Saturday, 31 August 2013

Portraits

Part of the Beautiful Truth workshop is a portrait session, I was luck enough to have several taken of me. Here is the one others love. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Wow

What a day. Genova for the day, back to Acqui Termi for an awesome dinner and wonderful vino and company. I love Italy, having a fantastic time with Di, Sandy, Diana and Sara. I'm learning more about how to take the best photos and I'm actually getting photos of me. I will share some of those but for now here's one of mine.
And the vino from these was delicious 

A burst of colour in the farmers market

Monday, 26 August 2013

I'm here

Just where I'm meant to be with Diana and Di at the Beautiful Truth retreat in the hills of Piemonte near the town of Acqui Termi. It's beautiful, restful, peaceful, a soul place. I've had a swim the pool, coerced by Sandy. It was a bit chilly for this hot house plant. The thunder is rolling impressively around the hills, the darkness forked by lightening. Evening rain, warm rain after a hot and sticky day.

So wonderful to see Di again, it's been two and a half years, a bit long really, and of course we picked up just where we left off. There are some stories of 6 degrees, lots of connections with people. Sandy from Auckland and I discovered we knew lots of the same people. A story Lyn and Keri will enjoy. This evening we ate well and learnt about our external flashes, how to angle these to get the best results. Here's our dessert and a couple of kitchen practice shots. Yes, it was as delicious as it looks. And so was the local vino, the company and the conversation.








Saturday, 24 August 2013

Milano

Milano, what can I say. The moment I land in Italy I'm sighing with joy, grin all over my face. I must look like an idiot to people, this smiling solo traveller. I lucked in with my accommodation here too, although I have actually done alright with this for most of my trip. Airbnb came up trumps with Marco and his lovely apartment near most of everything I want to see. Sandy, my New Zealand companion arrived today, my job to feed her and keep her entertained so she doesn't sleep all day after her long flight.

Marco suggested I catch the airport bus to the central station, a wise choice from Malpensa and one that saved me about 60 Euro. I sent the instructions to Sandy, I hope she can make sense of them. I have had a little trouble with getting misplaced in this Luddite's tour. No phone, smart or otherwise, no satnav, no devices at all that tell me which way it might be best to go. No devices, only lovely people. Having to ask for directions can be humbling, not in the UK it seems. People are so willing to help and not scathing to lost people. 

I relented and bought a phone at the airport yesterday. Not a smart one, just one with an international SIM and lots of zones plus some credit. A ready to go phone. So I'm awaiting Sandy, with breakfast. I intended to eat out last evening and then I found the local supermarket. Fresh food, yummy fruit and vege so I bought some pasta, tomatoes, blueberries and some other treats and cooked. A joy, as was the vino I washed it down with. It would have been a shame to waste the lovely kitchen here. 

I am struggling to find the time to write about my adventures, there's too much to do. Downloading the photos I've taken takes time, especially as I have to clear space for new ones when I do. Hopefully I will get some time soon to do a catch up, stories still to tell from Ireland and the UK. Sandy has landed and is on her way, that phone has come in handy already. More on Milano later. 

Didge taking a quick peek - Audley House

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Highlands

The scenery in the highlands of Scotland is gorgeous. Majestic mountains rise above clear lochs, dwarfing the wee white houses dotted along the hillsides. Today's drive was wonderful, except for the traffic. It was difficult to stop as the cars were bumper to bumper, some not being very courteous. Impatient. There were so many people along the way; stopped in the laybys, walking along the side of these lovely hills, taking photos high above the lochs, the bright colours of their wet weather gear dotting the landscapes.

And wet it was, very wet. The rain earlier in the day had formed waterfalls that cascaded down, over the rocky tors into the tarns formed by much earlier glaciers. The A82 from Fort William towards Glasgow took me past Ben Nevis while traveling alongside Loch Linnhe through a barren landscape of grasses and heather. As I dropped into the lower lands, lochs peeked out from trees lining the roadside. I had entered Argyll Forest Park. Below is a photos of what seemed to be the larger of the lochs, Loch Lamond with it's myriad of islands and water sports. Loch Lamond is huge, long and narrow like most of the lochs seem to be. A result of their glacial history.

Just as I was wondering if there was a ski industry, I saw the Glencoe ski resort on the side of the hill. I can just imagine the winter playground this place would be when covered with snow. There were lots of cars with bikes on the back and it was easy to see why, a mountain bikers paradise with places for all levels to ride. I feel like I'm writing a travel brochure, on my next trip I'll make more time to explore this lovely place.

While it was a relief to get onto the bigger road, two lanes and no narrow stone bridges to avoid, I was sad to be leaving this place so soon. The New Zealand couple I met at Innseagan House Hotel  had the right idea. They were staying in the area for a couple of weeks. They had also booked in advance for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and I was privileged to be able to see some that they had recorded on their tablet. Nice folks from Christchurch out having an adventure, well traveled folks with whom I could swap stories of other places and talk of home and family.

Innseagan House, I had a fantastic stay there. I tend to stay in the smaller, quaint hotels and I'm seldom disappointed by the friendliness of the staff and how they are happy to share their time with their visitors. Traveling on my own, it's nice to arrive somewhere where it's small enough that the other guests will talk to you as well. I met two couples form the UK who kept us entertained, one a retired PE teacher. They laughed and said fancy that when I said I was from New Zealand then steered me towards the New Zealanders seated at dinner. My kia ora had them look up, we had a bit of a chat from then on.

Dinner was lovely, Scottish smoked salmon. Now I know where it comes from, I will always smile as I eat it. The entertainment was delightful, two musicians who had many claims to fame, playing for a small and appreciative group. We chatted later, one had visited New Zealand and had played at the Sydney Opera House. The other was a singer song writer, both really interesting to talk to. Alexandria, our host, was lovely, such a busy job making sure the guests in her full house were happy. She joined us for the evening, along with her hard working team. An evening of red wine, music, conversations, laughter, meeting new people, making connections. Memories to keep me smiling for a while, the friendliness of people to this traveller.


Loch Lamond

Seats with a view - Innseagan House Hotel

Some of the Innseagan House family - lessons from the experts

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Alnwick Castle

Photo as promised, from the bridge with the lion guarding the town. I take photos of lions, mostly of the stone variety, everywhere I go. More will follow. One day I'm going to make a collage of the photos. The drive to Alnwick was gorgeous, so many lovely seaside towns, a very scenic coastline. The traffic and getting a park was a hassle that meant I didn't get photos along the way. I managed in Alnwick, it was a happy accident that there was a working castle just up from the town square where I had enjoyed a late lunch.




Onward from Dunbar

And onward I went after heading down to the harbour to take a few pics. Tangaroa was there, still in harbour, and so I got to meet Eddie and hear about how he came to own a boat called after the Maori god of the sea. Eddie had lived in New Zealand and his late wife was a New Zealander. He talked fondly of the Coromandel and other places we both knew. It seems he asked his son what he should call his new boat and Tangaroa was the answer. Mystery solved.

Eddie told me some stories of the harbour, how the skipper of an ocean going yacht decided to brave the harbour mouth without checking how deep it was. It wasn't deep enough it seems and it all ended in tears. The sea breaks over the sea wall, yesterday it was calm, and when it does the fishermen have to use the back harbour to keep their boats safe. Fearsome waters these, that's easy to see even in fair weather.
Tangaroa

Dunbar Harbour entrance 
I hit the road, heading north to Edinburgh. My host, Deborah, suggested I do a park and ride rather than take my car into the city. A very wise choice, thanks Deborah. The park and ride was really cheap and so convenient. I had none of the usual hassles of being in a strange city with only a blunt map for reference and Edinburgh was heaving with people. I had the obligatory wander, up the Royal Mile to the castle only to find a huge queue. I don't like to queue so I went as far as I could and left that for another day.

The Fringe Festival would be fantastic with a group of friends, going just for that purpose. As an accidental tourist, it was a little stressful. I did get shots of the old city from Princes Street and of course a piper. I headed out towards Sterling, not too far to drive, and after taking a break for a wee lie down, I wended my way to Stirling Castle. My thoughts were with Annie as I wandered around in one of her favourite places in the world. I certainly wasn't disappointed and felt proud as the guide told my history. That took some reflecting on for this person whose turangawaewae (place to stand) is in New Zealand. It made me even more determined to venture north to Kintail, and venture I did. 

Edinburgh

The stirring pipes

Friday, 16 August 2013

LUCEO NON URO

'I shine not burn' the McKenzie motto. I am a McKenzie of the  clan McKenzie, formally of Kintail, in the North West Highlands. Here I am in Dunbar, just south of Edinburgh, not planning to go further north of Sterling. I had included Inverness, driving over to the Isle of Skye, in my first itinerary. I would have driven through or past Kintail. It seemed too far for the few days I have so I changed my plans a little. Wish I'd know then what I know now. I may need to make a decision about that today.

I'm really enjoying Scotland. It's beautiful, very green and scenic, with plenty of castles. I am staying in Dunbar with an Airbnb family, nice folks who have visited New Zealand. They had used the Airbnb service in Europe so decided to let their spare room. After my long drive up from Saffron Walden, I was pleased they did.

It is a long drive, four and a quarter hours to Newcastle after a couple of quick stops for coffee and the loo. The traffic on the A1 behaved so it was a pleasant trip. A bit north of Newcastle I left the big road and headed for the sea, wending around country roads until I got to Warkworth then up to Alnwick. Both nice places with big castles. Check out the movie credits for Alnwick Castle. I will add photos later.

Last evening I dined in the Volunteer Arms and had a lovely chat with the waitress. She's studying to be a geneticist, studying genetics at Aberdeen University. An interesting lass working in her holidays at the coolest little pub. The food was great and the wine much needed. I'm heading back down into town to get some pics of the harbour, guarded by a crumbling fort with a narrow channel. The early evening light through the drizzle was lovely, I hope this morning's light works too.

I also want to go back as there was a fishing boat called Tangaroa, god of the sea in Maori legend. I did wonder where the name came from, a bit more history to search. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

A day out in London

I suspect it's going to be difficult to keep up with writing about my travels this trip. I'm getting about a bit! I've started two posts on Ireland but just had to share about today while it was fresh. Things may not be in the right order, oh well. Today Didge and I went to London on the train for the day. Didge is a sailing buddy from Cayman who has recently returned home to Saffron Walden. 

Saffron Walden is a gorgeous town not too far north of London, getting here was amusing as I had forgotten to write the address and directions before picking up the rental car. The man at the rental place shook his head, I looked at the map, found this unusual name and headed off. I arrived safe and sound, bought dinner at the local pub and signed on to my email to get the directions to Didge's house. Who needs a satnav or a phone, good old fashioned map reading did the trick in the end. 

Back to today, there's a special building in London called the Gherkin or more correctly 50 St Marys Ax. To enter you need a special visitor pass and this can only be obtained through someone who works there. Didge's daughter Keira does, we went to the top to take tea with her as invited guests. What a treat, amazing views all over London, a feast of photographs. Thank you Keira!

We had a good wander too, St Paul's visited and admired. Climbing up into the Whispering Gallery was interesting, not sure that I enjoyed that closed in feeling I get in tight spaces. The climb was worth it, the view over the nave amazing. Pity I wasn't allowed to take photos, I suppose that people taking pics can make nuisances of themselves and I'm sure that the gift shop makes a killing with the official pics. 

The architecture is stunning, I often wonder in these places how people in those times knew how to build such huge structures, how they put in place such huge and heavy stones, the domes and pillars used to hold it all together. Then there's the artistry, the decorating of the spaces. St Paul's must have taken years to build then rebuild after the WWII bombings. Interestingly, this church is the third or fourth to have graced the site since 1200AD. 

We had planned to also visit the Tower of London, I've not been inside before, but St Paul's and the wander onwards took a bit more time than we'd planned. That will keep until next visit, it's been there a while already. I'm feel a bit tired this evening, lots of exercise today. 
The Gherkin

The girls at high tea

Another place where Harry Potter was filmed

Tower Bridge from the Gherkin

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Ireland II

I thought at one point I'd made a mistake booking to stay at the Rossbeigh Guest House. That was a minor moment, once I arrived I knew I had arrived in a lovely place run by lovely people. From the first greeting I felt welcome and after the long day I'd had, that was great. I took a few moments to settled then wandered down to the restaurant just down the road. A restaurant with a view of the wild beach and the setting sun. Over the hills behind, how I've missed hills. I've now had a hill fix, including some walks that made me puff.

I was in a fug of jet lag, the drive a chore towards the end, when I met Margaret and Fritz. They thought I was doing okay so I must have been a little coherent. Margaret invited me to join them for dinner, I was appreciative. I'm not that fussed on eating alone in a restaurant and I'd been on my own all day so enjoyed their good company. They were lovely folks, Fritz from the US originally and Margaret from Cork (sorry if I got this wrong!) and a font of information on Ireland. We watched the sun disappear and Margaret, a fellow photographer, and I went out to get some pics. One of mine is below, she had a 18x zoom so got a better close up up than my 17-85. An explosion of colour.

I had arrived at Killorglin in time for the Puck Fair. When I was planning my trip, Frank told me it was around this time of year. He was right. That meant lots of people in this picturesque town and people means traffic. I had to do a few hill starts to get through, I'm a bit rusty on those it seems. Fritz was there to play during the fair, from my short look, music seems to be a big part of the festival. I'm sure it's changed a little over it 400 + years history. 

What would King Puck think of his fair having an Internet site. The horse market looked really interesting, people leading horses they were selling or had bought along the roadside while more poured onto the farmland to check it out. I really wanted to get one of the T-shirts but parking was impossible and I knew I had another big day of travel, Dingle called. Plus my bag was right on the limit allowed, sigh.

Back to the making a mistake staying at Rossbeigh. I got a little mislaid getting there, thinking that the place was on the Deara Peninsula, not so according to the nice young man at the service station. That would be the Iveragh Peninsula and that's a distance away, he shared shaking his head. Well actually he did laugh when I first asked and had to ask another customer himself, I was in Kenmare at the time thinking I only had a few minutes to drive so I could lay my head down for a bit. No such luck it seems. He copied the page of the more detailed map for me and marked the route. I trusted his judgement on which road to take, lucky I think that he advised not to take the small one. 

The road from Kenmare to Killgorlin was challenging in places, a narrow and winding hill road complete with tunnels. The drive was slow with tourists taking their time as they took in the scenery. Surprises around every corner, including the gorgeous bay below. In my jet lagged state, I struggled to concentrate and it seemed a really long way. I managed a 10 hour sleep that night so woke refreshed and feeling like I was in time with Ireland. Next stop the Dingle Peninsula. That's nice and close to Rossbeigh, the reason I had booked there in the first place. 

Seems like my other photos won't upload. A whole group of US soldiers have arrived at the airport so suspect the connection here is getting well used. More later.

Sunset, Rossbeigh
Near Kenmare

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Ireland

Is totally exceeding expectations. What an awesome place, with lovely, friendly people who help this kiwi out when she needs it. It's been a huge day, landed in Shannon at 6am, picked up my car a bit after 7am and hit the road. Too tired to write coherently right now, jet lag is hammering me. I didn't get much sleep on the plane and with the 6 or 7 hour difference and the early start in New Orleans, I'm struggling. 

Quick highlights, the two lovely older ladies who showed me where to have breakfast this morning. They were right, it was the best in town! Bantry, everything about it really except the traffic because it was a market day. That made it a wonderful place to visit too. Bantry House, when do I move in. It needs me. The drive around the coast of County Cork, breathtaking scenery. The reactions of everyone when I asked for directions. That's a whole story in itself. Two priorities now, food and sleep and maybe a small red to wash it all down.

Friday, 9 August 2013

New Orleans

Goodbye Cayman, hello New Orleans! I love having a window seat when flying into a new place. Looking down and getting the lay of the land as we descend. New Orleans airport was a pleasant surprise, I could get used to flying domestic here. So little hassle. The new look Miami airport was also great, not too much of a wait at immigration and a small wander round and we were on our next flight.

Later from JFK Terminal 5 I write. Let the adventures begin, I really enjoyed New Orleans. Initially Jane and I were a bit disappointed with the French Quarter, quite sleazy and grubby with lots of homeless folks hanging around on the streets. We got to buy a homeless man breakfast, his story is a whole post on it's own. For now, the sightseeing and music.

Talking to the locals is always the best option to find out where to go. They were polite about Bourbon Street until we shared that we didn't like it that much, weren't impressed by the underlying desperation of those peddling sex and clubs and cheap drinks and ordinary music. It didn't have a good feel to it.
The locals sighed and agreed then pointed us to Frenchman Street.

They were right, the first night we didn't quite walk far enough, the next night we enjoyed fantastic food and music at The Mohito. The best crab cakes I've ever had and the scallops, yum. The poor waiter got us kiwis on his first night on the job, we were kind once we learnt that. The jazz was great, with guests from the audience joining the band at times. We decided to wander off after a few drinks and made it down to the Maison. It was rocking with some amazing music.

Again, folks from the audience joining for sets while the regular band members had a break. There was a man in a loud Hawaiian shirt who we had seen at the first bar waiting in the wings. He was amazing on his battered trumpet, the young man on his EWI (yes that's what it's called) was also fantastic on the drums, the guitarists changed regularly. The thing that we both noted was the passion with which all these musicians played, obviously enjoying jamming with their friends and making music together. Definitely places to revisit.

Wandering home, Bourbon Street had come alive a bit more, still sleazy but at least there were folks having fun. We got a ride on a bike taxi and of course got chatting with the lass peddling us to Frenchman. She was really interesting, enjoying her outside job picking up tourists and taking them places. Much better than waiting tables it seems.

The French Quarter is similar to any city that has a French or Spanish influence in it's past. The streets were not cobbled but the architecture was familiar. On our last day we learnt much more about why this was during a visit to Laura, a Creole plantation. A very interesting history that is much older and richer than I had imagined. More about that and our encounters with gators and air boats in another post, we certainly got a lot done in just a few days.

French Quarter street, complete with American flag

In the pantry of a restaurant we dined at. The photo the waitress took of Jane and I eating gumbo
was awful, an instant delete!

Monday, 5 August 2013

It's time......

You know it's time to go
When your loo paper runs low
When the cupboards become bare
No midnight snack there
When the photos are all down
And the packed things all around

You know it's time to go
When your heart tells you so
So goodbye one and all
It's been fun, I've had a ball

I will be back one day
To enjoy a sail and a play
For now it's more to do
Packing, sorting, going through
A life of treasures, some to take
A new home somewhere else to make



Goodbye Cayman

A few years ago, maybe even decades, Sting put out an album Dream of the Blue Turtles. It was one of my favourites at the time and can be found on the every useful YouTube in it's full version. The Internet here is too slow to load it. It came to mind as I sit by the turtle pond in the Marriott Hotel Cayman waiting for Jane and watching the turtles frolic. Maybe a little bit of an exaggeration, turtles don't exactly move fast. The do compete for the high ground, one pushing the other into the water and trying to look innocent.

It's my last day in Cayman, this time tomorrow I'll be in New Orleans, quite possibly in a bar enjoying some jazz, more likely out sightseeing with my camera. I've packed my bags and after carrying them from my room to the lobby, am remembering that they are actually quite heavy. My two carry ones are small, handbag and lap top bag but action packed with all my precious things. I may just have to put my second lens in my suitcase.

So, it's time to go. I'm feeling a bit sad as I leave my friends, there's been rounds of farewell drinks and dinners including bubbles with Jo and Anne on a floating ring thing out front of the hotel this morning. Jane and I did birthday drinks all day yesterday, cocktails on the beach and by the pool. We met some Texans who reinforced our view of the people of the US of A. What lovely folks. We argued politics for a bit, chatted about travels and family as you do. It was nice to share our view of Muslims after living and working in the UAE and Qatar, a view that's not one the popular media shares with your average American.

We almost died laughing when our much maligned kiwi accents were called classy and exotic, we get such stick about them usually with some people requiring sub titles for mine and making comments about our distinct lack of vowels. Well the Texan's loved it. We chatted for a bit, then the wedding on the beach started. I thought about Nick and Liberty's wedding in Mexico a couple of months ago. This was a little bigger, there were guests. A lovely time for the bride and groom as the sun set behind them in spectacular Cayman style.

There are a few photos to add from my last days, I just need to download them from the emails others have sent. So It's goodbye for now to Cayman, hello to 3 months of travel catching up with my lovely friends on the way.