A taste of Rome

And finally we get to Italy. 

I’m a bit behind in my chronicles as our days are so packed! Lots of photos to help remember and tell the story. As I’m sure most people have found on trips like these, there’s a fine line between taking the photos you want and taking so many you miss the actual experience. I’m not a big selfie taker but I deliberately chose one for the featured image for this post as I wanted to record how happy we are to be here despite my genuine dislike of seeing myself in a photo. (I generally try to take photos where I can get the shot with no people visible at all – not sure that will be particularly easy in such a tourist destination.)

What I am missing is a good camera! Hats off to my iPhone for taking some pretty good shots but I am aware of the opportunities I am not getting.

Our hotel was old and gracious. I felt very underdressed in my jeans and tee shirt but that did seem to be what everyone else was wearing as well so I didn’t dress up to match the decor.


We met the rest of our tour party who would be our companions for the next 12 days. To be honest they were a little older than I had been expecting – we are definitely among the younger people. The first of many caprese salads and pizza for dinner, some great introductory conversations, and then an early night as we had to be up very early the next morning.
We had been fortunate enough to be given access to the Sistine Chapel before it opened to the public. So, feeling a little guilty, we walked past the already waiting crowds and wandered through an empty Vatican Museum before entering the chapel itself. So much beauty in these corridors, every inch of them lavishly decorated.


No photos allowed in the Chapel itself, which is fitting for such a monument to the creativity of man and the glory of God. Like everyone else I was familiar with the iconic image of God reaching out to touch Adam, but that is just a small price of the endless ceiling and walls, every inch overhead and to the side packed with the narrative of the relationship between God and His creation. As there were so few people in the chapel we had plenty of time to sit and focus on individual panels.

Our time was up all too soon and we walked back through corridors of Papal treasures, down the beautiful spiral walkway and back into the modern world of cars, horns and throngs of people. 


We then headed to the Colesseum  (I did say it was a taste of Rome). A bonus was being allowed to enter through the gladiator stage which is an entrance not usually used. Very humbling to hear that the entrance and exit system was so sophisticated that they could clear the 70000 seat auditorium faster than we could empty a similar sized one today. Even with the crowds and the obligatory gift shop selling every possible Colesseum souvenir possible, it was very easy to imagine it in its prime.


We decided to skip the last of the afternoon planned activities and wandered the streets, dipping our hands in the Trevi Fountain, eating prosciutto platters and gelato and engaging in a bit of shopping. Loved the creative parking in the insanely crowded streets!


A quick dinner in a cute street-side cafe was rapidly moved indoors as the skies suddenly erupted with thunder and lightening.The rose sellers instantly becameumbrella sellers! Tried out my fledgling Italian on the waiter but like so manyEuropeans  he spoke perfect English.

What a crazy start to our trip! I still can’t believe I am here. Feeling the weight of thousands of years of art, culture and philosophy is almost too much to take in (hence the shopping break this afternoon!)

Heading to Pompeii and Capri tomorrow – the adventure continues…

George Orwell & Empathy — word and silence

A challenging read on a Sunday morning from Tim  Miller at wordandsilence.com. In the midst of an amazing trip where we have had the privilege of doing and seeing so much, these words from the past ask a question of me that still needs answering today. As I write this on my iPad I am reminded of the plight of those who work in dreadful conditions churning out these technological wonders. Progress still comes with a terrible price just as it did in the time of coal. I need to remember whose labour is providing me with my  lifestyle. What changes do I need to make so that my sympathy becomes empathy?

As usual, George Orwell says it better than anybody. Here he is in his 1937 book The Road to Wigan Pier, asking his readers not to give up using coal, but just to recognize whose labor is providing them with coal. Nowadays I would only add to the coal miner all the people behind all […]

via George Orwell & Empathy — word and silence

Catching our breath in London

Who would have thought that we would use the bustling metrolpolis of London for some downtime! But that’s how we spent the three days between NYC and our upcoming whirlwind tour of Italy. (And it did take us a while to adjust to the more compact skyline after the towering edifices of New York).

Staying in a cute  converted brewery in the financial district, we had a pretty restful few days with some unexpected  highlights.​ It was a beautiful morning to see St Paul’s in all its glory. So remarkable that it survived the Blitz intact.

London was marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London and we were staying right amongst all the action. The French troupe Compagnie Carabosse had set up a spectacular fire garden in the grounds of the Tate and the evening was perfect to wander around this spectacular sight, ohh and ahh, and try to work out how on earth they got it past health and safety regulations! I was very glad I wasn’t one of the many people bravely bringing  pre-schoolers, toddlers and dogs.

The next day dawned rainy and grey so we contented ourselves with a visit to the Tate Modern and yet again were inspired and moved by stunning modern art. I have decided there is definitely a limit as to how much I can absorb on one visit.

For our second evening we had bought tickets to A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Not knowing what to expect, we were treated to a stunning production. Strongly and successfully reliant on a set consisting of interactive screens, clever graphics, and multimedia and remaining very close to the original book, it had us gripped from the minute we sat down in front of the stark and avant grade stage. Highly recommended.

On our last night it was very wet but  we managed to find  a suitable spot, order fish and chips and mushy peas and watch a section of the 7km domino trail that followed the path of the original fire. We had spent all day watching literally hundreds of volunteers painstakingly organize and set this up and I really felt for them as the rain kept the anticipated crowds away. However once the domino fall started there were many enthusiastic chasers running from one spot to another to watch them cascade down.

In hindsight- we didn’t catch our breath that much! Looking forward to our longer stay here at the end of our trip.

Next stop Italy – the big unknown and much anticipated part of this trip. One. More. Sleep. 

New York – a photographic state of mind 

We arrived at Newark airport after a very nice flight up the front of the plane ( what a treat!). Emerging out of the terminal we were immediately assaulted by a cacophony of people, taxis, buses, heat, noise – and we were barely put of the airport. Clearly not in San Franscisco anymore! 

We managed to get an Uber and headed to the Refinery Hotel. Glass of wine while checking in set the tone for our week.

We fell in love with this city. We knew it would be fast paced, sophisticated and iconic, but we weren’t prepared for its beauty and sheer energy. 

Just too much to describe in our week there, so a few highlights and a lot of photos! 

Cycling Central Park and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges – these were both guided tours giving great insights of the city. Never thought I would be a fan of guided tours but you get such great stories and information from the guides. 

Refinery Hotel rooftop bar – the Empire State Building so close you could almost reach out and touch it.

Street food and tiny bagel shops (shades of the Seinfeld ‘Soup Nazi’ episode at one of them). 

Blues-influenced Jazz at the Rum House and then a sublime jazz quartet in our hotel lobby bar. 

The indescribable wonder of seeing iconic paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and so many others at MoMA.

Book of Mormon on Broadway. A whole new level of professionalism and passion from the performers. Watching this knowing that all around us countless other shows were simultaneously playing.

Times Square at night – so cliched but so exciting. 

Empire State Building during the day and Rockefeller Centre at night. Facing my vertigo head-on and winning! 

Ground Zero and the somber and profoundly moving 9/11 museum. 

We decided that it would be very hard to live in New York but we will definitely try to return. The song says ‘I left my heart in San Fransciso’ – I think I left a part of mine in New York

A bridge, a prison and a reunion

We departed Santa Cruz with the intention of checking out both Apple and Google HQs. We were stymied by the road system around Apple, ending up on the wrong side of six lanes – twice! Wayne blamed navigation, I blame the driver. We did get a glimpse of the building and 1 Infinity Loop roadsign. Google however was a piece of cake to find and travel around. Very unprepossessing campus for a company that influences  so much of our lives. 

Then off to San Franscisco. We were congratulating ourselves on how successfully we were manoevuring around the city, and then we hit the notorious and insanely steep roads. A four way stop sign every few hundred meters (and we still hadn’t quite got the hang of the “whoever gets there first goes first” rule) and we were very glad to finally find our hotel down by Fisherman’s Wharf. Of course after dropping the bags off we had to drive back up said streets and at one point as our under-powered rental car was required to make a hill start, we thought we would slide all the way back down.

And then we were free of the car and grabbed some lunch and a hop-on-hop-off bus to orientate ourselves. We pretty much fell in love with San Francisco from the time the bus started winding its way through some pretty iconic architecture. Through the gorgeous Golden Gate Park and then there was that bridge. The temperature must have dropped about ten degrees as we crossed but it was worth it for the views on the other side.

We had arranged to catch up with Christian for dinner and made our way to the stunning Yelp HQ in the heart of town. Slightly disconcerting to see him come out with all the other hip young coders looking more grownup and self-assured. The bandage on his hand had been replaced with a sci-fi looking  splint and he proudly showed us the pins sticking out of his healing finger. So good to put my arms around him and give him a real hug. Dinner at the Ferry Building and lots to catch up on. 

I had a brainwave to solve the tea issue and wandered to a nearby Walgrens to buy some tea bags. Feeling that some post breakfast burrito exercise was needed I decided to tackle Lombard Street (Wayne decided to stay back and watch soccer).  According to Fitbit that is 22 flights of stairs – must be very long flights! Mission accomplished and it was a wobbly legs walk back down to find the elusive tea bags. There was only find one box of Liptons  tea amongst (and I am not exaggerating) three shelves from top to bottom of coffee and coffee-related drinks. Should last Wayne a while! We then had a fun morning spent in the Haight and Ashbury hippy district. Some tie dye may have been bought, as well as a cute hat to replace my stupidly left-behind Panama. Hipster spotting also took place…
Then time to join the younger generation at MoMA  (and another real hug for a loved young person as Sophie was now with Christian) to spend the  afternoon soaking up the treasures within. After waiting so long to seriously travel, the impact of seeing such stunning creativity was quite overwelming. Burgers for dinner and a cable car ride rounded the day off nicely. 

Sunday we had a bit of a treat with a foodie tour around the permanent market at the ferry building. Delicious food and lots of background info about some of the producers. Local sourcing and sustainability  is so common now, but San Francisco was doing this long before many places so it was good to get some of the history (and taste it!). Fresh sour dough baguette, gooey cheese, perfect macarons and the most amazing autumn fruit pastry still hot from the oven.


This was in stark contrast to our afternoon – Alcatraz. History of another kind carved into this forbidding island. Tales of attempted escapes, most ending sadly. The ranger who told us these stories commented that the punishment wasn’t Alcatraz itself, that the prisoners were treated fairly well. It was being able to see, hear and even smell normal everyday existence so tantalisingly close that drove people to try and make their escape. 

I wonder what it must have been like for people in the city as well when the prison was open. It is unusual to have a prison so clearly in  view. Not only would the prisoners have been able to hear life on the mainland, I would imagine that the sound of gunshots and sirens would echo across the bay from time to time. Did they worry each time this might be the time someone escaped successfully? 

We spent the evening with a delicious  dinner at Waxman’s celebrating a raft of things – Christian’s upcoming birthday, his great first year results and Sophie’s acceptance into a prestigious UK university. Conversation ranged broad and deep – they seem much older than their teenage years and I was excited to think of where they might go and what they might do.

Monday we discovered a great little breakfast place that felt like home, and I had a San Francsico favorite, a  lavender latte (yum). In the afternoon we were privileged to get to visit Christian  at his internship. Had to sign a non disclosure agreement so can’t really say anything except that it’s a pretty cool place to spend your summer break. 

We finished our visit with the San Franscisco classic of clam bisque in a sour dough bowl (with a side of fresh sour dough…) perfect way to end and we were sad to say good bye to this beautiful city. Vibrant and funky, I hope we will get back.

Looking forward to New York – it has been a dream of mine to visit this city for a long time. I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

 A castle, a boardwalk and some seals

Travelling around an unfamiliar country means you aren’t sure what you should go to see and should miss out. To be honest I’d never heard of Hearst Castle before researching this trip but as it was basically on our way up the Coast we decided to give it a visit.

The morning was foggy as we drove into the already fairly full car park. We bought tickets and got on a bus, having no idea that the castle was high on a hill. As we drove up, the excellent recorded commentary started to weave a magical story of a castle, a zoo, acres of gardens, and of William Randolph Hearst’s desire to create something perfect from a childhood memory (Citizen Kane anyone?).

To be honest we were expecting something a bit tacky, but as the first glimpses of the castle were revealed we realised this was way more than we had been expecting. We emerged from the mist into a perfect sky marred only by a hint of smoke from the forest fires devasting the area.

We spent an enchanting hour touring the castle and its magnificent art works. Hearst had bought whole ceilings from 16th Century Italian and Spanish churches and installed them here. Crazy arrogance but ironically now available for countless visitors to come and marvel at.

 It wasn’t hard to imagine it as it had been when Hearst entertained the powerful, the beautiful and the famous. The renowned Jupiter pool had been drained for repairs but the stunning indoor pool with its gold and Murano tiles more than made up for it.

We came down feeling that we had had a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. A well-chosen stop!
A couple of miles down the Coast and we took a brief stop to marvel at the elephant seals basking in the warm sand. Such a contrast to the manicured opulence we had just left.

Then on up the endlessly winding and spectacular Pacific Coast Highway. It was still very foggy (and smoky) but we were treated to glimpses of the craggy shoreline and endless crashing surf. On the way we passed several fire staging areas and saw fire fighters merging from the forest from time to time. It was a very sobering thought to think that not too far away from where we were driving people were losing their homes.

We were planning on spending some time in Carmel-by-the-Sea but had managed to chose the week of the Monterey Car Show. After a slightly nerve-wracking drive through the narrow streets trying to avoid Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Aston Martins, we grabbed a quick burger and heading back onto the relative peace and quiet of the open road. We arrived in Santa Cruz for one night in a delightful renovated Victorian Villa. Gorgeous. 

I knew that Santa Cruz had a board walk so we ventured out to see it. I was thinking of a boardwalk like back home – a nice walk along the beach, maybe see some more seals and other wildlife. To my delight it was a completely over the top carnival space – wooden roller coaster, merry go round, gondola, sideshows, arcades, lights. I love stuff like this! It was like being transported  back a hundred years.

A delicious cioppino at a funky restaurant on the wharf – fresh lobster, mussels and crab and I was in a very happy (if messy)place.
We walked back though the now packed board walk, resisted the urge to try and win an enormous teddy bear, grabbed a root beer float and decided we liked Santa Cruz very much. 

So the adventure starts…

And we are off. After a surreal 24 hours where we were completely packed, my insanely long to-do before we go list was all ticked off, lots of meals in the freezer for the young man left behind  (so that theoretically he won’t exist on pizza alone), hugs given, grandkids kissed, and goodbyes said – we set off on our longest time away ever.

Great flight to LA (love our national carrier). 

First challenge was on arrival. It was a  biggy: learning to drive on the wrong side of the road as we headed up to our first stop, Santa Barbara. We would find over the next few days that driving and navigating unfamiliar territory while ignoring every instinct to drive on the left is a very good barometer of your marriage health. We came out pretty well with only a few tense/terse moments. We drove up the coast and the weather was glorious, the sea sparkling and the car staying on the correct side of the road!

Slightly jet-lagged we got to our first rather quaint inn. Larger than life and very friendly hosts lifted this above its old fashioned decor and noisy fan (no air-con). A quick change and out to explore the beautiful waterfront. Coming from winter to this just made our hearts sing – so balmy and a stunning sunset. Breakfast in the morning was a very quirky and slightly random collection of pastries and cereals with our hosts proudly showing us the Vegemite. Guess we are going to have to get used to being mistaken for Australians! Unfortunate his experience with the habits of Antipodeans didn’t extend to much of a selection of teas rather than coffee.
The morning was still and misty and we spent a couple of hours walking along the almost deserted beach, enjoying the shrouded shapes of boats moored along the way. The pier loomed towards us as the sun started to come out and we decided it was time to get back on the road.
And then we were back on the road – a little more confident this time. Road trip music was added. We drove up through the hills which were magnificent. Steep climbs revealing deep valleys and dramatic drops. Everything was brown and dry due to the drought.

San Luis Obispo was our next stop. Slightly inland, dry, hot – wine country! And that was the order of the afternoon, some lunch in the very pretty town and then a spot of wine tasting. We did choose the first vineyard purely because it was a right hand turn in from a very busy road, but it was an excellent choice. Pretty nice day to sit and enjoy delicious Californian wines. Giant pizza for dinner (just a tad overkill on the toppings) and then we were delighted to find Olympic coverage of some NZ athletes on our TV. 

Breakfast again was very eclectic. The inn was run by an English lady so we had scrambled eggs added to the collection of pastries and bagels, along with salsa. Again Wayne was discriminated against by being a tea drinker. This was to become a familiar experience as our trip progressed. 

And then we were on the road again heading up to Santa Cruz via the famous Pacific Coast Highway. But more about that next time.