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.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...