Don’t go out in this storm! – Thursday 24th May 2012


We have to cross about 40 miles to get to Limnos, where we will take the plane home. When we were arranging this trip, Captain suggested that we might have to take the ferry if the weather was inclement. Much discussion has centred on the best day to undertake this five hour voyage and the conclusion was – ‘today’.
However, it has been a really stormy night. We could hear the thunder, see the lightning. It’s not over yet! We eat breakfast in the main cabin instead of on deck. A sense of dread fills the air: lumpy seas and poor visibility are reported by the harbour master. A Swiss yacht comes into harbour very early is morning, bedraggled. They left the same bay we had been in about 3 in the morning because the weather was so bad. They shake their heads and ‘tut’ at the idea of going anywhere today.
Captain says that he feels sure it will be ok. “What is the difference between the strong winds we had the other day in the sun and this rain?” he reasons. I silently think, “the rain and the ridiculous downpour we are witnessing!” but I am wise enough to say nothing. captain has never let us down yet. I trust him, but I take some sea sick tablets!
We are about to set off when another bout of rain begins, so instead we batten the hatches.

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It can get quite gloomy down below. Louise and I make sandwiches so we can eat during the voyage, cutting off the crusts from the old bread we scavenged from the restaurant last night.
Despite the portentous signs, we set off by 8.45. The sea chases us with boiling waves. We barrel along. I cannot decide whether to stay below and feel sick, or go above and get wet. Someone has to stay above. Captain has a stock of bright red sou’westers and leggings, which look a lot jollier than they feel. I notice he is wearing Wellington boots!
I am determined not to be sick. For while I stay on board with my IPhone music playing calm tunes like Satie and Chopin. I try something more upbeat and dance and sway to the music, trying to bend my legs to compensate for the rolling, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the horizon.

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Below the cooker swings violently on it’s cradle, and even John has to hold on while he scrutinises the charts. Eventually the rain cascades down and I can no longer stand it. I go down below decks, and instantly regret it. Louise has no problem, she has always felt at home at sea and tries to persuade me that it feels like a mother rocking a cradle. This mother is very angry, I think!
I try dancing below decks but it just makes it worse, so I crawl off to my little bunk and lie, headphones firmly attached, listening to podcasts of A History of the World in 100 Objects. I had heard many of these at the time of their broadcast, but they are brilliant and I become absorbed. Louise lies on the sofa in the main saloon, listening to music. John and her husband take it in turns to assist Captain in the pouring rain and I have to say I think her husband was a true hero as he took more than his fair share.
Seven hours!
We motored all the way, but it took seven hours!
Just when I was truly sleepy, Captain roused us all to come on deck. The rain had finally stopped and he had spotted dolphins. Six dolphin chased our yacht, laughing in high spirits. They ran under the bow, jostling for pole position. There is no way you can feel sad when you encounter dolphin. We had seen them in the distance earlier in the week, but now they stayed with us for nearly 15 minutes and our excitement was wonderful. All the cold and wet, the rolling and cold was forgotten. As suddenly as they chose to stay with us, they decide to leave, dropping back and returning into deeper water. We are nearing the coast finally and we can see them for many minutes leaping away into the distance.
None of us need to stay below now. We hug the coast line for a while and decide not to finish the complete journey yet. Instead we pull into an inland waterway where we see monstrous solar panels which rotate to track the sun. Apart from that it is very pretty and very quiet.
I scrape the cupboards to produce an asparagus risotto, which seems to fill a hole. Thank goodness for tins! And tins of asparagus especially!
We are quick to sleep after the exhaustion of the day, even those of us who lay down for most of the time!

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A strong wind to Tsonia – Tuesday 22nd May 2012


The inland waterway of Kolpos Yeras proves excellent shelter and very pretty. I am surprised how green Greece is because most of my travels while working have been dovetailed with school holidays, so this means high summer. Our anchor held well overnight. There is not sufficient wind to sail out of this water back to the open ocean, if you can ever call the Mediterranean ‘open’!
Our most reliable source of weather forecasting comes from a website aimed at windsurfers and surfers. It breaks the day into two-hour slots and has so far seemed very accurate. Today, as predicted we have enough wind to sail a steady course North, and we eat lunch on the move.
Shortly after eating the wind picks up to around 25-30 knots. We reef in the headsail to something akin to a pocket handkerchief and sail briskly along at 6-8 knots.

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Tsonia is such a tiny village on Lesvos that we almost miss it! The architecture implies money and the shoreline taverna has beautiful sunbeds, all empty, arranged across the sand. But we cannot achieve a firm anchorage here and are forced back along the coast to shelter behind a hill.
There is a taverna here too but we can see, without going ashore that it is not open. The kitchen fitters are hard at work and we will need to eat on board again. (Must check the labels before opening any other tins, we don’t want a repeat of tomato purée!)
The sun has been strong today, although we hardly felt it due to the wind. By the time we have anchored we allow ourselves an afternoon snooze. Swinging in the bay seems a great way to send you to sleep! Both John and Louise’s husband have really enjoyed the sailing today. We sip our gin and tonic that evening with a sense of total satisfaction and enjoy another great sunset.

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A wet weekend and a game of hide and seek


Mamma and I had taken Keoni round Tescos almost as soon as I returned from Australia. They had run the stocks down. I did not know what we needed in the way I usually did when shopping. Taking a toddler round a supermarket is a skill I have to re-learn. Mostly, Keoni participates in the debate about choice. However, he seems to need treats like a strange bag of fruit purée which you suck through a screw top, or oatcakes quite regularly.
Tescos is not stupid. Their marketing boys knew their onions! Part of the store is devoted to extracting money from parents through pester power. You can avoid it, of course, but what is a Nonna supposed to do. It’s a well known fact: grandparents should spoil their grandchildren. Anyway, who is counting a £10 box of wooden train track and an additional box of engine.
Keoni has already discovered Thomas the Tank Engine, but he is not discriminating against cheap replica. He loves this new toy and for the next few days, we play at building the track, chuffing and tooting together, while Mamma grabs some well earned rest. Toddlers are highly demanding of attention. However many adults there are, you always need one more. That’s the law!
On Saturday, Mamma goes to work. Usually Pappi does the minding but I’m keen to try my hand. The trouble is it rains all day!
So what shall we do?
(Just before we get to that part, I need to explain the names slightly or you might get confused. You will have gathered the Mamma and Pappi are my daughter and son-in-law. But Poppy is their name for John as Grandad and I am the Nonna. So now we can all play Happy Families)
John reckons that trains are such a hit at present, we could take the train to Waterloo. Good plan!
We pack food, change of clothes, nappies and associated material into the buggy.
By the time we have walked to the station, he is asleep! On the platform, the excitement is lacking due to the heavy relaxed sound of breathing coming from the buggy. The train whooshes in, but Keoni maintains a dignified snore. All through the journey, this continues. The rain pours down the carriage windows and the delighted grandparents wonder why they decided to do this in the first place.
He does not even wake to the sounds of a busy London terminus. It is only when we are walking towards the embankment that he stirs. He seems puzzled as to his whereabouts; fair enough really. Suddenly, Poppy and I begin to realise the additional burden of trying to negotiate stairs with a buggy. We walk a long detour to avoid carrying the deluxe buggy too far. It’s heavy!
It’s past lunchtime and we need to find food. Restaurants are packed with families, all sheltering from the rain. Eventually we find space within the Festival Hall and encourage Keoni out to explore. But he is still sleepy, reluctant to be exposed in a foreign environment with Nonna and Poppy. If he has to be out, he prefers to cling to me, burying his face in my coat.
Still, the food does wonders for his mood. He livens up and begins to gain confidence. John and I are feeling a little tired by now, but that is beside the point.

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Home at last – 20th April 2012


We arrived back in Heathrow at 6 in the morning. The eight hour flight to Singapore gave us a stopover of just 90 mins before continuing on our way for the 12 hour flight back home. It always feels like living in a manufactured environment, flying!

Food looks and tastes strange, people mess with your natural rhythm by turning down the lights for extraordinary lengths of time, but you hardly seem to sleep at all. A whir of films flicker in front of your eyes but you can only concentrate on a superficial level and end up watching rubbish, simply to pass the time.

After a while you find you must have been asleep, because suddenly you have woken with a stiff neck and the realization that there is still another 6 hours to sit still.

Then you land and experience the joy of rescuing your luggage from the carousel, and making your way to your final destination.

Home!

My younger daughter, her husband and son have been looking after our house for 6 months and greet us. Our grandchild is now 19 months old. We have kept up a relationship via Skype, regularly dropping in around his breakfast time. To my delight and amazement, he recognizes us instantly. With one second to dip behind mum’s legs in shyness, he quickly recovers his cool and bounds about. We have bought him toys, jigsaws, T-shirts. As we open our suitcases to retrieve these, he is emboldened but always asks if he can dig about in the case for the next thing of interest.

What a change in 6 months: he has several key words and a great sense of humor. He love playing with the IPad and is highly proficient at it, choosing quickly his favourite programs and taking photos of himself using its camera.

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While we were in Sydney we saw this statue outside the cathedral. It amused us because it looks as if the child has an IPad!

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It doesn’t seem like our house! Although most things are as we left them, it feels alien. I hesitate when I want to turn on the oven: how does it work? How mad is that?

The three cats make themselves known to us again. One, the largest and oldest, has just come back from the vet, costing £750 with a urinary infection. His story will become the focus of my next few blogs.

It’s cold, it’s raining. Having so many people to talk with tires me!! I’ve been used to the exclusive conversations with John. Not turn taking! My older daughter comes over too. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing them. But there seems so much to say on all sides. Somehow the essence of our conversation becomes distilled to such pithy sound bites they lose their quality and context. All these wonderful places I’ve seen jostle with newsy items about work, children, social gossip, other members of the family who have spoken with my daughters while we were away.

My white beaches are fading fast!
My azure sea is greying!
Within four days, I feel overwhelmed by the normalness of it all.

This can’t happen!

Thank goodness we have already planned to sail in the Greek islands in a month’s time. The thought of that might help.

Meanwhile, I devote a lot of time to reacquainting myself with my grandson and reorienting myself to this house. It seems huge after the little motel rooms and cabins. There also seems a lot of housework in the normal course of the day. With so many people in the house, the washing up, laundry and tidying increases ten fold. The advantage to traveling is that you move away from mess and into a nice new environment each few days.

As my blogging friend, Ronda says, “breathe and release”!

After the rain in Kaikoura – Sunday 4th March 2012


Moving on day! But it’s only a short trip from Hanmer to Kaikoura.

New Zealand is riddled with rivers, springs, and streams. Apart from the glacial blue water (which I know I keep going on about!) as differentiated from the pale clay colour rivers, the main feature of these is their width. At some point, regularly I suspect, each river must take up its full girth, but mostly we see a narrow river channel cutting its way through broad smooth grey stones on the river bed. I’ve often commented that these stones are so clean! There is no hint of moss, no silt; when the waters do come they do a wonderful job at cleaning the stones.
Today, however, the Hanmer River is approaching its full width. Tons of rainwater flash over the stones. You begin to see how whole trees are carried along the river bed. We stop frequently on our journey to observe this change.

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Kaikoura has grown up around whaling. These days the tourist industry is focused on its incredible deep undersea ravine, which is responsible for the abundant sea life. All year round there are whales; many different kinds of whale have been seen in the area, but the most predictable are the Sperm whale. In addition dusky dolphin, fur seals, sea lions all grace the shores.
Even the restaurants thrive from the sea, with crayfish being the star attraction.
We book a whale trip for tomorrow, settle into our lovely apartments on the waterfront and decide to go for a walk.
The peninsular has stunning scenery and a circuit that takes about 3 hours. John is under the illusion that it is a one hour walk because he has not added the segments together.
We get up close and personal with some sealions who find the car park an attractive place to rest.

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Stop for a crayfish fritter from a caravan cafe on the beach front, delicious! Get wonderfully blown about on top of the cliffs and find it a really exhilarating walk.

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We reflect, yet again how lucky we are as we sip our gin and tonic on the verandah of our new apartment overlooking the sea and the snow clad mountain. The snow has come two months early this year in NZ but it looks totally wonderful as the sun shines on it. We hope tomorrow will get the best photos, so you will have to wait for those!

Swimming in the rain – Saturday 3rd March 2012


Hanmer Apartments not only has loads of space, but a staircase! We opt to sleep upstairs and the moment we close our eyes we hear rain beating on the roof. We feel sheltered and warm. The place has a heat exchange unit. The rain does not worry us!
It is still raining when we awake. Torrential rain. The rain the tv warned us about yesterday! For 22 hours there is no abating. This is not a time to be out. The offer of free bikes, the lure of good walking, must go unheard. We turn up the heating and settle down with a good book.

By one o’clock we feel there’s no option but to brave it. The mountain in the back garden has appeared briefly, disappeared and is now making a braver appearance. There is some slowing in the density of rain. We could manage a dash to the car, and a pub lunch down the road in the town.

It was a good meal and the rain becomes mere drizzle as we eat.

Hanmer is famous for its springs. We would get wet there no matter the weather. We’ll brave it! Poor things probably no one else will be there.

Don’t you believe it!

If anyone had told me I would be standing in my swim wear, with about 100 other people similarly attired, all running about happily in the drizzle between pools ranging from 40 degrees to 30: I would have laughed in their face.

But there we were, having a wonderful time. There are three hexagonal pools, which seem to be the hottest and have underwater chairs in them; shallow rock pools where warm water flows between and the setting is natural and calming, all very well planted and secluded.
The complex is made for all the family and there is a large children’s section with a water tube, a swimming pool and lots of splash ponds. Yet on the other side adults can enjoy the steam room, the sauna or lounging in thermal sulphur pools, or hydrotherapy pools with massage showers or jacuzzi style bubbles. Near the swim pool is a track of fast flowing water. You enter, grab a float and hang on while you whoosh round with dozens of children and grandparents. It’s really good fun!

It’s still chilly but you are hop in between such warm water and such a wide variety of pool that you begin to forget! Eventually I felt quite warm and we spent about 2 hours here.

That evening we watched the final DVD of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We both agreed it was a day which left us warm and happy.

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Milford Sound in the rain – Saturday 18th February 2012


Up early for the coach pick-up. Paul, our driver, is Irish, with the gift, I’m sure! We happen to be first on the coach so choose to sit in the front to get the best views. It’s a 12 hour trip. It takes 2.5 hours just to get to Te Anau and a further 2 hours to get to Milford Sound. Now a sound is a river cutting between two mountains that becomes flooded by the sea. A fjord is glaciated valley now full of sea. This will be important and there WILL be a test later!

The first explorers got this wrong and named Milford a sound when they should have named it a Fjord. The NZ government tried to help by calling the area Fiordland but they couldn’t spell it should be Fjordland.

Enough!

The boat took us right down the fjord to the Tasmin Sea and back. And it rained all the time!

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We learned about tree avalanches where the red beech simply could not hold on any longer to the bare rock and slipped, pulling all the neighboring trees with it. We learned about snow avalanches where the snow fell in a compact block hundreds of meters, and wind avalanches where the wind simply ripped the trees and everything else off the rock face.
We passed a mirror lake which was flawed because the rain pock marked it’s face with concentric circles, but it was still beautiful.

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The rain simply increased while we were on the boat. The cloud so low at times, it was impossible to judge the scale of this place. I get the idea it’s always impossible to explain the size of it. At times I looked up at a waterfall, so huge, only to see another layer of cliff above and another beyond that. One waterfall was compared with the height the Niagra Falls! Not the volume, because it was a slim fall!

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The sheer number of waterfalls was fantastic! At times the crew would bravely drive the ship under the waterfall and we would all be drenched. Luckily they offered bright colored raincoats for such an occasion.

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Three hours previously, there had been far fewer waterfalls so the rain was certainly welcome. Without it we would not have witnessed such a spectacle. It was stunning!
We also saw lots of New Zealand fur seals, all young males we were told, having a great time messing about in the fjord.

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Huge, wet, wonderful, Milford Sound!

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Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph – Wednesday 15th February 2012


As the curtain opens, we draw a sigh of relief that the sun is shining and there are patches of blue sky. Fox Glacier looks bluer today. We are given heavy hobnailed boots, a raincoat for John and a backpack for me and we dismount the coach at the foot of the glacial valley.

This, of course is the path we have trodden before (on Monday) but at its end, we climb stone stairs and begin our ascent onto the glacier itself.

It is blackened with the chips of stone, which it has been carrying and grinding for years, but beneath its surface, shines a blue. Fox Glacier guides spend their day with an ice pick cutting stairs in the ice for half day trippers.

We pick up a pole, strap on our crampons, before setting foot onto the ice itself.

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In places it gushes with melt water, it’s surface irregular, pitted with rocks and stones ground from the mountain.

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The water is pure enough to drink freely. The ice has been sculpted into beautiful ice caves and caverns. Some big enough for us to climb into, others simply beautiful in that special ice blue.

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In places large crevasses open, or pools of water lie by our feet. I take the opportunity to push my pole down one and am horrified to see it disappear by nearly a meter and still no resistance. I pull itback hastily!
Maybe, we don’t get far in one half day treck, and it was not actually too taxing physically, but I am so glad we did this.

In the afternoon, we drove to Franz Joseph to see their glacier. It is much further from the car park, much steeper to access and climbs more steeply. And it was raining!

We had left Fox in glorious sunshine, here it poured with rain. I am keen to keep John dry as he is still coughing quite a bit, we take a short walk up a hill to a viewpoint and then drive into town, but I am not excited by it, so we drive back home. As we enter our own valley, the sun shines again, so we walk down to Lake Matheson and back to a lovely restaurant, where they serve great cappachinos. The scenery is beautiful. We stay on for a beer, watching the sun and clouds move gracefully over the mountains.

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Back at the motel, we see a rainbow from the window. It’s been a wonderful day!

The value of friends – Friday 27th January 2012


It just feels so good to be traveling back to friends. We are headed to Lianne again, but only for one night. On the way we visit Kerikeri, where the oldest stone buildings in New Zealand are set in a picturesque by a beautiful river, over an elegant bridge. It’s an easy place to strolls about. I can’t understand why people disgorge from a coach at point blank range from an obvious viewpoint, fire off their cameras and remount for the onward trip.

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As we come to the final third of our drive, the weather changes from bright sunlight to continuous rain. Any thoughts of walking are washed away and we pull into La Nonna, Italian Patisserie for a good up of coffee and text Lianne of our changed arrival time.

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The dogs greet us enthusiastically. Lianne and her husband get a de-briefing of where we have been and then begin to cook dinner. We’ve brought cheese from Puhio cheese factory and fresh fruit from Kerikeri.
A friend of Lianne’s, Shelley, joins us over a bottle of bubbles, and we really get on well. John is being challenging by doubting the existence of any female inventor and Lianne’s husband nobly mentions Marie Curie, although I don’t think John is hearing!

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It’s a brilliant evening! I’m getting the hang of dogs and am enjoying their company almost as much as their human owners (no, just kidding!)

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As the dogs settle, we watch Avatar, which I feel is mildly reminds of the Treaty House and the Maori/British divide. But that is another story!

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