The Countdown is On.

Who out there enjoys packing for a holiday? I usually do but feel quite rushed / confused / perplexed this time! Why?

We’re not swim trekking like our usual holidays have been lately. On swims treks the packing is easy. It’s usually summer and relaxed. This time it’s a wedding in Santa Barbara, California! Then 3 different locations. New Orleans, Cuba and New York!

I’m trying to stick to my own packing rules ( check out an earlier blog). Pack in 3’s. 3 bottoms, 3 tops, 3 dresses, 3 scarves, 3 shoes. Then add the ‘wedding gear’.

I’ll let you know how I go! It’s going in the suitcase this afternoon. It’s a new bag and is a larger carry on! So I’m limited on the space! Wish me luck.

I’ve also had to reload this website and don’t want you to miss my blogs. So please send a message in the comments box so I know you’ve seen this post.

Did I mention it’s my son’s wedding! So I am to be a MOG. Mother of the Groom.

An Art Deco Walk

Breakfast was in our lovely apartment opposite the port. No, not the sailing boats and pretty scenes type of port. A working port! The boys are fascinated by the trucks bringing in the logs destined for China?

Then a quick drive up the hill behind us to take in the views. Beautiful. Including the view of the Sky Princess. Yes, a cruise ship is in town.

We booked a 10 am Art Deco Walk. It started with a film about the 1931 earthquake. A real eye opener. Such destruction.

We walked a few blocks of the city in stunning weather. We can’t believe how wonderful the weather is. We were hoping for cooler weather but not so!

The buildings in the Main Street reflect the Art Deco style built after the earthquake. Such lovely pastel colours.

In the following photos see if you can identify the features of Art Deco style.

The sun motive. The fountain. The chevron. The eye brows. The curves. The tall windows. All important features in the styles of Art Deco.

The guide said if we ever get to Santa Barbara we will see similar styles. I could hardly contain myself and NOT tell her my son was getting married there in April!

After the walk we made our way out to Mission Estate Winery. It was built in 1851and is beautifully restored. What a delightful lunch.

Over lunch we planned more adventures with our friends. Is it Oman? Or the Isles of Scilly ? Wherever it is, with these friends it will be fun.

Tomorrow a long drive back to Auckland and the airport. Home tomorrow night.

Vintage Hawkes Bay New Zealand.

The drive from Rotorua to Napier is interrupted by a compulsory stop in Lake Taupo. This huge beautiful lake has a lovely but touristy town centre with lots of chain style restaurants along the waterfront. We didn’t explore much as we wanted to get to Napier early afternoon.

We had a stop at the Huka Falls. Beautiful.

Napier is a mix of wharves and port and industrial and then the most lovely town centre by the sea.

It suffered a terrible earthquake in 1933 which devastated the city. Despite lack of money from insurance companies, the local people with the help and foresight of several business men, rebuilt the whole city – during the depression, and it was done in the most amazing Art Deco style. Power lines were even put underground to allow the street to show off the building design. It’s done in the distinct Art Deco styles. Classical revival, Stripped style, Spanish Mission and Prairie style. It also incorporates Maori Deco style motifs. To read more follow the links.

We arrived in Napier and it was in full flapper swing. The Art Deco long weekend was on. It was the last day and the Great Gatsby picnic had attracted a huge number of people. It was like walking into a movie set. Everyone dressed in the Art Deco , flapper Gatsby style. There were tents all through the park along the foreshore. As we walked along taking photos we passed magnificent cars – Bentley’s, Ford’s “Tin Lizzie”, Rolls, sedans and convertibles. Money on wheels. Some over 100years old. A large number of cars had been brought by their owners from England for the festival. They were in immaculate condition and the owners dressed to the nines.

We walked along the promenade and admired the high teas going on in the tents. We listened to the jazz bands then the navy band, the swing singer and the barber shop quartet. It was so much fun.

By 6 pm we were ready for a small wine and sat at the Art Deco style Masonic Hotel – and wished we were staying there. No wonder it was hard to book accomodation here. We hadn’t realised until recently it was their Art Deco Festival. It’s definitely worth visiting during this time. There are multiple parties, balls and functions to attend, vintage cars rides and everyone – young and old dress up.

The city was alive with colour, action and very friendly people.

And so out to dinner after a long walk along the waterfront. The sunset said it all …………. Magnificent.

Legends of the Lake

New Zealand is full of movie worthy scenery. No wonder so many movies have been filmed here. It’s beautiful and today we saw a few of these scenes.

The Parkers headed off early to get to the Blue Lake in time for warm ups and briefing before David did the 3.5 km Swim.

We went to breakfast at Cafe de Paris and once inside felt we could have been in Paris. Well almost, if it weren’t for the NZ accents everywhere. But the lady running the place, Yvette, hails from Pau in the south where my friend Carmel is spending some of her holidays right now.

The menu had freshly made galettes and I had a bacon and egg one which happily married the French and Aussie tastes together. It was delicious.

We were soon on the streets of Rotorua searching for bananas to eat before the Swim. I’ve learned from Swim trek that a banana before a Swim will keep your energy levels up and the cramping away. Let’s hope it works.

We had time to stop at Whakarewarewa – try saying that out loud. And remember the WH sounds like an F! It is the Maori Living Village. So people live and work in this village which has been set up around the flowing thermal streams and geysers. I last visited here in 1972 with an assortment of relatives and it has changed quite a bit. Straight away I recognised the overpowering smell of sulphur gases. How people live here I don’t know.

Greeting us at the entrance, under the bridge, were three sizeable young boys who were in the creek below calling out ‘throw us some coins Miss, we’ll dive for them!’ Such entertainment. We couldn’t not join in and before long we were tossing them coins and cheering their retrieval.

Walking through the little streets past the homes that still house people, we noticed the burial grounds in and around the houses and the mist of the gases filling the air. The smoke was very thick in some places and you certainly would not want to go into some of the lakes and water holes. It was boiling and bubbling. The smoke was thick and I was getting a free steam facial – something I would regret later!

Back in the car we headed to the Blue Lake driving through a heavily forested area. The Blue Lake is only about 5 km around and because of its make up appears very Blue – yet next to it there is Green Lake. The Blue Lake is is used for waterskiing and there are terraced steps for people to view the action. Very handy for spectators.

The set up for the Swim was great , so professionally run much, better than Steve’s Swim in HK where he went missing and no one seemed to notice!

David came in just after we arrived and he was smiling and feeling fit. He was followed by Nicky, a friend of theirs who had her leg amputated only 4 months ago. What an amazing women. She lost her leg above the knee because of a tumour and she has been back in the water training from about 6 weeks after the amputation.

Finally it was time for me to get into the wet suit. What a struggle. Chris had decided he would do the Swim – the cold was ok and it looked so lovely. So we went for a warm up swim then had the briefing. All was good. I felt great.

A few minutes later and off we went. The adrenaline was kicking in and I got a good start. Chris took off and left me in his wake. After a few minutes I started to feel my breathing struggle. I kept on. I stopped again. I couldn’t breathe properly. I was wheezing and starting to struggle. Two lovely ladies stopped and asked if I was ok and offered to swim with me. But after a while I knew I couldn’t , so I met Billie. He was a lovely young lifesaver on a paddle board. I told him my problem and he offered to paddle me back. I stayed in the water, hung on to the back of his board and and made it back. I was weak and struggling to breathe. A complete mystery.

After some discussion it was suggested that some people have a reaction to sulphur gases. I think I was one of them.

Such disappointment. I felt silly. But I knew I couldn’t complete it.

Fortunately Kim had a puffer and after a few puffs I was relieved a little. Chris Wilson defended his gold medal from last year. He did a very good 18 min for the 1km. Great swimming Chris.

After the celebrations we took off for a drive to the Green Lake and Lake Tarawera.

Back into Rotorua and a walk through the Government parks before dinner at the Garden Kitchen. The gardens have a magnificent set of entrance gates. They look like metal but are actually timber.

What a great place for dinner. The Parkers daughter Alysa and her husband Adam have just moved to Rotorua so they joined us for dinner. Beautiful dinner and great cocktails.

There was a free concert in the park opposite the restaurant. As we left to walk home the fireworks started – then stopped – then started again. Thanks Kim & David for the great fireworks!

Auckland to Rotorua

It’s funny to have to come to a motel in NZ to see our first bit of the Winter Olympics. We can’t get Channel 7 at home so have missed all the action, apart from the headlines on Ch 2 news. So last night when we got to the motel we watched for awhile before sinking into the beautiful bed at the Bucklands Beach Motel.


Feeling refreshed we woke to brilliant blue skies and warm temperatures, so set off around the bay towards the Marina for breakfast. Such a lovely walk passing the fit, the fast on cycles, the strollers, the standup paddle boarders and a few swimmers in the bay.
We reached the Marina with a big collection of yachts with the usual assortment of funny names.
Realising we wouldn’t make it back to the motel for our pick up by the Wilsons and Parkers we sent out an SOS to come to the Marina. It really was an SOS because on arrival in NZ I haven’t been able to get a carrier to get phone reception. I can get onto wifi though –  so fortunately could send a message via whatsapp.
They collected us, we picked up our luggage and we were on our way in convoy towards Rotorua.
It’s such a pretty drive. NZ really has such lush green rolling hills and mountains.
You can see how much rain they have had.
We stopped for lunch near Hobbiton House in Matamata. A lovely little town.

Then another hour and we arrived in Rotorua.

First impressions. Yes a little smelly but not overpowering!
Lovely big trees down the Main Streets. Spa baths scattered around the town and some really lovely buildings. And lots of timber. The areas surrounding here are heavily treed so there’s no shortage of timber.

We walked to the lake, past the Museum which is closed due to renovations, strolled past statues to famous New Zealanders (not Rugby players)

We even saw the black swans.


Dinner was at the Brew Bar – one of the lively places lining the Street called Eat St.

Ear Street

Kim, David and Steve on the hunt for a good wine!

Its a great place full of bars and restaurants and is loud and noisy and has an array of craft beers and good NZ wines.

Not wanting to have a big night before our swim we strolled back to our hotel and drew the curtains trying to keep the sulphate smell outside.

Tomorrow morning we’ll visit the Living Maori  Village and check out the geysers before heading to the Blue Lake to see David finish his 3.5 km Swim, and then wait for my Swim to take off at 1.30.

Ki Ora: welcome to New Zealand

779B8097-8378-4664-9069-39BCCF08BE45We love our mini breaks and visiting our swim trek friends in NZ is one of our favourites.
For the past few years we have taken the easy 3 hour flight on Emirates’ 380 to Auckland to meet up with Kim & David Parker. We travel with our friends Chris & Jill Wilson and started the journey with Moët at the airport. It may only be 7.30am but it’s a great way to start our holiday.
We landed at around 3 pm picked up our hire car and headed towards Mellons Bay where Kim & David have a lovely home with spectacular views across their garden to the water.

This year the Wilsons are staying with them in the house and due to shortage of rooms it was our turn  to book into a nearby motel at Buckland’s Beach. It’s such a pretty spot we’ll look forward to a walk around the bay tomorrow.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening sharing lovely NZ wines, a wonderful tapas plate and lots of chat and laughs.

Swimming has taken us to many places around the world and made us many new friends. We swam with the Parkers & Wilsons in Greece in 2014 and so we started our little mini breaks to ‘ have a swim’ followed by a bit of sightseeing in a different party of the country.
Last year we swam in Pahia (look back at those posts) and visited the Bay of Islands. The year before a local swim in Auckland followed by the Coromandel Peninsula.

This year we are swimming the Blue Lake near Rotorua. We’re very excited as lake swimming is beautiful. The downside is that our party of swimmers is decreasing due to injury or illness. Steve has a shoulder problem requiring an op in a few weeks. Kim has an eye problem after having had a detached retina. Jill has had stitches in her head and can’t go in the water and Chris has a heavy cold. So it looks like David & I! If I can fit into the wet suit!

So stay tuned for news of our adventures as we drive south to Rotorua – city of smells!

A Sunday Walk in Barcelona

The holiday is almost over – Berti, Cleo and Demi left at 4.30 this morning to fly back to Italy and Fabio has gone on with the Royal Princess to Fort Lauderdale, where it’s relocating to do the Caribbean cruise circuit.

Marg, Vashti, Jez  and the children are heading out to Park Guell and although I love that park,  we decided to walk the streets of Barcelona. The weather is gorgeous so we headed off about 10am and the streets were so quiet. The party obviously didn’t end until the early hours and everyone is sleeping in. And we thought we were late!

We walked up Passeig de Gracia and came to one of my favourite Gaudi houses. Casa Batilo

Other tourists were hitting the streets and a small queue was forming at Casa Batilo’s ticket office.

One thing I have learned this trip is to pre book everything! If you don’t then you won’t get in. The La Sagrada Familia  is fully booked today ( I tried yesterday to book online) so we will only be walking around it’s magnificence today.

We continued along the wide Passeig, Boulevard style road with its trees giving a dappled appearance to the already decorative buildings. Then we came to La Pedrera, Casa Mila. Another famous Gaudi building.

The detail in the iron work is amazing.

From here we strolled along letting our feet take us in the direction of La Sagrada Familia. Sundays are wonderful for strolling in a big city.

There are lots of little parks running down the middle of the wide streets. The locals love them. Living in apartments they must be keen to get outdoors and these parks are like their backyard.

I remember Rob said he often went and sat in the parks , using the free internet (yes there’s lots of free internet in these big cities) and practising his Spanish on the locals.

I loved this statue. It’s seems everyone likes a gelato!

I love these doors –  now an entrance to that underpriced fashion temple!

And then,  suddenly there it was. The most famous building in Barcelona – if not all of Europe.

I love it for its boldness, its bravery, it’s quirkiness. What a vision. But it probably will never be finished because then they’ll have to stop charging people to enter – it will be a working church.

Since my last visit about 7 years ago it’s grown and changed so I wonder what another few years will bring. Some sections look like they could already do with a clean.

Then when you glance across the road the buildings are so plain. That’s the way Gaudi wanted it I believe.

The flags of Catalunya are out in support. There was a huge peaceful demonstration yesterday. It’s proving to be a big issue for the government today. So, every country has its issues.

We continued on and walked back zig-zagging streets until we reached the big old Cathedral. And found a big party. A food festival. Bands played. People danced. And ate and drank wine. The chatting and laughter was infectious.

What a party.

We made our way towards Santa Maria del Mare a large Gothic style church- an area we stayed in years ago with Pete, Clare and Helen. We stopped to rest and have some tapas at Tallers. It has great tapas and we tried a variety of really delicious dishes. With a little Sangria Tinto.

With renewed energy we continued walking near the Picasso museum and discovered it was a day called The Big Draw. I thought it was a raffle but it was areas of tables set up encouraging everyone to draw. It was fantastic to watch.

Parents were there with their kids drawing , in between drinking wine and eating.

The old masters, Miro, Picasso and Dali  looked on.

Miro, Picasso and Dali

Then we made our way back to the hotel, stopping for a gelato on the way.

El Born market place. Now home to creative projects

A street garden in the middle of a street!

Sunday at the local looks fun

Perfect day for a stroll

Perhaps JORDAN needs a flower girl for her wedding?

Cameras around the city hall building waiting for some ‘news’

Feeling thirsty? No need to worry. There’s always a tap available.

And so our Sunday walk ended.

Then we had a rest and on the TV we found the Spanish love to build body towers. It was scary to watch children climb to the top.

You’ve got to love the spirit of the Spanish.



Don’t fall!


Barcelona. A favourite 

Today we disembarked at Barcelona – this beautiful city that was home to Rob for 5 seasons of waterpolo.
It’s lovely to be back. The buildings are amazing. The weather fantastic and the food. Yum.

So far we haven’t done too much. The children chased the pidgeons in Placa De Catalunya whilst we waited to get into our hotel.

Then lunch in a nearby tapas bar before a walk to my favourite food markets.

Now we’re at the Hotel Lleo a rather nice modern hotel chosen by Berti. Great wifi! And a pool for the kids.

Tonight a vegetarian tapas bar!

Barcelona I ❤️you. Despite there being warnings to stay away from La Rambla tonight as there is another protest over the proposed Catalan separation.

Tomorrow la Sagrada.

Farewell to Cruising

Our 10 days has flown.

Our time together at sea is ending. But boy what a time we’ve had.

How the children have kept going is amazing – though I think we are all tiring after the ten days of activities and eating and drinking.

We had the usual ‘sail away’ drinks to farewell Toulon.

We hadn’t been to Toulon before and spent a few hours wandering the narrow French streets window shopping. It’s a big port and has the usual yachts clanging providing a water soundtrack for the bars lining the port.

There is a good looking Opera House and some interesting street murals.

The markets were on. Mostly fruit and veg looking so good it makes you want to cook.

And the flowers.

Back on board via the shuttle boat – we were about 20 mins away from the downtown Marina, in time for sail-away drinks.

Then it was pack up,  as bags are deposited outside the room tonight to make it a quick disembarkation tomorrow.

Our last dinner we had on the outside deck right at the back of the ship. Really lovely.

Then a peak at the Voice of the Ocean – complete with turning chairs. A lady from California won sinking “My Way”! An oldie but a goodie.

And so to bed for the last time on the Royal Princess.

Birthday at Sea

Today we celebrated my sister-in-law’s birthday. My lovely nieces Vashti and Berti had prepared a t-shirt to be worn by all – all day.

We started with champagne breakfast (but passed on the champagne!)

Marg’s grandchildren adore her and are always trying to sit next to her!

We went ashore at Ajaccio and had a mini-train ride. It was something like a scene out of a movie. The Runaway Train. He scooted along the seafront and being, in the back carriage, we swayed and rolled about.

I found a Vespa I’d rather have taken!

We celebrated with a lovely dinner all together followed by cake in Berti and Fabio’s stateroom.

Then it was dancing in the Piazza until the 11.15 pm balloon drop. Quite spectacular.

What a day.

Happy Birthday 🎉 to Marg.