To Coromandel Peninsula

We had a quick chat with Raewyn and Craig while we packed for our final house-move within New Zealand. It was hot standing in the porch. We left and headed north for our final kiwi week, in the Coromandel Peninsula. This is a venue we haven’t had time to visit on previous occasions, so we hope to make the best of our time there.

But a quick diversion was called for. We stopped at and enjoyed a nice long walk on the Papamoa Beach.

Mt Maunganui

For the last time, we saw Mt Maunganui in the distance and came to the conclusion that every beach should have a mountain at the end.

16-lb cannon to deter foreign invaders

We stopped at The Orchard House Café where we had eggs on toast and a coffee. “Two breakfasts in one day” is the name of the new single by Crowded House, apparently. This venue caters for canines too.

Doggos welcome

The road was quite narrow in places, and very sinuous, but the views were lovely. Unless you were driving, in which case, you couldn’t see much apart from the road immediately in front. We stopped at a lookout, and after a short 10-minute walk, saw the Forest properly for the first time.

View of Coromandel Forest Park

We bought some food before moving into our new home on the M25. No, not M25, it’s SH25. Or, as our Google Maps navigatrix insists on calling it: “New Zealand State Highway 25 State Highway 25”. And glad to report, it’s one lane in each direction, nowhere near as busy as our “favourite” orbital motorway, and the house is a nice long way back.

Most of the road surface is fantastic in New Zealand but every now and then, we come across a section that reminds us of home. Patchwork quilt of tarmac, potholes, “men at work” signs but no men at work. Now and then we find a lay-by (pull-out) but the view in concealed by a group of trees. We think they should chop down those trees, there are just too many getting in the way.

No, not really.

Two beaches in two days? I’ll take that. Whangapoua is our nearest little town and its beach is big: long and wide and some lucky people live in houses overlooking it. We set up camp on the sand, after a bit of a walk and then we both entered the sea. The waves were so powerful though, I didn’t go in too far: the thought of being tumbled like I was that time in Hawaii was too scary. Yes, clear sinuses afterwards would be great, of course, but, still too scary.

Where’s Liesel?

I walked the length of the beach, saw a few people in the water, a couple in a boat, a few people learning to kayak, one little chap trying to dig a hole in the sand but the water kept filling it in. I wondered whether the water would be less forceful where it was sheltered by the little island, Pungapunga. But no, just as strong.

The tide was slowly going out and I found standing in the water as it came in and out quite mesmerising. The small ripples on the surface moved in one direction, the foam flowed in another and the pressure on my ankles suggested the water was moving in a third direction. Very strange: who needs recreational drugs when something like this can make you feel a little bit ooky?

Foam and waves arguing over the direction of gravity

One more quick dip then we decided to move on. If there were any shade on the beach, we would have hung around longer, but we would have been in the full glare of the Sun for the rest of the day. So we packed up, changed into proper clothes and set off.

Where’s Liesel?

Back at our new gaff, we read a book or watched a movie while drinking coffee, sitting out on the patio.

We had a little visitor sniffing round, seeking attention. I couldn’t see a ball so I picked up a stick and threw it. Chico, for that is his name, ran after it, picked it and the took it further away. Eventually, he brought it back, but wouldn’t let go. I tried wrenching it from his mouth, but either the stick or his teeth were cracking and creaking, so I gave up. Chico is a little 2-year old fox terrier.

Liesel cooked up a fab meal for supper, rice and chili (non carne, of course). My contribution was to cut down an ear of corn from the garden with a machette: well, a 3-inch long kitchen knife.

Fresh Corn

It was very sweet corn, sweet and succulent. Chico came to investigate while I was pulling the husks off and he ran away with some of those silky corn strings on his back.

The thinnest and most useless bead curtain in the world

Meanwhile, in other news: Helen and Adam are currently in Fiji but they’ll be home next week to welcome us into the bosom of their home. Australia is going through a heatwave right now, experiencing the hottest temperatures since records begun, in many places. We’re hoping it will cool off a bit before we arrive. Meanwhile, Klaus and Leslie are in Hawaii for a month, away from the sub-zero temps and snow in Anchorage. Lots of sympathy for Jenny and Liam and the children making the best of the cold and snow in Manchester!

The Android Pie upgrade has caused two major problems so far. It drains the battery much faster than before, but that just means more frequent recharges are required. We were driving along somewhere and the phone died. I said it was dead as a dodo, then realised, I should have said “dead as a moa”.

But worse than the battery issue is, my Fitbit will no longer sync with my phone. How will I be able to keep tabs of my steps if I can’t sync my Fitbit? A truly terrifying prospect. Never mind, I thought, Google and/or Samsung and/or Fitbit will address the issue and it will be resolved very soon. But no. Fitbit have been “working on a solution” since the problem was first reported, last August. Not holding my breath, then.

To Wellington

From one extreme to another. One day we’re as far north as we can go on this island and just a few days later, we’re pretty much as far south as we can go. Wellington is the capital city but much smaller than Auckland. The route Google Maps chose to take us to our place of abode was bizarre to say the least. It took us off State Highway 1 far too early. We drove up into the hills, at which point, the app changed its mind and wanted us to go round the roundabout and back down the narrow hill we’d just climbed. But after two days on the road, about twelve hours driving, we are now settled in our new b&b for nearly a week.

We decided to come to Wellington as quickly as possible, spend some quality time here before travelling back to Auckland at a more leisurely pace. Was that the right decision? It was a tiring couple of days, but here are some highlights.

The sight of the Auckland city skyline as you go round the bend on State Highway 1 really is heart-stopping. Even though I was expecting to see it, when it finally materialised, I cheered inwardly. If I weren’t driving at the time, there would have been a hundred photos, probably.

We stopped for brunch at Te Hana. I think this is Maori for Greasy Spoon because the all-day breakfast I had wouldn’t have been out of place at Jenny’s in Chessington or any other Joe’s Caff in England. Very welcome!

Near Kinleith

There’s a small toll section on SH1, $2.30, which I remembered to pay online later in the day. That converted to £1.31, much more reasonable than the M6 toll road. But then, there are no toll booths to staff: payments can be made online or at certain other physical locations.

One big surprise was the number of coffee shops that close on a Monday. At one place, even a local couple followed us up to the door and walked away again with disappointed etched on their faces.

We camped for the first time in NZ. Well, I say ‘camped’. We were in a Top 10 Campsite at Motutere, on the shores of Lake Taupo, yes. But we stayed in a cabin and used the communal toilets and showers.

Lake Taupo playing rough

Yes, this boat is in a bit of a heap outside our cabin, but it wasn’t us that took it out onto the lake.

Wrecked

On one of my nocturnal wanderings, I took this photo of the Moon, merely hours after the lunar eclipse that wasn’t visible from NZ.

Full Moon

One of the real highlights was driving through the Tongariro National Park. The stunning sight of active volcanoes never disappoints. And, admit it, there’s always a small part of you that hopes it ‘goes off’.

Mt Ngauruhoe
Ruapehu

Yes, of course, we would love to explore this park more fully but there’s just too much else on offer!

New Zealanders do like their big, funny sculptures. A big trout welcomed us to the Capital of Trout, Turangi. Was there a big wellington boot by the side of the road, you ask? Well, yes there was, but we didn’t go back for a photo here either.

Bulls. Lots of model bulls seemingly on all the main roads leading to Bulls.

Welcome to Bulls

We had coffee at Coffee on the Moove.

<ph moove

We didn’t visit any other shop with a punny bull-themed name. Nor, sadly, did we come across a Bulls China Shop.

Our next stop was Otaki Beach on the Kapiti Coast, opposite Kapiti Island which we hope to visit later.

Otaki Beach was a bit of a mess, there were literally tonnes of driftwood here. I was going to take a piece home and turn it into a lamp, but, well, I’m just not that skillful.

Driftwood and lots of it on Otaki Beach

Interestingly, the sand was darker than usual, and it felt quite spongey underfoot, especially where it was still wet. The sea was wild, roiling, boiling, stirring up the sand so that even the water looked brown. Some people were in the water but at least there was a lifeguard on the beach, and advice to keep between the two flags which were only about 3 metres apart.

Kapiti Island just visible through the haze

I heard Liesel say “Tourniquet FC” and I thought that was a funny name for a football club. Then I saw it. Lovely rural New Zealand, green fields, cows, barns, shacks. There, in the middle of all that, in the middle of nowhere: a KFC.

There are many more cows in New Zealand than sheep, according to our observations. And they are amongst the most qualified cattle in the world. They’re all outstanding in their field.

We stopped once more, this time in Paraparaumu. Here, at the information centre, we picked up flyers for some of the places we want to visit while in Wellington. We have five full days here. No, it won’t be long enough. Yes, we’ll just have to come back again! We had a coffee too and marvelled at the coincidence in languages between Maori and Latin.

Eat well

It was an Italian restaurant. The translation is Italian. D’oh!

As we approached Wellington, SH1 veered to the right just as it does on its approach to Auckland. But, sorry, Wellington, the city skyline here isn’t quite as impressive. Google Maps took us on an unguided tour and we finally arrived at our b&b. Our host, Craig, made us welcome. He even left a bar a chocolate for me. Yes, me: it was on my side of the bed, so…

It was a ten minute walk down to the nearest shop and more than ten minutes to walk back up, up, up, carrying heavy bags of shopping.

More musical musings from me and a bit of a moan. I won’t be offended if you go and do something more interesting instead of reading this stuff.

We’re following the black highway through the countryside, listening to three different songs called ‘Blackbird’, all nice and gentle and folky. Then ‘Blackbirds’ which is a little more jolly and upbeat. Then, brace yourself: ‘Blackmail Man’ by Ian Dury and the Blockheads kicks in. Wow, that was a shocker: it’s a great, funny song, but it certainly spoiled the somewhat chilled mood on this occasion! That’s the danger of playing songs in alphabetical order, of course, you can’t control the segues. But then, even the shuffle mode itself could bring up such screeching juxtapositons.

On the other hand, we’ve been treated to Billy Bragg, Jack Johnson and others whom I had forgotten were even there, since shuffle chooses to ignore them.

In terms of musical style, we’ve had folk, rock, pop, jazz, even a bit of choral and orchestral. So far, we’ve been sung to in English, Icelandic, Hawaiian, Portuguese, Hebrew and Gaelic, and we’re only part way through the Fs!

There was a challenging half hour or so in the middle of the Ds when it kept telling us what not do do.

Don’t be Careless, Love
Don’t Believe a Word I say
Don’t Forget Me
Don’t go Home
Don’t Jump, don’t Fall
Don’t let me Down
Don’t let the Sun catch you Crying
Don’t let the Sun catch you Crying (yes, 2 different songs)
Don’t let the Sun go down on Me

But during this sequence, I was so delighted to hear the one and only Beatles track on my device, that I played it twice. If Liesel noticed, she didn’t complain.

Do you remember when you bought records and tapes and even CDs from different shops? Then, when you got them home, you filed them by HMV, Virgin Megastore, Harlequin or wherever you bought them? No, nor do I. This is why I don’t get why all the ‘online stores’, Amazon, iTunes, Google, want me to put the downloads (MP3s) I buy from them, in their own little ‘library’ on my PC. I then spend far too long putting them in a location of my own choosing. Sometimes they’re moved, sometimes they’re copied, sometimes they need converting. I want my music to be in one convenient place. And when I copy it to my phone, I want to know it’s all been copied. Once. Not duplicated because of the shenanigans I’ve had to go through previously.

Also, there should be some sort of standard when it comes to the volume of the music. You have to play it quite loud when you’re on the road because the hummmm of the tyres drowns out some of the music’s key frequencies. But some albums are so much quieter than others. When you’ve heard Tom Hingley belting out something, you shouldn’t then have to turn it up to 111 to hear the delicate tones of a more gentle folk singer.

Having Fun

Our final evening in Christchurch was spent in the company of Mary Poppins. The new film, Mary Poppins Returns was released less than a month ago and it felt only right that I should see it with Pauline (and Liesel and Andrew came too).

My sister and I had seen the original Mary Poppins film with our Mum way back in 1964, and it’s unreal and unfair that she passed in 1991, halfway between the two movies. So there was a slightly melancholic feel but, thank goodness, the film itself didn’t disappoint. Jane and Michael Banks are grown up now, Michael has three children of his own buit their mother has passed away.

Mary Poppins returns with a handful of songs, the music often quoting or reminding us of the songs from the first film. There are some very funny moments and we each awarded it 5 stars, a total of 20, making it the best film we’ve seen so far, this year.

When asked, I usually say that my favourite film of all time is Lawrence of Arabia. One of the reasons is that this is the last film I remember seeing in a cinema with my Dad, when I was 7 or 8. (Not because there are no women in it: I only became aware of this fact many years later!) Lawrence of Arabia: he might crop up again later.

Our penultimate meal in Christchurch was a takeaway from the local Indian place, where they very generously gave us an extra dish and an extra starter. Pauline and Andrew have leftovers for a while.

After packing, in the morning, we drove to The Sign of the Kiwi, a small café at the top of Dyers Pass from where there is a fantastic view of the sprawling city below. It’s a good place to hike or cycle to and from. Oh to be fit enough to cycle up that hill one day.

Looking down on Christchurch
Liesel, Andrew and Pauline
The Sign of the Kiwi

We bade a tearful farewell, returned the car, flew to Auckland and picked up a new hire car. It’s not as good as the Chch one and, worse: it’s red. We caught the ferry to Waiheke, an island in Hauraki Gulf to the east of Auckland.

Really looking down on Christchurch
Approaching Waiheke Island

Our new Airbnb is run by Fi and Tom, and they share the house with us. Or vice versa. Of course, they’re poms. From Kent, via London and they’ve been in NZ for 7 years. I managed to speak to Helen on her birthday, in between rounds of drinking and partying (her, not me).

I went for a quick walk before settling in and what perfect timing.The sunset was gorgeous, but I was surprised at how much shorter twilight is here, compared to Christchurch.

Wide Sky for Anna Neale

It was a hot night and neither of us slept particularly well. We were conscious of Fi and Tom being in their room, just over there, and of mosquitoes flying in, and of the heat. And, no, I probably didn’t help matters when I got up in the middle of the night for the usual reason, and ended up going outside for a while to look at the stars and in particular, The Milky Way. The sky being velvet black instead of sodium-lit orange is a bonus in itself but the number of stars in unfamiliar southern hemisphere constellations was mind-boggling. I tried to take some photos, and to be fair, the results aren’t too bad for a phone camera.

Gorgeous night sky

On Saturday, we visted Onetangi Beach but the notion of going for a longer walk in the Sun was soon dispelled. We knew that, later on, we’d potentially be sitting in the full glare of the Sun for several hours.

The popular Onetangi Beach

As we were driving along, I said, “Oh, look, there’s Waiheke Workout if you want to stop.” “Of course I do,” said Liesel. After a beat, she continued, “You did say ‘lookout’, right?”

No, it was ‘workout’, as in, it’s a gym. We didn’t stop.

We had booked a few days on Waiheke at this time because Bic Runga was performing at Goldie Estate, one of several wineries on the island. The venue was much, much smaller than we’d become used to at Hyde Park concerts in London. The support act was performing under the name Lawrence Arabia. I said that name might crop up again, and it very nearly has.

Goldie Estate
Where’s Liesel?

I think he was good but the crowd weren’t going to stop chatting just to listen to the music at a music performance. His introductions to the songs were too long: we don’t know you and we really don’t care, yet.

Lawrence Arabia

Bic Runga was better received but even so, we listened through a hubbub of background noise. So disrespectful to the artistes, never mind the rest of the audience. Sad to see that this antisocial behaviour really is a universal phenomenon.

The stunning Bic Runga

We got our own back, though, by singing along to some of the songs. I hope my voice is louder than Bic’s on your phone’s video, mate!

Selfie of the day: Mick and Bic

One of Bic’s songs has always resonated, even though I’m not and never will be a touring performer. Get some sleep could have been written about Liesel’s and my adventures: sometimes we feel we’re not getting enough sleep either but on the whole, “I believe I might be having fun” and that’s all that matters, really.

Whinges apart, we enjoyed the show immensely and we only feel a little bit guilty about not sampling the wine at a vineyard.

Copious amounts of sunblock had been applied, a few times, and I am pleased that neither of us reported any sunburn at the end of the day, hooray!

Our accommodation was only a 20 minute walk from the venue, so no need to join the throng catching buses and rushing for the last ferry back to the mainland.

Our hosts caught the last ferry back from Auckland where they’d been to see Mumford and Sons in concert. Earlier in the day, Tom had been playing his guitar and singing bits of songs that we mostly recognised.

The plan to get up early and go for a walk in the cool of the early morning came to nothing. I think I was out of bed and breakfasted by midday but I could be wrong.

We spent most of the afternoon on a small, quiet beach in Owhanake Bay. We made friends with a duck who seemed to have been expelled from her family.

Duck of the Day for Marko

I continued reading Nicholas Nickleby, which is still much funnier than I would have expected. I attempted two killer sodukos, one successfully. Liesel tried to plot and plan future excusions, to no avail. But sitting under the shade of a big tree, on a beach, with a slight breeze, was definitely very welcome.

A family of oystercatchers entertained us too. The parents were teaching the chick what to do. Mum would find something attractive in the sand and stomp her feet. This was the cue for the baby to run over and have a tug of some tasty morsel.

Catching oysters

Despite its best efforts to remain anonymous on the street, we found The Little Frog, a nice, small restaurant with great coffee and fab food. If only it were more visible and not overwhelmed by the wine shop next door, I bet it would do terrific trade.

My mint choc chip ice cream was both huge and very minty and choccy. Liesel thoroughly enjoyed her apricot and honeycomb ice cream too. Jealous?

Toilet Talk. The latest in an irregular feature in which we discuss toilet issues. Not toilet tissues, well, not this time, anyway. Having blue water in cisterns has been fairly common here in New Zealand but the vibrant shade of blue that gushes forth in our Waiheke bnb is amazing. Cerulean. If he were around now, Michelangelo would use it for the sky on the Sistene Chapel ceiling. It seems such a waste of hypnotic blue pigment, flushing it down the loo, but that’s typical of the wasteful society we live in, these days, I suppose.

Meanwhile, top marks for this toilet door in a restaurant in Onetangi.

Mermaids and pirates

Christchurch

A rainy day in Christchurch, it seems like it’s rainin’ all over the world. We’ve been so lucky with the weather during the last few months, so we shouldn’t really complain but this rain in Christchurch is just so ///wet/// and penetrative and persistent. We could have stayed in all day and looked miserably through the windows but we had to go out for reasons of health and beauty. I was forced to wear my actual waterproof coat, the weather was that bad! So, if you’re not interested in bodily or medical issues, just scroll down to the first picture.

It’s three months since my last visit to the dental hygienist so it was time to have another session of oral torture. She was very good, realy, a couple of sensitive spots, but mostly OK. She didn’t know my kiwi periodontist back at home.

I also visited the local GP to obtain a prescription for my next three months of medication. The limit of three months at a time seems to be universal.

Liesel was attended to from top to bottom. Eyebrowsn and eye lashes all polished up and then a pedicure which was different to the ones enjoyed in Alaska.

Liesel also wants a massage and/or some physiotherapy. Her ‘slipped disc’ / piriformis muscle issue is still not resolved. We didn’t walk nearly as far in Fiji as we did in Japan so that helped a bit, but those two days in Auckland reminded us of the level of discomfort that can be felt.

On the other hand, I feel pretty good. I’d like a massage but don’t feel I ///need/// one right now, but they usually find something that needs loosening up, in the shoulders or thereabouts.

Occasionally, one of my feet complains. It’s like there’s a length of string between the second toe and the heel that just doesn’t want to stretch for a while, so I have to walk funny, almost limping. Pauline said I always walk funny anyway!

That is the end of the medical news! Spoiler alert: there’s a haircut coming up soon.

Rain on the decking, in case you don’t know what rain on decking looks like

We bought some groceries and then hung around waiting for the rain to stop. And waited. And waited. We had coffee and tea and muffins. And waited.

In the end, we started walking home but just as we left the shopping centre in Barrington, a taxi pulled up in front of us. The driver dragged us in, kicking and screaming, and reluctantly, we took a ride home to Pauline’s house.

When my sister asked me a while ago what food I wanted in New Zealand, I suggested PIES! I have missed pies, with proper pastry, and I’ve missed proper, tasty, crusty bread.

Tonight for supper, we had a pie. It was fabulous. So pastry-y and tasty. There was a filling too, apparently, but the pastry… mmm.

While walking to The Tannery the following day, we were in danger of an attack of homesickness. (No, not really.)

Palatine Tce

Palatine Road is the main shopping street near where we now live in Northenden. And this poor old postman still has use of a bicycle. I think if he tried harder, he could really load it up.

Kiwi postie’s bike

It was a pleasant walk, not sunny, but at least it was dry. There are many areas around here that share their names with parts of London: Sydenham, Beckenham, Waltham, Edgeware, even a St Martins.

We always go for the low-hanging fruit. Well, Liesel does as she’s so short. But I think this is the first time we’ve been scrumping, for plums, in New Zealand. Small but sweet, and if any officers of the law are reading this, it was Liesel’s idea.

Small plum tree. The plums are small, the tree was quite big
Small plum or big fingers

One local sport seems to be fly-tipping. These guys parked across the pavement, forcing us to walk in the road, while they threw hundreds of plastic bottles over the fence. It might have been a legitimate place to dispose of the waste items, but what a bizarre way to go about it. They could have driven into the yard, just along the road a bit.

Let’s park on the pavement while we’re fly-tipping
The owner needs a p

The Tannery is a cute, little Boutique Shopping Centre in Woolston. There are bars and restaurants too. When we arrived, there were two girls performing but they soon disappeared, unfortunately: they were making quite a nice noise.

While we ate lunch, we enjoyed some classical music but as there was so much background noise, Shazam was unable to confirm it was by Mozart.

While Liesel went window shopping, I found a barbershop and had a haircut and a shave. The girl was from Greenwich, has been in NZ for twelve years and hasn’t lost her accent. Yet.

Pauline joined us after work and we had drinks at the chocolate shop.

The Tannery
Trompe l’oeil great tiles

In the evening, while Pauline was doing stuff in the kitchen, Liesel, Andrew and I played a game of Scrabble. Then, Andrew taught us a new card game: 500s. I don’t think I’d heard of it before but it was fun learning a new game. Especially one in which, under certain circumstances, the jack of clubs pretends to be a spade.

Friday was Pauline’s last half-day at work this year and to avoid meeting her just after lunchtime, Andrew drove us into town. He joined us for a short while in the Botanic Gardens and we continued after he left for home.

Very colourful Botanic Gardens
Southern hemisphere Sun dial
Invisible reindeer
Chaffinch
Diminish and Ascend by David McCracken, 2014
Waxeye

We continued our slow walk into the city centre.

Rubbish selfie of the day, in front of big bubbles

It’s all new to us of course, and I don’t suppose the earthquakes were at the front of other people’s minds. There is a lot of building work going on, but apart from that, Christchurch is a lively, bright, functioning city. It’s not as busy as usual because at this time of the year, many people go away, especially to Nelson at the north of the island. There are plenty of visitors such as ourselves, of course.

This building needs a lot of support and love
Cathedral and cairn

There is a great window display in the big department shop, Ballantyne’s, and plenty of other Christmas decorations, but it doesn’t ///feel/// like Christmas to me. I know it’s the middle of December, but this whole adventure of ours sometimes feels so unreal, it’s hard to add more excitement to it.

Christchurch Christmas tree and bauble
The Merry Mice of Dunstable House, window display

We took the bus home and arrived an hour before the rain. Pauline was in the garden pulling up some big weeds. I was not at all gallant, I didn’t offer to help. I would only pull up the wrong things.

Zoo Time

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning and the first thing that I saw was a video of Martha riding her bike. Yes, we are a little bit jealous that we’re not riding bikes right now. It would make a welcome change from all the walking.

Martha’s a Tour de Force

Of course, it wasn’t really Chelsea, but that song just popped into the old noggin.

We planned to visit the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, which recreates buildings and streets to give an idea of living in Osaka in the past: this would be interesting and inside.

We also planned to visit Nagai Botanical Garden: this would be fascinating and outdoors.

In the end, after a slow start to the day, we went to the zoo. A no-frills zoo: no frills for us customers, and not many frills for the in-mates.

Yes, Tennoji Zoo was very cheap to enter, compared with London, Chester and Anchorage Zoos, for instance, and there was no big gift shop at the exit. So, with such a small income, it’s no wonder that many (most?) of the animals didn’t seem very happy.

The first animal we saw was a koala way up at the top of a eucalyptus tree. We don’t know if he had friends or family with him, but if not, he had a lot of space.

Koala

The pelican seemed happy enough, a nice big pond to swim in, but as with many of the exhibits, the wire mesh made it difficult to get decent pictures.

Pelican

If we were kids, we might have taken up the offer to eat polar bear curry.

Mmm tasty polar bear

We were too scared to visit the aviary as the ducks are the size of bears. Plus, we didn’t want to be pooped on. Certainly not by a bear-sized duck.

Ducks the size of bears

Against expectations, the polar bear seemed to be the most contented of the large animals. He looked a bit grubby but was having a great time playing with his toys.

A rare green-nosed polar bear

I suspect the green cone and the buckets are the food delivery system but even so, he was so much happier than the poor old thing confined to concrete at Chessington World of Adventures just a few years ago.

We were particularly taken by the huge rat pen. I mean, the pen was huge, the rat was just a normal rat.

Rat

Oh, it turns out this was a bear enclosure. The rat was eating the spectacled bear’s food.

Spectacled bear

A lot of the animals seem to require visual aids: here is a nocturnal spectacled owl.

Spectacled owl

Chinese wolves, one of the tigers and the giraffe all seemed to be very short of space which was a little depressing. The lions seemed resigned to their situation. Only one of the females was walking around in circles, the other two just soaking up the Sun.

The days of being allowed, nay, encouraged to ride an elephant at the zoo are long gone. Or so we thought.

Blue elephant and no, you haven’t been drinking

The sad news is that the real elephant here has packed his trunk and said goodbye to the zoo. He’s in elephant heaven now hopefully with plenty of heavenly plains in which to roam.

Rhinoceroses mark their territory by scent, according to the sign.

Rhinoceros toilet habits

The rhino we saw was slowly eating, and wasn’t afraid to dive in to the pile of grass horns first: he looked as if he’d just been for a swim with the hippos.

A rare green-nosed rhinoceros
Grey-crowned crane
Demoiselle crane

My phone has a clever app on it which can translate text into English. The results are variable: sometimes it makes sense but sometimes absolute garbage comes out.

And sometimes, you understand the message while the words displayed are just funny.

Useful instructions for using the dog park
I think the translation software is drunk

The zoo was very clean, no litter littering the place and just before we left, we saw a chicken being fed. We don’t know whose dinner the chicken was intended to be but what a strange sight after all the exotic fauna from faraway.

In the evening, I went through all the paperwork: maps, receipts, tickets, brochures, confirmations of bookings, boarding passes… and binned it all! Yes, the days of keeping paperwork only to throw it away years later are over! This is a major leap forward. (But, hedging my bets, I did take photos of it all, just in case, y’know…)

A day in Osaka

It was going to be a lovely day for our trip to Osaka. On the walk to the railway station, I was too slow to take a picture of the lady riding a bike with an umbrella (parasol) failing to keep the Sun off her face. And I was too slow to capture the bike with nice lace gloves where normal cyclists have handlebars.

We saw the Umeda Sky Building almost as soon as we left Osaka station. It was originally designed to be four towers, connected at the top, but in the end, only two were built. They are still connected at the top, so from certain angles, the whole resembles a glass Arc de Triomphe.

Umeda Sky Building

Merry Christmas!

One of the first things we saw was a huge Christmas tree being erected. Halloween was yesterday and it seems to be almost Christmas here. One of the restaurants we visited was playing ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’. A muzacky version, yes, but, come on, it’s far too early for that sort of nonsense!

Merry Christmas indeed!

The view from the top of the tower was terrific, such a clear day, and a reminder that this one day in Osaka would not be enough for us. It’s a big place.

Bridges on the Yodo river
Kuchu Teien Observatory

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed up to the roof garden. The recent Typhoon 21 caused some damage and this is now being repaired.

We walked over to Osaka Castle, which was visible from quite a long way off, being on top of a hill.

Osaka Castle and a fountain

The walk took us through the park, in fact, past a number of people selling plants and flowers from their stalls. In the middle of the park, we stopped for a snack and watched the fountain.

A very pretty tree
Birds on a gate

We’ll never know what’s inside this time capsule as it won’t be opened until the year 6970.

Time capsule buried in 1970

The castle is built from half a million very large stones brought here from quite a long way, from all over Japan. The logistical arrangements must have been quite difficult. We saw no evidence, but suspect slave labour may have been involved.

Some of the ‘bricks’ are huge

The exhibit inside is spread over several storeys and I was reminded how inadequate my History lessons at school were. All this exciting, interesting stuff going on in Japan and all we learned about was the English monarchy, with the odd nod to people who may have affected the monarchy, such as Oliver Cromwell. Hardly anything about how ordinary people lived in England in the past, and certainly nothing about what was happening in Japan, China, south America, Australia, Africa etc at the time.

Model depicting the Summer uprising
A gold fish

Walking back through the park, we stopped for a quick coffee, and watched the people. Further along the path, I saw a woman wiping a dog’s bottom. I was torn: part of me was ‘that’s disgusting’ and part of me was ‘good for you’. Then I realised, I had the dog back to front. She was in fact feeding it. But it really was a pushmi-pullyu of a pocket-sized dog.

A very pretty tree

We agreed that we’d have to come back and visit the Osaka Museum of History on another day. Liesel’s putting up with a lot of discomfort, pain even, and all I’m worried about myself is a slight crick in the neck and my feet ache at the end of the day.

On the walk back home from our station, Settsu-Tando, we walk over another, parallel, railway line. When a train’s coming, there’s an audible alarm for a few seconds before the barrier comes down. As soon as the back of the train has gone by, the barriers lift and we’re on our way. Compare and contrast with the level crossing at Hampton Court where the barriers come down far too early and stay down far too long after the train’s gone by. There you go: whinge of the day!

Anchorage to Seattle

Liesel and I both had a long lie-in. Neither of us wanted to be the first to get up. Our goal was to be in Anchorage at midday. But a few more minutes reading in bed wouldn’t hurt. We managed to time our visit perfectly.

We met up with Monica for a lunchtime walk. Or, we met Monica for a lunchtime walk. It was another pleasant day and we were limited only by the fact that Monica had to get back to work, at the museum. We’re still planning to visit the museum of course, but we’re waiting for a cold or wet or otherwise unpleasant day outside. But today, we had a nice wander around the park.

The Inlet from the City
On the way back to the car, Liesel and I walked through the Federal Court. A little intimidating, to me. A little bit scary, even. Yes, we were security-checked but the officers were very friendly. This art work inside was intiguing: trompe-l’œil, it really is flat.
Tlingit – Robert Hudson 1980
In the evening, we went round to Monica’s house for a home-made pizza. Liesel pointed out the peacock outside the front door. Neha was doing some homework, Gregg arrived home from work and a work-out. The pizza was great and the broccoli salad that Liesel made was terrific too!

In the evening, I received a message from Jyoti. She’d captured a picture of a dragonfly that landed on the book she was reading. I’m still hoping to see such a thing myself, but meanwhile, I’ll enjoy other people’s photos of dragonflies.

Jyoti’s dragonfly
On Friday, while Liesel was back at the physio for another dry needling session, I packed for our trip. I left a shoe-box full of stuff behind, to be sorted more thoroughly later, but we both took our backpacks with us, with approximately a week’s worth of clothing.

So far, neither of us have bought enough new stuff to warrant taking an extra bag with us on our travels. Liesel has started a collection of things to take back to Manchester, but whether this is posted, couriered, or we come back to Alaska to take it back in person, we’ll have to see. The items include new clothes, old clothes that have been replaced by new ones coming with us and some of Liesel’s old stuff from her parents’ house. Things such as the big brown donut we’re still thinking about!

Klaus took us all to the airport, me, Liesel and her sore derrière. She didn’t fancy sitting for too long so of course, we boarded the plane on time, sat, waited, and finally took off more than half an hour late.

The third seat in our little row was occupied by a sportsman. I didn’t recognise him, of course. He texted his wife, though. I know that becaue the name that came up on his phone was ‘Wife’. He asked the attendant for a scotch and water and she asked to see his id. She obviously recognised his name and asked if he’d played this weekend. He had. He didn’t look big enough to be an American football player, nor tall enough to be a basketball player so I wonder if his game is baseball? I didn’t ask. I guess I’ll never know.

Seattle was a little cooler than Anchorage and a little damper. We had checked no bags, so nothing to pick up and no customs to go through. To me, it felt weird being allowed to walk out of an airport withough having somebody give us permission.

It was a bus ride to the car hire place. While Liesel sorted that out, I tried to get my phone to work. None of the providers wanted to give me service. In fact, two of them said that my phone wasn’t suitable for their service. So again I recalled the definition of ‘technology’: stuff that doesn’t work properly yet.

Because neither of our phones were working, we couldn’t use Google Maps. So, we needed a GPS in the car. We could hire a stand-alone GPS at an extortionate rate, or, we could hire a car with a built-in GPS. One that is much larger than we’d planned for and more expensive, of course.

We’d started out with a notional daily budget when we left home, and I think we’re a few weeks ahead already. Oh well!

It’s a comfortable car though, and easy to drive. While Liesel drove, I tried to get the GPS to work, the radio and connect my phone by bluetooth. Two out of three ain’t bad. We knew where we were going, and we listened to jazz on NPR. But the music on my phone stayed there.

It was very noticeable how much earlier and quicker the Sun set here, fourteen degrees south of Anchorage.

Oh, here’s a good idea from Anchorage: if the bin’s full, tell someone. Not like Kingston: if the bin’s full, just leave your rubbish on the ground nearby.