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The Ladder for Spirits

At the very top of the North Island of New Zealand is a point called Cape Reinga. This is a special site in Maori mythology. According to the tales, an old pohutukawa tree grows on the cliff, and it is said that the roots of this tree provide a ladder for spirits to descend into the tumultuous waters and the final underworld below.

A non-stop procession of spirits travels through the far North to reach Cape Reinga and the ladder path to the underworld. The northern Maori tribes used to hear the rustle and passing of countless people and especially after a big battle when many warriors were slain.

All the ingredients for a fictional novel, I think!

Cape Reinga Lighthouse, New Zealand

This is the lighthouse at Cape Reinga. The ladder for the spirits is supposedly on the cliffs beyond.

Source: Favorite Maori Legends by AW Reed, revised by Ross Calman.

Venice, the Romantic Destination #Travel

In a walk down memory lane, and because I’m planning to use a Venetian setting in an upcoming book, I was looking at some of the photos we took during our visit. Venice is a romantic city, and my favorite thing to do whenever I have a chance to visit is to wander and explore all the tiny back streets. Getting lost is part of the fun, although if I’m with hubby we’re seldom lost. He has an excellent inner GPS.

Here are a few photos of Venice:

St Marco Square

This is a view of the Doge’s Palace and the entrance to St Mark’s Square taken from the cruise ship as we arrived at Venice.

Venice Market

Regular visitors already know how much hubby and I love markets. These hot peppers caught my attention because they look like bunches of flowers. The market in Venice is amazing.

Bride and Groom, Venice

This bride and groom were having their wedding photos taken, just off St Mark’s Square. What did I tell you? Romantic.

Doge's Palace and Bridge of Sighs

This is a view of the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the palazzo with the prison. This photo was taken from the cruise ship. During our visit, we did a tour of the Doge’s Palace, which we pre-booked. Along with the palatial rooms, we saw the secret rooms where the “worker bees” hung out. We stepped through an ornate door from the palace proper into plan rooms that were very simply furnished. Photos weren’t allowed, but it was still very interesting, the contrasts between the two halves amazing. It was like stepping into another world. We also walked across the Bridge of Sighs and saw Casanova’s cell—the one from which he escaped. I highly recommend this tour, if you ever visit Venice.

Canal Traffic

The canal traffic was constant. Small ferries, barges loaded with cargo, baggage boats heading to hotels, gondolas, ambulance and fire boats. It’s amazing sitting at a cafe and watching the world pass by…

Canal traffic

More canal traffic.

Palazzos

The canal view of some of the old palazzos and gardens. Some of them are beautiful and I can only imagine what they look like inside. Maybe next visit…

Looking through the photos again has given me some great ideas for my story. I can’t wait to get writing.

Have you visited Venice?

Dawn at the Taj Mahal

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This is a much younger me sitting in front of the Taj Mahal in India. The Taj Mahal is the perfect place for a romance writer to visit since it is a symbol of love. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

It was freezing when we visited, but it was worth it since there weren’t many tourists around. The marble mausoleum looks different, depending on the time of day, and we also visited at sunset. A truly beautiful place and very inspirational.

What is the most romantic place you have visited?

Breakfast at Twenty 8 Acres, Sydney

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. It is an easy meal for a vegetarian, yet there is plenty for the meat lover too.

During our recent trip to Sydney, we checked Trip Adviser while flying over (Air New Zealand has a cool in-flight app) and came across a cafe called Twenty 8 Acres. They specialized in breakfast and lunch, and we decided to try them out since the reviews were excellent.

When we arrived, the restaurant was packed—a good sign. We waited ten minutes before securing a table. The owner/cook is Irish and the breakfast menu had an Irish flavor.

Mr Munro went straight for the full Irish Breakfast while I decided to try the Botanist and we ordered a pot of Irish Breakfast tea. The owner, with his Irish accent, was charming and efficient, a trait possessed by the rest of the wait staff. The service was excellent.

The meals were delicious. Mr Munro enjoyed his breakfast of black and white pudding, sausages, eggs, beans, potatoes and toast immensely. Mine, which was greens with poached eggs, avocado and toast, was enjoyable but there was a bit much kale for my liking. I hadn’t tried kale before, despite its current popularity, and to be honest, it’s not a vegetable I’ll ever want to have on a desert island!

Irish Breakfast

Hubby’s Irish Breakfast

Irish Breakfast Happy Hubby

A happy hubby.

Botanic Breakfast

My The Botanist breakfast with eggs, greens, avocado and seeds.

I’d be happy to visit Twenty 8 Acres again, but I’d try something else on the menu since I’m not a kale fan. Other offerings include fruit and cereal, eggs done in numerous ways. The full menu is here.

The seating area isn’t large, so I’d suggest going early, since Twenty 8 Acres is very popular with the locals for breakfast. They also do lunch. The rating on Trip Adviser is well-deserved, and I certainly recommend this restaurant.

What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?

Shopping in the Market

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This photo was taken back in 1997, I think, and this is my younger self attempting to buy avocadoes in a village market somewhere in Zimbabwe. The avocadoes were really good, and I still remember how tasty they were. I have a determined look on my face as I attempt to bargain, but they were cheap. I remember that too. I enjoy bargaining, but it is always a relief to return home and look at the prices in our shops.

Do you like bargaining for goods? Or do you prefer your purchases to be marked with the price?

PS – this photo was scanned, hence the black area around the outside.

Fishing in Haines, Alaska

During our recent trip to Alaska, one thing Mr Munro wanted to see was a bear catching a salmon. This was one of his bucket list items, and he’d talked about it for months.

I’m pleased to report that we saw several bears fishing. This particular excursion was to Haines in Alaska and we caught the ferry from Skagway. It’s a beautiful spot with forest and rivers and is also on the coast.

Haines Shelley

Me, during a forest walk.

Haines Alaska

One of the many dead salmon on the river after the spawning.

Haine Bear

A bear coming down to fish at the river.

Haine Bear Fishing

And a fishing bear. We watched her fish for ages. She’d catch a salmon and take it into the bushes to eat in peace then repeat the process while we tourists went oh and ah and took photos.

Mr Munro was able to check this off his bucket list.

Cruising the Nile

The Nile, Egypt

This photo doesn’t look real, but I can tell you for a fact that it is. This is the view from our ship as we cruised down the Nile River. There is a thin band of green on either side of the river with pasture for grazing and crops. Beyond this band of green is desert and this makes for a dramatic landscape. It almost looks like a painting.

13 Random Travel/History Facts from Britain

Thursday Thirteen

Recently, I’ve been reading editions of Britain, one of my favorite travel magazines. It’s full of articles about different places in Britain and covers heritage, culture and various happenings in the UK. It’s a great magazine to read when planning a visit, which is why I’m busy reading back issues at present.

Here are thirteen random things that grabbed my interest:

1. In the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the car flew for the first time when it fell of Beachy Head.

2. The 3rd Earl of Egremont had 42 illegitimate children and the “Wyndham nose” can still be spotted in the streets of Petworth.

3. Every coronation since 1066 has been held in Westminster Abbey. William the Conqueror was crowned King of England on Christmas day, 1066.

4. The Scottish people celebrate Burns Night on 25 January to commemorate the life of poet Robert Burns who was born on this day in 1759. Lots of traditional foods such as haggis, neeps (turnips), tatties (potatoes), whisky and shortbread are served during the celebration.

5. Mary, Queen of Scots, was fond of a crisp, buttery shortbread made with caraway seeds.

6. In Norman times the word “forest” referred to a legal system in place to protect the venison.

7. While in prison in England, Mary, Queen of Scots, became adept at secret handwriting to communicate with the outside world. She used alum dissolved in water as invisible ink and wrote messages on bills. Recipients dropped the paper in water and the writing appeared.

8. There is no single copy of the original Magna Carta document. Multiple copies of the charter were distributed throughout medieval English towns.

9. The Magna Carta documents were written in Latin on parchment made from dried sheepskin.

10. A first edition of the novel Emma by Jane Austen was dedicated to the Prince Regent.

11. The term “livery” has come to denote the uniforms of certain servants, but in medieval times it meant a living allowance that included food, money and other rewards.

12. A tax on male servants started in 1777, raised to help fund British fighting against North American colonists after their declaration of independence, lasted until the 1930s.

13. John Russell, a servant to the Duke of Gloucester, wrote advice for servants in the book “The Book of Nurture.” Would-be servants were given the following advice – Do not pick your nose or let it drop clear pears, or sniff, or blow it too loud, lest her lord hear. Do not retch, nor spit too far.

I don’t think a servant’s life would have worked for me, but I’d love to attend Burns Night, and I’ve never met a piece of shortbread, I didn’t like. Caraway seeds would totally work for me. What say you?

Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua is a city in the North Island, which sits on the banks of a lake of the same name. It is well-known for its thermal activity and the entire area smells of sulfur. I don’t mind the “rotten egg” smell, but some people dislike the stench. This is one of the entrances to Government Gardens, a park area with beautiful gardens.

Rotorua is a fun place to visit since there is so much to do. You can visit the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute to check out the carvings, see the thermal Whakarewarewa area, go luging down a hill or zorbing. Some people like to fish for trout or go boating on the lake. There is also a good sheep shearing and sheep dog show.

One interesting thing is that geysers and bubbling mud pools can appear at any time. It’s not a good area to dig in your garden!

The Alaskan Totem Poles

Totem Pole

We saw lots of cool totem poles while in Vancouver and Alaska. Totem poles are not religious in nature but tell the story of local families, the way they connect and their different rights within the family group. Sometimes they can be used to mock or berate a family or family member who has done something wrong.

Before the arrival of the white man, totem poles tended to be smaller, but with the availability of metal tools, the carvers became more ambitious and the totem poles much taller.

One thing I found interesting is that once a pole is erected it isn’t maintained, but is left to rot. It will be removed if it poses a danger and some topple during winter storms. The poles last for between 60 to 100 years.

We have similar poles in New Zealand, and I did a post about them earlier. You can find the post on pouwhenua here.