Hopes (on hold) and dreams (delayed)

Hopes and Dreams.

The food on which the human spirit flourishes.

Is it any wonder then, in a time of deep despair;
a time of crushed opportunities and postponed plans

That even the spirits of those untouched by the plague,
they too are bruised if not broken
Or simply exhausted from the overwhelming effort of “holding it together”

That we have not, as one, returned from summer holidays
renewed, refreshed and reinvigorated
But rather with that lingering loss of the unfulfilled hope of being together

With the sense that the holiday was halfhearted, incomplete
made so by the gaps, the empty seats of those not with us
those stuck, and “holding it together” also, in other parts of the world
living under more of a cloud that we, the lucky ones

Life goes on (for the lucky ones, the careful ones, the ones that heed harsh warnings)
Family events, previously worthy of celebration (and not inconsiderable airmiles)
get on with it, without us

For much as we put our hopes on hold, and dream our unfulfilled dreams
yet we know that life itself cannot be put on hold
we must get on with it, and to do that we must hide our hurt
hold on to our hopes (but not too optimistically, and certainly without certainty)
and continue to dream our dreams

Because without them, our spirit will truly be crushed
Crushed under the weight of the expectation of fortitude
and the pretense of getting on with “life as normal”.

Haere Ra 2020!

Haere Ra 2020!

A year of the highest highs, and the lowest lows, often in the same moment.

We celebrated Rob’s wedding, with joy that he and Jenna were finally tying the knot and getting on with their lives.  And with sadness that we (and others they love) could not be there to celebrate with them. 

A socially distanced wedding in a London registry office, with the NZ whanau watching on Zoom in their pyjamas at 3am, will certainly be a story for their grandchildren!

We celebrated by getting all dressed up the next evening in our wedding outfits that should have been worn in Greece, to drink champagne and Zoom in to Rob & Jenna’s first morning as a married couple.

Speaking of future generations, we truly celebrated the news that a new grandchild, currently nicknamed “Bob the Baby” is on the way in London, and are looking forward (with caution) to visiting London soon after his birth in March.

We celebrated Pip’s fabulous new job, while lamenting the lost opportunity in her previous role that held so much hope and promise.  She’s now working for Amazon Web Services, which she refers to as the “biggest startup in the world”.

We celebrated that Howard continues to make a difference for disadvantaged children, through his role at Kids Can, the charity that provides shoes, raincoats and breakfasts to low decile schools around the country.

We celebrated Pip’s recovery (mostly) from Covid-19, acquired on a business trip to Washington DC so early in the year that NZ was not yet testing anyone who hadn’t been in China!  We celebrated that she managed not to infect anyone else, on the plane back to NZ, and at home – but continue to lament the long term effects on her health.

We celebrated both Pip & Howard, and Rob & Jenna buying and moving into new homes later in the year – and look forward to actually seeing the London property in 2021! 

We celebrated that our two gorgeous grandchildren here in Auckland took to distance learning like ducks to water, not only ploughing through their school work while mummy and daddy worked around their dining room table, but making time in their daily schedule for grandparent checkins while we were all in lockdown.  Their efforts this year were rewarded with academic prizes for both at end of year school prizegivings. 

We celebrated their musical talent, with family concerts on Zoom – they definitely don’t get that talent from our side of the family!  Guitars, ukuleles, flute, piano, and beautiful singing…  wow!

We celebrated that the companies that Peter and I work with have mostly survived, and that some have even thrived.  We celebrated the people in those teams that were willing to give it their all, despite paycuts, working from home and often precarious situations, to fight for those businesses to survive. 

We celebrated the founders and entrepreneurs who continued to innovate, and perhaps more so than ever, and the investors who wrote cheques to fund some of those startups, despite the dire situations around them.

We celebrated that science is suddenly “fashionable”, and that the public is perhaps starting to understand that it is indeed the only thing that will genuinely change the world.

We celebrated Christmas – that grinchy virus couldn’t stop Christmas from coming, after all!  It was smaller, more contained, and sadder than usual as we reflected on those we love who were having even smaller Christmases than us, in far flung places.

Mostly we celebrate that we have survived – not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and economically – to fight another round.  My great grandmother, the original “Ouma” in our family, used to say that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger – I think this is what she, who lived through both world wars, was talking about! 

So lest you think I’ve lost my mind, with all this celebration, on a more serious note, 2020 was also a year of discoveries, about others, and about ourselves.  I wrote this during our first lockdown, and I think it’s still as true as it was then…

“Lockdown”… In which I discovered that…

  • Circumstances do not make people (and companies) good or bad – they simple magnify their goodness, and their badness.
  • The people that I treasure as my very best best friends are so very different from me that it’s a wonder we even found each other, let alone that we want to be with each other.
  • Family is, was and always will be my absolute number one most important thing of all.
  • How it’s possible to die of a broken heart – that pain that comes from the emptiness inside of knowing that you simply don’t know when you will even be able to see and hug and enjoy the company of one so very dear to you that it simply breaks your heart.
  • Manaakitanga is that thing that defines me – without the ability to offer hospitality to others, friends, family whanau, I simply have no purpose in my life.
  • In business, in teams, in companies…  culture is laid bare for all to see only in a crisis
    how we act, how we treat each other is the most visible and palpable evidence of the cultures we have built in our teams in and in our businesses.
  • People are (mostly) good and kind.
  • People are (mostly) incredibly naïve, stupid and out of touch with the reality of how the economy works, and what it takes to create jobs, incomes and prosperity in our society (and this does not make them bad people, just stupid and/or naïve and/or poorly informed).
  • Fear is a super-effective motivator…  you can get people to follow the great leader with exactly the right mix of fear and adoration.
  • No one (at least in New Zealand) wants to buy into a strategy that includes “Granny will die” as an outcome…  thus, people are inherently good and compassionate (but/and happy to sacrifice jobs and the economy to save Granny).
  • Pressure makes people mean…  an inherent belief that suffering should be shared means that those who could / should be benefiting, growing new jobs and new revenue streams from the crisis, are pilloried for “taking advantage” of the situation – when in fact everyone is just doing what they can to save their businesses so that they can keep paying their people and feed their kids!

I also discovered that, although we say “it’s okay to say you’re not okay”…  the reality is that when you do that, the people around you are most likely to remind you of all the others who have much more reason than you to not be okay.  They think that’s helpful, that it will make you feel better, by reminding you how lucky you are. (And indeed, you are… lucky that is).

Thereby invalidating your feelings, and making you feel like a bad person for having those feelings. 

Which is definitely NOT OKAY!

So as we head into 2021, that’s my biggest wish.  That if you are not okay, you feel empowered to say so, and that those around you understand enough to support you, even if they can’t fix anything at all!

Go well, stay well…  and celebrate the small things in life, as well as the big ones.

Here’s to many more celebrations in 2021!

Best Christmas Present Ever!

Yo! Matthew!     Isabel G!

Let me tell you ‘bout two kids from Ellerslie
Harry Potter fans they professed to be
Christmas presents done, but one was left
Grandparents did not forget…

Lend me an extendable ear, then another ear
Take off a layer each – inside there’s naught to fear
A pass the parcel task, but what’s inside, you ask
A surprise within, we think will make you grin

Let me tell you ‘bout two kids from Ellerslie
Harry Potter fans they professed to be
Christmas presents done, but one was left
Grandparents did not forget…

Is it a magic wand, or favourite spell
Keep on opening, so you can tell
Perhaps a cloak of invisibility
Or Quidditch lessons it just might be

Let me tell you ‘bout two kids from Ellerslie
Harry Potter fans they professed to be
Christmas presents, but one was left
Grandparents did not forget…

Do not be distracted by the snitch
He’s tempting you to play quidditch
But inside there’s more fun it seems
Perhaps a butterbeer or some every flavour beans

 Let me tell you ‘bout two kids from Ellerslie
Harry Potter fans they professed to be
Christmas presents, but one was left
Grandparents did not forget…

You’re almost there now, you’re getting near
Best the adults all block their ears
The next reveal may make you scream
We hope it’s something from your best dreams

Let me tell you ‘bout two kids from Ellerslie
Harry Potter fans they professed to be
Christmas presents, but one was left
Grandparents did not forget…

Let me tell you ‘bout two kids from Ellerslie
Melbourne-bound they soon will be
The Cursed Child is what they’re going to see
With love from all four of your best oldies!

A note of explanation – this year Isabel and Matthew’s grandparents collaborated to give them a trip to Melbourne to see The Cursed Child!  We wrapped up the flight tickets and the theatre tickets in a “pass the parcel” style, with each layer revealing the next verse of the story…  they didn’t guess what was coming, even at the very end!

Is it ever okay to be the “best woman”?

This is a bit like that question which asks – “is it ever okay to love two women”. Defensively, the average attached man will so no, until you remind him of his two daughters! And so it is with the question of women’s awards – they sound okay, until you think about it.

If you’re a golfer, a swimmer, a weightlifter, tennis or rugby player, perhaps even a lawn bowler (though personally I think that’s questionable) – the answer is undoubtedly yes. Being the best woman in your field is the pinnacle of sporting success.

For in sport, we find many endeavours where women cannot compete with men on an equal footing – and that’s okay.

No question that it’s appropriate to have a Women’s Rugby World Champion Team, a women’s trophy at the French Open Tennis. Yet even in the sporting world, there are some sports where this is not true. Men and women compete equally in equestrian sports, for example – though this is one of very few examples I could summon!

The natural inference of all this is that having separate men’s and women’s competitions is an inherent admission of inequalities (generally, in terms of strength when it comes to sports).

So why then do we think it’s okay to have women’s awards in business, in entrepreneurship, in life in general. And why then are there no equivalent men’s awards?

Every time I hear that there’s a women’s award, I cringe – well, actually, I die a little inside, knowing that there is still a huge hill to climb before equality is no longer a goal, but simply IS. Being the best woman scientist, the best woman in tech, businesswoman of the year is not an award, it’s an insult – a veiled message that you’re good, but not good enough for the main stage. That you’re the supporting act, one of the sub-categories.

This may sound harsh – and I don’t mean to undermine the obvious achievement of the ‘women’s award’ winners – but think about it. The only place we routinely have a best man is at a wedding – and even there, he’s not there to be celebrated! Why then do we celebrate the best woman?

Ladies – it’s time to take a stand. No more women’s awards – except, of course, where you accept that men and women are inherently unable to compete with each other!

A reflection on perfection

I am not perfect.

Those who know me will quickly agree, though may be a little surprised at my level of self-awareness.  It is, of course, our flaws rather than our perfections that make us who we are, that set us apart and that make us (and our lives) interesting.

And so it is with patchwork.  The early Amish quilters used to make a deliberate error in each piece, for fear that their perfection would offend their God!  But fortunately, I not nearly perfect enough to have to worry about that.

Over the past few weeks, I have been working, intermittently, on a small baby quilt for a friend.  A simple piece – and if I’d spent all of my time on it, it would indeed be (a bit more) perfect.  As it is, it’s full of my love and joy, and a not inconsiderable number of unsquare squares, uncorresponding corners, unmatched seams, and uneven lines.

Oh well…

Now those who strive for perfection might say ‘what’s the point of imperfect points?’  An imperfectly pieced piece belongs in the bin – or so I’ve been told.

But I say this, lovely baby:  This quilt is a message about life.  A message that you do not need to be perfect to be beautiful, you do not need to be precise to be useful.  Enjoy your imperfections, celebrate them and let them be the warmth that sustains you and those whom you love.


2017 – a personal reflection on thankfulness

As we lounged on our picnic blankets in the icy wind at Christmas in Park, with thousands of other Aucklanders, young Matthew (still 5) pronounced “this year is nearly finished – I think we should all say what our best thing was this year, I’ll start”.  Ever the conversationalist!

For Matthew “my first year at school” was the very best thing – a year in which he joined the ‘big boys’ and truly embraced formal learning, and all the fun of being part of a rambunctious real boys’ school environment.  Taking away the academic prize for his class (and a stellar school report highlighting a talent for languages) rewarded just one side of this multifaceted young man, with his physical talents shining through on the rugby (and apparently also cricket) field, in the pool and in the advanced trampoline squad at the gym club. matthew-year-1.jpg

Isabel too had a big year of a very different kind with half the year literally consumed by the harsh reality of leg-lengthening surgery, to add what sounds like a scant 4cm to her originally 10cm long left thigh bone (actually a 40% increase in bone length!).  Her sheer courage and determination shone through, along with her extreme obstinacy (wonder where she gets that from?) – and was recognised in the award at her school of the overall school prize for Resilience & Perseverance.  The trophy is almost as tall as she is!

Izzy's award

In truth, at least part of the recognition goes to her mum, dad and brother, who have taken this journey with her every step of the way – we will all celebrate with them on 17th January when the steel brace currently piercing flesh, muscle and bone, is removed and she can get on with all the things she loves doing.  I believe there is a long list – headed up with going to the beach, climbing a tree and jumping on the trampoline (the latter may have to wait a little longer while the bone strengthens!)

A big year for both grandchildren – and yes, I am thankful for having them both in our lives, and truly thankful that they have parents who not only love and nurture them, but teach them the importance of independence and courage, and the value of family.


To Pip and Howard – you make us so proud.  We too celebrate your ‘best of 2017’ – a promotion for Pip in her roller-coaster job with a tech startup company (which is technically well beyond the ‘start-up’ phase of its life); and Howard’s gig as manager of the New Zealand AFL team to the world cup in Australia (and that his day job enables him to do these sorts of things!).   I am so thankful that you two found each other, celebrated your 10th wedding anniversary this year, and make such an awesome team.

pip & howard

I am thankful for Rob and Jenna – that they too have found each other, visited us for Christmas, and so very clearly make each other happy.  I love that you’re enjoying life, are happy in your work, and give us a reason to visit London regularly!  Of course, I’d love it even more if you were closer to home…  just saying.


At the other end of the age spectrum, I am so thankful for a year with mum, for being able to see her every day now she’s living in the back part of our house, and for the difference that her little dog Amber has made to her quality of life.  It’s never easy for a mother and daughter to live together – but boy, does it beat any of the alternatives!


Christmas dinner for 40 people – all seated in our dining room – was a massive highlight of my year, and I’m thankful for not only our wider family, but our very good friends who came, ate, drank and were merry.    Having good friends who know you, understand you and are there for you no matter what is indeed one of life’s great blessings.

It’s been a big year for me and Peter too – Peter told Matthew that his best thing was discovering he still has what it takes to make a difference in business, as he volunteered to take over as CEO of a lingerie company that we’ve invested in, that needed a guiding hand.  Not that any one of us ever doubted his capability – and it is awesome to see the results he’s achieving with his tiny team, as they drive for growth in online sales (and Peter learns a whole new language of e-commerce jargon).   Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Who would have thought he’d end up running a bra business in his retirement.  Our dinner party conversations have taken on a whole new flavour!  And so I am thankful that he is (mostly) enjoying the new challenges that this job brings – and also for the fact that it hasn’t stopped us from continuing to enjoy lots of travel and other fun times in our retirement.

While I am immensely thankful that we live in New Zealand, I am equally thankful that we get to go adventuring in the wider world as well.  Cycling in Greece in September, with a side visit to London, was so much fun.  A study tour to China in October, to get a sense of their high-tech revolution was eye-opening and inspiring – and a reminder that travel expands the mind (not just the waistline!), even the old minds like ours!

zino trip 2

For me the year has been one of consolidation – stepping away from some of my roles to focus on those where I feel I can truly add value.  A diverse portfolio of young company boards and mentoring roles still keeps my brain working – and gives me good reason to at least try to “keep up” with the changes in the world.  The recognition of my contribution to angel investing in New Zealand, with the award of the Arc Angel NZ trophy in November, was a massive surprise – and renewed my determination to continue doing what I can to support start-up company founders to grow great global businesses from here in New Zealand.  I am thankful for the entrepreneurs that I work with, for their drive and their courage – and thankful that I have a small bit of experience to contribute to their journeys.

In the words of a very good friend (and no doubt some other famous person)… HOW LUCKY AM I?

They say you make your own luck – and that is in part true.  I believe that luck follows gratitude;  and that to feel truly lucky, you have to appreciate the positives in whatever life throws at you.  For many people, in my family, my community and the wider world, 2017 has not been a great year, yet even through the stories of tragedy and great harm, there is always a story of courage and resilience that shines through as well, and a reminder for the rest of us that things could always be so much worse than they are.

So here I stand, feeling thankful, blessed and yes, a little bit lucky, on the cusp of 2018 – my 60th year.  Surrounded by close and distant family (a truly kiwi whanau), great friends, appreciation and love from those around me and opportunities to make a difference in my little part of the world…  indeed, how lucky I am!

(PS.  Thank you to Don, Jenna, Pip and Rob for fabulous photographs used in this post!)



My husband has never bought me a bra…

Almost 40 years married, that’s over 100 gifting occasions, and no lingerie in sight!

BUT he did buy me shares in bra company, which is like having the key to the cookie jar.  It’s a great excuse to buy new bras – after all, as an owner, I need to test-drive the product.

Seriously though, the evidence shows that I am not alone;  that most women would love their partner to buy them lingerie, yet few ever do.  My Rose & Thorne “Bra Census” – this year digging into women’s bra stories in both Australia and New Zealand – confirmed yet again that husbands, partners, lovers are missing a trick in the gifting stakes.  Just 14% report that their partners buy them lingerie (albeit with mixed success), compared to a whopping 60% who would love it if they did!

partner lingerie buyins

So I’m sending a message to the MEN out there – this is a bra story for you!
(I’m assuming that if your partner is a woman, she already knows to buy you bras)

Sure, there are some who women who reject the idea of lingerie as a gift – but hey, that’s probably because they don’t think there’s much chance getting it right – after all most women are wearing the wrong size anyway, and that’s based on what they choose for themselves!

But look at the odds – chances are that most of us are in the majority, women secretly hankering after that thoughtful bundle of silky softness and support.

And seriously, given that we’re the ones usually buying our men their socks and underwear, wouldn’t it be awesome if they returned the favour occasionally?

Tomorrow is my birthday….  just saying!


I am not a cyclist

I have been known to potter about on a bike, most recently on my beautiful new Cannondale e-Bike, bought in anticipation of this trip.  And (many years ago), proudly conquering 500km of “Big Sky” in central Otago on a real bike…  but that was then.

Now, in Athens, is now – a few days after the end of a week-long tour through Peloponese, a relatively unknown and somewhat untouched part of Greece, steeped in millennia of history going back some 4,000 years.  Combining archaeology with cycling seemed somehow apt – but lack of local knowledge dictated that a supported tour was the way to go as opposed to our more usual Peter-planned European excursions.

This is an annual excursion.  However the cycling boys (previously dubbed Grubbs – generally retired or unemployed biking buddies) who usually muster at least 8 to 10 enthusiasts to climb high mountains in the Pyrenees, Alps or Dolomites, were less enthused by Peloponese (or maybe by Greece in general).


Only 5 intrepid Grubbs signed up for the Cycle Greece tour – plus me!  The “solution” for non-cyclists being an e-Bike.

Day 0 – going nowhere

Briefing!  And meet our fellow travellers.  Six Kiwis plus 3 Californians (“don’t call us Americans”).  It started badly – the venue, a hotel rooftop bar, decided it was unacceptable for us to gather in the shade because they had “set us up” (no visible evidence) in the blazing sun.  Unhappy, hot and sticky, jetlagged…  not a great basis for a first meeting.


Introductions revealed little – apart from Gary who talked about the last time he’d been in Greece, supporting his daughter to win Gold in cycling at the 2004 Olympics.  Immediate awe from the non-Kiwis amongst us (of course, we’re already in awe of Gary who is still the strongest cyclist of this bunch and about to turn 80!).  Much googling of the women’s individual pursuit in 2004 ensued!

Joining Peter and I (retired – not!), Gary, Don (almost Gary’s age – also awesome!), John and Stefan (the youngest of the crew), we had Ted (a mortgage broker), George (to be dubbed “the late”) and the lovely Emily (treating herself to her first holiday away from her law firm without her ex).  Definitely a motley crew – and as I might have mentioned, a challenge for the rest to keep up with our sense of humour.

Colleen, our guide – a US convert to all things Greek (philhellene), living in Athens for more than 10 years – and Pete our driver and great bike mechanic, rounded out the group.

Most important question not asked:  “if I give you written instructions, will you read them?”  Would have solved a lot of angst during the trip to know that the answer was, in the main, a resounding NO!  In fact, turns out the thing this group most had in common was that they DID NOT LISTEN to anything at all, making for an interesting week to come!

Day 1 – Boy, is it HOT!
By car to Sofikos, then cycle 68km to Napflio

An early morning coffee before pickup at DIVE – definitely the best coffee in Athens!


Logistics!  Packing 10 cyclists, 10 bikes and a large assortment of luggage into a van and a car in the narrow parked-up streets of old Athens is a mission, even at 8am.  Unsurprising really that something went wrong – poor Gary arriving in Napflio to discover all his worldly goods (ie. his clothes!) had gone with his cycle bag to the warehouse in Athens for storage.  The first instance of NOT LISTENING!  Everyone else was pretty clear that he was meant to REMOVE his gear from the bike bag before we parted ways with it.  A happy ending – back in Athens the clothes (in two New World cloth bags) were put on the last bus to Napflio, arriving at 8.30pm, thanks to the resourcefulness of the Cycle Greece team!


A brief pit stop in our 2 hour car journey at the Corinth Canal – a masterpiece of engineering turning the Peloponese “peninsula” into an island!

Onwards to Sofikos, where we all hopped on our bikes, by now in 34C heat!  What should have been a short 34 km ride to Epidavros Theatre turned into a heatstroke nightmare for Peter, who collapsed on arrival and didn’t get to see the amazing ancient theatre, complete with an amateur theatrics group visiting from the UK, reading Shakespeare in the centre to demonstrate the incredible acoustics.

And so to lunch – anything cold! –


…with another 30km to ride afterwards, into the prettiest town in the Peloponese, so they say.  Napflio did indeed live up to its promise, with a lovely hotel overlooking the seaside.

A brief stop along the way at a 3,000+ year old stone keystone bridge… or if one is to believe our tour guide (who has an MA in history after all), probably built more than 10,000 years ago by a very advanced civilization with supernatural powers to make rocks momentarily light enough for one man to lift into place!  Seriously, I kid you not… back at the bikes, other girl on tour turned to me and said “no, I think you’re right – they used levers”.  One of those “I’m an engineer” moments!


We lost a few cyclists along the way, who failed to read the instructions properly and stopped at the wrong bridge, with an off-road excursion (what about the “beware of thorns – don’t take the bikes off the road” instruction?) resulting in a flurry of punctures!

Nafplio was full of weekend visitors, with a music festival on.  Visiting dancers from Crete giving a concert on the square outside our hotel drew massive crowds while we settled in for our first of many similar dinners – a veritable feast of ‘snacks’ to start, leaving little room for main course, and none at all for dessert.  I fear our hosts were offended by our exhaustion as one by one we snuck off back to the hotel!


Day 2 – A ramble along the back roads
There and back by bike to Ancient Mycenae 25km x 2

4,000 years of civilisation on display – a truly amazing site and sight.  Inside the ancient tomb – no artifacts but one could still marvel at the feat of engineering on display.

Then up the hot hot pathway to the lion gate – it always bemuses me that male lions are used to symbolise guards and the gate when frankly in my experience of observing lions in Africa, the male of the species does precious little other than lie about!

What is incredible (for me at least) is the metalwork – in gold, bronze and (eventually) iron – from these ancient times.  No wonder there is a temple in Athens dedicated to the god of metallurgy!

A bit of a wine tasting that evening – including something sweet for Don – hit the spot before another excessively front-loaded dinner!



Day 3 – SHIT!  This is HARD!
Napflio to Dimistana –
104km of mostly relentless climbing over 1,500m in all in searing heat!

Thank you, but NO thank you!  Peter, still suffering from heat exhaustion took a raincheck, and I ‘loaned’ Colleen my e-Bike, for a peaceful day spent driving the van, watching our fellow cyclists slogging their over-heated bodies up and down high mountains, and up and down again.

In recognition that this was a very long day, we left the hotel before sunrise, heading to Tripoli – a town of no redeeming features, but the only reasonable place for lunch (donuts!).  A rather depressing town, full of Greek men drinking coffee and reading newspapers strung up on washing lines outside the news agents (presumably because they can’t afford to actually buy one); and the occasional Greek woman popping into the elaborate mini-chapel at the base of the Church steps, presumably to pray for better times (or maybe more productive men!)

And so back to the bikes for yet more climbing, higher and higher… to the most fabulous hotel of the tour in Dimistana, a beautiful old stone building with gorgeous rooms overlooking the gorge.

A special occasion – Don’s 79th birthday – demands champagne!  What a palaver to get champagne – are you sure you don’t want Campari & soda instead?  Only a few euros each vs a massive price tag for Moet?  Heavens!  Well done Peter for making sure we had proper champagne to toast Don’s birthday, and a quickly-melting ice cream cake at the end of the meal too!  The locals no-doubt thought we were quite mad!

DSC_0510 (1).JPG


Day 4:  Downhill all the way!

Every hill climb has its reward (even for those of us who didn’t actually do the climb) – and so we left Dimistana (in a chilly 15C temperature for which I was perhaps a little under dressed!)

A leisurely ride, more to our taste, with plenty of coffee stops along the way – now that’s more like it!  Even time to buy some honey – there are beehives everywhere!

We lost a few of our number along the way – damn, shoulda read those cue sheets, people!  But most of us made it on the appointed route, along the cycleway into Olympia, the home of the ancient Olympic games.

A family hotel, run by a Greek man and his Australian wife – very welcoming, but the only bad bed of the tour, at least for those of us who don’t warm to “lumpy and soft” in the mattress department.

Susanna welcomed us into her kitchen for a ‘lesson’ – no recipes in sight, just a handful of this and a pinch of that.  We made tzatziki and tiropitakia, stuffed peppers and tomatoes from her garden, and greek meatballs…  and ate it all for dinner!  After a few nights of pretty average wine, Peter took matters in hand and selected a few bottles from the host’s rack – that’s better!

And so to our lumpy bed, looking forward to our tour of Olympia tomorrow!

EPISODE 1 complete.  EPISODE 2 to follow.

A new day – Athens redeems itself

A perfect addition to any holiday – an amazing specialist coffee store, with its own roaster, just one block away, AND they open at 6am.  Great start to the day (sadly, discovered the following morning that this does not apply on weekends).


So onwards and upwards to the actual purpose of the trip – time to get on that bike.  My tour-provided e-bike is ALMOST a replica of the one I have back home, just without the Cannondale logo.  A trial run doing a 3 hour ride around Athens – thankfully 90% off road, meaning the only challenge was navigating the pedestrians who pay not one blind bit of attention to my madly dinging bell as I pull up behind them.  A minor spill – no damage done to me or bike – as a pedestrian pushed me into a kerb;  my trusty sweeper guide said “good, you know how to fall”!  I laughed and assured him I’d had plenty of practice.

Colleen our guide – an American lawyer who gave up her law practice to move to Athens 14 years ago – is a mine of information;  with a delivery style best described as “enough but not too much”.  We did a loop mainly on the Acropolis walkway, taking in points of interest along the way.

Socrates prison – a cave in the rock with iron bars, where he was incarcerated for corrupting young minds with thinking stuff;  the Pnyx, a completely unassuming ‘field’ where the first democratic assemblies were held – 14,000 people, men only of course.  A side excursion to see a ceiling painted by the man who will be our driver on the tour;  a brief stop of Syntagma Square to view the tail end of the very elaborate changing of the guard (basically men doing what could best be described as dressage).  Most fascinating was the ordinary soldier, who when the two guards had come to a stop at their guard houses, visited each in term to arrange them in exactly the right place, straighten their shoulder pads, hats and particularly tassels, before inviting the crowd up to take photos (but not too close).  As soon as anyone got close enough to be in the picture, the guard would bang the base of his rifle on the stone to summon the soldier to remove said intruder.

Realisation of the day – if you can’t pave your streets in gold, why not just pave them in marble!  Great for maintenance, but bloody hard on the feet.

The obligatory greek salad for lunch – did I say that the tomatoes here are amazing, possibly the best part of Greece so far?  And then “home” for a lazy afternoon (or in Peter’s case, a bit of a catchup on work stuff).  I really do need to get some done myself, but taking a surprisingly Greek attitude to that (“domani” or some such thing).

Useless fact – on the 1st day of the months, Greeks use a special greeting – happy month – when they greet each other.  Sure beats “a pinch and a punch for the first of the month”.  Note for Isabel!

Our week long cycling tour began with a 6pm briefing, and a meet your fellow travellers session at the rooftop bar in the hotel where we were meant to stay before Debra decided to AirBnB it.  The kiwi contingent arrived early, thinking we’d have a beer together before the others got there – but no, sorry, we’re not ready for you (despite other guests having drinks), and no you can’t sit in the shade, we’ve made your space over there (in the blazing sun).  The words “naff off” passed some lips, as we gathered a bunch of bar stools and sat in the middle of the thoroughfare in front of the bar, defiantly ignoring the consternation this was causing.  “Wow”, said Stefan, “if this was a Kiwi bar we’d all have a beer in hand by now.”

Discovery of the afternoon – the Kiwi sense of humour is going to be a challenge for our three Californian fellow-cyclists, and our Greco-American guide for that matter.  Peter’s suggestion that we chuck Don and Gary (the oldest cyclists ever to do this tour) out at the bottom of the hill (we start at the top) so they can warm up before the start was met with bemusement.

More about the cyclists later – next stop dinner with Stefan and Peter, just the three of us attracted to a rather gorgeous restaurant, appropriate named Sense – and boy, was it a treat for the senses!  A balcony table (so long as you leave by 9.30pm) overlooking the Acropolis as the sun set in the background, fine dining service and food to match, and of course, great company.

I’m still salivating over the pigeon (breast and leg, perfectly boned out) with smoked vegetable accoutrements;  the boys had suckling pig – a shared mouthful confirmed this as definitely the next best choice.

And can I say – who knew about olive oil ice-cream, well, semi-freddo (served in a frozen lemon shell, with another filled with a lemon sorbet which would have been the pick of the night, but for its friend on the plate!)  I NEED that RECIPE!

Leaving the wine choices to the waiter – we are, after all, Greek wine virgins – was an excellent decision with two fabulously different bottles of gorgeous red wine, perhaps served in the wrong order, but he wasn’t to know about Kiwi drinking habits, after all.

All in all, a very good day…  and looking forward to hitting the road to Peloponesia and first stop Nafplio for two nights.


Welcome to Athens, with a gang of pickpockets on the side

I often think that the only disadvantage we have, living in New Zealand, is that everywhere is just so bloody far away (well, everywhere that counts, anyway) – and some might say this is an advantage!  What it does mean, of course, is that getting to those far flung places still on the bucket list takes time, effort and energy.

Perhaps we’re just getting old – but this year our pilgrimage to Europe started with what I was calling a ‘slow plane’ to Athens, stopping off at Singapore for an extended 14 hours stopover (longer than intended due to airline schedule changes after we’d already booked).  Never mind – we thought having a full day in Singapore, one of our favourite places from past travel, would break up the long journey, and give us time to start re-setting our body clocks.  In fact, what it meant was that we were just doubly tired, in fact completely exhausted by the time we arrived in Athens (via a short stopover in Istanbul to change planes).

But before I get to Athens, a few observations.

It was great to see that Peter hasn’t lost his touch at staring down officious wait staff who take that “sorry we don’t have a table for you” approach, when the restaurant (in this case the breakfast room at Raffles Hotel in Singapore) is visibly heaving with emptiness, and our man simply thinks that because we’re not staying in the hotel, we might not be able to pay for their generously priced a la carte menu.  “Perhaps you’d like to look at the menu before I prepare a table” he offered weakly in response to Peter’s stare-down.  Harrumph!  Sometimes it’s just so rewarding to flash that Platinum Visa Card (but only at the end of the meal, of course – and he wasn’t to know they’re a dime a dozen in New Zealand!)

A bit of retail therapy confirmed that the store we’re most missing in New Zealand is NOT, as some may think, Ikea, but actually UniQlo.  Please please find yourselves a site in Auckland!

Oh, and a message for Air New Zealand who helpfully prepared all our boarding passes at check-in in Auckland.  Yes, you’re still fabulous compared to other airlines (though the gap is closing, as you join the downward spiral of waning customer service!)

But it’s the little things that count, especially when, like me, you’re a Star Alliance Gold traveller choosing to fly Economy Class.  I know that’s my choice, and I long long ago gave up hoping for an upgrade, BUT seriously:  In what parallel universe is it okay to seat your apparently most valuable customers in Row 41 of a plane that only has 42 rows.  By then – the last leg of our journey – I had completely lost any sense of humour or rationality, and was just deeply pissed off!

And so to Athens…. a city of ruins, of amazing tomatoes, of streets teeming with tourists (still, in September), of unbelievably bad parking in narrow streets which seem almost permanently gridlocked…  and pickpockets.  Having traveled the world, including some pretty crime ridden places like Johannesburg and Rio, having evaded a gang of thieves who targeted us in the old market in Buenos Aires, having that sixth sense from growing up in a highly security conscious environment, I can honestly say we have never encountered such an orchestrated organised gang of petty thieves.

They bundled us, literally, into a carriage on the Metro on a train that we knew was going in the wrong direction.  About 10 men surrounded Peter, apparently “helping” him with his luggage as the doors were closing, having shoved me into the carriage and out of their encirclement…  I knew it wasn’t right, knew we had to get off the carriage at the next stop, but by then the damage was done.  A secure travel wallet had been opened, and the zipped bag of cash extracted – so slickly that Peter was completely unaware it had happened when the train drew to a halt in at the next stop and we both shoved our way out, up onto the street and into a waiting taxi.  We thought we’d had a lucky escape!

I’m pretty sure it was the effects of our long journey – tiredness and inattention – that made up such easy marks.  I asked Peter “what did they get” – nothing, he said, that’s why I have this secure travel wallet…  but lo and behold, when he opened it to pay the taxi, the cash purse was ALL GONE!  Bastards!  Thankfully the cards (and passports!!!) were still there – as a slightly concerned taxi driver, mostly concerned that he might not be paid, drove us through the snail-like traffic to find the nearest ATM.

Oh dear!  It could only improve from here – although I have to say I didn’t think it was improving much when I discovered a spiral staircase of 45 steps up to our apartment, and a cold shower.  The latter was quickly remedied by reading the host’s instructions to turn on the boiler – instructions that our fellow travelers had apparently missed – the stairs, however, remain firmly in place.

As an aside, Greek plumbing is interesting, and probably the topic of whole separate post, with photos, in days to come!

On the plus side, the bed is comfortable, our four fellow cyclists are not complaining – though I suspect they were hoping for something a little more like the gem I found in Girona last year – and there is plenty of food in the surrounding streets.  A HUGE bonus for me and Peter was to find a truly professional coffee roaster, serving the most amazingly crafted coffees from SIX AM in the morning, just one block away!  I was his first customer this morning.  Only one small suggestion for improvement – “Coffee Dive” is probably not the most customer-attracting name (though perhaps it means something else in Greek).

And while we’re on the topic of names,  then there’s the lovely effusively welcoming Harry, at Gods’ Restaurant.


With a menu running to about 10 pages, he simply asked “what do you feel like eating, are you hungry or not so hungry” and then made beautiful recommendations – and came through with some very drinkable local wines as well.  Not all of our party took to this style of eating – menus are for reading and considering after all – but some of us were just relieved to have someone else telling us what to eat (My Food Bag, anyone?)

So to bed…  some 60 hours after leaving Auckland, we were pretty much asleep before our heads hit the pillow!  Up next, cycling, with a  bit of history on the side.