Tag Archives: Written by Joanna

Two midnights in Paris

Sunday 20th – Tuesday 22nd September
Zurich to Newcastle (via Paris)

Simon’s aunt, Julia, lives in Paris with her husband, Gotzon, and their two grown-up children, Thomas and Annie (although Thomas was unfortunately away during our stay).

We have visited them on several occasions before, but Annie was still alarmed by how little time we had allowed ourselves in which to explore her beloved city. Apparently before we arrived she had asked Julia: “Why would they spend two weeks in Switzerland and two days in Paris, rather than the other way around?!”

With only one full day to enjoy the city, we took the opportunity to pick Annie’s brains about the best places to visit, in addition to choosing an art gallery that we wanted to see (although that decision was taken out of our hands to some extent, as many museums and galleries in Paris are closed on Mondays!).

So, after a relaxing Sunday afternoon/evening spent chatting and catching up with family, we enjoyed a great day out in Paris.

Musee de l’Orangerie, Paris
We started at the Musee de l’Orangerie, where some of Monet’s best-loved pictures are displayed in two beautiful galleries, which Monet himself helped to design.

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Gardens, Le Palais Royale, Paris
After a delicious lunch in a small cafe in the Saint-Germain district, we had a look around some areas of the city that are slightly off the beaten tourist track. The gardens of Le Palais Royale are a fascinating mix of the old and new, and were hosting an exhibition of modern art sculptures.

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We also managed to sneak in a visit to a very up-market chocolate and macaron shop! We finished our walking tour with a great view up the Champs Elysee at the Arc de Triomphe.

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On Monday evening, Annie treated us to a viewing of one of her favourite movies, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, in which we were able to re-visit some of the sights that we had seen earlier in the day.

All that was left on Tuesday was to catch the Eurostar from Gare du Nord to St Pancras in London, then after a short lunch stop St Pancras station, the trip north to Newcastle.

Now we’re back home and back to work, after a fascinating trip around a new (to us) part of Europe. We hope you have enjoyed this brief resurrection of our blog!

Quote of the day
“Mum, what’s the English for ‘coup d’etat’?”
In a tri-lingual family (English, French and Spanish), sometimes translation is required….though, as it turns out, not all the time…

Dragons and Lions in Lucerne

Monday 14th – Thursday 17th September
Lugano to Lucerne, Switzerland

Train journey Lugano to Lucerne
The train journey from Lugano to Lucerne on Monday took us through the Alps. Often we read or work on our blog during long train journeys, but on this occasion we both decided to listen to podcasts on our headphones instead, so that we could watch the views passing by the windows. We enjoyed some amazing sights, including some incredible waterfalls caused by the large amount of rain that we had experienced while in Lugano.

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Mount Pilatus, Lucerne, Switzerland
When we were planning our trip to Switzerland one of the days out that interested us, and led to us choosing Lucerne as a destination, was “The Golden Route” up Mount Pilatus. Tuesday looked like it might be clear enough to enjoy some views from the top.

The journey began with a boat trip on Lake Lucerne, known in Swiss as the Vierwaldstättersee, the Four Forested Cantons Lake, after the original “cantons” (or states) that joined together in the Middle Ages to found Switzerland.

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Next we boarded the world’s steepest cog-wheel railway, to climb to the summit of Mount Pilatus, at over 2,000 metres above sea level. Although the track does not look too steep in the picture below, some sections are at a 48%, or close to a 1 in 2, incline (for those who know our street in Gateshead, the section downhill from our house is a 1 in 10 incline, which certainly feels steep enough when we try to walk – or cycle! – up it!). The railway here is over 125 years old, and was originally steam-operated, although it is powered by electricity these days. It also gave us brief glimpses of the lakes below.

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Initially when we reached the top we emerged into a world of clouds. But within an hour or so (during which we grabbed some lunch at one of the two hotels(!) at the summit) the weather had cleared, providing us with some fantastic views.

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We then travelled back down via two cable cars, including the modern “Dragon Ride” pictured below. As an added bonus, we could actually see the building housing the apartment that we stayed in during our time in Lucerne – it is one of the two tower blocks close to the football stadium about three quarters of the way up the right hand side of this photo.

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Walking tour, Lucerne, Switzerland
Lucerne is a very beautiful and historic city, and we were keen to learn more about it, so we took a walking tour on Wednesday morning. The guide was very knowledgable and engaging, and we enjoyed hearing about how the city originally became rich due to its location on the main trade route between Germany and Italy (allowing it to charge tax on the goods that passed through). Later, the source of its wealth switched to tourism, particularly visitors from Britain in the early days. This remains the case, although today they get visitors from across the world.

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We were also interested to hear about the modern culture and congress centre that was built in the 1990s, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel. It houses a concert hall and other exhibition spaces.

Nouvel’s original vision was to place the building on an island in the middle of the lake, but this plan was rejected by the people of Lucerne in a referendum. (On this occasion, the vote took place at a local level, but even on the national stage Switzerland has direct democracy, meaning that any law or decision can be challenged by members of the public and, if enough people join the petition, a referendum will be called.)

Having been foiled by public opinion, Nouvel therefore decided to incorporate the lake into his design in another way, with pools both outside and inside the centre. Our guide told us that the pools are usually fenced off to prevent people falling into the water (which has apparently happened on several occasions) but Nouvel does not approve of the fencing, so the city removes it whenever it knows that he is coming to visit, and then replaces it once he is safely out of town!

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In the afternoon we also visited the Lion Monument, by Lukas Ahorn. Carved into a rock face and sitting ten metres long, it commemorates the Swiss soldiers who died during the French Revolution, while defending King Louis XVI (although Switzerland has been neutral for many centuries, that hasn’t stopped it providing mercenary soldiers to other countries, a tradition that continues to this day with the Swiss Guard who protect the Pope at the Vatican). The “dying lion” was a draw for tourists in the 19th Century and continues to be popular with visitors to this day. A lot may have changed in that time, but Lucerne remains a beautiful and fascinating city to explore.

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Linguistic challenge of the day
Although I speak (and understand) some German, it soon became clear to me that this would not be sufficient to allow me to catch all of what is going on in Switzerland. Although Lucerne is in the majority “German-speaking” section of the country, the mother tongue of the locals is actually Swiss German, which is very different. I am not certain whether it is a dialect of German or a separate language, as some of the basic words (such as “und” and “aber”) sound similar, but others (incuding “hello”, “goodbye” and the numbers) are very different. The accent is also very dissimilar to German, being somewhat “sing-song”, like the Swedish chef from The Muppet Show!

After reading a little about the language situation in Switzerland online, I was reassured to learn that Swiss Germans also speak Standard German, as all of their lessons are conducted in that language throughout school and almost all written communication (with the exception of short text messages, etc) tends to take place in Standard German. Therefore, I have been able to communicate pretty well while we have been here (certainly helped by the fact that most people seem to also speak excellent English), although I still find it odd to be greeted with “Grüezzi” rather than “Gutentag”, and to hear people saying “Merci” rather than “Danke schön”!

What in the world….!?

Wednesday 9th September
EXPO2015, Milan, Italy

We have been lucky enough to travel to some incredible places over the years, many of which have been linked by one or more of several common themes. For example, most have a decent railway system, because that is our preferred way of getting about. The majority have some kind of local food or drink that I am keen to try, as I tend to specialise in gastro-tourism. And, more by coincidence than careful planning, several have hosted a World’s Fair.

The generally-recognised first World’s Fair, also known as The Great Exhibition, was held in the Crystal Palace (then located in Hyde Park), London in 1851. This was followed by a series of exhibitions in the UK, France and the US, show-casing technological and scientific advances, as industrialisation spread. Over time, they were held in more diverse places across the world and developed into utopian demonstrations of cultural and social ideals, and then later into “nation branding”, setting out each country’s vision of how it wanted to be seen by the rest of the world.

Examples of places that we have visited on which a World’s Fair has left a permanent mark include Paris (the Eiffel Tower), Queens in New York City (the globe featured in the film Men in Black – picture below) and Seattle (the Space Needle and the Monorail). We have also come across reminders of these events in Vancouver and Chicago, amongst others.

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As we’ve discovered these remnants on our travels we have idly wondered, on one or two occasions, whether the concept of the World’s Fair still exists. Such events must have been incredibly exciting and exotic at a time when foreign trips were available only to the richest, but surely in these days of mass international travel such an idea would be obsolete?

Well, it turns out that World’s Fairs do still exist, although they are called Expos these days. It also turns out that the 2015 Expo is being held in Milan. With our history of discovering archeological evidence of this event in different places around the world, we couldn’t resist actually going along to a real, live example!

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Day tickets for the Expo were EUR35, whereas the evening tickets were only EUR5, so, with a keen eye for a bargain (I am my mother’s daughter, after all!) I voted that we should spend Tuesday exploring Milan and then go to the Expo for the evening.

A 30 minute subway ride (and a 20 minute queue followed by a 20 minute walk!) later, we were in the midst of EXPO2015, the theme of which is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” – the biggest event ever organised on food and nutrition.

The venue is absolutely huge, with the capacity to host up to 250,000 visitors each day. As the event is running from May to October, they are expecting to get a lot of people (20 million, in fact) through their doors! We thought that it would be fairly quiet on random Tuesday evening in September, but we couldn’t have been more wrong – the entire place was packed with families, business people and trade delegations.

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We weren’t really sure what to expect and, to be quite honest, we are still not entirely clear on what the purpose of an Expo is!

Each country puts together a “pavilion”, in which it can do pretty much whatever it likes related to the broad theme of the Expo. Some (including fairly unexpected places such as Angola) had apparently spent a good deal of money on building an intricate architectural masterpiece, inside which they were presumably showcasing the best that their country had to offer (although we didn’t find out what was inside many of them, as the queues were fairly off-putting). Brazil had gone for an “inside-out” concept, whereby their entire site appeared to be taken up by a giant climbing frame, which looked as though it might enable visitors to feel that they were taking a tree-top tour of a rainforest. And still others had taken a simpler approach, with a small building housing only a couple of small attractions (such as Cuba, which contained just a Mojito bar – what else does one need?!).

The United Kingdom was represented by a country garden and a bee hive – inspired structure. It seemed to be focused on promoting the UK for business and technology primarily, though it also gave visitors the opportunity to sample traditional British food and drink (including Newcastle Brown Ale, naturally).

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France’s wine cellar-style display included information about the various ways in which science and technology can assist in the plan to provide food for the world in the future.

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There were also some more general exhibitions, showcasing the types of food and drink available from different regions of the world, such as this rice -themed area.

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A centrepiece of the event was the ‘Tree of Life’ – perhaps in years to come this will be seen as Milan’s equivalent of Seattle’s Space Needle?

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After walking the full length of the exhibition, we were ready for a sit-down and a Moroccan meal, followed by a visit to one of several “Eataly” sections which contained a Nutella Concept cafe. However, we were slightly disappointed to find that the foods on offer were no more “out there” than a tiramisu with a dollop of Nutella on top, and most people were simply tucking into Nutella on bread or on a crepe!

All in all, visiting a real-life Expo was a great opportunity, and a quite surreal experience. Milan’s hosting of the event has been controversial in some quarters (with even the Pope pointing out the irony of a global temporary exhibition dedicated to sustainability and feeding the poor, despite the fact that, prior to his tenure, Vatican City had committed to having its own pavilion). But getting even a small flavour of what it must have been like to visit the World’s Fair in London, New York, Paris or Seattle was absolutely fantastic.

Food of the day

Sadly, we only discovered this cart where one could order a cone of chocolate shavings after we had been to the Nutella Concept cafe, so perhaps this should be called “missed opportunity of the day”!

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Around the world in 88 days – tips and tricks

‘I’ve just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I’ll tell you what, never again.’ (Comedian Tim Vine: winner of the prize for the funniest joke of 2010’s Edinburgh Fringe.)

So, this is our last blog post, having completed our round the world odyssey. We thought we’d finish with a few tips and ideas that we’ve picked up along the way…

Great stuff to pack

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These are some of the things in our suitcases that really came in handy:
Hair bands came in useful for all sorts of things – holding food wrappers together, keeping charging cables tidy and even occasionally for tying my hair back!
– We have been blogging and booking our hotels using an iPad, and before we travelled, we invested in a Logitech iPad keyboard, which connects via bluetooth and makes it a lot easier to edit text. A really good idea if you’re planning on writing more than just the odd email. (Do be aware, however, that because it connects via bluetooth the keyboard isn’t useable on flights.)
– We also bought an iPad camera connection kit, which has been awesome. You simply take your memory card out of your camera (or connect the camera via USB) and use it to transfer photos directly onto the iPad. From there, we were also able to back up our pictures using Dropbox. A really great way to make sure your photos are safe.
– We also got some mini business cards made by moo.com, to give to people we met as we travelled around. The photos were stock ones from moo.com, but happened to be of New York and San Francisco, which was perfect!

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Our favourite websites and apps
Trivago is great for booking hotels – it allows you to search easily and identify what matters to you (how close you want it to be to the city centre, cost, reviews etc.). And we found it offered cheaper options than Trip Advisor in many cases. 
– For food and drink recommendations, Yelp and Urbanspoon were fantastic in the USA and Sydney. Why use the guidebook when you can get up-to-date reviews from local people?
– For money, XE Currency is a free app that allows you to easily calculate exchange rates, and Trail Wallet budgeting app was really helpful in making sure we didn’t go bust along the way!

With all of those long train journeys and flights to contend with, we were always on the lookout for ways to keep ourselves entertained. I love to download podcasts, particularly The Football Ramble, No Such Thing As A Fish (from the QI “elves”) and anything by Slate, particularly The Political Gabfest. My latest addiction is Serial, from America’s National Public Radio – it is a multi-part true crime story and makes for compulsive listening! We both also adore Radio 4’s series “Cabin Pressure“, and are currently re-listening to all of the episodes in preparation for the last ever instalment, which will be broadcast as a two-parter on Radio 4 on 23 and 24 December.

Other tips and tricks
While in Tokyo, we placed an online supermarket order, for delivery shortly after our return home. Hugely convenient – I love living in the future!

** If you only read one of our travel tips, read this one! **

However, our biggest and best tip is this: always, always, without fail, carry food with you!

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We both feel very lucky to have travelled around the world with our best friend – but even we argue sometimes, and it is almost always because one of us is hungry (or “hangry” – i.e. hungry and angry!)! So the simplest but most important tip is this: buy and carry hangry bars (aka cereal bars or, in Japan, anything that you can find at the local Seven Eleven that vaguely resembles a cereal bar!) at all times, and don’t be afraid to eat them whenever necessary (i.e. don’t wait because “we are going to get lunch soon” – the point is that you may not be able to find anywhere to eat in time)!

That’s all folks!
And that’s all! Our journey is over, we’re back home and it’s time to unpack and catch up on the washing.

We really hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it. Thanks for all your comments, likes, follows and feedback – it’s really meant a lot to us and it’s made our adventure even more enjoyable being able to share it as we’ve been travelling.

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Around the bases and headed for home

Thursday 27th November – Sunday 30th November
Tokyo, Japan to Gateshead, UK

Tsukiji Fish Market, Ginza
Thursday was our last day in Tokyo and, fortunately, the weather was much better.

We got up early to go and explore the Tsukiji Market, where huge amounts of fish are bought and sold every day. Although it’s in all the guidebooks as somewhere to visit, its main purpose is definitely not as a tourist attraction. It’s still very much a working fish market, used by everyone from wholesalers to Tokyo’s chefs, to the general public.

The walk from the subway station took us past a few food stalls and cafes. The cafes were tiny, most consisting of a kitchen that could barely contain one person, and a counter facing onto the street for their customers to sit at.

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Once you get past this you reach the market proper, with more traffic and people than the space can comfortably contain.

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All in all, it was a fascinating place to visit, and a unique Tokyo experience, though not one we’d necessarily recommend to vegetarians!

Tokyo Sky Tree and Senso-ji, Asakusa
After visiting the fish market, we headed over to the Asakusa area to see the Tokyo Sky Tree, which, on its completion in 2012, became the tallest broadcasting tower in the world (and the second tallest structure in the world) at 634m (2,080 feet). It may not look that much taller than the surrounding buildings in this shot, but that is just a matter of perspective – it is *much* taller than the other buildings!

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Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, was also nearby – a juxtaposition of new and old that is very typical of Japan.

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Last night in Tokyo
We celebrated our final night in Tokyo (and the final overseas night of our trip) with a drink in the bar on the 36th floor of our hotel, where the napkins did double-duty as a guide to the view! (The square building in the centre of the picture below is the National Diet Building, the home of Japan’s national legislature).

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The journey home
We flew from Tokyo to London Heathrow the following day, enabling us to spend Friday evening and Saturday morning with our lovely friends, Ed and Dave, who kindly let us sleep off our jet lag in their spare bedroom before our train back up to Newcastle on Saturday afternoon.

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Back in Gateshead
Once home, we took advantage on Sunday of the admittedly-short daylight hours to pay a visit to our beloved local icon, the Angel of the North. It’s one of our favourite spots in the North East – we even visited it for a photo shoot on our wedding day.

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It’s good to be home, and incredible to think that we’ve actually been all the way around the world in the last three months.

Sounds of the day
One of our biggest memories of Japan will definitely be the background music and other sounds you hear everywhere you go.

Overall, Japanese people seem keen not to disturb each other with too much noise – putting their mobile phones on silent (or off completely) on the subway and train for example.

But there’s still plenty of noise. Almost all restaurants and cafes we visited had background music, with a preference for classical string music or light saxophone jazz (imagine Kenny G playing wherever you go!). In the main shopping streets in Kyoto it was even being piped into the streets.

Subway stations in Tokyo seemed to each have a jingle that played as the train doors opened. Bus stops in Kyoto had a little tune for when buses arrived (or that seemed to be what was going on!). Some subway stations even had birdsong sounds – we never quite worked out what this was about, but it seemed to  be something to do with helping blind people navigate their way around the stations!

Soccer, sightseeing, shopping and slurping in Tokyo

Sunday 23rd November – Monday 24th November
Tokyo, Japan

Shibuya
Sunday, our first full day in Tokyo, dawned bright and sunny, as can be seen in this view from our hotel room. We decided to head for the Shibuya area, where young Tokyoites hang out at weekends.

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Completely accidentally, we came across the Blind Football World Championships, being played close to the Yoyogi national stadium, which was built for the 1964 Olympics and will also be used for the forthcoming 2020 Olympics.

We popped into the stadium to watch the second half of a semi-final match between Spain and Argentina. There was some amazing skill on show, with the players relying on the rattling sound of the ball and on shouted instructions from their coaches and from the sighted goalkeepers.

The match ultimately went to penalties, for each of which the coach behind the goal would tap something metal (possibly his keys) on the goalposts before the player took his shot, to give the striker an indication of the position of the goal.

Argentina were victorious, and they celebrated very passionately, which was unsurprising, given that the reward for the ultimate winner of Monday’s final would be a place in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Unfortunately for Argentina, however, we later learnt that they came up against their great rivals, Brazil, in the final

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Next, we visited Takeshita Street, which is the Tokyo equivalent of Camden – i.e. a place for “alternative” fashions. It was completely packed and totally crazy – in other words, very Tokyo!

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Lunch was some delicious gyoza (Japanese dumplings), in a tiny place that served pretty much nothing else, and had punters queueing around the block!

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Imperial Palace East Gardens
On Monday, which was a public holiday here in Japan, we visited the very beautiful Imperial Palace East Gardens.

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Although Simon is definitely the principal photographer in our partnership, I have got more into taking some snaps myself on this trip, albeit only with my phone, rather than braving Simon’s very advanced camera!

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We also looked around a free exhibition in the park, focused on the current Emperor’s first overseas trip in 1953, when he was only 19 and the Crown Prince (he did not become Emperor until 1989). He spent around a month in the UK, attending the Queen’s coronation and also visiting Bamburgh Castle, close to where we live. The exhibition included a couple of paintings of the castle that were given to him as gifts, and even a photo that he himself had taken of it.

Tokyo Station
Next, we walked through to Tokyo’s main train station, in search of a uniquely Japanese shopping experience – Tokyo Character Street! This is a collection of shops in a passageway under the station, which specialise in merchandise relating to various cartoons and comics. As mentioned above, Monday was a public holiday, so the area was buzzing with costumed characters and over-excited children!

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We finished the day with dinner on Ramen Street, also in Tokyo Station. The process for eating in these “hole in the wall” places is a little unusual (kind of like “if Argos did noodles…”).

1. Decide what you want to eat (with the help of pictures and English descriptions on the menu, in our case) and calculate the total cost.
2. Proceed to a vending machine, insert money and press the buttons (thankfully also with pictures) associated with your choices. Collect a ticket from the machine.
3. Join the queue to enter the restaurant.
4. On being shown to a table (shared with others), hand your ticket to the waitress (who, rather alarmingly, was wearing wellies…).
5. Receive your food.
6. Slurp.

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Video of the day
One of the interesting things about being in Japan is the huge differences you see in things like music and TV. In the USA, Australia and New Zealand much of the pop culture is very similar (for which read: Taylor Swift). While that’s certainly here too, there’s also a lot of stuff we wouldn’t see or hear back home. So, to give you a taste, this is go!go!vanillas.

The sound of lava on willow

Friday 14th November – Monday 17th November
Rotorua to Auckland, North Island, New Zealand

On Friday, we took a bus from Rotorua to Hamilton, and then completed the Northern Explorer train route by riding on the Hamilton to Auckland section.

Our final few days in New Zealand were spent in Auckland. Although New Zealand’s capital is Wellington, Auckland is by far its biggest city, boasting some one million residents.

Rotorua to Auckland
Prior to catching our bus to Hamilton, we took a walk beside the lake in Rotorua, and saw the unusual (for us Europeans) black swans that live there.

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We had an hour or so to spare in Hamilton, so we grabbed a snack. Simon decided that a photo was in order, as he felt that a snap with this waffle, banana and chocolate combo should be the updated version of the ice cream sundae shot that my parents always took when I was on holiday as a child!

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Auckland
We arrived in Auckland in the evening on Friday, and we caught a glimpse of the Sky Tower (the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand) on the way to our hotel.

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Saturday was unfortunately rainy (although we can’t complain, as we have really had very few days of rain on our trip), but we did manage to have a look around the city. We used our guidebook to follow a bit of a walking tour of the city centre, taking in the modern Auckland Art Gallery building, Albert Park and the university area.

In the evening, we went to a city centre sports bar called Fox’s to watch the Four Nations Rugby League final between the New Zealand Kiwis and the Australia Kangaroos. The game was taking place in Wellington (about 650km from Auckland) and we would have loved to have been able to be there to see it live – rugby league is a less popular sport in NZ than rugby union, so we could potentially have got tickets – but the timings did not work out due to our flight on Monday. However, the atmosphere in the pub was great and we really enjoyed the match – particularly as the Kiwis were eventually victorious 22-18, after a close-fought battle.

Sunday was a brighter day and we kicked it off with a tasty breakfast in an alarmingly-named coffee shop close to the Britomart station.

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We then took the train a short distance out of the city centre to go for a walk to get some views of the city. We walked up Mt Eden, which is in fact a volcano (Auckland is a city built on fifty volcanoes – Mt Eden is extinct, but not all of them are!). The top of the volcano later formed a crater, which is sacred ground for Maori people.

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A sign at the summit confirmed that we were a long way from home!

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From there, we walked through to Eden Park, the stadium where the NZ All Blacks play rugby and the NZ Black Caps play cricket, to watch a Twenty20 cricket game between the Auckland Aces and the Northern Knights. It was mainly a family event, and only one stand was being used by the attendees (hence why the stadium looks deserted in our photos!). This was our first ever live cricket game (we’re definitely going to attend a game at Chester-le-Street when we get home) and it was fantastic to see some sport at the national stadium.

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We finished our day back in the city centre in the Britomart area, just behind the central station, which contains a great selection of shops, cafes and restaurants.

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Thought for the day
On one of Simon’s favourite sit-coms, The Flight of the Conchords (about a Kiwi band and their manager, trying to make it big in New York City), the wall of the manager’s office is graced by a tourism poster featuring a photo of sheep grazing on the rolling hills of the North Island and bearing the legend: “New Zealand – like Scotland, only further away“.  

In fact, and as much as we love Scotland, it seems to us that NZ really isn’t like anywhere else on earth: 

– This stunningly beautiful country, which is not much bigger than the UK, boasts beaches, volcanoes, geo-thermal pools, alpine mountains, earthquakes(!), cool cities, rainforests, glaciers and even fjords;  

– Its 4 million incredibly friendly residents seem to get along harmoniously, despite their varied backgrounds, with far less of the friction between original inhabitants and European colonists than is the case in other countries;

– 75% of the country’s energy needs are supplied by renewable sources, principally hydro power from the multitudinous rivers and geo-thermal energy from deep underground;

– Its legal system has managed to avoid a “compensation culture” by instituting a state-wide system to compensate victims of accidents and fine the perpetrators; and

– New Zealand has no snakes and only one (very rare) poisonous spider.  Add this to the fact that there are no large predatory mammals, either native or introduced, and you have a country where, unlike Australia, the wildlife is not generally out to destroy humanity (the geological fault lines are another matter, however…).

In other words, we loved New Zealand (or “Godzone” as it is sometimes known, after it was described by a poet as “God’s Own Country”). In fact, if we didn’t know better, we would think that the entire place had been carefully designed – perhaps by legendary Kiwi movie director, Peter Jackson…

When we first arrived, we kept saying to ourselves: “We need to do everything we can while we are here – we will never come this far again.” Within a week, our catchphrase had become: “Next time we are here…”!

Goodbye New Zealand – I suspect that we will be back.

PS The title of this post was inspired by our day of volcanoes and cricket. I think I missed my calling as a tabloid sub-editor!