Friday, January 27, 2012

We'll Be Coming Round The Mountain ....

Today was supposed to start off with our first strenuous walk for 9 months - in fact since the last time we were in New Zealand. Since then I have been trying to get rid of a foot injury, and hope I have now done so.

The walk had to be cancelled because a couple of cold fronts swept up from the direction of Antarctica and severely lowered temperatures for 24 hours, not to mention being accompanied by heavy rain. As you will see from the accompanying pictures, the good weather seems to have returned (late afternoon) and we hope to be on the launching pad tomorrow morning.

We are in Akaroa, the first place we ever came to in New Zealand and one of Gay's favourite places on earth - a place which has been transformed in our absence because all the cruise ships which used to visit Lyttleton, the port for Christchurch, now come in to Akaroa. Lyttleton was severely destroyed by last year's earthquakes.

Akaroa was an attempt at a French colony in New Zealand. Unfortunately, the four ships of colonists arrived a few days after 6th February 1840, the date on which the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British representatives of Queen Victoria and the Maori chiefs, making New Zealand a British colony. The French decided to stay, which is why many of the streets and businesses in the town have French names. Akaroa has a population of a few hundred. The two cruise ships you see here have a population of over 4,000 passengers between them, which is why Akaroa is transformed. There are more people here than we have ever seen, except on national holidays, when the inhabitants of Christchurch tend to stream in this direction.

The third picture shows you where we shall be walking tomorrow. Up, behind, and down from that mountain. It takes about 3 hours and some of it is very, very steep. This will be a severe test of my foot, not to mention my fitness. The most I have walked in the past 9 months has been 6 kms, and on much flatter ground.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Christchurch Earthquake Recovery

We arrived in Christchurch on Saturday. During Sunday night we felt our first (for us, I emphasise - Christchurch has had plenty) earthquakes of this year, 3 of them. Christchurch has had more than 10,000 now. New Zealand is a very active earthquake zone, on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", but two years ago it was thought that Christchurch was immune, not being on any fault lines - now it is known to be on 2.

This morning, before leaving the city, we ventured into the centre, or as near to the centre as possible. The Red Zone is still fenced off, with recovery and demolition work still going on. Hundreds of buildings are already missing from the Central Business District.

Some of these photographs show how resilient and inventive the people of Christchurch are being in getting their city going again. This "container mall" was, when we left NZ last year in April, still cordoned off. Since then almost all the buildings have been demolished, if they were not already levelled by the earthquakes. Look at the marvellous adaption of the containers to their new use as temporary shops and cafes; the use of colour; the setting of sculpture and flowers. And of course they are safe. If an earthquake happens while you are inside, it is best to stay exactly where you are. I should think a lot of thinking is going on about using the linked container principle as the basis of whatever permanent buildings go up as Christchurch is rebuilt.

In New Zealand they are fond of talking about their "Number 8 Wire" approach, which means they can make anything out of said wire, just a metaphor for adaptability. We normally take such statements with a pinch of salt because you hear similar phrases used in other countries and even individual states in USA. But I think the people of Christchurch are coming up trumps with their proof of the principle this time, with a very healthy leaven of resilience. Don't forget all this is going on at the same time as the earthquakes ("aftershock" is a bit of a euphemism) are continuing.

Any of these photographs can be enlarged by single-clicking on them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Costa Conquering

I have said before in this blog that if Costa, the UK coffee chain, were to go international, it would wipe the floor with Starbucks. I now find that Costa is in 40 countries and it certainly seems to have already seen off Starbucks here in Dubai. Costa is everywhere and I have seen one Starbucks.

Today we went up the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world. If you come to Dubai, my advice is to give this a miss. Karen had bought our tickets online so they were a quarter of the price paid by those queuing up on the spot, who were paying 400 UAE Dirhams, which is about £70 sterling. It is all a bit of a swiz. Despite being shunted here and there into one queue after another before shooting up in an immensely fast lift (elevator) you emerge onto a viewing platform which is only half way up the building. That would be fine if this were known in advance, but the impression is given that you are going to the top. When I am at home in France, I go to bed every night at a greater altitude.

In fact I am left wondering just why so many people go to Dubai. There is a great deal of shopping available but I don't think it is particularly cheap.

One thing that is definitely worth seeing is the musical fountain show which takes place every 20 minutes. This is particularly splendid at night, when it is also illuminated.

Tomorrow, after a full day awake, we go to the airport for a flight, starting at 0130 in the morning and lasting fourteen and a half hours, to Sydney. Deep joy.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Abandon Ship!

This is the ship on which we crossed, starting Wednesday, finishing Thursday, from Barcelona to Civitavecchia, the port for Rome.

We had a few adventures. First, although we were booked on the ship, it appeared that our car was not. As we are on our way to New Zealand (r what will be largely a walking holiday) and will not be back until the end of April, we could hardly leave it at the port. We sorted that out eventually. Fortunately, the same computer system that had forgotten about our car booking could not now be persuaded to charge us, so the car travelled free.

Then we were woken up three times after we had gone to bed because the same computer system was showing us twice on the ship's manifest, once without car and again with the car.

Mid-morning on Thursday (this was a 20-hour ferry) came the "abandon ship" incident. I have been on ships many times, used to work on them, but this is the first time I have ever heard the words "Abandon Ship" broadcast over the tannoys. It was preceded by "This is a drill", but not very clearly. In fact, most of the passengers had not even understood that there would be an emergency drill, despite it having been trailed at 60 minutes, 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes and "now". They just sat there watching the 4 tvs which were running in the bar.

They didn't even use the words "abandon ship" or even "emergency" when I was on a ship which ran straight onto a reef in the Sulu Sea, then reversed straight off again without checking for what turned out to be a 35-foot hole in the hull below the waterline. That was quite exciting.

The above (about ship's boat drill) may all seem very amusing, but this very morning, safe ashore, I have switched on the computer to find that a cruise ship has run aground on the coast of Italy. 4.200 people have had to abandon ship and lives have been lost. Evacuating so many people via the boats takes some organising, and some practice. Those passengers on our ship really should pay more attention to the boat drills. They are for a reason. Stuff happens!

The cruise ship left only yesterday from Civitavecchia, the port where we arrived on Thursday. We may even have been parked next to her.

By the way, there was no mention of lifejackets in our drill - or any sight of them, except those the crew were wearing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sale Time For Vic's Big Book!

It's sales time!

Amazon have reduced the price of my book for a period.

On it has been reduced from €3.58 to €2.49.

So it costs the same as one cup of coffee.

On the reduction is from $4.51 to $3.23.

I am not sure what the price is on because they won't tell me because the book is only available to UK purchasers! But I think there will be a similar reduction.

Don't forget all proceeds go direct to pancreatic cancer research. So you make a small donation to charity and you get a well-reviewed book. And do without one cup of coffee.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

Nothing to do with running or walking, writing or reading.

Just a special picture of my youngest grandson, Alessandro, aged 7. He lives in Italy and we saw him only once last year. In a few days time we shall be with him and he will be able to demonstrate how he is getting on with his guitar lessons, recently started.

As always, you can double-click the picture to enlarge it.

Happy New Year, everybody.