And Now – The Wedding!.

This is what brought us to New Zealand in the first place, three days of ceremonies and celebrations, Gujarat style, culminating in the marriage of Alan’s son, Steve, to Poonam, the daughter of Amrat and Manjula.

We have been asked not to share photographs of the ceremonies on social media for understandable reasons. So here we’ll just outline the proceedings and share some photographs, mostly of ourselves, for your delight.

The three days were a mixture of solemn religious ceremonies and traditional, more light hearted events including traditional dancing.

The venue changed as the numbers increased each day, from around 65 on Saturday morning at the home of the bride’s parents to 150 on Sunday at a local community hall, culminating in 250 for the final wedding ceremony on Monday. This took place beside the lake in the beautiful Hamilton Gardens with the final reception in the adjacent pavilion.

A meal was served at every event, on the first evening from a Thai food truck outside the house.

Dress was a mixture of western and Indian style, by Sunday almost everyone was in colourful Indian clothes. Many of the ladies (including Jan) had their hands decorated by Mehendi (henna) artists.

The whole glorious experience was exciting, moving, uplifting and, not least, colourful. We’d like to thank Amrat and Manjula, Steve and Poonam, their family, friends and, in fact, everyone involved, for being so welcoming and friendly. You have all been wonderful!

We needed some time to rest and reflect after all that. But instead with our family, we visited a Maori village, then Steve and Alan set of to walk the Tongariro Alpine crossing.

We’ll tell you how that all went next time!

Glowworms

We left Waiheke on the 9am ferry, picked up our hire car and were in Hamilton by midday. Our next accommodation was a super little Airbnb flat (resolution..keep tidy). We met Steve and his Mum, Linda, who’d both arrived in Hamilton a few days earlier, for an evening meal then set off the next day to meet Claire and family.

We travelled South from Hamilton through rolling, lush, green countryside that looked rather English except for the large numbers of cattle.

Claire and family had been travelling slowly north for the last few days yet we arrived within 2 mins of each other. Sat Nav, or GPS as they call it in NZ, has worked perfectly…..so far…

Waitomo is famous for the glow worms in it’s limestone caves – New Zealand is one of only two places in the world to have them – the other is Australia.

Spending 3 hours in caves was not everyone’s idea of how to spend a sunny day. Even so all eight of us set off by mini bus driven by our guide along roads and tracks through rolling green pastures with outcrops of rock and areas of woodland.

We walked 10 minutes down to the first cave where we each put on our hard hat complete with head torch.

After another 10 minute walk through a tunnel into the cave we switched off the lights and there were glowworms all around us! We then boarded a small boat for a magical voyage in the dark with glow worms overhead.

The worms are the larvae of a gnat and thrive in moist dark caves. The lifecycle is complex but let’s just say the glow is a chemical reaction. Pictures don’t do the experience justice but none of us will forget it.

After a daylight break for hot chocolate and biscuits we visited more caves where, as well as glowworms, we saw amazing limestone rock formations and cave coral.

The excitement mounted as we all drove back Hamilton for dinner at Poonam’s parents home, the next day would be Day 1 of the wedding celebrations.

We’ll be back to tell you all about it in a few days

Hey Waiheke!

Deciding against the Holiday Inn breakfast we walked out to a cafe for early morning workers on an adjoining light industrial park… excellent coffee and egg/toms on toast.

We took a taxi downtown to the Old Ferry House on Auckland harbour. Having parked our numerous bags we explored the sea front until it was time for the 40 min passenger ferry to the Island of Waiheke which nestles in the Hauraki Gulf.

Hauraki is Maori for North Wind which we encountered together with violent storms and hot sun during our three night stay.

The climate of Waiheke is Oceanic or Sub-tropical depending which scale you use. (This is for Anne, our geographer). Everywhere we saw the New Zealand ‘Christmas Tree’ or pohutukwa just coming into bloom.

Our Servas Friends Sally and Graeme had invited us to stay on their island jewel while we recovered from the long flights. It’s just beautiful. The landscape is a mixture of forest and grassland with lovely sandy beaches, rugged shoreline, boutique vineyards, pretty villages and interesting folk.

The picture above is the view from Graeme and Sally’s home on Anzac Bay.

We met artists, craftspeople, a walk guide, a buildings inspector ………..

We drank coffee, explored the shops, went to a hilarious stand-up comedy show (jet-lagged, Jan nodded off), walked the beaches, explored the bush and marvelled at the plants whilst all the while talking and catching up on the four years since we first met in Shalford.

With a shared interest in community gardening it was good to see the examples our friends are involved in.

And so thanks so much Sally and Graeme. A wonderful start to our New Zealand adventure.

Now where is the rest of the UK contingent?

(Servas is an international association promoting friendship and peace by providing opportunities for personal contact between people all over the world.( www.servas.org.uk)

With Servas in Girona

Ah yes, we promised you Girona, quite a long time ago. We’ve been busy since then but I hope you’ll think it was worth waiting for.

Again we took the train, from Valencia to Girona, via Barcelona. We stayed with Servas hosts, ‘quim and Caro and delivered greetings from Jorge in Alicante. They very kindly invited us to stay for the three nights we were in Girona – Servas visits are expected to be for 2 nights only.

We’d arrived on the first day of the Girona Flower Festival. So after dinner, close to 10pm we set off, in a light drizzle, to walk into town to have a look. By the time we arrived the drizzle had become a deluge but we stuck to our task and, dodging the umbrellas and leaking gutters, made a circuit of the exhibits.

Originally Girona was a walled, medieval city with lots of little alleys, staircases and corners. The displays were in the streets and inside the ancient buildings.

By the time we got home, after midnight, we were sopping wet and exhausted!

Next day we set out to explore the city and walk the walls but unfortunately it was soon raining again!

Our hosts live within walking distance of the centre but in a development they said had been built for civil servants under the Franco regime – a very nice house. When the rain stopped, ‘quim, short for Joaquim, took us to visit the family’s allotment, mostly worked by Caro’s father. We couldn’t get close as the gate was locked (it was Sunday afternoon) but the area looked the same as – allotments. One part of the site is very wet, it was interesting to see the method of planting on ridges that is used to deal with this.

We ate some excellent broad beans and artichokes that had been harvested from the plot.

On Monday the sun finally came out so off we went to see the town and the flowers at their best. It was very busy, the festival seems to attract visitors from far and wide, there were lots of coaches.

Girona is one of the main cities of the Catalonia autonomous region which in October voted to become independent from Spain. The resulting chaos, is ongoing, you can read more here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-41584864

Caro’ and ‘quim are passionate supporters of the independence movement, we learnt all about it, very rapidly. The streets are full of banners calling for freedom for the press and politicians, some of whom have been arrested. We dutifully wore the yellow ribbon of solidarity.

The last photo is of ‘quim and Alan, I have no idea what they were discussing.

Finally we walked to the station for the train to Paris and on by Eurostar to London, very convenient.

Our final post on this trip will be about the Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings in the region.

Wow! Valencia (2)

There was just so much to see, so many places to go and such a lot of interesting buildings wherever we went.

The medieval silk exchange, Llotja de la Seda, was a shock. Not due to the beauty of the place but the volume of visitors. Somehow we’d been sheltered from mainstream tourism, suddenly we were flung right into it. Rightly so, it’s an inspiring place and a World Heritage Site.  The spiral columns are an absolute marvel, the orange tree courtyard strangely peaceful and from the outside it looks like a gothic cathedral!

Equally bold, in it’s way, is the futuristic design of the City of Arts and Sciences, 21st century architecture at it’s most amazing.

There’s a arts centre/opera house, a planetarium/cinema, a science museum and an aquarium. It took us most of a day to visit the last two.

It seems the City is still in debt for the huge cost of construction and there are already maintenance issues but the whole area had a very positive vibe.

Different again, the Museum of Prehistory is housed in the former Casa de Beneficia, Charity House, organised round five courtyards in traditional 19th century Valencian style. It’s exhibitions cover the life and labours of human societies in the Valencia region from prehistoric times up to the Roman period. Fascinating, if you like that kind of thing! We couldn’t take it all in, we got up to the 5th century BC so we’ll have to go back to learn more. The reconstruction of a house from this period was illuminating – but where did they sleep?

As much as anything we enjoyed walking the streets, enjoying the atmosphere, the graffiti and the food!

Next we went to Girona.

Wow! Valencia

We loved Valencia. It was only a short journey by bus and taxi from Biar but such a contrast. After week of rural tranquillity we were both ready for a taste of city life and Valencia offered everything we could wish for.

So here, in no particular order are some of the things we enjoyed.

We stayed right in the heart of the old quarter with it’s tiny, winding streets. One hundred and eighty years old, the building we stayed in was in perfect harmony. Here’s what the apartment looked like inside. Notice the beautiful floor tiles!i

That’s me in the mirror!

And outside, with Alan on the balcony.

On a recommendation from Andrew, one of the Biar walkers, we sought out the paintings of Joaquin Sorolla in the Museo de Bellas Artes. Born in Valencia in 1863, Sorolla was a hugely successful modern painter. Like his impressionist contemporaries he love painting in sunlight producing beach scenes, landscapes, portraits and more.

Most of the other works in the gallery are much older and include examples by the Spanish greats including Goya, Velasquez and El Greco.

We went to the market, a very impressive art nouveau building, where we bought fruit and olive oil. Nearby we came across a well-stocked, traditional hat shop, all styles available and so we bought a hat!

The Turia River used to run through the centre of the city to the sea. After parts of the city were devastated by floods in 1957 it was diverted south of the city. This major intervention left a huge tract of river bed which has been turned into a vast urban park running through the city. It’s well maintained and well used.

We hired bikes for a day and rode through the Turia Gardens to the beach, a vast expanse of sand. It was very sunny but windy and the sea was decided chilly – paddling only!

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The next post will be about other amazing buildings in Valencia and the museums we visited.

Moros y Cristianos

Or, in English, Moors and Christians. These festivals commemorate the 700 years when much of Spain was occupied by the Moors, who were Muslims from North Africa, and the eventual reconquest by Catholic monarchs in the late 15th century. Usually the capture of a town or city by the Moors is enacted followed by the subsequent reconquest by the Christians. Miniature castles are erected where mock battles are staged and there are processions and other events over several days with different groups representing the two sides all wearing elaborate costumes.

Biar and the surrounding towns are famous for their celebrations. We were a week too early to enjoy the ones in Biar but the castle was already in place in the main square. But a week too late for nearby Alcoi, reputed to be the most impressive festival of all, where the castle was being dismantled the day I was there! More about my visit to Alcoi in another post.

Eventually we did manage to see the final procession of the celebrations in another nearby town, Onil.

These events are so big that in Alcoi there is a museum solely dedicated to them and in Biar there is a tailor whose only business appears to be making festival costumes.

Next we’ll be posting about the lovely city of Valencia!