Thursday, 19 November 2020

Crowning glory

That was never a fortnight we had just then! Actually, nearly three weeks since the last blog post. So much for good intentions. I got distracted - various national elections, the relentless creep of Covid, vaccine buzz, family stuff - and time has passed. Not as much time as since 1981, of course, but tonight, watching (with so much of the world) The Crown, the eve of the royal wedding felt very fresh.

In episode 3, Charles stands at the windows of the Palace, watching fireworks - and I remembered that I watched those fireworks too, that night, in Hyde Park, in a crowd more vast than any I've been part of, before or since. Actually, to be a stickler for fact, Charles and most of the royal family (but not Diana) were out there in the dark with me too, rather than having a dramatic conclave in the Palace. After all, it was the most spectacular display - massive fireworks that went on and on, a huge Catherine wheel, cannons, band music, choirs... oh, and a bonfire that Charles lit, the first of a trail of beacons that led away across the country.

Even more memorable, though, was being literally swept along afterwards through the dark by the crowd, like an ocean, with absolutely no chance of choosing my own direction. It was actually quite frightening. But we made it out, and eventually onto our train home - the milk train, stopping and starting all the way to Gloucester, pulling in finally at about 5am, with just enough time for a bit of a zizz before we had to get up again to watch the lead-up to the wedding itself, the streets outside completely dead as everyone in the country sat glued to their screens.

Charles and Diana came to Gloucester in December that year, going to a service in the city's magnificent cathedral, and we saw them as they left on a snowy winter's morning, Diana in an enviably stylish big coat and muff. It was my least personal royal encounter, of several over the years I lived in England, which included suddenly noticing that on the other side of the car window I was standing next to at the Badminton Horse Trials was the Queen Mother herself. At the same Badminton, equally distracted by the horses, I had to have it pointed out to me that the grey I was admiring was actually being ridden by Prince Charles. Plus, of course, there was the garden party I went to at the Palace in 1982.

The Queen and Prince Andrew (and the old Duke of Beaufort) at Badminton

It was lovely to see London in the programme, looking so fabulous, and so familiar: the steps up to St Paul's, the Victoria monument opposite the Palace, the Mall. It reminded me of being there, in August last year, and the perfect, sunny day I had, the last of my Silversea cruise. I left the ship, which was moored right by Tower Bridge, in the morning, took the tube to Buckingham Palace, did a tour around the rooms, so big and high and opulent and gorgeous, and then walked back through summery St James's Park, to Downing Street, past Big Ben to the Thames, and along the Embankment to climb, eventually, the Great Fire monument and finally return home to Silver Wind for my last night onboard. 

It was a brilliant day, and a happy ending to a cruise that actually had gone really badly, almost ruined by our both getting terrible, terrible flu that laid us out and left me with a permanent cough, to this day. Except, in other news today, it's been found that some people in Italy had Covid months before it was first recorded in Wuhan in November. I wonder...?

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Fox News deliberately misleads the public. Which is not news, of course.

Sigh. It's Fox News - what else would you expect? But, for those (hopefully very few) readers here who might be inclined to accept the nonsense this "news" channel promotes, here are the facts about what is properly termed Managed Isolation in New Zealand:

- You return from overseas

- You are taken to a 4- or 5-star hotel, not of your choosing (which may even be in a different city, according to demand)

- You are confined to your room, except for daily walks that may be only around an open carpark space; but you're also allowed to go out into a fenced-off area where you may speak to friends and family from a distance of two metres

- You do not pay anything for this hotel, if you are a returning Kiwi - not for the food, the WiFi, the accommodation. (If you are a returning Kiwi who chose to go overseas since the pandemic began, then you will be charged $3,100 for your two week stay.)

- You can use UberEats, order from supermarkets, receive packages up to and including exercise bikes, but not home baking

- You will be tested on Days 3 and 12, and then, if clear, released on Day 14

- If you test positive, you will be removed to a special quarantine hotel and taken to hospital if necessary

- If you refuse the tests, you will have to stay in the hotel for another fortnight 

That's all very far from imprisonment in a "terrifying quarantine camp", Fox, you stupid, irritating, irresponsible panic-monger. How do I know all this? Because my daughter is in managed isolation right now, and sent me the photos I've used here. 

As a result of all this, we have had just 25 deaths overall, and are currently living an almost-normal life, with kids at school, people at work, sports events and concerts happening, restaurants and bars operating as usual. The only Covid signs you'll see ih New Zealand are masks on public transport, people scanning the QR codes outside shops and businesses, bottles of hand sanitiser everywhere, and a bit of social distancing. End of. Spit.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Once in a blue moon? Not any more.

Crispy prawn tacos from the Mint AS food truck
Seeing as how it is my birthday today, as a token gesture towards the (increasingly tiresome and irrelevant) custom of celebrating the occasion, I have drunk what is likely to be my last ever Blue Moon beer. It was given me as a 6-pack, brought back from the US by the Baby on her last-but-one trip, and eked out since then in a very miserly manner. Regular 😀 readers will recall, since I have harped on about it a number of times, that I first tasted this beer six years ago while on a post-IPW famil in Wisconsin, at lunch in Popeye's Restaurant on the shores of Lake Geneva. It was properly served with a slice of orange, and I became an instant fan, and have sought it out ever since.

Sidenote: we had a little down-time for browsing round the town and, while trying on a top (which I bought and still like), I heard a woman in the next changing room say excitedly, three times, "You're gonna grieve yourself to death!" Still trying to imagine the scenario for that. Also, in April, the lake was still partly frozen and clinking musically with small icebergs - inside which it's apparently possible to find freshly-frozen fish, we were told.

Anyway, I've found Blue Moon in some odd places since, including on tap in the Lord Nelson pub beside the Thames where I saw a couple of cliché red-coated Chelsea Pensioners walking past. The most unexpected place, though, was in the bottle shop around the block from where I used to live in Auckland - what a joy that was! But a few years later, the imports ceased, and that was that. sigh. 

That glass, by the way, I bought in Reykjavik in celebration of the Einstök beer I enjoyed there - that memory, though, always tinged with regret over the four bottles of my airport-bought six-pack that I left, forgotten and unopened, under my seat in the van I did my guided tour in. An unplanned tip for Páll, which I'm sure he enjoyed - but I would have appreciated it more...

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

No-rcas. Again.

"I know you're busy with work..." said a begging emailer today. Huh. Chance would be a fine thing. What work I've been doing has mostly been recycling material from earlier trips around NZ, and spying out new things that I could write about remotely - just like every other travel writer in the country. To be fair, there's a rich source of story content here - but oh, how nice it would be, to write about somewhere overseas! But that won't be happening for ages - even though Australia is now happy to accept Kiwis in some states, we'd still have to go into (and pay for) isolation on return. Not worth it.

But - just so an entire month doesn't go by without an entry in this blog - I did do something new a couple of weeks ago. Well, sort of new. I went out for the afternoon with the Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari - nearly five hours cruising around the Gulf in a catamaran, looking out for cetaceans. Of course, it goes without saying that there wouldn't be orcas, since as a species they are still intent on avoiding me. [Their latest stiletto to my heart was to learn from an old man this very morning while out on my walk, that he (as addicted as any teenager) had once looked up from his phone at the beach just below - my beach, the one I walk along every day, that's just a couple of minutes from my house - to see two orcas cruising around the bay, right by the shore, hunting rays. Could that be any more painful for me?]

That was also a disappointment to the woman waiting next to me before boarding, when I couldn't help telling her they'd be a no-show - but this was her third safari with the company, so she knew she was going to enjoy herself anyway.

It was school holidays, and there were lots of kids on board who were thrilled just to be on a boat, which was fun to see, as a person who takes ferries as they do buses. The captain was droll and laid-back, the staff were enthusiastic, both just as they should be, and we had a lovely cruise over blue water past leafy beachside suburbs and bush-covered islands. We might have seen all sorts of species, from pygmy blue whales right up to humpbacks, but had to make do with some distant puffs - blows, we in the know call them - from some Bryde's whales. No spectacular breaching, such as I've seen before in Hawaii, and Alaska, and Galapagos - so it was just as well that a bunch of common dolphins turned up and obligingly put on a show in the bow-wave and wake, leaping and diving entertainingly. Not as spectacularly as that amazing performance I watched from shore in Kaikoura, where the dolphins were literally cartwheeling, hundreds and hundreds of them - but good enough to be the highlight of a relaxing day out in the harbour.

The most amazing thing were the people who spent the entire time on the bows of the catamaran, despite the captain's warnings about splashes when crossing ferry wakes. They stood there like figureheads, utterly drenched, and unflinching. Apparently, it's common. Amazing.

So, it was a good trip out - lovely weather, perfect sea conditions, some sightings, well organised and interesting. It was just a shame that, on the way back, I asked one of the marine biologists on board about her top sighting, and she lit up while describing seeing a pod of orcas hunting and eating common dolphins right by the boat. Spoilt the whole trip for me, but it was entirely my fault. I literally asked for it. Tch.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Keep right, right?

Today yet another story was published about the kayak/tramping trip the Baby and I took a couple of years ago along a bit of the coast of Abel Tasman NP in Te Wai Pounamu (it's Maori Language Week) aka the South Island. Today is also the day she and her husband have set off on their epic self-built campervan trip across the US, from the bottom right-hand corner to the upper left, and then down a bit. (Yes, I did geography at school - why do you ask?) In between lie six weeks, five and a half thousand miles, lots of tarmac and scenery, hiking, and hopefully - oh, how hopefully! - no virus, riots, forest fires, nutters with guns, or bears. 

It's a long time to keep my fingers crossed, but I'm sort of used to it, after her solo bike rides through France, Japan, Korea and Mexico. Plus her sister's equally solo exploration of South America, which I (thankfully) learned only later, included a bike ride down Bolivia's Death Road. Marginally less scarily, there was also her drive with a friend, and briefly also the Baby, right across Canada, that included random poorly-planned hikes along trails that turned out longer and more challenging than expected. And probably had bears lurking, too.

I'm proud that they're both so adventurous, and I'm envious of what they've done; but my goodness, it's a worry. I'm going to be so relieved when Baby and H are finally safely boarded on their Air NZ flight home to be tucked away for two weeks' isolation in a city hotel. In the meantime, though, I hope she'll keep in touch and post tantalising photos of the amazing sights en route.

At the very least, it's all taking my mind off the fact that on Thursday I should have been starting a Viking cruise around Japan, where I've never been. Almost taking my mind off.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Mind over matter

With all overseas travel off the table for the foreseeable, sigh, everybody is digging deep into the domestic - and it doesn't get much more domestic than your own suburb-cum-island. It's very easy to write about the nice things to do, see, eat and drink on Waiheke. The hard thing is to do it differently. After many, many years of being off the radar, Waiheke has these days been well and truly discovered (including internationally) to the extent that it's starting to be regarded as a bit ho-hum by Aucklanders. Lots of them still haven't actually been here, to discover that error, though, so that was the angle for this story.

I was mildly surprised that, once the story was up online, that it sparked only two comments - but they were classics of their type. First there was this OWM (writing, significantly, under the moniker 'Caveman'): Got there ONCE, back in the late 1990s - GREAT DAY!...Yes, 20 plus years ago - could not have asked for a better day, great weather, great food, great wine all over the island!!! Her Indoors wants to go back again but it seems to me it's another NICE place (20 years ago) that's no longer the laid-back, casual, "GREAT DAY OUT from Auckland" that it was.

So, he was here 20 years ago, had a lovely time but never bothered to come again, and won't now because he knows it will be spoilt. 

Similarly, the other commenter reckons: Waiheke is now just another suburb of Auckland... instead, check out Auckland's west coast where the natural beauty of our coastline still exists and tourist numbers not excessive.

Yes, I mentioned things like tours, shops, galleries, zipline and kayaks - but also beaches, bush, birds... Even in the height of summer when Oneroa is humming, it's very easy to get away to find peace and quiet - and now, especially, that's pretty much all there is. For proof, I submit the photo I took while on my walk to the dairy to buy the paper the story above appeared in:t there ONCE, back in the late 1990's - a GREAT DAY  - first boat (f cc

Case closed.YES 20 plus years ago - could not have asked for a better day - great weather, great food and great WINE all over the island !!!

"Her in doors" wants to go back again, but it seems to me that it's another NICE place (20 years ago), that is no longer the laid back casual "GREAT DAY OUT from Auckland", that it was....     OH and our visit was one of those mystery weekends with AIR NZ..YES 20 plus years ago - could not have asked for a better day - great weather, great food and great WINE all over the island !!!

"Her in doors" wants to go back again, but it seems to me that it's another NICE place (20 years ago), that is no longer the laid back casual "GREAT DAY OUT from Auckland", that it was....     OH and our visit was one of those mystery weekends with AIR NZ..YES 20 plus years ago - could not have asked for a better day - great weather, great food and great WINE all over the island !!!

"Her in doors" wants to go back again, but it seems to me that it's another NICE place (20 years ago), that is no longer the laid back casual "GREAT DAY OUT from Auckland", that it was....     OH and our visit was one o

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Bad news, good news - sort of

For today's connection, I could have gone with Wisconsin, if ihe news coming out of there wasn't so sad and depressing. We probably drove past Kenosha on our way back to Chicago after our IPW post-fam in 2014, having done all sorts of lovely things in and around Milwaukee and Madison. I especially remember the joy of discovering the amazing things in The House on the Rock - and, as regular 😀 readers will remember, it was on this trip that I was first introduced to Blue Moon beer, so that was important. (Sadly, it's no longer obtainable in NZ, though the Baby has brought me some back to enjoy hoard.) I must, of course, mention cheese, too.
I had a great time on that trip, and will retain my positive feelings about Wisconsin despite the recent hideous news from there - but instead I'll go with something much more cheerful that is also in the news.
We've just got to see the first photos and footage of the baby rhino recently born at Auckland Zoo - a little cutie, not yet named, 65kg and drinking about a dozen litres of milk daily. She is so sweet, galloping and jumping about, the first rhino born here for 20 years. She's a southern white rhino, which is the most populous of the five species, but that's still not saying a lot really - their numbers are still dropping steadily, mostly because of poaching to supply horn to stupid people in China and Vietnam.
On my rhino charity trips to Africa, I was introduced to all sorts of organisations which are doing valiant work to protect rhino there, and had a heart-warming encounter with babies at a rhino orphanage. Covid initially was a help to the cause, since even the poaching networks had to shut down. Now though that evil scum is stirring again, and on top of that the sudden end to tourism, with all its jobs, has meant that local people are out of work and hungry, so they're going back to poaching, selling intel, and simply killing animals themselves for bushmeat. It's grim. So really, not much different from Kenosha, it turns out. Sorry about that.


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