Thursday, 2 April 2020

Bauer does the opposite

In German, Bauer means builder, but this morning, with no notice, this international company demolished half of New Zealand's media in one fell stroke. Despite being offered wage subsidies by the Government, and being encouraged to keep going through the pandemic, they have used the Covid-19 crisis as the excuse to kill off a bundle of magazines that have been published here, some of them, for 80-90 years, and which are part of everyday life.

Some, like the NZ Woman's Weekly, deliver comfort and gossipy fun along with their recipes, royalty and showbiz tattling, and questionable fashion advice; but others, like the Listener and North & South, have been a valued source of stories about local people and investigations into issues that are important to us, if no-one else in the world. It's quality journalism, produced by small teams of extremely hard-working and talented people, dedicated to doing their bit towards meeting unforgiving publishing schedules, week after week, or month after month. And this morning, en masse via video link, they were told not, as they were expecting, that they would have to publish online only this week, but that they would not be publishing at all, ever again, from this minute.

It's not even as though these close-knit teams could extract a molecule of comfort from hearing this together, since they are all in lockdown and working from DIY workstations at home. So cruel.

The rest of us, the buyers and readers of their magazines, are in mourning too. These publications are just always there, on the newsstands in the supermarket, on the sofa, on waiting room tables, and always have been. And now? No more.

It was getting a story published in North & South that started me on my travel writing career back in 2003, and I would always have been grateful to the magazine for that, even if I hadn't later become friends with the women who produce it today. I know so many people who lost their jobs this morning, there and at the other magazines who have printed my stories: the Listener, NZWW, Next, Kia Ora, Simply You, Australian Women's Weekly.

And so, I guess, have I. I was already despondent about the travel sections of the newspapers that I write for shrinking away to virtually nothing, their advertising having dried up because of Covid-19 putting the kibosh on all travel, but was consoling myself with the thought that at least the magazines would be there. Wrong! 

So, in the wider context, now we've lost the travel industry, and most of our print media, with what remains also coughing up blood thanks to the internet's gradually poaching all the advertising that funds them. What's next?

Danke für nichts, Bauer.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle*

There's a house near Enclosure Bay, on one of my morning walk routes [which, by the way, I never pass without remembering the Orca Incident, that I didn't witness, dammit] that more often than not is playing music - not super-loud, but noticeable enough that I'm glad they're not my neighbours. The actual music varies, from indie rock to Enya, but today they were playing jazz. Regular 😀 readers will know how that instantly jangles every nerve in my body; but I was able to distract myself by taking myself back to the last walk I did where I had that sort of accompaniment. Which, of course, was New Orleans, because jazz is pervasive there.

I had actually been a bit apprehensive about that very thing before going there; but in the end it was ok simply because it's just part of the city - like the rowdy fat people drinking on Bourbon Street, like the pretty coloured houses in the French Quarter, like the drifts of icing sugar surrounding a pile of beignets, like the sparkly parade throws dangling from trees above cracked pavements in the Garden District. It was all just part of the atmosphere, and I loved it; and enjoyed being reminded of it as I walked along.

Even so, it was good to get out of earshot soon after, and hear just the birdsong again - tui, doves, kereru, blackbirds - and then, yay! a magpie. I love to hear a magpie calling. They're more rural than I am, so it doesn't happen that often, and is special when it does. There's something so lovely and melodious about that distinctive sound echoing along a valley - and, for me, evocative. 

Of Australia, because that's where I've spent more time in the country than I have here at home - and also where our magpies were originally introduced from. It was just one summer in the Clare Valley well north of Adelaide, back when I was 22, looking after a farmer's polo ponies, up early and out every day riding round the property mostly on my own but sometimes helping to move stock, cantering over sunburnt grassy paddocks, seeing kangaroos and a fox, and always hearing magpies calling. (Also seeing snakes and spiders, and ants in the sugar bowl on the kitchen table, but we'll move on from that). It was a long, hot summer, just like this one, and that magpie brought it all back.

* Thanks to Denis Glover and his poem 'The Magpies' for that wonderfully accurate bit of onomatapoeia.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Quatre-vingt-neuf

Since all my outlets for travel stories have closed down for the foreseeable future, I have more time on my hands than can be sensibly filled by my trusty laptop and its small pal the iPhone. So, like many people, I've been looking to use some of this lockdown to catch up with a few of the jobs that have been sitting quietly in corners, waiting patiently. For years.

Accordingly, I have finally put up, under the letterbox at the gate (yes, foreigners, that's how we do mail here in Enzed - trusted to be safe, unsupervised and unlocked, out on the street) the decorative ceramic numbers I bought five years ago in Paris. Agreed, that is a long time to have them sitting on top of the bookshelf, being regularly dusted (not). Anyway, I found some wood to set them into, carved out the inset space, stained it, glued the pieces in (hours of happy fun subsequently, picking dried glue off my fingers), grouted, and then screwed it to the fence under the letterbox. Job done (but no photo because my workmanship bears less scrutiny these days).
And all the time, I was remembering that Saturday afternoon trip on the Metro to the architecturally extravagant BHV - Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville - where I browsed happily round the basement DIY section, choosing the numbers. It's a department store, established in 1852, that I now wish I had explored more thoroughly but (all together now) I was short on time. So I just bought 89c with appropriate forget-me-not surrounds, and went upstairs again to emerge in the busy square in front of the Town Hall, in all its even more elaborate glory. I wandered past it to the banks of the Seine, and along to l'Île St Louis where people were picnicking on rugs by the river drinking champagne from glass flutes; and a dog was having a swim. At the tip of the island I got the classic view of Notre Dame on l'Île de la Cité - of course, now it looks sadly so different, after that terrible fire - and then crossed the Pont St-Louis to battle with the crowds thronging the square in front of the cathedral. That's where all French roads are measured from, did you know?
And then I took the Metro back to my hotel to meet up with the rest of my group - or tried to, anyway. I had to have several goes at finding it, and in the end was enormously grateful to Letitia who was in charge of us, who had very sensibly drawn our attention that morning to the features of the hotel's exterior. Truly, I would probably have wandered for hours if she hadn't. And then we all assembled in the foyer to be taken to our ship, Avalon's Tapestry II, for a glorious 8-day glide along the Seine to Normandy, and back. It was a lovely, lovely cruise, in every way - one of the best. Hopefully, I'll remember that, every time I see 89c.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Poor Tor

Oddly, I rarely feel sorry for billionaires. In fact, I don't think I ever have - but right now I'm hoping that Torstein Hagen isn't too down in the dumps. He's the appealingly cheerful, enthusiastic and approachable Norwegian who's founder and chairman of the 79-ship Viking cruise line. I saw him in January getting excited in LA about expanding his fleet from river and ocean cruisers into expedition vessels that will go to Antarctica and the Arctic, as well as the Great Lakes. It was, naturally, a very positive and energising event, and everyone came away from it full of both admiration for Tor, and eagerness to get hands-on with his new product. 
Roll on to March and how things have changed. The Viking ships are lined up empty at various ports, while others like Silver Muse are pootling over the world's oceans with only crew on board; and some liners have even become plague ships where unhappy people have been imprisoned for weeks, desperate for release and return home. It's a far cry from the image of self-indulgent luxury and non-stop good times that is sold to 28 million people annually worldwide, generating $200 billion in economic activity. Cruising has been for some years now the fastest-growing sector of the travel industry, and shipyards everywhere have been working as fast as they can to churn out even more liners.
It is a lovely way to relax. I wouldn't call it travelling, exactly, because cruise passengers are pretty much getting the travel writer experience: being looked after very well as they skim over the surface of the places they visit. Just dipping into a port for the day, going on an excursion, you're not properly travelling - you're just being the most superficial sort of tourist. Which is not to be disparaging, particularly. That kind of experience is perfectly all right by most cruising people; they reckon they can always come back another time for a proper look at the places that took their fancy. 
But - once international travel has opened up again, and who knows how far in the future that will be - how popular will cruising be, now that everyone has seen what perfect incubation chambers ships have been for Covid-19? Norovirus was bad enough, but at least it didn't kill you. Can't say my hand will be up, really, and I won't be the only one nervous. So what will that mean for Torstein, and all the other faceless CEOs - and their crews, and port service providers, and day-excursion companies, and shipyard workers, and so on and so forth? 

And that's not even starting to think about airlines and hotels and travel and activity companies, and restaurants and souvenir shops and taxis and buses and, and, and... Oh yes, and travel writers too. Grim, eh? Though I do take some comfort from Tor's optimism in just now announcing that his promise to conquer the Mississippi (the preserve of entirely US-owned operations) will be fulfilled in 2022.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

I covid this quarantine

Well, don't some people have all the luck? Er, maybe not all the luck - I'm talking here about 800 of the passengers on the cruise ship Vasco da Gama having to be sent into quarantine because of Covid-19 concerns - but certainly some. The ship is due to finish its cruise in Fremantle tomorrow, and the Australians on board are going to be evacuated to - get this - Rottnest Island!
The other 420 passengers, including over 100 Kiwis, will have to stay on board till Australia works out how to kick them out of the country repatriate them; but, meantime, the Aussies will be on Rottnest Island for two weeks' quarantine! Now, I've been to Rotto, a couple of times, and being stuck there will be, believe me, no penance at all. A half-hour ferry ride from Freo, it's a mostly flat island with lovely white sand beaches where the warm, clear blue Indian Ocean laps in. There's a pretty lighthouse, a little town of 300 residents with good places to eat, and no vehicles (apart from a few emergency ones) so the trail of roads linking the beaches and viewpoints are busy only with bicycles and walkers. There are tall, twiggy towers where ospreys nest, New Zealand fur seals frolicking around in the water, meadows of seagrass, dolphins and - it's Australia - sharks.
Also - again, it being Australia - the island has some dark history. It was a prison for thousands of Aboriginals for about 40 years, and lots of them died there, most of them, rather ironically now, from influenza; and five men were hanged there. Then it was a boys' reformatory, equally unhappy; and an internment camp during both wars for, first, local Germans and Austrians, and then Italians. Not many laughs in that lot.
Eventually, though, it became a nature reserve, home to many species of shorebird and a variety of animals, most notably - and this is why those quarantinees are so lucky - quokkas. These, against very stiff competition, have to be Oz's cutest marsupial. They are SO gorgeous! The island was named for them by some clearly very shortsighted Dutch explorers who thought it was a nest for giant rats. In fact, they are little sweeties, fat and furry, about 30cm high with a stumpy tail, round ears, bright shiny eyes and a permanent smile. 
Even better, they are bold/friendly and will come right up to you. Of course that's especially because naughty tourists have trained them by feeding them - but they would be like that anyway, that's just how they are. No-one can look at a quokka without both grinning back, and cooing. Cuteness personified. So, those Aussie passengers can consider themselves very lucky, having an enforced holiday on a lovely island with quokkas galore. Almost worth risking coronavirus, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Like Christmas, except worse (but also, better)

Here is Silversea's Silver Muse, loitering out in the Hauraki Gulf. She's been hanging around in Auckland for over a week - I was due to have lunch on board last Tuesday, though of course it was cancelled - but she finally mooched off last night, dawdling away towards Panama, where she's not due to arrive for another three and a half weeks. I nearly said there's no-one on board, but of course there is: no passengers guests, but the crew is still there, probably doing boring deep cleans and suchlike but hopefully also able to enjoy the ship's facilities for once, and keeping morale up.

I emailed our favourite wine waitress, Miriam, who's been on three of our Silversea cruises and who we last saw when we sailed on Muse over Christmas to Sydney. She told us then that she was looking forward to going home to Peru this month on leave, but now the country is in lockdown and she doesn't know when she can get back. She didn't even know in the email where they would be going in the meantime; but was immensely grateful to have wifi.

Imagine what it's like for all those cruise ship crews all over the world, trapped on board. So many of them! And most of them understandably worried about contracting Covid-19, as so many of their passengers have, especially on the Princess line ships. Hard to imagine people ever wanting to go aboard those again. I'm not even sure I fancy Silversea now - no matter how earnest, and genuine, the reassurances, having had so many examples of what perfect Petri dishes cruise ships are for stuff like this, it's impossible to ignore the possibilities.
Not that cruising, or travel of any sort, is on the cards for anybody for quite some time. New Zealand has had a state of emergency declared today and is heading tonight into a minimum of four weeks' lockdown, and after a flurry of dismayingly idiotic panic-buying at supermarkets and liquor stores, things have already gone pretty quiet out there on the streets. In town, that is - even just this morning, there was a noticeable uptick in the numbers of people out walking the tracks, roads and beaches.

We are all, like Miriam, hugely relieved to have the internet to sustain us while indoors; and those of us whose news addiction has become chronic are well served by both official news organisations, and social media. It's the intimate details supplied by last one that's made it seem a bit like Christmas - but better, because everyone is involved in preparing for, and surviving, the same event, not just Christian-derived cultures. It's amazing to think how, right around the world, everyone is simultaneously facing the same threats, challenges, irritations and boredom. As our politicians keep telling us, we're all in this together, and that's quite a comforting thought. For once, we're all on the same page, so watching the news and seeing how the pandemic is playing out in Indonesia, say, or Italy or India, it's so much easier to empathise.

In fact, it's pretty much the same feeling of connection that you get when you've actually been to those places - something I regularly harp on about here - so do a Pollyanna and fondle that thought. While you stay at home, with your fingers crossed.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Damn

Well. The coronavirus/Covid-19 drama has, as predicted, stymied the travel industry, which is now actively promoting backyard destinations. Initially at least, that's hardly a penance, really - so many people never properly explore their own countries or even cities, despite seeing foreign tourists pouring in eager to do exactly that.

What's more dismaying from my point of view, as a travel writer/sponger/freebie-grabber, is the real possibility that newspaper travel magazines, which are my main market for stories, may shrivel up and die for lack of advertising. My inbox is full of cruise lines announcing they're shutting up shop till May at least, and hotels offering generous cancellation deals - with such huge cuts in their income, paying many thousands for ads that won't see a return for months and months makes no sense at all. And without advertising, the supplements simply can't exist.

Also, of course, I won't be travelling myself for who knows how long. Already I'm squeezing stories out of trips I did sometimes quite a while ago - hooray for my trusty 3B1 notebooks, photos and this blog - but that can't go on forever. Don't we all wish we knew how this is going to play out? Will it be over in a month or two? Or is this just the start of something that will change travel/life forever, like 9/11? It's a grim comparison, but I suppose it provides a glimmer of hope. All those restrictions and rules and inconveniences that 9/11 imposed on everyone around the world for, presumably, ever after sure are a pain - but they haven't stopped us travelling, have they? Those of us still here, that is...

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Ich erinnere mich...

Aaaand another free (never free) lunch on a visiting cruise ship bites the dust, thanks to coronavirus. A few weeks ago it was Oceania Regatta, today it was dear old (actually quite new) Silver Muse, which regular 😃 readers will recall I spent Christmas and New Year on, starting in sunny Lyttelton and ending in smoky Sydney. Understandably, in these paranoid times, cruise companies are not keen on inviting large groups of potentially germy visitors on board - and it's quite likely to be mutual, given the current unfortunate image of cruise ships as bug incubation centres. So that's that.
Instead, I shall turn my attention to the packaging material that protected a couple of Villeroy and Boch vintage Acapulco eggcups I bought at auction, which arrived today. I was aware that the seller was German ("Familie Schultz" as the vendor name was a bit of a giveaway) and had indulged in a tiny smattering of Deutsch in the emails with Detlev - but it was a treat to unfold four pages from the inner sections of a surprisingly recent issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine, which, if anyone ever asked me would be the sole German newspaper I could name. Name, not actually read, I have to add. My German is distant and very rusty, and all those long compound nouns are daunting to tackle.
I'm pleased to report, though, that my one day exploring Frankfurt back in 2011, when I was passing through on an Avalon river cruise, was notable for successful verbal exchanges with the locals. It helps enormously, I find, that being now so far from my rigid school days, I'm pretty relaxed about grammar and mistakes. I don't judge foreigners for their English errors - I'm just glad they're making the effort - and I reckon it cuts both ways. It also helped that I was initially wandering the city with a new friend, who I thought I might as well try to impress by asking directions as soon as we went ashore. Gratifyingly, it worked.
I liked Frankfurt, despite the guide I had later being somewhat disparaging about it as an ugly, reconstructed city. My standards for urban architecture are, by nationality (oldest stone building in NZ? 1832) less exacting, and I was charmed. It was old and pretty, plus new and striking, it felt safe and relaxed, everyone I met was nice, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. Of course, the Apfelwein helped, as it always does...

Sunday, 1 March 2020

The opposite of codswallop

In the ongoing absence of any actual travel - I would have been gearing up this week for a flit to San Fran, but that's not happening now - I will have to resort to what is, after all, the ostensible function of this blog. That is, to demonstrate how the places you've been to become part of your personal history and knowledge, and pop up constantly, if you're paying attention. Today's example is this little house I pass every Sunday morning on my ritual walk to the dairy for the paper and a coffee to drink on the bench overlooking a lovely sandy beach.
The house is cute and pretty, and has a gorgeous view, and makes me think, every time, of the houses I saw on Cape Cod in 2006 - so long ago now, but the memory is still vivid. So were many of the houses, physically, painted in bright colours, but lots too sported weathered grey shingles like the one here on Waiheke. It was a lovely trip, done several years before this blog began - it was part of a Massachusetts junket that included, of course, the gorgeous Boston, but also an inland exploration of the Berkshires in all their autumn glory. Maybe I'll write about that another time - you'll never guess the nightly reminder I get of one of the places we stayed there.
Cape Cod: we flew in a little Cessna to Provincetown at the tip and drove south to what the locals, confusingly, call the upper cape, where it joins the mainland. We were immediately entranced by the pretty houses, the turrets, the striped lighthouses, dinghies pulled up on sandy beaches, windmills, lobster restaurants, salt-water taffy shops, fishing boats... it was, I thought, like Disneyland, with taste. It was an easy and beautiful drive, with lots of stops for photos and drooling, and no hassles at all - apart from the anxiety of negotiating the Orleans Rotary. That's a roundabout, fellow Kiwi readers: a road feature so uncommon in the US that this one had a name. You'd think using it would be second nature for us, from a country that's full of them. It's quite a different story, though, going round one the wrong way - very disconcerting, and unnerving.
We could have spent ages exploring the Cape and I quite understand its popularity as a domestic holiday destination (though I was glad we were there in October and not summer). But of course, this was a famil, and I had a time-tabled itinerary to keep to so, as usual, we flitted past it all, heading for Nantucket. That, too, can keep for another post. But rest assured: about Cape Cod, Wallace Seder was absolutely right:

Friday, 28 February 2020

Mental travel can send you, well, mental...

I do realise that things have been pretty quiet on this blog for some time (sorry), and was hoping that next week I would be able to liven it up a bit with a quick trip to San Francisco. I was invited by Air NZ to help publicise their new venture into consumer-friendly food, which they will be launching on March 12. The details are under embargo until then, so I can't elaborate, except to say that it's a follow-on from their Impossible Burger, and also a slightly shocking product to me, as a staunch and traditional Kiwi. More detail on that later.

The junket has fallen through though because the travel section of the paper they wanted me to write for has rejected the idea since Business is already covering it. To be honest, although of course I like San Francisco and would have enjoyed another visit - though brief, I reckon there would have been time for an e-bike across the Bridge - my disappointment is leavened by quiet relief that I won't be potentially exposed to coronavirus. Having caught the flu last year on the plane to the UK, which was a really miserable experience, I'm nervous about risking getting a much nastier bug - and I won't be the only one. Tourism globally will be taking a huge hit.


Already, with the sudden dearth of Chinese tourists, there's a movement here to encourage people to travel domestically - which, having just been up to the Bay of Islands for the first time in ages, I can thoroughly recommend as a rewarding experience. That goes for wherever you live, pretty much. Foreign tourists to New Zealand (probably quickly realising how much it pleases us) gush about how beautiful it is here - but every country has its own particular glories. It's a beautiful world. (Which, oh dear, we should be looking after SO much better...)


Keeping it local is one very sensible reaction, then, to the current looming pandemic crisis. Another is to sit back and remember the places you've already been, and to try to re-live them again. That's something that, for me, is both a pleasure, and a penance. The tiresome bit is trying to remember exactly where that place is whose image has popped, for no obvious reason, into my increasingly enfeebled and erratic brain. It happens to me all the time, and right now it's a hill I climbed, up to lovely views over the sea. I remember woods, rocks, and a grassy track back down to where there was a historic building and a wooden zig-zag fence along the waterfront, which tells me it must have been somewhere in the US. I was thinking maybe it was when I went to Alaska, but my notebook says no and I can't find anywhere in my files the photo I'm visualising so clearly. So where was it? Honestly, it's driving me crazy - but at least, mentally, I'm busy travelling all over the place, trying to pin down the location. So there's that.

Yay, finally! San Juan Island, WA. Hardly Alaska - but at least I got the coast right...

Monday, 24 February 2020

A wonderful, watery weekend

The right sort of water. Not rain, thank goodness - unpatriotic though I feel, to be grateful for that, since the North Island is sweating through an almost unprecedented drought. Reliant, as all Waiheke Island is (and many other parts of the country), on rainfall to fill our tanks, we've watched nervously the level has dropped and the island water tankers buzz around with refills ($300 a load). But this last weekend, when rainclouds were finally approaching across the Pacific, and weather apps were showing thunderstorm symbols? No, we didn't want it, thank you very much. Not when we had a big family wedding scheduled.
And, thankfully, the only water was, mainly, the sea, which sparkled as we made the first leg, across the Waitemata to the city. And then we headed north, through increasingly brown countryside, past little towns, roadworks, farms and forest, and finally arrived at our accommodation, a lovely house near Haruru Falls with a magnificent garden running down to the Waitangi River.
Then we went to the wedding site, on the far reaches of a farm with epic views over the Bay of Islands, where there was a lot of cheerful work setting up, and a personal challenge erecting an arch made from Waiheke bamboo and bits and pieces from the garage. There were angles, that's all I'll say.
And then there was the wedding, which was perfect, and lovely in all sorts of ways, including not raining, and was followed by a gorgeous sunset while we ate and danced and celebrated.
Then, next day, after the dismantling on the farm,there was a relaxed barbecue back in the garden by the river, with games and wine and beer and lots of chatting (also, lots and lots of coleslaw) as the day, and we, wound down.
The following day, it was the journey in reverse, again with the sun sparkling on the sea, the brown paddocks, the farms and little towns, and finally the city with its boats and volcanoes.
At last, we were home again, to a house with officially one less daughter/one more son, and an intense sunset over the bay to finish off what was a wonderful weekend that I hope will be the start of something brilliant.
So, all right - now it can rain, ok?

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Bigger better? Possibly

With thanks to Norwegian Jewel for lunch today
Six weeks is a long time on this blog. December 16 is when I was marvelling at my shameless selling out on my proud snobbery about big cruise ships, by accepting a free lunch (no such thing) on board the Explorer Dream, a Chinese-owned vessel that accommodates just under 1900 passengers. That's way beyond my personal tolerance of about 600, and I was fully prepared to sneer. And, in fact, I wasn't won over, but - important proviso, this - with most passengers presumably ashore enjoying Auckland's mid-city roadwork chaos, I appreciated the public spaces and could see how other people might be able to put up with the thronging at-sea population, in return for all the nice things that were on offer.
So what did I find myself doing today? Only selling out again, even bigger-time, by accepting ditto (ditto) on board the confusingly similar-looking Norwegian Jewel, which hosts an even larger complement of 2,376 passengers. At this rate, I'll be trundling mechanically onto the Ovation of the Seas in a month's time, mingling with its 4,905 captives guests. 
Because, again, I got sucked in. NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) pride themselves on many things, the most salient here being that they invented the ship-within-a-ship concept that so impressed me when I encountered it for the first time on Explorer Dream. On Norwegian Jewel, it's called The Haven, and there are only 14 staterooms in this exclusive section of the ship. They accommodate from 3 to 8 people, depending - the biggest is the Garden Villa, which is bigger than some houses I've lived in, with three bedrooms, a dining room, and a huge sitting room complete with grand piano, plus a private deck with a hot tub (though you have to share that with the corresponding suite, tch). No actual garden though, pft.
At the other end of the scale are the interior cabins that we don't usually get shown on media tours because they are, honestly, dark and poky. But our guide stressed throughout  that, increasingly, multi-generational family groups are sailing together, and the grandkids don't complain about their box-like bedrooms because the ship has so many treats for them elsewhere that they just fall into bed and straight to sleep at the end of entertainingly busy days.
Entertaining for everyone, that is - an advantage these bigger ships have over Silversea (my default comparison) is the shows. The theatre is properly big and the stage ditto, so they can put on really impressive things like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Broadway shows, where you feel you're at a professional event, rather than an upscale school production (sorry, Voices of Silversea). 
There are 15 dining and drinking options on the ship and, though our lunch today was a bit ordinary, we heard plenty of enthusiasm from the guide about the standard and variety of food on offer. He guaranteed weight gain, which none of us recommended as an advertising theme (viewing the stern as I ferry'd away afterwards, I reckoned mine might end up looking similar). We also all jumped when he told us the name of the restaurant we would be eating at: Tsar's. Say it aloud.
The range of deals on board was a bit daunting for those of us accustomed to all-inclusive pricing - but, of course, that appeals to people who, say, don't drink. But the gratuity surcharge would always be painful, I reckon. Don't get me started on the curse that is tipping. Anyway, Norwegian Jewel: would I say yes? Um, probably - but only if I stayed in The Haven, and even then, probably only as a family group holiday, which I do agree would promise an appealing level of generational acceptability, and subsequent fun.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Hilton, Hercules and home

With thanks to Viking for this trip
Woken very early by a loud noise from the room next door that sounded like workmen with a grinder (they're doing refurbishments at the moment) but, since it was only 5.20am must just have been some inconsiderate early riser with a hair dryer, I started yet another long, long day. After a quick flit around the hotel to try - unsuccessfully - to discover some proper luxury that might live up to the name, I checked out and joined the others for a jaunt along the coast.
We were driven to the Getty Villa and Museum where we were given a tour. Our guide, David, was good, an English OWM who was genial and informative, and gave us a thorough tour over the museum's large and mind-bogglingly valuable collection (a Manet painting was recently bought at auction for $65 million) of art works and especially Greek and Roman statues. So, lots of marble penes (proper plural) as well as some very trim glutes, abs and biceps. 
There were lovely mosaics as well, pottery, glass and precious metal pieces, and the symmetry of the neat gardens outside was very attractive against the Roman villa architecture. The whole thing is very well presented and appealing, and, amazingly, entrance is free.
We went then to Moonshadows at Malibu for lunch: a restaurant perched above the sea with lovely views along the coast, and a series of black-backed gulls visiting to stand outside and watch us eating through the window. The food was really good, the French champagne and rosé even better, there was lots of shop talk with the UK contingent who'd joined us, and altogether it was a very pleasant way to end this brief but busy trip (for which, by the way, I bought carbon offsets).
The rest of the day was tedious travel practicalities: slow drive to the airport, a wait at a hotel, then finding my paid-for selected window seat wasn't available because Air NZ had had to change the aircraft, again. But, after a long walk and an even longer wait at Tom Bradley Airport, in a distant, echoing, hanger-like wing, at least I got my expected Premium Economy place - unlike the American party ahead of me in the queue, who were told there was no more room in Business that they'd booked and they too would have to slum it in PE, which they'd never even heard of. After last night's short duration and a long day today ahead of the late evening flight, I slept well and arrived back in Auckland pleased, having felt unexpectedly chilly the whole time I was in LA, to be presented with warm sunny weather and a smooth trip home across the Waitemata.

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