Be An Actor My Son, But Be a Comical One

by Nancy Bestor

Having been to my fair share of live entertainment, I think I can safely say that show business is tough. A few instances of public speaking in college, which led to sweaty palms and even sweatier armpits, proved that I am not cut out for the stage. Because the truth is, whether you’re singing or dancing in front of a crowd, or even reciting the Gettysburg Address, you have got to have cojones, and I (both literally and figuratively) have none. Bob and I were fortunate enough to be in Christchurch, New Zealand last year during the annual World Buskers Festival. In its 24th year, the 10 day festival draws more than 200,000 attendees and boasts more than 60 acts from 13 nations that perform in tents, on outdoor stages, in downtown Christchurch venues, and on the streets. The acts range from acrobats to magic shows, and from slapstick comedy to burlesque. There are shows on just for kids (or kids at heart), as well as 21 and older shows at night inside tents. Many shows with official seating inside of tents sell out before hand.

While some of the shows we saw missed the mark, the majority were pretty darn amusing, even laugh out loud funny. One of my favorites was Victor Rubilar, Argentinian football performer and comedian. Rubilar combines soccer ball juggling and tricks with a fun comedy show. Another great act was Moira’s Wheel of Fortune, where Scottish fortune-teller Moira Mackenzie predicts your future or at least, her idea of it. Theatreview NZ calls Moira a cross between Mrs. Doubtfire and Professor Trelawney. She was a hoot.

After seeing six different acts at the Festival, I’ve decided that every one of these buskers has cojones. For what I’m guessing is fairly little money, they all work incredibly hard. Sometimes they get big laughs, and sometimes they get no laughs, but they have found a way to keep on going. I couldn’t tell if their armpits were sweaty.

The majority of Buskers Festival events took place in North Hagley Park, a lovely spot on the outskirts of downtown Christchurch. Since the devastating 6.4 magnitude earthquake of 2011, Christchurch has struggled to rebuild. We were stunned to find so much of the city still in rubble, condemned, or only in the very early stages of reconstruction.

I was glad that the Buskers Festival was in town, as otherwise two full days in Christchurch would have been one day too many. We strolled through the lovely Christchurch Botanic Gardens, and visited Cathedral Junction, where restored heritage trams start their journey.

We also stopped in at the Re:Start Mall, an outdoor shopping area made from shipping containers, which were brought in as a temporary solution for retailers after the earthquake, but became so popular that they have become an internationally famous icon and Christchurch destination spot.

The main sites of Christchurch are easily walkable, and although our accommodations – Pomeroy’s on Kilmore — were on the outskirts of town, we enjoyed walking to and from downtown and seeing what the city had to offer. Pomeroy’s is mainly a pub and restaurant, housed in a beautifully restored historic building. But they also have charming “boutique accommodations” right next door to the pub: five different rooms in a guest house, with breakfast included at a nearby restaurant. Our room, the Canterbury Room, was about $120 a night.

 

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Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

by Nancy Bestor

I’m a planner. I like to know what I’m going to be doing two hours from now, two days from now, and two weeks from now. When traveling, I like to have seen the hotels I’ll be staying at ahead of time. I like to read restaurant reviews prior to dining, and I like to know how far I’m going to be traveling to my next destination. Spontaneity is not really in my vocabulary.

But alas, travel plans don’t always go the way we expect. Hotel pictures are frequently deceiving, and a good restaurant review on Yelp doesn’t guarantee a good meal. And then there’s weather – it seems that Mother Nature often has a mind of her own. Thus, sometimes you’ve just got to make lemonade out of lemons.

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When Bob and I were in New Zealand earlier this year it was their “summer.” The weather wasn’t hot, rather it was mostly very pleasant. But when we got to Franz Josef, a town on the Western coast of the South Island of New Zealand, a place we had pre-booked for three nights, it started raining. But it wasn’t just raining, it was pouring. Our plan had been to do lots of hiking in this beautiful part of the country. Franz Josef boasts two beautiful glaciers, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, as well as many other outstanding treks with stunning vistas. But did I mention that it poured? It rained so hard that many paths and walkways were completely washed out by flooding. And in addition to the rain, the stunning vistas were often shrouded by fog.

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But Bob and I agreed that we had no control over the weather (a shocking revelation, I know) and just figured we would play the cards that nature dealt us and get outside whenever the rain let up. New Zealand is incredibly organized for tourists. Each city we visited had amazing tourist offices, boasting great maps, the ability to make reservations for any kind of activity you wanted to do, and most importantly for us, the latest news on open tracks for hiking.

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One tourist office was directly across the street from our Franz Josef hotel, and we stopped in many times to get updates on hiking paths. The national park workers were diligent and worked as fast as they could to get paths (even makeshift ones) open for hiking, and detailed, up to date news was always available at the tourist office. Information such as “this path will be open at 3pm this afternoon, or another path at 10am tomorrow,” could not have been better.

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So even though the weather was iffy, we hiked anyway.  Yes, our hikes were cold, wet and foggy, but we dressed appropriately, and every now and then the clouds would break and we’d get a stunning view of the glaciers. We may not have been able to see the perfect reflection of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman in the still waters of Lake Matheson, but we got to pose for a great kiss on a beautiful walking bridge with no one around to bother us. And perhaps we didn’t get as up close and personal to the primary viewpoint of Franz Josef Glacier, because the path had completely washed away, but we did get up close and personal to some beautiful sheep on a hike along Gillespie’s Beach. This hike had an awesome miner’s tunnel too, at the end of a jungle-like hiking trail.

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I dare say our three days in Franz Josef with inclement weather worked out just perfectly. It turns out our lemonade was really delicious.

Penguins Are So Sensitive to My Needs

by Nancy Bestor

When planning our recent trip to New Zealand’s South Island, there was one activity on our “must do” list—an evening visit to see Blue Penguins (the world’s smallest penguin) return from a day of fishing at sea to their nesting burrows in Oamaru. Little did we know that a visit to Oamaru and the penguins would also mean that we would have our minds blown in a space-time travel gateway known as “The Portal” at Steampunk HQ. But first the penguins.

Blue penguins breed on the coastal mainland and islands of New Zealand and Southern Australia. Measuring about 30 cm (about 12 inches) tall, the penguins are not active on land in the day, as they are either at sea fishing or hiding in their nesting burrows. But just after dusk, groups of penguins arrive back from their hard day’s work, and waddle onto shore and up into the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. Owned by the local government, the facility started in 1992 as a safe harbor for the blue penguins, and now boasts more than 75,000 visitors a year. We booked well in advance, as the tour regularly sells out.

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Visitors have two options, “general entry”—seating in an outdoor viewing grandstand for 350 people—or “premium viewing” that offers seating much closer to the penguins and their route from the shore to their burrows. The difference in price was about $11 US dollars per person, ($31 compared to $20), but it is certainly worth it, as there was a huge difference in viewing distance!

Guides offered some information about the penguins before it got dark, but once dusk ended, no sound was allowed, to keep from scaring the penguins. No photos or electronic devices of any kind were allowed either, and it was astonishing to me how many times the guides had to ask people to put away their phones and cameras. One guide finally threatened a woman that he would throw her out if he saw her phone out of her purse again.

As the penguins waddled onto shore it was just as adorable as I expected it to be. The guides watched with binoculars as the groups swam toward shore, so we had warning when each group would arrive, and they seemed to travel in packs of 10-12. More than 75 came onto shore that evening, and they were a delight to behold. I wish I had photos to share with you (see paragraph above), but alas, I am not a rule breaker. We visited in early February, which is the tail end of the penguin season. During high season (December and early January), as many as 200 penguins come onto shore each night.

Another “attraction” of Oamaru is New Zealand’s premier Steampunk experience, Steampunk HQ. Before visiting New Zealand, I didn’t know exactly what Steampunk was. And after visiting Steampunk HQ, I still don’t know exactly what Steampunk is. Apparently, Steampunk started as a science fiction sub-genre. Today, in addition to literature, Steampunk is also used to describe fashion, art, architecture, and more. Steampunk HQ is a museum/gallery of sorts, but just like I can’t describe the term Steampunk very well, it’s also hard to describe HQ. It features exhibits, art, movies, and the above referenced space time travel gateway.

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When we bought our $7 entrance tickets, the Steampunk HQ host strongly advised us not to miss “The Portal,” a light machine that “transports you to alternate realities.” He told us once we experienced the Portal, we would want to go back in and do it again. He encouraged us to follow our instinct and take another trip. Without giving too much away, I’ll describe the Portal as an incredibly awesome light and sound experience. We loved it, and we were under the influence of no substances whatsoever.  We did indeed take a second, and then a third trip through the Portal. I can tell you without hesitation that the Portal alone is worth the price of admission to Steampunk HQ.

Oamaru is a cute, quaint and sleepy town. It’s worthy of a stop even if you don’t make it to the Penguin Colony or Steampunk HQ. But these two attractions elevate Oamaru to a must see when on a tour of New Zealand’s South Island.

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Notes:

  • We stayed at the Criterion Hotel, a simple historic hotel built in 1877, with rooms above a lovely bar and restaurant. Our room with private bath was about $80 a night. The hotel and pub are the cornerstone building at the edge of Oamaru’s restored Victorian precinct.
  • The two-block Victorian precinct is also home to many preserved buildings, and houses unusual shops, galleries and more. It’s a great browsing/shopping neighborhood. We ate some terrific savory pies at the Harbour Street Bakery, and sampled delicious locally made ice cream at Deja Moo.
  • We also ate a splendid Italian dinner at Cucina 1871. This was a popular spot, seemingly for both locals and tourists, and I’m still thinking about the Ricotta/Walnut/Pesto Ravioli I ate there.

You Can Check Out Anytime You Want

by Nancy Bestor

When our children were growing up, they loved staying in hotels of all shapes and sizes. They were quite enamored with hotel features and amenities. They loved sitting in fancy chairs in the lobby. They loved taking turns pressing the elevator buttons. They loved swimming in hotel pools. They loved the mini shampoo bottles and the ice machines down the hall.

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I get it. Hotel stays sometimes feel like an escape from regular life. But I can safely say that at 49 years old, I don’t love every hotel I stay in. I’m not so excited by elevator buttons, or swimming pools, or mini shampoo bottles and ice machines. I’ll be honest, I’m a little more discriminating these days. I like quality accommodations. I value sheets with high thread counts and comfortable mattresses. I like roomy bathrooms filled with plenty of soft towels and good toilet paper.

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But if I could bend your ear (or your eyeballs) and tell you about my ultimate dream hotel, it has all of the things I mentioned above (particularly the good toilet paper), as well as some kind of old world charm and/or small family feel to it. I like a little history, but at the same time, I like modern conveniences. I like hotels that are run by families, or people who feel like family. I’m not interested in high-rise structures with hundreds of rooms, but rather prefer an old building that has been a hotel for a hundred years, or a home or unusual structure that has been converted to a hotel. We’ve stayed in a lot of hotels over the years and we’ve been fortunate to find more than a few unique ones along the way, that also offer many of the amenities I prize.

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In New Zealand for example, we stayed at two different “pub” hotels, where rooms were either next door to, or above, a cozy local drinking establishment. Although I worried about the potential noise, in both cases, it was just as quiet as a typical hotel room. In Bangkok, we stayed at Siamotif, a small, family run hotel that had been converted from the owner’s original family home. In Shanghai, we stayed at the Astor House Hotel, which opened in 1846 and boasts a past guest list that includes Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and Ulysses S. Grant. And in Memphis, we watched the ducks parade in each morning of our stay from their penthouse suite on the hotel roof to the fountain in the lobby at the Peabody Hotel. Now I’ll admit, they didn’t all have sheets with high thread count, but I was willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort for a little history and a lot of charm.

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Maybe the hotel offers guests a lovely local drink when they check in. Perhaps they provide snacks and/or drinks at happy hour every day. Maybe they leave handwritten notes from housekeeping making sure guests have everything they need. These are the little extras that excite me.

The cities of the world offer an abundance of hotels that travelers can choose to stay in when visiting. My ideal hotel certainly isn’t right for everyone, but it’s exactly what I aspire to find when hotel shopping. Here are a few of the things Bob and I do when looking for a hotel. We Google “unique hotels” for our destination and then spend lots of time (arguably too much) reading reviews from other hotel guests. We look at as many pictures (those published by the hotel and by guests as well) as we can find. And then, when we book, we try and make sure our booking can be canceled in the event we find something better.

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Of course we are not always successful. Sometimes our number one choice is too expensive. Sometimes there are no vacancies. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. But that just makes the times we do find them that much more special.

I Want to Ride My Bicycle – I Want to Ride My Bike

by Nancy Bestor

DSC04401Now that both our children are away at college, I’ve been on a search for “my thing”. I need a hobby (that isn’t reading on the couch) that I can become passionate about. I’ve started playing the guitar, am trying to hike and walk more often with girlfriends, and have also increased my road bike riding. Thus when Bob suggested we rent bikes in Queenstown, New Zealand, and go for a 30+ mile ride, I was an enthusiastic yes. And when we picked up a map from the bike rental agency, and I saw that the ride we would be doing was considered “moderate,” I gave two enthusiastic thumbs up. Little did I know that New Zealand’s idea of moderate and my idea of moderate are two very different things.

Our plan of attack was to bike to Arrowtown for lunch, then roll on to the town of Gibbston, where we would finish at a winery with a glass or two of Central Otago’s finest varietals before the bike rental shuttle picked us up and drove us back into Queenstown. Actually, we had originally planned to ride out to Arrowtown and Gibbston, and then back to Queenstown, but Lisa, the incredibly kind, knowledgeable and reasonable woman at the rental agency, talked us out of that, and convinced us that our ride would be long enough if we took a shuttle back. Thanks to Lisa, Bob and I will celebrate another wedding anniversary.

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In the beginning, on our mountain bikes, our ride was flat and lovely. We started out going around the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu, on an extremely well signed and well-maintained gravel bike path. Then we rode along a river, also lovely and fairly easy. We had the bike trail almost to ourselves and to begin with, it was nothing but lovely vistas of rolling hills and snow capped peaks and pedestrian/biker-only bridges that span some of the bluest rivers in the world. I began to feel like bike riding might really be “my thing”. I started picturing myself riding Cycle Oregon, and/or choosing a century ride in a beautiful location. But that’s where the easy ended and (in my humble opinion) we skipped right over the moderate category and into difficult. There were many uphill climbs and switchbacks—damn those switchbacks. I got off my bike twice because I just didn’t think I could keep pedaling fast enough to stay upright. This is when I started thinking that maybe sewing or quilting might be a better “thing” for me.

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The views were still lovely, but I was concentrating pretty darn hard on keeping my legs going in a circular motion. I did indeed make it to the top of Thompson’s Hill, which was the end of the hard part. From there we had about six more miles to make it to Arrowtown, a very cute gold-rush town with many original buildings. We ate lunch there, and quaffed a beer to replenish the thousands and thousands of calories we had burned off in the three hours so far. The lunch and beers were delicious.

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After lunch, we hopped back on our bikes, energy renewed for the final eight-mile ride to Gibbston. Along the way we rode over the Kawarau Bridge, “world home” of bungee jumping. Many, many brave souls were waiting their turn to bungee 43 meters to the river below. We stopped to catch our breath watch a few bungee jumps. The music was pumping, people were cheering, and one poor young woman was sobbing as she gathered the courage to jump off the bungee ledge. (The mother in me really wanted to go over to her and tell her that perhaps if she was crying so hard about this upcoming jump, she really shouldn’t do it, but I kept my mouth shut.) I can say, without a doubt, that bungee jumping will never be “my thing.”

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Our bike ride ended at the Gibbston Valley Winery. We bought a flight of wines with a cheese pairing and sat our weary butts down on a hard bench and relished in our accomplishment. Soon our van driver arrived, and it just so happened to be Lisa, the same woman who convinced us to arrange a shuttle. I bowed down to her in gratitude.

So I guess my take away from this adventure was that century rides might not be my thing. And bungee jumping is definitely not my thing either. But spirited bike rides that end in wine and cheese pairings???…….now we may be getting somewhere.

Notes:

  • Our day-long bike rental, including the shuttle pickup, cost $127 in US dollars for both of us. I don’t know how much of that was the shuttle pickup, but in my opinion, it was priceless.
  • If you’re crazy brave enough to bungee jump at the Kawarau Bridge, the cost for one jump is about $140 (US).
  • Arrowtown looks like a cute town to browse in. My legs just didn’t have the energy to do so. We ate at the Fork & Tap, in a charming historic building. We also got delicious sticky buns (which came highly recommended) at Provisions.
  • Our waitress at the Fork & Tap had never before heard of Root Beer.

We Were Never Being Boring

by Nancy Bestor

I don’t think of myself as a boring person, per se. It’s true I usually choose solid colored clothing over wild prints. It’s also true that a comfortable couch and a stack of good books sounds like my idea of a great weekend. But that doesn’t constitute boring. That means sensible and smart. (Am I right?)

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Then Bob and I rented a car on the South Island of New Zealand. When we picked it up, I thought it was a perfect sized, gas conscious vehicle. Sensible and smart, just like me. But then we got on the open roads of the island, and I started to see “fun” car rentals. And once I saw one, I saw thousands. (Sometimes an exaggeration really is needed in a first person travel story.)

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There were vans that looked like the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine, there were Road Runner cars, there were Beastie Boys vans, and more.

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Somehow, we missed the memo about how the cool kids rent cool cars in New Zealand. There was even (ahem) a Bill Cosby car. Someone needs to let that car rental agency know that Bill Cosby is no longer a positive image to portray on a vehicle.

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Yes, my little silver rental car got good gas mileage. And it had plenty of room for our needs. But I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing out on something.

And don’t get me started on the mail boxes. My mailbox in Ashland, Oregon, is one in a stack of simple metal rectangular boxes.

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No more, no less. But we saw mailboxes designed like beer kegs, snow skiis, sharks, and birdhouses, to name just a few. I think it would be way more fun to pick up my bills everyday (because let’s be honest, that’s all I get in the mail anymore) if I could say hello to Snoopy while doing it.

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And finally the bras. Yes, the bras. I won’t go into detail about the style and color of my bras. But, needless to say, they don’t look anything like the bras we saw tied to the fence post in the Cardrona Valley. The Cardrona Bra Fence is, you guessed it, a fence with hundreds of bras hanging from it.

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Legend has it that around the year 2000, four women hung their bras after a very fun evening at the Cardrona Hotel. However it began, it quickly caught on, and women began hanging their bras in solidarity.

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In 2006, authorities removed the bras, saying the fence was “a potential hazard” to drivers, but the bras kept coming back. And they remain today.

I may not be boring, maybe, but let’s just say that New Zealand is wayyyyyy more interesting than me.

Nobody’s Fault But Mine

by Bob Bestor

breathalizer Guilt is a powerful force. So is anxiety. Usually both feelings are pointless and unwarranted. But when you are in a foreign country (New Zealand in this case), and out of sorts from both jet lag and driving on the wrong side of the road, you might be more susceptible to them. Particularly when you are approaching Uniformed Law Enforcement Officers and their sobriety checkpoint roadblock. As pointless as guilt and anxiety may be, they are there. They must be vestiges of my barely-catholic upbringing.

So even though I was stone-cold sober, it was sweaty palms time. I knew I had not been drinking, but my sweaty palms didn’t seem to care. But when it got to be my turn, it was no problem and even quite civil. The police officer simply asked me to count to five into his hand-held breathalyzer. The results were displayed instantly (“no alcohol”) and in my case we were on our way in about thirty seconds with a “Have a nice day.” Even taking photos of the event was no problem. I’d guess it wouldn’t have been quite so civil had I failed.

Fortunately we were already familiar with New Zealand’s sobriety checkpoints. On our first day, while on foot, we had seen a checkpoint at 4pm on a weekday afternoon just outside of downtown Christchurch. We thought it was an odd time and place. But then again, why not? It certainly is a good way to advertise to the general public that the cops are on the lookout. It was also the only time we came upon a checkpoint when we were not 100% sober!

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New Zealand seems to take what they call “drink driving” seriously. In addition to sobriety checkpoints, “Know Your Limit” posters are ubiquitous in bars and restaurants. The poster features two young and hip New Zealanders, a man and a woman, and goes into quite a bit of detail on the effects of various alcoholic drinks and offers a rule of thumb of three drinks over two hours for men and two drinks over two hours for women.

We went through three checkpoints and saw a couple others during our two-week visit to the south island of New Zealand. It was enough to make us switch drivers after our friendly visit to the St. Clair Bowling Club in Dunedin. I was more like “three over one and a half” and although I was our primary driver, we figured it was better to get in trouble with the rental car company than with New Zealand’s finest – and to not deal with the catholic guilt either.