Monthly Archives: August 2012

Who are you calling a tramp?

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Where: Lake Waikaremoana, New Zealand

Plate of food: Seeing as we had to bring all of our supplies with us for our party of 15+, I don’t have a lot to say about the food. The area is very remote and the accommodation very basic. We brought everything in by boat: our food, the cooking fuel, and the two hot plates we used. I will say, however, that nothing tastes better after an 8 hour hike than a bowl full of instant noodles. In fact, that may be the ONLY time that instant noodles taste great.

Also, “scroggin” was along on every hike we did; this is the New Zealand word for trail mix consisting mostly of nuts and dried fruit. I decided my scroggin needed some pizzazz so I added wasabi peas. Do you know these? They are dried and roasted green peas with a dusting of spicy wasabi powder that will tickle your sinuses (that’s what we look for in a snack, right?). Needless to say, I was alone in my passion for wasabi peas. Wimps, I say! (Just not to their faces.)

The best: The New Zealand walking tracks. “Tramping” as it is called in New Zealand (hiking to the rest of us who don’t want to sound promiscuous) is very popular and there are well-maintained tracks to explore all over the country. Lake Waikaremoana (“Sea of Rippling Waters” in Maori) is special because of its 46 km track around the remote lake set in amongst spectacular native bush.

This is waiting for you in New Zealand.

Our first hike was from where we left the cars to our hut which would be home for the next few days. There was no road access. Some of our group went by boat to bring in the food while the rest of us ambled across a swing bridge and through marshes to reach the lakeside hut. It was composed of two modest wooden buildings, one with a communal cooking/eating area and one with 40 bunk beds. It was surrounded by dense forest and flax bushes with views out over the lake.

No cars. No electricity. No cell phone coverage. The real New Zealand. Unspoilt.

Lush brush. Green scene. Boss of moss. Good woods. (What’s wrong with me?)

From there we had a number of day hikes which were incredible in their variety: some tracks climbed up great rocky bluffs while others forged through long golden grass near the water’s edge. At times it was all moss and shade, at others it was slabs of rock and sun glinting off water. All the hikes we did were satisfyingly lengthy and just demanding enough to make it a huge relief to tug off  your boots at the end of the day. And tuck into those instant noodles.

Story that needs to be told: On the final day, 4 of us decided to take a boat across the lake to another point along the track. The motor boat picked us up bright and early – most of the hut had not woken up yet – again, I say wimps. We had to wade into the lake to get on board the boat. I gasped as my feet plunged into the icy water (I heard you whisper “Wimp”).

Gaily waving! 8 hours later it would be a different story.

We jetted across the silvery water to the distant shore. The air was cold and damp, but the sun was shining. The water taxi dropped us off, assuring us that he would be at the pick-up point at the pre-arranged time that afternoon. It was imperative that he pick us up before dark.

From the shore, we climbed up through dark, mossy, otherworldly forests with trees twisting and towering above us. Ferns and fungi luxuriated in the misty undergrowth. At the highest point was a trig marker (1180m) next to a small hut where we rested for a bit before continuing down along the bluff. This rocky outcrop allowed us breathtaking views out across the shimmering lake in one direction and , in the other, views across the green hills of the North Island. The path was steep and the bluff dropped off suddenly to the bush below carpeting the ground all the way to the water’s edge.

View of the lake from Panekiri bluff

We finally descended off the bluff back into the forest and the track widened. After 8 or so hours of hiking, we reached the lake shore and looked around for the boat. It wasn’t there, but we were a bit early so we sat on some rocks and took inventory: sore feet, one grazed knee, not much scroggin left, but absolutely exhilarated by our day’s adventure.

Still no boat, so we took some photos. Took our shoes and socks off and dipped our toes into the cool water.

Still no boat, so we took turns peering out across the water. Raise hand to your brow, squint, repeat.

Still no boat. Now we started to worry. With no cell phone coverage, we had no way of reaching anyone. We had no way to walk back to the hut because that would take days. Where was the boat? What happened to the boat? Where’s the bloody boat?!

No panic yet! The thought of spending the night in the bush had not yet crossed our minds! Yay!

More than anything we were aware that the rest of our group, including some of our parents, were expecting us. Or rather had been expecting us half an hour ago. We realized with dread that each passing minute was another minute for them to think the worst.  As spellbinding as the isolation is, it also poses a real threat if something goes wrong.

With growing concern and darkening shadows as the sun set, we stood and paced along the shore. Suddenly we heard voices and saw the boat bobbing next to a pier, not even 200m from us.

I’m not sure if the water taxi guys wanted to hug us or wring or necks (ditto for our parents), but they were pleased to see us, and perplexed as to how we missed each other. They had been moored there for the entire time and we had sat just on the other side of some bushes from them for an hour at least. It sounds unbelievable, I know. They were only able to wait another 5 minutes before they were going to leave for the night. Now THAT would have sucked.

Relieved and exhausted, we arrived back at the hut to a mixed welcome; of course, there was great relief that we were okay, but there were a fair amount of frayed nerves, too. Fair enough. We were pretty frayed ourselves.

It had been magical to be separated from the world for the day; alone with our thoughts, the fresh air, the inspiring views. It was as if we were the only 4 people in New Zealand. Fantastic. But the truth is that at the end of any great experience, you long for your people, for that boat to safely return you to the candlelight and the warmth of the camp stove, to the well-deserved glass of wine and charades by torchlight.

Both the remoteness and the company are sweeter because of the existence of the other.

Leaving Waikaremoana…reluctantly

Take a moment and watch this video as it gives a great sense of the Waikaremoana track, and even shows the hut we stayed in. Plus, you can snigger/swoon over the Kiwi accent.

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Irish you were here

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Where: County Waterford, Ireland

This 12th century tower was used by monks to escape Viking attacks. Not sure that would make me feel very secure.

Plate of food: We ate very well as we made our way through the loveliest of towns on the southeastern edge of Ireland: Waterford, Ardmore, Dungarvan, and Lismore. It was in Lismore, after touring the expansive castle gardens, that we wandered along Main Street searching for good grub and found O’Brien Chop House. A very small garden is concealed behind the building and this is where we were fortunate enough to find ourselves sitting.

The garden is slightly wild and overgrown with only a handful of tables nestled here and there, but it is exactly where you want to find yourself on a sunny Sunday in Ireland.

What with the sunshine and the charming village and the secret garden, I felt compelled to mark the occasion with a seasonal cocktail. (That’s normal, isn’t it?) The good people at O’Brien had anticipated this and had just the tonic for me: a rhubarb bellini. Rhubarb! Bellini! Fizzy, summery, celebratory. Yes, please.

I should really have a signature cocktail every Sunday…hmmm.

The menu was simple and rustic. The roast pork I ordered was flavorful, tender, and perfectly paired with a fresh apple sauce. Matt had fantastic roast beef with an enormous Yorkshire pudding (of which I ate half…or slightly more). It was as if lunch had been cooked by our Irish grandmother…who had taken some culinary courses over the winter months. What I mean to say is that it was traditional, comforting food, but with a delicate, discerning touch. Fabulous.

The best: The scenery in County Waterford. I think the County motto is “We will knock your socks off with our scenery”…or something like that.

We drove through vibrant green fields full of placid sheep and over rolling hills until – BAM – we would suddenly glimpse the bright blue sea and golden sandy beaches. Who knew they were hiding these beaches in Ireland? Sneaky devils.

The villages were composed of all the great things that rural Ireland has to offer: cheerily painted houses, cobblestones, friendly people, church spires, flowers in bloom, and pubs. (Not necessarily in that order!)

Imagine curling your toes into bright green seaweed on the rocks at low tide. Imagine the scent of velvety red roses in the castle gardens. Imagine the sound of fishing boats in small harbours gently tugging at their moorings. Those are all sensations that bring me right back to that warm June in Ireland.

You know what else takes me right back? Hearing any Disney Princess song, as we unfortunately had those on repeat in the car for our entire journey. Arguably, not County Waterford’s fault….

Story that needs to be told: This trip was full of surprises; the best of all was how extraordinary the area was. Ireland has so many secret delights and we felt smug that we had “discovered” one on this particular weekend. But there were other surprises.

  1. Surprise! Our son can sit. Not a big deal? I beg to differ. You take this for granted as you sit at your computer reading this, but when you are 7 months old and your head is the same size and weight as a bowling ball – sitting is HUGE. And he did it. Right there on one of those lovely Irish beaches.
  2. Surprise! Our holiday suddenly got all “Luxury”. We checked into our humble holiday cottage which was…adequate (that’s as generous as I can be). After looking around, bringing our bags in, and carbon dating the Formica in the kitchenette, I went to ask about a baby cot. Rather nonchalantly the woman behind the desk spun a key ring around her finger and asked if I would like to see a different cottage. At first I turned her down because I did not see the point in relocating. She spun the key ring one more time and said the magic words “It’s bigger and newer”. Done. Let me twist that key right off your finger. Our upgraded cottage was spacious (5 bedroom!), modern, and quiet. Now that’s how I like to start a holiday.
  3. Surprise! We’re moving to Brazil. Yup. There we were in our car with the kids strapped in and the Disney tunes cranked, ready to set off for a day of exploring, when Matt’s phone rang. We pulled into the car park of the hotel so he could take the call. I will never forget the tone of his voice that made me take notice, the morning sunshine glinting on the bay, and the giddy way I paced outside of the car until I could hear the official news: “We’re going to Rio!” Surprise. And the next adventure begins.

“Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.” – Irish Proverb

Provence Perfection

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Where: Le Castellet, France

Plate of food: Let’s be honest, there is something wrong on a cellular level with a person who does not enjoy the food in France. My cells, clearly, are all in working order because I really only go to France to eat and drink. Three meals per day is wholly inadequate for me when I am there.

On this occasion, I ate lunch at the beautifully situated Auberge de l’Ormeau. (I won’t begin to explain how much Google Map street view spy work went into finding out that name after all these years.) This restaurant is tucked in a small, quiet square overlooking the fields of Provence. We sat on the shady outdoor patio to escape the early summer heat.

Lovely setting for our lunch.

You know about my menu-stoppers, so we can add two more to the list: scallops and foie gras. Here, in Le Castellet, I had both of these on one plate. Too much, you say? Too rich, you ask? Yes. Probably. But when you are sitting in the most picturesque village in the world, with a glass of rose wine in your hand, and family around you, why not risk gout? Totally worth it.

The foie gras and scallops were seared to perfection and presented on a base of mixed salad leaves. A balsamic reduction was drizzled over top, lending a nice tang to balance the richness of the dish. Simple and superb.

The best: While we wandered the narrow, winding streets of Le Castellet, we stumbled upon a small store that stopped us in our tracks. It glowed with warm, golden colours, and lured us with sugary sweet scents. The store was La Cure Gourmande. After crossing the threshold we were welcomed by shelves stacked with vintage biscuit tins and blocks of nougat wrapped in cellophane. It was like a candy store for adults – adults with refined taste and a credit card.

Some people skydive while on holiday. I track down French biscuit shops. I still call it an “extreme sport”.

Each tin held a different flavour delight:  coconut, chocolate, orange flower, raspberry, fig….all of them delicate and buttery. These are the biscuits that you imagine savouring with a cup of strong coffee in the afternoon…in your Parisian apartment…with sunlight and French jazz pouring in through your window. Your biscuits do that for you, right? Good.

Nougat is a favourite of mine and La Cure Gourmand had some of the best – wonderfully sweet, chewy, and soft. Each block of white nougat was dotted with jewels: cherries, figs, lemon peel, and pistachios; as pleasing to the eye as to the palate.

We left the store with bags of treats and big smiles. Then, we sat in the shady courtyard and ate biscuits and nougat. Remember what I said about gout? Again, worth it.

Story that needs to be told: As you can imagine, a village like Le Castellet does not offer up dramatic stories. How can it when it is so perfectly charming and bucolic? But Le Castellet’s story is one that could be told about countless French villages with their patisseries, their colorful shutters, their…Frenchness.

We sat under an old gnarled tree in a small square in the village. Surrounding us were hole-in-the-wall shops selling creamy bricks of soap, earthy brown pottery, and bunches of lavender.

Being the end of May, we were some of the only visitors that day. It was quiet and peaceful. As we sat, we were joined by a friendly dog, a golden retriever, who sat patiently waiting for a pat or a rub behind the ears.

Above us, a lady leaned out of her second floor apartment window and assured us the dog was gentle. She called him Buster which is a name made infinitely better by her French accent: “Boostehrr”.

(You just tried that one out, didn’t you?)

She lit a cigarette and continued talking to us about her life in the village. It was as if we had met her years ago and were merely getting re-acquainted. Buster settled down at our feet like he knew that this would take awhile. As she talked, a cat leapt up onto the sill beside the woman and wove between her elbows. He glanced at us, at Buster, and retreated back into the dark apartment.

One of the shops in the village square, A.K.A Buster’s domain.

I love to think of that woman and her lovely dog. It sounds strange, but I love to think of her leaning out of that window and striking up a conversation with whomever is sitting on that bench. I love to think of “Boostehrr” and who he has befriended over the years. I love to think that life ambles along in Le Castellet no matter where I am.

I love that thought because that means it will be waiting there for me whenever I manage to return. It’s comforting.

And return I will, just as soon as I get this gout under control.

“Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.” 
― Tennessee Williams

Something stinks in the fridge

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Wowzer, I’ve been away from this (and you!) for a long time. It feels like when you return from a trip and find that the yoghurt you left in the fridge has gone feral, the mail piled up and got rained on, the house is stuffy, and your cat is being aloof (rather that than going feral like the yoghurt). We need to clean out the fridge, open the windows, do some laundry, and reintroduce ourselves. Y’know? Great, you deal with the cat…

So my disappearance from the blog was due to a lovely holiday in Canada where I did so many wonderful things it really deserves its own post. I was a tourist in my own hometown and that felt great. Have you done this? I took in all the sights and was reminded of how spectacular my native city is. Consequently I was perhaps overly gung-ho, exclaiming loudly and repeatedly, much to my family’s chagrin. It was just so…FANTASTIC.

  • I attended the Centenary of the Calgary Stampede. That’s big, people, HUGE. And there were cowboys everywhere which helps…a lot.
  • I ate amazing food: salted caramel ice cream, Chinese bbq pork buns, coconut crusted shrimp, bison ribs, corn on the cob, homebaking, mini cinnamon donuts…and I did not gain a pound. Amazing. Aaaaand potentially untrue; I don’t have a scale to confirm. Oh well.
  • I drove through the prairies in all their flat, expansive, yellow canola glory.
  • I went to the BEST Canada Day celebration I have ever witnessed AND I won the 50/50 draw! Can you believe it? Let’s just say, it paid for my holiday. Thankyouverymuch.
  • I reveled in the comfort, hilarity, support, and ease of being with family. Be thankful if that is something you have access to regularly.

I’ve been back for a few weeks now, but it took some time to convince my spirit that returning to reality in Rio was a good thing. I think I have it (mostly) convinced now.

So with life ticking along nicely, it is time to get this blog going again, too. I’m ready. Thanks for not forgetting about me! I’ll pay you back by posting gratuitous photos of those cowboys. You’re welcome.