Doubtful Sound…more beauty

On the way back after our overnight, the nature guide explained that it’s really difficult to appreciate the scale of the mountains. He was taking us toward an indentation at the bottom of one of the mountains, and he said when we arrived, the prow of the ship would fit below the cave. That seemed impossible because the cavern looked tiny from a distance, compared to the mountain above it. But sure enough, when we pulled up to the cavern, the prow was smaller, and it was a big ship.

We were having really good luck with the waterfalls because of all the rain. The water that comes down the mountains through the rain forest is naturally filtered by the moss and safe to drink. More than safe, the water is pure. The nature guide actually collected the water and we drank it! It was cold and fresh. It wasn’t bubbly, though! The moss does not accomplish that.

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Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

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I remember this night vividly. It was the first night of our trip, and the whole vacation lay ahead. It felt just like the first day of summer vacation used to feel. Summer felt like endless days stretching on and on when I could do whatever I wanted to do.

Like with summer vacation, at the end, I was ready to get back to work. Though I will admit to wanting to plan another trip for December a few days after getting home! I had a lot of fun on this trip. My husband planned it all to be fun and comfortable. When I was single, living in San Francisco, whole years would go by when I rarely left my neighborhood. What a change from then to now. I think my husband has turned me into a traveler. We won’t be going anywhere in December, though, and I’m back to work.

Tivoli Gardens is fun. The theme park seems like a great place for kids but is also nice for grown-ups. We had a nice meal by the lake by Faergekroen Brewery, which was established in 1934.

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Here is the Frigate restaurant. We didn’t eat here, but we enjoyed looking at it across the lake from the deck of the brewery.

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They have a really low-tech nice way to keep you warm outside in the Copenhagen restaurants: They hand you a blanket.

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We rode this roller coaster (and lived to tell about it.)

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Our hotel room had a view of the fireworks over Tivoli Gardens.

Tivoli_Garden_3Thanks for looking at more travel photos. Time for me to get back to work! Have a great weekend.

 

Doubtful Sound and the muffin caper

Real Journeys gets a lot of credit for this tour. They made it an extraordinary experience for us. Even though they do it all the time, they lavished the experience upon us, knowing it was our only time, an experience of a lifetime.

I was satisfied after the water adventures part. Already I had had a delightfully narrated bus ride from Queenstown to Manapouri, a very nice ferry ride across Lake Manapouri with free coffee and tea…or good beer (not free), and then a stunning bus ride over Wilmot Pass, including commentary about the ecosystem of the rain forest through which we were driving. Did you know moss is essential to the New Zealand rain forest ecology? Then we had warm muffins, saw a lot of beautiful mountains in the fiord, and went on a nature ride in a tender boat. I thought we were done. But oh no…we were just getting started, and so you, my blog readers, are also just getting started on my recap of the Doubtful Sound tour.

When we first arrived on the boat, we had our safety lecture and were introduced to the crew. The crew all stood ramrod straight in their uniforms. They were confidence inspiring, while still being friendly, wearing big smiles and making eye contact with the passengers. After that we were assigned to our staterooms where we could put our bags. I also took a little rest.

As a result of my dawdling, we were late getting up to the dining room for the muffins, and there were only 3 left. I took our two and set them on a table then went to tell my husband what I wanted to drink, as he was queued up for the coffee and tea. When I came back, someone had swiped one of our muffins!

I was really mad. Possibly they thought it was part of the pile to be taken, but it didn’t seem that way as those were in a basket and ours were laid out with napkins beside them. I was really mad!

Well, my husband came over and was kind of ticked too, but not as much as I was. I don’t know why. I was in kind of a bad mood to start with, I guess. I’ve since learned that cruises stress me out. I didn’t realize it until I saw a picture of myself taken by the ship’s photographer on the Bay of Islands cruise. I can see from my body language that I was anxious. I didn’t realize it until I saw the picture later, but then it wasn’t hard to figure out why. I don’t really like tours, especially on boats, because you have no control. You are along for the ride, and if the tour does something you don’t like, there’s no escape. Add to that my tendency to get seasick, and I really don’t like cruises. On this particular day, I also had a slight cold.

Anyhow, back to the muffins. I wanted that dang muffin! I was so mad someone “stole” it. Oh yes, I said that already, didn’t I? I knew that the missing muffin may have been an innocent mistake, but I wasn’t ready to stop being mad. Well, my husband told Jax, one of the crew, and she laughed and said maybe it was the cold weather that had made everyone peckish. (That means hungry.) Jax told the chef, who then made me one more muffin. About 15 minutes later it arrived, hot from the oven.

Then I was really happy, and, in fact, it was the best muffin I ever had. I asked another crew member for the recipe, he asked the chef, and the chef gave it to me! She had to hand write the recipe because it is taped to the wall in the galley. She also had to scale it down a lot because her recipe is for 150 people, (or 149 as the case may be!). I mention those details because we rarely see inside a commercial kitchen and I thought it was interesting that she has the recipe taped to the wall and that it’s such a huge amount. When she cooks, she really cranks out a lot. She is an amazing chef, by the way. The meals were firs rate, with excellent vegetarian options too.

When I make the muffins, I’ll put up some photos for you.

Here are three more pictures from my Doubtful Sound adventure.

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The Fiordland Navigator, our ship

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Heading toward that center island, and the Tasman Sea. (Photo altered for effect.)

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Water from the rains don’t get absorbed because there’s no soil. The water  all cascades off the mountains into the fiord. The fresh water looks green where it meets the sea water because it is stained by the vegetation on its way down the mountain.

 

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Confections and confessions

Travel was sometimes a feast! For my camera, at least…I never had room after the main course. Well…almost never. I did eat a chocolate cupcake in Hong Kong, but I didn’t take a picture!

Hopefully this will inspire you to make dessert. Today I am going to make two apple pies from the amazing harvest that awaited us upon our return from worldwide travel.

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The Forbidden City…

…was different than I expected. Well, unconscious expectations are interesting. I become aware of them only in that brief moment when I first lay eyes on the famous sight. The way turning on the light erases the dream, for an instant the contrast of reality exposes the imagined, illuminating its images in a flash before extinguishing them forever.

I think I expected the Forbidden City still to be vibrantly alive, filled with soft impermanent things like silks, rugs, robes, incense, wood, leather, music, and fragile things like ceramics and paintings, but the Forbidden City comprises mostly hard substances–stones and structures. Like other exposed antiquities, only the things that couldn’t be carried off still remain. The Chinese have proudly restored pigment to the gorgeous eaves and ceilings of the Forbidden City, and they have carefully preserved the bit of furnishings spared by British and French soldiers whose gentlemanly sensibilities thankfully restrained their conquering hands from grabbing the interiors of the women’s  quarters. I hope that other treasures that are scattered in museums throughout the world will soon make their way back home where they belong.

I’ll start with the women’s quarters, where we can still glimpse the rich layers of daily life. Unfortunately, like all examples of excessive power, there is the grotesque and immoral side to the story. Girls were selected as concubines for one of the emperors, and kept here in these rooms with the emperor’s wife. Having a daughter selected for the emperor’s (lascivious and decadent) possession was an honor for the family but a disaster for the girl. Anyway, I won’t go into detail about the girls’ lives, but will note that the female occupants were not allowed to leave the inner city during this period. A raised barrier lies at the foot of the gate between the deep interior of the city and the outer part. These raised steel panels must still be stepped over, an easy feat for tourists in sneakers, but not so easy for women crippled by bound feet. The barriers were both symbolic and effective in that sense.

My impression is that symbolism abounds in the Chinese culture and in these historic sites. To me, these symbols are fascinating from sociological, historical, and art-appreciation standpoints, but, like bound feet, can cripple those who let superstition govern their thoughts, choices, actions, and lives.

Once I adjusted to the reality versus my expectation, the Forbidden City amazed me. It is vast! Walking through the bones of the ancient city gives a sense of the events and lives that took place here. Marco Polo sat on his horse on the stone expanse below the emperor’s platform (The Gate of Supreme Harmony…I think). You can imagine this huge courtyard filled with horses and the awesome power manifest in the ornately attired emperor up there on the platform with all his attendants.

The first set of photos is of the beautiful interiors of the women’s quarters where we can still see the wood, ceramics, tapestries, paintings and other artifacts. These rooms are behind glass, so that’s my excuse for the quality. I think they will still interest you despite their photographic flaws!

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This picture shows the women’s quarters from outside. This is in the far back of the Forbidden City.

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Look at these gorgeous rooftops and terraces.

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Here is where the emperor would rest and have tea after the tiring task of being carried out of the private area.

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Here’s the biggest building at the center (the Palace of Heavenly Peace) and the raised marble platform surrounding it.Forbidden-City-China-12

Here is the stone courtyard with deeply layered stones capable of holding a lot of weight, a whole army on horseback.Forbidden-City-China-11 Forbidden-City-China-10

Again, the largest building, the Palace of Heavenly Peace:Forbidden-City-China-9

The gate to the left of the Palace of Heavenly Peace, through which we passed into the inner part of the city.Forbidden-City-China-8

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Here’s the entrance to the Forbidden City.

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Here’s Tiananmen Square, which you cross to go to the Forbidden city. It’s huge. These flowers are just in a small corner of the square.

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Here is another view of Tiananmen Square, showing its size:

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New Zealand, cultural observations

On our last day in Auckland, we spotted a Mexican restaurant that was open for breakfast. I said to my husband, “Mexican food for breakfast?” He said, “If it’s Mexican and open for breakfast, it has breakfast burritos.” Yum. Mexican food is one of those things that I pine for when I travel.

The place was awesome. It’s called Mexicali Fresh, California Mexican fresh food, and it’s on Hobson Street, with several other locations in Auckland.

Turns out the restaurant is owned by a California transplant. We had an interesting conversation. I was really impressed by his business plan and his design skills. He was able to immigrate 11 years or so ago, with an Expression of Interest Visa, because he had graphic design skills, which they didn’t have enough of at the time.

His design skills really showed in the restaurant. I was impressed with how he nailed the exact design flavor, California fresh Mex. The color scheme was bright and vibrant hues from the south American palette, there was a rustic feel imparted by distressed bricks and wood, and attention to detail showed in electrical conduits painted an attractive bright orange which rendered them a color pop instead of an eyesore. I was also impressed by the use of technology: Three big-screen TVs displayed the menu in rotating graphics that showed specials with photos of the dishes. As for the business plan, he has 10 shops now in Auckland and it looks from his website like he offers franchise opportunities.

When we were there, he was training an employee on using the IPad for management tasks.

He looks like a surfer dude, casual, fit, relatively young. After he finished training his employee and talking to us, he headed off, probably to visit another store.

Now for the cultural observations. I noticed that he talked to us quietly, coming over to stand by our table so he could speak softly. In fact, I noticed this quietness in New Zealand a lot. When we rode the public bus back from the Northland tour, the passengers were very quiet, and if you were loud (which I tend to be), people gave you a dirty look. Well, the young people did. The older folks didn’t seem to mind. I quieted down, adjusting to local norms. Although, one caveat I have, the restaurant where we had dinner in Paihea, (Lovely Place in Maori, the access town for the Bay of Islands), was very loud, but there was a group there who had participated in a race car rally that day and they were partying. Plus there was an obnoxious group of big guys who came in to do a hazing ritual by singing loudly until the manager kicked them out. So maybe it’s not possible to generalize too much, but overall, people seemed to be quiet in public.

The other observation comes from something that the Mexicali owner said. He is from Southern California. He said when he goes back to California, he is struck by how different it is from New Zealand. Naturally, I asked him in what way California is different from New Zealand, expecting him to say it’s more crowded. (There are around four million people in New Zealand. It’s really not crowded.) But he said, while waving his hand over his eyes, he wasn’t used to being bombarded by so much constant advertising.

I looked out the window, considered everywhere we had been in New Zealand, and found his observation to be true. There were very few billboards, none on the highways, and just a few in Auckland. I hadn’t realized how much Americans are subjected to advertising. I can’t complain too much, since I advertise my books! But it was interesting to compare the two experiences.

Here are some more shots from New Zealand for you to enjoy.

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Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. This is the Tasman Sea.

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View from the cafe in Taipa, a beach town in Doubtless Bay (an area on the north island, as distinct from Doubtful Sound on the south island.)

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Looking down from the mountain pass to Doubtful Sound (south island)

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Another Doubtful Sound photo from the mountain pass.