Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The wedding day

On Saturday the 30th Liam married Meredith Davis at Lake Highlands Methodist Church in Dallas.

The whole day was wonderful. We had our closest friends with us from start to finish. Sean was one of two best men and he and Laura being there just added to our joy.

The service took place at 6pm and it was so special. Matt, who took the service, did a great job and the whole event was moving, emotional but full of joy. The couple looked amazing and so very happy. The UK team might have been outnumbered but all looked great. The weather was beautiful.

It was my good luck to be in numerous photos with a stunning mother of the groom. Maggie looked amazing and organised our part in the week incredibly well.

The reception took place at the Empire Rooms in downtown Dallas. It was magical. The venue included outdoor and indoor space and the food was excellent. Random Axis proved to be a great band and the floor was packed all night. The flowers, the tables, the lighting, the cakes and the fun we all had are hard to describe. Meredith joined the band for one rap number and was incredible!

We had the best of times with the best of friends and new Texan friends who showed us how to look after guests in their community. We have never seen Liam happier and his new wife is strong, beautiful and just perfect for him. So a big thanks to Sean, and Laura, Rob and Mo, Sharon and Tom, Andy and Debbie, Sue and Dave for sharing such good times with us. Thank you Paula and Luke, Meredith's parents, for the warmth of welcome in Dallas, thank you to all new American friends, but most of all THANK YOU Liam and Meredith for providing us with one of best week's of our lives.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

A wedding in Dallas!

We arrived in Dallas at the start of the week and within a few days we were joined by Liam, Sean, and Laura. To make things complete, Susan and David, Andy and Debbie, Rob, Mo, Tom and Sharon all came to town in the course of the week.

Its impossible to capture the experience of this week in a few words. We have been given the home of Lynda and Brooks Purnell, friends of Liam's soon to be 'in laws' and what a home it is.

We have been humbled by their generosity and the warmth of the welcome from this community. We have received various gifts of food during the week, been treated to a wonderful welcome party at the home of Betsy and Lee and just had a memorable time. The girls were invited to a bridesmaids luncheon on Friday and the fun just continues.

We have never seen Liam happier and yesterday we had the opportunity of celebrating his 'pending' marriage to Meredith at a rehearsal dinner which we hosted at Eddie Dean's in downtown Dallas. It was an exceptional event with our finest UK friends, Meredith's family and friends and of course Liam and Meredith's friends and colleagues. People came from Dubai, Australia, GB and all parts of the USA. It went so well!!

The wedding day has now arrived and so its all go! We could not be better supported, happier to be with the boys and such great friends. More pictures will follow!

Friday, 1 April 2016

Toursits in San Francisco

Our time in San Francisco has been blessed with excellent weather and four nights have rushed by. We have done lots of the required tourist attractions, walked ourselves to death as usual and had a great time. We had many recommendations and tried to take them all on board!

Our time in the city got underway with a lovely lunch with Alison (she was lovely as well by the way!), one of Liam's friends and colleagues at YELP, so even got to see the YELP office which was spectacular. We combined lunch with a walk to the Ferry Building on the waterfront and after that a bus journey to the Golden Gate Park, which we walked through. Now that doesn't sound a big deal but its actually 4.5 miles long and ends on a beautiful beachfront. The picture below was taken from the Museum of Art which sits in the park itself. This snap overlooks the Japanese gardens. The day ended with a lovely meal at the Beach Chalet restaurant, overlooking the sea and surfers, as recommended by Alison!

On day 2 we walked to Pier 33 to take a cruise to Alcatraz (or 'the Rock' if you prefer). The prison itself closed down in 1963 and was only a Federal Prison for 30 years or so. It's now a National Park and is really well maintained. On average it housed 260 inmates at any one time which is pretty small compared to most prisons but I guess it made up for it in quality (Al Capone for one!) The audio tour was excellent and really brought some iconic stories to life. One of the cells sits below!! The second photo is taken from  the island looking towards the city.

The old prison dining area currently holds a photographic exhibition of some current prisoners in the US penal system, all in their late 50's and above. The USA has nearly 32,000 prisoners over 65 in the system which is pretty staggering. It also has 50,000 men and women serving life without the possibility of Parole. In the UK, I'm not sure these days of the exact figures, but the equivalent grouping would be around 50/75.

On our return/escape we walked to Fisherman's Wharf which was pretty badly commercialised so made a quick second escape and took a tram back into town which we loved. Having said that we did see an amazing number of sea lions all basking just off the pier. Rather than a sea lion, I thought the picture below on the tram was more attractive and certainly a lot quieter and less smelly!

This morning we took a bus to an area beyond the piers, including the Marina, Marina Green and Chrissy Fields. We walked towards the bridge and had some great views. Finally we returned via Lombard St, which if you don't know it, is a quaint and very windy road containing some beautiful gardens. Its also very steep, but of course we walked up it and down it and all the way back into the city. I swear I'm three inches shorter than when we set off! Lombard St below with cars on the way down!

It's an early start in the morning and off to Sarasota via Charlotte. We should be there early evening and on the Sunday I'm not walking anywhere (just like a real Floridian you could say!). 

This will be our last blog for a while but we will return to things once or twice in Florida and again in Texas with wedding news. I'm thinking that might be managed better by the Tour Director, but if she's too busy it will no doubt be delegated to the official bag carrier!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Auckland and farewell to NZ

So to our final days in Auckland and NZ.

We had three nights in the lovely Debrett hotel where the staff couldn't do enough for us. It was right in the heart of the city and a perfect setting. Auckland is a green and beautiful city with everything close to hand.

We completed the coast to coast walk on day one which took us from Waitemata Harbour to Manukau, across the centre and then the suburbs of Auckland, through five parks (including the biggest, Cornwall Park), up Mount Eden and One Tree Hill, all over about 22km (14 miles). We saw cricket being played, croquet, a huge easter festival and lots of families enjoying the Easter break. The picture below shows Auckland Centre from Mount Eden.

We had two memorable meals in the city. The first at a co-operative street food place where drinks were sold from a small van and Mexican food was the order of the day. Really atmospheric place in Ponsonby.

The second was in the Sky Tower which you can see from a distance on the first picture above. The Tower has a revolving restaurant on the 50th floor, just below where the bungee jumpers take off. The views were amazing and the food excellent.

On our last day we flew in the evening so took off for a final fling in the hire car to Piha Beach on the west coast of Auckland which was dramatic. We walked the beach and saw surfers enjoying yet another fine day in NZ.

As we left Piha we just had time for a visit to the Auckland Botanical Gardens and then it was off to the airport for San Francisco. The experience of New Zealand has been outstanding. We drove 2609 miles, walked 350 miles and left with so many memories of great people and a fine country, but onwards and upwards to the USA and now within four weeks of the wedding celebrations! Thank you NZ.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Taupo, Rotorua and finally Auckland

Two nights in Taupo followed Wellington after a five hour drive.

The town of Taupo sits on a lake by the same name which is the largest in NZ. The accommodation we had there was lovely and spacious and the owners were great, leaving us milk, crumpets and easter eggs for our arrival. The place had an indoor sauna and could have coped with a good sized family. The town itself though is not the prettiest. Its fairly large but over commercialised, however, the Lake and surrounding area made the stopover well worthwhile. Our one full day was spent on a walk from the Huka Falls along the Waikato River (the largest in NZ), to the Aratiatia Rapids. This was a five hour return trek along a decent walk and cycle track with great views along the way. Below, the first picture is Huka Falls, the second is the rapids at the end of the walk.

As we left Taupo for the drive to Auckland we decided to stop at a place called Rotorua on the way. The area is rich in Maori history and even today the population has a strong Maori emphasis. Te Puia is the sight of a historical Maori settlement and also NZ's most famous hot volcanic springs and geysers. You pay an entry fee in a slightly 'Disney' type entrance environment and attend a Maori welcome ceremony and rendition of the Haka. In fairness, the latter was good but a walk round the springs, geysers and mud pools was perhaps more impressive. The air is full of sulphur smells and the heat from the rocks is obvious. It honestly felt that you were on another planet.

From Te Puia we had another 3 hours to Auckland and landed at a privately run hotel which is very quirky, very friendly and perfectly placed for the 2 final NZ days of exploration! Sadly for Maggie, no touring rugby team but hey you can't have everything!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Life in the north.

To get from the South to the NZ North Island, with a car, requires a ferry from Picton to Wellington which takes about 3 hours. The journey takes you through Queen Charlotte Sound and eventually in to the open sea. The views for the first 90 minutes are stunning on a good day and we had a good day! It was actually more of a cruise than a ferry crossing.

Wellington is the capital city of NZ and in our view it's wonderful. Its architecture looks all over the place but somehow it works. It feels young and full of life. We stayed in a very fancy hotel called the Intercontinental and they really looked after us. We walked the city to death, starting on day one with a look at the marina and an initial visit to the Te Papa museum. This free museum is probably the best Maggie and I have ever seen outside of London. Its accessible, interactive and tells the Maori story with real clarity and amazing artefacts. We couldn't do it justice in one day so didn't try. More of that later. First a picture of Wellington:

On day 2 we took the cable car to see 'Zealandia' which lies above the city. This is effectively a huge beautiful valley which has been totally fenced off. The purpose was to eradicate non native species/predators such as possums, rats, hedgehogs, mice and stoats and to re create a safe and natural habitat for NZ birds (some flightless), gecko's etc. It was great to see birds like the Tui and Takahe both of whom have been close to extinction and learn how the eradication process was handled.

On return to the city we again headed for the marina and the Te Papa. We spent about 2 hours in the latter and the highlight was probably the Gallipoli presentation. The blog isn't the place to describe this WW1 event in detail but the story and personal testimonies, the pictures and artefacts paid a genuine tribute to the Anzacs and allies that died. It was moving and creative.

Now it wasn't all good in the hotel. Sadly, we had to share the same with a touring professional rugby union team from South Africa, called the Southern Kings who play out of Port Elizabeth. Yes, they were polite and really nice guys but there were about 27 of them. They all seemed a bit overweight to me but Maggie was oddly pre occupied in the hotel and just a bit giddy. Below you can see her chilling out with her new best 'friend', JP Du Plessis. He was about the smallest one I could find and has played rugby league for Sydney, rugby union in Montepellier and for a couple of teams in South Africa. Maggie has found a new enthusiasm for Rugby Union for some reason.

So we set off this morning for Taupo on route to Auckland and the new place is the biggest yet. We have two nights here and have a planned walk to the Huka falls in the morning. The USA isn't far away now but some great things to do beforehand and who knows, in the Auckland hotel there could even be a cheerleader conference.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Wine Country

We are now on our final day in the South Island, having travelled from Nelson to Renwick, a journey of about 2 hours, allowing us a stop and walk at Pelorus Bridge where 'The Hobbit' was partly filmed.

Renwick is in the heart of the Marlborough wine producing area and therefore a complete contrast in terms of landscape. During the first afternoon/evening we walked across some local salt marshes which were stunning and full of birdlife. The walk took us to the wreck of the Waverley - a supply ship originally used to support the gold mining efforts on the West Coast. Once it was no longer needed it was brought to this coast to be 'scuttled' to support sea defences in the 1930's, but it ran adrift and was left in no more than a few feet of water. In WW2 it was used for target practice. Below you can play 'spot the wreck'.

We had two full days in wine country so day one was spent travelling to and from the port of Picton on two amazing scenic routes, again taking us to remote coves and seeing unreal views. We combined the same with a couple of great walks and had a fine old day. A couple of the more famous bays were Cloudy Bay and Monkey Bay. The view below is Queen Charlotte Sound and that's the start of our route by ferry on Tuesday as we head to Wellington. The second picture is our Tour Director at Anakiwa.

Today we have had a very chilled day walking from our apartment to three wineries and undertaking a wine tasting experiment to see if we like it. The three we visited were Forrest, Framingham's and Wairau River, where we also had a beautiful lunch in a wonderful location. We were invited to sample the grapes and walk freely through the vineyard. The weather, service, wine and food were exceptional. The conclusion we arrived at is we quite like wine, but just to make sure we bought a bottle back for tonight.

Below, you can see Maggie handling a very tough Monday tasting mission at Wairau River (we didn't want to leave) and the second picture is a cellar at Framingham's.

So its goodbye to the South Island in the morning with a whole load of memories to savour. My conclusion is if you like being outside, walking, views to die for, people who consistently want to help you, good wine, mountains, glaciers, sport of any kind (biking/rugby/extreme stuff like golf), very fine craft beers and quiet roads, it might be worth be thinking about running away and coming here. Bring on the North Island!!!!!!