Sunday, 29 March 2009

Credit Crunch to Cape Town*

(*Subject to funding)

As you may have heard, there's a phenomenon occurring in London that has been called the Credit Crunch . It's so popular that it's caught on in other countries, and every one's worried about the state of the economy and everyone has an opinion as to how long this will all last, and what will be the ultimate cure.

So in a time where stress and worry has gripped the City, and redundancies abound, you would be right to wonder why the two of us have decided to voluntarily pack it in and see the world.

The answer is simple: Why not?

Actually don't answer that, there's probably many reasons, mostly sensible financial reasons, why it may not be a good idea, yet none of those are going to stop us.

We have had a real blast living in the UK. In the past three years, eight or so months we've visited the far reaches of the British Isles, including many small towns in strange counties. We've travelled to three continents, twenty plus countries, and the odd principality. There's been international work trips, and international rugby tours (both playing and supporting). There's been midnight sun, and days of darkness. There's been five star hotels, camping holidays, boat trips, pubs with B&Bs, and this one place which as it was so disgusting that even Paul was up at 5 am to leave it as soon as the sun rose. There has been so many yummy foods that even Amy can't remember them all let alone cook them. And then the teas, coffees, lassis, beers, fresh Moroccan orange juices.

There's nothing about our time here that we would change and we are very fortunate to have had the opportunities that we have had.

We also understand fully that so many of the things that we have loved will not be possible to do easily from Godzone. So before we go home to the wide open spaces and white sand beaches of home (oh, and the friends and family of course!) we were determined to see the World. Or as much of it as we possibly can.

Our intended path is well researched, but as a trip of a lifetime** there are very few things planned and we're happy to see where we end up. Vaguely, we fly to Italy tomorrow and we plan to travel to and as far into Africa as we can until the (self)funding comes to an end.

So watch this space for all our adventures, misadventures and stories.

(** until the next one)

The World, our oyster....


Life in London is never dull. We've always managed to get out and about and do loads of things, but much as they are fun and interesting, not everything is blog-worthy on its own. So saved up for a wee while, here are a few snaps from recent weeks in London.

The tube station

Inside the British Museum

Amy being a tourist

The Natural History Museum

Inside the Bank of Friendship

Picnicing near Borough Market (naturally with fresh supplies)

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

(Belgium) La vie en rose

I was very lucky to have recently returned to my other homeland, Belgium, and to have spent time with two of my host families as well as friends.

I'm sure most people who know me will know that I spent my final year at high school living as a Rotary Exchange Student in the small town of Libramont, Belgium. I still look back and think that I must have been just a little bit mad. I was 17, I hardly knew where the country was, didn't speak the language, didn't know anyone and was woefully unprepared for the fog.

It's hard to say it's the greatest thing I've ever done - getting married, moving to the UK, going to University all rate very highly too - but it certainly was one of the best things I've ever done and very much a defining experience in my life. I also don't know if I would be where I am now had I not had that experience. I'm not sure I would have gone to law school if I'd stayed in NZ. It's paraphrasing slightly, but there's an employer of mine out there who knew I would be able to cope with the job because I'd been an exchange student - so maybe that was what got me the job? And seeing how my host parents interacted with each other certainly gave me some of the communication tools for my married life.

The brackets around the (Belgium) are significant and come from a conversation that one host Mum and I had that weekend as she taught me how to make one of my favourite soup recipes, while her latest étudiante also watched over. At the time, an exchange can seem like an isolated moment, perhaps more so for the families that you live with, where the student comes in, and then goes and life for the family continues.

I am very grateful that mine was not a bracketed experience and that I have continued to be in contact two of my families for, er, a few years.

This was my second trip back while living on this side of the world and I was very pleased to know that I could still speak french (albeit that I didn't have the vocab for two of the major topics for the weekend - global financial meltdown and pregnancies / babies - guess they weren't really required at 17!). The town had changed very little, although there was the new deli owned by host sister Magali and her husband. The best thing however was seeing how familiar everyone was, even after all the years. Even with all the changes - siblings growing up, people getting married, having children, generally getting older - the gests, the stories, were all was so familiar, and it was lovely to be a part of it all again.

I imagine that it will be some time before I will see these families again, but until then I will guard my memories, both the old ones and the more recent ones, and be eternally grateful for them opening their homes and their hearts to me so long ago.

The Ardennes

Les Familles Stainier et Neuberg

Nic, Flo & Sarah


Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Porto (also known as doing nothing but eating and drinking in the sun)

It's funny how some little ideas become great plans. Fran and Graham have been great travel buddies over the years and we really wanted to do another trip with them before leaving. Then we realised it was also Graham's 30th birthday. Then next thing you know, there's nine of us (should have been ten but there was a small incident with Jess and her passport) heading out for a weekend in Porto, northern Portugal.

Weekends away are good; weekends away with friends are better. But weekends away with friends when it's 20+ degrees and sunny really are the best kind of all and add a birthday to that mix and there's not much that can be done to beat it.

We left at a very civilised hour from London (where it had snowed overnight) and arrived in sunny Porto just in time for lunch. After quickly becoming transport experts and finding our lovely hotel our first stop was Graham's port house. G had kindly sorted this for us before we left and our guide certainly gave us birthday treatment.

The evening was spent wandering the river at sunset, trying unique beverages such as port & tonic and 85 euro cent beers before getting a little lost walking home, and then having port and cheese at the hotel until the stragglers arrived. As they arrived rather late dinner was a unique, and European mix - kiwis, living in London, in an Italian restaurant in Portugal where a combination of Spanish and French were the common languages.

Saturday, G's actual birthday started in a very lazy fashion with coffee and Portuguese custard tarts on the terrace. By the time we eventually made it into the centre of town it was lunch time for the port houses so we took a boat ride in one of the old port boats to absorb more of the sunshine.

As the port houses were still closed when we returned we meandered around before finding a sunny spot on a side street for lunch. Again, with little in terms of common language we muddled our way through. Although there was no real menu we tried local produce of Bacalhau (dried salted cod fish, which when deep-fried is more appetising than it sounds!), salami (which appeared to be supplied directly from the market next door), olives and bread, and ate like kings. The owner was very excited when he worked out that it was someone's birthday and kindly gave us all a port for on the road.

The port houses were open now so, for the benefit of the stragglers who arrived late on the Friday and on Saturday morning, we visited the houses of Ferreira and Sanderman. We are now universally expert in the manufacture of port and hope that it is a question that comes up in all future quiz nights.

The evening was again lovely and warm so we spent a few more hours along the river and doing tourist things like the cable car and crossing the iron bridge before finding more cheese for another pre-dinner hotel picnic. Unfortunately as it was Valentines Day we struggled to get into a highly recommended restaurant so ended up at a wee bbq restaurant near the hotel for what was possibly the best bbq food any of us had had in a long time, let alone from an indoor grill, all served with lashings of yummy sauce, and in Graham's case loads of chips as he declined the rice.

You wouldn't believe it, but by Sunday morning we were still able to eat! After a sedate start on the terrace with more coffees and pastries we took a tram ride along the river to the beach, for lunch. The tram was very cute and although we don't have photos of them there were a few young boys who latched on to the outside and took a free ride along the waterfront also. The tram ride certainly felt like we'd gone back in time, or at least gone to the Auckland zoo.

While not the best or cleanest beach in the world, it was really lovely to be able to sit on the beach after lunch, walk on the sand and paddle in the water. Oh, and have more port and ice-cream.

It was a fabulous weekend and I thing we all have very high expectations for Graham's next 30th birthday.

PS. When not eating or drinking, we did note that Porto really is rather beautiful It has lots of old buildings and many of them are tiled with bright ceramic tiles. It certainly feels like a poorer place than other European cities we've been to but that is no doubt part of the charm.

PPS. Turns out that historical Porto is a World Heritage site, so on top of a lovely, warm, calorific weekend, we can take one thing off the to do list!

Graham at Graham's Port House

This vat was HUGE

One of the older vintages

The view from Graham's over the river

Paul and Graham, tasting....

The view over the river to Riberia

The famous double decker bridge

Happy birthday G!

Maybe the wind helped him....

Mmmm breakfast....

Paul and Amy being tourists

And being tourists on the river

Lunch in the sun (Andrew, front left, had to pull his chair in once or twice for the passing trucks)

Our kind host

Paul and Amy at port house number two

Relaxing after a hard day out

The wall behind us



Port and cheese time!

BBQ time


G looking rather pleased with his lot

Pretty tiles

Paul & Amy on the tram

Tram by the sea

Us by the sea (L to R Fran, Graha, Paul, Amy, Vicki's shadow, Amber, Tom, Andrew and Nicki)

Just before the bottle fulfilled it's life long dream to take a message and be thrown into the sea.

Paul by the water

Amy and Nicki answering the question "does wine from a box taste okay?". It doesn't. We were not surprised.


Inside Graham's (sorry, not smart enough to move this at the moment)

More pretty tiles.

A dose of creativity

Here are a couple of paintings that Amy recently finished.  The paints and the easel are back in their boxes and hopefully there will be room in our proper boxes to send them home.