Astoria, Oregon

Sunday morning… hot tea, New York Times… good article in the travel section on the waterfront town of Astoria, Oregon. Good tips on dining, lodging, and things to do. Enjoy the read and maybe a visit sometime.

Astoria, Oregon, Discovers a Waterfront Chic

Astoria Oregon Waterfront
Cannery Pier Hotel, Astoria, OR (photo credit: Leah Nash for the NY Times)


Eugene, Oregon

After a few hours in the car, the crisp cool wind that greets us as we walk to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is welcome. Eugene, Oregon is home to the University of Oregon and the museum is on the sprawling 295 acre campus. Many of the University’s buildings are planned around several major quadrangles and the more than 500 varieties of trees provide a natural beauty.

With its elegant exterior brickwork, decorative moldings and iron grillwork, the original museum building is one of the most distinctive architectural structures in Oregon. The museum opened in 1933 and is listed on the National Register for Historic Places.

Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Entrance to the University of Oregon's Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Sculpture outside the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, OR
Sculpture outside the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Sculpture outside the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the University of Oregon campus
Sculpture outside the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the Univ of Oregon campus

There’s always something new to see at the museum. Selections from the permanent collections which number more than 13,000 works are on display throughout the second floor galleries on a rotating basis. The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art also houses a number of galleries that feature changing exhibitions and we are here today to see one of those…

CHRIS JORDAN RUNNING THE NUMBERS: AN AMERICAN SELF-PORTRAIT

Running the Numbers by former corporate lawyer Chris Jordan follows his recent photographic documentation of natural disasters.  These large mural-size compositions are colorful versions of well-known paintings, like George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, but made with recycled objects–in this case, 106,000 aluminum cans.  Another expansive landscape mimics Ansel Adams’s iconic imagery of the Alaskan wilderness but is actually a composite of thousands of GM stickers used for advertising their Yukon model vehicle.  The exhibition addresses such issues as sustainability and consumerism in seductively beautiful compositions.

Cans Seurat by artist Chris Jordan
"Cans Seurat" depicts 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.

From the Chris Jordan website:

Running the Numbers looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a collective that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

After taking in this amazing exhibit I check out the museum cafe. Eugene’s critically acclaimed Marché Restaurant has teamed with the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art to open the Marché Museum Café. Marché takes its name from the French word for market—a word that describes the restaurant’s philosophy of cooking. The café’s affordable menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, pastries, and coffees is based on the foods that can be found at a farmers market—fresh, seasonal and regional. They are closing so I make do with a lemonade.

Seattle’s First Thursday Art Walk

This morning as I glance through email news headlines, one catches my attention. This Thursday evening, for the first time, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission will open a gallery during  Seattle’s First Thursday art walk, an event drawing thousands each month to view art in galleries, studios, coffee shops and other venues. The mission’s display, “Art from the Streets,” will include more than 100 pieces created by about 30 mission “guests” since these sessions started in September. “I’d like to begin a conversation,” said Knox Burnett, the mission’s guest-relations supervisor. “We’d like the community to know more about a population that is often misunderstood.”

Seattle First Thursday is a cool way to check out the Seattle art scene. The official source of information is firstthursdayseattle.com which contains a wealth of information about the art galleries, venues, exhibits and events happening in Pioneer Square every day of the month.

Since the early 1960s, Pioneer Square’s Victorian storefronts and dusty upper floors have provided a haven for gallery owners and artists alike. Today this artistic community is the center of Seattle’s art scene.

First Thursday in Pioneer Square is the first Art Walk in the USA. In 1981 a group of Pioneer Square art dealers printed handout maps, did small-scale promotions, and on the first Thursday of the month painted footprints on the sidewalk outside their galleries. First Thursday soon evolved into a beloved fixture on the local arts calendar.

Today, First Thursday takes place each month in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood, from noon to 8PM, when leading art galleries throw open their doors to introduce their new exhibitions and artists. For more information about opening events at specific galleries, refer to our venue search feature.

The Art Walk in Pioneer Square is enhanced by the dozens of public art installations that can be found when walking between galleries. From the historic Native American Totem Poles in Occidental and Pioneer Square parks to the bright red “Sentinels” on guard outside the new Fire Station 10. A complete list can be found at www.seattle.gov.

Visitors with questions should drop by our information kiosk in Occidental Park.

Many cities have similar events… Portland, Oregon has a thriving artist scene and hosts a First Thursday Gallery Walk (see my post Portland, Oregon for Thanksgiving for general information on the city).

Portland, Oregon for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in Portland – what a great idea. Jay, his mom and I drive down while Jay’s brother and his family fly up. Time to relax, visit, and play for a few days in a friendly, welcoming city.

We all stay at the Hotel Vintage Plaza and take advantage of one of their AAA packages that is $140/night and includes free valet parking, a $25 gas card and a gift certificate for the mini bar. Our rooms are double queens (many of the hotels had full size beds), very spacious, and newly renovated. This is a pet friendly hotel and we all marvel at the good mannered hounds in the lobby.

Portland Hotel Vintage Plaza
Hotel Vintage Park occupies a lovely old stone & brick building

Soon after check-in we head back down to the lobby for wine hour. Oregon wines are poured while Italian bread & pizza is provided by Pazzo, the restaurant connected to the hotel. This takes the edge off our hunger but we are still weary from a long drive south so we decide to eat a light meal in the Pazzo bar. A nice trend with boutique hotels is having a restaurant connected to the hotel that is independently owned and operated. Pazzo is a gem. Comfortable with delicious Italian cuisine. We find a cozy corner in the bar and share a light meal of mushroom risotto, salad, and a pate and cheese plate. Over the next few days we dine at Pazzo for breakfast and lunch, finding their selections and quality very good. Breakfast favorites are the french toast, spinach/pancetta omelette and scramble of the day.

Daily we are out walking… on one of his solo adventures to Powell’s Bookstore, Jay comes across this bronze elephant sculpture…

Portland Bronze Elephant Sculpture
Bronze elephant sculpture in the park between Burnside and Couch Streets

A little research reveals that in October 2002, a 12-foot bronze sculpture titled Da Tung (Universal Peace), a replica of a Chinese antique dating from the late Shang Dynasty (1200-1100 BC), was installed in the park between Burnside and Couch streets. The elephant is embellished with figures from ancient Chinese mythology, and carries a baby elephant, Xiang bao bao (Baby Elephant), symbolizing that offspring shall be safe and prosperous.

Portland’s street food has a reputation and unlike other cities the vendors are out and open during the cold weather. Out taking photos we come across a block of vendors downtown, various types of buildings, carts, trailers… giving off a deliciously international blend of smells.

portland street food stand
Street food stands are quiet the day before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving morning Pazzo is closed so we step next door to Typhoon for a Thai breakfast. The fried rice with an over easy egg on top is the breakfast favorite, and a very yummy change for a gluten-free eater! As you might imagine the tea menu is huge. I settle on a pot of green tea with peppermint. Perfect for a chilly morning. Typhoon is connected to another boutique hotel, Hotel Lucia. The restrooms are in the hotel, so after breakfast we stroll over to check out the scene… the lobby is like a museum. Filled with sculpture, paintings and Photographer David Hume Kennerly’s work we spend some time looking around. A very cool sculpture made of silver crayola crayons captures our attention… but unfortunately didn’t make it into a photo!

portland hotel lucia
Art filled lobby at Portland's Hotel Lucia

After breakfast the family convenes and decides a movie is in order. It just happens that the latest Harry Potter is playing a few blocks away… so the seven of us (ages 12 to 87) take in a matinee. Turns out there are several movie theaters within walking distance of our hotel. Yippee.

We arrive on time for our 4:30 Thanksgiving dinner reservation at Heathman Restaurant in the Heathman Hotel (another easy walk). Seated within minutes of our arrival we peruse the three course fixed-price menu. Each course has several choices – some of the first course options are pumpkin soup, poached pear salad and caesar salad. The main course offerings are traditional turkey with dressing, prime rib with yorkshire pudding, stuffed pork loin, and a vegetarian option. Desserts include pumpkin napolean, flourless chocolate cake and apple cake. I choose prime rib and flourless chocolate cake – both are amazing. We learn from a staff member that they have 1300 reservations for Thanksgiving, including the buffet upstairs… we are even more impressed with the prompt service and delicious meal!

Thanksgiving Day we watch the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City on the television… the next day, Friday, at 9am we watch the Portland Macy’s Holiday Parade seated in front of our hotel (chair provided by the hotel). Great local marching bands, horses, lhamas, costumed characters, and of course … floats.

Macy's Holiday Parade Portland, OR
Macy's Holiday Parade in Portland, OR
macy's holiday parade portland OR
Raggedy Ann leads the way in the Macy's Holiday parade

Location, location, location… ours allows us to walk everywhere but there is a very cool modern streetcar system in Portland that we see constantly as we do a little Christmas shopping at Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Portland Outdoor Store, Moonstruck Chocolates…

portland, oregon, streetcar
Portland Streetcar began operations July 20, 2001 as the first modern streetcar system in the country
portland oregon outdoor store
Portland Outdoor Store - a great retreat on a rainy afternoon
portland hotel christmas tree
Christmas season begins at the Hotel Vintage Plaza

Needless to say, we are not too hungry the day after our fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, and since we have no leftovers to snack on we checkout a sushi restaurant that we have noticed on our walks… and right after dinner we head to Pioneer Courthouse Square, the place to be, starting at 5:30 pm for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting. After some musical performances and caroling a 75-foot tree lights up the square. Well you can imagine how much energy holding yourself up in a crowd takes… so as the crowd disperses some of us head to Baskin Robbins across the street for ice cream cones! And since this is our last night we go back to the hotel, check out the movie schedule and head to a movie… something fun – RED (Retired and Extremely Dangerous). As my favorite movie critic Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times concludes: “Red is neither a good movie nor a bad one. It features actors we like doing things we wish were more interesting.” Those actors being Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and others. All day Friday staff at the Hotel Vintage Plaza have been decorating the live tree in the atrium of the lobby… when we return after the movie the tree is resplendent. We have officially moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas!

Osoyoos, British Columbia, in the Okanagan Valley

We are off to the Okanagan Valley. Driving through the North Cascades National Park on Route 20 in Washington State is a treat in the fall. This is Jays first time, so I drive to give him ample opportunity to take in everything. Near the summit we round a curve just as two bear cubs scurry over the far side of the road. We just glimpse their rears and cute furry tails.

Heading to Osoyoos, BC we pass through Winthrop, WA and stop in one of my favorite little towns – Twisp. The Cinnamon Twisp Bakery beckons like the sirens, and we head in for a hot cup of coffee and some lunch. After a delicious black bean/corn salad we are on the road again, nearing our intersection with Route 97, our path north to British Columbia. Only 85 miles to go.

Spirit Ridge Resort
Spirit Ridge Resort and NK' Mip Cellars appear beyond the grapevines and sagebrush.

Slowly the terrain turns to desert as we head north. We arrive in Osoyoos, British Columbia late afternoon. Just 5 minutes north of the US Border, the town of 5,000 is located on Osoyoos Lake, and surrounded by grasslands, highlands and mountains. As we make our way around the lake toward Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa, New Mexico and Santa Fe come to mind. Indeed, this region is Canada’s only desert and is dotted with sagebrush and cactus.

Drawn to autumn colors and quiet, we arrive in the Okanagan Valley just after the Fall Wine Festival. Still time to enjoy the warm October days and the benefit of lower rates at the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa.

spirit ridge resort sculpture
Dynamic metal sculptures populate the resort.

Ready to stretch our legs after a day of driving, we check in, then walk over to the NK’Mip Cellars tasting room. Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced in-ka-meep) is owned and operated by the Okanagan People, one of Canada’s First Nations. While enjoying their Pinot Noir and Merlot, we learn that the NK’Mip Cultural Center is located within the resort compound as well, and make a note to check it out in the morning.

Passatempo is Latin for “passing the time,” and this bistro-style restaurant at Spirit Ridge Resort is the perfect place to finish the day. Good food and good wine with my sweetie. Plus, a panoramic view of Lake Osoyoos, the vineyards, and the desert. We are offered seating on the patio or indoors, and choose an indoor table by the window. Our lovely waitress helps me choose a Filet entree with Juniper sauce, mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables that is gluten-free. Jay decides on the Rack of Lamb. Both are beautifully presented, delicious, and enjoyed with glasses of Merlot, chosen after a small tasting of red wines. Many of the ingredients are locally grown and organic. (We return the next day for lunch and share a fresh Seafood Caesar Salad and delectable Polenta with fresh local corn).

spirit ridge grapevine
We take a path through the vineyard on our walk up from the lake.

After coffee and tea at a carryout across the way, we begin the second day with a brisk walk down to the lake and back in the cool morning air. The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre is just opening as we return from our walk. The state-of-the-art interpretive centre is an architectural marvel sensitively constructed into the hillside. Extensive indoor and outdoor exhibit galleries create a fun, interactive learning environment with hands-on displays, education stations and two multi-media theatre experiences.

Warrior sculpture at Spirit Ridge Resort
Warrior sculpture welcomes visitors to the NK'Mip Cultural Center

We take our time looking at the exhibits (inside & outside) and discovering the fascinating stories and rich living culture of the Okanagan people. The outdoor area exhibits are amazing – we marvel at the metal sculptures. Then we buy two cold bottles of water and head out to explore the two kilometers of walking trails they have created. Enjoying the smell of the sage grasslands and pine forests along the way.

NK'Mip cultural center at Spirit Ridge
Outdoor exhibit at the NK'Mip Cultural Center at Spirit Ridge
spirit ridge cultural center woman harvesting
Another fantastic metal sculpture of a woman harvesting
spirit ridge cultural center spirit animals
Spirit animal sculpture at the Cultural Centre

As you can tell, we are walkers… but you could also spend time at the Sonora Desert Spa, or golfing at Sonora Dunes Golf Course, both at here at Spirit Ridge. And we are wine lovers, so we have a late lunch and go wine tasting.

Our favorite vineyards, all about 10 km north of Osoyoos in the Black Sage Bench area:

  • Church and State
  • Hester Creek Estate Winery
  • Oliver Twist Estate Winery
  • Stoneboat Vineyards
  • Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, where we have a delicious and romantic dinner that night in the Sonora Room Restaurant. Jay dines on the special, a perfectly grilled pork chop served with a homemade pasta incorporating fresh squash and cabbage served with a cider, calvados, beef stock and butter sauce. Outrageous! I have the Fraser Valley Duck Breast, equally sublime, with roasted new potatoes and autumn vegetables. This night all diners receive a complimentary appetizer of Jingle Bell Red Peppers filled with cheese and a complimentary dessert – mini squash creme brulee. Good thing we walked a lot today. And yes, we savored a bottle of Burrowing Owl Merlot, I think it was a 2007, but not sure. Excellent.


Fresh from the Okanagan Valley and Joie Farms is an inspiring new cookbook ~  MENUS from an ORCHARD TABLE: Celebrating the Food and Wine of the Okanagan by Heidi Noblemenus from an orchard tableA collection of outstanding seasonal recipes from Joie Wines and Farm Cooking School’s renowned outdoor orchard dinners. Menus for an Orchard Table allows readers to re-create some of Joie’s most extraordinary dishes, with essays on the Okanagan’s wine country cuisine and superb photography. The recipes are divided into the courses served at Joie’s orchard dinners, which balance regional wines with the accompanying dishes. Among the selections are Chilled heirloom yellow tomato soup garnished with tomato confit and chive oil, Country lamb and olive terrine with Joie pear and shallot compote and brioche, and the Bittersweet Chocolate Tarte with port. Unfortunately, the cooking classes are no longer offered, but the spirit lives on in her cookbook.

Notes from our travels to Tokyo

April 2007 found us in Tokyo and Kyoto for 10 days… I tagged along on a business trip of Jay’s. Here are some notes and impressions I jotted down at the time… this blog covers Tokyo… Kyoto will follow.

Arriving in a foreign land is surreal. We board a plane that climbs to 35,000 feet, cruises for hours and then the door opens and we are half way across the globe. Amazing. Tokyo is amazing. Spreading for miles – seemingly never-ending, populated in numbers beyond conception, yet mostly experienced as orderly and clean.

The train station is where the vast sums of people are apparent. We experience Shinagawa Station during morning rush hour when thousands of Japanese head to the office clad in dark suits and white shirts. A low buzz of sound like an active beehive filled the air as orderly masses approached the precision run trains. Shinagawa, one of the oldest stations in Tokyo, opened on June 12, 1872. It is very near the hotel we are in. Mastery of the train system is useful as taxis are very expensive.

This is my first visit to Japan and the toilet in our hotel room is a main source of interest: heated toilet seat, button on toilet for bidet, we think, one button with male symbol and another for female – pushed female lots of action in bowl but nothing interacted with me. We are impressed with their energy efficiency, as you enter the room you insert your key/card into a slot that activates electricity – everything turns off when you leave and remove your key.

The hotel includes breakfast – extensive buffet options – very international with familiar western options of eggs, bacon and an extensive Japanese buffet with miso soup, fish, rice…

Easter Sunday we take the JR train to the Imperial Palace and Gardens, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo Station. It is the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family. Cherry blossoms, blooming azaleas and rhododendrons fill the gardens.

Tokyo Imperial Palace Garden with cityscape in the background
Tokyo Imperial Palace Gardens with cityscape in the background
Tokyo Imperial Palace Garden
Idyllic pond in the Tokyo Imperial Palace Garden
View of Tokyo Imperial Palace
View of the moated Tokyo Imperial Palace

Lunch is fun. We find a noodle soup place in the lower level of an office building with customers coming and going. We select and pay for our soup at a machine, then give the token/receipt we receive to someone at the counter. We can see the cooks in action behind her. A few minutes later a big bowl of steaming broth with rice noodles and chicken arrives. Tasty and cheap.

Full and satisfied we walk to the Ginza area. We are drawn to the elegant and historic Mitsukoshi department store. I read up on the history and learn it was founded in 1673 as a kimono shop, ten years later in 1683, the owners took a new approach to marketing, and instead of selling by going door-to-door, they set up a store where buyers could purchase goods on the spot with cash. My favorite floor is the  food department on the lower level – a wow! A bazaar of food with Harrod’s and many other Japanese food specialists.

Tokyo Street Scene
Tokyo street scene a la Beatles Abbey Road Album

Monday – Jay is working and I take a cab to Shinjuku – this is the area Lost in Translation was filmed. High energy, Times Square like. I walk through Tokyo Hands – our friend David’s favorite store – with everything from stationery to nails. I buy some lovely rice paper and a bag of tiny shells. Shinjuku is divided – the east side is constant chaos – shopping, eating, lots of young people. While the west side is high rises, luxury hotels and government buildings. With an estimated population of over 300,000 Shinjuku is a city in it’s own right.

Tuesday on my own, I take a cab back to the Ginza area. Mostly walk around, people watch and window shop. I check out Matsuya department store where I find an area devoted to Japanese artisans – many are present to talk about their work – paintings, prints, textiles, pottery.

Later I head to the Okura Museum of Art on the grounds of the lovely, historic Okura Hotel. The museum has an austere atmosphere, only a few people are present – offering a calm respite from the downtown energy.

Tokyo Okura Museum Sculpture
Ancient stone sculpture at the Okura Museum in Tokyo

From the hotel website I read the museum’s history: Back in 1917, an avid collector of Buddhist artwork by the name of Kihachiro Okura established, on his own land, a museum in which to hold and display his treasures. Over the years, this collection was added to by his son, the founder of Hotel Okura, Baron Kishichiro Okura, whose interests included modern Japanese painting, or Nihonga. Today, the Okura Shukokan Museum of Fine Arts houses some 2,000 items and 35,000 volumes — a collection that contains a number of officially registered National Treasures, Important Cultural Objects, and Important Art Objects.

Evening energy levels rise in Tokyo. Apartments are small and utilitarian, so many seek camaraderie with friends and co-workers in the bars after a long day at the office. Nightly we witness the packed tables, shrouded in cigarette smoke, everyone animatedly talking and drinking. It’s worth enduring the smoke to experience the high energy.

As often happens after a trip my antennae are tuned to that country. So when I come across a positive review for The Haiku Apprentice – a memoir by an American diplomat who joins a haiku group in Japan – I am on it. The book is not written to teach haiku yet I find myself dabbling in the medium as I read along during my commute and learning more about the country and people I have just visited.


Yokohama, Japan, with kids

Last night an email came in from our sister-in-law, Janet. She and the kids (our nieces – ages 13 & 11) are traveling in Asia with Andy on a business trip. Happy Father’s Day Andy!

Hello Jay and Sue,

We are having a great time in Yokohama. We were fortunate enough to get upgraded from SFO to Narita into business class and had a great flight. Gabrielle was so busy watching Avatar that she didn’t even know that we had landed. She saw everyone standing up and wondered what was going on. Now that’s a great 10 hour flight.

After landing in Narita we had to catch a bus to our hotel – Yokohama is an hour away from the Airport. We were all pretty jet lagged by now and the bus ride felt longer than the flight. From the bus terminal we caught a taxi to our hotel (planes, trains and automobiles). The taxis in Japan are so clean and I love the white seat covers and the gloved drivers. The cabs play 30-40s hits from America while using GPS. A bit of the old and the new and it works. We are taking taxis all over Yokohama (the kids love the automatic doors).

We are staying at the Intercontinental Yokohama Hotel. It is an easy landmark in Yokohama. The hotel is shaped like the sail of a ship. It is so distinct – you just can’t miss it. Andy and I stayed here 8 years ago when we were last here. I love being back. I really like this hotel. The staff is really helpful and all speak English. They are so polite and friendly. The restaurants in the hotel are great, Chinese, Italian, French and Japanese. Our maitre ‘d was from Lausanne, Switzerland in the French restaurant and he and Andy spoke French together. The French food was rich and delicious – I had a pumpkin soup that was out of this world. It’s a great experience. The girls said that after Italy this is their favorite country.

SOGO Department Store, Yokohama, Japan
SOGO Department Store, Yokohama, Japan

Day 1 – we go to one of my favorite stores – SOGO. It is next to the Yokohama Train Station. It is an amazing store on par with Harrods in London. It is 12 stories and one of the floors has a museum on it. The  sixth floor is home to the first in-store museum, the SOGO Museum of Art in Japan. We go through the exhibit and unfortunately none of the items had English subtitles. Danielle recognized an ink block and the tea brush used in the tea ceremony which she studied this year at school. She is excited to share some info with us. There is an exhibit of three handbags – we know they are hundreds of years old ( if not thousand since we can’t read any of the literature) but one of the handbags could have been in fashion today. You forget you’re inside a department store and it’s just a small portion of the sixth floor. But my favorite floor is the basement – it has foods from around the world. Every display case is more beautiful than the next. The food and pastry look like works of art. The staff is friendly and eager to serve you and they speak English. One young woman looks distressed when Gabrielle tried to order three truffles and finally she said “alcohol” so we knew not to pick those. We oohed and ahhed over the confections and went back two days in a row to sample the cream puffs. They cost about $2.50 each and the packaging is so elaborate. They pack them in a travel box, wet naps, napkins, utensils for us to take with a mini ice pack to keep them cool. We love it and came back a second day to do some shopping at SOGO.

Cosmoworld, Yokohama, Japan
Cosmoworld with the Intercontinental Hotel in the background - Yokohama, Japan

Next is Cosmoworld which is near our hotel. It is an amusement park with one of the world’s largest ferris wheels, 1125 meters high and can carry 480 people. We go on it and it takes about 15 minutes to complete the revolution. We have a great view of our hotel and Yokohama in general. After the ferris wheel Andy and Danielle ride the roller coaster. It goes underground during the ride and they are the only two people on it. We can hear them screaming as they fly underground.

Red Panda at the Nogeyama Zoo, Yokohama, Japan
Red Panda at the Nogeyama Zoo, Yokohama, Japan

Day 2 – Andy is working and we are off to the Nogeyama Zoo. It is a small zoo built in 1950 and the admission is free. I don’t know how they pay for the animals? We want to see a red panda and we do. It is the second exhibit at the zoo and we squeal with delight at this charming fellow. It is the first time we have seen a red panda close up. The first creature we see is a scarlet ibis – something else we had never seen before. They are truly scarlet and very beautiful birds. Another animal that is new to us is the colobus – this primate is amazing. Long black and white hair and a tail that must be three feet long. It was a wonderful sight to see. They have a petting zoo so different from the States. It has boxes of mice, then another box of baby chicks, then guinea pigs called “marmots” and then rats. You can pet the animals and they had slatted ropes all along the enclosure for the mice and rats to travel on. These are hung on poles across the exhibit so if you look up mice and rats are traveling on the mini slatted bridges over your head. The kids love it. The rest of the animals are the standard zoo variety but as we turn the corner on the cat house after being inside and seeing a tiger and lioness – a male lion is lying on top of a shed. We go “whoa’ because he is enormous. I had never been that close to a male lion. He is huge and I just hadn’t realize how huge. He is amazing and he has this intense stare so we all turn to see what he was looking at. We don’t see what he sees. It is hot and humid. I would say in the 80s and I hope we will be able to find a taxi to take us back our hotel. We step out of the zoo and here comes a taxi. What luck!

Nogeyama Zoo Peacock, Yokohama, Japan
Nogeyama Zoo Peacock, Yokohama, Japan

For dinner Andy and his client, Toshi, take us to an authentic Soba noodle dinner in Old Tokyo. The restaurant is over 100 years old. The outside is lovely – screens and well manicured entrance. We sit on tatami mats and are the only caucasians in the place. It is quite an experience. Toshi orders for us and Gabrielle’s udon noodles arrive in a beautiful black box with a lid on it. She loves the noodles. This is a dinner we will never forget.

We take the train and subway into Tokyo and back. It’s the girls first time on a subway and they don’t really like the crowded conditions. As a New Yorker it was pretty typical of a subway ride.

Day 3 – we go to the Yokohama Museum of Art. It is closed but as we take photos on the grounds, this business man approaches and without asking politely takes the camera from Gabrielle and takes our picture. Then he turns the camera, takes another shot, picks up his briefcase and continues on his way. We love the culture and politeness of the people. We cross over to the Landmark Tower. This is the highest observation tower in Japan. It is on the 69th story and the panoramic views are fantastic. The elevator is the fastest in Japan and in the Guinness Book of Records. It travels the 69 stores in 40 seconds. We love it. It is so fun.

Last night which was our 16th anniversary and our last night in Japan so we met Andy in Shin-Yokohama to go to the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum. We had seen Ramen Girl – starring Brittany Murphy several months ago and knew we were heading to Yokohama where this film takes place. So we said we would go and visit this Raumen Museum. We made good on our word and went. The basement of the museum is supposed to be a replica of what downtown noodle shops looked liked in 1958. It is very bizarre. Totally unexpected and hard to describe. We took some pictures which we’ll have to send but even that may not do it justice. It was a strange experience.

Umbrellas in Yokohama, Japan
The girls with their umbrellas in Yokohama, Japan

The girls purchased umbrellas at SOGO earlier in the week. They are hoping to get to use their new umbrellas. They are clear with colored polka dots. The clear umbrellas make it so easy to see where you’re going. Last night as we walked to the Raumen it was raining hard. It was an anniversary we won’t forget. Andy and I are under one of the polka-dotted umbrellas and the girls each walked with a new umbrella in the pouring rain. We are all happy.

Today we head to Singapore. The girls and I are excited about seeing a new country.


What He Thought — A poem by Heather McHugh

Giordano Bruno at Campo dei Fiori
Giordano Bruno at Campo dei Fior

I remember walking through Campo dei Fiori, a lovely piazza near Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy.  That was in 1976. And I remember Ettore Ferrari’s dramatic statue representing Giordano Bruno, facing the Vatican.  The statue placed in the spot where Bruno was burned at the stake by the church, for his heretical writings on Heliocentrism – the idea that earth was not the center of the universe, but rotated round the sun. (Read more: Honoring a Heretic Whom Vatican ‘Regrets’ Burning at the NY Times)

And today, driving home, listening to NPR, I heard poet Heather McHugh read her poem, What He Thought, which features Campo dei Fiori and Bruno. What an amazing thing to be tooling along the road, and suddenly find myself in tears at the simple powerful beauty of McHugh’s words. Her poem sneaks up on me and provides a deeper understanding of Bruno and his courage to speak truth to power.

The image in the poem, of the iron mask, will stay with me for some time…

Here are the spoken and written forms of McHugh’s poem What He Thought.  To hear Heather McHugh read her poem, click on play (the triangular button).

[audio:http://travelsketchwrite.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/What_He_Thought.mp3|titles=What He Thought|artists=Heather McHugh]

What He Thought

by Heather McHugh

for Fabbio Doplicher

We were supposed to do a job in Italy
and, full of our feeling for
ourselves (our sense of being
Poets from America) we went
from Rome to Fano, met
the mayor, mulled
a couple matters over (what does it mean
flat drink asked someone, what does it mean
cheap date?). Among Italian literati

we could recognize our counterparts:
the academic, the apologist,
the arrogant, the amorous,
the brazen and the glib—and there was one

administrator (the conservative), in suit
of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
with measured pace and uninflected tone narrated
sights and histories the hired van hauled us past.
Of all, he was the most politic and least poetic,
so it seemed. Our last few days in Rome
(when all but three of the New World Bards had flown)
I found a book of poems this
unprepossessing one had written: it was there
in the pensione room (a room he’d recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by
the German visitor (was there a bus of them?)
to whom he had inscribed and dated it a month before.
I couldn’t read Italian, either, so I put the book
back into the wardrobe’s dark. We last Americans

were due to leave tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant, and there
we sat and chatted, sat and chewed,
till, sensible it was our last
big chance to be poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked
“What’s poetry?”
Is it the fruits and vegetables and
marketplace of Campo dei Fiori, or
the statue there?” Because I was

the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn’t have to think—”The truth
is both, it’s both,” I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest to say. What followed
taught me something about difficulty,
for our underestimated host spoke out,
all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

The statute represents Giordano Bruno,
brought to be burned in the public square
because of his offense against
authority, which is to say
the Church. His crime was his belief
the universe does not revolve around
the human being: God is no
fixed point or central government, but rather is
poured in waves through all things. All things
move. “If God is not the soul itself, He is
the soul of the soul of the world.” Such was
his heresy. The day they brought him
forth to die, they feared he might
incite the crowd (the man was famous
for his eloquence). And so his captors
placed upon his face
an iron mask, in which

he could not speak. That’s
how they burned him. That is how
he died: without a word, in front
of everyone.
And poetry—
(we’d all
put down our forks by now, to listen to
the man in gray; he went on
softly)—
poetry is what

he thought, but did not say.

Source: Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993 (Wesleyan University Press, 1994)

Heather McHugh, “What He Thought”, from Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993 © 1994 by Heather McHugh and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. www.wesleyan.edu/wespress

Queenstown, NZ

We arrive in Queenstown in the evening about 7 hours after leaving Dunedin. The Taieri Gorge train takes us part of the way and then a bus completes the trip. Our niece, Jaime, is in Queenstown visiting from Maryland and we are very excited to see her, so we quickly settle in our hotel and rendezvous with her for dinner. A bit groggy from travel and the late hour we walk around the town, checking menus and finally decide on Flame Bar & Grill. Jay is ready for ribs and they have a table free on the second floor balcony with an expansive view of the waterfront. Our server suggests an Australian red to go with the ribs, add a greek salad and we are good to go. Great wine, good food and wonderful conversation catching up with Jaime!

Arriving in the dark to a new destination always adds an element of intrigue. Waking in the morning to a sunny day we are ready to see the stunning setting that we have read about. Queenstown sits on the shore of Lake Wakatipu framed by jagged mountains called The Remarkables. These days tourism is the new gold, and it is a very popular destination for adventure seekers. Jaime has an exciting tandem paraglide, and there is bungee jumping, jet boating, white-water rafting and skiing in the winter.

Waterfront, Queenstown, NZ
Waterfront in Queenstown, NZ
Boats on Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, NZ
Boats on Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, NZ

Downtown, The Mall, is an outside area with many restaurants and shops. Even in late February the place is humming with people – sitting in the cafes we hear languages from all over the world. In the afternoon we stroll through the Queenstown Gardens. A nice respite from the downtown area.

Beautiful old tree in the Queenstown Gardens, Queenstown, NZ
Beautiful old tree in the Queenstown Gardens, Queenstown, NZ
Pond in the Queenstown Gardens, Queenstown, NZ
Pond in the Queenstown Gardens, Queenstown, NZ
Rose in the Queenstown Gardens, Queenstown, NZ
Rose in the Queenstown Gardens, Queenstown, NZ
Sculpture "Fleur" in the Queenstown Gardens, NZ
Sculpture "Fleur" in the Queenstown Gardens, NZ

Our stay in Queenstown is a brief one as is our visit with Jaime who will leave in the morning. On a recommendation from a shop owner, we book reservations at The Bunker for dinner. As the reviews stated it is a hard to find gem, hidden away down a back alley in the middle of the town. But the search is worth it… once inside the intimate dining room I feel removed from the world and ready for the incredible dining experience that is to come. Our server is a pro who guides us well through the wine list and menu. Jay choses the pork belly, Jaime steak and for me, duck. All our entrees are artful presentations featuring heavenly meats that melt in ours mouths. Unable to imagine dessert, Jay orders two dessert drinks for our amusement – a Tiramisu and a Toblerone. They taste divine but the lasting image is of our server preparing them. For movie fans think “Love Actually”, and picture the scene where Mr. Bean takes his time artistically wrapping the bracelet for  Alan Rickman with seemingly endless flourishes.

Jaime has one experience left on her Queenstown list, so our last morning together we shuttle up the peak on the Skyline Gondola. A grey sky mutes the image but the view of The Remarkables, the lake and the town below is incredible.

Skyline Gondola, Queenstown, NZ
Skyline Gondola, Queenstown, NZ
View from the top of the Skyline Gondola, Queenstown, NZ
View from the top of the Skyline Gondola, Queenstown, NZ

Later in the day storm clouds began collecting over Lake Wakatipu…

Storm brewing over the lake in Queenstown, NZ
Storm brewing over the lake in Queenstown, NZ

Walking back to the hotel from dinner we stopped to watch a local dance class…

Dance lessons in Queenstown, NZ
Dance lessons in Queenstown, NZ

Our last morning we have a few hours before the airport shuttle picks us up, so we take a walk along the lake into town. Jay craves one last treat from Patagonia Chocolates – they might be known for their chocolates but Jay will remember the ice cream (dulce de leche, chocolate with hazelnut, white chocolate with hazelnut) and I will long for the hot chocolate with fresh ginger. Their teeshirts catch my eye, and being a chocoholic I especially like the tee our server has on, “Save the planet – it’s the only one with chocolate”.

Feeding the ducks, Queenstown, NZ
Feeding the ducks, Queenstown, NZ

Dunedin, NZ

Our first stop on the 226 mile drive from Christchurch to Dunedin is Oamaru. An historic seaport town nestled on the South Island’s east coast. While Oamaru’s early wealth was founded on gold, it was agriculture that provided the driving force for a thriving commercial port and harbor area. Although commercial usage has steadily declined over time, the original structures remain intact and the area is undergoing a revival. The Woolstore Cafe is in a restored building and there we enjoyed the day’s special – lamb burgers with fries. Once again I was delighted to find gluten-free “slices” – wonderfully moist, cake-like treats: chocolate hazelnut and a pear honey (my waistline is not in decline!).

Oamaru Bay

During our stay in Christchurch we were advised to stop and see the Moeraki Boulders on our trip south. The boulders are situated some 40km south of Oamaru at Moeraki on State Highway One. It is a five minute walk along the beach to the boulders. From a distance they are not impressive in size, but up close the details become apparent. A little research revealed there incredible history… the boulders were embedded in the soft mudstone cliff at the beach and the forces of the sea have eroded the cliff away, exposing the round formation of the boulders. The boulders were formed by the crystallization of calcium and carbonates around charged particles, as one website described it – “a process similar to the way pearls are formed”. Although this process took four million years.

Moeraki Boulders

Originally we had planned to end our journey in Christchurch, but our friends, Sally & Bruce, encouraged us to continue south to Dunedin and the Otago peninsula. Dunedin is home to the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university and the Otago Polytechnic. The University accounts for about 20 percent of the city’s population and this weekend was the start of the semester so lodging was booked downtown. Online we found a room at the newly opened St. Clair Beach Resort and after driving through the city found ourselves at the oceanfront where surfers were rallying and practicing for the next day’s Asia Pacific Long Board Championship. An excited Jay was soon talking to his buddy, Mark (surfer dude), via Skype – holding up the MacBook (see Jay’s  review of the Ultimate Travel Computer) so Mark could see the surfers. Enjoying the sound of the surf and tired from a long day of driving, that night we dined nearby at Salt – a great little restaurant about two blocks from the hotel.

Surfers at St Clair Beach in Dunedin

Waking the next morning to the sounds of loud speakers announcing the surfers we check it out for awhile from our balcony, then jump in the car and head out to the Otago Peninsula. Our destination is the Royal Albatross Colony at Taiaroa Head, on the tip of the Otago Peninsula. We drive out on Portobello Road along the edge of the harbor, then return on Highcliff Road along the top of the Peninsula enjoying the spectacular views of both routes.

Taiaroa Head is unique for the diversity of wildlife which abounds on this small headland. The albatross is one of eleven bird species which breed in the area and this is the only mainland breeding colony for any albatross species found in the southern hemisphere. The first Taiaroa-reared albatross chick flew in 1938 and this now protected nature reserve has grown into an established colony with a population of around 140 birds.

The breeding birds arrive at Taiaroa Head in September. The nest, built during early November, is formed by a bird sitting down and pulling vegetation and earth around itself with its bill. The white egg, weighing up to 500 grams, is laid during the first three weeks of November. The parents share incubation duty in spells of two to eight days over a period of 11 weeks – one of the longest incubation periods of any bird. The incubating bird sleeps much of the time its mate is away

Albatross with chick

When the chick has hatched, the parents take turns at guarding it for the first 30 to 40 days, and the feeding of the chick is also shared by both parents. Nearly 12 months after their arrival at Taiaroa Head, having cared for egg and chick over a period of some 300 days, the parents will leave the colony to spend a year at sea before returning to breed again. The chicks hatch during late January and early February; it takes about three to six days to finally emerge from the egg after making a hole in the shell. Albatross Breading Cycle For the first 20 days the chick is fed on demand, then meals decrease to three or four times a week. At 100 days the chick’s down reaches a maximum length of 12 centimetres. At this age the chick is fed larger meals, up to two kilograms at a time, of more solid substance. From early August the chick is fed lighter meals and in September, when fully fledged, it wanders from the nest testing its outstretched wings and eventually takes off with the aid of a strong wind. The young albatross will spend the next three to six years at sea; many then return to this unique headland to start another generation of Royals of Taiaroa.

Stomach contents of a deceased albatross

While away at sea the albatross swallows plastic debris – in the North Pacific debris is concentrated in two huge eddies – in these areas the surface water contains six times more plastic than plankton by weight. Adult albatrosses breeding on Hawaiian atolls ingest the plastic, probably mistaking it for food, and then feed it to their chicks. As a result, thousands of chicks die yearly in Hawaii because their stomachs fill with plastic leaving no room for real food.

Rare Stewart Island Shag mud nests

From the nature reserve viewing area we saw the rare Stewart Island Shag mud nests.

Lighthouse on the Otago Peninsula

The lighthouse is a short walk from the reserve with views of the ocean and seals camouflaged among the dark stones.

Sheep, Dunedin, NZ
Shade loving sheep along the roadside

Driving back on the Highcliff Road we came upon these wool laden sheep enjoying the shade; below is a view of the lush Otago Peninsula.

Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, NZ
View of the Otaga Peninsula

After a full day out on the Otago Peninsula we make reservations to dine in downtown Dunedin at Bacchus. Set in the heart of Dunedin in one of Dunedin’s historic buildings, Bacchus overlooks the Octagon (city center of Dunedin), and is known for it’s quality lamb and beef dishes and a first rate wine selection. We enjoyed a first class meal and good wine recommendations.

The following morning we check out at 10am (the standard time in NZ), return our rental car, check our luggage at train station and head to Plato for brunch. Plato is a relaxed eatery located on the harborfront of Dunedin and was recommended by our waitress at Bacchus last night. Hands down one of the best brunch dishes ever – Basque Eggs – free-range eggs broken over pan-fried potatoes, mushrooms, chorizo, tomatoes, feta and spinach, grilled with grated parmesan.

Walking into town we make a visit to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. As we made our way through the galleries the exhibit that stood out was Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.  Described as  “A collection of photographs that document the inaccessible places that exit below the surface of American identity.” The two images that stood out for me and contrasted each other were both in Washington State – a nuclear waste shot and the Olympic National Temperate Rainforest. The museum is worth checking out and this exhibit is there until May 9, 2010.

We eventually make it back to the Octogon to check out the South Island Bagpipe competition… here are Jay’s photos…

Bagpipers Practicing, Dunedin, NZ
Bagpipers practicing for the South Island Competition
Bagpipers, Dunedin, NZ
Bagpipers present themselves to the Competition Official
Young bagpipers, Dunedin, NZ
The tradition continues with these young bagpipers
Bagpipe Competition Judge, Dunedin, NZ
Bagpipe Competition Judges chat with an onlooker

Our train leaves mid-afternoon… we are taking The Taieri Gorge Limited train, Dunedin’s prestige tourist train operating from the historic Railway Station. This scenic train & bus tour will eventually land us in Queenstown, NZ. This historic train travels through the rugged and spectacular Taieri River Gorge, across wrought iron viaducts and through tunnels carved by hand more than 100 years ago.

Dunedin Train Station, NZ
Dunedin Train Station
Dunedin Train Station, Dunedin, NZ
Platform at the Dunedin Train Station
Historic Taieri Gorge Train, Dunedin, NZ
Interior of the historic Taieri Gorge train
Taieri Gorge Train, Dunedin to Queenstown, NZ
Gramma's traveling bears on Taieri Gorge Train

At one of our stops along the way, a grandma sets her bears out and photographs them. She tells Jay she will email the pictures to her grandchildren later as a fun way for them to follow her travels.

Akaroa, NZ

Akaroa Bay
Akaroa Bay

A scenic one hour drive from Christchurch, Akaroa is a quaint little fishing village located on the southern side of Bank Peninsula. Akaroa sits at the edge of a beautiful harbor inside the eroded crater of a huge extinct volcano. Originally a French settlement, the streets have French names and local restaurants focus on French cuisine. The French settlers who arrived to establish the town in 1840 thought they were the first colonists of a new French territory, however the Treaty of Waitangi was signed just days before they arrived, which gave Britain sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand.

Donkeys in Akaroa, NZ
Donkeys along the road outside Akaroa, NZ

We arrived in Akaroa amid a downpour, so Jay decided to keep driving beyond the town to give the clouds time to pass by. That’s when we came upon these two donkeys huddling in their shelter to avoid the rain. Later in town Jay learned that the larger donkey on the right had lost his good buddy – a goat, and had been despairing, so his family had gotten a second donkey to keep him company. Ahhh.

Due to the wet weather we did a quick walk around town, and began the trek back to Christchurch. Another recommendation was to stop at the Little River Art Gallery. This was easy as they are along the Main Road SH 75, the road to Akaroa, and their building stands out as a contemporary structure in a very rural setting.

Little River Cafe and Art Gallery, Little River, NZ
Little River Cafe and Art Gallery, Little River, NZ

The Little River Art Gallery was impressive, showing the work of top quality New Zealand artists. Sculpture, paintings, pottery, jewelry were on display. There is also a lovely cafe attached and there we discovered friands. Tasty little almond meal cakes originally from France. The server suggested we try the Blueberry Lemon Friand which was gluten-free. Here is a recipe:

Blueberry Lemon Friands

10 TBSP butter
2 cups confectionary sugar
1/4 cup gluten-free all purpose flour or regular
1 1/2 cups almond meal
6 egg whites
2/3 cup blueberries
2 tsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425° with convection. Grease 12 1/2-cup capacity friand pans or muffin holes.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer, swirling pan occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes or until light golden. Remove from heat. Set aside for 15 minutes to cool.

Sift confectionary sugar and flour into a large bowl. Stir in almond meal. Make a well in the centre. Gradually add lightly beaten eggwhites, folding in until combined. Add butter and fold in until well combined. Stir in berries. Fill friand pans with mixture, about 3/4 full.

Bake friands for 5 minutes. Reduce oven to 375° convection and bake for 8-10 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar. Serve.

Christchurch, NZ

Revived after our 5 nights in Nelson we are ready to head to Christchurch. Jay was there in November/December of 1975 after a summer gig in Antarctica installing some electronics he had designed for a University of MD atmospheric project. We have been thinking about visiting since then, so I am excited to finally see it, and Jay is curious about how it will appear 35 years later.

Leaving Nelson en route to Christchurch, we decided to check out a couple vineyards around Blenheim. Our favorite for the wine was Lawson’s Dry Hills Winery. Visually very modest compared to others, but producing some lovely white wines. We enjoyed their Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Late Harvest Riesling immensely. Decided to buy a bottle of the Pinot Gris to enjoy during the remaining travels and tuck a Riesling away to share with friends back home. During this trip we have driven the coastal routes more often than not, never tiring of our first glimpse of the sea on a new shore. Today we travel down State Highway 1 and experience the South Island’s east coast – this area is known for crayfish, whale watching, seals, dolphins… an abundance of marine life to eat and view. There is stretch of road about 4 km that has signs indicating seals in that area and we spotted a few driving by.

Black Sand Beach on the way to Christ Church, NZ
A black sand beach on the way to Christ Church, NZ

The owner of Lawson Winery had suggested we stop at The Store for lunch. It is midway between Blenheim and Kaikoura in the middle of nowhere, located in a scenic spot along the highway (good signage). They have a large outdoor patio out back where we dined in the sun cooled by the Pacific Ocean breezes and entertained by the most aggressive seagulls we have witnessed yet!

After a fun, full day of traveling we arrive at Pomeroy’s on Kilmore, a boutique guest house located inside Christchurch’s ‘Four Avenues’ (just 4 blocks from the city centre) and our resting point for the next 3 nights. Pomeroy’s historic Old Brewery Inn is literally a stone’s throw away next door and once we are checked in we head over for a brew and dinner. Steve Pomeroy, the owner, is often about and ready to see to your every need. Hearing I eat gluten-free he had fresh gluten-free bread brought in from his favorite German bakery (which he had to do twice, because it was so good all the guests ate it). Another great feature of Pomeroy’s – the breakfast room. Every morning they have a continental breakfast of toast, cereal, tea, coffee, fruit, jams, butter… served in a lovely dining room furnished with antiques. Just like home.

Pomeroy's on Kilmore in Christchurch, NZ
Pomeroy's on Kilmore in Christchurch, NZ

Cathedral Square is a casual 15 minute stroll away – although there are many interesting distractions along the way. Our first evening we took a walk into town after dinner and spotted this sculpture – the next morning Jay returned with camera in hand.

911 tribute in Christ Church, NZ
A sculptural tribute in Christchurch to firemen worldwide.

This sculpture stands within a dedicated reserve opposite the Central Fire Station on the banks of the Avon River, and was created by Christchurch artist, Graham Bennett. It is a silent tribute to firefighters worldwide who risk their lives daily in the pursuit of their duty.

The plaque reminds us that “Firefighters are always in the front line and never more so than on September 11, 2001, when international terrorists hijacked four domestic American jet airliners and flew two of them, along with their passengers, into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. The two towers imploded and collapsed, and among the more than 2800 dead were 343 New York firefighters. All that remained of the twin towers, and the lost lies within was a mountainous pile of twisted steel and smoking rubble. In May 2002, five steel girders, weighing 5.5 tons were salvaged from the site of the World Trade Center and gifted to the City of Christchurch by the city of New York for use in a public artwork to honor all firefighters worldwide. The suspended component or “spear” in its red hot state fell from the 102nd floor of World Trade Center Tower piercing the subway below”.

As Americans who did not witness the carnage in New York City we were deeply moved to find the girders here, half way around the world. And reminded of the horror and disbelief of that day seeing the destruction done to these massive hunks of steel.

Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
An inner court yard at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ

Exploring Christchurch by foot, we ended up at the Art Center. It is a hub for arts, crafts and entertainment in Christchurch, and is located in the neo-gothic former University of Canterbury buildings. This particular day is was gray and cool, so we were looking for soup, and found some great homemade black bean soup in one of the cafes here. After lunch we checked out some of the artist studios that inhabit many of the buildings and came across a textile class – kids sewing, quilting and weaving. Jay took some great photos – notice the cool quilt on the wall!

Kids making quilts at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
Kids making quilts at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
A boy learns the art of the loom at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
Juggler in Christ Church, NZ
Sculpture of a juggler in Christ Church, NZ

A fine rain began as we walked through the Botanical Gardens on our way back to the room. The flowers photograph well, but I was also struck by the variety and beauty of the numerous old trees.

Botanical Garden in Christ Church, NZ
One of the many gardens at the Botanical Garden in Christ Church, NZ
Roses at the Botanical Garden in Christ Church, NZ

Another day we happened upon a group of Maori performance artists… each woman with a chin tattoo.

Maori Singing in Christ Church, NZ
Traditional Maori performance group in Christ Church, NZ

A little research revealed the following tale…

The word “tattoo” comes from the Tahitian word “tatau”. Captain James Cook used the word “tattow” when he witnessed tattooing for the first time in Tahiti, in 1769.

According to Māori mythology, tattooing commenced with a love affair between a young man by the name of Mataora (which means “Face of Vitality”) and a young princess of the underworld by the name of Niwareka.

One day however, Mataora beat Niwareka, and she left Mataroa, running back to her father’s realm which was named “Uetonga”.

Mataora, filled with guilt and heartbreak followed after his princess Niwareka. After many trials, and after overcoming numerous obstacles, Mataora eventually arrived at the realm of “Uetonga”, but with his face paint messed and dirty after his voyage. Niwareka’s family taunted and mocked Mataora for his bedraggled appearance. In his very humbled state, Mataora begged Niwareka for forgiveness, which she eventually accepted. Niwareka’s father then offered to teach Mataora the art of tattooing, and at the same time Mataora also learnt the art of Taniko – the plaiting of cloak borders in many colours.

Mataora and Niwareka thus returned together to the human world, bringing with them the arts of ta moko and taniko.

Nelson, NZ

Nelson, NZ House Sketch
Sketch of a waterfront house in Nelson, NZ

We arrived in Nelson in the afternoon after taking the ferry from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island).  Nelson is a charming town with a Victorian flair to many of the homes.

Villa victoria, Nelson, NZ
Villa Victoria in Nelson, NZ

Landing in Nelson for 5 nights at the Victoria Villa we look forward to a respite within the vacation. Cooking our own food and driving less – yes! Like most folks we have a certain style of eating at home, which can be hard to replicate when eating out. Our habits tend to lean toward lots of green vegetables and some protein – low on carbohydrates – influenced by my gluten intolerance, with the happy side effect of healthier eating. What has worked well for us in New Zealand is to order one main dish and a side or two of vegetables to share. Note: Fresh string beans are in abundance this time of year and are on many finer restaurant menus as well as in the markets.

Favorite food spots in Nelson…

We can see the Boat Shed Cafe from our rental house and walked over our first night after a long day of travel from Wellington. Ignorant of its popularity we were almost turned away but landed a table for two on the outside deck. Warm and sunny we sampled our first Neudorf Vineyards white wine – a crispy Sauvignon Blanc – that went nicely with my grilled crayfish tail with fennel, chili & lemon and Jay’s grilled prawns with feta, black olives & cress. Our dining neighbors ordered the potato salad side, which looked fabulous, so a few days later we stopped in and picked up an order to go – just like moms and Anitas!

Boat Shed Cafe, Nelson, NZ
Boat Shed Cafe, Nelson, NZ

Our first morning strolling in Nelson we happened upon the Morrison Street Café and went inside for a coffee. My antennae went up when I saw all the gluten-free options – savory muffins, little fruit nut loaves, brownies… I ordered a coffee and a sampling of the gluten-free goodies – all yummy. We stopped in a few days later during a rainstorm and Jay had an amazing Affogato (two scoops of vanilla gelato with espresso). A very popular cafe for a good reason – good quality and good vibe.

Guytons Seafood, Nelson, NZ
Guytons Seafood, Nelson, NZ
Smoked Green Lip mussels from Guytons Seafood in Nelson, NZ
Smoked Green Lip mussels from Guytons Seafood in Nelson, NZ

Our last day we decided to walk into Nelson for lunch at Hopgoods which several sources had recommended. They were not open for lunch on Monday so we scouted out the surrounding restaurant menus on Trafalgar Street and settled on barDelicious. We enjoyed the young Canadian waitress who suggested a Pinot Gris and Rose wine by the glass and shared her 2010 Olympics enthusiasm. Lunch was delicious and creative – a Caesar Salad with bacon and a poached egg on top, and an equally delicious and fresh Salad Nicoise.

Jay was thumbing through a local book on Nelson arts scene and The Sprig and Fern Tavern caught his eye – no bigscreen TV, a neighborhood hangout, and over by “The Wood” – a park in the foothills on the east side of Nelson. We decide to stop in before dinner for a beer, glass of wine and a bowl of nuts. We pick up on the friendly feel and relax – as we watch the locals playing games and brain teasers, read the historic factoids on the blackboard and have a great conversation.

Neudorf Vineyard
Neudorf Vineyard sculpture and tasting room

Hanging around the house chilling is hard work… but mid-afternoon we decided to hit the road and head into the wine country that surrounds Nelson. Top on our list was Neudorf Vineyards. Navigating the countryside was challenging and needless to say we got lost, in the best sense of the word… and arrived at the vineyard 5 minutes before closing. Not a problem, we were warmly greeted in the tasting room and relieved when another couple walked in a few minutes later! Once again the Pinot Gris was a favorite. The late afternoon light filtering through the trees invited us to linger and we did.

Neudorf Vineyard
Neudorf Vineyard, behind tasting room
Neudorf Winery - window
An old window at Neudorf Winery

Things to do around Nelson, NZ

Valentine’s Day! An early rising to catch the 9am water taxi to explore the Abel Tasman National Park. For at least 500 years Maori lived along the Abel Tasman coast, gathering food from the sea, estuaries and forests, and growing kumera (sweet potato). Established in 1942 as a park, Abel Tasman is renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, and world-famous Abel Tasman Coast Track. It was about a 90 minute drive to Kaiteriteri where we met Wilson’s Water Taxi and climbed up the gang plank to head out to Medlands Beach. Within the park one way to get around is by water taxis – they drop you off and pick you up on a very accommodating schedule. They can take you into the heart of the park and literally deposit you on a beach.

Island with seals and birds in Able Tasman National Park, NZ
Island with seals and birds in Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

Before drop off we took a complete tour of the coastline.

Wilsons Water Taxi, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Wilsons Water Taxi, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

Another ingenious Kiwi invention… a beach friendly gangplank.

Medlands Beach, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Medlands Beach, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

After a boat tour of the park we got off at Medlands Beach, walked to Bark Bay, and then back to Medlands where the water taxi picked us up a few hours later.

Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Bark Bay path, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Bark Bay beach, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

Another day we walked to Nelson from our rental house and after lunch in town decided to walk home via Queens Garden. The Gardens formally opened in 1892 to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria and were inspired by an intimate, Victorian garden. Though the garden is relatively small there is an abundance of magnificent old trees and plantings amidst ponds and a wandering creek.  The Suter Gallery, an eclectic art gallery on the western edge of the park, has a cafe that overlooks the garden and provides a tranquil shady place to enjoy a cup of coffee or dessert.

Queens Garden, Nelson, NZ
Queens Garden in Nelson, NZ

End of the day, another glorious sunset and the sounds of outdoor opera in Tahunanui Park blowing in on the westerly winds. We have fared well in Nelson.

Villa Victoria, Nelzon, NZ
Villa Victoria, Nelzon, NZ
Sunset view from Villa Victoria, Nelson, NZ
Sunset view from Villa Victoria, Nelson, NZ

Wellington, NZ

Often the motels in NZ have laundry facilities and that is where I was a few hours before hitting the road for Wellington. The old washer/dryer were quite slow and a very friendly lady from Wellington stopped by with her wash. She was curious about our travels and when she heard that we were off to Wellington, suggested we cut over to the westcoast and drive south along the Tasman Sea to Wellington… which we did. At her suggestion we took a western route through Palmerston North and down the westcoast, with beautiful views of the Tasman Sea… stopping in Paraparaumu for a break and some ice cream.

We arrived in Wellington in late afternoon.  The country driving of the past week was replaced with fast moving close quarters rush hour traffic.  Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and the seat of government. My acquaintance from the laundry room had also suggested we enter the city by the ferry terminals and drive along the waterfront. Doing that we passed through the Parliament district and we saw some fine historic buildings which set the tone for the city.

We checked out two hotels and decided to stay at the Museum Hotel. The Museum Hotel was initially located on the other side of the road, moving to its present site in 1993. Facing demolition to make way for the new Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa, the 5 storey, 3500 ton structure seemed doomed, until Chris Parkin, the owner, began to investigate the possibility of relocating the entire structure. The hotel made a 120-metre journey down an inner city street on railway tracks.

Museum Hotel, Wellington, NZ
Museum Hotel, Wellington, NZ
Te Papa Museum, Wellington, NZ
Te Papa Museum, Wellington, NZ

Keeping with its museum past, wonderful art can be found throughout the hotel.  Here’s a picture of the lobby reception area:

Museum Hotel, Wellington, NZ
Museum Hotel - lobby, Wellington, NZ

Wellington is a very walkable town.  As we found through much of New Zealand, outdoor sculpture abounds.

Wellington Sculpture, NZ
Floating sculpture in Wellington, NZ

During an evening stroll we came upon this gentleman walking his dog.  The stairs behind lead to Boulcott Bistro.

Wellington Sculpture - man and dog, NZ
Wellington Sculpture - man and dog, NZ

We had a fine meal at Boulcott Bistro.  The place is buzzing with locals.  The food was fresh and simply delicious.  We shared a Snapper on a smoked fish brandade, in a pool of red pepper puree decorated round the edges by a clam nage, accompanied by fresh green beens with basil butter and broccoli with lemon and toasted almonds.  As we have at each evening meal, we tried wines from the region – tonight is was a Dogpoint Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (just northeast from Wellington).

Boulcott Bistro, Wellington, NZ
Boulcott Bistro, Wellington, NZ

After an early dinner we took a stroll along the waterfront…

Wellington Waterfront, NZ
Wellington Waterfront, NZ

lots of action…

Wellington Canoe Team
Canoe team bring their canoe in for the evening, Wellington, NZ

and a quote that sums up the spirit of the town…

Wellington poet Lauris Edmond quote
Quote by Wellington poet Lauris Edmond - part of Wellington writers walk