Tuesday, 25 December 2018

What I have been reading -1

Polish Girl by Monika Wisniewska.
Subtitle; In Pursuit of the English Dream.
I am the sort of traveller who chooses to have a good book within reach. On mega air journeys I prefer a good read rather than squint at an airline screen fixed to the seat in front. If the book is a ``page turner’’ then all the better.  Polish Girl is one of those.

Monika Wisniewska has a master’s degree in EU Economic Relations. She is also an accomplished English speaker. So equipped, it should have been easy to find agreeable employment in one’s adopted country. For our heroine it was not. She gets menial employment at an airport restaurant. Management is not accommodating and work colleagues seemingly have few interests outside money and drinking parties. When homesick she wishes to visit her wonderful Mom in Poland. But her wages are insufficient to purchase the air ticket. Despite her feelings of angst threatening to break her spirit, she hangs in, finding better employment and comfortable lodgings. She is also keen to discover the perfect man to share her life with. She has several relationships. Some offer commendable highlights before turning to custard. So well does she pen her words, I am quickly discovering fault lines in some of her suiters.
Her story begins with the end of her most cherished relationship as her possessions are returned to Poland. The section is headed; ``the path to paradise begins in hell,’’ a quote from Dante Alighieri. Sometime previously she meets John at dancing classes. Things begin well but he is struggling with a messy divorce that appears to have no settlement. I get an inkling John is not being as honest as he should be. He is well-moneyed but losing much of it to the demands of his estranged wife and their son.
When John gets new employment he has Monika move with him to a villa near Amsterdam. It promises to be the beginnings of a new life but while John enjoys many business trips, Monika is left at home. She fills her time keeping the villa looking perfect for John’s infrequent homecomings. She asks herself, how many times she needs to clean the same windows. John has promised to help her find employment but continually reneges. This understandably does not suit our well-qualified outgoing Monika.
Eventually Monika gives John the ultimatum to exclusively commit his life to her. He opts out reciting vague unconvincing reasons.  Monika finds solace in an ability to love herself and her own company.
The English dream is finally derailed with Brexit. The vote was partly a racist one wishing to curtail the free movement of people between EU countries. (Blog writer’s opinion.) Monika discovers an unfriendly attitude from some former colleagues.
Polish Girl is Wisniewska’s first book. She published it herself, presumably via Amazon. It is available as an e-book or paperback. It is recommended. A delightful ``page turner.’’ In my dreams I am likely to wish I had met a Monika Wisniewska in my younger life and offered the perfect relationship. I say ``in my dreams’’ as my track record has, sadly, had flaws.
Polish Girl storytelling allows the reader to be occasionally intrigued by snippets of Polish life and culture.
If Wisniewska is an upcoming Polish woman writer, she is not alone. Another Polish woman, Olga Tokarczuk, has written a book Flights.  It was the winner of the 2018 Booker Prize.
Maybe something wonderful happens when a Polish girl empties her mind with pen and paper. Or, more correctly, with fingers dancing on a keyboard.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Iceland’s take on religion
Iceland has been dubbed the world’s most religious Country.
Statics of regular church goers, however, suggest Iceland is little different from other Western countries including New Zealand.  Eighty per cent of Icelanders claim to be Lutheran, modelled on Martin Luther’s 16th century version of Protestantism. The principal Lutheran cathedral is the Hallgrimskikirkja a landmark of the island’s Capital, Reykjavik. The striking wood and concrete structure is named after the seventeenth-century religious poet, Hallgrimur Petursson.


 Its space shuttle-like design has divided Reykjavik citizens over the years. Its much visited interior is distinguished by its organ having 5275 pipes, maybe more than any other cathedral’s King of Instruments.

Christianity was introduced to Iceland in about 1000 AD.
The King of Norway had dispatched missionaries to Iceland. Christianity clashed with the belief in pagan Norse gods, dividing Iceland. It was resolved, according to legend, at Thingvellir a popular stopping place for tourists. About an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, it is a geological curiosity where tourists walk through a cleft of lava created by the shifting of two tectonic plates, the Eurasian to the east and North American to the West. 

This dramatic landscape was the unlikely site of the world’s first democracy, the Althing. Chiefs from all over Iceland gathered here to discuss matters of mutual interest. The designated speaker stood in a spot where his voice was best amplified by natural acoustics. When a debate was in progress about Iceland adopting Christianity a runner arrived with the news a volcanic eruption was sending lava flow towards the farm of one the debaters. Surely a sign their Norse gods were unhappy. Further debate concluded volcanic eruptions were a natural phenomenon in Iceland and the Althing adopted Christianity.
Christianity as the official Icelandic religion, introduced the concept of Hell. Hell and volcanoes became partners in doom –one as imaginary as the other was real.
 But Christianity also opened Iceland to more cultural exchange, particularly from Nordic countries.
Iceland has many delightful Scandinavia-style wooden churches scattered through rural landscapes. One on our travel schedule was Skalholt. It is larger than most Iceland churches and designated a cathedral. The present church was completed in 1963.

 Former churches had been destroyed by fire. From 1056 to 1785, Skalholt was also a political and cultural centre.
It continued as an episcopal see following the Reformation when Skalholt became Lutheran.
Catholicism came to an infamous end at Skalholt in 1550 when Bishop Jon Arason was executed along with his two sons.

                               Interior, Skalholt Cathedral

                               Bishop Jon Arason's stone coffin 
The much-visited church and surrounds became an archaeological excavation site. Along with the cathedral were a school, monastery, accommodation dormitories and an extensive farming smithy. 
 The stone coffin of Bishop Jon Arason is on display in the church basement. A crack across the stone is said to have been caused by heat. It was in a former church on the site when it caught fire.
    Many cultural events such as concerts are held in Skalholt. Foremost of these is the Summer Concerts program in July, in which prominent classical musicians and choirs are invited to perform.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Iceland 2 –Identifying Landmarks
Iceland is the result of 64 million years of continual transformation and rebirth. It has been shaped by the unpredictable antics of volcanoes, glaciers and earthquakes.
Iceland precariously sits astride two opposing tectonic plates. The island expands at a similar rate as its coastline erosion.
I gleaned these facts, and others, from Perlan Wonders of Iceland exhibition setup in an extensive complex overlooking the capital, Reykjavik. Amongst the extensive exhibitions over four levels is an ice cave made from glacier ice.

 The top floor is appropriately a revolving café/restaurant. Glancing through the facts of Iceland I could not help thinking they could have been referring to New Zealand.
Wonders of Iceland was a great experience but did not quite match the excitement of venturing to the real thing. Our experience included joining two guided day tours; one with Gray Line and the other with Reykjavik Excursions. Both were excellent. Guides were informative.
Gray Line treated us to the Golden Circle highlights to the east of the capital. A history lesson was at Bingvellir where we could walk through a cleft formed by an active fault line. It is claimed this wild site was where the Icelandic State was born during Viking times. Curiously, that inaugural so-called `first parliament’ agreed to introduce Christianity to Iceland. During the proceedings the ground violently shook with an earthquake. Participants questioned whether the idea of Christianity had upset their traditional Norse gods? Those present stuck with the Christianity decision. These days Icelanders are typically staunch Lutherans.
The first scenic blockbuster was Gullfoss Gorge where we were let loose to explore the furious waterfalls. In appearance Gullfoss was a threatening dramatic environment.
Gullfoss Gorge has been a Nature Reserve since 1979. It was formed when a flash flood in the Hvita River forced its torrent through cracks in basalt lava layers. The usual flow is 109 cu metres/second. It has reached 2000 cu metres /sec.
 Paths and protective fencing allow for close viewing.  The challenge was to keep my camera lens dry from continuous fine spray.

 I was amused to discover a love story associated with Gullfoss:
``No-one can cross the Hvita River upstream from the waterfall, even on horseback.  A seventeen century story relates to the son of a Brattholt farmer who looked after sheep in pastures upstream. Across the gorge a saucy girl from Hamursholt also looked after sheep. They noticed each other, and kept an eye on each other –the swift Hvita between them. A fondness blossomed. Eventually, the girl pleaded with him to come across.  He found the shallowest place, and set out to wade the torrent. It must have been a harrowing experience for the girl to watch but he made it to her. How he was greeted is, sadly, not recorded. We are told they married and had many well-respected descendants.’’

Next stop was at Geysir (Icelandic spelling for geyser) to experience the thermal reserve and the active geyser, Strokkur. It curiously formed a large dome on the holding lake through which, moments later, the geyser blasted. Iceland is one of five countries with active geysers. New Zealand is among the others.

 Reykjavik Excursions took us to the south coast. We paused to see the Eyjafjallajokull ice cap volcano. It infamously awakened from dormancy on April 14, 2010.  The eruption was relatively small as far as volcanic events go. Nevertheless a plume of ash 250 cubic metres across rose to nine km. The ash cloud drifted south-wards across Europe disrupting air traffic.  10 million travellers were compromised. Reporters around the world struggling with pronouncing the name Eyjafjallajokull caused a perverse sense of pride amongst Icelanders.

 Nearby we walked to the Myrdalsjokull Glacier which sits on the larger volcano, Katla. Katla has erupted about 20 times since Iceland was settled. The last occasion was in 1918. Volcanoes erupting beneath glaciers cause tremendous ice melting. Flash floods rising within a few hours can be 100, 000 to 3000,000 Cu metres/sec. Myrdalsjokull is Iceland’s fourth largest glacier and the most southern. Icebergs in the glacier’s terminal melt lake are tarnished with black ash. The same volcanic ash formed black sands along the nearby coastline.

Our day included several waterfall experiences, one (Seljalandsfoss) we could precariously walk behind. I made the dripping experience with some difficulty. On a final steep pinch a welcome strong hand gave a reassuring shove from behind.

We have stunning waterfalls in New Zealand but those in Iceland are enhanced by incredible volumes of water. Skogafoss, one of Iceland’s largest, tumbles 62 metres from a plateau. It is 25 metres wide. One looking for a thrilling, albeit wetting, experience can walk a short distance up the Skoga River to the base of the falls.  The mist spray ensures a rainbow when the sun shines. We enjoyed a close encounter with Skogafoss. The miracle is we were not all drowned. Legend has it that behind the waterfall one can find treasure. A chest filled with gold and other treasures was hidden there by Þrasi Þórólfsson, a Viking Settler at Skógar (Eystriskógar) around 900. It is yet to be found.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Iceland 1 – unsung foodies’ paradise.
Iceland has many things in common with New Zealand. This is amazing considering in many aspects Iceland is New Zealand’s opposite.
When I visited the mid-Atlantic island in September this year the time difference was exactly 12 hours. Iceland’s population in 2018 stands at 350,000. This compares with 388,000 in Christchurch, New Zealand’s second most populated city. Iceland’s land area is 103,000 sq. km. Little wonder, then, some maps label the country ``Island.’’

                                     Flying Icelandair 

Iceland’s prime minister, since November 2017 is 42-year-old Katrin Jacobsdottir She is Iceland’s second woman PM. In photographs she looks remarkably like our slightly younger Jacinda Ardern.
Iceland is popular for its spectacular natural features – volcanoes, waterfalls and even active geysers.  (Geysirs is the Icelandic spelling.)
I ask myself why go to the other side of the world to see the ``same as?’’ Well, I do enjoy spectacular natural landscapes. I am not a city person.
So Iceland was definitely my cup of tea as a travel destination. Mention of a cup of tea reminds me of the first question asked of unusual holiday destinations.
``What was the food like?’’
Iceland is an unsung foodies’ paradise. And it is the unusual, bizarre even, that frequently makes it interesting. I refused to eat puffin bird dishes offered at Reykjavik’s downtown Geysir Restaurant but I did agree to a whale sashimi entrée. It was my Japanese companion’s choice. Haruko is an employee in a sushi shop chain in Christchurch. Hence her curiosity. Sashimi is typically expertly cut raw fish. In this case the whale meat was lightly grilled. It was garnished with the usual sashimi trimmings of wasabi, ginger and soy sauce. I admit it was very good indeed or as my companion said, ``Roy san, oishi desu.’’

                           Whale sashimi 

As elsewhere where whales are hunted, whaling in Iceland is controversial. Whale is not significant in the Icelandic diet. Tourists cop the blame (arguably unfairly) from the International Whaling Commission for Iceland continuing hunting Minke whales. Tourist demand for whale is, however, declining.

We spent a couple of excellent days in Grundarfjorour (pop. 850), a delightful fishing village on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula west coast. The village was founded in 1786 by the Danish king. It soon became popular with French fishermen (1800-1860) who profited from the excellent harbour. The French arrivals established their fishing operation and built a church and hospital. When they eventually departed, the French people dismantled their buildings and even exhumed their dead, taking their remains to France.
We discovered a lobster and seafood pizza to die for in Laki café near the fishing port. Curiously, the woman proprietor chatting to other staff near our table did not appear to converse in Icelandic. She sensed something different about me also. She had spotted the New Zealand patch on my jacket.
``Where are you from,’’ she asked.
``Christchurch,’’ I replied.
``Me too, she smiled. ``I lived in Riccarton. When travelling in Europe I met an Iceland guy and have been here in Grundarfjorour for 30 years.’’ She did know about the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.
Laki café is part of an adventure tourism and whale watching business.

                         Lobster and seafood pizza

 Our well-appointed International Hostelling apartments were overlooked by one of Iceland’s most photographed mountains. Kirkjufell (Church Mountain). Merely 463 m high and rising from the fjord it is certainly distinctive. Kirkjufell Identifies Grundarfjorour village. It is so named owing to its steeple appearance, a sharpened top and curved sides. But it depends on the angle viewed. It is also called a witch’s hat or scoop of ice cream. Close by we dined at Bjargarsteinn House of Food Mathús restaurant in a quaint, old building on the seaside. It is sometimes claimed as the best dining experience in Iceland The century-old very Scandinavian building existed elsewhere and was relocated 70 km. to its present location. The restaurant opened in 2005. We experienced excellent service in a warm environment with a magnificent view of Mt. Kirkjufell and the beautiful fjord of Grundarfjörður. The restaurant is a family-run business led by the professional experienced chef, Gunnar Garðarson. The inspiring menu changes according to the season and the chef's choice. My companion chose fish of the day while I went for a lamb dish, lamb being essential to the customary Icelandic diet. Excellent wine was either French or Italian.
The standout was the entrée, an interesting assembly of smoked lamb, dried cod and small cubes appearing like cheese. It definitely was not cheese. It was fermented shark, Hákarl, a traditional Iceland dish.  It is Greenland or other sleeper shark that has been hung out to dry for some months. Its ammonia aroma gives rise to the unfortunate myth it has been buried and urinated on.

                          House of Food entree- served on a beach stone

Fermented shark is an acquired taste, more likely to be savoured by devotees of strong cheese.  While challenging my taste buds, my eyes are attracted to the magnificent mountain framed by our table’s window. The sun is setting and red streaks flow above Kirkjufell. We have wonderful mountains in New Zealand but I have never seen anything quite like this. Grabbing my camera I excuse myself in hope of a perfect image.

                           Kirkjufell at sunset  

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Frauenkirche, Dresden’s reborn masterpiece

This year’s extended travels landed me in some remarkable locations. Among them was at this remarkable baroque Church of our Lady dominating Dresden’s attractive Neumarkt (New Market Place). 
Designed by George Bahr, it was completed in 1743. Two hundred years later years later it was wantonly vandalised by Allied bombing during the early hours of February 13, 1945. Along with the destruction of the attractive historic city, 30,000 people died. The bombing of Dresden in the picturesque Elbe valley has joined questionable events claimed to bring an end to WW2. Other debatable events include the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Frauenkirche is said to be ``a masterpiece of European baroque yesterday and today.’’
In February 1990 an open letter from 14 Dresden people, triggered a wave of support for the reconstruction of their Frauenkirche. Support was from beyond country, political and religious boundaries.  The Frauenkirche would once again become the artistic and spiritual centre of an ill-treated city. Over the next 15 years the Church became a reemerging cultural monument.
These days its wealth of artistic features, with their spiritual testimony, is brought to life, even for the most casual onlooker.
At first sight, I knew this church had to be visited. I was intrigued by its dominance along with the statue of the Reformation hero, Martin Luther, standing guard close to its entrance. 

Interestingly, the Frauenkirche reconstruction was an archaeological rebuild utilising newly quarried Saxon sandstone. Salvaged materials from the original building were stored and used where possible. Some stonework, thanks to computer technology, was returned to original positions. Scars of history have therefore not been totally glossed over.
If the exterior is magnificent, nothing can prepare one for the splendour of the Frauenkirche interior galleries displaying another aspect of ingenious baroque architecture.

 An arching cupola above them all, with Chistoph Wetzel’s artwork recreated, attracts the eye upwards. Even in earlier times the cupola contributed to extraordinary acoustics suggestive of a surreal spiritual quality. Such heavenly acoustics attracted musicians and their choirs from across Europe. Richard Wagner visited in 1843.

Appropriately, an extended mission of the reborn Frauenkirche has been to become an international centre for enhancing peace, reconciliation and justice.
In the aftermath of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes that devastated my own city of Christchurch, New Zealand, mention of Dresden has been sounded on several occasions as authorities continued to demolish cherished heritage city buildings.
We still struggle with the restoration of Gilbert Scott’s neo-Gothic Anglican cathedral in our city centre.
Curiously, Coventry in England is a sister city of Dresden. Both cities tell astonishing, albeit differing, stories of the rebirth of a principal place of worship.

Friday, 6 July 2018

The 12 out of 10 man
Does the title to this blog bring back memories of one’s aspiring success rate?  Efforts during school days were judged by how many one scored out of 10. If 10 out of 10 was unlikely the typical outcome, seven or 8 out of 10 was almost a celebration. Five out of 10 was an uninspiring average. And 6 out of 10 was marginally better.
A 4 out of 10 was demeaning. A one-time mentor, rail devote and educator Gordon Troup, remarked about giving a student a 4 out of 10.
``I did it for encouragement,’’ he said. His effort was not that good.’’

My own demeaning effort as a scholar was two percent in School Certificate French. (0.2 out of 10).

                                         Cyril Evans (left) with Gordon Troup (right).

I recall a day some years ago when I was handed the fireman’s shovel while having a footplate ride on Kingston Flyer loco Ab 795. Watching an old hand stoking a steam locomotive and it looks so easy. For the non-familiar, the task is anything but easy. I was amazed at how much coal I clumsily shovelled into the firebox and how little puff I saw in return. I was, however, feeling reasonably good about it as we chugged along towards Fairlight. Most of the coal had gone where it should. The rollicking footplate under me feet had remained mostly free of coal.
Glancing up to Mr Kingston Flyer, Russell Glendinning, I asked ``How many out of 10?’’
He wiped his forehead, smirked, and replied, ``Four.’’
He must have seen my disappointment.
``But if we get back to Kingston you might do better.’’

                              Mr Kingston Flyer, Russell Glendinning

I did owing mostly to the return trip being down-grade.
I ended up scoring an eight.
More recently I have been monkeying around with scoring.
If I am suitably impressed why not score better than 10 out of 10?
How about 12 out of 10?
It has a pleasant ring to it and is guarantee to return a smile.
Am I devilish, optimistic or just encouraging?
Health issues have necessitated ongoing hospital appointments. Our New Zealand health system curiously gets a bruising from the media. Interestingly, those needing to use the health system are more generous.
I am always impressed by the treatment I have received. Not just the medical treatment but the pleasant attitude of all involved.
My default mark along with expressing appreciation is therefore a 12 out of 10.
In my New world supermarket, a new checkout operator, Brenden, stood out somewhat. He was taller than his colleagues. And I saw him as one of those delightful old-fashioned grocers.
We might call them, ``a real grocer.’’
When I gave Brenden a 12 out of 10 he beamed. He then indicated his supervisor.
``Go and tell her that.’’
I did. The young woman packing my groceries looked amused.
On parting I told her she was an 11 out of 10.
I enjoy going to St Martin’s New World. All staff, on any day would score an 11 or better out of 10.
I once thought the best epitaph on my grave would be ``He loved his wine.’’
Maybe I would prefer to be remembered the ``12 out of 10 man.’’

                                John Snell, Manager of a pint-sized railway. He frequently scored
                             12 out of 10 in this blogger's opinion.

Monday, 2 July 2018

July kicked off with an auspicious event.
I was invited to a function in Ashburton to celebrate a change of ownership and editor of Latitude Magazine. I have been contributing a regular three-page story to Latitude for several years. Although not there at the beginning, I was close enough. I had spotted the magazine in Whitcoulls. The cover featured Canterbury artist, Austin Deans. I knew Austin so expected a good story. It was good. The entire magazine was so, so good.
Could I write for Latitude?

I contacted editor, Joanne Taylor, and submitted my first story. All good.  Unbeknown to me, Jo had been thinking I might be an appropriate contributor. She knew I was a freelance contributor to the Press Escape travel section.
Latitude was still a fledgling publication but was driven by some delightfully determined people. Joanne Taylor once told me she founded Latitude because she could never find anything decent to read at the hairdressers. One would suspect there might be a tad more to it than that.
Interestingly, a colleague from the Press had investigated starting g a Lifestyle magazine in competition with, then, long-running Avenues. My colleague intended teaming up with a long-time friend with her own successful PR business. Both women were experienced in their respective roles but failed to get their proposed magazine launched.
Then Latitude appeared on the magazine racks promoting itself as Canterbury’s lifestyle magazine.
It did not take long to discover Latitude people were great to be associated with. I have been to three or four events for contributors. We were able to get to know the core Latitude people and fellow contributors.  Friendships were made all-round.
Joanne Taylor was cleaver in placing her contributors into slots. She had started a ``I Remember When’’ feature and surmised, correctly, it would interest me. Another contributor, Annie Studholme, was experienced in travel. And so on.
Over time subscriptions blossomed and page numbers increased. Many issues have more than 120 pages.
After almost 11 years at the helm, Joanne Taylor was looking for a change in direction.  Along with Latitude magazine, she was involved in farm work with hubby Dean and bringing up a family. Joanne Taylor has packed an enormous variety into her life. She is still comparatively young. I could estimate how comparatively young but will refrain. I wrote the age of a woman I interviewed and got it wrong. So embarrassing.
Joanne sold Latitude to a long-time colleague, Lucinda Diack. Lucinda lives in North Canterbury. She has been a magazine editor and a published Penguin/Random House author.   She has a real passion for words, writing and magazines.
The surprise party for Jo Taylor was held at Ashburton’s Somerset Grocery. It partly delightfully old-fashioned with a café, bar and function facility added.
It was great to meet the new Latitude editor and wish the departing editor/owner a great future. Maybe a little regret all-round saying good bye to Jo Taylor. 
The Latitude Ashburton office staff ably led by operations manager, Julie Mc Grath, will remain.
I have filed my first stories with Lucinda Diack and all is exceptionally good.
I will continue to have a reason to get up in the morning, (to write a story.) Latitude contributors really love their writing.
All Latitude contributors will join me in wishing Joanne Taylor well for her future. She and Dean love to travel.
And we can be confident she will have something decent to read at the hairdressers.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Tourism Invasion
Recent reading was a back issue of Geographical Magazine (August 2017). A column about visitor numbers putting a strain on Iceland caught my eye.
As with New Zealand, it is natural wonders that attract visitors to Iceland.
Also similar to New Zealand is Iceland’s out-of-the way location, just south of the Arctic Circle in Iceland’s case.  Despite their location, the respective countries boast a booming tourism industry.
Iceland’s record 2.4 million tourists are taking a toll on the small country’s cultural and protected landmarks. Iceland embraced tourism following the crippling depression of 2008. Tourism served its purpose economically. But as more natural landmarks make the ``red list of endangered sites’’ locals are becoming wary of visitor’s disregard to protective fencing and forbidden off-road driving.
Visitor numbers have increased 1000 per cent over 20 years. Visitors regularly outnumber Iceland’s meagre population of 340,000. Iceland’s land area is 103,000 km sq. New Zealand is 268,000 km sq.
Lucrative holiday rentals in larger centres are pricing Icelanders out of their own homes.
Inadequate public transport, railways in particular, is adding to Iceland’s woes. A solution is to increase tax on tourist ventures from the present 11 per cent to 21 per cent.
Another innovation is to attract visitors to previously less popular locations.
I see similar problems rising in New Zealand where tourism has taken over from agriculture (particularly dairying) as the number one industry. The numbers are impressive.

                                               Above Christchurch. Gondola attraction

Arrivals, almost 4 million, are worth $14.5b to the economy. Tourism employs 230,799 people, representing 8.4 per cent of the workforce. Mo st visitors are from Australia followed by China. New Zealand tourism forecasts 4.9 million arrivals by 2023.
No wonder businesses involved in tourism are feeling buoyant.
But can our environment endure the stress of sheer numbers? Last year I wanted to visit Tekapo at the time of the lupin bloom. Accommodation costs (cheapest $400 per night) put paid to the trip. I felt we New Zealanders are being forced from enjoying our own country.

 Sealy tarn. Aoraki-Mt Cook NP.

Several media stories have been about the strain tourism is having on Tekapo’s famous Church of the Good shepherd. Visitors disregard church services and use the surrounds as an impromptu toilet.  
Nearby at Mount Cook, last summer a normally quiet camping ground, was bursting at its seams.
As with Iceland, holiday rentals are forcing locals away. At Queenstown much of the necessary workforce cannot afford to live in the lakeside town. They are forced to live a considerable distance away.

TSS Earnslaw. Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown 

Yet, we hear little about solutions or even concerns for the environment. From a business point of view, when the environment is compromised there will be little reason for a tourism industry. People will go elsewhere. The challenge is in striking a balance and to know when enough is becoming too many.
A tax on Tourists is forever in the discussion phase.
We are privileged to live in New Zealand’s exceptional environment. Just a matter of keeping it that way.

                                               Southern rata. Arthur's Pass NP.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Railway Stations West -1
I admit to fond memories of Springfield railway station. It was a watering stop for steam locomotives when I was a wide-eyed kid off on an adventure.
Refreshment rooms were modelled around the, then, steam locomotive’s need for watering about every 45 miles.
 Albeit less important, train passengers might also need refreshments, hence the network of refreshment rooms throughout the railway system.  On a frosty morning I would stamp my juvenile feet on the Springfield station platform to encourage circulation and warmth. One hand would clutch a mug of wonderful railway coffee. The other would clutch a hunk of tasty block cake or ham sandwich. (I later discovered recipes for coffee and block cake were closely guarded secrets).
The view ahead was likely the gloriously snow covered Torlesse range. In the mid-distance the Ja-class loco was at the water tank.
In railcar days, Springfield refreshment rooms became a teaming mass of humanity on both sides of the counter. Staff were frantic making coffee and slicing up block cake. Train passengers jostled in an attempt not to spill coffee over another passenger.
Refreshment stops were limited to 10 minutes. Hence the frenzy. But I never heard of anyone being left behind. 
It was all a slice of Kiwi culture until refreshment rooms were closed down by a bureaucracy having no sense of value in history.
Springfield station subsequently re-opened as a café. Then closed.
My media colleague, Simon Williams, had the nouse to set up a Friends of Springfield station community hub. The station café reopened. He and his wife, Lynn, relocated from Christchurch to Springfield and are loving it.
Simon, left, with Gayle and Barry

Simon had worked for TVNZ news. I was a reporter on the Christchurch Press. We both covered the inaugural run of the TranzAlpine tourist train on November 22, 1987. The rail bosses of the day said our efforts contributed to the success of the new venture. The following year TranzAlpine Express won a coveted New Zealand Tourism Award.
Calling on Simon and Lynn, we are soon off to the rail station. We meet Gale and Barry, the latter the competent barista. Along with coffee we enjoy equally excellent asparagus rolls.
The station is almost as it once was. Hence part of it is a museum. Dorothy is an organic plants guru.  She also sells seeds complete with instructions on their plantings in Springfield conditions.
I recall when Springfield was a smoky depot for six husky Kb class locomotives built especially for the Springfield to Arthur’s Pass section. They have long gone. An occasional preserved steam locomotive still passes through Springfield. It will typically head a train load of rail enthusiasts. Diesel-hauled freight trains pass through day and night.
                                                    Preserved Ka 942 leaving Springfield

And the famed TranzAlpine pauses twice daily during its return trip from Christchurch to Greymouth. The station café has a contract to provide cheese boards for the train. They have a supply of cheese from Barry’s Bay on Banks Peninsula.
TranzAlpine Springfield puddle reflection

I recall days when retired railwayman, Keith Williams, would bring his border collie, Rosie, to meet the TranzAlpine. Rosie would be treated to a meat pie by one of the train staff. Over time, Rosie consumed over 5000 pies. Needless to say, Rosie lost her ability to chase sheep. And I recall someone once calculated the cost of Rosie’s pies.
Simon tells me he is modelling Springfield on notable railway station preservations in Britain.  He wants Springfield railway station to become a destination. A regular market will be added. Good on him for keeping something from our past alive and exciting.
Spring at Springfield


Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Promoting Peace through boats and bells
This year the New Zealand World Peace Bell has welcomed two Japanese people associated with the Peace Boat. A household name to Japanese, the Peace Boat has been operating since 1983. Calling it a boat, however, is an understatement. Ocean Dream, built in Denmark in 1981, weighs in at about 36,000 tonnes.  Over 30 years it has carried 50,000 passengers of different ages and nationalities. Rather than being on vocation, passengers participate in peace-related projects. A recent voyage that called into Port Lyttelton was carrying a banner asking governments to support the 2017 UN resolution to have nuclear weapons declared illegal. In the cargo hold was a Japanese lantern destined for the Kurashiki Sister City Garden in Halswell Quarry.

I first heard about the Peace Boat in an obscure way. My partner and I were cycling the length of Japan, heading towards Nagasaki. Some weeks previously, I had signed an agreement with Tomijiro Yoshida, CEO of the World Peace Bell Association in Tokyo, to have a bell gifted to New Zealand. I had discovered the story of Chiyoji Nakawawa fashioning a large bell, similar to a Japanese temple bell, using coins from countries belonging to the newly-established United Nations. The bell was presented to the UN in 1954 with Nakawawa’s message.  ``What happened to my country in 1945 (referring to the A bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) should not happen to any other.’’
While bicycle wheels rolled along Japan, the bell for New Zealand was manufactured. One of our core group members had contacted the Peace Boat having heard it was setting off on its first voyage to New Zealand, calling at Auckland. It was agreed the Peace Boat would carry our bell to Auckland at no charge to us. A postman delivered the 385 kg bell to Christchurch.  Rather than riding a typical postal bicycle, he was driving a large truck. 
A stylish pavilion was built for the bell and it was unveiled in Christchurch Botanic Gardens on October 3, 2006.
Asuka Watarai, from Chiba Prefecture, had sailed on the Peace Boat from Yokohama to New Zealand and Australia and beck to Japan earlier this year. She returned to New Zealand and was a guest of one of our WPB members, Antonio Yuge, while in Christchurch.
She enjoyed her visit to our World Peace Bell, the occasion being enhanced by the Botanic Gardens displaying brilliant autumn colours. Asuka looked as if she was trying to hug the bell.  (She would have been welcome to give me a hug. Sadly that did not happen.)

Earlier in the year 82-year-old Michimasa Hirata disembarked the Peace Boat in Port Lyttelton and visited our bell. He had a poignant message, having been aged nine when the Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He told about aimless people with skin shredding and eyes popped from their sockets. He spoke also about a network of World Peace Bells worldwide promoting a world without war.

The most recent World Peace Bell unveiling was in Canberra, Australia, It was the 24th bell internationally.

By co-incidence, I am penning this blog on ANZAC Day when Australia and New Zealand, especially, are commemoration their thousands of casualties in two world wars.
Maybe the most appropriate way to honour one’s war dead is to never start another conflict.