part of the trip, the only bit that I was really looking forward to. I discovered that I was on standby tickets and that the flight had been oversold by 50 tickets. I had resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to go another step further.
There was only a handful of people left to board the plane and about ten more minutes to go until the plane was due to leave. I had been waiting for over four hours and was not even sure if there was anything to wait for! I even wondered if I should ring someone to come and collect me to take me home.
I touched down at the scheduled time of 11.15am on the 26th February. I wouldn’t get a proper look at Egypt until the following day. Once booked in to our hotel it proved very difficult for me to sleep that evening as it was like being a kid on Christmas eve, trying to force myself to go to sleep but being too excited to achieve it.
The young hotel porter had asked if I had stayed at this particular hotel before. When I answered no, he pulled open the long curtains in the manner of a minor star unveiling a plaque. The modern city of Cairo stood beyond in all of its glory as beautiful as any city by nightfall. The opened curtains exposed a long balcony onto which I was offered to step. The young man seemed proud to show me the magnificent view of the river Nile.
I could have enjoyed the stunning view for the entire night but knew that if I didn’t get a good nights sleep I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my time in Egypt to the full the following day. I felt saddened to see the advertisement for coke lighting up the evening sky of a country steeped in so much magical history. It seemed too commercial and somehow disrespectful.
I photographed the stunning sphinx.
The pyramids were absolutely breathtaking. I could not believe that I was only a few feet away from them. I had imagined of this moment so many times in the past. It was everything that I ever dreamed of and more.
I wanted to go to the museum to see Tutankhamen’s mask and after entering the museum, I was totally blown away by the exhibits that up until then I had only seen in reference books.
As I lay my eyes on the mask I found it was more breathtaking than I could ever have imagined.
In the evening I went back to the pyramids to see the sound and light show and I have to say it was the perfect ending to an amazing trip. A dream come true.
I had to be up early to catch the 8.45am flight back to London.
And there you have it. I had caught the travel bug good and proper and I wanted other people to share it too!