A brief stay in charming Slovenia: Ljubljana, Lake Bovinj, Lake Bled (Sylvia)

Saturday 13 July 2019

I had spent last week in Russia, including a visit to the Royal Canin branch in Nizhni Novgorod, on the banks of the Volga River. These photos show the kremlin (walled city) over-looking the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers. Unfortunately it was very cold and wet in the evening after our branch visit so we cut the planned city tour short.
After spending the week in Russia I flew on Friday evening (via Munich) to the charming capital city of Slovenia, Ljubljana.
This morning I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in my hotel, Hotel Cubo, before heading out to explore the city. Ljubljana has been given the title the Green Capital of Europe, having put a lot of effort into building a sustainable city, including making the centre vehicle free. This makes it particularly easy to get around. The city is fairly compact with a population of about 290,000 (total population of Slovenia is about 2.8 million) and my hotel was centrally located so I explored entirely on foot. I had expected it to be overrun with tourists like so many European cities but while there were plenty of tourists about I was pleasantly surprised by how spacious it seemed.
I started with a quick stroll to Preseren Square, which is pretty much the centre of the city. It is dominated by the imposing Baroque Franciscan Church, known as the pink church, although it was apparently originally red and now faded. The city straddles the Ljubljana river and there are many bridges. Just beside the Preseren Square is the first of these, the triple bridge, so called because it is actually three bridges; the original central bridge became too small and so pedestrian bridges were added on each side in 1930.
Across the bridge is the area known as the Old Town and another smaller square with an impressive fountain. This is also where the Central Market, an open area filled with stalls selling various fruits, vegetables and general merchandise, sits.
Next I wandered up the hill to the Ljubljana Castle, which dominates the skyline. There is an impressive looking funicular option but I was definitely in need of some exercise and enjoyed the walk up. The medieval castle dates back to the 15th century and has been incredibly well restored. It is the only castle I can remember being in that actually has glass in the windows. I enjoyed the informative audio guide and wandering around the immaculate site. The views from the observation tower were particularly impressive. Apparently you can see 80% of Slovenia on a fine, clear day and we certainly had great views today.
There were plenty of historical exhibitions on the grounds including one highlighting some of the incredible costume designs of Hranitelj. He has designed numerous costumes for the theatre and there was also a room filled with a variety of pieces of clothing displayed against similarly coloured backgrounds. It was extremely impressive.
After leaving the castle I wandered back down the hill and crossed the river again at the famous and well-photographed Dragon bridge, aptly named for the dragon statues guarding each end. It seems there are many legends and myths about dragons in Slovenia, perhaps related to the jagged mountain chains that could – with a lot of imagination – look like the spikes on a dragon’s back. The area around the river is filled with cafes and shops and makes for some great people watching.
Next I wandered to Tivoli Park, a huge expanse of green within the centre of the city. It was a fantastic place to get away from the crowds. There are statues dotted about and people resting and picnicking in the grounds. I followed a 3km path, which was all I could make out from the Slovenian writing on the map, and barely saw another person. All I could hear was the bird song and it was hard to believe I was in a capital city.
I headed back to the river where I enjoyed a very decadent ice cream sundae, while being entertained by a bunch of tourists doing antics on stand up paddle boards in the river. I then headed to Metelkova, an alternative cultural centre show-casing all sorts of unusual art installations. It was pretty quiet but well worth wandering through. I think it probably buzzes at night. I had been sad to see a lot of graffiti all around the city so it was great to see a place for street artists to call their own.


Sunday 14 July 2019

Having seen most of the sights described in 2-3 day guides for Ljubljana (albeit quickly and without stops for shopping) I decided today to see as much of some of the other key parts of Slovenia as possible. I had arranged a driver for the day and was picked up at 8am in a very comfortable Mercedes with a driver who spoke perfect English. We headed off for our first location, Lake Bohinj, about an hour away. We were very quickly out of the city, driving along a wide four-lane, very smooth highway, passing rural areas, dotted about with lovely chalet style homes, all bedecked in pink and red flowered window boxes, and with mountains towering in the background. It is certainly picturesque country.
I had done a bit of reading about the area last night so first stop was Savica Waterfall, well worth the twenty minute walk up a very well maintained track, through stunning beech forest. I was reminded of parts of the South Island but the beech here have larger leaves. Having arrived early I had the path to myself so was really able to enjoy the peace and quiet. At one point there was even a view back over Lake Bohinj in the distance. The falls themselves are fairly small but nonetheless impressive.
After a quick photoshop I headed back and we drove a few minutes back to the base of the gondola. A quick four minute trip in a very packed gondola (I now know how sardines feel!) had me at the top with stunning views over Lake Bohinj. The viewing platforms were metal grids metres high so there were some nervous people around but the views were well worth it. A few minutes up the hill I found a chairlift which took me further up into the mountains, which are a ski resort in the winter, with what look like some long gentle runs. There is loads of hiking in this area during the summer but I only had time for a quick clamber up a hill to the whistle bell and cross. Heading back down in the gondola I was a relieved that it was much less crowded and I got a great spot at the front window as we zipped down the mountainside to Lake Bohinj itself.
We headed back to Lake Bled,  truly a little fairy tale lake complete with a castle on the mountain overlooking it and a beautiful church on an island in the centre. I had read that the best viewpoint was ojstrich so headed up the steep path and was not disappointed by the views. There was another lookout even further up but I was short on time so had to make do.
Next stop was Vintgar Gorge, an absolutely stunning spot, despite the crowds. It reminded me somewhat of the Plitvice Lakes area in Croatia with its turquoise clear water and wooden paths. There is really only one main way in and out and the paths are fairly narrow so it can get a bit crowded at times. Somehow when I headed back again it was much quieter and I had long periods where I had the track nearly to myself.
I had intended a quick visit to the castle where I hoped to try the famous Bled Cream Cake but unfortunately the castle was closed so I headed into the town and found a lovely terrace overlooking the lake where I enjoyed a lunch of goulash, finished off with said cake – a huge slice of deliciousness, somewhat like a very light custard square.
Unfortunately my time in Slovenia was running out and we headed to the airport for my flight to Munich and then to Marseille. I have a meeting in Aix en Provence next week. I hope one day to come back when I have time to do a bit more hiking and explore a bit more in depth but at least I feel like I got to see a fair bit in my two short days here.

Lisbon for the Weekend: 1-2 June 2019

The previous few days we had spent in Montpellier where Sylvia was attending meetings. I got on the net and watched a few tutorials about our camera and then set off to get some practice wandering the streets of old Montpellier and also coming across a sports festival being held on the Lez River, which runs through the city.

I also drove out to my favourer little town in this part of the world called Sommières. There I had lunch in the local square and a good chat to a retired French couple, formerly from Paris, now living locally, who assisted me getting fed and wined as there was no way my one French word, or even my point and pay, was going to work too well in this lovely little town. After lunch I wandered up to the castle (Chateau de Sommières on the hill) then wandered the streets taking a few pictures.


Friday 31 May 2019

We drove to Marseille mid-afternoon catching a Portuguese Airlines flight to Lisbon arriving in the evening. We were picked up by a driver who was keen to tell a little about the history of Lisbon. As we passed a large statue he explained it was in honour of the mayor who had rebuilt the city after a massive earthquake in 1755. At that stage most of the houses were made of wood and a large fire ensued causing the people to race down to the Tagus River, where many were killed by the huge tsunami that engulfed the river. Lisbon had also suffered major earthquakes in 1321 and 1531. It was after the event in 1755 that all buildings were rebuilt in stone.

Arriving at the Palacio Belmonte Hotel the very friendly chap on the reception took us on a tour of the building. Formerly a palace, it has a maze of formal rooms including a library, ballroom, lounges, a terrace with great views over the lowers slopes of the city and the vast estuary of the Tagus River, and a small garden area and swimming pool. Tiles are a big deal in this part of the world and are placed on walls ceilings and even on the outside of some buildings.

After settling into our room we adjourned to the court yard for an evening drink. Interestingly the courtyard is also a public walkway where there is a constant stream of people heading to and from the city below; they do close it off at midnight.


Saturday 1 June 2019

We enjoyed breakfast on the terrace overlooking the city while enjoying the sunshine and views.

Just up the street, past a rather interesting urinal, is the Castle of Sao Jorge. This is by far the best place to go to get a great view over the city which is no doubt why, in the 11th century, the castle was first built although the area had been inhabited since 700BC. Conquered by the christians in the 12th century it became a royal palace from the 13 to 17th century and then a military barracks or garrison until becoming a national monument in the 20th century. With nice surrounding grounds, a disused moat and lots of high walls ,which one can walk around and view the city through arrow slits and turrets, it’s a great experience to wander around.

As we left the castle we realised that our decision to go early had paid off as we didn’t have to queue. The queue to buy a ticket was now over a 100 meters long,

We strolled down the hill through the narrow, steep streets that somehow the small electric trams seem to be able to make their way up and down. Lots of the streets have bollards at the entrance allowing only locals to enter with a code that lowers the bollard. There is a spring festival going on just now; cheap decorations have been hung up above the streets, somewhat spoiling the look. There is also lots of graffiti and rubbish laying around taking the edge off what is probably one of the world’s nicest cities.

As we neared the centre of the city the place was a lot tidier. Like most old cities in the world now they rely on tourism to support the local economy and with two large cruise ships in port the streets in town are packed with people like us here to enjoy the experience. Not surprisingly there are lots of statues and memorials around the city. Portugal was once an empire that ruled a large part of the world and claimed responsibility for being the founder of the Silk Road. We enjoyed lunch in the main boulevard, which is pedestrian only with me ensuring that the camera strap was attached at all times as the place has a reputation for pick pockets and thieves, just like many European cities. There are lots of street acts here with people dressed in various costumes. There is a tall, rather ugly tower in the middle of town that is a viewing platform. Lots of trendy shops with all the major brand names line the streets in this part of town. Sardines are a big deal here with one shop having a huge variety in colourful cans on display; funny I always though sardines were something my mother put in our sandwiches when she ran out of ideas.

We wandered up the hill to a square and past a military museum and an old church with views back over the city.

Heading down the hill towards the river we walked along a rather nice pink street with a nice arch under the road heading up the hill. From there we caught a cab to the Belem tower which is situated on the rivers edge. Built between 1514 and 1521 to defend the city it is in surprisingly good repair having had bits added over the centuries and with a dungeon below the water level, which of course held political prisoners at one stage. There is a great outlook over the river from the top floor, which is accessed via a narrow spiral staircase that has lights to indicate when one can go up or down. I was a bit surprised at one stage to see not one, but three busses heading down the river. It’s going to be a long ride across the Atlantic to New York.

We strolled from there across and down the road to the Mosterio dos Jeronimos, a rather grand monastery that has been around since the early 1400s, with a large gothic type church attached to many large buildings. Although we only saw a small part it was well worth a visit.

I waited in a park while Sylvia went off to the famous Pasties de Belem shop, which had a hundred plus people queued up waiting for a table. The takeaway queue was somewhat shorter so soon we were sitting on a park bench eating a couple of small, relatively cheap, nothing to rave about, but famous Portuguese pasties.

The day almost over we taxied back to our hotel and headed to the courtyard for some refreshments with the intention of maybe heading down into town for dinner. As it turned out there is a cafe and a restaurant in the courtyard that both share the space. After a couple of drinks the cafe closed and the restaurant opened; we were moved to the middle of the courtyard by the waiter, Quentin, and sat enjoying not only watching the people go by but also chatting to a few. Last night we had received outstanding service here and tonight was no different. We dined and the food was better than fantastic. As the night wore on we chatted to Quentin and discovered that he and his mate the chef, both from Paris, had only recently opened the restaurant of which the premises are part of the hotel. We spent a great evening chatting and enjoying the friendly environment, finishing the night with a celebratory Taylor’s Tawny 325 Anniversary port and a cigar. Grenache, the restaurant comes highly recommended by us.


Sunday 2 June 2019

We had decided to head to Sintra this morning. Sintra is a Unesco World Heritage site about 40 kilometres away from Lisbon. It has a unique beauty, set in a forested mountain dotted with amazing castles. We had a flight to Barcelona this afternoon so packed up, left out bags at the hotel and caught an Uber to the first attraction we planned to visit, the Moorish Castle. All was going well with our very friendly Uber driver until we reached Sintra and he started muttering. Eventually we reached a point where a policeman was standing and found out that the road up the hill was closed – open to buses only.

We joined the line for the bus with multitudes of other tourists and made our way up the steep winding road, eventually arriving at the castle of the Moors. Set 412m above sea level the ramparts of this 10th century castle stretch across the mountains and past giant, mss covered boulders that reminded me of something out of Lord of the Rings. I fully expected some goblin or hobbit to appear around a corner. Despite it’s incredible beauty and remarkably unspoiled feel it seems to attract relatively few visitors and it was great to walk along the ramparts with sweeping views over the surrounding landscape including back to Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean.

At one point our next attraction, the multi-coloured fairytale Pena Palace comes into view, perched atop the next ridge. After finishing our exploration of the Moorish Castle we headed over, catching the tourist bus again to reach the top. This utterly bizarre and eclectic palace was built in the 1840s. We, along with hundreds of other guests enjoyed exploring the multiple levels of the multi-coloured and well-embellished palace. The interior was equally lavish with decoration ranging from the magnificent to the bizarre to the downright ugly. In my opinion there is no accounting for taste – although Roger appreciated the stag room, bedecked with the skulls of multiple stags and other animals.

We headed back down by bus to the pretty town of Sintra. There is a new sight around every bend and tourists to go with it.

We stopped for a gelato and then arranged for an uber to pick us up to take us back to the hotel to collect our bags and meet our driver to take us to the airport. Initially the waiting time of 19 minutes made me glad I’d allowed plenty of time but thirty minutes later the car was not moving on the map. Several phone calls to the driver and a wee bit of stress later we were eventually picked up but by now no time. A quick call to the very helpful people at Palacio Belmonte and our bags were on their way in our chauffeur driven car to meet us at the airport. Raphael, the chauffeur rang me twice to confirm arrangements and could not have been more helpful.

A quick and painless flight has is in Barcelona where I have a meeting for the next three days before we head back to Singapore.


Monday to Thursday 3-6 June 2019

Having been in Barcelona a couple of times before I have just added a few photos from around the place taken over the past few days.

The forever nearly finished Sagrada Familia

The markets next to the Bullet where the best view is the reflection in the polished ceilings.

Park central Del Poblenou

Beaches go on for over 4ms here. Yep its beach after beach after beach where thousands of people enjoy the sun, some completely naked.

Cascada de Parc de la Ciutadella

Castell dels Tres Dragons

More from Park de la Ciutadella

University Library

Gothic Quarter

 

 

Greek Islands on Cudu – May 2019

Friday 17 May 2019: Roger

Our meeting place in Athens is St George Lycabettus Hotel on the edge of Mount Lycabettus. I had flown From NZ via Singapore and Istanbul arriving at the hotel around 10am

Sylvia’s sister, Debbie, and her husband, Dave, had flown in from NZ via Hong Kong and Rome, arriving yesterday.

Joel, Debbie’s son also arrived yesterday having visited Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest and Belgrave over the past two weeks.

Sam and Hannah, Debbie’s son and his fiancee, arrived in the afternoon having been on the road for the past four-plus months, travelling through Hong Kong, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Rome, Poland, the Check Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro.

Sylvia arrived around 5pm, having flown Singapore to New York last Sunday, then to St Louis, back to New York all for meetings, and finally direct New York to Athens.

Hayley and Chris, who currently live in London, where Chris is the NZ Defence Attache, arrived via Warsaw and Monte Cassino, where they had attended the 75th anniversary of the WWII battle there.

On arrival I contacted Joel and after checking in headed off to meet them at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. They had headed off early and visited the Acropolis, well and truly visible from our hotel that hosts the best views in Athens.

We strolled the streets, which were pretty crowded in places, passing the odd arch and ending up in the Place, a nice little restaurant area, where we dined on the local food in a rather expensive part of town in the shadow of the Acropolis.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel to meet Sam and Hannah, strolling past the parliament building where the two soldiers are dressed in a quite unusual costume, including pom poms on the end of their boots and equiped with WWII M1 Garand rifles.

It was decided to take a stroll up Mount Lycabettus. We asked the Lilya, the customer service manager in the hotel, what the weather was going to do. “I am not god” she laughed, “but expect rain in 30 minutes”. Off we we went and half way up the hill it pissed down. Soaked we returned to the hotel saw the lady in the foyer and she cracked up laughing.

We dined in the restaurant on the 6th floor taking in the stunning views over Athens as the sun set. Interestingly the city itself is not particularly pretty as you drive and walk the streets. Apart from the odd bit of really old stuff the buildings are really drab.


Saturday 18 May 2019

We all met for breakfast at 9am to enjoy the view and introduce Chris and Hayley to everyone.

At 1100am a van turned up to take us to the boat, a 30 min drive. Arriving at a part finished marina we were impressed by the number of large and very flash boats. Luggage loaded and a quick brief from the Captain and we were underway.

A chat to the captain  revealed  a few details on Cudu, the boat Sylvia had chartered for out trip. She is 28.2m or 92ft, powered by two 1800 horse power Catterpila Motors, carries 11,000L of fuel giving her a range of 500 Nautical miles. with a top speed of 24 Knots. She carries a tender, which is under a cover that lifts up near the bow, and a jet ski. With four cabins on the lower deck, all with ensuites, and a lounge and bridge on the main deck, the upper deck has a dining table and lots of seats to relax.

Heading southeast at 18 knots, everyone chatting and catching up on the different journeys we had taken to get here and consuming the odd beer, it seemed in no time we had covered the 80kms and arrived at Kythnos Island and moored in a little bay. Kythnos was first inhabited in1300BC and at one point had a large temple, which was plundered and rebuilt many times over many years, just like every place in this part of the world. It now makes its income from tourism.

Here we swam and went on a stroll up the hill above the bay revealing great views of arid landscape, dotted with pretty white buildings and stone walls. Dave and Joel stayed behind and tried to master the stand up jet ski. The ski circled them each time they fell off; that ski performed a huge number of circles that afternoon.

Chris and I went a little further into the island discovering a shepherd’s hut complete with a stone fenced yard to keep the sheep at night. A few sheep and goats wandered the hills.

A chap and his wife from Austria came swimming past at one point and I invited them on board for a beer. They informed us of a hot pool on the beach to add to the swimming experience.

We finished the day with a delicious dinner, served on the upper deck. The sunset and then a moon providing a pleasant backdrop to the banter and general camaraderie of the group.


Sunday 19 May 2019 – Sylvia

Today is Joel’s 25th birthday. We have somehow made a habit of celebrating his big birthday’s with him. He had joined Roger and I in Norway for his 21st, 4 years ago.

We had leisurely morning, enjoying a huge breakfast on the top deck and then motoring about 90-minutes to Serifos. The wind had come up a bit and most of us didn’t feel like swimming so we decided to walk over the island to the port and main village – leaving Sam and Joel behind to carry on their jet ski adventures. They are becoming quite proficient.

We climbed up over the hills and enjoyed a pleasant stroll around the island with magnificent views out over the arid countryside and ocean. I particularly appreciated the scatterings of poppies, adding a bright dash of colour to the environment. We arrived at the Port town just as Cudu pulled in. After a brief stop for an ice-cream we headed up to the top of the village passing some lovely old churches and lots of white-washed buildings. As Roger said – owning a white paint shop around these parts would be good business. Wending our way around the narrow streets and up the steps between the buildings it seems it would be easy to get lost but I guess you are either going up or coming down so not too difficult really.

Once back on board we headed to the nearby island of Sifnos and moored at the dock. After a quick stroll through the village we returned back on board for another delicious meal (tomato and mozzarella, mushrooms with bacon and parmesan, lamb and chocolate brownies).

I retired to bed almost immediately after dinner – the jet lag was taking its toll. most of the others partied on on the upper deck to celebrate Joel’s birthday in style.


Monday 20 May 2019: Roger

We headed off at 8am to make room for the arrival of a ferry. I was the only one up – we had celebrated Joel’s 25th birthday last night. I must say he handled it a lot better than when I took him out in Bergen, Norway, for his 21st where he failed to keep down a small amount of red wine!!

We left behind another bay of white and blue houses, although they had broken tradition here and there was the odd place with brown or green trimmings. The white paint shop owner in this part of the world must be pretty well off.

Heading south and around the bottom of Sifnos we then headed east, passing Despotiko island and heading into a canal between it and Antiparos. The water was calm and only a few meters deep. The front of the boat lifted up and the crane lowered both the tender and the jet ski into the water. Water skis came out and the fun began with various people demonstrating a range of abilities or in my case lack thereof. By now Joel, Sam and Dave had mastered the stand up Jet ski and soon Chris was up and away as well. I have a bit of work to do on that one too. A fun morning was over all too soon. Dave, Chris, Haley and I had all done a individual watercraft course to qualify to ride a jet ski over here. We were expecting a sit-on type of easy-to-ride jet ski but it turned out the boat only has a stand up pole ski.

At around 1pm we were ferried over to the small settlement of Agios Georgios on Antiparos Island, the plan being to explore the Cave of Antiparos, a walk of about 6 kms, then carry on and meet the boat at the port further up the coast. A big deal in this part of the world are windmill towers, originating in the 1600’s and now a trendy building on the islands. With large spines, originally fitted with sails to drive the mills inside that ground the wheat up until the mid-20th century, they are a neat looking building – all round with a cone shape roof.

Buildings in this part of the world are pretty solid with thick concrete columns and beams which are then filled in with mainly brick, plastered and, you got it, painted white with blue trimmings.

Unfortunately my knees were a bit uncomfortable so I decided to skip the cave and 400 steps inside and just stroll the 12km to meet the boat at Port Antiparos. The others turned up a couple of hours later having visited the caves, which Sylvia will tell you about.

Sylvia: We meandered up the hill, realising halfway up that we needed to boost it as the cave would shut at 3pm and last entry would be 2:30pm. I raced on ahead and bought tickets, promising the woman behind the counter that we would be in and out quick smart. There was a lovely little church just outside the huge cavernous entrance. We proceeded to climb down passing loads of stalactites and stalagmites. It was very impressive. I have been in several different caves and this would be up there with the best of them. The engineering feat of the steps was quite incredible. We made it to the bottom, had a bit of an explore around and then headed back up – exiting with about 5 minutes to spare.

We then meandered our way towards the town of Antiparos, about 7km away, passing many farms and lots of arid countryside dotted about with wildflowers and the occasional church.

Roger: The evening was a relaxing one with Joel and Chris making a trip to the local laundromat to be told to leave the washing here, we will do it, pick it up tomorrow at 8am.

Dinner tonight was seafood with the main course being large shrimps. The chef really knows how to put great food on the table from the boat’s small galley. We have three dining areas on the boat, one on the top deck, one in the main cabin and one aft, which we chose tonight. Nicole, our waitress, is very obliging always providing us with outstanding service.

We were surprised by the continuous coming and going of ferries, dropping off and picking up both passengers and cars, all of which entered by the ramp lowered to the wharf. The ferry then backs out and spins around in a tight circle before steaming off to the next stop. Many of them just make the short journey between this and the close by Paros Island.


Tuesday 22 May 2019: Sylvia

Today was a pretty lazy day. The weather was a bit grey with occasional showers and that may have contributed to our lower energy. After a late leisurely breakfast we departed Antiparos for Naousa on the nearby island of Paros. On the way a pod of dolphins played in our wake.

Naousa is a picturesque town with little narrow alleys filled with quaint little tourist shops, bars and restaurants. A half ruined, and now almost submerged Venetian castle, originally built in the late 13th/early 14th century makes up part of the sea wall. Bright fishing boats line the rest of the sea walls adding to the colour of the area with octopi hanging over their stays to dry.

We wandered around the streets for a while and then Roger, Chris, Hayley, Debbie and I decided to rent a car and explore the island. We drove the perimeter, passing through the main port town of Parikos to the end of the island opposite where we were moored last night on Antiparos. Around the other side of the island we headed inland to Lefkos. From there Chris ran back to the boat while the rest of us stopped for a light bite over-looking this quaint village nestled into the nook of a hill, originally built so high up to avoid the marauding pirates.

Returning to Naousa we meandered through the narrow streets and headed back onboard Cudu where a raucous game of Cucumber (a card game) kept most of us amused for several hours. Eventually we headed back into town for dinner onshore at a little Tapas cafe next to the port.


Wednesday 23 May 2019: Roger

A few of us stayed up a little late last night fixing the world so it was a fairly leisurely start this morning.

It was around nine when we rose, enjoying a leisurely breakfast and a chat with an American couple, John and Elyse, on the boat next door, who are planning a trip to NZ later this year. We left Naousa around 11am and cruised to Delos, an island famous for its ancient Archaeological Site.  Mooring in the channel we set off in the tender to investigate the ruins. A strange male figure is in the water as if guarding the island. It turns out that this and many other steel statues are part of an exhibition by an English artist.

Landing, we followed the route as laid out on the map passing the sacred port, then along the sacred way, passing the lions then through what was once the marketplace out to the stadium, back to the museum then up the hill to the sanctuary of a few gods, with a great view across to Mykonos, past the theatre and back to the entry point.  It was at the theatre when we were looking at some green water in a large tank with arches over it that a chap explained that this was a cistern to provide water for the 6500 seat theatre.

He then went on to explain that every building had a cistern under it and lots were connected. As there was no fresh water on the island every drop of rain that fell in the winter was collected and what was not used was stored to get them through the summer. Most of the surviving statues and other important artifacts are now on display in the museum on the island.

The city was developed rapidly after 167BC . The buildings were built of stacked stone, which was then plastered and painted. Features such as pillars, window frames and door ways were made of marble gathered from a nearby island. Delos became the trading capital of the world with its port and large markets. Merchants and bankers moved there from all over the world building stately homes. It was attacked by various forces in 88 and 66BC and abandoned.  Like many ruins worldwide tourism is funding the restoration of what must be like a large jigsaw puzzle with many of the pieces having been removed for construction material over the centuries until it was rediscovered in the 1700s.

Cats are a big deal in Greece and seem to roam the streets everywhere.

I finally found out Whyte houses here are wile and blue! When the Turks invaded Greece way back, they were not allowed to fly their flag so they painted their houses white and blue, the colours of the flag.

The afternoon we spent relaxing and I had another go with the pole ski manging to get on my knees at one point.

Around 5 we set off, heading north to Mykonos, which is quite close and which we had observed from the top of the hill earlier in the day. This place is a popular tourist spot with a couple of large cruse ships moored in the outer harbour, the passengers being ferried to town. Established in the 11th century BC by the Ionians, one of four major Greek tribes, it is now a tourist mecca renown for its nightlife.

We wandered the streets, exploring the quaint and sometimes very narrow alleys. with lots of shops and restaurants tucked away in many places. Lots of windmills are placed around the city, which rises steeply into the surrounding hills. The well kept white and blue buildings, with the odd bit of red thrown in, make it a clean and tidy city; even the paved paths through the town make claim to white painted lines. Best only described by photographs.

Interesting Place Mykonos: Religious Iconography on one side of the alley and canabis on the other…

 

Our great Cudu Crew


Thursday 23 May 2019: Sylvia

Mykonos is renown for its nightlife and for many on board it was true to form with Joel. Sam, Hayley and several of the crew not returning on board until the wee small hours. Based on their stories it sounded like a great night had by all – I was quite content to get some good sleep.

We opted to take another stroll in the morning only this time Debbie and I detoured into a jewellery store and made a few purchases!

Afterwards we headed out and moored in a stunning bay off the small uninhabited island of Rinea to enjoy a day of sun and watersports. The toys on board got a great workout today. I personally had several failed attempts at waterskiing but was very happy to manage the pole ski (even if only on my knees). Roger managed to get upright on both.

This is definitely what real relaxing is all about. Lie around in the sun, get warm, dunk in the ocean to cool off, have a go on one of the toys, rinse and repeat.

After several hours we headed off to the nearby island of Syros with its Venetian style buildings. It looks quite different from many of the other islands we have visited with much bigger domed churches and buildings in pinks, yellows and oranges dotting the hillside. We spread in all directions to explore the little city before convening again and heading ashore for dinner at a lovely gyros and souvlaki restaurant, polished off by some nice gelato.


Friday 24 May 2019: Roger

Prior to breakfast we took a stroll up the hilltop to the Greek Orthodox Church, which dominates the skyline from the city below.

This town has a different flavour than the others we have visited with a Venetian style and surrounded by lots of industry, including a dry dock and large oil tanks on the hill nearby. Some of the narrow streets are paved in marble and others in stone. It’s mostly tidy and the buildings well kept apart from the odd ruin, yet to be restored, along with the odd set of disused steps. We came to the conclusion you would need lots of friends to live in some of the houses as getting furniture up to many of them would be a major task. I got chatting to the old priest who told us he had worked in a fish and chip shop in Manly, Sydney for 14 years before moving back here to become a priest, which he has been for the last 43 years. Sylvia and Debbie headed across to investigate the other church on the next hill – a catholic one. The priest took Dave, Hayley and I in to show off his church which, although very grand, seemed to have few seats for the parishioners.

Sylvia and Debbie found there was a bit of up and down to reach the other church. We made our way down the hill by different routes admiring the fantastic views as we went.

Syros has a population of around 24,000. Inhabited by various conquerors over the centuries, it became part of Greece in 1829. It boasted the first post office of Greece, commercial law courts and a public school. Until WWII its main industry was textiles. It now has an airport, a casino, a hospital and frequent ferries making it an all year round tourist centre.

After a leisurely breakfast we steamed north to the island of Kea. Rounding a headland we entered a calm bay with lots of unfinished houses looking almost like bunkers. Construction started prior to the recent and ongoing financial crisis and has yet to be completed. On the beach there is a resort, which appeared unoccupied, whilst waiting for the tourist season to get underway. At the other end of the beach a large truck had dumped builders mix, which was being carted in sacks up to a nearby house under construction by a bunch of mules, which when task was complete were loaded onto a truck and carted away.

The holiday nearly over we decided to relax for the afternoon and enjoy this beautiful spot. Sylvia mastered the pole ski getting to the standing pose without falling off, making it all look quite easy. Dave, Chris, Joel and Sam really got it preforming, doing sharp turns and demonstrating some great spills. The captain mentioned that we were the first group he had had on the boat to water ski and pole ski as the water at 20 degrees is far too cold for most people, who tend to just stay on the boat and relax.

The food on the boat was simply outstanding with a huge variety of food on offer at each meal. Captain Panov and his crew have been outstanding, with a special mention to Calypso, who waited on us with nothing ever being a problem and always sporting a great smile.


Saturday 25 May 2019: Sylvia

We were all very sad this morning that our time on board was coming to an end. After a final breakfast on board – an unbelievable spread of yoghurt, muesli, hams, cheeses, fruits, pastries, toast, omelettes etc, the captain started up the boat and headed for Athens, about a 2-hour cruise away. Those of us who hadn’t already packed had to sort through and pack everything up ready for our departure. The rest of us lazed about making the most of our opportunity to soak up some sun.

All too soon we arrived in Athens and farewelled Dave, Debbie, Sam, Hannah and Joel, who were heading to the airport to catch their flights. Roger and I returned to the St George Lycabettus Hotel and Chris and Hayley headed to another hotel in Athens.

Roger and I spent a very quiet afternoon relaxing and enjoying a massage in the hotel spa before catching up with Chris and Hayley again for a last G&T and a lovely dinner over-looking the Acropolis from the roof top bar.

All in all it has been a fantastic week.


Sunday 26 May 2019: Sylvia

We decided to get up early and beat the crowds to the Acropolis – and boy I am glad we did. We arrived at the ticket booth not long after opening at 8am. There were many groups of tourists from the cruise ships already milling around as we headed up to explore the ancient ruins. It is quite impressive although as Roger pointed out most of it has been restored now; the most real bits are the scattered bits of marble lying around, and the buttress walls which date from around the 5th century BC.  Nonetheless it is very inspiring. I am sure not much of our current civilisation will still be lying around in 2,500 years.

After wandering around the Acropolis area we headed back down the hill and through the beautiful Botanic Gardens, past the guards outside the Presidential Palace and into the Olympic Stadium. This is the only fully marble stadium in the world and is really impressive. We picked up the audio tour and enjoyed meandering around the structure listening to the commentary. The climb to the top of the seating area is quite steep in parts and I wondered what it must have been like during the 2004 Olympic ceremony when it was full of people. We even had the opportunity to explore the underground tunnels which now house the changing rooms and a gift shop, but was once where young women danced naked before the gods in the hope of finding a suitable husband!

In all too short a time we had to head back to the hotel, then on to the airport for our flight – first to Paris and then on to Montpellier, where I have to work for the next week…

 

 

A New Zealand adventure Part 2

Saturday 4 May 2019

After an easy drive up from Wellington yesterday we settled into the shearer’s quarters at the MacDonnell farm, not far from Ohakune.  With its 3 bedroom house and several single rooms in a row to one side, sheets on the beds, heaters in the rooms and even electric blankets, it is very comfortable accommodation. Dave’s wife-to-be, Chrissie, and Alister’s wife, Biddy, had done a great job organising it all, including preparing a great dinner.
                                                              Biddy  Chrissie
At 6am the team went off for their first Kiwi duck shoot. With clear skies and no wind it wasn’t great weather for ducks so only 8 were shot. After lunch I headed to Cambridge, about 3 hours north of here, where I picked up daughter Victoria. After checking into a motel we strolled into town to a cafe where my youngest daughter, Kirstie, was celebrating her 30th birthday. She and her Team Pursuit cycle team head off to Europe next week to train and race on the road during the track off season.
                                              The NZ Team Pursuit team
                                   Raquel Bryony Kirstie Jessie Rushlee Ellesse
Kirstie and older sister Victoria
Like their father they forgot to grow up
Meanwhile back at the camp Erik had shot a spiker and Torbjorn a fallow deer and some goats during the evening hunt.

Sunday 5 May 2019

Arriving back at camp around noon, at 3:30pm we headed off with Alister for an evening hunt. Driving to a high point at the back of the farm we headed off on foot, not only looking for deer, but enjoying the extensive views over the expansive landscape under the shadow of the North Island’s tallest mountain, Ruapehu 2797m
.
Soon we spotted a number of deer grazing on the edge of the native forest about 1500m away. The deer usually come out in the evening then sneak across and eat the farm’s crops of swedes and turnips. Cutting down a hill out of sight we closed quietly on our prey. Moving from cover to cover we closed to about 300m of a young stag that was walking up and down the electric fence looking for a good place to jump into the crop. Magnus laid down and took a shot hitting the deer through the neck. A second deer ran up out of the creek onto the bank on the other side about 320m away Erik took a standing shot hitting it in the shoulder. Bloody good shooting I said to which he replied “I have had a bit of practice with an Aimpoint over the last twelve years”. Alister and I walked back the couple of kms to get the 4 wheel bike and the pick-up while Erik, Magnus and Greg gutted the deer and carried them to a pick up point.
It was well and truly dark when we headed back to the camp for a rather luscious dinner, prepared by Chrissie and Biddy.

Monday 6 May 2019

Dave, Paul, Greg and I headed out early to get some more duck shooting footage while the rest of the team had a sleep in. With clear skies again, there were few about but we did manage to shoot a couple. Paul flew his drone around the pond to get some aerial pics of the pond.
After breakfast we headed over to Brett’s farm at Horopito. Brett gave us a briefing on the layout of the farm and where the fallow deer were that he wanted us to cull.
First the team stalked a pond and shot some ducks. We then drove to the back of the farm and dismounting the vehicles continued on foot. Magnus shot a fallow stag on camera. Torbjorn, Ronny and I were further down the track and watched as a mob of fallow raced past. We carried on hunting, spotting many deer including a large red stag but all not on the culling list.
Meanwhile the other group: Dave, Erik, Magnus and Rob got a couple more deer.
Later in the day Erik, Magnus and I teamed up for another hunt through some bush intermingled with grass clearings.
It was a really good day out having walked some 16k around Brett’s farm.

Tuesday 7 May 2019

Around 0930 we headed to Taihape where we all met outside the local liquor store. From there we headed as a convoy up the Gentle Annie. I was traveling with Mario, who is the General Manager of Beretta NZ. He moved here from Italy about 18 months ago. He commented as we head out into the hills “there are not many people living in this street”. Arriving at the entrance to Ngameta Station we headed several kms down a well-maintained private road to a house. There we met Bruce, who is the chief hunting guide, who briefed us on the plan for the next two days of hunting.
Soon we were heading out on a good shingle road across green fields and crops of winter feed. Calling in at the station homestead we picked up a couple of can-am four wheelers. Heading north the roads turned to well-maintained tracks with signs “don’t be a sheep and make ruts, use the whole track”. The convoy pushed on until we reached the Hawkins Hut.
Here we are divided into two groups. Dave, Erik, Magnus, Alister, Greg and Mario stayed here with Bruce. Torbjorn, Ronny, Rob, Andy and I headed off with Russell to Burglar’s Hut about 30 minutes away. Stowing our gear we headed off for an evening hunt.
This is amazing country, mainly tussock and manuka with some native bush. We stop and through our binoculars see Sika stags and hinds roaming the hills. Sika deer were introduced northeast of here in the early 1900’s and have thrived but only in the central part od the island. Ngamatea Station is around 80,000 acres running around 40,000 ewes and 3,000 cattle, mainly on the cultivated areas. The tussock country is mainly used for guided hunting and the gathering of manuka honey.
A quick brew and we head back down the track for the evening hunt. We see three stags and some hinds on a ridge 400m out but the wind is wrong.
We travel a km or so around the other side to the ridge and park up. Russell, Ronny, Torbjorn and Rob head off on foot while Andy and I wait with the Can-am and the ute. As darkness arrives we can see two hinds on the bush edge. A call comes in on the radio so we move down the track to pick up the team. As we turn the first corner 2 hinds are standing on the road escaping as I almost hit them. The team had nothing to show for their walk
In the dark we drove over to see the rest of the team for a beer and catch up at Hawkin’s Hut. Magnus had shot a good stag that evening. We headed back to Burglars for dinner and sleep.

Wednesday 8 May 2019

We were up at 5.45 for a quick brew before heading out. As first light arrived we spotted a number of deer but all eluded the hunters. About ten we stopped and glassed; a stag stepped onto the track looking at the team before bolting for cover. Andy and I waited in the hill while the team headed into the valley below. As we lost sight of them we spotted several deer on the hill above them. A radio call confirmed that they were onto a stag we could not see. It’s not just a case of stalking up and shooting a deer here as the cameraman has to be all set up and filming when the shot is taken.
An hour or so later we heard a shot. Torbjorn and Rob had been spotted trying to sneak in on an old stag, which stood up, Russell made a rutting sound and the stag charged toward them. Stopping at 140m the 300 Winchester Magnum with its Aimpoint sight did it’s job.
We went and joined them. Photos taken, interview done, some detailed footage of the antler, stag gutted and on Torbjorn’s shoulders, we headed for the vehicles. Torbjorn lost his footing crossing a swampy creek – one leg wet to the waist – as we headed to the track.
At about noon we got back to the hut, hung the stag in the meat safe, ate and rested ready for the evening hunt. We headed out just before 4pm, Andy and I following in the Can Am, the others in Russell’s pick up. A couple of kms from the hut we stopped on a hill. Heading through some scrub we looked across a flat and up to the bush edge some 700m away. I stayed behind as the others headed down the hill after one of the many stags we had seen. I counted 6 in total mostly grazing at the bush edge.
After nearly an hour a muffled shot from a suppressor rang out. Ronny had shot an eight pointer, which they had spotted just below me and patiently watched its antlers in the scrub waiting for it to reappear. Ronny is a game keeper back in Sweden and has hunted most of his life. As the deer was gutted Paul picked up the heart and noted that the bullet had got through it. “Of course it did” said Ronny.
On dark we headed back to the hut and ate, after which we headed the 30 plus km journey to Hawkins hut. After a good yarn we headed back to our hut for an early night.

Thursday 9 May 2019

Up early Rob, Greg, Russell and I headed out hoping Rob would shoot a stag for his own TV show in Aussi. “Beyond the Divide” is shown on Channel 44, FOXTEL and Aurora. We spotted a good stag, which they stalked in on while I waited by the Can-am. A couple of hinds were in the way, which spooked the stag. The morning hunt over, we cleaned up the hut and headed over to join the other party at Hawkin’s Hut for lunch. They had also had an unsuccessful morning hunt trying to get a stag for Niccolo, the NZ Beretta manager.
                                        Rob Russell Ronny Torbjorn Bruce
                                          Chris Roger Erik Niccolo Magnus
We all drove out and back to our camp at Shearer’s Quarters on McDonnell farm.
Pre-dinner Dave gave us his nightly briefing on the next days activities. One may well think he has spent a bit of time in the army.

Friday 10 May 2019

We headed out to Rodney’s farm, east of Raetihi. There was a plan to have a cull of a large mob of Canadian geese, which are devastating the grass and crops on the farm. Meeting at the woolshed we mounted a number of quad bikes and headed back down the road and across a number of greasy tracks to the hill behind the pond. Sneaking up on the geese they outsmarted us and flew off, well out of range.
We headed back to the woolshed to regroup. Erik, Magnus and Rob headed for the nearby duck pond, where they were successful in shooting a number of ducks. The rest of us headed over a few paddocks where Torbjorn shot a few goats.
We regrouped at the woolshed for lunch before heading over to FTS Karioi farm, not far from where we were staying. Mounting quad bikes again we were ferried to the top of a steep hill. When Rob, Torbjorn and I got there Dave had already headed off along one ridge with Erik, Magnus and Chris. Andy and I stayed with the bikes and dispatched Torbjorn and Rob off down a ridge away from the one the others had gone down. We watched as Erik’s group shot a couple of deer. The country is really steep so one had to be careful on the bikes. It was dark by the time we collected the deer and made our way to the bottom of the hill.

Saturday 11 May 2019

We headed out to Jerry’s  Ruakaka Farm in the Makakahi Valley. Jerry has a major goat problem out the back of the farm. Goats at the front of the farm can be rounded up and sent to the meat works but those at the back in the steep country are too hard to round up. On quad bikes again ,we headed up a steep track to a ridge that seemed to run the length of the farm. Andy took Ronny off to the right while Dave, Erik and Torbjorn headed off to the left down a track. Magnus had gone off with both cameraman for a hunt on the farm we were staying at to get some footage for Rob’s TV show. Today I was playing cameraman with a camera loaned by Rob, complete with instructions on how to use it. We walked down the valley to the tracks end with Erik and Torbjorn shooting quite a few goats and the trainee cameraman getting some footage. It was pretty humorous at times as I was filming one goat and of course they were shooting at a different one. We strolled back up the track and mounted the bikes, heading off along the ridge to meet Andy. Ronny was pretty excited as he had shot over 30 goats. We eventually stopped; looking across the valley to the hill on the other side goats kept appearing. There was some impressive shooting with Erik hitting one at 380m. Then he had a go at a white one at 500m but hit the black one underneath it, no one was giving him credit for that shot.
We continued along the track, which was a bit tricky in places, and were up high at the back of the homestead when some more goats were spotted. I had a shot and dropped one just as Andy yelled out “don’t shoot those ones”!! I got a bit of humorous grief over that shot.
Arriving back at the farmyard we had a chat with Jerry who was very pleased that we had shot over 80 goats on one day out. Back at the shearer’s quarters we cleaned up and caught up with Magnus and the real camera team who had had no luck on the farm that day. Magnus did however manage 5 sets of 20 pull-ups after his walk.
We then headed to Dave’s shed at the back of his mother’s house for a few drinks before heading into Ohakune for a meal at the Powder Keg.

Sunday 12 May 2019

Magnus and the camera crew went out for one last hunt, once again with no success. The rest of us packed up ready for our drive to Auckland. We said our goodbyes to Dave, Chrissie, Alister, Biddy and Andy, who all live locally, before heading off. As we drove back to Auckland we stopped at Te Kuiti as I had to show Magnus there was a kiwi bigger than him.

It seemed like the trip had gone by in a couple of days as we parted. Dave had done a great job organising most of it and everyone got along really well. We achieved the task of getting enough footage to make all the promotional clips Aimpoint needed. These will be released over 12 months starting in October and I think will be available on You-tube.

A big thank you to Erik and the Aimpoint team for letting us be part of a great adventure.

A New Zealand adventure.

April 2019

I was privileged to be asked by my good, long-time friend, Dave, to help out in the making of a hunting movie to be filmed in both the south and north islands of New Zealand. The company making the movie is Swedish based and makes red dot sights for rifles, pistols and shotguns. Aimpoint.com has made hunting movies in Europe, Africa and Australia and now wants to add New Zealand to the list. The first part of the movie is to be filmed in the Mckenzie country in the South Island.


Thursday 11 April 2019

Leaving Auckland I drove to Ohakune where I meet up with a bunch of blokes who had been training with my friend, Todd, from Texas, on long-range shooting. After a good night socialising we headed back to Dave’s place. His mum, Margaret, lives just across the road and kindly gave Todd and I a place to stay for the next few days.


Friday 12 August 2019

Dave went off to work, and mid-morning Todd and I headed over to a friend’s farm at Horopito. Brett, formerly from Florida, bought a farm here a few years ago, recently converted part of it to dairy and now boasts the highest milking shed in NZ. Visiting Brett were a couple of Aussies, Ray and his son, Jamie. Many years ago Ray, a dentist and keen hunter, couldn’t get a decent spotlight so he started making his own. Lightforce.com became a large company, which then led Ray into making telescopic sights for rifles Nightforce.com. are now some of the best telescopic sights in the world, in use by both the military and civilians. A local fencer and keen hunter, Andy, also joined us. We spent a very interesting and relaxing day sitting around chatting, listening to and telling stories about all sorts of things.


Saturday 13 April 2019

We headed down to Taihape and met up with a local fishing guide called Russell. From there we headed southeast until we reached the Gentle Annie windy road that runs all the way to Napier. Crossing the Rangatiki River we dropped Todd and Jamie off with Russell for a spot of fishing. We then carried on up the road and turned onto a farm track, which lead us up into the hills and over some very pretty country. Andy used to fence on this place, hence the access. In fact if one wants access to some good hunting spots get to know the local fencer. Right at the back of the farm, at close to 4000ft above sea level, we dismounted the Toyota and headed on foot a short distance to a spot overlooking a large valley. We sat there until daylight began to fade, with Andy using a bit of polythene pipe to imitate the roar of a stag, hoping one would come out of the scrub to challenge us. No luck but in a clearing on a ridge over a km away a stag and a group of hinds grazed, well out of reach as the scrub was too thick for us to get through in the time we had. We headed back, meeting up with the fisherman on the way. Jamie had a fish but Todd had let the big one get away.


Sunday 14 April 2019

After a relaxing morning Andy turned up with the crew and we headed out the back of Raetehi along a road that wound its way alongside Manganuioteao river.

Eventually we arrived at a farm owned by a nice chap called George and his wife Natasha. We mounted a munger of four wheeler bikes and headed up the road to shoot some goats, which pose a real problem for the farmers around here. Heading up a track alongside a creek we soon encountered a mob of goats with Ray getting stuck in and knocking over several. We encountered another couple of mobs and as we were about to leave some were spotted on a cliff about a km away. They escaped but only just. Back on the bikes we headed up to the other end of the farm and up a track through some bush, which at the top opened out with a valley on each side. Leaving the bikes we walked up the hill to to a good lookout place. We lay for some time watching both red and fellow deer feeding as the light was fading. Ronnie, who was helping out on the farm, Todd, Jamie and I continued on further up the hill while the others collected the bikes  and drove via a track to the top. On the very top of the hill a new hut with stunning panoramic views was nearly complete. We all admired the views in the fading light before heading back to the house via a different route in the darkness. A couple of beers and another day on the central plateau was over. By the way Andy had also done fencing for George’s father over the years


Monday and Tuesday 15/16 April 2019

Todd and I headed off to Palmerston North, where Todd ran some training for a group of soldiers. Monday evening we paid a visit to Dan Hardy’s gun manufacturing factory. Dan, an ex army armourer, has built up a good business making suppressors for rifles and recently moved into manufacturing rifles for hunting and long-range shooting. Ray,  Jamie and Andy had also driven down for a visit. After the tour we headed to a local restaurant for a meal and a yawn.


Wednesday 17 April 2019

Having driven back to Dave’s place last night we loaded up the red Hilux Dave had borrowed from a mate and began our journey south. We made a brief stop on the outskirts of Wellington to see my long=time friend and original karate instructor, Dick, who has been suffering ill health for the last year or so. Catching the ferry to Picton we stayed at the Art Deco Apartment which was outstanding.


Thursday 18 April 2019

We headed south stopping at The Store for breakfast. This place is situated at Clarence, about an hour south of Blenheim and has great food and stunning scenery. The road south of here was closed for about a year after the Kaikoura earthquake and in many places is still under repair hence there are lots of stops for roadworks. In spite of this we made good time, enjoying the stunning scenery down the coast. With a bit of time up our sleeve I had a surprise planned for Todd and Dave having got a deal on a whale watching trip.

The Kaikoura Whale Watching was very well organised. After a briefing lecture we mounted a bus and were driven to a new marina south of the town. It was well set up with four berths for the boats including refuelling gear. Motoring along at 50kph we spotted various birds including many large albatross. Eventually in the distance the spout of a sperm whale is spotted and we race towards it as do a helo, a plane and another boat. These massive creatures only surface for about 10 minutes at a time before descending to the depths of the ocean for up to an hour. The boat has a sonar that can hear the whales in the depths and know by the sounds they are making when they are about to surface. All too soon the massive body tipped forward and he headed to the dark depths. The boat headed south, closer to the coast where dolphins performed for us as though directed by the crew. Both Hectors and common dolphins occupy these waters.

Back on the road we continued south, passing through many more road works, the road crews – particularly the lollipop guys and gals, are the most friendly I have ever experienced, all waving and smiling at every vehicle that passes. Many parts of the road have been rebuilt  and portals on railway tunnels extended to protect the lines from future rock falls.

We arrive at Joel’s place at West Melton in the evening. Joel is a gun dealer and former soldier who we have known for some years. Steiger Sports is supplying the Norwegian Atac suppressors we are to use next week. We also have to collect the guns, which have been sent down from Auckland. It was important we got all this sorted before the long weekend.


Friday 19 April 2019

We headed south to Pleasant Point, the Canterbury Plains once almost barren are now largely green pastures with many farms running dairy cows; the sheep have almost disappeared. We stopped the night at my long-time  good friend Don and Ngaire’s place and did some more preparation for the coming week. Don was away working in Australia and Ngaire visiting friends.


Saturday 20 April 20019

Up early we headed to Albury then headed west up a long shingle road to the foothills of the Hunter Hills and a shooting range called Sparrow hawk. There an ex army officer and former winner of the Queen’s Medal for shooting runs, on the family farm, a number of shooting ranges. Here a number of long-range shooters had gathered from around NZ for a seminar to be run by Todd on long-range shooting. At around 7am Todd began his talk which ran until lunch time. There was a lot to cram in over such a short period.  After lunch we headed into the hills where Nick had set up targets ranging from 400 to 1200 meters. With a 20 plus kph wind blowing it gave all attending a good opportunity to put into practice what they had learnt in the morning. All too soon the day drew to a close and we made our way back to Pleasant Point, hoping to stop for a beer at Cave but the pub was closed as wass the one at Pleasant Point. Thirsty we headed on into Timaru where dined and quenched our thirst at great little restaurant on the bay hill.


Sunday 21 April 2019

We headed up to Tekapo, Pukaki, Twizel and Omarama to the Lindis Pass, then onto Wanaka. The scenery along this journey is truly stunning especially with the blue sky and surrounding snow capped mountains. Todd’s wife Shannon was there to meet us in Wanaka, where we enjoyed a late lunch at the Speights Ale House. Leaving Todd and Shannon to begin their holiday we then went a few doors down to a cafe to catch up with Hamish and Shannon and their two boys. Hamish is a tandem parachute instructor at the local airport and Shannon the fitness coach for the women’s NZ rugby league team.

Dave and I then headed off to stay with John and Lesley, good long-time friends who live mainly in Sydney and have a holiday house in Wanaka. In their garden they have a life sized sculpture made of old fencing standards of the Haast egale, which died out some 600 years ago. We had a great evening catching up dining and drinking red wine.


Monday 22 April 2019

After a great breakfast we headed off back over the Lindis pass and up to Glentanner Station at Mt Cook. Here Ross and Helen, also long-time good friends, had invited Dave and I to stay at their house while we carry out the guiding and organising of the Aimpoint group. Ross and Helen returned from the Fairlie Show that evening and we spent the evening catching up and discussing the logistics of the guiding and hunting over the coming week.


Tuesday 23 April 2019

Final preparations were made for the arrival of the Aimpoint team tomorrow including meetings with Troy, the lead pilot from the Helicopter Line, which is based at Glentanner Park across the road from the Station. I also gave Ross a hand to bale some wool and clean up the woodshed in preparation for the shearers, who are arriving Friday to crutch the several thousand sheep on the farm.


Wednesday 24 April 2019

Dave and I sorted out the guns and promotional stuff we had brought down from Christchurch, laying everything out in the woolshed and checking we had everything we needed. That done we locked the guns away for the night and went to meet the team and show them to their accommodation at Glentanner Park. Dave and I then served the casserole we had prepared earlier in the day. When I say we, I pealed the spuds and Dave pretty much  did the rest. We cooked and ate in the BBQ shed that was built last year, a great facility normally closed in the winter but opened up for us.

                 Ronnie, Erik, Magnus                                             Rob, Torbjorn, Greg and Dave


Thursday 25 April 2019

Up early, we headed to Twizel for the Anzac Day Dawn service, held in the street in front of the RSA. After breakfast at a local cafe we headed back to the woolshed at Glentanner to to sort out the kit and attach the Aimpoint sights, which Erik the international sales manager had brought with him. There are lots of guns. Tikka, Sako and Beretta are all sponsors so we have 2 x .22 rifles, 4 x 7mm Remington Magnums, 1x 300 Winchester Magnum, 3 semi-auto magnum Beretta shotguns and one under and over shotgun. All the sights fitted, we headed to the range, complete with bench rest and targets out to 600 yards. I built this a few years ago during one of my many visits to Glentanner. Several hours was spent making sure all the sights were zeroed for each gun. During this time our first cameraman, Greg, turned up from Australia.

Zerroing over he headed over to the helicopter hangar for a briefing and weigh in. Troy, the lead pilot, gave us a very through briefing of entering and exiting the machine in both the flat and the hills. It’s critical this is done properly. Dave and I were put in charge of opening and closing the doors plus passing in and out guns, packs etc. We had a few practice runs at loading and unloading with some humour thrown in.

Then it was off to the scales. Magnus, who was in 2008 the world’s strongest man at 155kgs has dropped down to around the 130kg mark now. His brother, Torbjorn, formerly Sweden’s strongest man, weighed in at 116kg, which made the rest of us feel quite small. it was decided that the Squirrel help could only take five instead of six passengers, with the little guy Greg in the front.


Friday 26 April 2019

It was an early start as we wanted the helo airborne at first light. After a good breakfast Dave and I headed off in the dark for the 90-minute drive to Lilybank station, which is at the top of Lake Tekapo on the east side. At the top of the road we had to drive through the Macaulay River to get to the farm. We arrived just after the team, who have flown over. There is also a sleek-looking, black Hughes 500c parked in the paddock, flown by Mark, who is based in Fairlie. Many years ago I dated a girl who worked up here teaching the then farmer’s kids, who it turns out Jonhnny, the farm manager, who was originally from around here, knew. After a bit of banter and a few laughs we got on with the briefing on the mornings hunt.

Soon we were on the hill and waiting for the tahr to make their way back down the gully after their morning feed on the tussock. Tahr were first introduced into NZ in the early 1900’s when two small shipments were sent from a guy’s game park in England. Introduced to both the North and South Islands only the ones in the south survived and since then they have multiplied at an extraordinary rate. Around 1990 it was decided that the mountains could sustain about ten thousand without too much damage to the eco system occurring. It is estimated that at present there are well over thirty thousand and the government is trying to reduce the numbers. We had a successful morning with a group of us on each side of the gully. The sights worked well and were very effective as the tahr raced across shingle slides and steep rock faces to try and escape. I was on the west side of the hill with Erik, Magnus and Greg, the cameraman. When the action was over we headed up to the point where we had been dropped off to suddenly see the amazing view down over Lake Tekapo. None.of us had paid any attention to this when we landed as we were all focused on the task.
Dave, Ronnie and Torbjorn were on the west side of the gully and were also successful in their shooting. The Squirrel picked us up and we headed back to the farm for an ‘off the back ot the truck’ lunch. After lunch I went off with Mark in the Squirrel to refuel at a small tanker parked across the river, after which we picked up Erik, Magnus and Greg then headed across the Godley river to some guys on Godley Peaks station to hunt for a bull tahr. We dropped the team off on the flats and flew up into the gully looking for game and a good place to land. Mark managed the helo with great skill as we weaved in and out of the gullies. We then picked up the rest of the team and Mark dropped us in a clearing amongst the matagouri bushes. We hunted up the valley, spotting a bull tahr heading into the scrub not far in front of us. The only way we were going to get a crack at this guy was for me to flush him out. I sent the team up onto a ridge overlooking the creek. then got on my hands and knees and pushed my way through the matagouri following the bull’s tracks. Coming to a clearing halfway through the scrub I indicated to the team to move further up the ridge. Soon after they started moving the bull came out of the scrub in front of me running up a steep shingle slide. I yelled out to the team who soon spotted it, the bull stopped and Magnus engaged it, the round going over its back. It took off, moving fast across the tussock covered slope above me. Magnus fired three more rounds as did Erick. They worked the bolt on the rifle so fast it sounded like semi-automatic fire. All six rounds hit the bull and he tumbled down the hill coming to rest in a matagouri bush. Had I not seen where he landed he would have been almost impossible to find.
After the photos were taken I dragged the tahr down to a flat spot, put a rope around his neck and Mark flew in with the 500. I hooked him on and he was flown back to the vehicles. Dave and the other group had no luck up the next gully so with light fading we were all flown back across to Lilybank before heading back to Glentanner.
That night we all enjoyed dinner at Ross and Helen’s place with their sons Mark, George and his wife Catherine, joining us for a very enjoyable evening.

Saturday 27 April 2019
As predicted the weather had turned bad so we were unable to get back into the hills to hunt tahr. A trip to Twizel for lunch helped fill in the day and when the rain eased later in the day we headed out to shoot a few rabbits. Rob had arrived from Australis late yesterday. Rob is the director of Frontier Adventure Products and has a hunting brand Moroka30. He and Greg also have a hunting TV show in Australia called Beyond the Divide. They film hunting all over the world and filmed for Aimpoint in Australia a couple of years ago. Both accompany Magnus and I an the rabbit shoot, with Greg filming Magnus and Rob using a long range camera to film the rabbits.

Sunday 28 April 2019

The weather is still no good but later the rain stops long enough for some for some more rabbit filming. We sneak along looking for a good place to film a rabbit shot. Greg sets up his camera for the shot then I get Magnus to stalk up on the rabbit until he is in range to take the shot, usually around 70 meters. it is somewhat amusing to see a big bloke on his hands and knees then belly squirming his way across the paddock. Magnus comments later “I haven’t crawlled this much since I was a baby”,  they don’t have rabbits in Sweden.
In the evening we headed to the Chamua Bar up at Mount Cook village to enjoy a few drinks and a meal.

Monday 29 April 2019

Another wet day but we did manage to fit in some range time to re-zero the rifles with a heavier projectile moving from a 140 to a 160 grain bullet.

Tuesday 30 April

We headed off early and drove over to Lilybank, parking up by the fuel tanker just after first light. Mark soon arrived in the 500 and after a briefing from Dave the first group (Erik, Greg and I) jumped aboard and Mark flew us across the river to the same gully we had been in on Friday. Placing one skid against the side of the hill in a skilful bit flying we jumped out and began our hunt, heading up the hill towards the snowline.We hunted up the hill from one ridge to the next, gaining altitude as we went. We saw quite a few tahr but no bulls with a good head. Each of the Aimpoint team wanted to shoot a bull so Magnus had stayed behind as he had his. We were just starting to head back down when Mark turned up in the 500, flying close to me on the steep hill asking if we wanted a lift. He then put a skid on the ground and Greg climbed along the skid and into the front then Erik up along the skid to the back seat followed by me. The hill is so steep that the only way in is to climb along the skid. We flew down the valley to another spot, jumped out of the machine and were just on the ground when a bull ran across the hill above. Erick fired but even with a good hit it ran across the slope.
Meanwhile in the next valley Dave, Ronnie, Torbjorn and cameramen Paul were having good success with Ronnie and Torbjorn shooting a bull each. Mark flew me across to the cars with the bull slung under the 500 then made a few more trips to pick every one else up.
                                     Mark on the right a bloody fantastic pilot

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Having nearly used up the helicopter budget it was decided to just take one Squirrel over to the area northwest of here to try and shoot a chamois. At first light Dave, Magnus, cameramen Greg and Rob took off heading over the Copeland pass into the Jacobs River area, which is government land for which a concession is required to film there.  Not being on the trip it’s a bit hard to write about it. Magnus said the views were fantastic to the point that not only could they see the mountain scenery but also the ocean in the background. Magnus managed to bag a chamois making the South Island part of the trip  great success.
These photo are from the cameramen:
I spent the day packing up and sorting kit and went along for a shotgun rabbit shoot with Erik and Torbjorn in the afternoon. In the evening we took another trip to the Chamois Bar at Mt Cook Village and enjoyed a meal and a good catch up with Ross, George, Catherine and daughter Charlotte.
                        Dave, Roger, Ronnie, Erik, Torbjorn, Greg, Magnus, Rob, Ross and son George.

Thursday 2 May 2019

Erick and the team headed away around 5am to catch the ferry from Picton to Wellington in the evening. Dave and I headed off around 8am, stopping in West Melton to drop the four bull tahr and one chamois head off at High Country Taxidermist for mounting. We headed north up the Kaikoura Coast, stopping in Blenheim for a beer with Tom before heading to Picton, where we spent the night, catching the ferry the next morning.
Part one of our adventure has been a fantastic one. Now we are heading to the Central Plateau in the North Island to film the hunting of ducks, deer and goats with a great team of blokes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter in Hanoi and Halong Bay (Sylvia)

With Roger busy in the South Island of New Zealand over the Easter break I decided to invite my Mum, Rosie, and her partner, Lardy, to join me in Vietnam for a long weekend. Given the limited time we had we decided to start in Hanoi and visit Halong Bay.

Mum and Lardy flew in via Singapore from New Zealand arriving on Thursday morning. I had been working in South Korea all week and flew in from Seoul arriving Thursday evening…


Friday 19 April 2019

After a leisurely breakfast in the very comfortable Sofitel Metropole Hotel, which was built in 1901, we were met by our guide, Hai, to start our Hanoi sightseeing. We headed first to the square where Ho Chi Minh’s Tomb is, opposite the government buildings. It was extremely hot and humid even mid-morning and it was a relief to get into the park-like garden area surrounding the government buildings and the historic house of Ho Chi Minh. There were thousands of local and Chinese tourists thronging the place. It has been very well maintained and even some of his cars are on display including a Russian Zil. Apparently people wanted him to live in the large building that now operates as the presidential palace but he opted to stay in a much more humble bungalow before moving, on I think his 64th birthday, into a gorgeous, traditional wooden stilt home that was built for him.

After stopping in an air-conditioned gallery where we saw disabled women making incredible woven ‘paintings’ we wandered through parts of the old city – far from the madding crowds. Land is very expensive so the homes are tiny and narrow but built 4-5 storeys high. We meandered down tiny little alleyways between the buildings getting glimpses into many of the houses and dodging the scooters as they rode past.

We stopped briefly for a traditional Vietnamese lunch of pork meatballs and rice noodles in a sweet and sour sauce before heading off again for a cyclo tour of the old city area. Despite the crazy traffic this was a remarkably relaxing way to see the different sights in the city. Scooters dart along everywhere, some with 3-4 people on. At least most are wearing some sort of basic plastic helmet but many of the riders are talking on their phones or texting, and the children rarely have any helmets on. Like in most Asian cities people carry incredibly big loads on these scooters. But generally the traffic is very courteous. If you want to cross the road just walk slowly across and the traffic seems to go around you. It was a bit the same on the cyclos – it could look a bit daunting to have cars, scooters, buses and the like all converging on us as we crossed an intersection but they seemed to part to let us through.

i loved the various stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables, often off the back of bikes just parked on the footpath with the owner resting (and sometimes sleeping) in a shaded area not too far away.  It was quite tempting to just reach out and grab a piece of fruit as we were cycled slowly past.

Eventually we arrived at the Hanoi Hilton, originally built as a prison to hold dissidents during the French rule and later housing over 600 US pilots shot down during the Vietnam War. The focus of the exhibits was on the egregious conditions the Vietnamese rebels were held in during French rule, including the guillotine area where several were executed. The exhibits on the US pilots showed a lot more of the positive photos taken when the Red Cross was visiting etc. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be kept in these conditions. Many of the pilots were incarcerated there for 6-8 years, a large building with no air-conditioning in extremely hot conditions. Having said that – I do think they were probably better kept than the Vietnamese under the French.

Our last stop was Confuscious Temple, which is also a University. Outside were row after row of turtle statues, representing major scholars over the years. At 37+ degrees with 90% humidity, by this stage we were all more than ready to head back to the hotel for a break and to cool down.

In the evening we wandered down to the West Lake area, which is closed off to traffic in the weekends. Many people congregate along the shores of the lake, line-dancing, playing a form of hacky-sack with a funny thing that looks like a cross between a shuttlecock and a cats toy, and socialising. The lights around the lake are beautiful, particularly the red bridge leading to one of the temples.

We enjoyed dim sum for dinner at a Cantonese restaurant near the lake before returning to the hotel bar for a refreshing G&T to round out the evening,


Saturday 20 April 2019

This morning Hai picked us up and we drove the ~2.5 hours to Halong Bay. The roads around Hanoi are remarkably good and smooth making the trip fairly easy, especially once we got out of the city proper. There is a lot of development underway – at one stage we passed an area with about 50 cranes building large apartment blocks in what will become a satellite city. (Apologies for the quality of some of the photographs – not that easy to take a good picture out of a moving van).

The ground must be incredibly fertile. All along the road we passed field after field, initially orchards with various fruit trees (lychees, mangoes) as well as banana palms and pineapples; later field after field of rice, all dotted with shrines and cemeteries. There were also the odd duck farm, dotted about with white ducks, that have obviously had their wings clipped so they cannot fly.

As we got nearer to Halong Bay we started to come across fishing areas and oyster farms – sticks protruding seemingly at random from the mudflats and areas all netted off with little huts (like mai mai’s) Jutting above the water, apparently for shelter from storms.

We stopped at a pearl farm and had an interesting tour, learning how pearls are made. I can understand better now why they are so expensive given the high failure rate. It is quite a delicate process. A small piece of the muscle that makes the nacre on the inside of the shell is harvested from a live oyster. This is treated with antibiotics and along with a small core, made from crushed up shell, is placed inside the ovary of another live oyster. The oyster is then put in a frame and kept for 3-5 years. They are x-rayed from time to time to check that the pearl is till growing. Only about 30% actually take and of those less than 10% make really high grade pearls. There was of course the obligatory wander through the show rooms afterwards but the tour was very interesting and well worth it.

Eventually we arrived at the dock where row after row of boats waited for their guests to arrive. We boarded our junk, Legend 6, to be met by Duc, our guide and butler for the next 24 hours or so, who showed us our cabins and the layout of the boat. We were soon underway heading for route 4 – the furthest of the four routes the boats are assigned to avoid over-crowding. We enjoyed lunch while underway then rested on our shaded balconies for the rest of the trip enjoying the incredible scenery (including the many ships anchored and disgorging their cargo). We had the boat to ourselves, apart from the crew of eight who were all eager to please.

Halong Bay is as stunning as the photos I had seen. It covers an area of 1,553 square kilometres and contains 1969 islands and islets. Eventually we arrived at our first destination, a large floating fishing village. We were taken to the floating reception area where we boarded a sampan to be rowed around the village. We were each passed a Vietnamese hat, which resulted in a fair amount of hilarity. The village itself houses about 300 in around 25 small houses. There is also a communal area where they can gather for meetings etc. Most of the houses have dogs, which seem to be comfortable running around on the narrow pathways connecting the houses. It was a relaxing and pleasant experience and with the light breeze we were able to get a little respite from the heat.


After returning to our boat we motored to a sheltered spot for the night. There were a few other boats moored nearby and several people kayaking which made for a pleasant backdrop. The sunset was stunning and we enjoyed drinks on the deck. I have to admit that we really missed Roger – even between the three of us we had trouble finishing off one bottle of wine over the course of the evening.

Just before dinner Duc gave us a lesson in making Vietnamese spring rolls, which were then served up along with several other dishes for dinner. There was certainly no shortage of food on board! After dinner we tried out hand at squid fishing, hanging a bamboo pole with a lure on the end of a piece of string about 8 metres long out the window or door of the boat and jigging it up and down. Only Mum was successful, hauling up one medium sized squid that squirted lots of black ink as it was dragged into the boat.


Sunday 21 April 2019

After a restful night we were up fairly early with the boat getting underway just after 6:30 to take us to one of the 72 caves in Halong Bay. Mum and I headed off with Duc to climb the steps up to the cave while Lardy stayed on shore and watched the boat loads of people who arrived after us. I am very grateful for the early start. I think we were the second group to arrive so had the opportunity to experience the cave in relative quiet. As we were making our way down it seemed hordes of people were arriving.

Back on board Tae gave me a tai chi lesson and then proceeded to give me a “massage” which turned out to be vigorously rubbing my head. He was adamant that he wanted to massage my eyes as well and I reluctantly agreed. This involved him basically rubbing his hands together and then pressing them firmly against my eyes. I can’t say I’d be in a hurry to do it again!

After breakfast we motored back to dock. Being a holiday weekend there were thousands of boats, some heading in and others heading out, while barges crossed the lines and it was interesting to see how they all avoided hitting each other. Hai met us and we were soon back in our hotel in Hanoi where we all took the opportunity for a quiet afternoon.

In the evening we again headed down to the West Lake area. There were even more people out and about with a couple of bands playing, kids driving around in small cars and a general fun and vibrant atmosphere. We thoroughly enjoyed the stroll around the lake and the people watching.

 

24 hours in Yangshou

Saturday 23 March 2019

We were up and ready for our taxi at 0730 for the drive to Guangzhou nan (south) station, where we jumped a high speed train heading northwest to Guilin. Stacey, a colleague of Sylvia’s also joined us as we headed to Yangshuo for a short weekend. Sylvia’s daughter, Beka, and her boyfriend, Tom, had climbed in the area about 5 years ago and have often spoken of its beautiful scenery.

I was surprised at how quickly the land turned rural as we headed northwest. Lots of bush covered hills and scattered villages lay alongside the track.

A bit over halfway into the journey the land changed into thousands of small sharp mounds (limestone karsts). Dismounting the train at Guilin (population 4.7m, and a small, 3rd or 4th tier city in China) we drove through what felt like a small town with few high rise buildings, then into some very picturesque countryside, reaching Yangshuo at about 1.30pm.

We settled into the very nice Yangshuo Mountain Retreat and enjoyed some lunch. We watched as bamboo rafts drifted down the Yulong river.

After lunch we took a stroll up the river and just below a weir a huge number of bamboo rafts were gathered.

After finding the ticket office and being escorted to the start point I was put on a raft alone while Sylvia and Stacey shared one with a somewhat aggressive rafts-man. Interestingly we had seen a sign warning about not having fun in the river so we were quite amused as we were poled along crossing the add weir along the way.

We were dropped off at what appeared to be an entertainment area and from there we strolled up a road to find Moon Hill, a place Beka had told Sylvia about. Several hundred steps and a well kept path took us to the rock. Tom had had has his photo taken here standing on a post so we did the same. (Although he managed his photo balancing comfortably on one foot on one post!)

Back at the hotel we enjoyed a light snack before retiring early as both Sylvia and Stacey were tired after a very busy week.


Sunday 23 March 2019

After a reasonably early breakfast we headed off on some bikes to explore some more of this rather picturesque area. There has been lots of money put into this area to upgrade both paths and irrigation canals. Interestingly there are many partially finished buildings around the area.

Returning to the hotel just after 10am we were picked up by a driver for our trip back to the Giulin train station. On the way we stopped to check out the 600 year old Yulong bridge, which was surrounded by more bamboo rafts and people trying to sell local stuff to the many tourists.

All around China one sees lots of interesting and and sometimes rather amusing signs.

Guangzhou and Macau

Monday 18 March 2019

We arrived in Guangzhou yesterday afternoon after a fairly social week in Singapore, attending the Mars awards gala on Thursday night.

We then had dinner on Friday evening with Sylvia’s colleague Radi and his wife Caroline, and on Saturday evening we headed over to Sentosa Island for dinner with our friend Clare and her son Alex.

Looking out the window from our room on the 20th floor I can barely make out the Guangzhou tower through the thick polluted air. Checking the net I find it’s sitting at just under 200 (unhealthy) on the dirty air scale. Good is under 50. Looking down on the street below people are walking around normally so having procrastinated enough I headed out.
Heading west on Tianhe Rd, then south on Guangzhou Ave Middle I crossed a bridge onto Ersha Island and then another over the Pearl River to the much larger Haizhu Island.

The Pearl River is China’s third longest river at 2,400 kms and the second largest in volume, reaching across southern China and even into Vietnam.

I have to apologise here as this thick smog is not the best for pictures.

On the island I turned right, heading west along a wide path along the waters edge. The path is well kept with many cleaners with long straw  brooms ensuring it stays that way.

Fish and turtles, caught fresh by various means from the river, were on sale on the path.

Along the path were pagodas and parks, all well kept. As I rounded the west end of the island several groups of blokes sat in a pagoda drinking beer and playing cards. I stopped briefly and had a sign language laugh with them.

As I headed around to the south side of the island the nice path disappeared and I was pushed away from the water through newly built apartment blocks.

Eventually I ended up on a main road that ran up the centre of the island. Interestingly where we are staying and in the area around the Mandarin Oriental Hotel there are lots of signs in English, here there are very few. Not surprisingly I only spotted one European on the island. It’s a really busy place with lots going on. People even pull carts up the busy streets amongst the cars, buses and trucks. There are lots of small stalls and shops.

There are old and new apartment building all mixed up. I headed down a side street at one stage where some of the buildings looked quite rough but the streets were always clean and the people took no notice, not even giving me a casual glance as though I didn’t exist.

Eventually I headed north on Jianghai Ave, like many of the major roads here built up in the air. Underneath there were piles of broken yellow bikes – a big problem for every city in China.

Crossing the Pearl River again, on a footpath attached to the suspension bridge, the road took me back to the hotel. I headed to the lounge on the 24th floor and enjoyed a few glasses of water and a couple of sandwiches.


Tuesday 19 March 2019

I had a bit of work to do so spent the day around the hotel. A massage at the spa was the highlight of the day and wow was it good.

I had been trying to figure out just why the service in this hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, is some of the best I have ever experienced. Interestingly I had been having a chat recently with my mate Travis, who opened a new great bar, Fantail and Turtle at Smales Farm on the North Shore in Auckland. He was saying how people in the industry in NZ have trouble finding career staff in hospitality, which lead me to chatting to a few of the middle managers here. In the Loft Bar I got chatting to Young, the bar manager, who had asked me where Ms Burbery was tonight. He recognised me from the previous night. It turned out that they had all been briefed on the Royal Canin conference and that Sylvia was the boss. Chatting to Young I discovered he had borrowed a lot of money to go and learn his trade in Switzerland. They really take it on as a career here.

We had access to the Oriental Club on the 24th floor, which hosted us for breakfast, afternoon tea, and cocktails and light meals in the evening. John and Lulu are two of the staff.  John, originally from Korea and having lived in Turkey as a youth, entered the same training school in Switzerland as Young to pursue a career in hospitality. Lulu, of Korean and Mongolian heritage but raised mainly in Kazakhstan (where her mother worked for Doctors without Borders), leaving school had studied in New York and Pennsylvania and is now pursuing a career in hospitality.

Chase, the concierge supervisor, worked for the hotel from 2013 to 14 then went to Dubai to gain experience and came back in 2015 to continue his career. I had gone to make inquiries about a trip to Macau tomorrow and in no time at all he had fast train tickets sorted along with details on how to get to the Guangzhou Southern Station. Zara who had checked us in on Sunday also jumped in to make sure all was in hand.


Wednesday 20 March 2019
I had the option of taking a taxi or the Metro to Guangzhou South Station to catch the fast train to Zhuhai next to the Macau border. I chose the metro as the station was just through the shopping centre next to the hotel. Through security they have a bomb pot, which amused me as I imagined someone finding a bomb, chucking it in the pot, locking the lid, then the bomb exploding inside the pot like something in a cartoon creating a massive fragmentation grenade.

Sorting out a token on a machine I headed to the platform. The first train came in and it was so packed that there was no way anyone was getting in. The next I managed to force my way on. There are no manners here like in Singapore or Japan where people wait for everyone to dismount before getting on; here they push their way in ignoring the signs on the floor.

One change and I had made it to south station, probably slower than the taxi time. Soon I was on the slow (200kph) high-speed train heading south. I am always intrigued at how they manage the infrastructure in these places to keep all these people alive. Guangzhou has 13 million and the Pearl River Delta economic zone some 50 million. That’s a lot of just rice alone to be delivered every day. The 100km journey is pretty much non-stop housing with the odd rice paddy struggling to survive in  the urban sprawl.

Arriving at Zhuhai I was herded, along with hundreds of others, through sheep like yards to immigration, ending up in the wrong place with the guy processing me anyway then telling me “special”, so on the Macau side and on the way back I used the diplomatic lane with no queue. I had been advised that there were free buses to the casinos from the border. The place is pretty small so I decided to walk and explore the town. As I stepped on to the street I suddenly realised the cars were coming from the other direction; it’s right hand drive here.

Macau with its around 600k population was founded by the Portuguese in 1557, becoming the first and the last European colony in China when they left in 1999. It is now a Special Administrative Region belonging to China but still with its own currency. Wandering through the streets I eventually hit the fishing port, then cut through some back streets, which were super clean comparing only with Tokyo.

Eventually I came across a Street packed with people, many of who queued for food at what must be well recognised places. Then from behind a tall building appeared a monstrosity – although I am sure the person that designed it didn’t feel that way.

I had found the casino area! I headed inside where there was floor after floor of mainly tables, not the dominant presence of slot machines one sees in Vegas. I found a restaurant on the 6th floor and had a rather average Thai beef salad. The staff were friendly and attentive. I had not seen any alcoholic drinks or drinks in general on the gaming tables and asked if it was a dry casino? “No just most people don’t drink here when gambling”


Back outside I caught a bus across one of the three long bridges to Taipei old village on one of the islands.

A bus back on another bridge dropped me off by the heliport where large helos ferry tourists in and out of the country. I strolled past some more casinos then around the edge of a large reservoir and along a few streets back to the border.
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