Friday, March 30, 2012

Phnom Penh: in a style we wish to become accustomed to

With a couple of days to fill between dental appointments, we flew off to Phnom Penh. 

At the airport we had the choice of a Taxi for $9 or a tuk-tuk for $7 – of course Andrew snapped up the tuk-tuk.  What better than arriving into the Cambodian capital, at rush-hour, to spend over 30 minutes navigating traffic, fumes and the heat in an open air tuk-tuk. 

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It must be said that the tuk-tuks here are a class above those in VTE in terms of comfort and speed.
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It made us laugh when we pulled into the circular drive of the luxury hotel, Raffles, in our tuk-tuk.  Disembarking from our transport, we wandered into reception - with just hand luggage and wearing travel clothes.  Classy.

On the other hand the 5 star Raffles-Le Royal was all class. We were lucky to get a good corporate price deal through contacts here in VTE.  And remember, we balance such excesses out with a week in a tent back in NZ.

And it must be said luxury is very appealing.  Our own personal concierge, who remember our names when we met him around the hotel.  Water being brought you as soon as you sat down at the pool.  Every staff member being trained to smile and say hello.  mmmmm
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Our room was lovely, and tastefully understated.  We were quite comfortable thank you.

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But things got even better on our second day.  On returning to our room we discovered a leak from the ceiling.  Initially they attempted to fix it, but being unable to we were upgraded to a suite on the same floor.  It is lovely to have your own work desk, two televisions, a full dressing room and all the other basics one expects.

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Strolling around the colonial style verandas and viewing the lush gardens made the outside heat and life seem to be a world away.
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Does a stay in a 5 star hotel warrant an entire blog post?  Definitely.  Who knows when we will have this level of luxury again, the memories will have to sustain us until we win Lotto and undertake lives of decadent splendour.
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And we saw neither monkeys or mosquitoes

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sophie and Hayley’s Civil Union

A key part of our trip to NZ was to attend Sophie and Hayley’s civil union celebration on Friday 9th March in the Wairarapa. Nine months earlier Sophie had phoned me in Laos and told me of their plans. Plenty of planning took place by many family and friends around the world to be there and contribute to the celebration.

The legal part was done the day before in Wellington, by a personable young man from Internal affairs, in front of few friends and me. It was a short and snappy process.  Then the focus turned to the Wairarapa venue.

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On the evening before the event, Paula and I enjoyed having dinner with my parents, brother, sister, Sue and Ron at the Wendy Campbell bistro in Martinborough. Plenty of laughter and good food.

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Meanwhile all my daughters were out working at the Pounui Homestead to help set up for the next day.

Friday was ‘Celebration day” and at 3pm buses left from the Martinborough Square for the 30 minute journey out to Pounui.  Naturally a number of people related to the Jacksons congregated beforehand in the local pub and got reacquainted.  We nearly got on a set of wedding buses waiting for another party, before being directed to the correct vehicles…who would have thought there would be 2 events leaving the square at 3pm on a Friday?

What made this celebration so successful was the attendance of Sophie’s 3 God parents, 3 grand parents, two sisters, several aunts and uncles, Marsden school friends as well as several of their parents and many old family friends. Hayley had many family and friends attending, a number having travelled quite some distance.

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Sophie and Hayley were escorted by their fathers and were supported by attendants: Will, Dan, Sarah and Lucinda, to a spot in the garden. Aidan officiated a delightful ceremony where vows were exchanged and readings were delivered by Albinia (Sophie’s Grandmother) and Angela (Hayley'’s mother).

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Following photos in the garden, there was a meal and speeches and a great band provided good music for dancing. A photo booth was in action which delivered some great results for review the following day. Two buses returned the party goers to Martinborough in the early hours of Saturday morning. 

The Saturday barbecue at the same venue, started at noon and much chatting took place. It was a great day, with some excellent whitebait & venison (sourced and cooked by Hayley's father Dayal & crew) as part of the lunch. The ice-creams also went down a treat.  The catering had been superbly managed and executed by my sister-in-law, Rosalba.  A huge thanks to her (and her helpers) for all her splendid work.

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A most successful celebration.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hawkes Bay

The next morning it was back in the car and off to Hawkes Bay. Arriving in the area we noticed a lot of people being picked up by buses and carrying camp chairs. It was then we noticed the buses said Mission Concert and all the motels we were passing had no vacancy signs. Yep, it was the busiest weekend of the year in HB and Rod Stewart was performing at Mission that night, and of course we had not booked a tent-site.

But when we got out to Te Awanga campsite they had places and we pitched our tent to let it dry off in the gentle to moderate breeze. Te Awanga is on the beach and a short distance to the start of the Cape Kidnappers beach access walk.
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We did get some nice days but we also got lots of rainy and cold evenings and most nights were tucked up in the tent before it even got dark.

We spent one day in the Ruahine ranges mountain biking.  We thought we were bike fit but sitting upright on our ‘shopping bikes’ in VTE is a very different position than the mountain bike.  The destination was Yeoman's hut which was built in 1884 with hand sawn tongue and groove timber. At the end of our three hour ride we were rather saddle-sore (although that really only became apparent the next day when we got back on the bikes – ouch).  The ride however was excellent through native bush and along logging trails and although we spent a fair amount of time walking up hills we also worked quite hard.

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We did quite a lot of cycling on river bank tracks and cycle trails into Napier.

Counterbalancing our frugal camp fees ($25 per night) and evenings meals of dehydrated food from Back Country foods (just boil water, wait 10 minutes and you have a tasty easy meal and no dishes), we ate well most lunch times. 

One day it was Clearwater winery, just down the road from the camping ground. 
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A very nice main, but an average entree and some very pleasant vinos.


Another day it was a cafe in Napier.  For some reason ordering eggs benedict and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc made the waiter comment how much he liked that we were having breakfast for lunch and washing it down with a glass of wine.  Does no one do that in Napier? 


The highlight however, was the superb meal at Black Barn and their 2011 Pinot Gris was stunning. 
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So in spite of cool temperatures we had a relaxing time camping in the Hawkes Bay eating and drinking well.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tourists in our own country

In late February we headed early to NZ for Hayley and Sophie’s civil union on 9th March.  Andrew had a board meeting on 24th Feb and it was a good opportunity to attend in person as opposed to the 3:30am Skype video attendance at the meetings.

Board meeting out of the way we headed off to Hawkes Bay to do some things we don't do here in Laos – primarily camping, mountain biking and lunches out at wineries were an added bonus.  There were also a number of things to be ticked off the must do while back in NZ list – ice-cream, lamb, hot cross buns, lamb, fresh fish, lamb (yes, Andrew we ate lamb)

We overnighted with Murray & Sue and apart from having a really nice time we we very impressed with their pony-poo supercharged vegetable garden.  And boys being boys, Andrew and Murray had a target shooting competition with Murray's new air-rifle.  No domestic animals were hurt during this undertaking, but one cat moved away very quickly when one of the pellets ricocheted off the metal garden shed.  Leaving the luxury of houses and beds we headed to Castlepoint camping ground.

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The camping ground owner was surprised when we turned up on his doorstep.  Apparently all the people who had booked for the weekend had also rung up and cancelled due to the gale-force wind warning.  But not us the hardy campers in our 2 man tent.  It was so windy even the seagulls weren’t bothering to try flying
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After picking the most sheltered site (in a camping ground we virtually had to ourselves) we blew with the wind down along the beach and up to the lighthouse.
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On the way back we were lucky to see the shepherds practicing driving 500 sheep along the beach in preparation for an open day on the coming Sunday commemorating the agricultural history of the area and tying into the Golden Shears competition.  Our own private showing with next to no one else around.
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Overnight there was a heavy downpour.  We lay in the dark on our lilo, in our sleeping bags looking at the roof of the tent, both hoping the rain would stop before soaking through the tent.  In the end we had a dry night and were very comfortable.  Andrew felt we needed a little luxury on our camping trip and had also brought along a feather duvet and a feather pillow each.  Nothing like roughing it!

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Although luxury does not extend to having a pot-holder – note the red item in the hand of the chef.  Nooooo, why have a pot holder to lift the lid off the Billy being boiled for a morning cup of tea when something used from your pocket will do!!!