Saturday, March 21, 2015

Just somewhere in New Zealand and the ugliest cat in West Auckland

Well not that ugly-she is becoming more beautiful as she grows.  Seldom sits still.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Travel Blog from 2000 ....Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles

For Robbie mainly, and anyone else who does not have a life outside of a computer....

This is what might be called a reverse blog, ie going back in time some 14 years.  I was talking to my friend Robbie about our  trip to the USA in the year 2000, and looking in a drawer, I found a trip diary, written by hand.

So here you go Rob, all translated to be readable , ie not in my handwriting!

It was my intention to provide a few photos with this, but getting free ones off the net seemed to be a bit of a mission.  I did consider doing a series of screen clips of Goo Eth laneview, but no doubt they have bots cruising around to check out persons such as me!

So Robbie, I'm still waiting for the video....but would you like to contribute some photos?

Warning to anyone else reading: This is very boring, but may be of interest if you are planning on a trip in the Phoneix/Las Vegas/Los Angeles area.

Friday  8th of April 2000: My Last day at NZ Sugar. Robbie rings me and says:
"You OK to go Saturday morning?"

How the heck did we manage to ring up Air New Zealand and book with a credit card a seat on the flight leaving the next day?  When we got on the plane it was full up.

My mother had recently died and I had been involved in selling the family home. I had just moved all the odds and ends from mum's house and was looking forward to a week of just looking out the window at the rain.

Luckily the flight  was Saturday night, and not Saturday morning!  The trip was about 11-12 hours long. Funnily enough, on board the flight were Linda and John whom I hadn't seen for quite a while. A strange coincidence.

 Robbie had an aisle seat near the toilets and was  bumped into all night long.  We arrived late on Saturday morning, then  we had about walk about a kilometer from the international terminal to the domestic one, and then after 1 hour short flight we arrived at Phoenix on Saturday night.
We picked up a Chevy Malibu rental car and set out on route 202 get to the Homestead Village hotel. Unfortunately the wrong road.

This was my first experience of American directions: a mixture of clarity and complete carelessness.  So we found ourselves on the 101 going North to where the map said Scottsdale. While it was, but it was not, Scottsdale road, which is where we were supposed to have gone. After a quick trip up the wrong side of the road, we finally found Scottsdale road and  eventually reached the hotel.
Off to Walgreen's for some groceries, and I asked one of the ladies:
"Excuse me, where are the eggs?"
"Iggs? What are Iggs?"
"Oh Parrrdon me maam, whaire auire the aigs?"
"Oh the aigs....., over there".

Tokyo Express for a $3.25 meal.

Bought a pair of shoes from Robinson's May.  Jed, whose  real name was Gerrard ,was Rob's friend who was getting married to Dianne. A good wedding and a nice reception. Then off to an  Irish pub to meet up with Keith and Joe.

To Wal-Mart to see what they sold, then on to the Arizona Biltmore Hotel.  Robbie suggested we look as though we were hotel guests. We admired the  hotel lobby, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930's.

Had a deja vu moment with the strange water fountain they have there in the lobby.  I have dreams sometimes, which make no sense when I wake up, but as I arrive at the place of the dream, I suddenly realise this is what I dreamt of.  I have had 3 occasions in my life where this has happened. Unfortunately, there is no significance to this sort of happening.

Tried to hook up with  Joe,but all sorts of confusion trying to meet him at the Blarney Stone Pub. Then off to see Jed and Dianne in their house in a gated community.

Off to Frank Lloyd Wright's School called Taliesin West.  This was a highlight of the trip, well worth a look. Back on the road north, and the next stop is a place called Cosanti and Arcosanti, which is the creation of one Paolo Soleri (he is dead now).  They run tours of his architectural imaginings, which have things like huge round windows.  It appears they make bells for a living.  Nice place, but cold.

 On Northwards to Sedona. As we drive through the desert it surprises us by beginning to snow, as night falls.  Finally book in to a Quality Inn, and in the morning stepped out of the front door and got another shock as all around were beautiful mountains with snow on their tops.  There was a strange horse sculpture made out of bits of old machinery as a statue in the main street.  Then we toured the famous church not far out of town.

Off to a  late start:  Destination-The Grand Canyon  the top speed of 100 MPH.
Nice to see from the edge which is all we had time for.  Obviously a place you could spend years wandering around being amazed by the scenery.

Walked up and down the "strip" for miles.  A great place for a visit.  There are fountains the size of football fields, enormous pools with full size pirate ships in them.  Later that night the ships had a mock fight, a really entertaining show for free.  Met Gerard and Dianne and went for  look at New York New York, which is done up to look like a bit of New York.

I won 42 dollars on the slot machines, but  having spent about as much, was not that elevating.  Robbie bet $0.  He has more brains than me!  When he booked the room he told them he was a "high roller".  Yeah, right... back to Phoenix on a slightly different route to the  Homestead Village hotel in Phoenix.   More of those classic large cactii you see in the cowboy movies on the way back.

Back in Phoenix, visited Gerard and Dianne, went to various hotels to see local architecture. Dinner in Robinson's May, a large mall, then went back to the a place in desert - a cowboy type bar with dancing.

Phoenix to Palm Springs, felt like a whole day in a car doing 95mph, racing past flat desert with mountains in the distance just like in the movies.   We entertained ourselves by trying to memorise all the states of the union.   We were able to do most of them - the only ones that stayed elusive were the small ones on the east coast. At Palm Springs we stayed in a  Travelodge at  $45.00 per night.  Coming into Palm Springs we went the wrong way and ended up on some rough roads in what looked like a rough neighbourhood.  Commenting to the desk clerk about this when we got to the hotel, he remarked that he would never go on those roads-too dangerous!

 Robbie wanted to take photos of the aerial cable car station (designed by Albert Frey), just a small distance out of town.  After getting there and taking all his photos we decided go for the ride up the mountain.  What a great decision- this was the best part of the trip!. Back down in Palm Springs we saw some great buildings and the Air Force Museum.

We walked around Palm Springs looking at Albert Frey's, and Richard Neutras's buildings. Robbie was  bit cheeky, slipping behind a hedge to take some photos of the architecture, with me left fretting in the car about the security guy who arrived just as we were leaving.
Then onwards to LA. Talk about awful.
"Whats that beeping noise?" says  I.
"Thats's the music on radio?" came the reply...
"Oh no! we are nearly out of gas!"
Arrived in Pasadena and found the Gamble House after touring Pasadena which seems to go on forever.  Booked into Quality Inn for $45.00 plus tax for the room per night. The Gamble house was not open so hope to see it on Thursday.  The atmosphere in LA is like a fine white smoke with no smell.

The Paul Getty museum of art.  Very new,  you get on a little train to go up to the museum which is built on the hill just near Beverley hills.  Pleased to see an obviously gifted teacher at work with a group of very well behaved and intelligent children, so maybe parts of the US education system are functioning extremely well.

Afterwards we tried to get to another museum but that was closed. A quick look at the La Brea tar pits.  Then drove around Beverly hills and Hollywood and then home via a Chinese restaurant.

Gamble House was just not my thing, but Robbie appreciated the architecture and the  huge amount of fine woodwork inside and out. Very dark and gloomy.  Then on to Griffith Park with it's observatory. Afterwards, to Frank Lloyd Wright's house designed for the Ennis Family, in Hollywood, Glendale.

 It is large house of concrete blocks which have a 3D patterned surface.  An impressive house with a nice view over Los Angeles.  Then off to Central Los Angeles.  Rough!  Down Flower street to find an eating place.  Finally in a bad part of town had lunch in a "Tokyo Chicken" where they were installing razor wire on a fence nearby. The guy on the till did not know how to count.

Back to town to the museum of contemporary art. The Rudolf Schindler exhibition.  Off to  Best Buy to buy a  lead  for Robbie .

The last day was spent going south along the coast from LA.  We got as far as San Clemente.
The further from LA we got, the nicer it felt.  I could live there - the beaches are nice, the little towns look very liveable.  A mad dash to drop the car at the airport- Robbie could not resist the last chance to scare the living daylights out of me:  on the last curving ramp into the airport I swear we were on only 3 wheels!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cruising! Radiance of the Seas.....

I consider we were very lucky to have been able to go on this.  A year ago, we were booked on one to go from Venice to Turkey, but I was unable to get on the ship for medical reasons.

Royal Caribbean, the cruise company, gave us vouchers, not for the full value but nearly and the insurance company topped up the rest, so we booked a cruise that left from Sydney, up to New Caledonia, Lifou, then Vanuatu, and back to Sydney. This is called the 9 day cruise.

Getting on board was relatively painless, only a 20 minute wait. Your first impression is of a luxury hotel, not a ship.  It has a large atrium right in the centre of the ship, which runs from Level 4 right up to level 10 (I think!).  This is a beautiful piece of  interior design.

The advertising/marketing goes on about the WOW factor, but in this case it really does live up to the hype.  It would be nice if every human on the planet could go on one of these cruises. In the past I was dismissive of the idea, but I would say, try it, you will love it.

You can stand on one of the levels and look down into the atrium and if you look carefully, you will see layer upon layer of subtle design variances.

It has two glassed in lifts in the inner part of the atrium, and several more on the outer part, which are glass fronted as well allowing a brilliant view over the sea on the left side of the ship.

This is the main atrium and a level just off it.

Finding our cabin was fun, but easy enough, we had room 3024, which meant we were on level 3, near the bow. There was a large round  porthole.  The room was quite spacious. The bathroom was fine, except the shower was on the small side, but OK.

Then up to deck 11 to look at the departure from Sydney.  Just a  fantastic view of this great harbour from high up on deck 11, and then off to the open sea.

This is just going past the North Head in Sydney Harbour.

Time for dinner. All food was included in the fare, so we were keen to see what was on the menu.  Our first call was at the Windjammer Cafe, located on the top at the rear of the ship.

Talk about food!  There was a smorgasbord going, and you could have chips, burgers, eggs, salads, you name it.  I tried to keep the  intake down, but it was tempting.

Just looking around it seemed like most of my fellow passengers  were overweight: was this because they came cruising often? At the end of the cruise I checked: a gain of 3 kg. Hmff.

The next evening we tried the fine dining option, in the Cascades Dining Room.  Imagine a 5 star restaurant with a view of the sea, a 3 course meal on offer. Yum!

This is the Cascades Dining Room on Level 5

This is the Solarium, a glass roofed swimming pool and hot tub.

They had bird noises playing, giving it a hanging garden feel. Artificial plants but the whole effect was wonderful.

Time on board went extremely quickly, what with exploring the ship, eating, and seeing a show or two.  They had live entertainment each night in a large theatre, and it seemed to be of mostly high quality.

The first day I climbed 9 sets of stairs to the gym and did a short  workout.  By the time we reached Noumea I had slid backwards into a  more relaxed attitude, besides we went on a bus tour of Noumea.

This is Lemon Bay in Noumea.

A day later and we anchored off a small island called Lifou.  They had tenders to take us to the island, where we walked along the beach and I did a bit of snorkelling in about 1500mm of water. Nice, but not spectacular.

At our next port, Vila in Vanuatu, we booked on a tour called "Dream Cove Cruise". A van picked us up from the ship, took us to a wharf in town, and onto a 70 foot yacht.  Half an hour cruising later, we  stopped in a bay with really clear water.  I jumped over board and  swam to a nearby coral reef, which had plenty of fish and coral to look at.

Then three days cruising at sea.  I just cannot believe how quick it went.

Back at Sydney, we were just off the ship thinking where was the train to my brother's place and there he was!

You can check out the ship here:

Radiance of the Seas

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Italian Railway Experience

What you need to know about Italian trains:

1. Buying a ticket and just having it is not good enough. Once you buy your ticket, look for a small box that says something like ticket validation. Insert your ticket and once inserted, move it to the left. You might get away with not doing this, but if they catch you, expect to fork out 52 Euros.

2. How to find out where you are going and which stations does the train stop at? At every station you will find a large (but not large enough!) sheet of paper. On it, it lists under hourly headings when trains leave, and if you look carefully it will list all the stops, with their times. I wondered what about Sundays? The catch is the asterisk, and you need to learn the word for Sunday, Saturday, and Public Holiday.  A listing of the months in Italian is also needed.

 3. There is sometimes a small electronic screen showing train times as well. Sometimes this will be at odds with the paper copy. We found the electronic on was more up to date.

4. Another puzzle is the strange case of up to 4 trains leaving at the same time. They are handled by the asterisk as mentioned in 2 above.

5. Watch out for multiple destinations of the city of your choice. It easy to get off out in the suburbs.

6. If travelling on a train that has first and second class, and you are booked on carriage no 2, do NOT get on the carriage that has a big 2 on the side. It means second class. Usually, 1st class is at the end of the train, with a tiny notice near the door saying which carriage it is.

7. Watch out for terribly helpful persons that appear to have official looking shirts on wanting to grab your suitcases out of your hands and lift them on board for you. They expect 5 Euros. Make it a point to say NO thanks!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hong Kong subway trips

Bead shopping in Hong Kong.  I was not looking forward to this, but it turned out a bit of a touristy type of exercise.  First find out where to go via the Internet.  It appears to be an area about 6 km north of our hotel, conveniently close to the subway line.  We bought two Octopus cards, similar to 
London's Oyster Card. The subway is clean, fast, and very efficient.  
As usual, all the streets look the same: shops forever with six story apartment buildings above.  A small amount of beads, and lunch was required.  Ever tried to place an order with a counter lady (who wore an air hostess type hat), who does not understand English? Rose did not want to eat, but we ended up with two meals anyway. Once the order was placed, we sat down to wait for our meal to arrive.  The people at our table were amused by this and pointed to the other end of the restaurant, where there was a counter, at which you queued up with your ticket.  Talk about fast food, it was a bit like Macdonalds.
Home for a well earned rest, the out again to look at Hong Kong across the water from the waterfront.  
Before coming to Kowloon I was not looking forward to crowds of people all pushing and shoving and being generally rude to each other. I was surprised and pleased to find none of this, given there are lots of people here, that almost without exception, people are relaxed and behave very well.  If you ask for directions, they usually have a language problem, but are friendly anyway.  We felt safe on the streets, even at night.
The will be my last post,  except for a piece on the Italian Railway System.
We return to New Zealand next Monday.

From Italy to Germany to Hong Kong

Riomaggiore. We were going to give this a miss, but decided to make the effort.
An unusual village, split into a sea part and a rural part. No beach, but people were swimming in the harbour. Needless to say, we got there by train, which took only about 15 minutes.  A lot of gelato consumption, and a strange snack: a thing like an ice cream cone, but made of cardboard, and filled with deep fried seafood. Tasty.
The previous day while swimming, I got stung by a jelly fish, which knocked the chrome off the snorkelling.  The next day, I was careful to look where I was going, spotted him, so no stings.
A lot of angst was generated by the rail timetable for the day of our leaving, but it all turned out ok, going from Monterosso to Genova, changing to the Milan one at Genova.  We were going to get a taxi to Milan Airport, but Rose spotted a shuttle bus just outside the station, 5 Euros to the airport-unbelievable value!
Much long waiting around and we got on board our plane to Frankfurt.
No horsing around this end, we got a taxi to the Dormero Hotel, just near the city centre. This is a picture of Frankfurt.
A brilliant hotel: 2 large screens, one for Internet, the other for TV, and a choice of free movies. We had a day to have a look at the city, as our flight did not leave till 10pm.
We walked towards the city centre, and came across a brand new shopping mall, Skyline Plaza.  Spotless, and very tastefully done.  Back out onto the main road again and eventually reached the heart of the city.  It felt a bit like La Rambla in Barcelona. Nice enough, but not spectacular.
Leg power failing, we decided to get out to the airport early, and proceeded to wait forever for boarding.
 This is a picture of Hong Kong, from our hotel in Kowloon.

The usual not fun trip sitting for 10 hours,  now we are sitting up 19 floors in the Panorama Hotel, looking towards Hong Kong, a bit zapped as we have been virtually up all night.  It is now 5.15pm and it feels like we had breakfast about 5 hours ago.  Everything here seems to cost mega bucks. A buffet dinner downstairs is HK 400=NZ 60/ person.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monterosso Al Mare

Link to pics on Flikr.  Blue Mediterranean Sea. Not very clear, but around 3m visibility. We are now in Monterosso Al Mare.

 A bit of a train jumping job to get here. From Venice to Firenze, very fast, in first class. Then onto an ordinary train to La Spezia. A short half hour wait, and another to Monterosso.
Straight out of the station entrance, and a walk of one kilometre to the Hotel La Palme, along a very nice promenade above the beach.
Very happy with this hotel, it is two minutes walk to a really nice beach. First task was to buy a mask and snorkel. Done. Then out to say hi to the fish, of which there were some, not a lot. Dinner: pizza,hmm.
First full day, I was up fairly early and had an early morning swim to check out my fish.
Monterosso is divided into two parts by headland with a tunnel through it, so that part of the town, which seems much older was paid a visit. The part in the photo above is called Figina, but seems lumped in with Monterosso. This is a picture of the main part of Monterosso:

A bit like Venice, minus canals.
Lunch was good, I had fried fish and spuds, Rose had a salad.
Today, the usual swim then an attempt to walk the one mile around the cliffs to the next village, which is Vernazza.
This is the harbour at Vernazza...unreal!

 We got about a quarter of the way, after climbing a thousand stairs, when a queue formed  in the baking sun. So we flagged the path at idea away, and walked all the way back and caught a train instead.  
Vernazza is much smaller and did not take long to check out, so we had a nice lunch looking out to sea on a perfect day. We are now waiting for the train back.
Here is another picture of Figina:
This is a misty day looking south, from Montorosso Al Mare towards Riomaggiore: