Friday, 17 September 2021

When life gives you lemons...

...make Guinness. Or at least sea glass Guinness to display in yesterday's sadly dishwasher-cracked glass that I've been drinking from for years since I was given it at a Tourism Ireland event. 

Back when tourism was giving agriculture a proper run for its money as NZ's biggest industry, events like that were fairly frequent and sociable treats for us solitary WFH travel writers. We'd gather happily at whatever venue had been selected - pub, restaurant, fancy hotel - and chat with our hosts and each other, enjoying the drinks and the snacks. We'd listen to the presentation with often genuine interest, pretend not to be disappointed when we didn't score the giveaway prize, chat again afterwards and eat and drink some more, before eventually trailing away home again. Not before, though, we had claimed our goodie bag containing pamphlets and flash-drives, yes, but also a selection of pens, notebooks, caps, chocolates, toiletries, scented candles, and, in TI's case, the glass we'd drunk our welcome Guinness from.

Not that, to be blunt, Guinness is actually welcomed by me as a drink - I much prefer a lighter brew, ideally (as regular 😀 readers are by now all too well aware) Montana-made Blue Moon. I still mourn its disappearance from bottle stores here, remembering the joy that accompanied its discovery just round the block from home, after being introduced to it in the exotic setting of Popeye's restaurant in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. But Guinness? Not a fan, despite having toured through the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, full of earnest and eager information, culminating on the top floor at the bar with the complimentary pint. I'm not alone, to judge by the sipped-and-discarded glasses left on tables by other visitors, which were then shamelessly claimed and emptied by proper enthusiasts.

No, what I enjoyed much more was the evening I spent in 2009 at Matt Molloy's pub in Westport (er, the Irish Westport) - not just because I was drinking cider, but because of the music and general vibe. Matt himself was there, but didn't sing, which would have been more disappointing if there hadn't been other people doing so well at generating such a mighty craic. There was an old man doing funny songs, a younger man full of enthusiasm on the eve of departing for New York to seek his fortune, a drunken Declan dancing, and in the main bar a casual gathering of session musicians: two fiddlers, a man on bodhrĂĄn (drum), someone on another sort of stringed instrument... they came and went, playing long medleys, everyone familiar with all the tunes. It was great.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Yes, I'm sorry about the Ida floods in Louisiana and New York, but this is LOCAL!

This photo in the NZ Herald this morning shows a different view of Te Henga/Bethells Beach from how I (eventually) saw it back in February. The big storm that swept through West Auckland, dropping 6 weeks' worth of rain in a single day, has caused a lot of misery for people already beleaguered by two weeks of Level 4 lockdown - with at least another fortnight of restrictions to come. I can only imagine how it is for them, poor things, trying to sort out and live in their flooded houses in the current chilly weather, under lockdown restrictions. No fun at all.
Back in February, though, it was lovely, and I could quite understand why people choose to live there, at the very end of a long and winding road. If it feels remote now, that's nothing to how it was way back in the day, and it still has a strong community vibe - especially, apparently, on Friday nights at the summertime café truck in the beach carpark, when people play games and music. Naturally, I was there on a Wednesday.
Still, it was lovely to be tucked up in my quirky little cottage up on the hill looking down over the long surf beach, the dunes and the headland. I had a teddy bear on the bed to keep me company, and lots of local history to read, supplied by the friendly 5th generation Bethell lady who owns the accommodation. I especially liked the toilet cistern, which is a sentence few people have written, I'm betting.

A section of the road got washed away by the torrents rushing down the Waitakere River to the sea, so the locals are stuck at home. Just like the rest of us in Auckland - but (the ones up on the high ground anyway) I bet they mind the least.

Monday, 30 August 2021

To be sure, to be sure?

I got a notification today from the Tourism Northern Ireland media library that authorisation to publish images they'd supplied had expired. Naturally, I had no recollection of having had an Irish story published, and it took a bit of ferreting to discover that it was this one, about visiting Londonderry during my Silversea loop cruise from London, in August 2019.

That feels like another world now, doesn't it? Wandering the busy and storied streets of London, Fowey in Cornwall, Cork, Bantry, Belfast, Dublin and Holyhead. Eating in the ship's restaurants, crowding round tables in the bar for Trivial Pursuit, standing elbow-to-elbow at the railings above the bow as we made that magnificent entry up the Thames and under through Tower Bridge. (Although, it was on this cruise that we were both struck down by an epic bout of flu that almost had one of us in hospital, and just might have been pre-Covid?)

The story was published finally on 10 February 2020, just days before everything changed, it feels, forever. After our long spell of almost-normal freedom here in NZ, we're back in Level 4 lockdown nationally, our original single Delta case - which the rest of the world mocked us for panicking at - now, less than two weeks later, up to 562. Here in Auckland, the main location for cases, we've got another fortnight of L4 ahead of us, possibly longer, while everyone sensible scurries to get vaccinated - though it won't help that someone has just died from a rare reaction to the Pfizer vaccine.

So it's maybe good to be reminded of Londonderry, where they've certainly had their share of troubles, capital T and lower-case both. They've come through it all and manage to be pretty cheerful these days, though the tough times will always be there in the background, literally and figuratively. 


(In deference to Tourism NI, this is my own photo of the Four o'clock Knock mural.)

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Above it all


Gee, thanks, phone - nice lockdown timing. Today's photo memory is from six years ago, when I visited Machu Picchu and came across the Google maps man with his fancy camera. I'm not in the real view of the site that's online now, so maybe it's been updated - though that seems a bit unnecessary, for something built in the middle of the fifteenth century, and celebrated for its historic good looks.

I felt I'd cheated, getting there by bus from Aguas Calientes (though, my goodness, there are 14 very sharp zigzags on that road) and felt it necessary to share with everyone in my tour group that it was actually my second visit, the first being done properly in (pre-blog) 2008, via the Inca Trail. I did also properly cheat, by borrowing the US passport of a busty Hispanic woman (thank you, Colleen) in order to use her unwanted booking for climbing up next-door Huayna Picchu. That's it in the photo behind camera-man. Obviously, the men at the gate didn't check, so my passport fraud went unmarked - and unpunished.

The summit is only 290m above Machu Picchu, which doesn't sound that much - but boy! it was steep, with lots of steps and rocks to scramble over, a tunnel to crawl through, plus it was hot, and there was altitude (2,720m) to consider too. There was sweating, and fogging-up of glasses. I was proud to have done it, though, and the view of course was terrific, over Machu Picchu itself so far below, and the surrounding mountains.

I did the return trip - despite the after-effects of a bout of Montezuma's revenge - in two hours, which was a bit rushed really (three is the standard recommendation) but I didn't want to miss another chance to wander round Machu Picchu on my own, after our morning tour. It's so amazing. The rocks are so neatly fitted together (the ashlar technique) and, incredibly, were pushed up to the mountain top to build the temple, observatory, baths, houses etc. That would have involved proper sweating, for sure. I did get distracted by the animals, though - not just llamas grazing on the neat lawns, but fat chinchillas squatting on the walls watching us. Very cute.

So actually, thanks, phone. I did enjoy being reminded of all that. Even if it now seems like another world. 

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Ho hum

Here we go again. Back to Level 4, the whole country, from midnight tonight, and definitely for at least a week for those of us in Auckland and on the Coromandel. It was announced this evening at 6pm and took up the entire news hour, followed shortly by the well-chosen, always alarming, national alert squawking on everyone's phones.

It's our first community case for six months, probably also our first Delta, and since the poor guy has no obvious connections with MIQ or border staff, it's likely there'll be more like him, sigh. He lives in Devonport, just across the harbour, and recently visited Coromandel town, to watch the rugby at the pub there, so there'll be a lot of nervous people tonight checking their QR codes - or, more likely, wishing they'd remembered to scan them.

And what was I writing about today? Whitianga, on the Coromandel.

PS There seems to be astonishment overseas that we're locked down for one case. Well, actually, overnight it's become seven cases - that's how Delta Covid works, people. Hard and fast is how we choose to handle it, having learned from other countries' experiences.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

The bard has nothing on me

If any actors own an apartment in this block on Shakespeare Rd in Auckland, I expect they say that they live in the Scottish place. [Backs away, bowing]
 

Monday, 2 August 2021

Liver, living, lived

Well, I used the last of my Tabasco sauce last night (liver and bacon casserole, since you ask. When did you last eat lamb’s liver? Thought so. Explains your iron deficit). I have no idea when I bought that bottle - only 60mls, too, which tells you a lot about how exotic a cook I am not (as if the mere mention of liver hadn’t established that immediately). The expiry date though was 2020 and, since Tabasco has only three ingredients, two of them highly preservative, I’m guessing it was, let’s say, heritage.

I didn’t have to check about the ingredients. When you go - as I did in 2016 - to Avery Island, down on the Louisiana coast a 40-minute nail-biting wrong-side drive from Lafayette, and visit the factory, they drum that in right from the start. Red chilli peppers, salt, vinegar, time. That’s it.  My sort of recipe, actually - which is kind of ironic, since the Tabasco motto is 'Defending the world against bland food'.

It was a very pleasant place to wander, read the history, watch the bottles being filled, browse the shop (where I didn't buy any sauce, since I had that bottle in the pantry already and knew it still had years of use in it). Then there were jungly gardens with herons but no alligators, a gorgeous heritage plantation house, a creepy rice mill, and then a triumphantly accident-free drive back to Lafayette. 

Lunch, nice cool museum with a freshly-moulted golden knee spider, another wander around Lafayette's pleasing streets, and then to the railway station for a long wait with Rosa Parks for the inevitably behind-time Amtrak to New Orleans where I eventually arrived at 10.30pm, ahead of the huge annual IPW tourism conference that was my main focus for the trip.

It was a long day, but full of colour, interest and novelty. The drive aside, I enjoyed myself the whole time. It feels like another world, now, doing that sort of thing. Buying a fresh bottle of Tabasco at Countdown really isn't going to be any sort of compensation for not travelling any more. It is, though, a reminder to crack open the Creole seasoning I bought in Lafayette. The Best Before for that one is 2018...

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