Tag Archives: food

Wonderful, Windy Wellington

Wednesday 29 October – Saturday 1 November
Wellington, North Island, New Zealand

Wellington has two nicknames: “Windy Wellington” and “The Coolest Little Capital in the World”, and the reasoning behind both was very much in evidence during our visit!

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Having briefly toured the city with Doug on Tuesday, we had a pretty good idea about what to expect. In addition, we had the huge advantage of having received an email from Simon’s colleague, Jenni, who is a Kiwi with family still in Wellington. She asked her partner’s sister, who is apparently something of a foodie, for some restaurant recommendations for us, and boy, did she do us proud! We had some amazing meals during our time in the city, so please forgive me if this post is mainly about food…!

Ombra, Cuba Street
We caught a train from Doug’s place into Wellington on Wednesday evening, and, after checking in at our hotel, visited Ombra restaurant on Cuba Street, which is the city’s main destination for food and bars. The theme here was cicchetti (which is apparently Venetian tapas) and we shared a fantastic meal including broccoli and ricotta fritters, a rocket and pear salad and three (count ’em!) desserts between the two of us. We loved the menu here so much that we had to resist coming back another night, but we thought that we should trust in The Email (as we had come to know Jenni’s sister-in-law’s recommendations) and try some more places – and we were delighted that we did!

Sculpture Walk and Havana restaurant
The weather on Thursday was lovely, as you can see from the hotel room view that we woke to (below), so after a wonderful breakfast/brunch at Ti Kouka (thank you, Email!), we explored some of the “sculpture walk” around the harbour area.

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The photo below is from an installation dedicated to the memory of the New Zealand men who went off to fight in the First World War. 10,000 of them left New Zealand just over a century ago – in fact, Saturday 1 November was the 100th anniversary of the date on which they, along with the Australian troops who were also part of the ANZAC expeditionary force, left the Australian port of Albany, bound for Gallipolli and, later, the Western Front. In total, 100,000 Kiwi men fought in the First World War, which is incredible, given that the population of the country at the time was only around 1 million.

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On Thursday evening, we indulged in tapas once again, this time with a modern Spanish theme. Havana is a very cool bar and restaurant where we tucked into delicious food including Moroccan-inspired lamb and chickpeas and a fantastic salad of lentils, smoked beetroot and goat’s cheese.

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Sightseeing and Floridita’s
Friday was a somewhat busier day, as we had a lot of sightseeing to fit into our last day in Wellington!

We started with a tour of the Parliament buildings, which was very interesting. The round building, known as the Beehive, houses the executive functions, the NZ parliament sits next door, and the final building is the parliamentary library.

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The two older buildings had work done on them in the early 1990s, to retro-fit them with earthquake protection, using base isolation technology developed here in New Zealand.  Three hundred cylindrical rubber and steel “shock absorbers” (known as bearings) were installed under the buildings and then engineers cut away a horizontal section of the original foundations, so that the buildings now sit solely on the bearings.  In the event of a ‘quake, the bearings should allow for 30cm movement in any horizontal direction, without the building above being shaken too much.

A number of the traditional aspects of the Westminster parliament on which it is based remain, including such anachronisms as Black Rod and 2pm – 10pm sitting times, but NZ does have a history of being somewhat more progressive than its mother country: in 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote and there is no appointed upper house (the Kiwis abolished it in 1950 because it was undemocratic).

The other participants on our tour were mainly from France, Germany and Brazil, which meant that we did not get a chance to discuss one of the burning issues of the day with any locals: that morning, we had seen a newspaper article explaining that it is likely that New Zealand will vote next year on whether to change its flag. Currently, the flag consists of a dark blue background with the Union Flag in the upper left corner and four stars (representing the Southern Cross constellation) on the right – which may surprise rugby fans, who would be forgiven for believing that the flag is black with a silver fern! Various ideas are under consideration, including the simple removal of the Union Flag.

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During the afternoon, we visited Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, where I was particularly interested to learn more about how the Maori people had come here from various Pacific Islands some time between AD1000 and AD1200.

We also saw a brand new display (only opened on the day that we visited) about Shrek the sheep, who apparently became quite famous  here in NZ a few years ago.  He was a merino sheep who escaped the “muster” several years running by hiding out in the mountains, living in a cave despite the freezing conditions.  By the time he was eventually captured and sheared, he looked more like a cauliflower than a sheep!  He then became something of a celebrity, travelling around the world raising money for sick children (although he didn’t like to talk about his charity work, according to the display…).  Shrek sadly passed away in 2011, by which time he had retired to a luxury shed, but he has now been stuffed so that he can be kept at Te Papa for posterity.

On Friday evening, we tried out one final recommendation from the Email, Floridita’s, which was, predictably, excellent. Wellington is definitely a foodie’s paradise!

Final impressions, Wellington
Everything about Wellington is cool, even the airport that we departed from. In addition to the amazing displays based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (below), the airport sign facing out onto the runway did not say “Wellington” but instead read “The Middle of Middle Earth”!

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Video of the day
In honour of our tour of the Parliament buildings (and also because it is one of our favourite YouTube videos of all time), this is the public gallery breaking into a Maori love song after the NZ parliament voted in 2013 to make gay marriage legal:

The Big Easy

Thursday 25th September – Monday 29th September
New Orleans, USA

We weren’t quite sure what to expect of New Orleans. Was it going to be a beautiful, historic city?  Or somewhere to sample a range of southern foods? Perhaps a great place to discover fantastic new jazz music. Or maybe it would be a cheesy party town of clubs and bars. 

As it turns out, New Orleans (or ‘N’Awlins’ as it’s pronounced by the locals) is all of those things. 

The French Quarter is actually a fairly large area, containing Bourbon Street (cheesy party town? Check), some lovely restaurants and cafes (foodie experience? No problem), as well as plenty of places to pop in and sample some great music. And there’s still room to get off the beaten track and enjoy the old buildings in fairly residential parts of the historic area. 

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Musical discovery
On arrival at our hotel on Thursday, the receptionist gave us some free tickets to see the Rebirth Brass Band, who won a Grammy for their 2012 album, ‘Rebirth of New Orleans’. So, on Friday night we went to the Howlin’ Wolf in the Central Business district, to check them out. They are a nine-piece band (including three trumpets, two trombones, a saxophone, drummers and tuba). Their style is probably best described as a musical party!

We also saw a couple of different bands in bars on Saturday lunchtime and Saturday evening, one of which was called ‘The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys’. Yes, really. If that wasn’t enough, there was always plenty of music in the street. 

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While having dinner on Saturday night, we even saw a wedding party dance past with their own jazz band!

New Orleans wedding party from Striking out on Vimeo.

Southern food
New Orleans has a very strong food heritage, arising from its mixing pot of different immigrant influences over the years.  Amongst other delicacies, we tried Italian Muffuletta (a sandwich containing ham, cheese, salami and olive salad), Creole red beans and rice (although we declined the opportunity to sample the version that was topped with gator sausage!), gumbo and jambalaya and French beignets (light, fluffy square donuts, drenched in icing sugar).  We also had a traditional breakfast consisting of biscuits (a kind of flaky, savoury scone) with creamy sausage gravy and the ubiquitous grits, which could best be described as a kind of buttery semolina, which can either be eaten savoury with salt and pepper or sweet with maple syrup.

Exploring the French Quarter

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On Sunday afternoon we decided to do a walking tour of the French Quarter, to learn a bit more about the history of the city. Elliot, a volunteer from the Friends of the Cabildo gave a really interesting tour, covering a great deal about the different types of buildings found in the French Quarter, as well as information about how the city is protected from the water that surrounds it.  

The history of the city is fascinating. It really is a melting pot of immigrants, starting with the French, then the Spanish (the French handed it to the Spanish to avoid it being taken by the British in the 1800s). More recent waves of immigration have included Vietnamese (during the Vietnam war) and Cuban. The atmosphere this has created is truly unique. 

There is also now a great deal of protection for the historic buildings (down to exactly what paint can be used on the outside of houses)….one thing this can’t prevent is the fact that the city is sinking, so there are plenty of examples of buildings leaning in interesting directions!

Amusingly, the first question that Elliot asked us when he realised we were from England was whether we knew Hull!  When we said that was our home town, he asked whether we know “the Dodds”, who are family friends!  We couldn’t help – can anyone else?!

Song of the day
It has to be the Rebirth Brass Band. This was recorded by WNYC (a public radio station in New York).

Baltimore – Merry Clinchmas!

Monday 15th September – Wednesday 17th September
Baltimore, USA

The journey from Philadelphia to Baltimore on Monday took just over an hour. We only had a couple of days there, but this is what we learned…

1. The Star-Spangled Banner was written in Baltimore 200 years ago
Almost to the day, as it turns out. We arrived at the end of celebrations for the 200 year anniversary of the writing of the US national anthem. This included historic tall ships and navy ships, which had sailed to the Inner Harbour area for the occasion.

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Initially a poem, the Star-Spangled Banner was written after an attack by the British on the young independent nation of the United States. The anthem refers to the flag still flying the morning after the bombardment, showing that the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’ had survived the attack.

2. Try the crab cakes
Maryland is famous for its crabcakes. And the best place in Baltimore for crabcakes is widely considered to be Faidley’s, in Lexington Market. My view of ‘lump and fries’? Absolutely delicious.

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The Baltimore Orioles are winners of the American League East!
Baltimore is well known for being a city that loves its sport, and Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, is regarded as one of the country’s best ballparks.

And we couldn’t have arrived on a better day. With no planning on our part, we happened to be in town on the day the Orioles could win (or “clinch”) their division. For the first time since 1997. Surely we couldn’t see a piece of baseball history?

Many people turn up to baseball games with homemade signs (mainly to get on TV and/or the big screen in the stadium). Our favourite was a spoof Christmas card that read ‘Merry Clinchmas!’

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The Orioles started badly, going 1-0 down in the top of the first inning. But they soon took the lead, scoring three in the bottom of the first. The Orioles’ starting pitcher, Ubaldo Jiminez, continued to struggle, but the Orioles kept fighting, and were 7-2 ahead by the end of the eighth inning. The atmosphere throughout the game was absolutely electric – you could feel the nerves and excitement in the stadium.

The fans were much louder than we are used to at baseball games. They had a number of chants and songs, mostly based on the team’s nickname, the O’s. Before the game when the national anthems were sung (and yes, that is plural, as the Orioles’ opponents were the Toronto Blue Jays), the crowd co-opted the lyrics, bellowing out the “O”s in “O Canada” and “O say, can you see”!

So to the top of the ninth inning. The Orioles were 8-2 ahead. They needed to get just three players out and they would win the league. Every out was greeted with a standing ovation, and when the final out was secured the roar from the crown was phenomenal!

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We stayed behind after the game to watch the players celebrate, both in their dressing room (beamed onto the big screen) and on the pitch with the fans.

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There was a lot of champagne spraying involved, but you can’t say they weren’t prepared…many of the players wear goggles to protect their eyes, and the players’ changing room is protected with plastic sheeting!

What an amazing experience, and we were so incredibly lucky to see them clinch the division live!

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Song of the day
It has to be the Star-Spangled Banner. In this video, made to celebrate the 200th anniversary, CNN challenged members of the public to sing it. Luckily, the words are also provided in the subtitles….