Christchurch – a burden not yet lifted

We were lucky enough to be in the city and was able to enjoy the opening ceremony of the ICC Cricket World Cup. It was a great event, free to the public, to experience and be able to say ‘I was there’.

During the speeches the Mayor of the city gave an impassioned vision of a community reborn, ready to over come it’s trials and to move forward into the future. Reference was made to losing out during the last Rugby World Cup and that it was only fit and proper that Christchurch should play a prominent role in this the 2015 cricket World Cup.

Having spent a couple of days in the city I have seen what has already been achieved and the progress under way to rebuild. The ‘container’ shopping mall is imaginative, fun and positive. For me however there are still far too many large buildings fenced off, open spaces where buildings once stood and now serve as ‘open air’ car parks. There is still a very great deal to do.

We visited the ‘Quake’ visitor experience (the word ‘attraction’ would be wrong on too many levels) and listened to a video where normal, regular people told their stories of that day… It was very moving and humbling.

I have visited many quake prone cities and the concept has always been very theoretical. However here in Christchurch seeing the ongoing effect of 30+ seconds of nature reeking havoc on us frail humans and listening to the stories of people at work, teaching children, having lunch on that day and what happened to them made the whole thing so very very real. Much more real than visiting LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Italy or the Greek Islands.

Despite the enthusiastic protestations of the Mayor of the city the city will need to move on. At some point in the future, but not even close to being now, the container shopping mall will need to be dismantled, the 185 empty white chairs of the earthquake memorial relocated , the Cathedral re dedicated and a host of other things will need to happen before the burden of the 2011 earthquake is finally lifted.

185 people lost their lives, many more had their lives changed forever. Four years is scant time to heal those collective scars, for the individuals no time will be sufficient.

I wish the people of Christchurch well, I feel privileged to have visited the city at this time. I hope I am able to return again in a few years and see what the people of the city have achieved for themselves.

Best wishes

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Queenstown…..everything you expect from New Zealand

If you asked a bunch of people to describe New Zealand and amalgamated their thoughts I am pretty sure you would end up with Queenstown.

A small low rise town on the shores of a glacier fed lake surrounded by stark rocky mountains some of which even in the height of the summer capped with snow and ice.

The views are spectacular, the 100 plus year old steam driven boat plying its trade across the blue, green waters of the lake just adds to the sense of being somewhere very special.

At this level you can not help but love Queenstown.

The 21st century does however intrude… The town, especially the streets and walkways around the lakeside are festooned with restaurants, bars, shops selling ‘outdoor’ clothing and outlets wanting you to jump off the mountains in various ways, or walk across them or ‘enjoy’ a thrill ride across the water. The other manifestation of the world in which we live are the swarms of tourists filling the town.

The town has a slightly unreal artificial feel, too many enterprises catering for visitors and squeezing the life out of anything that might be deemed authentic. The alarm bells ring when you see groups of middle-aged men in golfing shirts either at breakfast or in the bars in the evening. The thought of creating manicured fairways in such a natural wilderness just seems wrong to me. Then again I belong to the half of the world that thinks chasing a ball around for four or so hours a pretty stupid idea….

More alarm bells ring on seeing coaches disgorge swarms of visitors all of who insist on taking pictures of everything that moves, or doesn’t move for that matter and push past and push in at every opportunity invading my personal space and who are absorbed in what they wish to do… Then again I am a Brit so such behaviour is bound to annoy me!

Don’t get me wrong, if anyone wants to visit New Zealand and get a fix of supreme natural beauty this is a great place to start.

We got out of town to catch a ride to the little community of Glenorchy located at the head of the lake which acts as a gateway for serious walkers to get into the mountains and tracks. The only evidence of sight seeing tourists here was almost just us!

We visited February 2015 at the height of Summer. Queenstown is also a ski resort, it would be interesting to come back in winter and get a sense of the vibe then. I am sure it would be different.

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Qantas gets it so wrong and so right…

All in the space of 20 minutes….

This is a rant so please forgive the indulgence.

So I left the UK to fly half away across the world to meet my daughter in Sydney to fly on together to Queenstown, New Zealand on QF121 on Sunday 8th February 2015.

Being the organised person that I am, weeks if not months ago I selected seats for Helen and on on flight QF121 in 17a and 17c on the basis we may end up with an empty seat between us and if not I was a confident a passenger would willing trade a middle seat for an aisle or a window.

So at the gate in I was told I had been moved to 11c. When I queried the matter and explained I hadn’t seen my daughter for 5 weeks and I had very deliberately selected seats I was referred to the gate supervisor.

This lady was addressing another matter in relation to a non English speaker sat in an emergency row was clearly not coping with the pressure. I could have coped with her putting a hand in my face and telling me to be quiet because she had 3 things to deal with. I was a little upset at the ‘you either sit in the seats we have now put you in or you don’t fly’ statement. But really has led me to embark on this rant is the fact after I emphasised the point that I had booked (and paid) for these seats weeks ago she first radioed the dispatcher to reallocate me back to my original seat, reissued the the boarding card in my original seat and told me everything was fine and then in the time it took me to get from the gate to the plane she had re-radioed the dispatcher and told her to intercept me before boarding and place me back in 11c.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Angelina (or a name similar), deliberately lied to me to kick the problem down the road to get rid of me. Since when has telling a customer a deliberate and such obvious lie been considered acceptable customer service practice?

So now I am upset at been moved without consultation, being lied to and I am stuck at the bottom of the stairs of an aircraft ( having spent the previous 24 hours flying from London) with a female dispatcher basically shrugging her shoulders at being dumped on and a male supervisor basically unwilling and unable to do anything to do anything apart from saying he needs to get everyone sat down because he needs to get the plane away…..stitched up good and proper.

So once airborne I ask to speak to the cabin services manager. Now this young lady, Susie , got the service ethic totally right. I had already realised there was no easy or viable solution to solve the problem and opened my comments with such an observation. Susie bent down to my level, gave me excellent eye contact , listened and emphasised, didn’t promise anything she couldn’t deliver and over the space of the next 1/2 hour or so made a bit of a fuss of me and my daughter (now sat 6 rows in front).

Susie got it right, Angelina – or what ever her name is got it so, so wrong…

She has a representative of Qantas deliberately set out to mislead me to get rid of a problem….

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Finally the penny drops….

It’s not that I haven’t been sleeping well, I have. But there has been an ‘air’ that has kept me if not on edge then a little sharp.

Then of course the penny dropped. Over the years I have done many things but probably at heart I am an Event Manager. For those of you who are Event Managers, know an Event Manager or lives with an Event Manager will know that as a breed we are compelled to behave in a certain way. To tidy the untidy, to plan incessantly, to constantly think about ‘what next’. There must be something a little odd about people who arrive at a restaurant, bar, cinema or an amazing vantage point with stunning views over the sea, water or mountains and whose first instinct is to think about…. what happens next? how will we leave? by what means? where do we need to get to, by when? Yes that is an event manager.

So when that most precious of all things, one of our children decides to embark on a trip that involves four times zones, eight flights, two ferries, two separate drives of a best part of a 1,000 miles and a raft of airport to town and town to airport transfers and doing all of this +4, +10, +10.5 and +11 hours from the UK…. no wonder I have felt a little wired….the desire to dabble is almost irresistible….ok I will fess up… delete the word ‘almost’.

Oh well….

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To infinity and beyond….

Watching Hellen on her travels brings back memories….

pj on bridge

HGJ on bridge

You could say a sense of deja vu…..

My trip was March 2010, Hellen’s a few days ago.

She is now going to places far beyond I got to in Australia. I am however looking forward to meeting her in Sydney airport next month for our joint adventure to New Zealand…maybe not infinity…. but certainly beyond (Australia)

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Same place…. a different time.

Tonight I am in the German city of Dusseldorf. This is my 3rd visit probably in as many months.  I quite like the vibe of the city, there is a pleasant mixture of old and new buildings and a real sense of its inhabitants wanting to have some fun and enjoy life.

My first visit was in the summer, the days long and warm. Natives of the city enjoying socialising outside in pavement cafes and bars. My last visit was in September, this year a warm and dry month,  and again people were on the streets, drinking, chatting and laughing with each other – enjoying the good fortune of being able to be outside at the start of Autumn.

Now this Monday evening darkness has raced upon us against the clock with which we measure time and the wind delivers a bite there are a lot less people brave enough to embrace the terraces of quiet restaurants. But some there are, wrapped up with woollen hats and scarves, determined to squeeze to the very last every vestige of opportunity not to retreat into the burrows of buildings and winter’s hibernation.

I am sat in a hotel bar, the music is pacy and whilst not loud enough to prevent a conversation is far from soothing for this time of the evening. The back wall of the long bar illuminates the many sentries of bottles.

Lights elsewhere in the bar are low, creating washes of colour across the tables. This is a place for winter. The outside world of no consequence to the huddles of people drinking brandies and whiskies to warm them through.

Next month I will return. The days will fade oh so quickly, and the people will have fully retreated into a world of artificial light and warmth. The place will be the same but very much in a different time….

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I want to go to sleep….

I started this trip last Sunday needing to stay awake, now exactly one week later I am in exactly in the same situation, in the same location but for different reasons. It has been a long week, some amazing experiences, awesome food (I am in North America I feel empowered to be able to use the word ‘awesome’) and met some pretty cool people (for use of the word cool see comment re awesome…).

Tomorrow I go home, but not until the evening, I want to go to sleep but need to stay up to check in a little later, but sleep is not really any option. The same problem arises just last week – sleep early,  wake early…

Had a good wander around Gas Town and Yale Town yesterday,  Granville Island today, walked a good few miles and developed a much better understanding of the geography moving around on my own. Spent the afternoon trying to write up my notes, observations and developing some recommendations for a viable solution. About two hours ago the brain started to turn to mush so I quit turned on the TV and started to watch baseball. The crowd is making quite a racket, KC appear to be beating LAA 8 to 2 and they are going into the 7th…. what ever that means…

I have stuff to do, but not now, now is wrong. I should have time tomorrow – an experience to try and a last night party to see and then I have some time before needing to go to the airport.

I want to go to sleep, but not quite yet!

 

 

 

 

 

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The sun shines on the North Shore

Without doubt Vancouver is a city set in a stunning location, encircled by what are currently green covered mountains and water. The regular hum of floatplanes going about their daily business and a people who are secure in who they are and carry themselves in quite, non aggressive confidence that they know they live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Today the sun has lit up the North Shore, fluffy white clouds are drifting across of the mountains opposite, only the workman like passage of floatplanes are disturbing the water.

Fresh coffee, excellent pastries….. homemade mango jam…. this is the way to start the day.

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I need to stay awake

By my calculation I have been awake around twenty two and half hours, but I still need to stay awake. It is nearly 10pm local. Local being Vancouver time and I have flown in from London, England.

Writing this is a part of the strategy to remain awake, sat in the lobby bar of the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, with a beer, a note book and my laptop.  The flight over consisted of two movies, a read of the Sunday Times and over the nine hours of the flight 4 small bottles of wine and a G&T. There was also a small doze somewhere Greenland and one of Canada’s northern islands. A doze not a sleep so I maintain the twenty two and half hours claim for wakefulness.

The general rule I follow when travelling across time zones is always, always go to local time. So I need to stay awake, otherwise I will be up even earlier tomorrow than I am already going to be.

There is nothing worse than waking up at stupid o’clock in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep. All you do is end up waiting. Waiting until it is respectable, or near respectable to be around the public areas of the hotel, for the cleaners to have finished their work and for the overnight staff to be thinking of going home.

A few years ago in New Orleans, pre Katrina, I was up early and went for a walk down to the Mississippi and found what turned out to be a reasonably famous cafe for a coffee and cake and some very early hour. I remember rising sun breathing warmth in the day and people enjoying the freshness of the morning before the stickiness of the Louisiana summer started to bite.

My stand out memory of that morning was the reaction of the cafe customers to a troop of men in fatigues out an early morning run in formation and doing that american thing of singing responses to the sergeants refrain. To a man, and women, the coffee drinking cafe customers stood and applauded the men who were serving the flag. They stood again twenty or so minutes later when the men returned.

As a Brit it is a little hard to fathom this overt display of patriotism. It seems too far over the top. The apparent sincerity of their display confusing. If a bunch of Brits stood up and applauded soldiers running past the first instinct would be that they were taking the Michael. I guess that display that morning was a good example that despite sharing our language Americans are indeed foreign.

It was an interesting morning, that day in New Orleans alongside the Mississippi.

The time is now 10.35pm, I no long need to stay awake. I can finish my beer, sign my check, publish this drivel and take myself off to hopefully a long a peaceful sleep.

Bye bye for now.

🙂

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There is a plan……

Spent an hour with my daughter Helen to start the process of trying to work out what we have time for when we are in the US in August. Three cities – New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Last night I think we nailed the basic outline for New York City – a bit of water based sight seeing, a stroll down Wall Street and around Washington Square – paying our respects at the 9/11 memorial to regular tourist stuff  in Mid-Town with visits to Macey’s, Times Sq, Broadway by way of the Empire State, Grand Central Station with a side salad of cocktails at the Plaza and a stroll around Central Park.

There are a few other things on our list to try and fit in but seasoned travellers will recognise that the words ‘New York City’, ‘Visit’ and ‘August’ and not often seen in close proximity……

So New York sorted now on to San Francisco… so lets see Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, China…..

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