Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Today in Kurashiki

Today I went to the lovely town of Kurashiki with a friend, we chatted endlessly, drank lots of coffee, rummaged through boxes of obi in a secondhand Kimono shop, looked at pictures by Monet, Picasso and Jackson Pollock in the art museum, pottered around the shops some more, ate some more and then we headed home. I love days like this; just taking it easy and looking at nice things.

A strong cup of coffee in this little place was the perfect remedy for a sleepy head.

Who would have thought some twigs, holly and a rod of bamboo could have looked so good.

Spring is in the air! The first signs of plum blossom.

A lonely red building stands out amongst all the black and white.

I couldn't resist snapping these little kids in their jaunty party hats, they looked so happy skipping along the road and were probably wondering why I was taking their picture.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Far flung corners

Every evening Martin and I like to download the Nolan Show podcast so we have something to listen to before we go to bed. This podcast provides us with a great source of humour, familiarity and sometimes, a fair bit of anger too. A cry of "I can't believe they just said that" or "catch yourself on" will often be heard emanating from myself or Martin as we tune in to hear the great people of Northern Ireland talk about water rates, swinging or parking tickets. I will never forget Irene from Lisburn, who complained about getting a parking ticket and said "I will never,never,ever be back in Lisburn again to do my messages". Two things amused me about Irene's call, for a start I hadn't heard someone talk about getting their messages for a long time and secondly, she parked in front of two parking spaces. When it was brought up that she got the ticket because she parked in front of two cars she merely said "aye, but I left enough room so they could reverse out the side of me."

Little gems like those make my day but I'd noticed lately that the podcasts weren't being uploaded at such regular times and therefore, I couldn't listen to people like Mavis from Carrickfergus talk about traumatization and disablements (her words not mine). So I sent off a little email asking for the podcasts to be uploaded at a more regular time and it turns the Nolan show were very interested to hear from us and we've even made it on to their blog!

Wish you were here?
Ian McTear
23 Jan 07, 01:03 PM
We received an email yesterday from a couple of expats in Japan who like to listen to the Stephen Nolan podcast every night to keep in touch with what's going on at home.
And we know of another man in Japan who listens to it on the bus in the way into work.
So where in the world are you listening? We'd love to hear from you.

So there you have it, it turns out Martin and I are not only the only people who listen to the Nolan show in Japan. If there are any other Norn Ironers listening in from from far flung corners they'd loved to hear from you so you can leave a comment at the end of their blog - I included the link above. Sandra, I know you'd be partial to flapping your ears to the Nolan show too.

Ps. the picture above was taken from the kitchen window in Limavady. It's such a good view that no wonder it takes me a long time to do the dishes when I'm standing there - on the other hand, my siblings seem to think that it's because I'm a bit lazy and like to keep my hands in the hot water.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Watch out Hiroshima the Green Bullet is back on the street. I still can't believe they actually found it and proves my trip to the police station wasn't entirely in vain.

On to less dangerous matters, we went to see The Departed last night and I would thoroughly recommend it. Martin Scorsese is back on fine form and some of the acting is fantastic. Jack Nicholson has some classic moments, I particularly enjoyed his facial impersonations of a rat and the line from Matt Damon's character that Freud said "the Irish are the only people impervious to psychoanalysis" sparked some interesting conversation on the way home. I'll leave you to think about that one for yourselves.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

End of the holiday posts

Since January seems to be whizzing by I thought I'd better wrap up the holiday posts otherwise I'll still be chatting about Christmas in April.

Towards the end of our stay in Maui we went for a really nice dinner at the Halemaile General Store. The food was yummy and the people watching even better.

We were given a table by the door and windows which normally isn't a good thing but it meant I got have a good look around and I do like my people watching.

Anyway, just after the above picture was taken I caught the eye of the person standing at the window outside and staring in. It turned out to be Matthew Perry. So I quickly turned to Martin and said "you'll never guess who's standing outside" to which Martin replied "someone from Limavady?'' (which wouldn't be that unlikely, we often meet people from home in the strangest of places). So I had another conspicious look and he was with Hank Azaria and Kevin Pollak.

A few minutes later they came in and took their seats 2 tables behind us so I had plenty of opportunities to have a good nosy. They were with a lady I couldn't put a name to so I asked Martin if he knew who it was. He turned around and told me it was Farrah Fawcett. I didn't think it was her so I had another look and it was Meg Ryan. Poor Meg, it's not good when someone mistakes you for Farrah Fawcett. As the evening went on they played games including the one where someone puts a sticker on your forehead and writes the name of a famous person it and you have to guess who you are. Kevin Pollak was Michael Douglas and Meg Ryan was the last to work out she was Dennis Hopper. Maybe they should just have used their own names.

On our adventures around Maui we spotted lots of interesting little places. I loved this quaint little church built from lava rock on the road to Hana.

Along the roads there were lots of wonderful little stands selling coconuts,guava juice and freshly baked banana bread (not as good as my own though!).

There are all kinds of beaches in Hawaii, including red, golden, grey, glass and black. The black sandy beaches were such a contrast to the pale blue waters.

After Maui it was a hop, skip and a jump over to Honolulu to see in the New Year, do some shopping and visit Pearl Harbour.

Oh, how I wish I was in Hawaii today, it's so grey here that it has taken grey to a whole new level but I guess Spring and the cherry blossom isn't too far away. Bring it on.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Braking all the way down.

I would say I was a pretty organised person and every time we go on holiday I take a folder with itineraries, phone numbers, maps and booking references. This holiday was no different except the folder was significantly bigger than previous trips. For a start there were 2 trains,7 flights,3 accommodation bookings, 2 rental cars and numerous other restaurant and trip reservations. Such a folder comes in very handy when you have to get up at ungodly hours and drive through the dark to make it to an early morning activity. Take for example our sunrise bike tour from the top of Haleakala.

We awoke from the warmth of our bed at 3am and drove down to the tour company office to join up for the tour.Smiling and brimming with enthusiasm while everyone else lurked sleepily in the corner,we approached the desk and gave our names. "No" the receptionist said, our names were not on the list. He asked did we have a booking reference with us, heck no, we'd left the folder at the house. He trawled the bookings and announced yes we had a booking but it was made for the NEXT DAY. And the moral of the story is, a folder is all well and good but it's no use unless you check it!

Despite the fact that they were one short of being full to capacity they managed to sqeeze us in and off we set on a great adventure. We piled into the mini buses to get up to Haleakala before sunrise and then we would make our own way down on the bikes. Our bus driver was most informative and plied us with a couple of anecdotes that made me laugh all the way from the bottom of my heart. Here are my favourites.

At the top of Haleakala and just before her 38 mile cycle down a woman approaches the bus driver.
Lady to bus driver - "Do I need to be able to ride a bike to do this?"
Bus driver - Blank stare of disbelief
Lady - "But my husband said I would learn on the way down."
Bus driver - "Lady, I think your husband's trying to kill you."

Haleakula is situated well above the clouds which makes it pretty dramatic but for some it's all a bit too dramatic. On seeing the clouds one woman said " Oh no, we had real bad turbulance on the flight over, there's no way I'm riding my bike through those clouds". Overcome with fear, her bike was taken away and the woman rode down on the minbus. On the way down and through the mist the driver let go of the steering a little bit giving the effect of turbulence. Apparently she had an absolute conniption.

I know you may be a bit skeptical but I firmly believe these stories are 100% true. I don't know what it is about humans but whenever we become tourists we seem to lose all rationality and common sense. When we go on holiday do our brains have a break too?

It was freezing cold but watching the sunrise from Haleakala was really spectacular, Mark Twain said it was "one of the most sublime spectacles ever seen."

At first everything was pitch black and you couldn't see a thing but slowly...

an array of colours appeared.

Little by little the sun popped its head up and over the clouds

and a little bit more...

until this!

It looked like Mars and it was really hard to gauge the distance but apparently it is 2.5 miles from one end of the crater to the other.

We got our bikes from the van and took a leisurely few hours to make our way down to the coast, stopping to take in the views, have a picnic breakfast and check our map. I say leisurely because I was a bit cautious of some of the 66 switchbacks and I braked practically the whole way down. This caused a bit of cramp in the hands but there was no way I was wiping out. After a few hours I asked Martin when the rest of the hills were coming up but he said it didn't matter as we appear to be going up the hills faster than coming down them due to my cautiousness!

Not a flattering photo I know but Martin thinks it best illustrates the lack of speed and constant braking. Anyway, you have to wear the helmet so we both looked like dorks together.

After a wonderful trip we safely returned to base and were happily told by the receptionist that we were the last ones back, not that he wanted to make us feel slow or anything. Poor Martin, I'm sure he would have been finished in no time but he happily stayed with me. In the afternoon we gave our hands a rest and had a lovely time browsing the boutiques and galleries in the wonderfully artsy town of Paia.

Cheers from the speed demon until the next post.x

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Sunrises and star gazing

After Kauai we boarded the "Ford Escort express" one more time for our short flight to Maui. Thankfully, there were no handbrake turns this time and a cheery "Aloha" replaced "Yee Hah".

About the same size as Northern Ireland, there is so much to do on Maui that it's just like one giant water park with an adventure playground in the middle. Boasting some of the best beaches in Hawaii, you can frolick with dolphins and sea turtles in crystal blue waters, spot whales playing with their calves while driving along the coast roads, go horseriding in upcountry ranches and explore the Mars like volcano at Haleakala.

We stayed in a beautiful old plantation house in upcountry Maui. It was miles from anywhere and so quiet that the silence was almost noisey. Situated on a protea farm as soon as you got out of the car it smelled as though you had arrived at an open air flower market, if only I could have bottled that sweet smell and taken it home with me. At night the stars were so clear it was like a planetarium.

I am never happier than when I'm reading and drinking a good cup of coffee and every morning I did just that on the adirondacks with a book and a cup of Kona coffee.

When Martin finally dragged me off the adirondack we clocked up lots of miles around the island, some by car, foot, bicycle and horseback.

On Christmas Eve we went horseriding at a nearby ranch and a merry ride it was. My horse, "Abba", was certainly a bit of a dancing queen so don't be fooled by the gentle exterior. She refused to move when I wanted her to and then unannounced she would set off into a high speed gallup. In one particular incident she took off at great speed through some woods and I thought I was going to get my head chopped off by a large branch. Up on the hill the rest of the group could see a small blue dot whizzing by atop a horse and screaming "stop" very loudly. Then when she did stop all she wanted to do was eat, apparently she had been sent to the ranch on fat camp. Despite this it was a wonderful afternoon and Martin had a very relaxing time aboard his horse "Pegasus".

On Christmas morning we had a 6am start for a spot of whale watching with the Pacific Whale foundation. The weather was beautiful and the sea so calm that whenever the boat's engine was turned off you could have heard a pin drop - the silence only being broken by the splashing of baby calves and the blow of the whales.

In the afternoon we packed a picnic and headed to the beach for some fun, sun and snorkelling. It was just like "Finding Nemo" and Martin was so excited by the whole experience that he lay face down in the water for a bit too long without reapplying sun cream and now adorns some comical sunburn marks on his back.

I must go as last night's chilli with cornbread topping is being reheated for lunch and the smell is wafting through the house making me very hungry. I think if I were on death row my last meal would definitely include cornbread, ribs and coleslaw - I'd probably have a cup of tea and a traybake too! Anyway, I'll be back soon with the sunrises and star gazing (of the human form) so stay tuned.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

We lived the same day twice

All packed up and buzzing with excitement we left our apartment at 8:30am on 19/12/06 and arrived jet lagged and tired in Hawaii on 19/12/06 at 8am. How weird is that?! Initially I thought that I would get to live a day longer than everyone else but then we missed out on 03/01/07 travelling back so I guess it's all swings and roundabouts.

We had an absolutely wonderful time and I managed to take a whopping 473 pictures in between sunning, reading, eating and drinking a few Mai Tais. First stop was Kauai which is the oldest and northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands and is also home to the wettest place on earth at Mt Wai'al'ale. Whoever made that claim clearly hasn't been to Strabane in Northern Ireland.

When we got to Honolulu we had to board an inter island flight to Kauai. The plane was so small and there were so few passengers that we had to be moved around in our seats to balance out the plane. As we took off the pilot shouted "yee hah" and when we landed he rallied the plane around the runway like it was a Ford Escort and even tried some manoeuvre that was suspiciously like a handbrake turn ! I appear to be prone to these runway adventures and endured a frightening road rage incident between the luggage carrier and the shuttle bus on the runway at Venice airport.

We made it safely off the plane and had a thrilling time exploring the island.

The Waimea Canyon may be dubiously nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific but it holds some pretty cool vistas and it's hard to believe such an immense canyon can be tucked away inside such a small island - the canyon alone is 3000ft deep.

If you come to Hawaii the Napali Coast on Kauai is a must see so we booked a rafting adventure to get a good look, in fact the only way you can see it is by boat anyway. We arrived at the harbour and saw a small rubber raft tied to the dock where our Captain told us this was "the boat" and not a boat used to transport us to another boat. The sea was quite rough that morning so for the next five hours we held on for grim life as we surfed 25ft waves and took in some amazing sights. Just as we left the harbour we were met by a pod of spinner dolphins, there were loads of them and they were so playful as they swam alongside the boat.

One of the big draws into going to Hawaii was being able to see whales and shortly after the dolphins we spotted a humpback whale. It was so amazing to see 50ft and 40 tonne of whale breach into the air that I will never forget it. It kept waving its pectoral fin at us which was really cool and before it went down for a dive it blew 15ft of water in the air.This is why the whalers coined the famous term "thar' she blows". Fortunately this was the first of many whale sightings throughout the holiday since humpbacks come to Hawaii to give birth and nurse their calves in the winter.

Being on a raft made it hard to get steady pictures but the coast looked really magical with the mist rolling in and I can see why they filmed Jurassic Park there, you half expect a dinosaur to appear any moment it looks so mythical. It's hard to imagine that up to 1,500 Hawaiians lived in the valleys between those cliffs at any one time and the last ones left in the 1930's - a school teacher had to be shipped out to the children every Monday and he was picked up again on Friday.

Driving through the island there was always something to stop off and look at like the patchwork of taro fields and meandering river at Hanalei.

As always we like to try out the local eateries and we had a beautiful lunch at the hotel on Hanalei bay. Curiously, Martin came all the way from Japan and still had to have a bento box!

This is where Mitzi Gaynor washed that man right out of her hair in the movie South Pacific and it was my favourite beach of the whole holiday. We practically had the place to ourselves for the whole afternoon barring a few surfers and one lazy monk seal who was wise enough to lie there until the tide came in and washed him right back out to sea. Talk about an easy life!

Well that's it from Kauai and I don't want to bore you anymore so I'll be back soon with more from Maui.