I'd complain about the seat not going fully flat, but the truth is that this is the first time I've paid for a business seat and both the food and the trolley dolly are superb. The Entertainment, OTOH, is poor and I'm stuck listening to my own Radio 4 rips.

The first order of business in KL airport is to invest in a bottle of whisky. I narrow it down to a pair, and finally go for a 10 year old Ardbeg over a Caol Ila. The formalities at KLIA are straightforward and I'm soon out in the sweltering heat (yes, this is me saying that), waiting for a bus to my hotel. It's about five minutes away, and once I get there I flake.

Ian arrives mid afternoon, another victim of Jeddah's inability to send a plane off on time, and we head off in search of monkeys.

Our tour at least arrives on time, and whisks us off on a 1½ hour drive into the Malaysian countryside towards monkey central. We're kindly provided with beans, which have the handy effect of making the monkeys climb all over us in an attempt to reach them.

As sunset approaches, we end up at a Chinese restaurant, dining on freshly caught and dismembered sea creatures.

The main event is the fireflies cruise, and it's spectacular. We're ferried out in a sampan, and steered up and down the river as the fireflies pulse in unison from the riverside mangroves.

On the way back, we're treated to a free durian, the "King of Fruits". Possibly in the same way as Budweiser is King of Beers - it too tastes mostly of putrifaction.

Posted Wed Apr 6 00:00:00 2011 Tags: holiday

I leave for the airport mid-afternoon after flinging my new gear in my new bag.

Last night I went to the Mares dealer and splurged. I'm now the proud new owner of a Mares Metal Proton 42 along with Mares octopus and triple console, plus a rather nice bag to put them in.

Jeddah airport is even more ghastly than usual. One of the check-in baggage belts appears to have broken down and there's luggage and containers of zam-zam water littering the entire check-in area. The queue for check-in isn't going anywhere. It's unclear whether that's baggage-related or due to the fact they changed the plane from a 747 to a 777 and it's now full.

Being business class gets me served and my bag is soon on the floor on its way to who knows where.

The Jeddah First Class Lounge is rubbish.

As usual, the flight information boards simply show you the schedule, and fail to reflect what's happening on the ground. There's still no-one going through the gate as it ticks over to Final Call. It's 1 ¾ hours late when it leaves.

Posted Tue Apr 5 00:00:00 2011 Tags: holiday

I'm writing this rather too long after the fact, so I'm going to leave you with edited highlights.

Göreme itself is a fairly small town centre with a noticable presence of tourist tat. There's also a fair number of restaurants and eateries, but freezing weather doesn't appear to be prime tourist season and the main street is all but lifeless.

Many of the buildings here are hollowed out from the rock, and our hotel is no exception.

The first order of business is a trip to the open air museum marking the some of the richest and earliest cave dwellings in the region.

The following day sees an abortive attempt at a balloon flight due to too much wind, so we replace it with a coach tour of the region.

The balloon flight comes off the following day, and it's fantastic. It's a bright winter day, and our pilot delights in telling us about the region as well as the science behind his balloon piloting.

The culinary highlight of the region is the testi kebab, meat and vegetables cooked in a sealed pot, which is broken open at the table when serving.

Posted Sun Mar 13 00:00:00 2011 Tags: holiday

We arrive at the airport mid-afternoon, and there's a initial panic when the monitors suggest our flight has been brought forward 50 minutes. The boarding passes are reassuring, but that just leads to the passport control queue of doom.

Being Jeddah, of course, the flight is late. I'm not sure why we expected anything else.

Our late take-off has knock-on effects on our 1½ hour transfer in Istanbul. It turns out that we need to enter the country in Istanbul before transferring to the flight to the smaller airport at Kayseri. The immigration queue is slow and worrying, but ultimately we manage to reach the gate in time, although in my case in my socks.

There's a process in place at Kayseri. It states that passengers who have transferred from an international flight are bussed from the arrival lounge to a different baggage claim, so they can go through customs here. The different baggage claim fails to spit out my companion's bag however, which leads to a world of strife and bugging of airport staff. They succeed in locating the bag (it got left behind in Istanbul), and offer a promise that it will appear at our hotel soon, and a compensatory t-shirt. Which is scant protection against the literally freezing temperature.

I'm not smug much at all about managing to pack everything I need into carry-on.

Eventually we make it to the hotel conveyance. It's an hour or two to the hotel in Göreme, where sleep happens.

Posted Wed Mar 9 00:00:00 2011 Tags: holiday

We take another overnight in Aqaba before setting off for Petra. The site is at over 800m above sea level, and the route there climbs over 1600m, which is well over the altitude it's sensible to reach straight after diving.

The Jag makes short work of the mountains, and I guide the party around as much of Petra as possible in the relatively short time available. No climbing up to the Monastery, but we see most of the rest of the site.

We're off again almost immediately, heading north before looking for a route over the mountains toward the Dead Sea. The pass, once we find it, is spectacular as it leads down to reveal views of the Dead Sea. We follow the road until we stumble across a scattering of cars parked by the armco.

The sea is accessible enough from here, and more importantly there's a freshwater stream running into it so you can wash the salt off. Not all of us jump in.

The evening sees us getting lost in Madaba. It's conveniently placed for my flight out tomorrow, and less terrible than Amman. It takes a little rough navigation through the back streets of the city, but we eventually find our way to the Madaba Inn Hotel, which is switched off for the winter.

The following day we get up early to see the sights, before I get dropped off at the building site which used to be Amman's airport. The place is heaving, but they have a system where you slip someone a twenty and he propels you past the queues. The Royal Jordanian flight is pretty comfortable.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party continues north. After a stop in Jerash, they reach the Syrian border intending to see Damascus and Palmyra. It doesn't quite go to plan.

One of the party leaves Jordan successfully, but is denied entry to Syria. He has to make his own way back across no-man's land into Jordan and then find public transport to the airport.

The driver, on the other hand, is stuck at the border for 30 hours until they do their next cargo run. After that, he's whisked straight to Tartous with police escort. He gets himself and the car on the ferry. At the allotted time, it leaves port, goes round in circles a bit and then comes back again. The next stop for the ferry is Alexandria, and it's not all that stable at the moment so the boat's staying here until it thinks of something better to do.

It hasn't managed to do that after a few days so he bails and leaves the car on the boat while he flies to Venice, and from there to Finland. In all, it's a couple of weeks before his car reaches Italy so he can collect it.

Posted Wed Jan 26 00:00:00 2011 Tags: holiday

Two days of diving in Aqaba. And it's pretty good. There isn't much boat diving here at the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, it's all from the shore. But the diving is excellent. It's rich with large creatures such as rays, eels, and octopus, which our divemaster duly molests.

There's even a mobile anti-aircraft gun under here.

The second day, we're on the wreck of a Lebanese cargo ship with an airspace in the hold. There are turtles.

Also, we do the "Saudi Border Wall" site, the only wall dive on the Aqaba shore. It's a sensitive site because, as the name suggests, it's close to the border. It's a good dive, the wall is deep and features huge cabbage corals.

When we get back up, we're greeted by a chap in camo uniform, bellowing at the sea in Arabic. It's fairly concerning, until we work out that he's got his own set of divers. They turn out to be firemen, practising using breathing equipment or putting out fires underwater or something.

Posted Tue Jan 25 00:00:00 2011 Tags: holiday

Our receptionist tells us us there's no diving in Haql, with it being so close to the Jordanian border. He's not right, but we don't know that then, so we go straight to the border. It's a confusing jumble of small offices, with no obvious starting point. We pick one more-or-less at random, and get sent somewhere else. The somewhere else sends us over to another place, where the process grinds into motion. One of the offices contains an edition of what appear to be the Saudi Customs Official Magazine, which has an article with photos of notable catches. The most bizarre (to me) is a car with the entire engine bay filled with cans of Heineken.

We're transferred smoothly from office to office to perform each step of the procedure which will allow us and the car to cross from Saudi Arabia into Jordan. The border and customs people are all pretty warm and open, if a little surprised to see a Briton, an American and a Finn driving a Jaguar to Finland. The whole process takes less than an hour and we're soon on our way into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

The Jordanian side of the border is a little more painful. Getting visas and getting through passport control happens reasonably efficiently, but the car is more of a challenge. There are all manner of reasons why it takes a good four hours, many of them the computer's fault.

The Jordanian coastline appears to be mostly industrial from our vantage point on the road. Our hotel (a PADI five star resort no less) is just a couple of miles from the border up a hill, a little way out of Aqaba. We start our exploration of the town with the discovery of a Genuine English Pub called the Rovers Return.

Posted Sun Jan 23 00:00:00 2011 Tags: holiday

Today we're heading north from Yanbu for some diving in the middle of nowhere. This stretch of coast is reportedly all good diving if you can get to the shore and march over the fringing reef. Lead by our boat driver from yesterday, we roll up at a stretch of coast accessible due to having a cement factory. There's a coastguard station nearby, so we rock up and do the needful.

And they turn us down. About a year ago, a couple of locals borrowed a mate's diving certification and went out with one tank and reg set between them. After they came back dead, the coastguard decided diving was too dangerous. They send us a mile or so down the coast, for safety's sake. The coast road is the traditional unsealed corrogated dirt track, fine for our DM's pickup, but not really suited to our conveyance, a Jaguar S-type R.

The trek out over the gnarly fringing reef with full gear on is hot and painful on the feet. It's a nice enough dive in the unspoilt water. Short on creatures, but it's pretty fun to know that we're probably the only people to have dived here, ever. We have a short surface interval before moving a little way down the coast for another go. Again, just a few larger fish in the clear water, but still a great opportunity to dive somewhere unique.

After we finish our dive, we turn north again to find a site for tomorrow's outing. We're interested in diving the Saudi side of the Gulf of Aqaba, and we have a tip for someone who can help us in Al Bad, which is right in the north. It's going to be a long drive, so we get cracking without too much delay.

By sunset, we've reached the town of Al Wajh, where we find bizarre bread-based local street food and spot a woman behind the wheel of a jeep.

The rest of the drive stretches on interminably under we get to Al Bad in the north of the country. I wake up as we're driving around the town in the middle of the night. It's becoming apparent that we've been given a bum steer - there's no sign of a hotel or a dive shop in the small town, and we reluctantly take the decision to journey on to the larger town of Haql.

Just outside of Haql, we come across a beach resort offering accommodation. It's after two in the morning when we finally get our heads down.

Posted Sat Jan 22 00:00:00 2011 Tags: holiday

Friend Ollie has decided that it's time to leave the Kingdom, and furthermore that the only sensible way to do it is to drive to Finland. Naturally, I'm looking forward to see how that goes, so I'll be accompanying him as for as Amman. (Spoiler: it doesn't fall apart until after I've left the party).

The start of the trip is actually at a beach in Jeddah, for diving. At the end of the day, we get in the motor for the three hour drive to Yanbu where our hotel awaits.

Look, there's a reason the Mövenpick in Yanbu is mostly empty, and it's not the moat. The service here is horrible. They refuse to honour the deal we booked and fob us off with something substantially more expensive.

We've got a dive trip organised for the morrow (who'd have thought it?). The opening entertainment appears when we come across a barge. They're charged with laying a temporary buoy with no nav or depth sounder to position it. After our captain helps out, they drop it upside down. We grab it and right it by towing it around in circle for about ten minutes.

Dive one is at Caesarian Reef. The 26 degree water is properly chilly. It's a brutal bash into the current, giving us only 33 minutes of air. The water is clear, although the wildlife is elusive.

The wind and waves settle for dive two, which is more of a problem because doing less exercise means I start getting colder. The pinnacle isn't much to write home about, and by the end of the dive I'm vowing to invest in a wetsuit. The other diver here without one (and it's total coincedence he's a Scot) makes the same decision.

Our dive buddies for the day let us know of a restaurant, and we ask for the hotel's help to reach it. Sadly, they decide to mislead us about the distance and the cost of taxi there in a transparent move to keep our spending at the hotel. It's actually dead easy, and we're soon nomming on industrial-strength curry.

Posted Fri Jan 21 00:00:00 2011 Tags: holiday

I arrive in Dubai at lunchtime. Excitingly, the Dubai metro was opened since I was last here, so I have the opportunity for a ride. It's actually pretty good. Slick and convenient for most of my journey. I only have a short walk at the end, conveniently through the Mall of the Emirates.

At least, that's what I thought. Actually, it's quite a long walk when you're carrying two holiday's worth of luggage, you get lost in the mall, and then you discover the Novotel Mall of the Emirates isn't actually in the same block as the mall. And that's where it starts getting complex.

laterooms confirmed my booking and then neglected to let Novotel know about it. Result: Thanks to them, I'm in Dubai on New Year's Eve with no hotel room booked. It's a nervous wait while the hotel has a rummage and eventually pulls an accessible room out of their back pocket.

Later on, I wander back towards the metro. As I purchase my return ticket, the queue is looking menacingly substantial. It's a long, carefully regulated wait to get on the metro back toward the Burj Khalifa.

There are already thousands of people milling around when I get there. Most of them in the metro station. The crush starts on the platform and crawls agonisingly towards the exit. It takes a good half hour to reach it, and then I can start walking relatively easily towards the Burj. I've no idea where I'm going, but by coincedence I manage to get a reasonable spot to watch the fireworks. They're spectacular, if a little unimaginative in the way they use the tower.

The queue on the way back is staggering though.

I get a pretty good start as the fireworks end, but even so I can quickly see that there's no point in trying to use the Burj Khalifa station. I walk a mile down the track to the Business Bay station, and I'm one of the last people in the station before they lock the doors.

This place is a menace too, but at least the crush is moving. A few feet every ten minutes or so. After maybe an hour, I get close enough to see that what I assumed was the ticket barrier, is in fact just a barrier. I have the option of jumping it or getting crushed. I do feel bad about doing it though.

The train, when it arrives is freakishly empty. Looks like the metro staff are severely limiting the rate of people getting on.

Next morning, I have an appointment scheduled.

The Burj Khalifa station is a little more sane in the morning sunlight. I'm going up the world's highest building, which means starting in the Dubai Mall, next door.

The observation deck isn't actually that high up. It's about 2/3rds of the way, and not as high as the CN Tower. However it is outside in part, and that's enough to freak me out slightly.

Dubai is clear with only a little haze so the view is excellent. Unfortunately the glass isn't and the outdoor section doesn't quite face in the right direction. All in all, it's a successful visit.

I just about have time to invest in some camera bits before it's time to get on the metro for the last time, for my flight home. Emirates have thoughtfully laid on an A380 for the handful of people making the journey.

Posted Sat Jan 1 00:00:00 2011 Tags: holiday