Tuesday 31 January 2012

Ad-lib #8

Ads has got back home after a long day at school. He's at the dining table sipping his afternoon cuppa milk. And out of the blue: 
"Amma, do you want another baby?"
Before I can gather my wits together to respond, he carries on.
"If I was old enough to care for it, amma, and feed it and bathe it and wipe it's potty, maybe you could have had another one, no, amma?"
I respond: "And how will I go to work if there is a new baby at home?"
He thinks. "You can send it to daycare, amma. Or you can get a new maid. Or you can send us all to Chennai and thatha and naani will look after us."
I have a sneaky feeling this whole new baby business is just a ploy to leave me and go live in Chennai!
He ends with an excited "If you had 10 or 11 children like your paati, then you don't need to call any of my friends to my birthday party because there will be so many kids at home!"
Buddy....if I had 10 or 11 children, then you'll definitely have to go and live in Chennai because your mom won't be alive :) Or maybe I'd have just run away, far faaaar away :)

Sunday 29 January 2012

The India Art Fair

We spent a few hours at the India Art Fair yesterday. And it was wonderful. They had 3 halls, choc-a-bloc with contemporary art and we dearly wished we had more time to spend there. As it is we spent about 4 hours, which was too little. S and I split up for the most part. We took turns to watch the kids, the parent without the kids could walk around at their own pace while the one with the kids meandered around, (trying to) answer Ads' 101 questions on each exhibit. We introduced him to MF Husain, Picasso, Dali for the first time. I was thrilled to see an entire gallery devoted to Damien Hirst. I saw my first Henry Moore. S decided that Ravinder Reddy was his new favourite, while I plumped for Vivek Vilasini and Seema Kohli. 
A lovely, lovely few hours of feasting for the eyes. Some of the stuff was plain weird though. Sorry, I may be an art philistine, but I didn't 'get' Subodh Gupta at all. 
Leaving you with some pictures. Speaking of art, how wonderful is this?? Awesome, right?? I can't wait to go for one of these workshops/tours.
Next stop, Surajkund crafts mela, Feb 1-15. Already salivating :)

Ravinder Reddy.

Willie Bester (south africa) - Trojan Horse.

A thousand desires - Ravikumar Kashi.


Manjit Bawa.

I really like Tapas Basu.

Kids' favourite - the Infinite Depth series.

One of the Subodh Guptas.

Another one - titled - sarees, resin and wooden chairs.

Butterflies - Damien Hirst.

This one took me aback. Again a Damien Hirst.

Paresh Maity.

Another Ravinder Reddy.

The Last supper - Vivek Vilasini.

Another Michelangelo interpretation by Vilasini.

Seema Kohli.

Friday 20 January 2012

2 breads and a healthy cake

So I'm too lazy to check whether I've posted the bread recipes earlier, but I'm almost certain I haven't so here goes. 
I've been getting back to baking. I don't bake for months then suddenly the mania hits and I bake almost everyday and we end up distributing my efforts all over the complex. Not that people are dying to eat my creations (we have far better bakers and cooks around!) but hey, who says no to a piece of free cake? :)
Banana Bread
Banana bread is something that I make well. I like it because it's moist and makes a lovely snack for school. Plus its healthy! I got the recipe from a friend who asked me to replace some of the plain flour with wheat flour, and also to use oil+dahi instead of the unsalted butter that I was using. The 2 keys to getting this bread just right are:
a) To use over-ripe bananas, ones where the skin is turning black and brown. If I don't get such bananas, I buy the just-ripe ones, hide them and make sure no one eats them for several days until they ripen :)
b) To NOT over-mix the batter. It needs to be a bit lumpy and not too well-mixed. Just make sure the dry ingredients are moistened and the oven will do the rest.
2 large or 3 medium sized bananas (over-ripe)
1 large egg (or 2 small ones)
1 cup maida
1/2 cup atta
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup thick yogurt or dahi
1/4 cup oil (I use sunflower or olive and haven't found any difference between the two)
Mash bananas in the mixer and mix well with yogurt and baking soda. Let the mixture rest for a while unti lyou do the rest of the prep. In another boil, whisk the eggs, vanilla essence, sugar and oil. In another bowl, mix with a wooden spoon all the dry ingredients (atta, maida, baking powder and salt).
Now mix the banana mixture and the egg mixture. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the banana/egg mixture inside it slowly, in 2 instalments or 3. Here, you must fold the wet mixture into the dry and not just mix. Look at this link to see how to fold. Too much folding will result in a tough texture so do just enough to moisten the dry flour mixture. It's ok if the batter looks a little lumpy.
Bake at 180 degree C for 45-50 minutes. My LG microwave takes 40-45 minutes. I still like to occasionally bake the banana walnut bread from here. Not as healthy, but ooh so yummy!

Dried Fruit and Nut loaf
For this loaf, I blindly follow this recipe. However the amount of nuts and dried fruits they suggest is way too much. If I used the 6 cups that they suggested, not a soul in my family (myself included) would touch this bread. I use just 1 cup combined raisins, dates, almonds and walnuts. Remember to adjust the sugar levels if you have a lot of dates and raisins as they are so sweet in themselves. This recipe calls for brown sugar but I've often used the same amount of white powdered sugar with no appreciable difference. I haven't tinkered with the recipe to find a healthier version so if someone does have any tips, I'd be grateful if you passed it on :)

Healthy whole-wheat chocolate cake
This is a good one, suggested by a friend/neighbour. I baked this just an hour ago and my friend has substituted atta, oil and jaggery instead of maida, butter and sugar!! I was out of jaggery today and made it with sugar and will update this recipe once I am able to bake it with jaggery. 
1 cup atta
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup oil (sunflower was what I used today)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
Mix the atta, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs and mix with vanilla extract and oil. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry and bake at 180 deg C for about 15 minutes. The cake mix was rather dry and I had to pat it down with my bare hands to fit it into my cake pan.It wasn't as soft as I'd like but it tasted good. I have a feeling I overbaked and that 10 minutes would have been enough, with an  additional 5 min cooling-off period in the pan. One lives and learns :)

Do let me know if you bake these, and how they turned out!

Tuesday 17 January 2012

A sticky beginning to the new year

The Haryana Government issued a directive to all schools, for an extension of the winter holidays. The scheduled 10 day break turned into 25 days, with dismaying consequences for working parents. How great was my timing, that I started work just a couple of days before we learnt of this horrifying development? :( While one part of me was happy that the kids would not have to get up early in this cold weather, nor have to wait in the damp fog for their school bus pickup, another part was apprehensive about how I would manage work and kids-at-home.
The first day was horrible. They didn't allow me to do anything. And have you noticed that when kids are at home, they want to the time???? I was horribly stressed - and this was on Day 1 of getting back to work after a few years!! What did the future hold, I thought?
No worries - the future wasn't all that bad! I took a deep calming breath (yeah, right!!) and figured that trying to work when A&Y were at home was a lost cause. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So I shut down my laptop, and started getting up early mornings so that I got in a couple of hours before they woke up. I worked when Y was asleep in the afternoons, and post S's return from work. For the first couple of weeks, my interaction with the office was through emails and skype. The few days that I absolutely had to go in to work, I dropped them both at daycare in the mornings, for a few hours.
We spent our mornings playing the board games that only come out for an airing when the weather is cold/windy/rainy.

The kids helped me in baking some fruit loaves - banana bread and a dryfruit-and-nuts loaf.

We went cycling/scootering in the warm(er) afternoons and I got my quota of exercise running after/behind them.

Ads learnt to cycle without the support of his training wheels! Big milestone! He got the hang of it very quickly and is pretty proud of himself :)
Buoyed by that early success, he now wants to learn roller-skating. Many aeons ago, we had been passed on some nice Spiderman skates by a friend. He's been taking them out and practising. I know how hard it is to learn skating at an advanced age (I've tried!) so I am hoping it will be far easier for him to pick up. More updates and pics when we have something good to report!

Monday 16 January 2012

Nominated and tagged!

I've been nominated for the Versatile Blogger award by Smitha of Any Excuse to Write.....Thanks Smitha! You deserve your award because you are definitely one of the most versatile bloggers I know :)
Let me just copy and paste the rules for the Versatile Blogger award. We have to: 
1. Nominate 15 fellow Bloggers. Err.....considering I read only about 20 blogs on a regular basis and most of them aren't personal blogs but work-related and travel, 4 nominations is all I can manage :) Here goes. I nominate:
2. Inform the Bloggers of their nomination. Ok done :)
3. Add the Versatile Blogger Award picture to your Blog Post. Again, done!
4.Share 7 random things about yourself.
a) I'm anal about throwing out junk. I hate clutter and my happiest moments are spent clearing and de-cluttering. I don't even like full mailboxes - at any point I can't deal with seeing more than 15 emails in my inbox :)
b) I'd love to be able to speak Tamil (my mother tongue) better. I can read and write but very very slowly. In fact, my Hindi is far stronger than my Tamil, and while that is very convenient (!), I want to set aside some time to improve my Tamil.
c) I used to write a lot of poetry until a few years ago. Now both reading and writing poetry have gone out the window.
d) The first serious job interview I attended was to be an air-hostess, straight after college, for British Airways. I got turned down!
e) Most days, I eat before my kids do :) I find I can deal with the whole meal-time routine and mess so much better when I'm not hungry.
f) I'm terrified of the rides at amusement parks - the giant wheel, roller-coaster etc. Physical courage and thrill-seeking behaviour is SO not me!
g) I used to work as a compere on All India radio (those were the days!), on a contract basis. I did it for 2-3 years and boy, the joy of getting a cheque of Rs 300/- in the mail (I mean postbox!).
Enjoyed writing this post! :) Thanks again, Smitha.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Last Day - Auckland

Another morning of getting up with the rooster, getting ready before the kids wake up, last minute packing and rustling up the kids in time for breakfast. Pure sightseeing vacations are a recipe for work and more work and sleep deprivation :) Not that one minds when one is in the middle of it. The travel agent had messed up our tickets on the domestic sectors and we were unable, both in Queenstown and in Christchurch, to tele-checkin or do a self checkin. We had to get someone from Air New Zealand to help us. On top of that, in Christchurch I managed to lose our boarding passes. We discovered their absence as we were heading towards security and had to rush back and get new ones and then run flat out to make our flight :((
Auckland was windy and cloudy as we landed. The hotel that I had booked us in was part of the Skytower entertainment complex. It is one of those Vegas-style hotels cum casino, popular for banqueting and conventions in addition to regular tourist and business traffic. It was extremely crowded but the rooms were perfectly comfy and it was right in the middle of Auckland CBD (downtown). Since there was such a rush, we could not check in early so we parked our luggage with the concierge and headed out to the Viaduct Precinct to take in views of the waterfront. The Viaduct is a commercial, residential and entertainment precinct, chockfull of shops and restaurants and the one place where you can see why Auckland is called the "City of sails". The marina is full of boats of all shapes and sizes, from cruise ships to super-yachts to commercial fishing vessels. We walked around from pier to pier, and finally had lunch at a nice place where Ads lost his first tooth.
None of us had ever seen an ocean liner before and we were excited to spot a couple berthed in the marina. They are HUGE!!! I think my next vacation should be on a cruise :)

Auckland was the only city in NZ where you saw what can be loosely described as "crowds". The country has a shade over 4 million people and about 1/3rd live in Auckland. The pic below is a crowded street in the CBD. We were waiting for the light to turn green.

Skytower. The building you can see right next to it is where we stayed.

The lobby of the hotel. Like I said, characterless and swanky, but perfectly adequate :)

The view from our room window. It started raining as we were walking back to the hotel after lunch.

I spent the afternoon and part of the evening walking around the city by myself while S watched the test match on TV and the kids chilled in the room. That was the only few hours in the entire trip that I got to myself, with no specific agenda other than a vague notion of picking up something for our house. I was conscious of a sense of depression that I always feel in the last day or two of a nice vacation, a dread of going back to the normal life and guilt that I should feel so ungratefully low when I should be rejoicing at my fortune at having experienced NZ! As much as I would have liked the holiday to have been longer, it would simply not have been practical with the 2 children. I was happy they got through the 10 days with not as much as a sniffle and that even after getting back to India and the radically different climate, they were able to hit the ground running with no sickness or serious jet-lag.
Our flight was at 9 am the next day so we had to leave the hotel around 6.30 am. We left behind a dull and rainy Auckland. I got to know much later how lucky we had been with the weather. The week that we spent in the country was one of the few blessed with sunshine. Apparently it's been rainy ever since and the prediction for this entire month is unseasonal rain and storms. Our flight back was uneventful. As always, the route back seems to last forever and it didn't help that I spent a large part of the 10 hr Auckland - Hong Kong leg groaning and being horribly travel-sick :(
So, that's it. I've thoroughly enjoyed reliving the vacation through writing these blog posts. I was afraid I'd forget all the little things that we did and experienced if I didn't write them down. My friend asked me where my next dream vacation would be. I was dumbfounded. I told her that NZ has been on top of the list for so many years and really, it's been #1, #2 and #3 for me for a long time. Now that it's done, I'm not sure which other place I need to lust after :)

Saturday 14 January 2012

Toxic malls

Warning: This post is just a rant :) Feel free to ignore.
We had to go to a mall the other day. Well, we didn't have to, technically speaking. My father-in-law was in town and in the morning we had to do some shopping for him. In the afternoon, we didn't have any outdoorsy options for the kids since it was a cold blustery sort of day and we didn't want to sit around at home. I suggested we check out this huge mall in Gurgaon, which I've never been to. The kids could play in the kiddie area, I could check out some sales and we could finish dinner in the food court.
Now I donno whether I have mentioned this anytime on this blog, but I hate malls. As in, really hate them. I hate everything about them and in the normal course, I would never suggest going to one, much less take the kids along, but in a place like Gurgaon, if you can't go outdoors and you don't have the time to drive to the rajdhani, then you have to go to a mall! Sad, but that's how it is. We occasionally do visit malls, because our favourite bookstore is in one, sometimes the nice restaurants are there and every now and then we catch a movie in one. So, anyway, we went to this place and while the kids hung around with their dad and grand-dad, I braved the crowds at Westside and came out after 30 mins with a thumping headache.
We then went to the play area (called "Funcity" - anything but!) and we paid an exorbitant amount for the privilege of being swung around in a merry-go-round kind of thingy for 10 minutes. The kids squealed with delight and fright and genuinely had a good time, so I won't complain. Ads then spent a fruitless half hour using up all the money on the card on idiotic games that gave him only one go at picking up some useless toy. 
When we were ready to go, S, looking haggard and as though he was having a headache too, looked at me and said "I hope we aren't planning to do this every weekend."  I shook my head. I'm aware I'm in a minority here given that most people I know (in Gurgaon) seem to visit malls every weekend but I find these places toxic. Give me the sweaty crowds and the haggling at Sarojini Market and Pondy Bazar any day!

Day 8 - Franz Josef to Greymouth to Christchurch

Day 8. Discovered a big hole in my planning. We were driving along the west coast, to Greymouth, giving up our rental car there and taking the Tranzalpine train to Christchurch. On the way, we were supposed to see the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. We realized that Punakaiki was actually beyond Greymouth and with a 2 hour round trip journey between the two, we would only be able to catch our train if we left Franz Josef at some ridiculously unearthly hour. I was very very disappointed (and annoyed with myself) since I had really wanted to see the blowholes, but there it was and we couldn't do much about it. We left our hotel soon after breakfast and drove to Greymouth, a drive which took us about 3 hours exclusive of halts. The drive was unremarkable, nice and quiet and full of pretty sights like this river :)  

We halted at Hokitika, an township of around 3000 people (!) which used to be a gold mining town, but now is mainly known for greenstone (jade) carving and the many communes of artists and craftsmen who have made it their home, inspired by the beauty and solitude of the wild West Coast of New Zealand. The picture below is as we were walking to the beach at Hokitika.

My main agenda at Hokitika was to get started on the little shopping I had to do. The town is known to have the best Pounamu (NZ jade) and I picked up a piece as a gift (not for myself!). Since jade is expensive, I limited myself to one small stone and bought a few pendants and hairclips (again, as gifts) made out of Paua shells. Paua is the Maori name for some species of sea snails, which are iconic in NZ and consumed not just as a food delicacy but also used in making jewellery and other artifacts. They are very pretty, and mostly to be found in turqouise, green and purple hues. One of the popular activities in Hokitika was to go to a studio and carve your own greenstone (jade) and make your own taonga (treasure) either out of jade or out of paua. I don't know what it is - hopefully I'm getting less material in my old age - but I did not feel the slightest temptation to buy anything for myself. One of my things is to buy a piece of jewellery from every place I visit, whether it's within India or abroad. I like knowing that many of the accessories I wear have a story (and a holiday!) associated with them. This time, the exchange rate also scared me off :(
We drove the short distance to Greymouth, gave up our humungous SUV and got to the station well in time for our train.

Obviously this train is a big hit with tourists and on that day, it seemed as though the only tourists in NZ were Indians. The train takes 4.5 hours to reach Christchurch and the ride is truly scenic. Ironically, where we might have gone into raptures if we had taken the train going the other way - that is, on our entry into South Island (as most people do) - this time we were so accustomed to the gorgeousness of the country that we took it in our stride :) The ride takes you up into the Southern Alps and down again into the fertile Canterbury plains just before Christchurch. It's extremely isolated and rugged terrain. Every now and then we would spot isolated hamlets, forlorn sheep and miles and miles of fencing and we would wonder who lived there and shepherded the sheep and maintained the fences. I could vividly picture how remote, hostile and unearthly it would seem in the dead of winter.

So LOTR, isn't it??

The train has a large open air (enclosed on top but open on the sides) viewing carriage where S and I spent quite a bit of time, in turns, soaking in the scenery and clicking snaps. It was chilly and extremely windy though, and we were always glad to duck back into the warmth of the coaches.The kids spent their time drawing/colouring, reading and in Y's case, taking a nice long nap.

Christchurch, we had been warned, would be a huge anti-climax due to many places in the city centre being cordoned off due to the Sep 2010 and Feb 2011 earthquakes. It certainly did not help that a big (though less damaging) earthquake had hit that poor city just about a week before we landed. The Cathedral Square, among other places that we had wanted to cover, was out of bounds. We walked around a bit before and after dinner, but we didn't have much time to spare in any case and S also wanted to get back to the test match :) So, I won't say we saw anything substantial in Christchurch. We were now at the penultimate day of our vacation and the fatigue was beginning to hit us hard. 
Ending with a shot of a church near out hotel, badly damaged by the earthquake and being held up with supports.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Day 7 - Relaxing in Glacier country

Day 7. Leisurely breakfast in the sit-out after waking up at 8 am. Got dressed and left to drive 21 km back to Fox Glacier, from where our helicopter flight was due to start. Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are among the most accessible glaciers in the world. Both are around 12-13 km long and are unique in that they descend from the Southern Alps onto a very low altitude (about 975 ft above sea level), into a lush temperate rainforest. The area surrounding the 2 glaciers is part of the Westland National Park and is again a World Heritage Site.
We reached Fox glacier with tons of time to spare. It was a warm day and we were all wearing only trousers and full-sleeved cotton tops/shirts (no wool) but I had come equipped with lots of options. Each of us could choose from a light jacket, a heavier jacket and a big warm fluffy jacket :) We found out that the glacier was only about 5 degrees colder than our current temperature at Fox Glacier. Since my husband is fundamentally incapable of letting me sit down and relax in the sunshine, he made me walk up and down to the car a few times so that we could all try out various permutations and combinations of warm clothes. Finally we settled on our warmest jackets and when we reached the field where our helicopter was supposed to take off from, our escort asked us if we weren't too warm because the glacier was almost exactly the same temperature. So S and I thankfully ditched our jackets. The kids refused so we let them be. 
This was the tiny helicopter that we flew in.

Ads was super excited, especially as he sat next to the pilot. The latter kept up a running commentary but honestly, the bird was so noisy I couldn't hear much even with the headphones. Y was terrified, cried a bit and buried her head in my lap as soon as we were seated. 
The glacier. Never seen one before and was quite thrilled to see it did actually look like a river of ice.

Us playing in the snow. It was pretty difficult to put one step forward in front of another. The kids loved pelting each other and us with snowballs and our pilot obligingly clicked lots of pictures. 

The view of the glacier descending into a rainforest and in the distance you can see the coast.

Before we knew it, we were back on solid ground with Ads clamouring "Amma, can we go again? Please?". We ate a big lunch and headed back to our rooms for a nice long afternoon nap. The kids woke up and played on the trampoline while S and I sipped chai and sat in the sunshine. We walked around, looked at the pet alpacas and goats, ran away from a friendly dog that was following us :) That is, I walked serenely  while throwing looks of deep disgust at the rest of my dog-phobic family who were running helter-skelter!
The weird part of the day was S coming back after buying takeout dinner for us and telling me that he met a friend/batchmate of ours from b-school, at the gas station! Ah well, NZ is a popular holiday destination for Indians and it is indeed a very small world. The other interesting thing that happened on this day was that try as we might, we could not connect my phone to the free wi-fi network. At the same time, I found a feedback form (from Tourism New Zealand) in the apartment which asked me to rate this property and we were asked to hand it over at the reception. Now I wrote a glowing review of the place and when S went to the reception to complain about the wifi, he took the form and handed it over. The guy was so touched with my review that he gave S his laptop to use and surf the net :))
When we came back to India, one of the first things I did was go to tripadvisor and give my review/rating of all the properties we visited. I use the Internet so much for planning my travel (and for everything else) that increasingly I feel I need to 'give back' a little of what I take from it :)

Ad-lib #7

Ads has only recently realized that I write a blog. Since he doesn't know what a blog is, I told him that "Amma writes stories about you both, real stories about what you do and say, so that you can read it when older." He's also seen the blog and knows it's called Adventures in Mommyland. Last night, he wanted a bed-time story. Now it's been a loooong time since I've done bed-time stories (that task has been outsourced completely to adoring grandparents, aunts and uncles). I was racking my brains about what to tell him when he piped up "Don't think so much, amma. Just tell us a story from Mommyland!".

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Day 6 - a long day of driving

Day 6 was the only day we had a goodish amount of driving to do. I'd deliberately planned it that way, one day of 7-7.5 hours driving time against 2 days of 6 hrs driving each, as easier on all of us. Imagine my dismay when I re-checked the driving times on all the maps we had picked up in NZ and found that they estimated the driving time between Te Anau and the Glacier country, as 10.5 hours!!! On top of that, we discovered that I had left the car rental documents in the Queenstown airport and that we had been driving in an alien country with no rental and insurance documents. I looked suitably apologetic while being thoroughly scolded for my carelessness, however I had already forgiven myself. I had planned and booked every bit of the holiday, not to mention the entire packing up, shutting up of the apartment, notice to everyone from the car cleaner, apartment office, maid, cook, newspaper, milkman and security guards...with a thousand things to remember, yes I had been a little what? We checked out and left as early as we could on Boxing day and drove back all the way to Queenstown airport, where we managed to get duplicate documents very quickly. 
We now had to head slightly north-east, then cut across and head steadily westwards until we hit the coast and headed north to Glacier Country. We cut through the Remarkables (that's what the mountain ranges in Central Otago and the Queenstown-Lakes district are called) and down to Wanaka, a very pretty town on the shores of Lake Wanaka. Wanaka is sort of like a little sister to Queenstown, but much more peaceful and a holiday destination in itself. 

We found a very handy picnic table with a canopy (it was hot and sunny!) just very close to where S and the kids are standing in the pic, and while S went off to fill petrol, I unpacked our picnic lunch (sandwiches again) and got the kids to eat up. We'd had some anxious moments in the car as both of them seemed to be queasy on the winding road so we also made a brief stop at the town center to buy some nausea medication. I've done enough washing and wiping down of cars and carseats to be very very wary of anybody puking in the car :( We lined the floor and the entire backseat of the car with newspapers and plastic covers before we started off again and I kept the children chewing lollipops for more than an hour. I also tried to get them to sleep - a surefire remedy - but they just weren't interested. Fortunately, though they did continue to feel queasy, they didn't actually throw up and I heaved a big sigh of relief :)
We crossed the very still, very beautiful Lake Hawea before hitting the coast. The coastline (Tasman Sea) was evocative of the holiday we had taken driving along the Big Sur in California. The same bright blue sea, the same white sand and the same blinding sunshine.

A quick taste of 100% New Zealand ice-cream at Haast, and we quickly reached Glacier Country. We had taken only 8 hours on the road so the maps had indeed been way off the mark. We crossed the township (or should I call it a village) of Fox Glacier and drove another 20 or so km to Franz Josef, where we were staying. The self-contained villas where I had booked us (over-riding the more convenient location suggested by our travel agent) turned out to be a truly inspired choice. It was a little bit out of town, so we had to drive if we wanted a bite to eat, but for that very reason, it was very quiet and had a superb view of snow-capped mountains. I gracefully accepted the compliments showered on my acumen by the husband, and gently suggested that it might be the best place we've ever stayed in while travelling, even better than the truly lovely ones S had unearthed in the past. I think S was in a great mood on seeing the villa because he conceded the point :)
Harmony restored, we had a lovely time taking pics of the place before the kids turned it into a shambles :)
This is the living area with a partial view of the sit-out. There was also a dining table and a kitchenette in the same room. The living room led to the bathroom and to the main bedroom.

You can kind of see the kitchen in this snap. The stairs on the right led to the 2nd bedroom which had 3 singe beds and a lovely sloping roof. The kids promptly appropriated it for their own :)

The view from the sit-out. Lovely, na?

Our unit from the outside (and that's me skulking in the curtains :))

The guy at the front-desk was super-friendly. The first thing he did when we checked in was to shove a bottle of milk in my hand, to 'fix a drink for your little ones'. Now that completely totally bowled me over!!!! Such a small gesture, it cost them literally nothing, but so thoughtful! The guys also gave us a lot of tips on where to eat, what to see etc. Based on his recommendation, we toddled off to an Indian restaurant and gorged ourselves on paneer and naan.
I had planned the Franz Josef stay in such a way that we had nothing much scheduled by way of sightseeing. Apart from a 1/2 hour helicoper flight to see the glacier (very touristy, I know), every other activity was strictly optional. By this time we were also getting a bit tired, what with laying our heads down in a different bed and a different city almost every night, and we needed a mid-vacation break. A break in the middle of a break. How's that??? :)
The way this hotel worked, we told the guy at the reception what we wanted for breakfast the next day, and he delivered all the ingredients by 8 pm the previous night. I was delighted to see our breakfast basket. It was so cute!

Sigh, it had been a long (but good) day. We oohed and aahed over the sunset at 9 pm with background noise from Ads - "Amma, why do you always like to see the sunrise and sunset?" "Amma, why do you take so many photos?"!!!!

Lest I forget - the kids are growing up!

I was trying to change some of the tags on old posts and came across this post, written almost 2 years ago. This is one of the reasons I blog, to jog memories that can put life back in perspective :) We've come a long way since then!

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Day 5 - Milford

Next morning, we set out for the 2.5 hour drive to Milford Sound, where we were booked to go on a 1 hr 45 min cruise. This was on Xmas day and we knew all shops and most restaurants would be closed for Xmas and Boxing day (the 26th). Earlier on the 24th, we'd taken the precaution of stocking up on essentials - bread, butter, jam, snacks and fruit, and I packed a lunch-to-go for all of us on the 25th. The drive to Milford was, obviously, breathtaking. I think it's a measure of how used we were getting to Kiwi beauty after just 4-5 days that I had stopped taking out my camera at every turn. You see, we were confident that even if we missed this lovely shot, there would be another one coming along after just a couple of minutes :)
We had a map highlighting all the scenic stops on the way to Milford. Some of them would be time and effort-intensive. For example, a 1.5 hr round trip hike to see a lake where the views were supposed to be amazing. We skipped such stops; where it involved short easy hikes which the children could manage, we made it a point to halt. As always, there were innumerable potty halts, in addition to photo-op stops and general panic halts because someone had dropped a toy under the seat and had to retrieve it this instant or else! 
This pic clicked soon after we took off post-breakfast, through the windscreen.

Mirror-lakes, a group of tarns (small mountain lakes). The water was so still!

A bubbling brook :)

This bird took a fancy to our radio aerial :)

A short hike into the rainforest.

And so we arrive.

We arrived with time to spare for a leisurely picnic lunch of sandwiches, soaking in the stillness and beauty around us. Talking of sandwiches, I must mention how absolutely yummy NZ butter was! Rich, absolutely melt-in-the-mouth, like no butter I've ever tasted. The cows must be really healthy and happy because the milk (poured by me straight down my throat, cold and fresh) was thick, creamy and almost sinful :)
The cruise (called a 'scenic' cruise - big surprise!) took us through the fiord (Milford Sound is actually a fiord and I had no idea of the difference between the two until I went to NZ), upto the head of the fiord and into the open Tasman Sea. A friend told me that the Norwegian fiords are far more impressive than Milford. I don't know about that because I was plenty impressed with this one! Trivia: The fiord is one of the windiest places on the planet and we got to experience this firsthand. I left the kids and S down in the warmth of the catamaran's lower deck and went up to the viewing deck and the wind was absolutely whipping out there!!! But the views were so much better so we got the children up after enfolding them in additional woolly layers. They hadn't ever experienced such windy conditions and they were thrilled, squealing in delight as they were pulled this way and that by the wind! We had to keep a tight hold on our resident featherweight because  she might have quite easily been swept away!

Baby seals sunning themselves.

The drive back home, around 4 pm.

Before we left for NZ, I had thought that visiting and seeing Milford would be the #1 highlight for me. What I hadn't realized that every place in NZ is so stunning that Milford became just another one of those stunning places, panoramic vistas and all. So - Milford was great. It just had to jostle for space at spot#1 along with other places :)