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Sandals and Socks

Captain James Cook was also no fan of sandflies!

Captain James Cook was also no fan of sandflies!

Before I start peppering this blog with posts about the grandeur and beauty of NZ and making exhaustive use of the thesaurus to come up with new ways to say “gorgeous”, after a sleepless night spent scratching, I must vent about the one (and only one) complaint about this country so far–the ubiquitous sandflies on the West Coast of the S. Island.  I may be overly susceptible to their unique agony (as evidenced by the 60 sandfly bites that covered my legs after a trip to Miami last year), but I’m finding them more troublesome than the mosquitos in SE Asia.  Their small size make them difficult to spot, as do their lack of an identifying whine like mosquitos and they don’t limit their prowling hours to dusk. And sandflies is a bit of a misnomer, because their presence is not confined to beaches–they haunt lakes and parks and car pullouts.  The welts from their bites increase in itchiness over several days and ankles are a preferred target. So, if you see me wearing my Tevas with long pink socks (channeling a Midwestern Comparative Lit professor), know that I haven’t (yet) thrown all fashion rules out the window — just that desperate times call for desperate measures.  Image

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Yorkshire to Auckland

Because we  are chasing an eternal summer rather than taking any sensible geographical route, we found ourself having to fly halfway across the world after the holidays in Yorkshire.  The journey started inauspiciously, as the night before we left Yorkshire it started to snow.  As we’ve experienced first-hand how weather can shut down England’s transport systems, I had a sleepless night checking the snow accumulation out the bedroom window.  It kept falling and falling and falling.  Thus, when my alarm buzzed in the cold darkness of 5:45am, I was already wide awake worrying about whether we’d make it  to Heathrow for our mid-afternoon flight and how to dress in a way suitable both for snow, Singapore and airplane comfort.
We hurriedly got dressed, said our sad farewells to Jonathan’s mum and, burdened with our RTW luggage which was now heavier with hiking boots and pullovers, began a dark, nearly mile-long walk through 6 inches of snow to the train station.  Fortunately, the British rail system proved to be more dependable than we’d given it credit for, and our Burley-in-Whafedale train arrived on time for a short journey to Leeds, where we changed trains to Kings Cross.  Snow blanketed the country-side until we were within 45 minutes or so of London, so we were surprised to see the sun shining as we exited Kings Cross for a taxi across to Paddington Station, so that we could hop on the Heathrow Express.  Heathrow check-in was surprisingly hassle-free, although I found it “curious” how the “online check-in/bag drop off line moved at half the speed as the regular check-in queue.
Singapore Botanical Gardens

Singapore Botanical Gardens

Heathrow

Heathrow

We were booked on Singapore Airlines to Singapore – 13.5 hours of economy class comfort.  The flight was relatively uneventful until, just as I was falling asleep, we hit steady turbulence over Pakistan and  India. I am not what you would call a relaxed flyer (unless my relaxation is chemically-induced).  Thus, it was another sleepless night.  At least Zara slept.  Traveling with children puts all discomforts in perspective.
Singapore Airport, however, was brilliant. which was a relief because we had a 9-hour layover.  This gave us enough time to journey into the city and spend a couple of hours at the Botanical Garden for some fresh air.  To be honest, though, the airport offered so many delights that we waffled on whether to leave.  Once I’d located the free foot and leg massages, which were perfectly located across from the climbing gym that Z adored, I didn’t want to budge from my seat.  Also on offer was a butterfly garden, a cinema, and plenty of shopping.  But, the airport had me at the foot massage.
Free foot and leg massages!
Singapore Botanical Gardens

Singapore Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens

The second flight was 10 hours long.  Z slept half of it after commenting how comfy her “bed” was. I did not.

Total sleep over 3 days: approx. 2 hours.  Fortunately, Auckland presented us with a warm welcome of blue skies and bright sun. And so, the next stage of our adventure begins.  Stay tuned for the Campervan Capers.

“Oh, it’s raining again!” says Jonathan with a smirk as he comes downstairs for coffee this morning. I don’t think we’ve experienced a dry day since we arrived in N. Yorkshire in two weeks ago, although we have caught a glimpse of enough blue sky to “cut out a pair of boy’s trousers” on a couple of occassions.  The wet never ends (yesterday’s headline read “Rainy year-end poised to seal 2012 as UK’s wettest ever”), but at least we are mercifully free of bugs!  And although it is wet and cold, it is not bitterly cold, so who’s complaining.

The short days invite laziness.  The weather invites pub visits.  I hope this won’t prove to be an impediment when we attempt some more serious hiking in New Zealand.  We have taken a few short jaunts through the countryside, as of my favorite aspects of England are the public footpaths, which generally allow one to walk from any Point A to Point B on a car-free path.  Jonathan downloaded the Ordnance Survey to his iPhone and I’ve taken to affectionately calling him Map Man because he finds an excuse to pull it up every time we leave his mum’s cottage.  One day we’d love to do the Coast to Coast walk in England (preferably, in summer), where one can walk across England yet with the creature comforts of a country inn and a pub dinner each night.

One of the other great characteristics of this part of Yorkshire is the ease (although not necessarily the cost!) of train travel. J’s mum and sis live in the cute village of Burley-in-Wharefdale and it is a 10 minute walk up Station Road from his mum’s Cranberry Cottage to trains that connect us to the hub of Leeds or the nearby town of Ilkley (as well as plenty of other destinations).   From King’s Cross in London to the Cottage took us less than 3 hours and was a much more pleasant experience than navigating a final plane leg would have been.  The bus system is also incredibly convenient and offers the added thrill of a double-decker. Thus, despite being car-free, we can happily get to most of our desired destinations easily.

Bolton Abbey

We visited Bolton Abbey in Christmas Eve for breakfast with Santa.  Zara commented how much weight Santa had lost!   Bolton Abbey is a place I’ve visited regularly since coming to England with Jonathan and it is a lovely place for walks.  The abbey was constructed circa 1154 AD and the estate was formerly owned by the Duke of Devonshire.  The River Wharfe meanders through the property, adding to the already picturesque scenery.

Playing a recorder at Bolton's Abbey

Playing a recorder at Bolton’s Abbey

River Wharfe at Bolton's Abbey

River Wharfe at Bolton’s Abbey

Harrogate

A charming spa town where Jonathan’s mum used to live.   We did our last minute Christmas shopping here (preceded, of course, by a pub lunch).

York

This old walled city was the birthplace of WH Auden, whose name we borrowed as one of Z’s middle ones.   We took the train there via Leeds, and upon arriving learned from a station plaque that the station had been the world’s largest train station upon its opening in 1877.  We had another tasty pub lunch which was slightly marred by Jonathan finding what looked like an old filling in his sausage, and then wandered around the charming central district, still adorned with Christmas lights.  We walked by York Minster, a gorgeous cathedral where Jonathan and I have attended the Lesson of Nine Carols with his mum for many a Christmas Eve.

Jonathan also showed Zara and I the tree and very branch that he’d fallen off of at the age of 7 and broke his arm for the first (but unfortunately not the last) time.

We were hoping to take  a walk on the city walls that protected York since the Roman era, but we missed our opportunity as they’d already closed for the day by 3:45pm.  Like I mentioned, short days here, although the pubs were full and inviting.  Instead, we took a ride on the York Wheel, where the buffeting winds triggered a spell of vertigo in me when we were stopped at the top.

The infamous tree

The infamous tree

The York Wheel

The York Wheel

View from river in York

View from river in York

York Wall

York Wall

York Minster

York Minster

Streets of York

Streets of York

Gorgeous sunset (even if it isn't 4pm yet)

Gorgeous sunset (even if it isn’t 4pm yet)

Purple Man in York

Purple Man in York

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