Monthly Archives: November 2016

A week in Vancouver

Our final stop on Philip’s Sabbatical is Canada, for the next two weeks he is visiting  universities  in Vancouver and Vancouver Island. This is a country I  have always wanted to visit after doing a  project on Canada when I was at Primary School. It has taken a long time to get here!!!


We arrived on a wet Saturday morning of what was becoming a very normal weather pattern . I think it rained at least 10 days of our 15 days. To be fair Canada had one of its wettest October’s.
It didn’t matter that the weather was pretty ghastly for our orientation walk around the city. With a large umbrella each we walked for hours.  In the middle of the afternoon we found ourselves in  Gastown  – one of the older iconic areas of the city now full of restaurants, bars and boutique stores especially selling modern furniture. Gastown flowed into  Chinatown where we had a very wonderful visit to the first Chinese garden built outside China. Vancouver has a very high Chinese population – 40% , consequently there is an abundance of wonderful  restaurants. The old man from the garden ticket office directed us to a shop selling excellent steam buns . It was so busy !!! with people buying dozens to takeaway . It was Halloween time and the city was festooned with paraphernalia and lots of people dressed up.
Our planned day to hire bikes and explore Stanley park and the waterways of Vancouver was beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed  the very user friendly cycleways full of bikers, walkers and skaters. The streets in Vancouver are lined with deciduous trees, all in the last days of Autumn and surrounded by carpets of leaves.
Surrounded by water, the city is easy to get around. We took a cute little ferry to cross to Granville Island which has an interesting market and lots of craft type stores. It was very quiet on the wet Tuesday of our visit and a loop trip on the sky train gave us an idea of the size of he city – although by the end the windows were fogging up and the hillsides covered in mist.
Every corner seemed to have a Stackbucks  Coffee. For someone who drinks short blacks – I don’t get it. Walking with a bucket of coffee in your hand seems to be the norm here . I am so glad we don’t have a starbucks culture in New Zealand where our Cafe Coffee scene is certainly a winner.
I spent most of my days working on my 2017 tours but each day I would take 2-3 hours to walk the city (with my umbrella). I visited the Art Gallery and sourced a couple of Canada’s very good Organic food stores.
My favourite Restaurant review site Eater 38 had been taken over by ‘Scout 25’ in Vancouver . From modern Japanese, contemporary Canadian to a very busy loud, fun Pizzza and cocktail bar, we found many enjoyable restaurants within walking distance of our hotel.  It included one of Vancouver’s famous Ramen Noodle houses ‘Jinya’  which was packed all day and night.
 A week in one place was luxury and Vancouver has a nice feel. img_7549img_7546

Racoons, Deer and Otters but NO Bear

Vancouver Island is a two hour ferry ride away and on another rainy day the views were very limited . With a smaller population the pace is a lot slower here. Victoria our home for the next 4 nights is built around a lovely harbour with the most huge impressive hotel called The Empress, the museum and government buildings all surrounding the inner harbour, full of boats for whale watching and fishing boats, plus float planes for sightseeing tours or commuting to Vancouver.
The Butchart gardens are very famous here and Sunday morning was reasonably quiet, although by the size of the car park it must be manic in the summer season.
 It was nice to see the garden in Autumn, I am not really into rows of annuals and was very happy to see the structure and form of the garden as it was settling into winter. It is very large with a clever garden built in an old quarry and a lovely mature Japanese garden.
Canada is literally covered in trees, and every rock formation is carpeted with the thickest green mosses I have ever seen. We were delighted to have to stop on the road for deer which seemed to roam every where and one night at dinner there was even a Racoon in the rafters looking down on everyone.
Victoria has a fabulous Museum and after a very long walk through a large park, which had masses of squirrels running everywhere,  I spent a couple of hours (and it could have easily been more) firstly at the Mammoth exhibition and then to the First Nations and Vancouver Island section which were  both outstanding.
Before departing Canada we had two days free and decided to go to Whistler. It was  another ferry ride from a town called Nanaimo, about a quarter of the way up Vancouver Island  (this time in the fog and we saw nothing) then an hour and half drive up the most beautiful road along the coast of the Straight of Georgia.The scenery and views of the coast are  spectacular with trees  growing down to the water line and the water full of floating logs.
Whistler is the town and the name of the biggest ski field in Canada. It hosted the winter Olympic games in 2010 and now is just as busy in the summer with biking trails everywhere, shooting competitions and many other activities. Another sunny day !!! So we hired bikes and once again loved the tracks. This time through forested areas and around little lakes  and beside two golf courses all lined with fabulous houses. We had been told here were lots of bears in the area, especillay on the  golf courses and we were hoping to see one trundling down the 18th !! But NO
Our hotel was a good hours walk from Whistler which we did once ! It was sitting on the edge of little lake Nita.  The walk was lined with beautiful huge houses and apartments, past little lakes which are obviously used for swimming in the summer by the number of diving platforms and kayak hires.
I suppose it was fitting that our last full day in Canada was pouring with rain again. Our bear hunt wasn’t over and we drove south to see the Olympic Ski jump area in the Callaghan Valley. We were told bears are frequently on this road… ha ha,  plus the ski park wasn’t open for the season. We did see a beautiful waterfall! and the countryside was certainly spectacular.
Oddly the whole time we were in Canada there wasn’t a breath of wind and the harbour in Victoria and lakes around Whistler had stunning reflections . Temperatures were warmer than I expected, although the forecast is for the snow to arrive next week I believe. It is hard to imagine Whistler opening in a week .
Three months traveling is almost over. Our niece’s wedding in Rarotonga has given us the perfect wind down before heading back to New Zealand and the launch of Michelle Chalklin- Sinclair and my lovely Dunedin Fonebook – Photos and Food / Small and classy

Riding Cable Cars, Eating Crab and Watching a Big City


Every time I visit a new region or city I  have in my mind images of what I thought it might look like and expect. San Francisco was no different. Streets that seemed to fall down the hill in waves, cable cars, sunny weather, the Golden Gate Bridge spanning a large harbour. Famous areas like Fishermans wharf, Alcatraz, Sausalito, Union Square and ‘Painted Ladies’.

Four nights  in San Francisco would have to be a minimum. Becoming acquainted with a new destination takes time, hours of research and a ‘plan’. There will always be mistakes and disappointments  – For us we didn’t read up early enough to find out the Museum of Modern Art – Moma was closed on Wednesdays !! and we didn’t have another day…
Much  of being a ’tourist’ for the first time in a city is about what I call : “Monument Hunting” Not that it is all bad because you want to see all the cities highlights but often the popular well known sites  are very crowded and queuing is not an option but a necessity.
First of all you have to research, organise your time in the available days you have and book restaurants, theatres and activities. We are not very good booking months ahead except for hotels. Finding the web site Eatery38 was a godsend. It is  an independent review of the 38 best eats and assessed each year.
What do I think is essential is a small battery to recharge your phone , Believe me after you take photos , use maps over and over, scroll where to eat the battery goes down incredibly  fast.
 Our time in San Francisco was shadowed a bit by the weather. Two days of low cloud and rain and one brilliantly sunny – it certainly makes such a difference no matter where you are.
The first cloudy, windy, showery day found us on the hop on hop off bus getting our bearings. We hopped off to walk across the golden Gate Bridge, hopped on to eat Mexican in Sausalito. We were surprised to see so many pohutakawa trees  and sat under a  large flowering beauty waiting for the bus to continue  our trip listening to the  excellent informative guide, through the biggest park in San Francisco – (which looked like it needed a whole day to itself) past ‘Painted Ladies’ – The name given to the  iconic houses all over the hill suburbs  – these girls have to be painted in 4 or more colours to be given the ‘Painted Lady’ title and they march down the wave like street that descends from  the hill top towards the coastline.
The famous Alcatraz sits in the middle of the harbour and day two was brilliantly sunny, very calm and the city looked amazing in the sun. Walking is something you just have to do as a tourist and you see so much more. So… we walked to the ferry terminal to be transported along with so many people in military style efficiency to Alcatraz Island. Of course it holds a gruesome history and has been the scene of many movies. Our reluctance to go was silly and we both very much enjoyed the tour through the scary cell blocks, exercise yard and dining room. Quite a few civilians also lived on the island including children of the prison officers. Today volunteers are working to restore the gardens to their former state. Leaving the island we googled Best Crab Restaurants  on Fishermans wharf – one of the 3 top suggestions was ‘Franciscans’ . It didn’t disappoint  nor did the stunning view looking back at Alcatraz and the busy harbour full of ferries, yachts and huge container ships – even a flight of Pelicans went passed the window. We certainly didn’t need  dinner  and ordered far too much. We mentioned this to our waitress she said ‘ You are in America and servings are big’ !!
Day 3 started out cloudy and turned to heavy rain – We booked a trip to the Napa valley wine region, so we were happy to be in a vehicle and dashing in to vineyards for wine tasting. The Autumn colours were beautiful as they always are in vineyards.  We were disappointed with our wine tasting but, I am sure it was about the wineries we visited. Sadly, our driver didn’t travel up into the Napa valley very far, and we were surprised by the proximity of the vines to salt marshes and the bay. Of the 3 wineries we went to only one, owned by the famous Jacuzzi family had wines we enjoyed, plus the gardens and grounds were lovely.
It’s important to get away from the main tourist areas to find lovely local restaurants. The web site Eatery38  ( in all large US cities ) – proved to be wonderful to source the two Restaurants  we booked. They were  were fun, lively and full of locals – always a good sign.
‘Kin Khao’ – Modern Thai,  a nice easy 20 minute walk away.
‘Stones Throw’  in Russian Hill ( a fun Cable Car ride in the rain and a 30 minute walk home down the hill with umbrellas) – we highly recommend it.
Great visit San Francisco. We were surprised  at the many languages spoken on the streets. A city built on immigration and a very big tourist industry. It was concerning however to see so many sad street people on every block in this very expensive  city full of energy and vibrancy.

Loving the Lancashire Countryside


By Day 37 we were driving up the M6 to Burnley. At times through torrential rain and believe me it was very scary with those huge trucks spraying so much water  and it was  really hard to see. Plus other cars still think the motorway is a race track no matter the weather.

 The Burnley College visit for Philip was inspiring but Burnley itself didn’t come with too many positives. Row upon row of tiny houses locked side by side looked pretty grim. They were all established during the industrial revolution and hundreds of  cotton mills filled this area. A few chimneys are remaining, but its hard to imagine how grim it must have been. We chose to stay out in the country, a beautiful 20 minutes drive through some very narrow lanes  in a Village called Barley. The hotel was lovely and the village so tiny, but each night it was full of locals and guests in the bar, many of which had come to walk the famous Pendle Hill. This  imposing monster  is immediately behind the village.
Pendle is famous for the witches that were hung after the Pendle trials. The trials of the Pendle witches in 1612 are among the most famous witch trials in English history, and some of the best recorded of the 17th century. The twelve accused lived in the area around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, and were charged with the murders of ten people by the use of witchcraft.
They certainly still have an influence and create and eerie feeling.
I took a couple of hours off my work and decided to walk up the hill since the girl in the Hotel said she ran and walked it most days.
It was so000…. steep. After walking through several farm fields the track became stone steps and it took me over an hour to reach the vast field at the top. It was a stunning view and the day was sunny and warm. I did find the simpler track back!! The hill dominates the landscape and many very cute villages are dotted around its base.
img_6971Lancashire was a complete surprise. The countryside is so pretty and the trees by now are turning orange and red. Our time in the Uk is running out and we drove through Clithero, Shipton and the very beautiful Ilkley to spend a night in York and the Village of Elton in Cambridgeshire for our last weekend in the UK.
I hate one night stops but occasionally it is better than not going at all.
The medieval centre of York is Delicious!! Even in the dark on the night we arrived you could see its charm and quaintness. An early morning walk meant we made it around most of the walls , through a beautiful garden with the remains of the oldest wall and abbey, which thanks to Henry V111 was closed and most of its stone used for other buildings, plus we met a lovely old man feeding the squirrels nuts which seemed to be his Sunday morning job.
A breakfast stop with a good hearty English breakfast set us up for the day, along with the essential espresso.
York Minster towers over the narrow lanes and although we didn’t get to see through the whole church because of a very smart wedding, its history is evident in the very good church museum in the crypt.
An afternoon driving south took us past large industrial areas and several scary looking electricity power stations evidently fed by coal..
 We found another great hotel – this time  in the tiny village of Elton with a thatched roof and an elegant  bedroom. The village sits beside the river Niene made famous for the ‘Wind in the Willows’ stories.
I can recommend a website called ‘Sawdays’ – it has a selection of  small hotels off the beaten tracks .
Retracing our journey by 10 minutes meant we could spend the day in Stamford. Our daughter in law Holly’s Grandparents live here as well as her Aunt and Uncle. We had no idea it was so picturesque. Full of wonderful architecture and very very old buildings plus a lot of churches !! Beside the village is the huge Burghley Estate –  famous for the Horse trials and another  Lancelot Capabilty Brown landscaped park, which surrounds the massive house of the Duke of Exeter. It is still privately owned and lived in, but the grounds are open to the public and many locals  were out with their children and dogs enjoying the Estate.
It’s day 42 and our journey has taken us from Italy, France, Normandy, Scotland and England. It  isn’t  ‘over’  since Philip continues his Sabbatical visits in Canada for another two weeks plus we have a 4 day break in San Francisco. Finally a week in Rarotonga with our family for my nieces wedding.

Four Days in London is Not Enough !

How do you choose what to do, where to eat and how do you get there?

I admire the confidence of people in large cities, this is their life and it takes some getting used to when you come from a little village like Dunedin.
Staying with our daughter Hannah’s London Mum and Dad, Tom and Susan, we were spoilt with breakfasts, lunches and dinners . Susan even had Hannah’s friends up for dinner on Sunday night and carried on our traditional Sunday family dinner.
I have followed the English gardener Beth Chatto for many years and used her books alot. Her garden is in Colchester, a good 2 hours drive out of London and Tom and Susan fulfilled my dream with a day out of London city to her garden. The garden was even bigger than I imagined and was draped around lovely large curving pools. It was fabulous and so lovely to see many plants that we now have in our garden in Dunedin inspired by Beth Chattos book ‘Colour in your Garden’. The garden was becoming very Autumnal and very beautiful. It was great to walk around the lawns and past the garden that I had only envisaged through the photograghs in her book. Beth Chatto still lives in the house beside the garden and is now well into her nineties.
We finished our day with a drink at the local back in London. It was crowded and a perfect end to a very special day.
Staying with locals wherever you go makes your experience all the more worthwhile. The local Farmers Market was incredibly good and within walking distance of Susan and Toms. I visited the Columbia Rd flower market in 2015 with my daughter Hannah and Susan and Tom. Tom’s best friend usually has a stall here and he comes from Southland !! It is always exciting and  a very noisy experience with traders yelling out in their amazing accents.
The step counter said we walked  over 20,000 steps on our day in the city – it was my Birthday and we started with breakfast at my idol ‘Yotum Ottolenghi‘s ‘  shop in Islington.
I have been following an artist called Rebecca Louise Law, who works with flowers on a very large scale and we were thrilled to find her installation at The City Centre – Moorgate, which was based on London’s many city gardens. We thoroughly enjoyed an exhibition called “Beyond Caravaggio ‘ at the National Museum and after a glass of wine and a walk around  the corner spent time at the Portrait gallery to take in the Picasso exhibition.
Darkness came all too fast along  with the rain and drinks at ‘Ham Yard’ in Soho,  followed by  Casual Asian Tapas at the new ‘Kiln’ restaurant 2 blocks away with Susan and Tom we completed a very big day in London.
Some things you do get wrong like : The borough market is closed on Sundays!! The bar up the Shard is on the 32nd floor not the viewing platform which cost 40 pound!! and not taking your umbrella.
But dinner with Rachael Cooper and her mother Ainsley at Peter Gordons Providore was terrific as was our 4 days in London . Never enough time, but thats OK you just have to come back !!!

Brilliant Farm Shop on the M5

By day 31 we were heading up the M5 to Bedford which sits in the heart of the Midlands.
Traveling on these motorways is like being in a car race for hours at a time and you certainly have to keep your wits about you. A few times we missed an exit or took the wrong exit at the roundabout and had to drive on – sometimes it was quite a few kilometres before you could get off the motorway – drive over a bridge or underpass to get back on!!
Knightshayes was our  impromptu visit on the way . It is a large estate with a very large impressive walled vegetable garden. Like many estates in the UK it is owned by the National Trust and is now run and managed for visitors to picnic in the grounds or visit the house and gardens. It had an interesting history. The house was built by Sir John Heathcoat Amory, the grandson of John Heathcoat, who made vast sums of money as the creator of the mechanised bobbin lace making machine. You can see the factory from the house and he built the village of  Tiverton to house his workers.
The last member of the family to live in the house, Joyce Wethered was both a respected gardener and a world championship golfer, winning the English ladies title four times.
Between 11a and 12 motorway exit on the M5 is the Gloucester Farm Shop. Charles my tour guide suggested we stop here. It is a purpose built sustainable building with a curved grass roof and inside is a shop, restaurant, take away goodies – fabulous coffee!!! even wine and beers . All the food is locally sourced, homemade and looked delicious – It was inspirational and innovative and obviously very busy.
The drive across the top of the countryside in the early evening was beautiful. The soft light across the farms and trees looked just like a painting and what many British artists are famous for. It was so noticeable and very different from NZ.
I must say Bedford is  a pretty uninspiring place but they do have an inspiring college.
While Philip visited the campus I was very happy working in the D’Parrys Hotel – A clever refurbishment of turning the local pub into a very funky, trendy hotel. With ceilings in the restaurant made from old shutters to the free standing baths with lights around them in the bedrooms. It was a fun couple of days.
Autumn is on the turn and the Hotel street had wonderful large trees that will soon leave a carpet of leaves.

Day 27 : Back to the West Country


Many of you have been following my blogs from my Italy /France tour, through Piedmont, Southern France and Paris and onto my recce’s in Normandy and Scotland for my forthcoming tour in May/June 2017.

My husband Philip is now on Sabbatical and visiting Universities and Colleges throughout the Uk to Canada. I am the lucky follower ….well actually I have spent many days in hotel rooms working on 2017 tours but, have certainly found time to explore, walk and stay in many very quaint country hotel that the English do so well.
In 1995 we lived in Bristol for a year with our young children aged 8, 5 and 3. I returned a few years ago with Matthew but this was the first time Philip and I could drive past the home we stayed in, which actually looked a bit sad but we enjoyed a morning in the now very hip and popular Clifton area which is packed with trendy cafes, certainly not the scene 20 years ago. We didn’t book a nights accommodaiton thinking it would be easy to find something close.  However, by 4.30 our phones were flat and we took sanctuary in a pub in Bath to charge the phones and ring around. This turned out to be a memorable night and certainly one we will always remember. We did find a hotel, it was called ‘Farthings’ and it was 1 1/2 hours  drive away in the village called Hatch Beuchamp – just out of Taunton in Sommerset. Everything was fabulous  – the room, the service and the meal was  outstanding. They served a huge selection of meat and produce  from their farm and garden. We had Goose Terrine, Partridge, Duck, Cheese soufflé, homemade ice-cream and local cheeses. Breakfast was equally amazing down to the duck egg omelette and home baked bread. It was a perfect country experience  and certainly one to recommend.


Philip worked out of Torquay for the next 3 days and home was Haytor Hotel run by the ever helpful Rodger.
Our love is gardening and visits to Tintinhul, Montecute house and lastly Sherborne castle with a magnificent Lancelot Capability Brown landscaped park we managed to fit in  on our way. It’s the 300th anniversary of this amazing landscape architect this year and we were thrilled to see his skill with stunning English trees, large ponds and vistas that go on forever.
Another highlight was a visit to Agatha Christies holiday estate called Greenway with my friends Lou and Peter from NZ. The  house is just as she left it and many of her murder scenes were set in and around the property. We drove
down the narrowest roads I have ever been on and Peter did very well keeping the wing mirrors intact. A spot of rain meant we had to find a ‘pub’ for lunch. Every village seems to have one with names like ’The white Swan’ or Golden Heart or Red Stag etc is usually burgers, a local pie, steak, fish and chips all served with loads of chips and then you get asked what sauces you want?
The seaside towns looked a bit sad since the summer season is now over and the cafes, all looked very quiet.