All posts by Patricia Moore

Kia Ora Koutou Katoa My name is Patricia Moore. I have worked all my life as a writer and educator in Australia and New Zealand and have had the good fortune to travel to many parts of the world. This has given me the opportunity to move from writing fiction and educational resources, to the travel stories, anecdotes and observations which appear on Travelstripe.

Burj Khalifa; At The Top Sky

This post is dedicated to Gerard Moore Junior (taku tama arohaina) who took me to the top.

From a distance, Burj Khalifa is alarmingly fragile. Up close it’s terrifyingly tall. At night, it’s a slender pillar of pale gold light against the ink-black sky. In the daytime, it cuts like a dazzling blade of steel and glass, high into the blue.

For a while, I admired this stellar centrepiece of downtown Dubai from below. But, as mountains are to adventurers, so are towers to travellers. They compel us to climb them. From the Eureka to the Eiffel, I’ve conquered a few. In the end, I had to do the Burj Khalifa too.

Yet, I was nervous, as I waited with my fellow travellers for the At The Top Sky tour to the Burj Khalifa’s 148th floor. The couches, cushions, potted palms, Arabian coffee and platters of dates in the SKY Lounge did nothing to dispel the disturbing pictures tracking through my thoughts. In one I was stranded in a lifeless elevator, deep in the burj’s concrete core. In another I clung to a flimsy ledge that tilted slowly into space. Was Burj Khalifa, a tower too many, too high?

Still, when the time came, I followed our guide, Ahmed, into one of the burj’s 57 elevators.

As we soared skywards at an ear-popping 65 kilometers per hour, with the urgent drums of the Burj Khalifa’s dedicated elevator music beating ever faster, images of tall city landmarks streamed past.

Somewhere, up beyond the very tallest of them, we stopped for the Burj Khalifa’s story. It’s a bold tale and Ahmed told it with righteous pride. It began with a big dream – of a mighty burj, or tower, that would stand as an emblem of Dubai and as an iconic landmark to the world.

12,000 people, of 196 nationalities, from 149 countries came together to build the dream. Chicago architect Adrian Smith designed it, taking inspiration from the ancient towers of Islam and the desert flower, hymenocallis, or spider lily. In 2004, construction began. 6 years, 22 million man-hours and 1.5 billion dollars later, it was completed. At 828 metres, the Burj Dubai was the world’s tallest building. On January 4, 2010, it opened, re-named as the Burj Khalifa, in honour of Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. That same year, it won the World Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s Global Icon Award. The dream had come true.

Now, here I was at the heart of that global icon, surrounded by world wonders. I was at the centre of the largest vertical city on earth, home to the world’s highest nightclub, library and mosque. I was heading for the highest outdoor viewing platform on the planet, 555 metres from the ground.      

With the music winding to a crescendo and with outlandish feats of celebrity daring playing out on the elevator walls, we soared up again. I stared, mesmerised and horrified, as a grinning Tom Cruise flapped around the burj’s spire while Spiderman inched up its sheer glass walls.      

The lift delivered us to an oasis of quiet, calm, and stillness. There was soothing orchestral music. There were flowers. There were waiters with trays of drinks and petit fours. There were smiling hostesses to guide us around. There was soft carpet patterned with rippling sand. There were armchairs beside tall windows which curved out into the sky. I sat and looked down. Below, Dubai fell into patterns. Buildings formed squares, rectangles and triangles. Roads curved and cut between them, curled into petals and pointed in parallel rows towards the horizon. Parks and gardens became bands and circles of green.  Ponds, pools and streams turned into oblongs, ovals, blots and wriggling snakes of blue. Then, defying the order of the built city, there were patches of parched dirt – some etched with the beginnings of future construction, others just like fragments of desert.   

On the world’s highest viewing platform, safe behind a solid glass barrier, I stood in the sky. I felt rushes of fear and exhilaration, of arrogance and awe. I could see all the way across the desert to the end of the earth. I could see where the sea dissolved into the sky. Below, the city was tiny and fragile. People were slow-moving specks. Big words, like omniscient and omnipotent came to mind.

In a dark theatrette, I waved my hand through a tube of light and watched myself take flight on giant screen.  Launching from the burj’s spire, I glided through space, circling around landmarks, swooping over rooftops, between buildings, through windows, into shops and houses, into the everyday lives of old Dubai. I peered over the shoulders of men smoking shisha and women stirring pots. I chased after children in the streets. Now I really felt superhuman.

I could have lingered on high forever, in this rarified state, but in truth, I’m a mere mortal. I belong on earth. I need the noise, the sun and the warm air below.

“Leaving already?” asked the hostess at the elevator. I’d been there for hours but she sounded sorry to see me go.

Down on level 124 I was back in the busy real world. I was swept from the lift into a photo studio. There was a flash. Minutes later, a picture showed me smiling foolishly from a beam on the half-built burj. I joined the memorabilia hunters in the souvenir shop. Among mugs and keyrings, I found something new and slightly unnerving – leftover burj bolts. From this window the neat patterns of Dubai had disappeared.

One swift, silent elevator and a long, slow escalator took me down to earth.

I wandered alone in the quiet ground floor gallery where the At The Top Sky experience ends. Here interactive stations tell the stories of the people who built the Burj Khalifa.

It’s a perfect finale. It is fitting that the last words on the greatest project in human history should come from the architects, engineers, contractors, artists, tradespeople, craftspeople and labourers who worked on it, shaping 330 cubic metres of concrete, 31,400 metric tons of steel, 103, 000 square metres of glass and 15, 500 square metres of embossed stainless steel into the world’s most iconic tower.  

Cost of the At The Top Sky Tour 500 dirhams. Value – priceless.

Kia ora rawa atu, Gez

Wonder at Oamaru’s Home Gallery Fine Arts and Living

Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct is full of wonderful surprises. Every time I visit I discover another. My most recent and, to date, my most wonderful find was Home Gallery Fine Arts and Living on the top floor of a former grain store, overlooking the old harbour.

Home Gallery – the old grain store

I have some beautiful memories of Art Galleries. They’re memories not just of treasures but of amazing spaces and extra-ordinary vistas. I remember the Tate Modern as much for the view of the Thames, the millennium bridge that spans it, and the dome of Old St Paul’s against the sky behind it, as I do for Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles. I remember the azure sea framed in the deep, white stone windows of the Picasso museum at Antibes as well as the great works it houses.

Persian Rugs and pictures

Like the Picasso Museum in Antibes, Oamaru’s Home Gallery is a memorable space. Just like the Picasso House, it’s not a purpose-built space, but a space that has been re-purposed. Just as Picasso’s sea-side villa became a showcase for the master’s works, so this old grain store has become a showcase for New Zealand artists. In the Picasso Museum works of art are scattered through living rooms and courtyards. In Home Gallery paintings hang on the limestone walls where once sacks of grain leaned. A display of Persian rugs lies scattered across a work-worn wooden floor. Like the Picasso Museum, Home Gallery has spectacular windows with unforgettable views. They’re tall, broad and arched at the top like church windows and set in aged limestone walls. They look out across the Pacific Ocean , Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, with its warm, turquoise light.

The view from Home Gallery’s windows

Home Gallery is clearly still an old grain store.  Light streams in from skylights and through the cracks in the double loading doors at the far end of the room. The ceiling is crisscrossed with heavy beams. The old conveyer that once hauled heavy sacks through the building sits still in the centre of the room. There’s a lingering smell of wheat and hessian. It isn’t hard to picture people at work here – the thud of grain-sacks and the creak of pulleys.  It must have taken imagination and vision to see it as showcase for art – imagination, vision and a great deal of hard work.

Home Gallery of fine arts was established by artist/ photographer Lucy Gardner in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes. The devastation of the city had left artists without spaces to show their works and the local community without places to engage with art. Home Gallery was a new beginning ‘inspired and driven to help create places to deliver art for local community to engage with and provide audiences for investing in artists’ work’.

This inspiration and drive no doubt sustained Lucy Gardner, through the mammoth task of transforming the old grain store into a gallery. For weeks, she says, she spent all day, every day, scrubbing the beams and freeing the skylights of dust and cobwebs, cleaning the windows and walls of dirt and grime and sweeping debris from the floor.

Pictures on limestone walls

Now Home Gallery is a clean, light, quiet and restful place – a perfect backdrop for some beautiful works of art. They include pieces by significant New Zealand artists, from Beatrix Dobie to Charles Worsley as well as photographs by Lucy Gardner herself. Standouts for me were; Blair Grieg’s moody, misty oils which capture Aotearoa’s unique landscapes and singular light; Brian Strong’s Profiles of the West and The Summer Front with their glimpses of bush, waterfalls, tranquil bays and brooding skies; Lisa Wisse’s clair/obsur A Timeless Land where the light traces a path across the sea between dark hills and islands to the sky; and Lucy Gardner’s band and club life photos.

I have just finished reading Ariana Huffington’s Thrive. Among the “pillars” she sees as essential to thriving is a sense of wonder – the kind of feeling inspired by works of art, views and nature.

Home Gallery offers many wonders – the windows in those limestone walls, framing the Pacific ocean; the old grain-store – a piece of Oamaru’s past;  and most of all, those wonderful works of art with their insights into Aotearoa New Zealand and the way we see it.

If you can’t drop into Home Gallery Fine Arts and Living to enjoy its  wonders (but it’s worthwhile making the effort to do so) then visit www.homegalleryfinearts.com

 

 

 

WOW, Wellington’s festival of wearable art

It’s WOW, or World of Wearable Art, time in Wellington.

WOW Treasure Box
WOW Treasure Box

Every year in September, in Wellington, New Zealand’s cool little capital, designers from all over the world unleash their creativity in this extraordinary competition where art, in every expression and material meets fashion in all its forms. Competitors vie for over 150,00 dollars worth of prizes. The most coveted reward of all though is an internship in creative Nirvana, Weta Workshop.

A WOW pink cube
A WOW pink cube

WOW draws international costume designers and their creations (some of Madonna’s unforgettable garments are on display this year) as well as established locals and their works. It also  brings complete unknowns and absolute design novices of all ages and from all walks of life, into the spotlight. The competition’s history is rich with heart-warming stories of the “little people” who have taken to the WOW stage – like the middle-aged commercial cleaner who dreamed up a stunning plastic frock worthy of a Disney Cinderella.

A glimpse through the peephole
A glimpse through the peephole

Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Wellington for the main event but I was there for the build up. Wellington is a place accustomed to thinking the outside the square. It has carved serpentine roads into vertical hillsides, planted elaborate houses on slivers of cliff, underpinned precious public buildings with rubber foundations to withstand earthquakes, built a hive for MPs then called it the Beehive and created an edgy, layered fashion look to defend against gale-force winds and sideways rain. So I wasn’t surprised to find that Wellington had come with an innovative way to advertise and preview the wonderful WOW experience.

Pink cubes, called treasure boxes, with multi-level and multi-sized peepholes, all around the city, provided glimpses of wearable art from WOW festivals past. I spent my day in Wellington, running like a Pokemon gamester, defying traffic hazards, short-cutting through shops and offices, hot on the treasure box trail. Fixing my eye, then my camera, to the average-level peephole, I enjoyed my very own WOW experience and brought away WOW memories to share.

Uprising Beach resort, where Fiji’s Sevens Rugby Team prepared for Olympic gold

When Fiji defeated England 43 to 7 in the Olympic Rugby Sevens Competition, it marked two historic firsts. It was Fiji’s first gold medal and it was won in the first Olympic Rugby Sevens competition since 1924.

The palm-shaded beach at Fiji's Uprising resort where the Fiji Olympic Sevens Rugby Team prepared for gold
The palm-shaded beach at Fiji’s Uprising resort where the Fiji Olympic Sevens Rugby Team prepared for gold

The win set off a world-wide flurry of Fiji fervour. Within minutes Fiji’s Olympic victory went viral. Within hours the Fijian Rugby Sevens team was a social media sensation. By the end of the day, the most searched subject on Google was Fiji.

Lush tropical gardens at Uprising Beach Resort where the Fijian Rugby Sevens Team prepared for Olympic gold
Lush tropical gardens at Uprising Beach Resort where the Fijian Rugby Sevens Team prepared for Olympic gold

Googlers who clicked on Fiji images would have found page after page of pictures of calm blue sea, palm fringed sands, verdant bush and lush gardens. That’s Fiji, the South Pacific island paradise that produced the best Sevens Rugby Team in the world.

The view from a beachside villa at Uprising
The view from a beachside villa at Uprising

Read on with travelstripe.com to discover Uprising Beach Resort, the corner of that tropical paradise where the Fiji Rugby Sevens team prepared for their historic win.

A garden villa at Uprising
A garden villa at Uprising

Uprising Beach Resort is on the Coral Coast, at the southern end of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. Set on the edge of the lagoon, in a secluded garden of frangipani, hibiscus, bougainvillea and coconut palms, it is quintessential Eden. The only sounds are birdsong, the whisper of waves on sand, the rustle of the wind in the trees and the occasional thud of a falling coconut.

A villa beside the sea at Uprising
A villa beside the sea at Uprising

Uprising’s villas have all the charm of traditional and colonial Fiji, with thatched rooves, native timber interiors, cool paved floors, ticking ceiling fans and wooden shutters, as well as all the luxuries of 21st century life, like room service, air-conditioning, refrigerators stocked with Fiji water and sumptuous bathrooms, both indoor and outdoor, with generous supplies of fluffy towels and coconut-scented toiletries. French doors open onto a veranda with steps leading down to a deserted beach.

The garden pool and restaurant at Uprising
The garden pool and restaurant at Uprising

Life at Uprising, at least for holidaying guests, is bliss. Days begin with breakfasts of local fruits and patisserie (bacon and eggs if you must) Hours are filled with strolls along the sand, swims in the sea or the pool, canoeing, windsurfing, paddle boarding, volleyball or horse-riding and massages with tropical oils. Days end with cocktails (mango daiquiris) at sunset in the beachside bar and dinners of local cuisine (say kokonda or raw fish with cassava chips) on the restaurant terrace.

Uprising Beach Resort, Fiji Travelstripe
Sunset at Uprising Beach Resort, Fiji

Seclusion, scenic beauty, luxury and leisure – these are the essentials of the heavenly retreat.  Uprising has all of these and moreThe things that set Uprising apart from any other resort in the world are the Rugby field alongside the drive, the evening training sessions that bring players together there and “the big house“ for group and team accommodation at the rear of the complex.  The most interesting points of difference, though, are the story behind Uprising and the man behind Uprising’s story.

Tropical gardens at Uprising Beach Resort
Tropical gardens at Uprising Beach Resort

Uprising Beach Resort was the brainchild of René Phillippe. René enjoyed an idyllic childhood just up the road, in Pacific Harbour, hanging out and playing Rugby with the other local kids. When they finished school, the inevitable move away for work or further study meant the end of the idyll. Rene was determined to find a way to retrieve that idyll, to bring that team of kids back together as adults and to keep Pacific Harbour Rugby alive. Uprising Beach Resort was that “way”.

Uprising Beach resort's Rugby goals tower behind a roadside stall
Uprising Beach resort’s Rugby goals tower behind a roadside stall

The name Uprising comes from the Bob Marley album, a boyhood favourite. It’s a name that says it all. Uprising Beach Resort did bring that original group of neighbourhood Rugby players back together. Many now work at Uprising. For others it’s a home away from their far-flung, new-found homes.

Now,  Uprising is a centrepoint not only of  local but also of national Fijian Rugby. The careers of notable international players have been launched from the Uprising Rugby field. And, yes, now,  Uprising Beach Resort can lay claim to nourishing and sheltering the world famous Fijian Sevens Rugby team as they prepared to carry off Olympic gold.

So, for all those who’ve fallen under the spell of Fiji images and are heading off to the South Pacific paradise, don’t miss Uprising Beach Resort. Luxuriate in tropical island bliss and take in some Fijian Rugby magic too.

 

 

New Zealand Noir

It’s July in the Mackenzie Country, at the foot of the Southern Alps, in the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Winter has drained the colour from the land and left it in shades of grey and white.

Winter in the Mackenzie Country
Winter in the Mackenzie Country

The distant mountains are lost in the mist. It’s a strange, surreal and eerie landscape, like a scene from a Nordic Noir film.

It’s late morning and the road, closed because of heavy ice, has just opened. We have it all to ourselves, until our headlights pick out a hazy shape looming, like a ghost, in the mist ahead. It’s a motorbike rider in billowing overalls. We keep a safe distance. The roads are still slippery. The rider raises a hand to wave us past. We dare not. Beyond him is obscurity. He half turns his head. We drop back, leaving him to his lonely ride and wondering what pressing business, what unavoidable mission brought him out on a morning like this.

Getting language in Milan

Having decided that, in order to make the most of my new Milan locale, I need to learn Italian and quickly, I set about the business of finding a suitable course.

Piazza Duomo, Milan
Piazza Duomo, Milan

I turn to my new bible, Easy Milano, the magazine for English speakers in Milan. Among its pages of useful information are lists of Italian language schools – hundreds of them. How to choose? Scanning the list I spot Societa Dante Alligieri, courses in Italian for foreigners. I know the Societa Dante Alligieri! Once, an historic age ago, as a student teacher, I performed with my Introduction to Italian class at the Societa Dante Alligieri, in Christchurch, New Zealand. The title of the song we sang – La Bella Polenta – remains with me still. The words and the tune, alas, are lost, along with most of the language I learned in my “Introduction to Italian”.

Throwing on my coat, I head out to the Societa Dante Alligieri to enrol. I sign up for A1, the beginner’s course, which is where students with only basic greetings and a few random phrases belong. But Maria Grazia, who handles my enrolment, assures me that after a month of daily A1 three hour total immersion classes, I’ll be set for everyday life in Milan.

I start the next morning. The course is brilliant – two hours of written language with Patrizia and one hour of conversation with Myrta. Both are great teachers – fun and interesting. My classmates are fascinating. There’s a student chef from Korea, a Frenchman working in Milan’s textile industry, a young woman from China studying fashion, a model from Belorus and a Russian lawyer, learning Italian before beginning work.

The course moves swiftly and after a week, my language has increased fifty fold and most importantly, my confidence has doubled.

Lost for language at Da Candido

Just around the corner from Via Taormina is the Cooperativa La Vittoria, with its Bar/Trattoria, Da Candido. Of solid, late 19th century style and stature, La Vittoria’s stern façade stares down the glass front of the cool 21st century wine bar across the road with an air that says “wine bars like you will come and go, but I’ll go on for ever”.

Da Candido at Cooperativa La Vittoria
Da Candido at Cooperativa La Vittoria

That evening, as G. and I take a stroll through the streets, the wine bar’s lights are already dim and its chairs are stacked on tables. La Vittoria’s door and Da Candido’s lights are bright and beckoning. We venture in for nightcap. The place is empty and the bar is unmanned but there are sounds of merriment offstage and through a half open door, I see curls of cigarette smoke, a table with glasses and heads bent over hands of playing cards. As if by ESP, a Signora appears. She seems neither surprised, nor pleased, to see us and says an unsmiling but not unwelcoming “Buona sera”. She’s a generously built, plump-faced white-haired lady, of indeterminate age – perhaps a well-preserved seventy or maybe a worse for wear forty.   We timidly ask for “vino, per favore” Without enquiring bianco or rosso, Signora points us to a nearby table.

We head to the window. As we pass the half-open door, silence falls and heads turn. I nod and smile. The heads nod back briefly, then turn away. The talk resumes and the game goes on.

Signora arrives with coasters, grissini and two glasses of red wine. I really prefer white but I’m not prepared to argue. I don’t have the language anyway. Signora is watching from the bar, so I take a nervous sip. It tastes good. I determine to drink more red from now. I nod and smile at Signora. She nods unsmilingly back and continues to watch. Conversation feels awkward, so we gaze around da Candido. It’s a room full tables. Those in the front half are casually scattered. At the back, they’re lined up in ranks, refectory-style. In one corner is a large plastic palm tree and dotted around the walls are pictures of tropical isles and postcards of sunny beaches. There is also photo of the Pope and a print of the Virgin Mary. There are posters for bierra, aqua minerale, vino and even cigarettes. I feel Signora’s eyes studying us, studying the walls. Is she waiting for us to finish our drinks, or is she waiting for us to order another? It’s really hard to know. We finish them, nod, smile and head to the door. Signora follows us and locks it behind us. Was Da Candido closed when we arrived asking for drinks? Is it really closing time now? Is Signora making sure that nobody else comes in and interrupts her evening? Is she telling us not to come back? Impossible to know. There’s a lesson here – we need language.

A few weeks later, I’m passing La Vittoria with my son. It’s lunchtime. Da Candido looks busy. Perhaps we can slip in and blend with the crowd. The tables are filled with men in work-boots and overalls. Even in casual jeans and t shirts, we don’t blend in. We watch from the bar as a duo of Signore, both dressed in crisp yellow, button-up, belted, white-collared uniforms burst backwards through a swing door with steaming plates and reverse out again with stacks of empties. People don’t linger. When their plates are empty, they head out the door, lighting up smokes as they leave. Should we leave too? But Signora has seen us. She waves us over. We obey. She stands at the table holding our chairs. We sit. Glasses and bread basket appear. People give us quick, indifferent glances. I nod and smile. They look away.

“I feel out of place” I whisper

“Me too” mutters Gez

But  its contorni, primo, pasta, scallopine and  dolci. We’re just two people eating lunch, like everyone else, except that we eat slowly, savouring new tastes, like tourists, with no work to hurry back to. By the time we’ve finished, the tables are empty and the Signore are whipping table-cloths away and whisking a broom across the floor. The lunch costs a laughable few euros.

“Delicioso” I venture. Signora nods, “Gratie mille” I try. She nods again. She follows us to the door. Behind us we hear the lock turn. Did we just crash a private lunch? Is it really closing time? Impossible to know.

I really need language.

Later, when I do have language, I discover Cooperativa, La Vittoria is, traditionally, a neighbourhood and workers’ establishment. Da Candido still is. Foreigners like us rarely venture in. In fact, foreigners like us rarely venture into this area. It’s not on the tourist beat. It’s not in the guide books. It’s a neighbourhood of workers and families of workers. If I’m to understand it, fit in, make friends, or even survive, I need language.

 

Our Via Taormina market

Every Saturday, the market colonises the streets at the end of Via Taormina. My very first week finds me trundling down there with our apartment’s deluxe convertible backpack/shopping trolley.

The market near Via Taormina
The deluxe backpack shopping trolley and G. at the market near Via Taormina

There are stalls of seasonal fruit and vegetables and very other imaginable kind of fare – meat, cheese, oils, olives, nuts, preserves, sweets, cakes, bread, cheese, milk, yoghurt and wine. I am bamboozled by the variety and paralysed by the staggering number of choices. In the end, I stalk a matron of upper middle-age. She looks as if she knows a thing or two about cibo. I don’t yet know the Italian for “I’ll have what she’s having”, so I stay close, watch keenly and point. Her choices of olio, olive, formaggio, legume, pane and pollo are faultless, I later discover.

Clothes at the market are seasonal too – warm coats, jumpers, scarves, beanies, vests and boots in winter, sandals, frocks and shorts in summer. Here I need no help, nor do I need words. My first purchase, on a chilly autumn morning, is long black padded coat, of unidentifiable material, but of such warmth that I could venture into the snow with nothing more than a bikini underneath and not feel the slightest chill. Furthermore, despite its bulk, it is as light as feather. Best impulse buy I ever made!

Alongside the perennials there are classics;  baby layettes, shawls, christening gowns, communion frocks and suits. There’s underwear of a kind not seen since the first half of the last century, including corsets, bloomers and liberty bodices.

Gadgetry abounds – peelers, corers, squeezers and stoners, miracle knives and magic dusters.

There’s a multitude of Manchester from duvets to doilies, table cloths to tapestries. There are beads, buttons and wool.

Among all this merchandise dedicated to worldly needs and pastimes, the soul and spirit are not forgotten; there are holy pictures and statues, shrines and votive candles too.

I stare in wonder as bloomers, buttons, coats, candles, self sharpening scissors, artichokes and apples fly off the stalls and into trolleys.

This a market, I think, as I trundle back along Via Taormina,  with the bulging  deluxe/convertible backpack/ shopping trolley, that truly serves its community.

 

Back to Milan

Milan’s Via Taormina is part of the city sprawl that has swallowed a small village. In spite of the roads  crammed with roaring traffic that surround it and the modern shops and dwellings that hover at its edges, much of village life continues here.

Via Taormina
Via Taormina

The church, San Marco, opens onto Piazza Caserta at the crossroads of Via Taormina and Via Veglia. While 21st century secular life and work dictate the rhythm of the days for most of the people who live here, still the bells of San Marco mark out traditions of prayer and spiritual observance. Every morning, they call the faithful to Mass. They chime out the Ave Maria at 12 o’clock to announce the Angelus. They ring again at three for Benediction. They peel at length on Sundays and feast days, for Baptisms and weddings. They toll at times of mourning.

Inside, San Marco has all the timeless and universal symbols of  Catholicism. There is the familiar scent of incense and candle wax, the dim light, the wooden pews, the pillars, the confessional boxes, the Stations of the Cross, the altar and its white cloths, the gilded tabernacle, the small red lamp glowing beside it, the stone angels, the paintings of Our Lady, the infant Jesus and the saints.

All this was the backdrop to my girlhood, the culture in which I grew up. I am not surprised to find it, here in San Marco, Via Taormina. Italy, is after all “the source” and the “Mecca” of the Catholic faith. The nuns, our teachers, too, always confident that we would make our way out into the wide world, had promised that in any Catholic church, anywhere,  we would find all the same symbols and rituals.  What does surprise me, is my sense of belonging and how much “at home” I feel here.

Time Unlimited Tours wins National Geographic World Legacy Award

The Auckland based tour company TIME Unlimited has just won the prestigious National Geographic World Legacy Award  in the “Sense of place Category”.  http://www.newzealandtours.travel

Time Unlimited's guided walks on Auckland's wild west coast
Time Unlimited’s guided walks on Auckland’s wild west coast

It’s no surprise to those who know Time Unlimited. For 11 years now they’ve been welcoming visitors to “their place” showing them its unbelievably beautiful landscapes and sharing its unique experiences with them.

Time Unlimited was established in 2005 by bicultural couple Ceillhe and Neill Sperath. Ceillhe is Maori, a direct descendant of the Ngapuhi chief, Patuone. Neill is tauiwi, of Irish and German origin, and a New Zealander by choice. Both are passionate about their country. Both are equally passionate about how its unique culture and environment should be shared. TIME Unlimited reflects this.

TIME Unlimited says Ceillhe Sperath, is founded on three essential pou, or pillars, of Maoritanga, or Maori culture; manaakitanga or hospitality, whanaungatanga, or relationships and kaitiakitanga, or guardianship. On their tours, the Speraths explain, manaakitanga translates into welcoming, respectful, caring, reliable and punctual service; whanaungatanga means sharing experiences, finding common ground, forging links, making friends and becoming like family; kaitiakitanga means responsibility, respect, care and protection for the environment – the streets, parks and institutions, the land, sea and bush that they pass through.

This highly contested, coveted National Geographic World Legacy Award is a fitting tribute to a company that has a true sense of place, that cherishes Aotearoa New Zealand and is dedicated to safeguarding it for future generations.

He mihi nui ki a koutou katoa!