Cruising in the Baltic

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Cruising in the Baltic

We have just been on an MSC cruise from Copenhagen in Denmark to St Petersburg in Russia and back again. 

The ship, Magnifica,was great. About 3000 passengers, and of a size that we could move around the ship without continually getting lost! Most floors went right through from one end of the ship to the other, always an advantage. On some ships as you are moving along a floor to get from one end to the other you suddenly come to an area you can’t move through and have to go up or down a floor, along a little way then down or up again to return to the floor you were on. Small things give pleasure!

Our cruise took us from Copenhagen to Warnemunde/Berlin in Germany where we enjoyed beautiful smoked salmon, with many smokehouses just down the street from where the ship docked. The fishing boats were right there unloading their catch for their own stalls where the fish were for sale still breathing in the bins. You can’t get fresher than that! One man bought his salmon roll, put it on the table beside us, took a couple of steps to get a beer and swoop, down came a very big seagull and his lunch was gone! Oops. Lesson learnt! Cheeky seagull knew the good stuff. Took the salmon and left the bread!

Next stop was Gdynia in Poland. We walked around this small town where the people were friendly and the local shop’s goods were well priced.

Each evening we left port travelling through the night to the next stop where we had the day to spend onshore before making sure we were back on board half an hour before sailing time. Note to self: don’t miss the ship! It could leave without you and it would be an expensive exercise getting yourself to the next port to get back on.

Next stop was Klaipeda in Lithuania. We did a tour to some sand dunes. The dunes had a wooden walkway for us to move along so it was easy walking. We then went to a local hotel where we were served deep fried bread cut like potato chips, cheese and beer. Very nice after our exercise. There was a market nearby. Their main item was amber. Jewellery, ornaments, all kinds of things made of amber, along with thick socks, hats etc. Amber is  fossilized pine tree resin, produced by trees which grew in Northern Europe 50  million years ago. It was washed out of the forest floor by large rivers and travelled south towards the sea. Over time it was transformed to amber due to oxidation. It is a loved natural product of Scandinavia, as greenstone is in New Zealand.

Next stop was Riga in Latvia. We booked a tour to the beach town of Jumala where we had an exhilarating walk along the beach. It was 7 degrees – not exactly beach weather! 

The daytime weather throughout this May trip has ranged from 7 in Latvia to 31 degrees in Amsterdam. Certainly a need for summer as well as winter clothing. One day in Copenhagen it was 30 then the next day when we had a canal boat trip planned, it was 9 degrees with wind chill! Brr. No coat that day but luckily a merino long top so we survived! 

We found a beaut bakery in Latvia where I enjoyed a slice of cake. It had a shortcrust base, then a deep layer of berries, then a topping of berry juice set through and above the berries. I used to make something similar years ago and must do it again when I get home. You add some gelatine to fruit juice, half set it, then pour it over your base of pastry and berries. Put it into the fridge to completely set. Delicious.

Back to the ship for another delicious dinner followed by a show – there was a different show each night – singing, dancing, acrobatics. A great variety of entertainment to fill in our evenings.  Bands played each night too and those who chose to danced while others watched the passing parade!

To be continued……

New health experience

Our travels were interrupted recently as Tony became suddenly ill. We are back on track now so can share this new experience.

We were traveling with friends on the East Coast in the motorhome. They left us in Gisborne to travel around the East Cape. As luck would have it we set off for Auckland, stopping a night in Ohope along the way. Tony vomited just before bedtime, not something he has done for years. The next morning he felt OK so we carried on to Tauranga. He suggested we stay in the Beachside Holiday Park, the camp at the base of the mount in Mt Maunganui. We usually freedom camp so this was the second lucky decision as during the night he became ill and I called an ambulance at 3am. The first piece of luck was not traveling around the East Cape. The chances of getting phone reception were not good so we would have had to travel to a house to use a landline. In the middle of the night miles away from a hospital – not a good thought!  So the ambulance came to the camp in the Mount and checked him out, the medics were fantastic, then it was off to the Tauranga hospital. I locked the van, having no idea that our one night in that camp would become 12, just me, and Tony in hospital. I actually wasn’t there much, spending the days at the hospital, the first few days waiting to see what his body was doing, meeting Doctors, having an x ray, CT scan, ultrasounds and daily blood tests. He became worse over the first few days with temperatures up to 40 degrees, uncontrollable shakes (very scary but the nurses said it was the body’s way of reducing the temperature), vomiting and a complete lack of energy. Amazing how fast you can go down. This man who bikes 1 1/2 hours most days and had done so on the morning he first vomited – when he felt his usual self! Now looking very unwell and not responding to medication.

After a few days they found a gallstone in his bile duct that couldn’t be seen on a previous ultrasound. They put a drain into his gallbladder which stayed there for four weeks, draining into a bag attached to his leg. After a day in ICU he was put onto a really strong antibiotic which he responded to. The next day he was back to the ward, his kidney function was down, there were two abscesses on his liver, he had no energy and had been hallucinating, he had a touch of pneumonia and a blood infection ,but he was looking good compared with a few days previously, and the improvement continued. After 12 days he returned to camp for five days rest before travelling home. Thanks to friend Simon for driving our motorhome home for us.

As soon as we got home we went to see a surgeon Tony has seen previously, who looked at his notes then booked him in to have his gallbladder removed in five weeks time. It was expected by that time that the infection would have cleared and his body would be well enough for an operation. He made a great recovery and was back biking before the operation. The operation went well. Laparoscopic surgery is fantastic. In by the tummy button with a few little cuts up higher. Internal stitches and glue holding the outside together. Gallbladder gone and a healthy man ready for the next trip five weeks later. We are very grateful for the care Tony received in the Tauranga hospital and later in New Plymouth. The value of healthy eating and keeping fit has really shown how worthwhile this is. He has lost some weight- no food by mouth did that- and now we will continue to enjoy our retirement. Life is for living! Thanks to family and friends for supporting us through this time. What an amazing recovery.

Summer in the Far North 

Takapuna Beach after our trip north
View over Tokerau Beach from friends, Kay and Ian’s house
After spending the last two summers in the South Island, we decided to get some sand and surf this year up north.

First stop was Ambury Farm near Mangere Bridge, Auckland. We always enjoy staying at this DOC Camp. Plenty of other motorhomes for safety in numbers, lots of grass where children big and small can run around, play ball games etc and it’s a working farm so animals galore. You can stay there in a tent too.

The following night we stayed at Pier Z, Westhaven, near the viaduct. This is paid overnight parking, but so close to the city restaurants and boating area it is a fabulous stop. The next day we walked 1 minute to hop on the Red Ferry for their popular trip to Riverhead Tavern. This is a really interesting commentated boat trip. 1 1/2 hours each way and a very nice lunch at the Tavern, a recommended way to spend time on the water in Auckland.

Parakai was the next stop. In previous years we have been to the Palm Springs hot pools there but these are closed for renovations with no reopening date in sight. A pity as they are lovely smaller pools. Across  the road to Parakai Springs it was to be. We stayed in the camp site adjacent to the pools. Very spacious and clean. Enjoyed the hot pools with our grandson, pools hot or not are so much more fun with youngsters.

On our way north with a stop in Whangarei. Biking / walking on  the new walkway by the waterfront in Whangarei was a pleasure. Popular too. Good parking for motorhomes by the new bridge right by the walkway. Keri Keri was the next stop. The NZMCA have a camp here for members. We walked into town from there, a nice walk, partially through bush, and passed the spectacular Rainbow Falls – well they  would be in the winter after rain! Even on this dry summer day they were a great sight and a popular swimming spot.

We called in to the famous fish and chip shop in Mangonui ( built over the water) for some fresh mussels. They sell them out of the shell but not in brine, so they are perfect for mussel fritters. Chop them up, add a couple of eggs, a little milk, a couple of tbs of self raising flour, salt and pepper, then cook by the spoonful in a little melted butter. Delicious. Made this way the mussels are only cooked once and are top of the line! Dinner – sorted!

Coco Cola Lake

Then an entertaining night ahead at the Hibiscus Coast Bowling Club. Motorhomes can stay here and there were a couple of us. They had played a tournament there that day and the winning celebrations continued into the night! We were made very welcome, dancing and pool were optional but you won points for participating!

Carrying on north we reached our destination – Whatuwhiwhi on the KariKari peninsula. This is a beautiful place and our friend’s house is in a spectacular position looking over Tokerau Bay. Amazing sunsets and always something to see way below. We collected tuatuas and made fritters, walked around the new subdivision and made ourselves hot! We visited, some of our group swam, Lake Ohia  – well that’s the name the photo came up with, but we thought it was Lake Rotopokaka!  Anyway the locals call it Coco Cola Lake due to the colour of the water ( golden, caused by tannins in it).

We returned to Auckland, stopping at Takapuna Beach Camp on the way. Many people have fought to keep this camp open. It’s iconic. A little piece of paradise on prime real estate right by the walkway and the water’s edge, while just a short walk from the Takapuna shops and restaurants. We were lucky enough to get a front row site.  A million dollar view for less than $50. Only one word for it : WOW! Cabins there as well for an easy holiday by the beach.

Top of the South Island-nearly home!

The earthquake in Kaikoura in November meant a change of plans for our homeward journey. We were booked in for a fishing charter with Tomo who is the owner/operator of Kaikoura Fishing Tours, but the earthquake meant the boats couldn’t get out, so fishing was off for a while. Besides that the road was closed due to slips so we couldn’t get in anyway. Kaikoura is a great community, like so many others in New Zealand, everyone pulled together and by Christmas the road south of Kaikoura was open and Tomo was out on the sea again doing what he does so well. If you are down that way support the Kaikoura area by visiting this lovely seaside town and go out fishing with Tomo and his crew. Many varieties of fish and crayfish too. Yummy.. Go Tomo….

So Kaikoura was off our route for our journey north. Through the Lewis Pass and to Murchison it was. Lots of trucks as well as cars on the road, many trucks stayed in Murchison for some hours to fulfill their break requirements. Good NZMCA camp here for the motorhomers.

In Havelock, Marlborough, we stopped at The Mussel Pot. We always stop here when we pass through Havelock for a mussel platter, mussel soup or whichever mussel dish we fancy on the day. Delicious. Nice outdoor area too.

We have stopped in Mapua near Nelson before, but this time we had something different on the agenda. In the country is a great cafe theatre. We rang to check it out and asked was there room to park the motorhome, to be told we were welcome to stay the night there. Fantastic. The Playhouse Cafe is a fabulous place to go. Lovely country setting, nice meals, welcoming staff and great shows. On the night we were there David Upfold, a comedy hypnotist from Auckland was on stage. The show was fabulous, the comedy part very entertaining and the hypnosis part respectful, funny and well worth seeing. Other shows they have at The Playhouse Cafe include a variety show, a murder mystery, tribute shows. We will certainly be back. Well priced and a great range of shows to choose from. Pity we don’t live closer. We would be regular attendees.

The biking in the Mapua area is good too. You can bike from Richmond to Rabbit Island then catch the ferry across to Mapua for a coffee and cake in this nice little village. You can also bike from Mapua towards Motueka.

Two of our last nights in the South Island we stayed in Stoke, a suburb of Nelson, at The Honest Lawyer. This had been recommended to us by motorhoming friends. This is a restaurant with accommodation in a great location by the waterfront. There is a very nice parking area at the back for motorhomes, it looks out over the water and has  a bike trail beside it. Good meals in the restaurant and a fabulous setting by the water for relaxing at the end of the day with a drink.

In to Nelson to the market in the weekend to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables. A newly sealed parking area can be found near Countdown by the squash courts. Very convenient parking with a bike trail close by and a short walk into town.

This trip to the South Island ended with a night in Picton at the Crow Tavern. We always enjoy staying here in the motorhome. Very friendly owners and fellow travellers along with the locals. Great food, my favourite is the scallop and prawn dish – I have it every time we go there. Surprise, surprise! 

A walk around Picton the next morning then on to the ferry. Our first time on the Kaitake. Very nice ferry. Trip was a bit rough. Very pleasant staff came around offering cups of ice to suck. Apparently it helps negate feelings of sea sickness. We were fine but many others were grateful for the concern of the young staff.

Great trip, looking forward to the next one when Kaikoura can once again be a part of our journey. Best wishes to all those there working hard to get their town great again after the earthquake. It’s a super little town. 

Mt Cook and Tekapo

Travelling behind Sue and Tom’s motorhome. Twizel to Mt Cook
  • The views on this stretch of road are spectacular. November snow made the ranges glow. Certainly an enjoyable day on the road. We had a walk around and then lunch at The Hermitage. There are plenty of walks here, short or long to suit any experience or desire. Tony’s great niece came to work at The Hermitage eight years ago for a brief stint, and is still there now, a partner from Nepal and two children later. Must be a great place to work, she certainly seems very happy.  We turned off a road travelling down from The Hermitage, just to see where it went, and were amazed to find a large car park full of vehicles and people preparing to leave on tramps. We remember those days well, packs loaded, wine too of course, and off on another adventure. What fun it was but don’t miss the nights in huts shared with many others making all sorts of noises in their sleep! The fun compensated for that though. Our adventures these days are much more sedate. Plenty of biking keeps the legs moving without wearing us out with an all day tramp. Whew!
  • We have had two visits to Tekapo this year. The wild lupins this time in the early summer are spectacular. They line the roadsides just as the wildflowers did on the Auckland motorways a few years ago. There are many beautiful colours too, pink, yellow, mauve. A sight to give many pleasure. We didn’t see these on our last few trips in the late summer and autumn so that was something new, many tourists had their cameras clicking along with us.
  • If you go to Tekapo don’t miss going to the hot pools. These are on the hill by the motorcamp with great views over Lake Tekapo. If you go onto the website “Bookme” you can get them at half price at certain times. This applies to a huge number of activities in many parts of New Zealand. Boat trips, meals, massages etc, just put in the area you want to look at and you’ll be amazed.
  • The NZMCA has a property where motorhomers can stay in Tekapo. It is beside Lake Tekapo – tried to catch a trout, but it wasn’t to be – and an easy walk or bike ride into the town. We love to go into town, past the famous little old church on the waterfront- The Church of the Good Shepherd – which thousands of tourists visit each week. You can stand inside and look through the front of the church where a window frames the beautiful view of the lake. They are always improving  things in Tekapo, putting in new car parks, bike trails etc, working to make life easier for their locals and thousands of tourists who visit their area. We also love their bar/ cafe/ restaurants that look out over the lake. Last time we were sitting outside watching two rabbits playing near the grass, fascinating for the tourists at the table next to us, this time a new car park had been developed there and our entertainment was watching the setting up of a ready made (in Auckland) toilet block. We watched as it was craned into place, the water was connected, final landscaping completed and the next day it was ready to go. Looked fabulous, very classy, good to see the tourists being catered for in this way. 

Christchurch 

The beginning of November is a great time to be in Christchurch. It’s a big week with horse racing and the A&P show.

First big racing day is the Trotting Cup. We bought tickets to the restricted areas this year thinking that would be a nice way to spend the day. Not so! The area was in a good position with a good view of the track, but it was so crowded and with all of the seating taken we moved on after a walk around to check it out. Back to the public area where we moved around during the day from the grandstand- great viewing but no cover so needed a hat – to seats on the lawn, to the area behind the stand and buildings where all of the action is to be found. Great people watching at these race days. The lads are very well turned out, if you didn’t have a nice jacket on you stood out. Luckily for the lads the day was a little cool so they would have appreciated their jackets, some were generous and shared theirs with their not so well covered girlfriends! As for the females, on the day less is best! Tops are low, skirts are short – just like ours 40 years ago. Most looked fantastic. They could wear the same outfit to a wedding, maybe with a little more cover! They certainly put the time into their preparation and presentation. Gorgeous. The band played, people danced, the bars had long queues, the fashion on the catwalk was amazing – was this a race meeting or a fun day out? Many wouldn’t have seen a horse on the course, but they sure had fun! So did we, I made money too!

Next outing was to the Canterbury  A & P show. This is another big day out for the Cantabrians with all of the animals, farm machinery, stalls for food and whatever else you may want to buy, a fairground, band etc. Really interesting for the city folk as well as the farmers. Well set  out, easy to get around,  a great day out. It’s interesting how diverse our agricultural sector is in NZ with a huge variety of animals on show and farm machinery from huge to tiny. The bands we heard were really good, the day was cool though so that probably affected the number of people willing to sit outside to listen. Pity. Could have had as much action as a wine and food festival. Nice wines too.

Our last big day out in Christchurch this trip was to the galloping cup meeting at Riccarton.  A huge day out for the locals and well known as a big day for overindulgence in alcohol. The first sign of this was the vehicle check on entry to the car park. Two chaps asked if they could search the motorhome for alcohol. We had no problem with that, we didn’t think we had any, a most unusual situation, but just lucky for us. Good luck to them I thought, that will take a while! They did find a KGB in the fridge which had been in there a couple of  months, they took it, no worries, obviously not a flavour I was keen on or it would have been drunk! If they had found any more we would have just gone and parked outside, we weren’t planning to drink anything that was in the van anyway, but apparently that is a big problem for the racing club. People drink to excess in the parking area and cause issues. The van search over it was in to the races. The day was even colder, no sunfrock for me that day. Another good day, everyone there seemed very happy. Good seating and once again the people watching filled the day when we weren’t watching the races. The trotting cup certainly is the big day though. Would we go again? Yes, obviously not such a big day as the Melbourne Cup, great fun for keen race goers and those with no interest in racing alike, but still a good day out.

We also enjoyed a picnic by the Avon with people enjoying punting on the river beside us. Lovely spot. We bought the picnic food at the market. Fresh and tasty, the markets in Christchurch are fabulous.

KAPITI COAST

Enjoyed Labour Weekend on the Kapiti Coast this year with a group of friends. We stayed in the motorhomes at the Kapiti Holiday Resort. This is a camp in Paraparaumu with an unusual feature. Each site has it’s own separate on site building with a toilet and shower. We don’t really need these with our self contained van, but it would be fantastic if you were staying in a tent. Nice camp, and not too far to walk to the beach, restaurants and the boat to Kapiti Island. 

Many people have told me that Kapiti Island is on their ‘bucket list’. We have been there before but many of our friends hadn’t, so the plan was formed.

You are only able to go to Kapiti Island on a charter ferry service. Private vessels are not allowed to land on the island. Kapiti Island is 5 km off the coast from Paraparaumu. There is no wharf, the boat is launched into the sea off a special tractor and the trip is weather dependent. Unfortunately the day we went it was a little rough – even worse on the way back- but most of us on board were quite relaxed about it. Usually you spend five hours on the island before your return trip. Overnight stays are available in a family lodge. This family arrived on the island in 1820.  There are also guided walks available. We chose to just be part of the DOC talk then do our own thing. The talk by a DOC ranger was fantastic. Very informative and well presented.

DOC took over administration of the island in 1987. It allows 50 visitors per day to the island, you need to book and it can fill up fast. The island is possum free, the native trees and the birds tell their own story on this, and it became rat free in 1998. Your bags are checked for creatures big and small before boarding the boat. Don’t take your pet mouse or your old lunch with ants crawling through it!

Kapiti Island is one of New Zealand’s most important sites for bird recovery as well as being a major breeding site for sea birds. It is home to a number of native birds, and we saw many different birds during the day.

We climbed to the top of the island where there is a lookout with a great view (of course). It’s a good climb for us retired folk. 

Other pleasures to pass the time on the Kapiti Coast:  One night for dinner we went to the local club right on the beachfront. A little strange as they had a band playing (not many people dancing but it was a great band) because the rugby (All Blacks) was on at the same time. Of course our crew were watching the rugby (no sound)!  It’s a nice club, the Vista.  It’s a long beach for a stroll, or you could walk to Raumati South as we did. Whitebaiting is good down that way too. Always interesting in different areas, they fish with a different style of net to those we use in the Naki. 

We all enjoyed our trip to the Kapiti Coast. Good fun, good company, good food, good experiences. What more do we want?

Taupo. Love it.

A recent week in Taupo found us enjoying many of our favourite places. One at the top of the list is The Wairakei Terraces just north of Taupo (near BP). We all remember hearing about The Pink and White Terraces. I really wish I had seen them! They were considered the eighth wonder of the world before they were destroyed on the night of the Mt Tarawera eruption in 1886. They were reportedly the largest silica sinter deposits on earth. The deposits grew as silica laden water cascaded over them. They were huge. The White Terrace was the larger, covering 8 hectares and with a drop in elevation of 25 metres. The Pink Terrace descended 22 metres. What an amazing sight they must have been. The Wairakei Terraces are well worth a visit. Nothing like the size of the original Terraces but I love going The and think they are fantastic. A walkway leads you to a great view of the silica terraces. Below these are the thermal bathing pools, only those over 14 years old are able to enter the pools. A man-made geyser is fed by superheated fluids that come from depths of over 1.5km. Silica enriched water flows away from the geyser then cascades over the terraces, depositing large amounts of silica to form amazing terraces reminiscent of the original Pink and White Terraces. As well as the walk and the pools there, you can also get massages at the Spa.

We stayed in a timeshare in Taupo by the lake. The timeshare has many activities available to guests. We enjoyed table tennis, indoor bowls, pool, the spa pools and the heated outdoor pool. Fantastic for Pop and grandson to while away some time together. The bikes are also great, although we had our own with us. You can bike or walk along the walkway on the side of the lake from the main shopping centre past 5 Mile Bay. A good ride each day to ensure the holiday isn’t too passive!

Taupo has nice shopping, numerous cafes and restaurants, and a market on Saturday mornings – always a good place for breakfast!

We also enjoyed mini putt. Very popular it was too, busy each time we passed it no matter the time of day.

There are so many things to do in Taupo, hit a golf ball into the lake, go fishing and catch a trout (then if you don’t want to cook it yourself you can take it to a restaurant and they will cook it and serve it to you), go for a boat trip on the lake, visit one or more of the hot pools…….   It’s a fabulous place to take youngsters, every time we visit we love it.

Great for motorhomers too. You can stay right by the lake at the north end by the shopping centre, or down by 5 Mile Bay. Plenty of other places too including the NZMCA camp.

Singapore – more than just shopping!

A few days in Singapore are very easy to fill in. We went for an easy option. We bought a pass on the Hop On Hop Off bus with Hippotours in conjunction with a Tourist Rewards Card. For two days we could go to any of the places on their seven lines, spend as long as we liked at the attractions we chose, then return to our hotel which was on one of their bus routes. Very convenient and cool too in the 30 degree heat. We went to Gardens by the Bay which is 101 hectares of gardens including stunning man made trees up to 16 storeys high with walkways high up between some of them. They were amazing in the day but we returned one night to see the light show (incredibly this is free) where lights dance on the trees to popular music. Spectacular. 

There was a commentary on the bus which was pretty interesting. One thing we learnt was the reason the roads are not too busy and most people use public transport. Only a certain number of cars are allowed to be registered at a time. You can only register a car for 10 years. When this time is up you relinquish your paper permit (as it is known). An auction is held regularly and those who want to buy a car at that time bid. You could  pay S$130,000 for the paper permit, this is before you even purchase the car! You are able to bid and keep the same car, so there are a few cars older than 10 years, but we didn’t see many.

We also did a Night Safari where you travel on a tram through the wildlife night park for an hour. This is next to the Singapore Zoo. Chinatown and Little India were not as busy as when we were there many years ago, everything is clean and the locals friendly. We had a lunch  with a difference one day.  A Gourmet Bus Lunch Tour. We travelled on a bus for two hours looking at various sights while we were served a tasty local lunch – dim sims etc. Most enjoyable. There were many other places we could have visited in Singapore, but we had a great balance of time both in Singapore and on Sentosa Island, shopping, walking (have to keep the exercise up), swimming, enjoying the local food ($3 – $10 for a meal), visiting attractions and relaxing.

Our last hotel in Singapore was a bonus. We were ,on arrival, moved to the hotel next door. The one our travel agent had booked is a little tired apparently so they put a group of us next door. This one, on the hotel booking sites, is twice the price. As well as a lovely buffet breakfast they offer a free mini bar in the room  – only one beer, plenty of juices and water replenished daily – snacks all afternoon in the restaurant and more than snacks at night – salmon, chicken, salad. Amazing. No need to go out to dinner. Free cocktails, wine etc too. All inclusive. Never had that before. Weird how you don’t eat or drink too much when it is free! Only two drinks and we were done. Who would believe it! The Quincy is fabulous. Quirky too. And great staff who always recognise you and greet you. Really nice place.