Friday, 31 July 2009

A Symphony in Grey

There are some cities that you never hear a bad review of. There are people who don't like London or Wellington, or even Paris. But, like Vancouver or San Francisco, I've never heard a bad word said about Edinburgh. So when we visited it had high expectations to live up to. It didn't disappoint.

Edinburgh: photogenic

I'd read the city called a symphony in grey, which sums up both its colour and the beauty. Built on volcanic remains, central Edinburgh is all grand grey buildings, winding grey alleyways and old pubs. And smack in the middle of the city is this wonderful piece of wilderness, Arthur's Seat.

From the castle, perched on cliffs on three sides, down the splendid, tourist tat-filled Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, and beyond, the city is just gorgeous.

Holyrood Palace, where the heavily pregnant Mary Queen of Scots saw her husband stab her secretary to death.

Is there a city with something comparable to this mix of beautiful buildings, fascinating history, cosmopolitan atmosphere and spectacular nature? Vancouver and Wellington have the setting and the atmosphere, but not the history or the buildings. London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and the other great European cities I have seen have the past, the architecture and buzz (and all more so in one way or another), but not the scenery. Same for Washington DC and New York. Perhaps the closest are Luang Phrabang in Laos and Luxembourg City, but they feel more like towns than cities.

I don't think anything will match the love I have for Wellington and London, the sense of ownership you get when you live somewhere very, very cool, but I would definitely have to rank Edinburgh near the top of all the cities I've visited.

So what your favourite cities and why?

This photo isn't really related to anything, but isn't it brilliant? Go Lauren!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Strange resting places

A couple of months ago, we went to a fabulous New Zealand play called Strange Resting Places. It was in London as part of an indigenous festival, and was about the Maori Battalion in Italy. The play was, without a doubt, the best I have ever seen. It was hilarious, moving, and wonderfully acted by three Kiwi guys that played a number of characters each as well as the odd chicken and pig. The play was so good, I told everyone I saw the next day to make sure that they went before it closed.

Afterward, the guys handed out wine for the audience, and we hung around to have a chat to the actors. I was saddened this morning to read that one of them, Robert Mokaraka, is now facing charges after being shot in the chest due to an incident with police that he was responsible for. These kind of "person cracks for some reason and does something stupid" stories appear in the news regularly and I don't usually pay much attention. Realising this time though that not only have I met and talked to the guy but that he is extremely talented, funny and had a fantastic career ahead of him saddens me, as well as serves as a reminder that sometimes you can never guess what bubbles below the surface. It also saddens me that if he goes to prison, you will never get to see the play. It's had a strange resting place indeed.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

A note on Glasgow

Glasgow is, I have decided, one of the strangest places I have visited in all my travels. First, everyone talks like they have a mouth full of haggis. Second, it is a truly Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde town. During the day, Glasgow has a great vibe. People are smiling, the streets are busy and Tane and I were amazed by just how handsomely Victorian the centre city is. There are also excellent parks, a pretty river, and the best noodle bar I've been to in years.

The Clyde
At 6pm, though, it's as if someone flicked a switch and all of a sudden Glasgow felt feral and intimidating. Rough-looking groups of young men prowl the streets, teenagers cluster in packs to drink their 6-packs. We went to two bars in Glasgow - one had a punching machine surrounded by men eager to demonstrate just how hard they could punch, and in the other I had beer spilt on me. I didn't take any photos of Glasgow in this state to show I am afraid - as it was I was worried enough that Tane carrying the Lonely Planet would get us mugged.
Hanging in the square, unaware that the city would transform in less than two hours
The next day, though, it was a lovely city again and I am glad that I have visited. I was glad, though, that we had planned to leave before 6pm fell again!

Scotland - a taster

Tane and I have just returned from a fabulous eight days in Scotland. We had a great time - tried haggis, drove around the Highlands, got lost, found ourselves in the middle of no-where and saw the most spectacular scenery I've seen since New Zealand. I am far too lazy to blog about it at length just yet, but will leave these photos as a taster of a few iconic Scottish things we saw ...

A random marching band in Inverness
Culloden Battlefield
A frightening Highland cow that I would not want to bump into by mistake
Loch Ness (and a monster)
Tane contemplates his last day of being 30 at Torridon

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Mont St Michel vs St Michael's Mount

It's the battle of the English Channel, the contest between two champion tourist destinations. The prize? The prestigious title of Coolest Tidal Island Monastery/Mansion/Fortress Reached By Causeway What Lauren And Tane Saw On A Bank Holiday In May (yes, this entry is waaaaaaaaaaay overdue - I'm a slacker, what can I say).

In one corner is Cornwall's finest, St Michael's Mount, home to a posh old family who chose the right side in the Civil War, lovely terraced gardens, a bunch of retired cannons and a collection of various other cool old weapons.

Cornish flag flying over the battlements. Keep away from our pasties, ye swine!

In the other corner is the pride of Brittany and/or Normandy (it's right on the border of the two French provinces), Mont St Michel. Home to security-conscious monks and sellers of overpriced baguettes, set in the middle of an enormous tidal harbour where they say the sea comes in faster than you can run and capped by a stunning fortified monastery, it's famous for good reason.

Columns by the monastery's garden

It's a tight contest. Both places have exceptionally cool architecture and great views. But despite St Michael's Mount getting bonus points for having seals, many fewer visitors and a lovely chilled atmosphere, we have to give the title to Mont St Michel. It's just bloody magnificent.

And best of all, I could release my inner toddler and go out and play in the magnificent ...

... mud!

So, the original Mike Mountain is still the reigning champ. But do go to both islands if you're even remotely close to them.

Coming up at some point in the future, our favourite UK weekend destination the Isle of Wight vs the ominous smoking lump on Bay of Plenty's horizon, White Island. Green-hilled, historic retirement home vs deadly active volcano. Place your bets.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Soho & Gay Pride

Soho is one of my favourite parts of London. I go there for a drink or meal at least once a week, and always enjoy walking around, sitting in Soho Square, people watching and generally catching the vibe of a part of London that is like an exaggerated version of Wellington's Upper Cuba Street.
Today Soho was especially cool due to it being the home of Gay Pride day celebrations . I haven't seen so many fabulous costumes, rainbow flags, bright colours and men in tight clothing since ... well, since ever. If we're still in London next year am determined to spend Gay Pride day in Soho again. Let's also hope that by then some move will have been made toward equal rights for LGTB people in terms of being able to get married so there will be even more to celebrate. Times like today I am especially happy at Tane's and my decision to get a Civil Union back in 2007. We may get "married" at some point in the future, but the way I feel about it now, it won't be until gay people are able to as well.