Sketchbook Project

The Sketchbook Project

The Sketchbook Project is a traveling exhibition of sketchbooks created by artists like us. Anyone, from anywhere in the world, can be part of the project. Participants receive a blank sketchbook to doodle in for about nine months before it’s due back to Art House, where it becomes part of the project. This means it will be exhibited on the annual tour and cataloged permanently in the Brooklyn Art Library. If you are interested in participating you can take  part by registering at arthousecoop.com. The cost is $25 this year.

As someone who likes to sketch but doesn’t make the time, I am thinking of signing up as a personal challenge and a way to jumpstart myself into sketching more. Stay tuned.

Singapore for business and pleasure

Singapore is one of my favorite cities to visit. Though I generally visit on business, there is always time for pleasure… and Singapore is a fine place to enjoy dining, night life, lush tropical parks, beaches, and shopping.

Singapore River Boat and bridge
Scene along the Singapore River

Singapore’s legendary efficiency is obvious from the first moments after arrival. You will breeze through customs in a matter of seconds, thanks to their embrace of modern technology.  On the way into town from the ultra modern airport, you may note that cars never go over the posted speed limit. The streets are immaculate as they wind through a veritable garden of paradise. Then the city appears ahead – pristine, luminous, shiny and new.

The Fullerton Hotel with River Kids sculpture
Sculpture surrounds The Fullerton Hotel (in the background)

My destination is The Fullerton Hotel in the downtown financial and arts district. The hotel’s Colonial style belies the cool modern interior, welcome in the tropical heat of Singapore. Built in 1928 on the Singapore river, the Fullerton Building was the centre of Singapore’s commercial, social and official life. It was home to three of the most important institutions of Singapore – The General Post Office, The Singapore Club, and The Chamber of Commerce. Even if you don’t stay here, it is worth a visit… there are several excellent restaurants, as well as a first rate international buffet, and a bar that is set amidst the lovely original ceiling and pillars of the old Post Office… and enjoy an evening stroll by the river to enjoy the various sculptures along the way.

Singapore Sculpture Business Men
Fantastic sculpture of business men near the hotel
Singapore Sculpture Three Men
Another fine bronze sculpture in the area

The legendary Raffles Hotel is a short walk away. Immortalized in the novels of Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling, the hotel exemplifies Singapore’s colonial-style architecture amid lush tropical gardens. Go there for tea, drinks, or fine dining – including the Long Bar – home of the world renowned Singapore Sling, and the Tiffin Room, which continues the tradition of Afternoon Tea. The Raffles Hotel Museum looks at the history of the Hotel largely in the context of the Golden Age of Travel. This period, spanning 1880 to 1939, saw the rise of popular tourism and coincided with the opening of the Hotel. This was the era when Singapore was known as the “Crossroads of the East“. Museum hours are 10 am to 7 pm daily. There is no admission charge.

Singapore River Tree
Strolling along the Singapore River

My favorite time to shop is at night, to see buildings adorned with garish signs, and people strolling down the streets, chatting with friends, looking for bargains. Though there are numerous places to shop around downtown, if you are shopping for electronics, cameras, and gadgets, consider heading over to “Little India” – a bustling earthy part of town, where you can let your hair down and haggle with the merchants for the big deal of the day. The various pictures on this blog were taken with a camera I bought in Little India – Nikon Coolpix 8400 8MP Digital Camera with 3.5x 24mm Wide Angle Optical Zoom Lensmy favorite camera, ever!

To fortify you for your evening of wheeling and dealing, follow your nose to one of the wonderful Indian restaurants that are everywhere in Little India. Hidden among the bustle of Little India is Race Course Road . On this tiny lane you will find Banana Leaf Apolohoused in three units of a two-storey shophouse it is most famous for its fish head curry. The restaurant has been open for 30 years, serving both North and South Indian cuisine to locals eager for a taste of great curry, and tourists, like us, who have heard about this a restaurant from an expat friend (thank you Pam!).

Singapore Indian Food
Our feast at the Banana Leaf Apolo

A recent article in the New York Times Travel section, 36 Hours in Singapore, offers up more ideas of things to do and places to stay…

“A long tradition of strong regional cuisine and strict hygiene laws makes for some of the world’s best — and safest — street food. Nowadays most of the hawkers are concentrated in covered food halls so that ingredients are kept cool, and preparation methods and cleanliness can be kept to a uniform standard. At the Maxwell Road Food Center near Chinatown, vendors sell everything from dumplings to onion pancakes to dessert: at Tian Tian (No. 11), try the chicken rice; at Hokee (No. 79), the soup dumplings, and at No. 848, fresh fruit and juice (one, a bitter gourd and honey mix, promises “to reduce heatiness (sic).” Prices are 1 to 8 Singapore dollars.”

Yahoo Travel offers 5 of Singapore’s best restaurants with a view

  • Sky on 57, Level 57 SkyPark Tower 1, Marina Bay Sands Hotel, 10 Bayfront Avenue
  • Level 33, #33-01 Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1, 8 Marina Boulevard
  • Barnacles, Rasa Sentosa Resort, 101 Siloso Road
  • Clifford, Fullerton Bay Hotel, 80 Collyer Quay
  • iL Cielo, Level 24, Hilton Singapore, 581 Orchard Road

And the Lonely Planet Singapore (City Travel Guide) gets good reviews as a handy paperback (200 pages) and written in conjunction with a Singapore resident. The expanded coverage of neighborhoods includes two new walking tours and three new excursions; plus helpful cultural insights & local secrets from a comedian, curator, theater director, writer and scholar. If you have access to a computer the content is updated daily at lonelyplanet.com.


Art Exhibits throughout the US in 2011

Norman Rockwell No Swimming
Norman Rockwell's No Swimming

“The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they’re always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back.”

This sentiment by Norman Rockwell relates to travel as well… and we often incorporate a visit to a museum in our travels. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell is a gem and showing at the Tacoma Art Museum until May 30, 2011. Though there is a comprehensive collection of original magazine covers, we were especially drawn to his 44 paintings – as the museum states “unforgettable images of the innocence, courage, history and hopes of American life in the 20th century.” This is a traveling exhibit that warrants a visit. A good family experience… we took our somewhat reluctant nieces, ages 11 & 14, and they loved it. Future museum hosts are listed at the Norman Rockwell Museum website.

The catalog, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, traces the evolution of Rockwell’s art throughout his career – from reflections on childhood innocence in such paintings as No Swimming (1921) to powerful, consciousness-raising images like The Problem We All Live With (1964), which documented the traumatic realities of desegregation in the South.

Promising Exhibitions From Coast to Coast is a great resource article at the New York Times for a list of “promising” art exhibits around the country this year – many of them opening this summer. Here is a sampling:

Support the arts! Visit a museum in your area or in a city you are visiting this year…  it can be enriching, educational and inspiring.


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).

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.


Artsy, groovy downtown Twisp, WA

Twisp River Pub, Twisp, WA

Driving into town of Twisp, I immediately see the bold blue, green and black sign for the Twist River Pub on the right. This seems to be the local favorite – all suggestions for a place to eat lead here. Located on the Twisp River, the Pub’s patio is the perfect spot on this warm May evening. The sun is warming, the river below has a steady moving flow – a sound of life – at once calming and invigorating. Breathing the fresh air I feel healthy and alive like the river. Time to indulge in the fresh brews, local wines, and yummy pub food, and on the weekends – live music!

Twisp River Pub, Twisp, WA
Twisp River Pub patio overlooks the Twisp River

Curious about the word “Twisp”, I googled… one author claims it is a modification of the local tribal word, “T-wapsp”, which meant yellow jacket.  Another says the name was derived from Chinook jargon, but countered that the original spelling was “Twistsp” to imitate the sound of a buzzing wasp. Either way the name captures the energy of this little Methow Valley colony.

Glover Street is the main drag of groovy downtown Twisp and home to the very cool studio + gallery Peligro. Dedicated to the modern metal format, this contemporary space is the working studio of Nancy Daniels Hubert. Her collection of metal and/or  stone jewelry and art set the tone for Grover Street where one is visually treated to imaginative metal objects – steel & stone garbage receptacles, metal banners, and cool large steel sphere sculptures.

Peligro Jewelry Studio + Gallery, Twisp, WA
Peligro Jewelry Studio + Gallery, Twisp, WA
Stone/Ironwork in Twisp, WA
Cool steel & river stone trash receptacle

Twisp is located at the confluence of the Twisp and Methow Rivers. Confluence Gallery is the meeting place for local and regional artists from North Central Washington, and is a thoughtful combination of gallery space, gift shop and studio area. Today a quilting workshop is starting, the gallery features local painters, and the gift shop is full of artful jewelry, locally made pottery, books, and cards.

Confluence Gallery, Twisp, WA
The Confluence Gallery on Glover St.
Confluence Gallery, Twisp, WA
Steel and Stone landscaping in front of the Confluence Gallery

Getting hungry? The Cinnamon Twisp Bakery will lure you in with the smells of fresh baked bread, pastries,cookies, and if it is lunchtime – sandwiches, pizza, homemade soup… While I am ordering my Americano coffee, a group of women arrive, pulling off their bicycle helmets as they check out the goodies – clearly ready for a treat. And a local woman ordering an almond raspberry cookie confides that she has an account here.

Just up from the bakery is the Glover Street Market, a natural foods store. I go in looking for a snack and find organic apples, gluten-free crackers, a delicious array of cheeses… I also pick up a beautiful locally handmade bar of soap, Goan Fish Curry spice mix, and a bright green kitchen towel.

Strolling around the Glover Street area the contemporary art theme continues… sometimes grand, sometimes whimsical…

Street art, Twisp, WA
Street art - steel sphere and metal bike sculptures
Twisp, WA Ironwork Art Sphere
Close up of another steel art sphere

The Merc Playhouse opened for its’ first season of professional theater in the summer of 1999. Since then it has become a community treasure, providing space not only for theater productions, but also music, lectures, and other performances. The evening I was there Tappi, another Twisp restaurant that was recommended to me,  was hosting a wine tasting event/fundraiser for the playhouse.

Merc Playhouse, Twisp, WA
Merc Playhouse with old barn next door that serves as community bulletin board

The sunflower capital of the state and the eastern gateway to the North Cascades National Park, Twisp was largely dependent upon logging until the mid-1980s. Today, the principle industries include lumber, cattle ranching, and agriculture. For visitors to the Methow Valley there is hiking, swimming, bicycling, cross-country skiing in the winter, rock climbing… summer brings the farmer’s markets and an eclectic array of art, music and wine festivals.

Twisp is a small town with personality… growing and emerging with a local style rather than being shaped for the tourist. I find it refreshing.

Walrus DDS sign, Twisp, WA


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.

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

Auckland Art Gallery

The Arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand

The excellent Auckland Art Gallery is located in the middle of downtown, just west of Albert Park.  A short walk from our hotel (Sky City Grand).

My favorite exhibit was Picturing History: Goldie to Cotton – Gallery notes say: Stories of origin and arrival, significant events, and the transformation of the land of New Zealand are just some of the themes explored in this collection exhibition. Drawing from across the historic, modern and contemporary New Zealand collections this exhibition considers how artists have responded to and interpreted New Zealand history through their work.

Te Tohu Tuatahi
Te Tohu Tuatahi

While in no way a ‘History of New Zealand’, it offers idiosyncratic glimpses into moments from New Zealands history, both real and imagined. Reflecting artists’ interests, the Gallery’s collection and the different ways artists have responded to the past. Capturing key moments from our recent past, as well as stories of the exploration and encounters of Maori and Pakeha, the contentious history of our land and its development, along with those people made famous by such historic events.

A special focus within the exhibition is the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886, and the impact the devastation it wrought had on the country.

The exhibition features works by Charles Goldie, Gottfried Lindauer, Colin McCahon and Shane Cotton, some of New Zealand’s most celebrated artists of the past and present, amongst others.