Monday 24 July 2023

Kia kaha, Rhodes

Now, which current disaster shall I link to today? Spoiled for choice, really - as usual, sigh. Let's go for Rhodes. Currently sweltering, as are most places around the Mediterranean, in eye-popping temperatures, now there are raging forest fires driving locals and tourists away from their homes and hotels, into halls and stadiums, and even onto the beaches for evacuation. Horrendous.

It was autumn 2015 when I was there, on a Silversea cruise, and ironically my first blog comment about the island was that it has trees - having just visited Mykonos, which has none (but is still gorgeous). I liked Rhodes very much, and was impressed by its antiquity, which was pervasive, and its sheer prettiness. It’s understandably a standard port for the cruise ships. Many of their passengers guests would be Brits, who without a doubt would have fallen foul of my guide Stefanos's declaration that, with 300 days of sunshine a year, any conversation in Rhodes about the weather is considered rude, as a sign of boredom. Not now though, I bet.
He took us south to Lindos, which is one of the towns that have been evacuated. It's famous for its Acropolis, an arty ruin on top of a hill, ancient of course, and with splendid views over, I have to say, not a remarkably tree-clad landscape by our standards, though still very picturesque. The town itself is classically pretty, all narrow lanes, cobbles, white paint, colourful shops, stray cats, and quite a lot of resigned-looking donkeys descended from Californian imports donated by the US after WW2 destroyed all the roads on the island.

Later on I had a lovely wander around the Rhodes Old Town - more cobbled lanes, fountains, frescoes, stalls, buskers, a castle with a grassy moat and pyramids of cannonballs. Really lovely, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, especially the cup of iced tea at a café on a hill with a cooling breeze and a view of the castle, mosques, a church spire, the city wall, a windmill, the harbour with ferries, yachts and cruise ships, and, not far away, Turkey Türkiye.

Sunday 9 July 2023

Mostly made up

                                  With thanks to Visit Wellington for this famil

The edible delights continued today with an Anzac scroll from Café Polo that is still making my mouth water, in memory of its sweet, flaky deliciousness. Then we headed (me for the second time) to Miramar's most famous attraction, Weta Workshop. This is where all the magic for LOTR, the Hobbit and so many other fantastical movies is created - honestly, SO many, you wouldn't believe it. We had a super-enthusiastic guide, Sully, who must have seen it all many times before but still seemed agog at the mastery. Which is what it really is - imagination, skill, finicking detail and amazing creativity. We got to see processes, like making prostheses, chatted to a couple of artists, got hands-on with swords and such, heard behind-the-scenes stories, and viewed close-up costumes and props that were truly amazing.

These are supplied images because you're not allowed to take photos there, until the end where we had a go at tinfoil sculpture. Everyone on the tour was enthralled throughout, especially the nerdy types in long black coats who asked particularly detailed questions. 

Lunch was at Arcimboldi, who make an excellent pizza, as you'd expect from the name; and then I was back at Weta for one of their Experiences - today making a bloody wound on my hand. Artificially, of course, with silicone and dyes. It was actually less fun than I expected - our guide this time wasn't as outgoing as Sully, and mostly it was heads-down over our paintbrushes with no talking. The results were fairly impressively disgusting, and some of the others were enjoying themselves - "Can I do my gunshot wound on your forehead?" - but for me it was a bit disappointing (though I hope you're impressed at how old I was able to make my hand look).

Never mind - on to the next treat, which was dinner at the Roxy. This is an Art Deco cinema that was first built in 1928 as the Capitol Theatre. This is the same year the Miramar Film Studios were established, I was surprised to learn, to produce tourism films, much later being taken over by Peter Jackson. It was Richard Taylor's wife Tanya who was behind the restoration of the Capitol into today's cute Roxy. We had their Sunday roast which was nice, but a bit mean with the gravy. Then we headed into the very comfortable cinema to see the latest Mission: Impossible movie - silly, but irresistibly exciting, as usual. And that was that for Miramar - well worth the visit. Would recommend.

Saturday 8 July 2023

Admiring Miramar

  With thanks to Visit Wellington for this famil

For once, leaving Wellington airport, I turned right instead of left, to spend some time exploring the peninsula suburb of Miramar (since I now have family there). It turned out to provide the perfect combination of exertion and reward, the latter mostly, I'm happy to say, edible. It's a hilly neck of land at one side of the entrance to the harbour, and there are some steep climbs up its slopes, through both bush and pretty suburbs of wooden villas. On a good day when, famously, Wellington can't be beaten, the views are excellent - unfortunately (but also predictably) this wasn't one of them, though the misty, moisty conditions produced a moodier picture which was still attractive.

Spreading the love, we collected a very good almond croissant from the Shelly Bay Bakery (which isn't actually in Shelly Bay) and then an excellent coffee from Swimsuit, and headed off on a walk that included enough steep bits to both cancel out the breakfast and earn the lunch we had at Scorch-o-Rama, in Scorching Bay (which wasn't scorching, but cool and silvery). I really liked the menu there, which was full of genuinely funny jokes, viz the vegan dish: "No animals were harmed in the making of this, unless Chef chopped another digit off. No? High three!" The food was yummy, too.

Then we carried on along the waterfront, past sandy beaches, pohutukawa, and a fringe of interesting houses, modern and traditional, with turrets and towers. Six, count them, in a row belong to Peter Jackson, so of course there be dragons. It was an interesting route, but long, with lots of steps, so after a rest back home I was ready for some indulgence.

First we went to Double Vision Brewery, in a mildly industrial area, where in the taproom with its big shiny silver tanks the bar serves a very appealing range of drinks. I really like that they're not grim purists, and was very taken by their offering such treats as Cocowbell - a coconut chocolate milk stout, as well as a strawberry and lime cider, and honey mead, plus all the usual ales and lagers. This month's cocktail was Chocolate Mud Slide - coconut stout with Baileys, vodka, chocolate syrup and cream. Sounds disgusting? Clearly, you haven't tried it.

Then we went to Oiko's restaurant for dinner, and had the nicest, friendliest waitress I've ever encountered. She also knew her stuff, and we did so enjoy our tasting plates, especially the chicken skewers and fish sliders. The sesame-crusted halloumi was a bit too delicious though for the family atmosphere, especially when it came to the last morsels - that's the downside of shared dishes.

Friday 7 July 2023

Plus ça change...

                                      With thanks to Destination Wairarapa for this famil

Brrr! It was -2°C this morning, and the ice was so thick on my windscreen that I had to scrape it off with a redundant credit card - it's been a long time since I've had to do that. Beforehand, though, I had my last yummy breakfast at Parehua Resort - which has been a lovely, quiet, rural place to stay. Almost 30 villas and cottages scattered around a pretty and very neat garden, with a pond, bushwalk, and lots of trees. That means birds too, and it was a sheer delight to be woken by the echoing musical notes of a magpie this morning. I shall miss being fussed over in the restaurant by host Dean - I haven't experienced such friendly but perfectionist service since my last Silversea cruise. That's high praise, you know.

I whipped into Martinborough for a quick squizz, and found it to be a classic country colonial town - ie, neatly-mown town square focused on its war memorial, deliberately impressive stately buildings, and, er, a rather smelly trailer of sheep passing by. Some nice shops, though, and apparently also a sweet shop that I missed, tch.

Then it was off through the crisp, frosty morning back to Greytown, for a proper look around. I started at Cobblestones Museum, which is a town within a town, comprising a good collection of historic buildings, most of them moved onto site. One of the originals is a cute little Cobb & Co stable, which would have been a busy place, back in the day. I wasn't such a fan of the basic hospital, though, especially its bed with raised stirrups for you-know-what. I was taken, though, with the display inside the main building about wheelbarrow races, and the story of poor Samuel Oates, who in 1858 pushed one loaded with saplings from Wellington right over the Remutakas. When he called into the local pub for a well-deserved refreshment, some low-life nicked three of his trees. Painful.

Right next door, also in a pretty cottage, is Schoc Chocolates, where they make a huge range of tablet and fancy temptations from Belgian chocolate. They even make colourful, and edible, bowls and shoes there. It's just one of a whole townful of quirky little boutiques, proudly individually owned, and each one determined to be as appealing and surprising as possible. So, at Mango Interiors, you can buy a shiny wooden motorbike or Vespa 90 from Bali; or in Blackwell & Sons a fantastic, traditional English Pashley bike, when I was there for a whole $1000 off the usual $4 thou-plus price. Books, clothes, antiques, crafts, food... and all beautifully displayed in pretty wooden shops. No wonder it was busy.

It was lunchtime by now, so I had to head back to Featherston's Royal Hotel to eat with three of the driving forces behind the town's Book Festival. 'Driving forces' is right - they are totally dedicated and infectiously enthusiastic book devotees. The town has seven bookshops, which is going some for a population of less than 3,000. The festival draws writers, illustrators and publishers in ever-growing numbers for all sorts of events over a weekend in May. The hotel plays a big part - opened in 1868 it is, naturally, a feature on the Featherston streetscape, and is plushly Victorian inside, including the accommodation which I got to see.

I was starting to fade a little now, but I got another injection of enthusiasm from Garrick, who drove me back out of town to the racecourse he runs, to see the campsite there. On the way, we passed the huge site where, in WWI, there were rows and rows of 90 huge wooden barracks at the military camp. It was resurrected in WW2 as a Japanese POW camp, where there was a riot in 1943 and almost 50 prisoners were killed. All rather grim, but the racecourse was a classic country set-up and had some interesting buildings too, including an octagonal hospital used during the 1918 flu pandemic, which originally had a hole in the roof for ventilation. In less than two months, flu killed 9,000 people in NZ - that's half of the 18,000 soldiers who died over the whole of WWI. Sounds familiar...

And then it was time to leave Wairarapa and drive back over the Remutaka Hill to Wellington, happily against the surge of traffic heading out of town for the weekend. I had lots more treats to look forward to - in Miramar.

Thursday 6 July 2023

Bad start, good finish

With thanks to Destination Wairarapa for this famil

Phew, busy day today. Lots of miles covered, people met, things seen and learned (and promptly forgotten) - but definitely enjoyed. Chilly start, though. Thanks, by the way, to the OWM who, when I said as much as I passed him on my way to Parehua's restaurant for breakfast, sternly corrected my comment to praise the sparkling morning. Hadn't noticed that.

Lovely Luke at Longbush Cottage restored my good temper with his contagious enthusiasm for the tulip. He plants about 6,000 of them every winter, in pots and beds around his pretty little cottage, to bloom during his Tulip Festival in early October. It tells you everything about his eagerness, that I got caught up in it all despite, right now, there being nothing to see but the odd tiny green tip poking through all the mulch. It'll be splendid, for sure.

Next I headed, through lovely winter scenery, to Masterton, for a bit of art at Aratoi, the big gallery there. There was some good stuff to look at but I was most impressed by the current exhibition of a huge model moon, constantly rotating to show off its hidden side. It was a bit alarming, to see that it's much more pitted on the far side than the smoother surface we can see - because of all those meteors it cops, which would presumably otherwise hit Earth. Thanks, moon.

Masterton is home to the Golden Shears competition and of course has a detailed museum covering every aspect of shearing sheep; also plenty of art and a very popular park with a miniature train and an excellent minigolf course I would love to have taunted the Baby with - but I had an appointment to keep up the road.

Pukaha is a wildlife sanctuary I've been to before, but this time I was shown around by the inimitable Everlyne, who was irrepressibly full of information and - yes - enthusiasm. She told me lots of interesting things, and took me to see a kokako who only likes men, so Everlyne collared a passing one to take to the enclosure so the bird would come and talk to us. As it/she did - though, disappointingly, she didn't drop the f-bomb as she has been known to.

The eels were pretty impressive, too, big and so eager for a feed that they nearly wrenched the spoon away. The whole place was well done if, today, a little light on actual bird life, despite Everlyne's best efforts. Didn't matter, though - she was the real star.

Masterton is a perfectly pleasant town, with some impressive buildings, but it suffers from being so close to Greytown, which is outrageously pretty and full of character, as well as a whole range of quirky boutiques and other attractions. One of them is the White Swan Hotel, which was moved here from Wellington in six bits, one of them dramatically falling off its truck on the way over the Remutakas. 
I had a very tasty dinner there before going out to admire the town's current Festival of Christmas, with lots of decorations, lights and big slides. I'll be back again for a proper look around tomorrow.

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Welcome to Wairarapa

With thanks to Destination Wairarapa for this famil.
Back in the air again, heading this time to Wellington, for - gasp - actual work. (Er, "work".) The Kaikouras looked splendid, as did the capital as we came in to land. Not that I was having anything to do with the city, to begin with, anyway. I had Wairarapa to explore - which means driving over the Remutaka Hill, even today something not to be sniffed at.

Of course, it was worse in the old days, specifically during WWI when young soldiers who'd completed their training in Featherston were marched over this range of hills, taking three days to make the journey. Naturally they would have welcomed the cups of tea offered to them at the summit by grateful civilians - can't help thinking though that a beer would have gone down better. Especially since they had Gallipoli ahead of them.
My first call in the pretty little town of Featherston ("NZ's only Booktown!") was at the Fell Locomotive Museum, a typically detailed, well-presented and thorough effort by rabid enthusiasts, here celebrating the engine that pulled the train over the steepest bit of the hills. It's the only one left in the world, they proudly proclaim - and it is impressive. It has separate gripping wheels that latch onto a central track to grind up the incline, and the brake blocks wore out so fast that they had to be replaced every trip. There was only ever one accident, due to a gale, not slippage, and a newspaper report from the day is educational in several respects:

Can you imagine reading that sort of detail today? There were two crime reports in my paper this morning that had warnings above the text.
Next I met a cheesemaker, also an enthusiast and justifiably proud that his organic cheeses are made from milk that takes just half an hour to get from the cows up the road into his churn. He was disappointingly stingy with his sample sizes, though - so I was very happy to be met with a generous platter of savoury nibbles at my accommodation, Parehua Resort just outside Martinborough, next door to a vineyard. Only trouble was, it spoiled my appetite for what turned out to be a delicious dinner, and I couldn't manage dessert. Tragic. But the lovely kereru artwork over my bed was a consolation.

Monday 3 July 2023

Going not home

Really? Ten months since I was last on a plane? That’s so gloomifying, sigh. And it was to Christchurch last time too - which is perfectly fine, no complaints there. I was pleased to swoop down over the plains and braided rivers on a sunny winter afternoon, even if it was to drive with my sisters to my father’s house, to draw lines, close doors, place full stops, all that. There was a bellbird singing in the garden and the distant mountains were shining in the sun beyond the trees of the city, which was green and neat and pretty.

I went back to the same hotel, the Mayfair, which is better now than it was then, at its beginning, and I liked my room and was proud to work out all its fancy electronics. Despite all that tech though, it was quaint to note, in the lift, that superstitions still rule - apparently, East Asian cultures view 4 the same way we do 13 (the owner’s wife is Japanese):

That’s because, in Japanese, the word ‘four’ sounds like ‘death’. That’ll do for today’s connection.


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