Life begins in Milan

It was about this time of the year, perhaps just a little later, that we arrived in Milan. Nobody I knew had nothing positive to say about the place. It was cold, it was old, it was dirty, it was shabby, it was industrial, it was ugly.

Via Taormina from our balcony
Via Taormina from our balcony

Nothing, however, could dampen my enthusiasm. It was Italy! Cold! Who cared, with all those museums, art galleries, cafes, bars, restaurants and shops offering warmth and shelter? Old? That meant history and heritage – Roman ruins and streets where Leonardo Da Vinci had walked. Dirty and shabby equalled character. Industrial? – Ferari factories and fashion fiera! Fabulous! Ugly? Well beauty, in my book, was confined to the eye of the beholder. I was determined to see it!

Old, beautiful, characterful and sunny! I thought, as we broke through the clouds and circled a city lit by watery winter sunlight.

Our taxi careened along the freeway, steering its own path, or so it seemed, while the driver talked incessantly with both his mouth and his hands, turning, and even leaning, from time to time, over the front seat to look us in the eye. My grasp of Italian, at that stage, was hazy, but it was clear that he was expounding, with great enthusiasm, on the marvels of Milan. I responded with appreciative nods, smiles and with little gestures that I hoped would encourage him to keep his eyes on the road and his hands on the wheel. They were lost in translation.

“Ecco! Via Taormina!” he exclaimed, throwing both arms out in triumph, as we zoomed round a corner, past a church, into a street flanked by cars parked nose to tail and overlooked by a mix of buildings representing every age of construction from middle to modern. Via Taormina was part of the city sprawl that had swallowed whole and left undigested, a small village, with its church, walled gardens, stone houses and stables.

“Ecco! – La Casa!” our driver announced, beaming over the back seat and screeching to halt simultaneously.

Our Via Taormina apartment building was a chunky, stone edifice, of indeterminate age and undeniable ugliness. But ugliness, like beauty, is only skin deep and, inside, our apartment was beautiful. The rooms were large, with wooden floors, tall windows and furniture that spoke of household set up in a vintage somewhere around the mid 1900s . At the front, French doors opened from the lounge and onto a wide, sunny balcony that looked out over the neighbourhood. Potted bamboo and trees, covered in tiny buds, promised shade, flowers and fresh green leaves in a few months’ time. The kitchen was equipped with every conceivable 20th century culinary invention and utensil. Platters, plates, dishes, glassware and cutlery to cater for any occasion and any number of guests spoke of large family feasts and gargantuan cook-ups. In bedrooms there were beds with ornate headboards and dressing tables with doilies and ornaments. This was not just an apartment. It was a home and the presence of the life lived here was strong, close and welcoming. It wrapped around me like a shawl borrowed from a dear friend. I knew that I would be happy and that I would also be at home here.

This was the beginning of life in Milan.

Devonport

Devonport, on Auckland’s north shore is a quiet,  picturesque marine village.

An after school swim in Devonport
An after school swim in Devonport

Despite a shopping strip with upmarket boutiques and trendy restaurants, cafes and bars offering cuisine from all around the world, Devonport is a haven of a timeless, relaxed, New Zealand lifestyle.

Kids drop in for a swim after school at the wharf at Stanley Point, the ferry chugs in and out as it has for over a century, taking commuters over to the city to work, houses, grand and modest look out over the same million dollar harbour views and watch the cruise ships sail up Auckland Harbour.

Devonport’s Mount Victoria, another of Auckland’s extinct volcanoes, is the resting place of the great Ngapuhi chief Patuone. Known as the peacemaker because of the role he played in persuading the Tangata Whenua to accept a partnership with the British Crown rather than to attempt to resist it (against overwhelming odds, it must be said) he laid the foundations for modern bi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand.

Devonport is also home to Auckland’s Naval Base.

Two good reasons to drop into Moeraki

Moeraki is a tiny seaside village with a huddle of beach houses, a pub, a community centre, a small sheltered harbour where a dozen weather beaten boats bob at anchor, a couple of beautiful sheltered bays with golden sand and rippling blue waves. It’s set right at the ocean’s edge, well off the track beaten by State Highway through the last quarter of Aotearoa New Zealand’s South Island.

Fleur's Place
Fleur’s Place

Moeraki is not the kind of place that you might blink and miss. It’s the kind of place you might miss completely because you wouldn’t know that it was there, across the paddocks, hidden in the lee of the cliffs. There are, however two compelling reasons to slow at the Moeraki turn-off, leave State Highway 1 and cruise slowly towards the sea.

The first reason is the mysterious Moeraki boulders. Round and perfect, they sit like giant cannon balls on the sand. Maori legend has it that the boulders are the remains of calabashes, eel baskets and kumara, washed up after the wreck of the waka, or canoe Arai-te-uru. The nearby rocky arms that reach out into the sea are said to be the waka’s hull and the promontory nearby is the body of the captain. Science explains them as rocks pulled from their mudstone bed by the sea, caked with thousands of layers of mud and sand and slat by the wind and water, then worn smooth and round by the constant wash of the waves.

The second reason to take that detour off State Highway One and meander down to Moeraki, is Fleur’s Place, one of the region’s if not the South Island’s, if not even Aotearoa NZ’s most popular seafood restaurants. Set at the edge of the little harbour, overlooking the boats on one side and the vast Pacific horizon on the other, Fleur’s Place is housed in a weather worn corrugated iron and stone building. Inside its walls are busy with memorabilia of Moeraki’s seafaring history. On the day we dropped into Fleur’s, without a booking, all the tables were taken and only the last three seats at the bar remained. We took them and then watched a stream of disappointed, also unbooked punters turned away. The seafood with thick slices of rustic bread and the fish of the day with salad and chips explained why it is always absolutely imperative to book at Fleurs. Everything was fresh, perfectly cooked and exquisitely presented. Furthermore, Fleur’s is a place with a wonderful atmosphere, a superb outlook and interesting, helpful and cheerful staff.

Don’t miss Moeraki, make the turn, ponder the mysterious boulders, enjoy a fresh from the ocean seafood lunch at Fleurs, but to guarantee your place even at the bar, book.

Courage, Paris!

The streets of Paris in another time
The streets of Paris in another time

It’s been almost three weeks since Paris was torn apart by the terror attacks in which 127 people were killed and 200 more injured, 99 critically.

The Parisians were quick to rally, refusing to be driven off the streets but returning to them the next day to light candles, lay flowers and keep vigil in the places where their fellows had been mown down, standing in solidarity to sing the Marseillaise and declare “Je suis Paris”.

The images that ran in endless rotation on my TV screen, far away in peaceful mid-Canterbury in Aotearoa New Zealand, over the next week, reminded me of a photo I had once seen. It said the same thing as those people from every walk of life and from the many races that comprise Paris, holding candles, laying flowers and with linked arms, marching singing through the streets. It spoke of resilience, courage and an indomitable spirit. It said “La vie continue!”

It was a photo, taken during World War II. It shows a French matron, impeccably dressed in a coat, hat and gloves with her handbag on her arm. With her head held high, her shoulders back and a look of determination on her face, she makes her way through rubble strewn streets, past a bombed out building.

“Courage, Paris et continue!”

Ferrymead Heritage Park

Located at the foot of Christchurch’s Port Hills, on the site, initially, of an ancient Maori hunting ground and later, of Zealand’s first public railway, Ferrymead Heritage Park includes the model town of Moorhouse (old Christchurch from colonial times to the 1920s) as well as a transport and technology museum.

The Grocer's store at Ferrymead
The Grocer’s store at Ferrymead

On weekends and during holidays, a team of dedicated volunteers mans the businesses and transport of Moorhouse and visitors stream into the little town to ride the tram and the old steam train.

On the Thursday afternoon that we visited Ferrymead all its attractions were ‘static’, which meant that neither the transport, nor the businesses in the town were manned and operating. Still everything was open and the whole of Moorhouse was ours.

We could visit one another in “our” cottages and shops. We could linger in the dimly-lit church and in the spooky gaol, where a criminal dummy lay stretched on a bed, staring with glassy eyes at a small barred window. We could tinker with the pumps in the street and potter with the gadgets in the sheds. We could sit in the single classroom in the little school. We could push buttons and follow tiny trains around miniature landscapes, through tunnels, points, signals and crossings in the model railway shed. We could hide in the thunderbox outhouse and scuff along dusty roads.

There were huge garages lined with motors from every era. There were hangars full of aeroplanes, including an old NAC Friendship like the one on which I took my first flight in the 1960s.

It was a great afternoon for all of us – a lovely walk down Memory Lane for the baby boomers and a fabulous flight of imagination for the 21st century kids.

A last word on Wellington

When you’ve explored Te Papa, tramped out the walkways, south, east and city to sea, descended into Middle Earth, soaked up the uber cool atmosphere of Cuba Street and the Aro Valley, studied the seals at Red Rocks and taken in the view of the Kaikouras from the south coast, ridden the cable car, shopped the fabulous NZ fashion houses down on Customhouse Quay, taken a taste adventure at Fusion Virtuoso in Manners Mall, strolled along Oriental Bay, eating a Kapiti ice-cream – in short, when you’ve worn yourself out trying to do everything there is to do in Wellington, head down to the waterfront.

Taking a dive down on the Wellington Waterfront
Taking a dive down on the Wellington Waterfront

Collapse into a bean-bag on the lawn outside the bar behind the old St John’s Ambulance HQ. It’s name? I can’t say and haven’t time right now to google it – but you can’t miss it. Order up a beer and people watch.

No spare bean bags. Don’t worry! Head around the corner to the big brick building – there’s an even bigger bar here, with indoor and outdoor spaces. If there’s no room at this inn, then pinch a chair and with that and your tipple of choice in hand, park yourself at the land’s edge. Start your own party and or just enjoy the view.

The view down here is fascinating. There are tugboats at anchor, birds wheeling, people walking and, despite all the signs prohibiting it, youths doing death-defying dives from the wharf.

This cavalier of behaviour, which flies in the face of rules, weather and convention yet emerges, wet, shivering but grinning in the teeth of discomfort, is a fitting last word on Wellington for me. Against impossible climatic and geographical odds, it not only survives but thrives, with a flourish!

Te Papa

Creative, quirky and vibrant, Wellington has the feel of a place where things happen and where anything is possible. Hippy, arty, Bohemian and discerning, with a taste for the good things of life and an overlay of NZ’s distinctive Maori Polynesian traditions, it has a culture all of its own.

Te Papa
Te Papa

Te Papa, Wellington’s Museum is the perfect cultural storehouse for a city like this. As a building it is strikingly different. It crouches boldly, almost defiantly at the water’s edge, its bold  stone and glass  glinting in the sun, glistening in the rain.

When it opened in 1997, Te Papa was a forerunner in the hands on, inter-active whizz-bang fleet of world Museums, with their attention-grabbing displays. Nor has it shied away from the controversial or contentious and one of its early exhibitions which included the infamous virgin in a condom, had banner waving protesters lined up outside its doors for days.

Yet, alongside all this, Te Papa has provided a fitting place for the ancient treasures of the nation, those things which need no shouts of acclamation but make their own discreet statement. So it is with many Te Papa exhibitions too, which plainly and quietly, tell the stories of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Te Papa is a must for any Wellington visit.

Taylor 100% pure New Zealand

Browsing among the elegant and superbly cut collection in Wellington’s Taylor Boutique in the Old Bank Building on the corner of Customhouse Quay and Hunter Street, one might well wonder if the name Taylor is play on the name of the age old trade.

Taylor, in the old Bank Building, Customhouse Quay
Taylor, in the old Bank Building, Customhouse Quay

But no, Taylor is the family name of founder Vicki Taylor, daughter, as it happens, of a fashion industry family.

Still, exquisite tailoring, along with impeccable production and the closest attention to detail, is a hallmark of Taylor pieces. So is fine cloth and all fabrics are carefully selected form the world’s best mills.

The house of Taylor is staunchly Aotearoa New Zealand. Taylor  fashions are fully designed and manufactured in New Zealand. Furthermore, Taylor has steered clear of global stores and outlets. Taylor collections are sold only in Taylor boutiques and online stores.

Careful, classy and 100% pure New Zealand – that’s Taylor!

Work and weekend perfect at Workshop

Wellington is Aotearoa New Zealand’s capital city and the engine room of the nation. It’s a place of serious work.

Workshop Wellington
Workshop Wellington

For the serious, work-perfect wardrobe, head downtown to Workshop, on the corner of Hunter Street and Customhouse Quay.

Workshop was established in 1980 by designer Chris Cherry and is the home of the Workshop Denim brand, which he founded in 1982. “Workshop Denim’s focus is on real life, substance and authenticity…each Workshop Denim piece has an intrinsic emphasis on simplicity of cut, quality of cloth and attention to detail”  (www.workshop.co.nz)

Also part of the Workshop house is the high end women’s fashion brand Helen Cherry “Renowned for her trademark sophisticated design and understated glamour, distinctive aspects set Helen Cherry apart – exclusive and luxurious fabrics, a unique colour palette, subtle sex appeal, impeccable fit and quality of manufacture” (www.workshop.co.nz)

While workshop Denim and Helen Cherry form the core of the Workshop collection, there are international designer labels too, including Isabel Marant, Vanessa Bruno, Alexander Wang and Marc by Marc Jacobs.

Housed in a former Bank building, the Customhouse Quay Workshop store is a spacious, light-filled space and trying, buying, or browsing here is truly enjoyable experience.

Oh and while you’re down at Workshop on the corner of Hunter Street and Customhouse Quay, trying on those work-perfect pieces you’re sure to find plenty of “must haves” for all those out of work occasions too!

A Fabulous fashion find at Moochi

With its rugged terrain and ferocious weather, you might assume that the Wellington uniform would be serious warm, water and windproof wear, right? Not entirely. While parkas, trackies, beanies and boots are de riguer for hilltop tracks and coastal paths, downtown it’s a different story.

Moochi at 111 Customhouse Quay
Moochi at 111 Customhouse Quay

To serve all the needs of the serious Wellington fashionista, not to mention the shopaholic, as well the browser, there’s a cluster of brilliant boutiques in a short strip along Customhouse Quay in the CBD. Among them is the fabulous Moochi, 111 Customhouse Quay.

The Moochi brand was born in a small design workshop in the Bay of Plenty beach town of Mount Maunganui. Since then, although its boutiques have hit most NZ cities, Moochi has continued to create in house, to keep its production runs small and to manufacture almost entirely in New Zealand. Moochi has remained faithful to its original aim “to arm women with a cohesive, adaptable wardrobe of pieces that work effortlessly together for work or play. Moochi pieces are of premium quality, ensuring longevity not only in fabrication but also in style” 2015 NZ Fashion Week website.

It was autumn, when I last dropped into Wellington. I had  come to town with a winter wardrobe, built for warmth and protection.  Wellington, however, was basking in an Indian summer. My clothes were heavy, my clothes were hot. I needed something for today’s heat, but I also needed something for the possibility of tomorrow’s cold. I needed something comfortable. I also needed something smart. I needed something for Wellington. I also needed something for Melbourne. I needed all this in one outfit.

I found it at moochi, 111 Customhouse Quay, in the Wellington CBD. It was the Rule dress from the Moochi Faithfuls collection, an “easy fit tee dress shape is treated with horizontal pleats at the front. this is a machine washable chiffon dress that will look good anywhere anytime, worn to work, a party or in the weekend” (moochi website)

I wore the Moochi Rule dress to lunch that day in the Aro Valley. I wore it to drinks that evening on the waterfront. I wore it to dinner that night, at Fusion Virtuoso in Manners Mall. When the weather turned cold for the 80th birthday at Pipitea Marae the next day, I teamed it with a Scanlon and Theodore suit jacket – perfect! I wear it frequently in Melbourne, sometimes with a coat, sometimes with a jacket, sometimes even with a cardy . Like all moochi fashion it is a dress that is “all about a style,  not an age. Whether racing around town, meeting friends at night or chilling at your local on a Saturday morning, it is all about looking and feeling amazing”. moochi website

Travel stories, anecdotes and observations