Tuesday, 10 January 2023

No more Noma


I see Noma is about to close. That's the restaurant in Copenhagen that's normally reckoned to be the world's best. There's all sorts of blather about why from the chief chef, but nobody doubts that it's down to money - running costs, of course, but also the fact that eating a meal there will cost you at least £415. Each. Plus wine. 

So it's no surprise that the first time I was sent to Copenhagen for, er, work, although I stayed in a (charming) hotel just across the harbour from Noma, I was sent elsewhere for my dinners. I still wasn't slumming it, though, gastronomically speaking - one restaurant, Koeford, that I ate at featured foods from the island of Bornholm, imaginatively served like, for example, in a preserving jar full of smoke. Yes, yes, pretty standard stuff these days, but in 2011 it was strikingly innovative.

It was ages since I'd been to Denmark, and I was so delighted to get to walk around Copenhagen's gorgeous streets, soak up some of its history, go ga-ga over the Lego - it was late November, and the Santa was very impressive - and generally have a lovely time over my all-of-three-nights visit. But, maybe before flitting back again down to the opposite end of the planet, instead of publicising that new flight route, I should have paid a bit more attention, eh, to the protest that was taking place in the town square. About climate change...

Thursday, 5 January 2023


Here's a New Year gift for you, if you're already beginning to feel that all those wishes you gave and received, about 2023 finally being a better year, were somewhat fatuous. For a soothing, beautifully-filmed, amusing and reassuring escape, go and watch the BBC's 'Gone Fishing' with Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse on YouTube. It's only partly about fishing (and the fish are normally released again straight away) and much more about enjoying nature and friendship and sharing the experience of getting older. It's usually filmed around the UK but the Christmas special I watched last night was located in Norway, specifically the Lofoten Islands.

Now, regular 😊 readers will recall that I have been to the Lofoten Islands, in 2018, on a 14-day Silversea cruise from Copenhagen. We moored off Svolvær and hired a car with an Aussie couple which I (!) drove around for the day, over soaring modern bridges, past racks of drying fish, through colourful little fishing villages, and under towering rocky peaks. It was just gorgeous, and I was delighted to see it all again in the programme, looking even more beautiful than on the low-cloud day when I was there.

That whole cruise was somewhat muted by bad weather, which meant that we had to spend extra time sheltering from a storm in Tromsø and had to miss out on three ports of call, Ȃlesund, Olden and Hammerfest, which was really disappointing. But that's cruising for you - always at the mercy of the weather and the sea conditions. As, for today's connection, the Silversea passengers guests currently stranded in Auckland on board Silver Muse have learned, if they didn't know already. Quite honestly though, on such an unseasonably grey, wet and windy day, I would rather be stuck in Tromsø than in Auckland, which (understandably) has much less to offer indoors-wise. Although, in my opinion, our museum is heaps better than Tromsø's main one. Go to their Arctic Museum instead.

Wednesday, 7 December 2022

No cheers


It isn’t easy being an industrial spy. Only five minutes on the job and already I had been collared by a determined young assistant with a steely smile. "We would rather you didn’t write anything down, ma’am," she murmured as she took me discreetly by the elbow and drew me away from the evening gowns.

"But I’m a travel writer," I said, waving my dog-eared notebook at her. "I’m just recording a few observations. Surely you don’t think I’m a fashion spy?" And I pointed at the food stains down the front of my Ezibuy cardigan.

"You’d be surprised," she said grimly, letting me go.

That was how - way back in 2004 - I started a story about a visit to LA, doing something other than the usual Disneyland/Walk of Fame/Hollywood sign. I was reminded of it by reading about poor Kirstie Alley, whose death was reported yesterday. That was because, as I was taking my notes, as above, in the super-expensive Fred Segal shop, I saw Kirstie with her daughter - as I rudely described it in the story - "comfortably blocking an aisle in the children's department".

Accompanied by our own daughters, we did of course actually do all of the above clichés, but added on things like Universal Studios, the Melrose Trading Post, a farmer's market, the Queen Mary, the Page Museum, and many challengingly huge servings of food. We were there at around this time of year, so there was lots of Christmas fun added to it all - it was really good.

And the stall-holders themselves were just as colourful: not only multi-cultural, but laid-back and alternative, there as much for the vibes as the chance to sell some stuff. One dread-locked black guy drawled to a shiny-headed man in leathers he’d almost walked past, "Hey, man, you looked like you, but I didn’t know if you were still you ’cos, you know, you change all the time…" Perhaps that wasn’t just incense in the air.

Cheers also added an essential element to our first visit to Boston a couple of years later, when of course we went to take the obligatory photo of the exterior that was so familiar to us from the series. There were some unusual extras on that trip, too - like getting there by train from NYC, staying in a private terraced guesthouse with a composting toilet and an indoor cat, and following the Freedom Trail round the city. We did that again, properly, a few years later, with a red-uniformed guide who looked like Liam Neeson, slumming it.

Anyway, RIP, Kirstie. Thanks for all the laughs.

Monday, 5 December 2022

Fire and ice

In an ideal world, this title would introduce an entry about viewing Fagradalsfjall, that spectacular volcano in Iceland, which is still erupting, since August. I would love to be there, seeing it in person, as it adds extra drama to Iceland's already spectacular scenery.

But no, it's Mauna Loa on Hawaii's Big Island that has been - despite competition from Tonga and Java - most dominant in recent news. Though it too has so far been more of an attraction than an inconvenience, it's now beginning to threaten the main road that rings the island. That would mean a long and tedious detour all the way around the other side, so no doubt the locals are crossing their fingers right now. Which is, of course, all you can do, with volcanoes.

When we were there, on an Uncruise er, cruise, in 2016, the mountain was actually covered in snow - in December! (Yes, I know Hawaii's north of the equator, but it's still a Pacific island and, well, December is summer in the Pacific...) Otherwise, though, it was an unremarkable hump on the horizon. All the big action was taking place further along at Kilauea, where we went on a lava-viewing outing on a boat that still astonishes me we were allowed to do - that skipper was incredibly laid-back, given all the fire and steam we were so close to.

We do do volcanoes here in Enzed, of course. A series of eruptions created Lake Taupo 300,000 years ago, the Oruanui eruption 70,000 years ago still the biggest the world has known - so it does make us a little nervous, when there are earthquakes there, as there have been recently, even causing a small tsunami along the shore.

It's not as if we needed reminding of that sort of thing. Netflix is about to release a documentary about the Whakaari/White Island eruption disaster which is going to bring that awful event back into the limelight again. Thanks, Leo.

Saturday, 3 December 2022

No need to pike on Viking

My last overseas trip, way, way back in early 2020, was to LA for a big announcement by Viking about their expansion into exploration ships, to offer cruises in both the Arctic and Antarctic. It was a very professional and generous presentation, chairman Tor Hagen was personable and likeable, and I doubt there was even one spoilt and fussy travel journalist there who wasn’t won over, and itching for a freebie on the Polaris or Octantis. Now, though? Maybe less so.

It’s truly horrible, to imagine what it was like to be that poor woman, hunkered down in her comfortable cabin on the Viking Polaris, grimly enduring the notorious Drake Passage crossing. Perhaps she was trying to distract herself by remembering all the glories of Antarctica she had just seen, or by thinking of all the skite-points she was currently accumulating - and then a wave crashed through her window, showering her in jagged glass shards, and that was that. Awful.

Regular 😃 readers will recall that I have done that Antarctica cruise, with Silversea. Whenever I'm asked what my best trip has been as a travel writer, I always nominate that one, despite enviably strong competition. There's simply no beating Antarctica's spectacular and super-special scenery and wildlife, the cruise itself (sorry, Viking) was Silversea-gorgeous - and, topping off 18 days of fabulousness, on our crossing back to Ushaia, after universally increasing nervousness amongst all the passengers guests, we were blessed with the wonderful gift of Drake Lake. 

Incidentally, this is my third post, I think, about Viking line disasters - one per cruise type. There was the collision of a river cruiser with a sight-seeing boat on the Danube, an engine failure in the North Sea, and now this. It's just maths, though - it's one of the bigger cruise lines in the world, with two explorer vessels, ten ocean cruisers and around 80 river cruisers. Don't be put off.

Sunday, 11 September 2022


On this rather cold, damp morning I visited Shamarra Alpacas, across the harbour near Wainui. They've got about 170 on the farm, which doesn't sound a lot, but boy! They are multiple-prize-winning and eye-wateringly valuable animals, especially the studs. Some of the alpacas I met will be on their way soon to Italy, France, Germany and other far-flung destinations, sought-after from here because their breeding is so good.  

I wouldn't know about that, but can certainly confirm that they are very cute, pretty, amenable and sweet. Also convenient: the females - hembras - come into season on command, and give birth only during daytime. They also spit at any males they encounter after being impregnated, which is endearing. They are shorn once a year, and have toe-nails that need trimming at least twice annually.

They haven't been shorn yet this season, so were very fluffy and soft to the touch. I did enjoy meeting them, and fondling both them and the jerseys, blankets and so on in the shop, made from their super-fine fleeces.

And that was that for my animal-focused trip. It made a nice change from the usual sort of famil, and it was fun. I stopped at the nearby Barry's Bay Traditional Cheese factory, and again at Little River to marvel at the unusual 4-star motel there made out of shiny corrugated iron grain silos, and admire the art in the gallery next door, and then, after a short detour to Birdlings Flat to look for jasper and agates, it was off to the airport and goodbye to Christchurch again. Till next time.

Saturday, 10 September 2022

Aw, Hec (tors)

No need to worry about not having a long lens when you go Hector-hunting with Akaroa Dolphins. Out on a two-hour cruise on their fancy new catamaran, the first cute little Hector’s dolphin we encountered was very happy to ride the bow wave right below us, as were several others we found. They’re the smallest dolphin, have a Mickey Mouse ear-shaped dorsal fin, and are found in only a couple of places here in Enzed, so it was a delight to spot them - especially since, last time I did this cruise, in 2016, they were a no-show.

It was still an enjoyable outing then, as today, helped by the onboard dolphin-spotting dog (Albie today), dramatic scenery in this drowned volcanic crater, and lots of interesting commentary scattered with an impressive number of Dad jokes, considering captain George’s relative youth. There were also fur seals, shags and a salmon farm - plus loose chat about not only several species of whale, but also orcas, spit. Regular 😀readers will recall my in-vain life’s mission to spot an orca. And, look, these ones actually hung out with the dolphins!

Despite that, it was a good outing, and an excellent, environmental and conservation-oriented family company. Recommended.

The animal theme continued with a walk up the Children’s Bay track past a crocodile, four penguins, four giraffes and a pig, to a rhino at the top - all sculptures, natch, but there were also real bees, bellbirds and cattle beasts. Plus a view, if somewhat cloudy. And that’s Akaroa, done - for this time. It’s such a lovely place, it’s hard to believe the population is shrinking, down to just 623 permanent residents currently. Tch.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...