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Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2017 Christmas Newsletter

The time is once more upon us to write our Christmas Newsletter and like last year I wonder whether it is actually worth while – how many people read every word of the ever increasing length and number of newsletters which arrive around Christmas and how many people are starting to regard them as another form of spam. Are we all interested in hearing about other peoples holidays, pets or grandchildren? I am not sure, we have often tried to give ours a theme to make them more bearable but looking back they do concentrate on holidays and to be somewhat repetitive as you will have already noticed.

The year both started and ended with a bang, literally, as we watched one of the biggest firework displays in the world from the deck of the Queen Victoria for 2016-17 in Madeira. We were perfectly positioned and the weather was kind. Some 16 tons of fireworks are expended each year covering a 7 km sweep over Funchal and round the whole bay. You may have already seen this video last year but it is so spectacular I have left it in place.

 

We have enjoyed Christmas and New Year on a Cunard Queen greatly over the last few years now we have no parental commitments. They do Christmas properly, almost in an old fashioned way! We had to get off the Queen Victoria and spend a few days at home then catch her up again in Fort Lauderdale - otherwise we would have exceeded the 90 days our insurance allows us to be away. We could then spend a sensible time in New Zealand after the outward journey by sea.

Cruise on the Queen Victoria round South America and on to New Zealand: Overall the cruise was for 48 days long took us from Fort Lauderdale to Auckland in New Zealand through an area of the world we had hardly touched in the past. Of the many places we visited all but three were new to us. Not all of the places of interest were 'ports' in the conventional sense and included a 1000 Nm trip up the Amazon, the furthest any ship of our size has been, then the Magellan Straits at the tip of South America, and also two Chilean Glaciers and a long period in the Chilean Fiords. We passed Easter Island and circumnavigated it close enough to see many of the famous Moai, the massive carved figures the islands famous for - they probably represented ancestors. We moored close to Pitcairn Island and over half of the small population came on board giving talks and selling their products. There were many long sea passages which we quite like and there were many excellent speakers covering the areas we visited giving us a much better understanding of a large area of the world. These included Lord King who was up till recently the Governor of the Bank of England who was one of the best speakers we have ever heard with an ability to make complexity simple and directly answer questions without evasion, and all without a single page of notes. We later had a Chilean winemaker on board providing wine tastings and wine dinners which have again opened up a new area to us.

It is difficult to say what were the real highlights, time may help. Candidates must include The Amazon and the Chilean Glaciers and Fiords but Easter Island and Pitcairn Island come close even without landing there. Other things that stand out are Opera Houses deep in the Amazon rain forest at Manaus and the many beautiful churches and stained glass in unlikely places. Disappointments were few, the only one that comes to mind is that there was less wildlife than we expected in such exotic areas. Certainly the ship and in particular the service was to an exceptional standard. Overall a memorable journey which we have extensively written up with an unprecedented number of pictures - some 450 pictures spread over the eleven web pages and we have increased the sizes of the 'popup' images to do justice now that fast broadband and mobile internet is prevalent. If you did not follow our newsletters from the voyage have a look now at A Grand Voyage on The Queen Victoria 2017

New Zealand: We have written so much about New Zealand in the past we will keep this very brief and in ay case you can read about it A Visit to New Zealand 2017, this time it was only for five weeks in North Island. We will however put in a little to cover one of the highlights covering New Zealand Wine. A major theme has always been visits to wineries with the intention of trying as many as possible of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards trophy winners. Unlike many other wine ‘competitions’ these are by blind tasting, first to pick out the gold etc., award winners and then another round a few months later to pick the Trophy winners in each class, varietal, sparkling etc. Depending on the award these can be for large and smaller productions but always those with a high enough production for a normal person to be able to buy them and at a realistic price. This throws up some very interesting new producers as well as the well established top growers. Again we succeeded in finding and trying a many of the Trophy winners although it was late in the year and some had sold out.

Another recurring theme in our North Island tours has been visiting Napier where we try to get to the Art Deco Festival but it is in the centre of the Hawkes Bay area which produces some of New Zealand's best wines and where we know many of the Wineries. This year we were too late for the festival but whilst we were walk through town we stopped at the NZ Wine Centre in Browning Street. They have interesting stocks of local wines, as well as offering tastings. To our surprise there were some single bottles of unusually old wines for sale, and they explained that they had come from the cellar of a local family who were leaving Napier and wanted to sell their remaining bottles of wine. Two wines immediately caught our eye - Mills Reef 2002 Elspeth Reserve Syrah which had won Hawkes Bay Gold in 2003 and 5 Stars from the Winestate magazine, and Esk Valley 2004 Reserve Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec which had won the AirNZ Trophy in 2006. Both were wines and wineries we knew well and often visited. We bought both and then tasted the Mills Reef to make sure that buying older wines was not a serious mistake.

The following morning we went back to Esk Valley and showed Sue, the shop manager who we know well, our Esk Valley purchase. She was surprised and excited for us that we had found such an old vintage and searched for the actual trophy so we could take a photo of the bottle with its trophy. Having returning to the NZ Wine Centre a couple of times more we decided that this year our theme would be tasting older quality wines and purchased more of their special cellar sale bottles. We both agreed that the original owner of the wines had exactly our taste in laying down wines in a cellar. The bottles all appeared to be in a remarkably good clean condition and stored well. Of our 12 bottles from nine vineyards, we already know the wines of Esk Valley and Mills Reef and have visited Clearview many years ago but the others were new to us. Why twelve? We discovered that they had a card which we got stamped with each purchase and we got $20 back with the 12th stamp making the last bottle free!

To cut a long story short we carried the wines to many of the wineries which led to meeting all sorts of interesting people such as Tim Turvey had just featured pictured on the front cover of the WineNZ magazine and is described as Hawke's Bay Wine Icon. He graciously let us take his photo holding our 1998 Reserve Merlot, and we were led through a tasting of their current wines. Back in England a couple of months latter we got out our the last of our 1998 La Clariere Laithwaite and as we finished the last mouthful of the wine we tried to compare the two - very difficult when they are so far apart by time and distance but it reminded us that Tim Turvey and Tony Laithwaite are both of the same generation of winemakers and both produce, to our taste, delightful wines with long cellaring potential. If you are interested you can find much more of our wine adventures at Napier and Hawkes Bay Wineries

The following pictures are intended to show the diversity of our times in New Zealand and of New Zealand itself, picked, well, just because I liked them!

Corinna's Thirtieth Birthday: Time does pass quickly. It is now 30 years since Corinna entered the water and it was time for an out of water survey to satisfy the insurance company so we headed North to Red Bull Basin where she was built and she was hauled out of the water, pressure washed and inspected with ultrasonic probes and big hammers by a local surveyor. That was all very satisfactory as he found nothing major in the way of hull corrosion and the total work which was only advisory was to weld on a couple of rubbing strakes to protect the hull from abrasion - £30 for 30 years of wear did not seem a big price to pay.

It was then time for a bit of a party for those in the boat club going back to when she was built, not a huge number now. We had a nice meal at a favourite pub half way down Heartbreak Hill and a big cake to follow.

At this point I was going to give some statistics but I found we had never added up all the yearly totals from the log books Pauline painstakingly keeps up and it is snowing too hard to want to go to Corinna to get them so our best guess is 28,000 miles. We spend a lot of time on her with a 'big' voyage every 2 years where we have a 3 month Canal licence and many of those years we usually do over 1000 miles. We have covered most of the canal system from Ripon to the Northeast to Tewitfield (Close to Kendal) to the North West and Llangollen in Wales. We have done all three of the Pennine crossings. We have been East to Cambridge and Bedford, West to Bath and Bristol and South to Godalming and Guilford - those being the extremes of the 'linked' system. The only significant missing piece is the Lee and Stort out of London. The engine has now run for over 10,000 hours and we have worn out several Hurth Gearboxes.

She has had a few health problems since the survey and the Morso Squirrel Wood burning stove started to expand and pinged the top up and is in the process of being rebuilt with fresh seals and we also now have a spare sitting waiting in the dining room, a bargain from Frantic Friday just in case. We are also in the processes of installing a new Stainless Steel holding tank as the old one built into the hull was starting to shows signs of corrosion at the top - plenty enough to keep Pete busy and there will probably be another trip North next year. Overall a small price to pay for 30 years of enjoyment.

Pauline's Birthday Party.This was a big one for Pauline and we had a small party for close friends of Pauline which fortunately was on a reasonable day although the forecast had been bad - wet and windy - so we had bought a big Gazebo just in case which we had tied to the bank and the Street light and weighed down with old 12v batteries which we have a lot of from Corinna as she has no gas. In the event everybody wanted to stay inside. Pauline had always been keen to have a [suckling] Pig Roast roast but we finally settled on a whole Iberico Ham, the largely wild hogs with the distinctive Black feet air are dried up to 3 years during which they lose up to 50% of their weight. We even bought a proper stand but used some of the real old fashioned steel knives from the family with half the blade worn away and incredible flexible capable of an edge like a scalpel - Stainless just does not cut it - pardon the pun. Dugald used his surgical skills to carve much of it. Otherwise it was the home made wine and punch but it is noticeable that our friends seem to drink less overall every year other than champagne.

Walking in Tenerife: We left two days latter to recover and continue Pauline's Birthday in Tenerife We will not say a lot as we wrote up Tenerife comprehensively last year although this time we concentrated much more on walking. It was heat wave with temperatures in the upper thirties so we were glad to catch buses up into the hills and walk at three or four thousand feet although we did have a few memorable descents down to sea level down steep and vertiginous paths - very bad on the legs and knees.

Once back at the end of the days we could sit on the balcony looking over the promenade and watch the parapenters coming down from Teide and soaring the front of the big hotels before eventually landing amidst the crowds on the promenade in front of us. Pete was thinking of having a flight, encouraged by Pauline, but picked up an ear infection with a blocked ear which made it inadvisable as some of the descent would have been quite fast and from seven or eight thousand feet. The local solo pilots just step off from a tiny patch of grass just above the road and soared up the front of the Semi Ramis hotel before climbing on up the valley. Some of the aerobatics were quite spectacular - whilst they were not full loops the wing overs had the pilot well above the chute in some of our pictures.

In contrast we stayed local for our anniversary and spent two days in London starting with a Pol Roget Gourmet Dinner and Wine tasting at the Oxford and Cambridge Club and then to the opera at Covent Garden the following day. We had a chance at the Dinner to sample the fabled Churchill Champagne which was the only Champagne Winston Churchill ever drank, up to two bottles a day we were told. It was, may be still is, served at many of our embassies. We had slightly mixed views and at £160 and upwards a bottle it is not an issue! At the Opera we had a box shared with an old school friend and his wife and we resisted asking if it was what he served in his time in the Foreign Office.

We then had a few days in the North for the Mikron Theatre annual end of season do at Marsden, we have been sponsoring a show (usually at Goring) for many years. We then stayed at Birstwith with friends who had not made the party and at Harrogate, an underrated city, with one day at York at the Railway Museum - unfortunately the Flying Scotsman was away at the time.

Christmas Cruise to the Canaries: We have, once more, been on the Queen Victoria over Christmas - down to the Canaries and back as usual. Cunard do Christmas well. Although we have been to many of the ports before we did do quite a lot of new things ashore. As last year, one of the main themes was visits to the various Belén (Nativity Scenes) which are a feature of Spain and are mostly huge communal or municipal projects. In Tenerife we went to Candalaria where there is not only a huge Belén but also the The Basiica of our Lady of Candelaria which houses the present statue of Candelaria. The original miraculous effigy which had been found by the Guanches on 15 August 1392 was lost in the flood of 1826 and the present sculpture of the unusual "brown" virgin was created to replace it.

In La Palma we made a visit to Las Nieves, about 5 kms from town, to see the Church of the Virgin of the Snows. Her statue is made of painted terracotta and dates from the 15th century. The throne she stands on is marble and silver. Every five years the island has a massive fiesta where the statue of the Virgin comes down to Santa Cruz for five weeks. First they bring down the silver and marble throne, which separates into 12 pieces, even then they are difficult to move. It isn't so much a religious procession as a party, five miles long. The statue arrived in La Palma before the Spanish Conquest and was initially worshipped in a cave by the benaoharitas, as the native inhabitants of La Palma were called. The statue is believed to be the oldest Madonna figure in the Canary Islands.

In Lanzarote the highlghts were a visit to the 'Fire Mountains' as the Volcano Park at Timanfaya is known. It was formed by a period of dramatic volcanic eruptions in the 18th Century. In 6 years more than thirty volcanoes violently exploded, spilling fire, smoke and huge masses of magma onto the surrounding landscape, burying entire villages. It is still hot enough a couple of metres down to ignite brushwood as demonstrated in the visitor centre. As our friends know, one of our interests is wine and the locals have found an indigenous way of cultivating vines on this arid and hostile ground. They dig large numbers of funnel-shaped hollows into the thick layers of coarse volcanic ashes, planting a single vine in each hollow, filling them with soil and pouring thick layers of ash over it - the porous volcanic granules are ideal to retain the night humidity to feed the plants. In order to protect them from the constant winds and drying out, they build low, semicircular walls around them.

And the best of the rest: The above makes it sound as if all we do is travel (and party) but we have found time for Pete to fit in the usual Home Wine-Making. There are another 16 demijohns bubbling away to help consume all the fruit from the garden, even so the freezers are full of fruit. Pete still writes Open Source Software and does some other work with Linux. We have also started to get our Music collection under control and all accessible from the computer and more importantly the Pad so we can access it on cruises and on Corinna. It has been a major task as we have some rips of 800 CDs, mostly classical and mostly old as we have picked up much of the collection as bargains in Op shops etc and quite a lot has not been properly catalogued on the internet. In the end Pete had to find the originals and scan the covers - I have just looked in the scanned folder and it has some 570 cover images so far. The end result is that we can now search and find any piece in seconds on the pad and play it via Bluetooth on the house Hifi on Corinna or even on the 'Smart' TV we have bought as an incentive to make more use of the 'turret' with the it's wood burning stove, previously the only TV was in the bedroom.

Pauline, as you will recall, finished her Open University LLM last year and has now managed to 'back into' the third of a normal law degree and is studying European Law which is very appropriate at the present. Pete will leave her to add a bit more here. She will also be taking her Watercolour Painting kit on our next trip as well as the latest embroidery project. Pete still keeps up with his fitness regime and has now managed to lose weight on average on the last 11 cruises, including this Christmas, although it has involved almost every day in the gym starting at 0600 for up to 2 hours on sea days. He is not sure how long he can keep that up!

Time seems to fly by and we still have no regrets about leaving the rat race early, as we have said before, even if you win the rat race you are still only a rat. It seems more important to feed something back in by teaching, open source and mentoring etc., to make up for everything we have gained from friends and colleagues.

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Content revised: 13th January, 2018