Saturday, 21 December 2019

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

 This is a post from Christmas 2017. I thought it would be timely to repost it.

Meanwhile, I wish all my wonderful readers a very happy Christmas and a fantastic 2020..can you believe it? 2020!

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 among 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 diners.

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

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia

You simply cannot go to Brac without visiting Diocletian's Palace in Split, it's a must see, which is why, early one morning, we boarded the ferry for the mainland to do just that.

How Diocletian's Palace looked originally. Right on the sea front with a sea entry
The palace was built for the emperor Diocletian at the turn of the 4th century taking 10 years to complete. Interestingly Diocletian abdicated in 305AD but continued to live in the palace until his death in 311AD.  To call it a palace is a bit misleading, it is actually a walled city covering 38,700 square metres, or half of the old town of Split. Originally half palace and half garrison it was built from the pure white stone from the island of Brac, and marble from Italy and Greece. It also boasted 12 sphinxes from Egypt.  Today it is a living and breathing enclosed town where 3000 people live, its tiny narrow streets and alleys housing numerous restaurants, bars and shops. UNESCO world heritage listed it as the best preserved and most complete remains of a Roman Palace in the world. It is a fascinating place where washing hangs out from windows above ancient streets and old women sit at windows looking down on the crowds of tourists thronging the alley ways. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine life as it was there in ancient times.

Below: Ancient housing still lived in and, right, quaint narrow streets lined with shops

Original pillars and frieze, St Domnius
Right: The underground craft market

We started our tour by entering at the lowest level of the palace, wandering through the bustling craft
market before climbing the stairs to emerge at the square fronting St Domnius Cathedral.  This tiny but incredibly ornate cathedral was originally Diocletian's mausoleum.  St Domnius, the patron saint of Split, was martyred during Diocletian's  persecution of Christians. It is a delicious irony that the Christians gained control of the site, destroying Diocletian's tomb and converting his mausoleum into a cathedral named to honour one of his victims. Consecrated in the 7th century it is the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the world. It is a feast for the eyes with so many original Roman features, including  carvings of the emperor and his wife in a high frieze, competing with the voluptuous iconography and ornamentation of early Christianity. On leaving the cathedral the large carved wooden doors (1220AD)   depicting 28 scenes from the life of Christ are well worth a look. Below the cathedral is the crypt, or burial chamber, now the Chapel of St Lucy.  It is eerily quiet and deliciously cool.

A riot of gold and silver in St Domnius Cathedral, flanked by Roman pillars
Nearby is the baptistery, originally the temple of Jupiter. Reliefs featuring various Roman gods decorate the entrance and an Egyptian sphinx stands guard. Sadly it was defaced, literally, by early Christians who saw it as a pagan idol. The most impressive feature of the Baptistery is the original, ornately carved, barrel vaulted ceiling. Dating from the early 300sAD it is still in perfect condition.  A statue of St John the Baptist now stands where the statue of Jupiter once stood.

The barrel vaulted ceiling in the Baptistry

Ancient buildings and alley ways

Diocletian's Palace is an awesome place. It is incredible how much of the original palace remains and in such amazing condition.  I love the fact that it is a busy, bustling walled town where people get on with their lives rather than simply a tourist attraction or museum piece. I doubt that anything built in the 21st century would last as long.

When it was time for refreshments we were spoilt for choice since  there are many places to eat or buy take away lunches within the palace walls.  We settled on filled rolls which we ate on a grassy bank outside the Golden Gate, after doing the traditional thing of rubbing the toe on the statue of Gregory of Nin for luck.

Above: Gregory of Nin
Left: On the Split waterfront

We strolled the ancient streets some more, stopping for a while to listen to a glorious male choir singing traditional Croatian songs, and somewhat loath to leave, before heading out through a gate into a medieval square and then along the modern sea front. Numerous little cafes and restaurants line the waterfront where tourists were enjoying long lunches over glasses of wine  while misting machines sprayed fine droplets of water overhead to keep them cool. Then it was onto the ferry and back to Brac to the peace and tranquility of "our" island. What an interesting, educational, and  enjoyable day it had been.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Exploring the village of Supetar, Croatia

The great thing about arriving somewhere in the dark is that when you wake up the next day it is a revelation. We had fallen into bed tired and sleepy on our first night but that didn't stop us getting up early next morning to see the view from our terrace, and what a view it was.  Our large roof top terrace looked right out over the village of Supetar, down to the boat harbour and the sea and across to the mainland of Croatia.  With a spa pool, sun loungers and that stunning view we spent a lot of time up there taking spas, relaxing, watching the activities on the harbour, drinking wine and chatting.  It was magical.

The view from our terrace

But lovely and all as the view was we were keen to explore the village so set off to walk along the coastline. Supetar went through hard times when things were tough but has now reinvented itself as a holiday destination, popular with Croations, so a number of the houses have been restored as holiday homes or lets.  Many locals leave Brac for the worst of winter, when it is snowing and the famously strong, freezing winds batter the island, but this was late summer and it was clear the village was in its summer holiday mood. I enjoyed picking and poking at the little craft shops lining the harbour side and my delighted grandson spotted a lot of activities available to rent, including bumper cars, football, kayaks, pool and water slides. They were for later, though, for now we were heading towards St Nicholas cemetery.

St Nicholas cemetery - note the two large mausoleums on the right
I enjoy wandering through cemeteries.  They are peaceful places and you can learn a lot about a people and their culture there.  St Nicholas, nestled among whispering pines and cypress trees on a headland overlooking the sea, boasts a number of large, rather grandiose mausoleums and two tombs from early Christian times.  The ruins of Villa Rustica, from the early Roman settlement of the island can be seen near the cemetery. Some of the mausoleums and graves are embellished with carvings by Ivan Rendic, Croatia's most famous sculptor.  Interestingly his own grave is humble but fitting. I was particularly pleased to see surnames I recognised of people I knew in New Zealand. It was quite a thrill to note where my friends' ancestors had come from.

Left: The Petronovic family mausoleum
Above The grave of Ivan Rendic, 
Croatia's most famous sculptor

We wandered around  the cemetery for quite some time but the day was getting hotter so we headed for home, stopping off at a cool, shady beach side cabana for icy cold fruit drinks on our way.

That afternoon I took a stroll around the village following a well marked historic trail.  It is such a pretty, picturesque place where tumble down ruins covered in creepers, with a charm and beauty all their own, nestle among restored and tidy homes. I thoroughly enjoyed this walk despite the local drivers who belted along the narrow streets at break neck speed.  I decided it was preferable to stick to the quiet lanes, of which there are plenty, and enjoy the small vignettes of village life along the way.

Later we enjoyed a glass of wine and watched the sunset from the terrace as the church bells rang out vespers across the village. 

That evening my family took me to dinner at Konoba Vinotoka, as a belated birthday present.  Set in a pretty little square among olive trees, draped in fairy lights and overlooked by the Church of St Martin it was a delightful spot. We had authentic Croatian food, including the freshest of fish and vegetables, marinated olives, cheeses, nuts, local breads and pumpkin ice cream, all delicious and the perfect end to our first day in Croatia.

Restaurant Vinotoka - the perfect place to end the day

Monday, 11 November 2019

Croatia -Ticking an item off my bucket list

Split from the air
  I write my plans for the coming year in an exercise book. There are various headings such as Property Maintenance, Travel, Maintaining Friendships, Learning New Skills etc which I update as I achieve them. I find it is an excellent way of keeping things on track without letting a year simply slip by. I have to admit things tend to get a bit chaotic and busy towards the end of a year when I realise there is a lot still to be done and some things do tend to be carried forward to the next year, nevertheless it is a great motivator. At the back of the book I have made a list of Bucket List wishes. So far I have managed quite a few, including visiting Cuba, a safari in Africa, snorkeling Great barrier Reef, Australia and, just recently, I ticked off another item, visiting Croatia.
I had heard glowing reports about Croatia from friends who had been there and having grown up with many neighbours and class mates whose families had migrated from Croatia to New Zealand it had always interested me. It was my grandson's idea for us to take a family holiday there while I was visiting them in England.  I am so pleased he suggested it.

Our ferry at the boat harbour, Split
We were not wildly interested in visiting the main tourist hot spots of Croatia which tend to be packed and busy.  We were more interested  in a quieter, more authentic Croatian holiday, living among the locals, eating local food, drinking local wine etc. It turned out perfectly.

Perfect evening for a ferry to Brac
Our holiday started with our arrival at the brand spanking new, and very attractive, Split Airport, opened just a month before we arrived. Then it was a very scenic, 19 kilometre, trip along the mountain backed coastline to the city of Split where we were to catch the ferry to the island of Brac.   An hour long wait for the ferry gave us time to sample the local wine and enjoy the comings and goings on Split harbour.  Then it was onto the ferry for the 50 minute trip to the island. It was a perfect evening and we were all immediately captivated by the scenery, the sunset and lights dotting the hillsides as the day gradually turning to night. Our destination, the village of Supetar, looked magical and enticing in the sparkly evening when we arrived.

Our enticing first view of Supetar...looking forward to our morning exploration

Left: Traditional Croatian pastries 
baked especially for us

 Supetar is a pretty little village curved around a boat harbour lined with cafes and restaurants, an elegant, floodlit, church steeple keeping watch over all.  We  fell for its charms at first sight. Waiting in the village square was our apartment manager who led us up a steep flag stoned street to our accommodation. Harbour View apartment was perfect with its expansive view over the village and harbour and plenty of Croatian charm, including a basket of freshly baked Croatian pastries to greet us. We knew right away that this was going to be a fantastic holiday and fell into bed eager to start exploring the next day.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Chihuly Glass at Kew Gardens

Chandelier at the Victoria and Albert
My first introduction to the sublime work of Dale Chihuly was at the marvelous Sculptureum gardens and galleries at Matakana, north of Auckland, New Zealand. I was captivated by his riotous, flamboyant works both for their beauty and for the wonder of their production. I had never heard of him before that visit but was keen to see and learn more about his work.

Seattle based Chihuly, has had a 50 year long career in art which has included work in mediums such as sculpture, neon, plastics and drawings but it is for his blown glass work that he is most famous.   His works have been shown and acclaimed all over the world perhaps most notably in Jerusalem where he holds the world record for most visitors (1.3million) to a temporary exhibition. The Oklahoma City Museum of art hosts a permanent exhibition of his work although many galleries offer Chihuly pieces for sale. After suffering the loss of an eye and an arm injury Chihuly found he could no longer hold the weight of the glass blowing pipe so now his works are produced from his studio by a number of master glass craftsmen under his supervision. He designs the pieces and has been quoted as saying he enjoys this process immensely. Some of his largest works now sell for many millions of dollars and although these are monumental and quite breathtaking the studio also produces smaller pieces suitable for display in the home.

On my recent trip to London I was delighted to see a magnificent Chihuly chandelier at the Victoria
and Albert museum and when my son suggested a visit to Kew Gardens to see the Chihuly exhibition I jumped at the chance.

Kew Gardens is worth a visit any time but this exhibition showcasing the marriage between the glories of nature and Chihuly's nature inspired glass works was spectacular.  The size and intricacies of the sculptures made me wonder how on earth they are transported across the world. It must be a delicate and nerve wracking operation. The exhibition at Kew ran until late October so if you missed out here are photos of some of the pieces. I assure you these photos do not do the sculptures justice.

The huge tree above is made entirely of glass rods. 

I have written a previous blog about  Kew Gardens you can find it by entering the following into my search box: The Hive - Kew Gardens Stunning New Attraction 9/4/16 

Monday, 7 October 2019

The Shard, London

The Shard really does look like pieces of shattered glass piercing the sky but apparently Italian architect, Renzo Piano, was intending to reference the spires of old London  and the masts of sailing ships on the Thames when he designed it. According to reports, Thames English Heritage opposed the design stating that it would be "a shard of glass piercing the heart of historic London".  Little did they know that their colourful comment would give the building its popular name, and it couldn't be more apt.

At 306 metres (1016ft) high and with 87 stories it is the tallest building in London. Designed to move up to 20 inches in high winds, I was rather pleased it was a perfectly still day when I visited! Opened in 2012 it has become a major landmark and tourist attraction for London providing stunning views of the city in every direction.  Dare I say it, despite the protests of Thames English Heritage, it is a source of great pride to Londoners today. An interesting fact: 95% of the construction materials were recycled.

I was really looking forward to my visit to The Shard, having admired it from afar on a few visits to London. With my two young grandchildren in tow I met up with my daughter-in-law who had wisely bought tickets ahead enabling us a quick queue jump. The observation levels are on floors 68, 69 and 72 and are known as The View From The Shard. It takes two elevator rides to get to level 72 and what an amazing sight greets you there.  Laid out below is the whole of London with a view that extends for 40 miles in each direction.  Level 72 is also partially open to the sky with dramatic shard shapes of glass towering overhead.

Left: The open observation deck complete with shard shapes

One of the two popular bars at The View....champagne is the drink of choice.

 We  sat by the windows in the warm afternoon sun  taking in the view and sipping champagne. We were entranced, spending an hour and a quarter there.  Every now and then one of us would whoop with delight when we spotted yet another famous landmark. 'Spot the famous building' became an exciting game for the children. My daughter-in-law had been up the Shard before and told me how much she loves it, even opining that she could live there.  Apartments do make up some of the floors but I can only imagine what they would cost.

Below: Two views, one showing The Tower of London and Tower Bridge. (Note the shadow of The Shard at the lower edge) The other, taken on zoom, shows St Pauls Cathedral.

Because it was such a glorious day photos from other angles showed too much reflection.


Next we walked down two levels to continue with wine sipping and sight viewing.  Another hour flew by easily as the glorious sunny day turned to dusk. A quick toilet stop before leaving and, my goodness, talk about a room with a view.  A toilet stop is a must when you visit The View From The Shard.

Right: A loo with a view

Later we wandered along the South Bank through the beautifully redeveloped Southwark area and found the perfect family friendly restaurant right on The Thames where we enjoyed pizzas and pasta while looking at a stunning view of Tower Bridge, aglow in the late evening sun and later lit up for the night.

What a perfect end to a perfect day of sight seeing in London! Many thanks to my daughter-in-law.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Oxford, England - Punting - The joy of messing about in boats

Ratty had it right when he said, in The Wind in the Willows, "....there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats".

Cherwell Boat House Landing
And so it was, on a perfect, late summer's day, on my first weekend in England, that my son and his family took me to Oxford to go punting on the River Cherwell.  The Cherwell Boathouse hires out punts at 18 pounds an hour or 90 pounds for the day.  The punts, flat bottomed boats propelled by a pole pushed from the river bed, take five passengers plus a punter and seat cushions are supplied. Generations of Oxford students have spent their summer afternoons punting on the river, and why wouldn't they? Ratty was right. In fact it is an absolute joy to slowly meander up the river under trailing willows, past meadows of wildlife and flowers, spotting the occasional jumping fish and enjoying the entertainment provided by inept but happy punters struggling to control their boats.  

When Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows he did not base it on any river in particular, rather it was a generic river combining his childhood memories of living near the Thames and his time at school in Oxford.  His stories are perfectly encapsulated in the Cherwell and brought back our own memories of the book which we shared as we drifted along in the dappled afternoon sunlight.

Left: The Victoria Arms

Right: Under the expert oarsmanship of my son

A half hour punt upstream brought us to The Victoria Arms, a lovely pub on the river with a large lawn running right to the water's edge and plenty of parking for punts.  It is traditional to stop here for refreshments and so, strictly keeping to tradition you understand, so did we. Long, cool, rum flavoured beers were drunk, lemonade for the children, with entertainment provided by punters either trying to park or going around in hapless circles before getting help from adjoining boats amid a lovely atmosphere of happiness and camaraderie.

All fun and games at the Victoria Arms punt park

A gentle punt back to the boat house, a picnic by the river and then we set off to explore Oxford. My son attended university there for a number of years so took us to revisit his college.  I never cease to be amazed at the beauty and the history of this lovely town. I had stayed at the college on a couple of occasions so it was good to see it again. The vast, peaceful and elegant gardens were a stark contrast to the busy, tourist packed streets outside. 
The Canterbury Quad, dating from 1631, St John's College, Oxford with the rear arch leading to the garden

Nearly all of the 39 colleges in Oxford have beautiful, gardens but this is a part of Oxford most tourists never get to see. Only feet from the busy streets the creamy ancient stone of the college buildings, with their colorfully planted window boxes, make the perfect backdrop for climbing roses and green foliage whilst the "mustn't walk on" striped lawns add an air of formality. They are serene and lovely places for students to study and think.  I count myself very lucky to have spent time there.
The serene and lovely garden at St John's College
I would encourage anybody going to Oxford to hire a punt and spend an afternoon on the river doing something so quintessentially Oxford.  This is the genuine experience and one that most of the bus loads of tourists thronging Oxford never get to do. Indeed "...there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing...."

Note: Cherwell Boat House is an easy walk from the centre of Oxford.