Tuesday, 22 December 2015

My Garden is dressed for Christmas

I love my garden especially at this time of year when everyone is frantically rushing around, the malls are packed, the roads are clogged and the social calendar is fit to burst.  A quiet half hour in my courtyard at the end of the day is the perfect antidote.  It is time for peace and quiet reflection on all the good things in life and for counting blessings.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone and, if at all possible, take some time for quiet reflection.


For some reason this video won"t play.  You can see it on my Facebook page A Wandering Widow Solo Travel


Monday, 14 December 2015

Alone at Christmas? Worried? Don't be, here are some handy hints to help you enjoy the day

  Christmas is a day for families and friends to be together so being alone on the day can be crushing. It doesn't matter why you are alone, it could be that you are traveling, or your children all live overseas, or you have recently lost your partner. Whatever the reason the key to enjoying the day is to plan ahead to make it fun and less lonely.  Here are a few ideas I have gathered together.  I hope they help.


My Christmas Wreath
1. Book yourself on a bus tour, a train trip or a cruise, depending on your finances.  Ensure it includes Christmas Day.  There will be a real spirit of camaraderie amongst your fellow travelers and you may even find it is one of your best Christmases ever.

2. Check into a hotel or even a back packers which is offering a Christmas dinner and enjoy the company of fellow dinners.

3. Volunteer to assist at one of the many charity Christmas dinners which you will find in most towns and cities.  Christmas is a time of giving so giving your time will be satisfying and fitting.

4. Invite your neighbours, even those you don't know and especially those alone, in for a drink before they head off to their celebrations.  One of them might even invite you to theirs. If having people in is not your thing perhaps you could call on them with small gifts and your Christmas wishes.

5. Visit a loved one's grave.   In New Zealand cemeteries are cheerful, happy places on Christmas day with groups of family and friends visiting and all willing to chat.  It sounds morbid but it isn't.  I do this every year and the spirit of happiness and goodwill there is quite uplifting.

6. Even if you are not religious, go to church.  Enjoy the Christmas carols, the joy of Christmas and the feeling of community.

7. Go for a walk and wish every one you meet "Happy Christmas".  You are bound to get merry greetings back and may even enjoy some conversations.

8. Relish being alone.  Eat what you want, listen to music you like, become absorbed in a TV movie, light candles, decorate the house. If this sounds lonely just visualise how fraught a big and noisy Christmas can be, especially when that difficult uncle turns up!

9. Spend the day planning something really special to look forward to.  It is  easy to become so lost in planning something on the internet that suddenly the day has slipped by.

10. Remember Christmas is just one day and tomorrow is another day.  The key is to plan ahead and to get out there.  Don't sit at home by yourself feeling miserable.

Please feel free to add your ideas in the Comments section.  

 And have the best, happiest, most wonderful Christmas!
St Heliers Bay, my local beach,  Because they always bloom at Christmas time
Pohutukawa are known as the New Zealand Christmas tree

Monday, 7 December 2015

Auckland's Winter Gardens - Victorian Charm

The Winter Gardens, Auckland Domain

I never have to go far from home if I want to have a wander. Auckland is blessed with lots of parks and beaches in every direction. In fact right opposite my home is a 50 hectare farm park where I enjoy a walk amongst the cows, it's a slice of country in the city.  Sometimes, though, when I feel the need for a change of scenery I head to the Auckland Domain. Yes, New York may have its Central Park, London, its Hyde Park, but Auckland has it's Domain. At 75 hectares  not quite on the same scale as the other two, I grant you, but  like them it is a lush, rolling green oasis in the heart of the city and a popular place to hang out and relax. The impressive, classically designed, Auckland Museum stands proudly overlooking the park
where pathways wind between massive trees, through flower beds and sculpture gardens. It's a perfect place to people watch and there's always something to see. Last time I visited an Indian family was holding a gathering in the picturesque Victorian band rotunda, the women dressed in saris so beautiful that I sat for some time admiring them as they fluttered about like a flock of exotic birds. For generations children have swarmed to the duck pond to feed the ducks although this practice is now frowned on. Apparently the over generosity of the children was making the ducks ill. If people watching is not your thing you will often find a cricket or football match or a free music concert and once a year the Domain hosts a Teddy Bears Picnic for children, big and small. When you feel the need for refreshment you can have coffee or tea or buy a luscious ice cream from the quaint Kiosk, built in 1913 for an exhibition as "the ideal New Zealand home".  For tourists, strolling the Domain is a refreshing break from sightseeing.

One of my favourite spots is the Winter Gardens.  I love them.  Opened in 1913 the two Victorian style glass houses face each other across a fishpond and this old world charm is part of the attraction for me. It is like stepping back to a simpler, less hurried time, a chance to just stop and smell the roses. One glass house is heated and contains permanent  tropical plants, palms and exotic species, the other is temperate and provides an ever changing kaleidoscope of glorious flowers which change with the seasons. It is a tranquil place and you would be hard pressed to find anyone there without a smile on their face.   Pausing to admire the foliage or sitting on a park bench to marvel at nature's artistry is pure balm for the soul.  It is a photographers delight, where even an amateur like me can get some pretty shots. Here are a few I took on my last visit.






Monday, 23 November 2015

Christmas Cake mmmm...mmmm!

I'm one of those people who believe no Christmas decorations should go up before the 1st of December.  It's crazy how Shopping malls now try to preempt each other, even decorating in early October.    I realise they have commercial interests to feed but, come on, there is nothing worse than seeing tired decorations and dying Christmas trees before Christmas even arrives. In Victorian England Christmas trees were not decorated until Christmas Eve but I think that's holding off the joy just a bit too long..

Also, nowadays, there is a move afoot to "get rid" of Christmas lest non-Christians are upset.  How silly is that?  I greatly enjoy the festivities of other cultures.  They add colour and joy to life and it is not necessary to believe in what they stand for to get great pleasure from them.  For a lot of people Christmas has nothing to do with religion anyway.  Historically it was a pagan festival  later adopted by Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ, whose actual birth date is unknown.  It would be a very sour grinch who didn't enjoy taking part in the giving of gifts, the feeling of goodwill and the joy of children at Christmas time, not to mention the office parties, gifts from bosses etc, etc.

Enough of the moaning, though, I love Christmas.  I love the spirit of goodwill, the family gatherings,  the decorations and the carols.  The whole nine yards.  And I love Christmas cake.  That is one thing that IS best done early.  A rich fruit cake, especially one doused in brandy, improves with age.

Last weekend I  made my Christmas cake,   I was in my happy place, enjoying the delectable aroma filling the house as it baked.  I made this cake for the first time last year and it was popular with everyone who tried it.  Even my daughter-in-law, a professed hater of fruit cakes, asked me for a slab to take home. It is not my original recipe, I got it off the internet, (Channel4-4food) but it is worth repeating here. It is quick, easy and contains apple cider and brandy.  


MIRIAM'S CHRISTMAS CAKE 
(It's not mine but that's what the family call it)

INGREDIENTS
900gms dried fruit - I use fruit cake mix
300mls dry apple cider
225gms soft brown sugar
225gms butter
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2tbs black treacle
170gms nuts - almonds, hazelnuts, pecans
4 large eggs, beaten
225gms plain flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 (half) teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons brandy

METHOD

1. Chop fruit if necessary so it's all about the size of a raisin.  If you use fruit mix this step is unnecessary.  Put the fruit in a pan with the cider and bring to the boil.  Cook for 2 - 3 minutes and leave to cool.  Fruit should absorb all the cider, if not drain it.

2. Cream the butter and sugar with the finely grated zest.  Add the treacle.  Add the beaten eggs and mix well.

3. Sieve the flour with the spices and fold into the mixture with the fruit, the chopped nuts and some juice from the orange to get a dropping consistency.  You may not need to add the juice.

4. Line an 8"/20cm cake tin with two layers of baking paper.  Wrap a thick layer of newspaper around the tin and secure with string.  Place the tin on a baking sheet with a few layers of newspaper between the tin and the sheet.

5. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth it down keeping a hollow in the centre so the cake will rise evenly with a flat top.  You can decorate the top with almonds at this stage if you wish.

6. Put it in the oven and bake for 3 to 4 hours at 150c or gas mark 2 checking now and then.  If the top starts to brown too much, cover with a couple of sheets of baking paper.

7. When the cake is cooked prick it all over with a fine skewer and pour over the brandy.  Leave in the tin until cold. Mmmmm-mmmmm!  You can then decorate however you wish - my family prefer the cake unadorned.  If not iced you can "feed" it more brandy once or twice before Christmas.



Step 8 - Clean up - oops, I seem to have used a lot of bowls!


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Strange Goings On at Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire

A naval officer in full uniform is the last person I expect to meet as I pick my way through the ruins of Fountains Abbey early one morning.  Not only is it miles from the sea but I had thought I was alone on this vast estate.  Yet, there he is, standing rigidly to attention and staring fixedly ahead.  He doesn't turn to look at me so I walk on, keeping my distance and feeling more than a little unnerved.

The naval officer in the abbey (sorry about the poor quality photo...I was trying not to be intrusive)

Fountains Abbey is part of the 760 acre estate which comprises Yorkshires first World Heritage site.  This much sought after status conferred for its wide variety of buildings and gardens spanning different eras of English history.  It is a privilege to be strolling around alone, or so I thought, so early in the day.  The gates don't open to the public until 10 but my son and daughter-in-law have treated me to a short break in a National Trust apartment in Fountains Hall, the magnificent Elizabethan manor house within the estate.  While they sleep I have wandered off to explore the ruins and ponder on nearly 900 years of history. It is a fresh spring morning. Swathes of golden daffodils and crisp white snowdrops line the River Skell which runs beside the Abbey.  My only company, whirling flocks of doves which make their nests high in the crumbling walls, hooting pheasants and the rabbits and squirrels which caper about in the early morning dew.  It is quite magical and I relish the opportunity to explore alone.
Our accommodation - Fountains Hall
It is hard now to imagine what it must have been like when a group of dissident monks made their way here in 1132.  They had broken away from their fellow monks in York, believing they had become too liberal and worldly.  In what was a bleak and desolate valley they formed a new community in order to return to their basic ideals.  Having survived failed harvests, the plague, Scots raids and, ironically, increasingly liberal attitudes, Fountains Abbey eventually became famous for the quality of its wool and grew wealthy and powerful.  This led to its ultimate downfall and life at the abbey came to a sudden harsh end when Henry V111 dissolved it in 1539 taking control of its wealth and plundering the roof for its valuable lead.
Fountains Abbey

So, here I am five centuries later, wandering through this vast crumbling ruin, thinking of the lives lived here. The cellarium, or dining room, oozes atmosphere and retains its glorious vaulted ceiling.  The bell tower soars defiantly to the sky and the massive church, with its lush, green carpet of grass is a peaceful meditative place.  I move through the cloisters, chapter house, guest houses, and even the toilet blocks which hang out over the river so that the waste could drop straight in.  No eco-warriors amongst those monks!  I linger in the warming room where huge fires were lit from November until Easter and which was the only place the monks could warm themselves against the bitter winter.  As a self contained town the abbey would once have hummed to the sound of bells and prayers, chants and industry but this morning it dozes quietly by the gentle murmur of the river, its mute, ivy clad walls standing testimony to the awesome skills of medieval builders and masons.
I could wander happily here all day but now I am feeling peckish and it is past breakfast time.  I retrace my steps through the abbey and, to my surprise, he is still there, my naval man, standing to attention and staring straight ahead.  How strange.  I stare at him but he ignores me.  I walk by and then, curiosity getting the better of me, I decide to circle around behind him for a closer look.  I approach nervously through the stone work but there is no sign of him.  He has disappeared into thin air.  I am bemused and wander around for a while trying to decide where he has gone.  It is then that I realise he was an illusion, his image created by the play of light on the crumbling ruins.  Early the next morning I take my family back to show them.  They spot him instantly.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Beauty of Clouds

Life has been pretty topsy turvy around chez Miriam the last couple of weeks - I have had builders in to do bathroom renovations and overseas visitors to stay, hence no time to blog and not a lot to blog about either.

But something interesting happened as I drove home from the city today - the sky above Auckland was filled with dramatic and unusual cloud formations. I just had to stop the car at various points to take a few photos.  My cell phone camera hasn't really done justice to nature's celestial art work, however, here are a few shots.  Beautiful as they are, I think they mean a storm is brewing! 

I've always loved clouds and, yes, I love a clear blue sky as much as the next person but clouds add character to the sky and give us clues to the coming weather.  When I was a child I used to lie on my back on the lawn with my younger brothers and make pictures in the clouds, it was a competition to see who could find the most.  Even now I will, often unwittingly, see a face or a ship or a giant sleeping in them.


Rows and floes of angels hair
and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
                         I've looked at clouds that way  (Joni Mitchell)

As a pretty optimistic person I like to believe the saying that 'every cloud has a silver lining'.
                                         I hope all your clouds have silver linings too.







Monday, 26 October 2015

Sand, Shipwrecks, Seals and Spitzkoppe ( A look back at my African Adventure 2010)

 Our trip out of Swakopmund, Namibia, was delayed a short while as we waited for a spare part for the truck but now we are on our way travelling through an endless landscape of golden sand.  The scenery is flat and featureless so we spend the time chatting, joking and dozing in the truck. 


Our truck in the Namib Desert - sand as far as the eye can see


A shipwreck on Namibia's Skeleton Coast
   We stop at the lower reaches of the Skeleton Coast and walk across the sand to view a ship wrecked trawler.  A fairly recent wreck it is an eerie sight, through the mist, as it wallows abandoned at the edge of the breakers.  The Skeleton Coast is named for the bleached whale and seal bones scattered along its length but it is also infamous for the number of ship wrecks that have occurred there over the years.  The combination of an 
inhospitable climate, constant rolling surf and regular sea fogs have made the coast fearsome for sailors and the subject of myth and legend. 

Seals millions of them - smelly!
We can smell our next stop before we even see it.  This is the Cape Cross seal colony, home to approximately 80,000 seals.  At first it is hard to discern them  but as we get closer they become a seething mass lying on the rocks.  A walkway takes us right up to, over, and around them.  It is quite a sight to see but I keep a perfumed wipe over my nose the whole way. Cape Cross was named by Diego Cao, a Portuguese explorer who landed there in 1486 and planted a cross on the spot. We eat lunch a little further up the coast beside great crashing waves and several of us run into the icy water to have, at least, a paddle in the Atlantic. 
 
The stunningly beautiful Spitzkoppe



























After lunch we head inland again, pass through the strangle little settlement of Hientjes Bay, built entirely on sand, and after a while the scenery begins to change.  There is more vegetation and in the distance we can see large red mountain peaks rising out of the Namib desert.  We are heading to Spitzkoppe, the highest at 1728 metres and will camp there over night.  Spitzkoppe, like the other mountains in this area is 700 million years old, solid granite and referred to as the Matterhorn of Namibia because it has a similar shape to the Swiss mountain.  As we arrive at the entrance to the camp site our truck becomes deeply bogged in sand.  We all climb out and the men in our group start digging the truck out.  After several attempts at freeing it, and with the help of a good push from everyone, the truck is free and we continue on to camp.  We drive between the giant red mountains and into a canyon to our stunning camp site.  There are no facilities here, no water or showers and just a long drop toilet but we are all awe struck by the setting and after pitching our tents set out to explore it. 




We spot several hyrax or dassies basking on the rocks.  They are a very cute little animal, a cross between a guinea pig and a rabbit.  We clamber about over the rocks and pose to photograph our own version of rock drawings.  We sit on the warm red rock and watch the sun go down behind the mountains.  The sun is always a bright red ball as it goes down in this part of Africa but we have noticed the colour does not really spread across the sky.  We spend the most magical evening, sitting around the camp fire, chatting and singing and telling stories.  We are in the wilderness and it is wonderful.  The stars in the sky are spectacular.



We make our own rock drawings


Our magnificent campsite


View from our tent

























Monday, 19 October 2015

Fiji - a Holiday or a Holiday?

There are two types of holidays. There is the "travel-to-exotic-location-and-see-as-much-as-you-can" holiday and then there is the relaxing, laid back "holiday" holiday. As an addicted traveller I love both. Recently I was thrilled to be invited to share a  "holiday" holiday in Fiji with my son and his family and what a joy it was.

The plan was simply to kick back, relax, enjoy the warmth, the surroundings and have some quality family time.  The plan worked, it was an absolute delight.
View from our villa
Our week was spent at the Sheraton Villas on Denerau Island just out of Nadi. The villas are very large, with kitchen and laundry facilities, ideal when you are travelling with two young children.  Ours had a romantic view of the sea framed by softly waving palm trees and  overlooking one of the swimming pools. When the children were asleep we spent long hours on our deck admiring the view, people watching, reading, drinking wine and chatting.
Oh, Look!  I think we may have ordered some cocktails.
 Denerau is almost exclusively a resort area with several hotels lining the beach frontage joined by a pretty seaside pathway. The Sheraton and adjoining Westin Hotel belong to the same umbrella company so that guests at one can use all the facilities at both. Blessed with a week of glorious weather our days kicked off with long, lazy, sumptuous breakfasts at the Sheraton, Master Three's eyes popping as he surveyed the vast buffet selection and then settled on pretty much what he normally eats, such is the nature of a three year old.  Over breakfast we discussed  plans for the day, pressing things like which pool of the many would we swim at, where would we go for a walk and where would we eat dinner.  Some times we took the Bula Bus for a tour around the island or to the Denerau Port shopping centre. One evening we had a memorable, waterside, meal at Nadina Authentic Fijian Restaurant there, my lobster chowder was sublime, and later we watched dancers from many Pacific nations perform in the town square. Another day we took the village bus into Nadi to shop for fruit and vegetables at the market. Master Three kept the other passengers amused with his delighted whoops as we passed over bridges and under palm trees.

Fire Dancers with their small fan
My own coconut drink!























 He was enthralled by the fire dancers who performed in the evenings at various hotels insisting that we watch them again and again. One day my son and I spent a pleasurable hour at the Denarau Golf Course driving range  followed by a tasting of Fiji's own delicious rum.  The golf club is also an ideal place to eat as a family with expansive views over the  course and very reasonably priced family type meals.

 Master Three was spell bound by the Fijian man who climbed  coconut trees to collect the fruit and then offered him one, complete with straw, so he could enjoy drinking its sweet and refreshing nectar.  But small children are easy to entertain, playing in the playground, feeding the prolific schools of fish near the shore with bread, watching the toads who come out in the  evening and hop around the resort, and, best of all, swimming. One day Master Three went on a fishing tour  with his dad but generally we simply relaxed with a capital "R"


Glorious Denarau sunset, Sheraton, a travel brochure cliché, but true. 
The Fijians are known to be a lovely, warm, happy people who will never pass you by without a  cheery "Bula" greeting.  I'm sure you've heard of "babe magnets", well my eight month old grand daughter was a "magnet babe" to the child loving Fijians who lined up for cuddles with her, even our apartment cleaner rushed off to get her friend to come and admire her. 
I can take any amount of this love and admiration!
 It was a marvellous holiday. None of us wanted to return home, however, sadly, holidays do eventually end and I guess that's partly what makes them so good. They are a relaxing break from normal life.  We all said, rather half heartedly, that if that was normal life you wouldn't appreciate it so much but then quickly agreed we wouldn't mind testing that theory!  We returned home refreshed, completely contented and very relaxed I highly recommend a
" holiday" holiday every now and then.
www.denarau.com

Monday, 12 October 2015

Easy Recipes for Maori Food (Kai)

Our week in Rotorua has inspired me to revisit some Maori recipes I had tucked away in my recipe folder.  They are simple, straight forward and delicious.  Try them, you won't be disappointed.

MAORI POTATO BREAD - REWENA PARAOA

STARTER

400gms floury potatoes, 300gms plain flour, 55gms caster sugar

Peel and slice the potatoes and then cook in boiling water until tender.  Drain and mash until smooth.  Cool and place in a large container - it will expand as it ferments.
Add the flour and sugar and mix to form a dough-like consistency.  Cover with a fitting lid and leave in a warm place to ferment. 24 hours should be sufficient in warm weather but it may take up to three days in cold weather.  It is ready when it begins to swell  and bubble.

BREAD

1 cup of starter, 350gms plain flour, 110gms caster sugar, 125mls hot water, 1tbsp melted butter

Place the starter in a bowl with the flour, sugar and hot water.  Stir to form a dough and then knead for several minutes until smooth.  Grease a 1 litre pan with butter and place the dough inside.  Cover and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size.  Preheat oven to 180c and bake bread in the oven for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven, brush with melted butter and return to oven for another 15 minutes.


Rewena Paraoa

PAUA FRITTERS

Paua, also known as abalone, is considered to be a taonga or special treasure by the Maori.  The spectacular shells are used as eyes in the carvings in meeting houses and are also widely used in the New Zealand souvenir market for jewellery and ornaments etc.

1 chopped onion
6 paua or abalone, Shell the paua, chop into small pieces and then mince, preferably in an old fashioned mincer.
Combine 1 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 egg.
Add the minced paua and the chopped onion and some finely chopped parsley and combine
Add 1 cup of milk or more if required to make a smooth batter.
Fry in tablespoon lots oil at a low temperature

Paua shell

KUMARA PUDDING - ROROI

This has to be one of the easiest puddings ever and is delicious.  Any left overs can be sliced and eaten like bread the following day.  There are no specific measurements required.

Take some kumara, I prefer golden kumara but any type will do and if you don't have kumara use any type of sweet potato.
Peel and grate the kumara and spread in a greased oven proof dish.
Sprinkle with sugar.
Cover the surface with thick slices of kumara to prevent the grated kumara from hardening.
Bake for 1 hour at 180C or 350F

That's it!  Simple as!  Serve with custard, cream or ice cream.  Enjoy!

These three recipes together make up an authentic Maori meal which can be made anywhere in the world.  Hope you have fun experimenting with them.
Kumara ready for grating





Monday, 5 October 2015

Rotorua - Boiling mud, steaming pools and glorious lakes

Prince of Wales Geyser and Pohutu Geyser  (photo: Destination Rotorua)
I can't believe I haven't written about Rotorua before since it is one of my favourite places.  It is the first place I ever visited with my husband as part of our honeymoon, we  took the children there countless times and I still visit at least once a year. Judging by the whoops of delight coming from the back of the car I think it might  now be one of my grandson's favourites too.  Little boys delight in the sulphurous smell that permeates the town.  It gives them all sorts of excuses to make rude jokes, not that small boys need excuses.  That aside, my grandson, born in England, had never experienced a town so unique, a town where random pools of boiling mud are fenced off for visitors' safety and steam wafts out of roadside gratings, where Maori culture is a vital part of the town's fabric, where the city is surrounded by picturesque lakes  and where you can while away a whole winter's afternoon in steaming thermal pools.
The Marae or meeting house at Whakarewarewa village
We are in Rotorua as a family group, consisting of myself, my two sons and their families. One son is visiting from England and as it is winter in New Zealand  Rotorua is the best place to go for a family break.  Rainy, cold weather doesn't matter in Rotorua,  there is still plenty to do.
My awe struck  grandsons at the concert Whakarewarewa
Our first day is spent at the Maori village of Whakarewarewa, built right in the heart of the thermal area.  The small boys are fascinated by the steaming hot pools where the villagers cook their meals by lowering pots and baskets into the water and by the mesmerising plopping of the boiling mud pools. We wander through the village to view the Marae (meeting house) and, from a safe distance, the  impressive Pohutu Geyser shooting rockets of boiling water into the air, before taking  our seats in the small village hall for a Maori cultural concert.  The children are entranced by the performance and enjoy re-enacting the haka (war dance) at home later in the day.
Swan, trout and pristine pools at Rainbow Springs
Our second day is spent at the beautiful Rainbow Springs.  We wander beside pristine trout pools fed by springs and shaded by lush native bush.  The huge trout swim in lazy, contented circles, waiting to be fed, as mute swans glide above. We view the nocturnal kiwi in a darkened pavilion and the prehistoric tuatara (native lizard) before enjoying the spectacle of well trained  native birds in the bird show. Then it's time for the water ride, a ride which meanders through recreated prehistoric times and some early history of New Zealand before plummeting down a steep chute accompanied by our squeals and screams and a few tears, from the little one.  The children, big and small, love it and have several turns, even the little one who had cried.
My son and grandson at the top of the gondola, Lake Rotorua in the background
Fun on the luge
The next day we take the gondola to the top of Mount Ngongotaha, a thrilling ride offering panoramic views of Lake Rotorua and the city.  Excellent and all as the gondola ride is the main purpose in going up the mountain is to ride the luge which winds down the mountain side. My sons and  grandsons absolutely revel in it, whooping with delight as they hurtle down the hillside, catching their breath on the chairlift back to the top in time for another ride.

Our rented lakeside house is in a magic location and the children enjoy feeding the ducks each morning while the adults linger over cups of coffee.  The afternoons are spent wallowing in the thermal hot pools at Polynesian Spa.  On our final day we take a drive out to Lake Tarawera, a serene and awe inspiring place and stop to admire the Blue and Green lakes. Both lakes can be seen from a viewing point and are different colours.   Reluctant to leave Rotorua we head back into town for lunch at  Eat Streat, a covered street lined with restaurants and a great new addition to the Rotorua dining scene. And then, sadly, it's time to head home
Feeding the wild life at our lakeside accommodation
We have had a wonderful time..   I can't think of a better place we could have gone for a family trip.  Rotorua is crammed with attractions.  We only managed a few of them on this trip but that's good because we now have an excuse to take the children back. 
Oh, and the weather? - perfect for three of the four days!
Mysterious and peaceful, Lake Tarawera
                                                              www.rotoruanz.com





Monday, 28 September 2015

Top Tips for Solo Travellers

I first experienced solo travel when my work in International Education required me to travel to various countries to attend education fairs and meet with recruitment agents.  I well remember, on my first trip, being deposited by the bus on a busy city street in Bangkok armed with a suitcase, a laptop and a huge bag of promotional materials. The temperature was in the high 30s and  I had no idea where my hotel was because I couldn't read the street signs. Consulting my map I worked out that I needed to get up an over-bridge to the other side of the multi-laned highway.  As I staggered up the stairs a kindly local helped me carry my bags before leaving me to trek about a kilometre to my hotel.  Rather than being overwhelmed by this incident I enjoyed the challenge of negotiating a new city and was elated when I reached the hotel. This is one of the things I love about solo travel, to expect the unexpected.

So, before having solo travel thrust on me by widowhood, I had already had some experience of it.  I have travelled to many countries alone now and always enjoy my solo trips.  I do enjoy other trips I make with friends and family however most of my travel is alone.  Here, for what it's worth, are some of my best tips to get the most out of solo travel.

  • Be brave.  Don't be afraid to head off into the world alone.  It is not as scary as you think it is and the rewards of solo travel are immense.
A selfie in a handy mirror, Lisbon, Portugal 
  • Revel in it.  You can enjoy the freedom to do what you want when you want.  You do not have to consider another person or make compromises and you can change your mind whenever you want. I love just doing things as my heart desires, jumping on trains on the spur of the moment and exploring things that appeal to me.
  • Be street wise.  Take care of your safety.  Be friendly to people but always be on guard for scams and cheats.  That very charming person who seems so polite and kind and has offered to show you the city is very likely waiting their chance to rip you off. Never accept a drink from a stranger and always keep an eye on your drink, I have heard some people even take their drinks to the toilet with them just to be sure.
  • Talk to locals.  I have found that travelling alone provides way more opportunities to speak to locals than being part of a couple does.  Couples are usually involved in each other and other people do not wish to intrude. Be happy to open a conversation and see what evolves.  You have nothing to lose.
Sunshine, the morning paper, coffee for one and the sea = bliss
Mooloolaba, Australia
  • Eating out alone can be difficult for some people but I don't mind it.  More and more restaurants have communal tables which is a great way to meet people.  A quick google search will usually find these restaurants in your location.  Or take a book, e-reader or note book to the restaurant with you.  Once, in Hong Kong, a kindly waiter bought me a book when he noticed I was alone and had forgotten mine. Most places have free wifi now so you can surf the net to your heart's content. On my recent trip on Australia's Ghan train I particularly enjoyed being seated with different people for each meal.  I loved sharing food and wine with strangers and having some great conversations as well.
  • Take walking tours or day tours.  This is a great way to see the sights and meet people even if only briefly.  I usually do this when I am in a foreign city and have always found it rewarding.  A lot of tours include a meal so you can enjoy the pleasure of dining with others too.
 Photo by a friendly stranger on my
solo trip to the Czech Republic
  • Get into your photography.  Being alone means you are not holding anyone else up if you want to take half an hour to get the perfect shot.  Ask people to take your photo and offer to take theirs.  Most people are only too pleased.    Once again, though, be streetwise and careful who you ask, you don't want that precious camera stolen.
  • Be prepared to pay the single supplement if, like me, you do not want to share a room with a stranger.  Yes, it is expensive to travel alone but only for accommodation, everything else e.g. airfares, food and tours you pay for one.  Some travel companies will pair the budget conscious traveller up with another solo traveller.
  • Get up early and have a large breakfast, then get out exploring. You don't have to wait for someone else to get organised for the day. Many hotels include breakfast in the tariff and  I find a big breakfast takes me through the day with just a light snack somewhere along the way. As an older solo traveller I have no interest in night clubbing so I make the most of the day and relax in my hotel room at night.  That said, I have wandered the streets of many Asian and European cities at night and never felt uncomfortable.  Just ensure you always stay on busy, crowded streets.
Train journeys are great for meeting people
  • The old politician's trick, admire babies.  All parents love to have their children admired and this can often lead to a friendly conversation, especially on long train journeys.
  • It is normal to feel lonely sometimes when you travel alone, occasionally I have felt  overwhelmed by loneliness so that's when  I concentrate on all the good things about solo travel. I dash off a few e-mails, write my travel diary, watch local television and try to work out what they are saying, use up all the hotel room's shower wash in a big bubble bath, order room service and retire to bed happy and sleepy looking forward to the next day's adventures.

Finally...just try it.  We all have just one life and it is up to us to make the most of it.  If you don't enjoy solo travel don't do it again but I am sure you will find the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  Enjoy!

And If you have any other hints please post them in the comments section.  I would love to have them!