Wednesday, 27 May 2009


On June 6 1944, thousands of Allied soldiers invaded Normandy in an act which contributed to the end of World War Two. Equally momentous, on June 6 1994 I sat in my PJs and watched The Longest Day in my Ashhurst lounge (put on by TV1 to mark the 50th anniversary of the landings ) and wrote in my diary that I would love to go to Normandy one day. Last weekend, I finally made it. Yay!
Tane looks at the NZ graves
We visited Omaha Beach first, the place where the Americans landed and home to the cemetery shown in Saving Private Ryan. The whole experience was a bit surreal however in that I really didn't feel as moved as I should have. I am not sure why, possibly a combination of not feeling like it was my history (given the number of American flags I almost felt like I had no right to be there at all) and the number of loud Americans hanging out at the site.
Omaha Beach
The next day we visited the Commonwealth Cemetery, which was much more what I had been expecting. The atmosphere was more sedate, and the cemetery more tasteful. It was very moving finding some NZ graves there, serving as a reminder that D-Day was about people from all corners of the earth.
A German grave
The most moving thing for me though was seeing a small section of German graves. This was the first time I had ever seen some, and if the names and dates inscribed on them were anything to go by the Germans that perished seemed to average about 18 years old, making them all of 7 when Hitler came to power. Should you ever visit the D-Day sites yourself I recommend visiting Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. However I also recommend that you do what very few others seem to do - visit the Commonwealth sites as well, and see the German graves. As well as being interesting, it gives the experience some perspective.

France ... mmmmm ...

The Normandy and Brittany regions of France are awesome. There are ruins, as well as other interesting old things to visit. There is pretty countryside, and cute wee towns. Best of all, though, there is what I believe to be the best food in the world. The food is so good, in fact, I am resisting drooling into the keyboard just writing about it. Of course there is much more to say about our time in France and I am sure I will over the next week or so, but in the meantime here are a few of our food pics:

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The sea, the sea

As Lauren can testify, I nearly went into hysterics when I saw my first stretch of Cornish beach. The one thing I regret more than anything else about living in London is that it's not on the coast. Having grown up in a town a few minutes drive from sweeping sandy beaches and living in Wellington, with its harbour and bays, for most of the last few years in New Zealand, I love being near the sea.

Sunset at Mount's Bay near Penzance.

Which is one of the reasons why I loved Cornwall so much. People who say the UK has no good beaches are twits. True, they don't have nearly as many as New Zealand, so the ones they do have get packed in summer, but Cornwall is studded with gorgeous little harbours.

But much as I love the sea and have spend a lot of time swimming and bodyboading in it, it does freak me out a bit. I think it's the idea of being in this alien enviroment with brutal, pounding waves and vast depths. Maybe I'd end up like this ship we saw on the way to Land's End. Am I alone in this fear of the great blue yonder?

It's kind of like gulls. Listening to their calls is relaxing and watching them float on the breeze is beautiful. But they really are psychotic. Ever seen them fight over scraps, or peck at a wounded bird? The British ones are worse than the ones back home - bigger and with these yellow eyes that look more than a little insane. No wonder Lauren thinks there's a global seagull consipracy.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

St Ives

There is a reason that Britons flock in their thousands to Cornwall. It's lovely - not only is Cornwall home to the best beaches I've seen since Turkey, but St Ives where we stayed is now in the running for the Lauren's Fave Place in the UK award. Bath and York ought to watch out.

White sand + Diet Coke + T-shirt weather = Haaaaapy.

St Ives feels like it ought to be on the Mediterranean rather than in England with its windy roads and white sandy beaches. We spent a happy few days exploring the town and its surrounds, relaxing, getting fresh air and a fix of beach. It was too cold to swim but that's a good thing - had it been warmer I suspect the town would have been so full it wouldn't have been as relaxing to visit.
Tane near Land's End. Walking around the cliffs near Land's End is great, although Land's End itself a bit weird and creepy.

Being in Cornwall was great - not only did we have a fabulous time, but it now feels like summer is finally on its way. Especially as news reports are saying that it is predicted to be a good one. Bring it on!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Whingeing Poms and Loud Americans

Being in the US and coming back to the UK has got me thinking about different attitudes in different countries. Stereotypes are dangerous, unfair and sometimes just plain wrong. However, often there is a kernel of truth. Nations do have cultures, with people tending to behave in ways that fits in with most other people, which is what many stereotypes are based on.

A couple of stereotypes that I'd be interested in getting your thoughts on are the friendly American and the negative, complaining Brit.

One of the things that struck Lauren and I being back in the States was just how good the customer service is. People serving us were so polite, friendly and helpful. I'd never noticed customer service in the UK or NZ as being particularly bad before, but in comparison it really isn't flash. A nice smile and cheerful snippet of conversation is not what you expect from the minimum wage slave behind the till in Pac N Save or Tesco.

Flags ringing the Washington Monument. Yanks do love the Stars and Stripes.

Back in London, I've been extra aware of how many Brits - especially in groups - like to have a good moan about something. How you'll hear something is 'rubbish', when it's merely mediocre, or 'decent' when it's very good. On the bright side, British pessimism makes for lots of great comedy and a healthy scepticism about people in authority.

I think New Zealanders have picked up some of this in our cultural baggage. There's the tall poppy syndrome for example - the urge to cut down people who stand out from the crowd.

Guardsmen at Windsor Castle, no doubt off to wet their stiff upper lips with a pint of warm ale and a moan about the boss.

So, what do you think of these stereotypes? Gigantic generalisation for sure, but is there something to them? Is so, why do you think it came about? Is it the British weather (I don't think it's that bad at all)? Is it the space and freedom of America, the optimism of people coming to the New World? What about other stereotypes - like the coarse, cocky, boozing Aussie? Or the cold, humourless German (completely untrue in my experience)? I'd interested to read your thoughts.