New Zealand: Auckland and the North Country

Get out your World Atlases and turn to the page for New Zealand as we are spending just over three weeks in this beautiful country. It was a long series of flights to get here but we are now fully recovered and have just completed our sixth day in country.

For our two full days in Auckland (the capital city) we used the Hop on/Hop off bus to see many of the more famous sites in this city of 1.5 million (one third the population of the entire country). Since this is our fourth visit, we selected places to visit that we had missed earlier – specifically, a superb aquarium, the Anglican Cathedral and Parnell Village, a restored street of Victorian homes now mostly boutique shops and cafes.


Of course, we did re-visit the 1000 feet high Sky Tower (although we resisted the bungee jump from the top and were unable to get a dinner reservation in its revolving restaurant) and the superb Auckland Museum, as well as walking the attractive waterfront area near the old Ferry Building. We also climbed Mt Eden (actually only the last quarter mile from the bus park) which, at 600 feet, is the highest “mountain” in the city. It is one of 48 extinct volcanoes in the city and there is a magnificent well-formed crater which is viewable from the top.


Auckland sits on a narrow (about 7 miles at the minimum) piece of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea and, although it is difficult to separate the various stretches of water seen in every direction, from Mt Eden we could see both of these Seas. In addition, this is a perfect location to view the modern city with the Sky Tower dominating the skyline of modern buildings.

Auckland also has its share of good restaurants and we sampled three in this stay. We will be back for two more nights at the end of our driving tour.

From Auckland we drove north to spend three nights in Whangerei. This is a part of New Zealand that we have not seen before and it is extremely picturesque. There are beautiful stretches of coastline, forests with dozens of varieties of trees (many unique to the country) and miles and miles of green farmland – with cattle, not sheep!

One of our primary reasons for traveling north was to visit the Waitangi Treaty, considered the most historic place in New Zealand – the Birthplace of The Nation. It was here in 1840 that a treaty was signed between Queen Victoria’s emissary (Hobson) and many (but not all) of the Maori Chiefs; the birth of the nation but the beginning of over a century of contention, wars and demonstrations. The major problem was in the “translation” of the English version into the Maori language and the degree to which Britain would have sovereignty, and how much of their home and rights the Maori would be relinquishing. Depending on your point of view, this could be put down to difficulties of translation and word meaning – or it could be a deliberate slanting of the terms to facilitate the agreement and the signing.


It should be pointed out that the Maori had some years earlier asked the British for some form of alliance to help with trade and to keep other Europeans, particularly the French, from attempting a takeover. So, by 1840, there was a similar mood on both sides and the treaty was signed right here on the beautiful promontory overlooking the Bay of Islands. Unfortunately, the actual terms soon became clear to the natives and war erupted which extended to various degree until the end of the century and simmered well into the 20th Century. It wasn’t until 1995 that Queen Elizabeth signed an official apology to the Maori Nations for the events initiated in her predecessor’s reign 150 years earlier.

This seems to have gone a long way to healing the wounds and, as we have observed, the Maori and Europeans seems to live in harmony with the natives assimilated into the more western culture. However, as the informative video at this site pointed out, there are still lingering issues, particularly over what jurisdiction the Maori will have over what was once their land; so all is not perfect.On the other hand, “Perfect” could be used to describe the physical beauty of this site on a warm and sunny spring afternoon and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

On Monday our destination was the region on the west coast in which there are forests containing the Kauri tree. The Kauri is in many respects of size and age similar to the California Coastal Redwoods and, as with the Redwoods, was seriously over-harvested and is now a protected species. Unlike the Redwoods, the Kauri is a very strong timber and is particularly beautiful in furniture. It also has a sought-after gum which is sold as New Zealand amber in jewelry and art objects.

We first visited the Kauri Museum to learn a little about the tree and its history as well as its importance to the country. We learned (or at least were exposed to) much more! The museum (privately operated) was vast and not only told us all we needed to know about the tree but had many exhibits dealing with the life of pioneers in this part of the North Island.  Much like the Coastal Redwood area in the US, the Kauri are now found primarily in protected groves through which pathways have been made. In fact, as the root system of these trees is very fragile, strict measures are taken to keep visitors on the paths and, in addition, we were required to pass through a disinfectant as we entered the groves to avoid the inadvertent transfer of soils, etc that might be damaging to the Kauri.

The largest living Kauri tree (which we saw at our last stop) is said to be 2000 years old and has a girth of over 40 feet and a total height of about 160 feet. This falls short of the largest Redwoods but is nevertheless a most impressive specimen. Almost of as much interest, however, is the whole area in which these trees now stand, in that they are surrounded by dozens of other species of tree and fern. We had seen many of these near the roads in our driving of the past two days but it was very pleasant to be able to walk through such a variety of foliage, most of which was quite different from anything we see at home.


Today (Tuesday) we left Whangerei and drove south about 250 miles to Rotorua, where we will be for the next three nights. This is one of our favorite spots in New Zealand and we are looking forward to seeing the mud pools, geysers and steam that are at just about every turn in the town and surrounding area.

More later,

Bob and Molly






Permanent link to this article:

The Smokies and Nashville


Blog 3 Southern States

Here is the final blog covering the last week of our driving trip in the Southern States with Moll’s brother, Robert.

Hope you enjoy.

Bob and Molly

Permanent link to this article:

New Orleans to Charleston


Here is a pdf file of our time in the Deep South. Hope you enjoy,

Bob and Molly

NO to Charleston Blog

Permanent link to this article:

Driving the Southern States

We arrived in New Orleans yesterday (September 3) after five days of driving from Cincinnati. We are on a trip with Molly’s brother Robert that will take us from here to Northern Florida, up the East Coast and across the Carolinas and Tennessee, before getting back to Cincinnati on September 17.

The itinerary was suggested by Robert and no matter how we tried to remind him that the South-eastern US in late August and early September can be very hot and humid, he was not dissuaded. So, here we are in New Orleans – and, guess what, the weather is and has been very kind so far. We have had days in the nineties but generally the humidity has been relatively low and walking the cities (Louisville, St Louis, Memphis and Jackson, MS so far) has not been unpleasant. We did experience a heavy thunderstorm today but even that didn’t drive up the humidity nor dampen our spirits.

As I said, we visited Louisville (where we walked the historic downtown area, saw the Slugger Museum and the river front), St Louis (the Gateway Arch, the Mississippi and the beautiful buildings and parks along Market Street) before driving south to Memphis. Here we walked a little of the Music City (but did not grace Graceland with our presence) and once again overlooked the great Mississippi River. In Jackson, MS we spent a very pleasant two hours visiting both the old and the new Capitol buildings, each of which is interesting and contains a lot of history of the state and its links to the secession, the Civil War and the Civil Rights movements.

Now we are in “The Big Easy” for three days to be spent on foot in the vibrant and architecturally interesting French Quarter-and we will undoubtedly sample some of its famous cuisine.

Louisville, KY


St Louis, MO

















The Great River Road from St Louis to Memphis



Jackson, MS


The New Capitol















DSC07831                                                                                       The Old Capitol.






More from New Orleans and beyond.

Bob and Molly

Permanent link to this article:

England, June & July 2015

Greetings from England and the view from “our” living room window!



We are in our last week of a two month visit to Europe and are headed home next Monday (August 3). The majority of our time has been spent at our nephew’s apartment in Ilkley in Yorkshire but we have had three “side” trips during that period.

While in England we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary and had a number of events to commemorate the occasion. We had a dinner with most of our English family and friends, Molly and I visited the hall where our wedding reception had been held, we were treated to a night in one of the finest hotels in Britain (our nephew Mark, again) and we spent four days in Northumberland (on the border with Scotland) with our friends Keith and Zena, who also celebrated fifty years together in June. Each of these have been detailed in blogs posted on this site over the past few weeks.

Just last Thursday we returned from a week long visit to Italy – four nights in Venice and four in Florence. These are two of our favorite cities in the world and Italy is certainly near the top of countries we like to visit. This trip was at least the sixth time we have visited these beautiful cities so we were under no “obligation” to visit every tourist site. This was perhaps as well since the weather was very hot and sunny (95F/35C and higher every day) so we limited our sightseeing to about five hours a day. Evening meals generally took another 2 to 3 hours (as is typical in Europe) so we managed to fill our days and had a very pleasant time.

The rest of the time in Ilkley has been spent in much the same way as our many previous visits – a number of which have been covered in blogs and in e-mails posted in the past. Molly walked into town to do a little shopping on most days and Bob either walked or cycled in the beautiful countryside. The weather has been very nice in general and rarely has rain got in the way of our planned activities.


Typical scenery on my walks…….



….. and a typical path to get there!












Molly also had time with her siblings and we had several meals with friends and family in the local area. Again, one of the benefits of returning so frequently is that we are under no pressure to “do something every day”; as we often say, it is just like living at home but in a different country. We are very fortunate.

For those interested, there are posted blogs as I have outlined above (as well as one covering a local cycle race!) and eventually this site will contain the more detailed journals of the entire two month vacation. If you take a look, we hope you enjoy what you see.

Molly and Bob

Permanent link to this article:

Italy, July 2015

Below is a PDF file of our trip to Venice and Florence.


Italy, July 2015

Permanent link to this article:

Northumberland Visit, July 2015

As part of our continuing 50th Wedding Anniversary celebrations, we took a three night trip to Northumberland in the extreme northeast of England with our friends Keith and Zena, who also celebrated their Golden Wedding in June. Our first stop, on the way to our resort hotel, was at the outdoor museum of Beamish.

Beamish is a reconstruction of a Victorian coal mining town and, although the main town is said to be set in 1913, there are a number of older buildings and settings. All the buildings have been re-located here from their original sites around the area and they are all staffed by people in period clothing. Many that we talked to were really into their “role” and provided not only some good historical data but also were very entertaining and amusing at times.


The colliery

DSC07287 DSC07297 DSC07317 DSC07322


We took a tram from the entrance area to the main street of the town (about a one mile ride) and spent most of our time in the several shops and commercial buildings established there. We visited the Cooperative store, the bank, a couple of confectionery and clothing stores as well as spending a very entertaining 20 minutes listening to the local dentist and having him explain the tools of his trade circa 1900. There were also stables and coach houses and trams, buses and commercial vehicles of the early 20th century were continually passing through the town.

One somewhat alarming aspect was that many of the items in homes and stores were ones that we recognized from our childhood – although since the four of us were celebrating our 50th wedding anniversaries it is perhaps not too surprising that we had experienced some of the “artifacts” first hand.

Our final stop was at the houses and chapel near the colliery. Here we saw the miners’ cottages which were quite rudimentary to our minds but which were apparently relatively luxurious for the times. Each had a well-tended vegetable garden and there were pens for pigs and other animal housing. Each family worked specific crops or owned animals and the products were shared amongst all the families, as well as with the many single men that were recruited to work in the mine and who lodged in these same small homes.

About 5pm we left the museum and completed our journey to the Macdonald Linden Hotel and Country Club where we were booked in for the next three nights. We had a very good dinner and finished the evening and a very interesting day with a nightcap in the lounge.

On the next day 9 (Thursday July 9) we drove to the nearby town of Alnwick (pronounced “Annick”). Our destination here was the Barter Bookshop which is said to be one of the largest secondhand bookshops in Britain. The library is housed in the town’s railway station (which closed in 1968) and is now a huge facility. There are dozens of shelves crammed with books of every kind, as well as a coffee shop and café and it is common for visitors to simply go in for a coffee and sit reading at one of the several groupings of chairs and tables set up throughout. The shop was started by a couple less than twenty years ago and has grown not only in size but in fame and is now as much a tourist attraction as it is a bookshop. Needless to say, with Molly and Zena being avid readers, Barters’ gained some more trade today.

While in the town we also stopped for a short time at the small but interesting open air market where there was only one fruit and vegetable stall but several stalls selling handmade products. Again, the Alnwick economy was helped by our presence!

In the afternoon we drove a few miles to visit Cragside Estate. This is a large Victorian home in a very large estate (there is a six mile drive – which we took – around its perimeter) but its major claim to fame is that it was the first home in Britain to have electricity generated on site from its own water supply.




Inside Cragside


A relatively small (10 rooms) house had been built by William (later Lord) Armstrong in 1860 as a retreat from his main residence in the


Some of the installed electric lighting











Newcastle suburbs, some thirty miles away. It was built on barren, stony ground (hence Cragside) on a steep hillside with little or no vegetation or trees in sight. However, after about twenty years and with increased prosperity and industrial wealth, Lord Armstrong decided he needed something a little larger to entertain his friends and clients from around the world, so he built the new house around the old one and ultimately ended up with a 100 room mansion. Amongst his house guests were the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VIII), for whom he had built additional bedrooms and en suite facilities.

Lord Armstrong was by now (1860) a very successful industrial engineer (he had started life as a solicitor) and had major ship building, crane building and armaments factories in Gateshead and Newcastle. However, he was fascinated by water and its power and set out to use that resource in his much expanded home. His was one of the first homes to have running hot and cold water, flush toilets and central heating – and this in a very remote part of northern England. He achieved this through the use of a hydraulic pump engine, powered by the gravitational water flow from a huge man-made lake built on site that took clean spring water to a tank on the roof of the house (300 feet above the spring).

Not satisfied with this sophistication, he later used the same water power to generate electricity to provide lighting and other amenities in the home. Hence he had the first hydro-electric powered lighting in any home in Britain. Again, this wasn’t sufficient as the arc lighting (dim and erratic) of the time was soon replaced by the incandescent bulbs invented by his friend and Gateshead neighbor, Joseph Swan. Swan had come up with the carbon filament lightbulb at the same time as Edison did the same in America and, in fact, the two joined forces as the Edison-Swan Company.

So, in this remote hilly area of northeast England was a huge home with electric lighting and, largely thanks to the efforts of his wife, now set in a beautiful wooded area with lakes and formal gardens. It is said that 5 million trees were planted within the estate with native and other species from around the world. Lord Armstrong had enormous wealth and partnered with many other wealthy industrialists to form companies that existed well into the 20th century. He also gave much of his personal assets to philanthropic works in a number of areas; again, some still exist today.

He died at the age of 90 in 1900 and, with no children from his long marriage, the estate and title passed to his great nephew and thence to two additional Lord Armstrongs. Their stewardship was not as steadfast as his, however, and in the 1970s Cragside passed into the hands of the National Trust who manage it today.

One final 21st century addition to the estate now provides electricity to the house and would presumably have earned the praise of William Armstrong. An Archimedes Screw is now being used to generate electricity via water flow from the same lake that had been put in place by Armstrong in the mid-1800s so that, almost two hundred years on, Cragside is using hydro-electric power once again.


Archimedes Screw; a modern use of a very old concept



After 4 hours on the estate, which included a tour of the inside of the home with its advanced concepts and its obvious wealth and works of art, we returned to our hotel.

On Friday we spent most of the day in the nearby town of Alnwick. We made one stop on the way at an 11th century church where we spent an interesting 20 minutes inside and outside the beautiful building.


Once in Alnwick we purchased tickets for visits to the castle and to the gardens. The castle of course is ancient and is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Northumberland but the adjoining gardens are a relatively modern feature and major attraction of the town. They are owned and operated by the Northumberland estate and it is clear that a significant amount of money has been – and continues to be – put into these beautiful grounds.

DSC07391 DSC07405 DSC07413 DSC07426

The central attraction is a very big water feature that includes many terraces in a perhaps fifty feet high waterfall and also includes a number of fountains and sprays that cycle through a pattern. It is a huge man-made structure but fits well into the natural hillside which contains a magnificent hedge, pathways and additional water features and gardens. Above the falls is a walled garden in which there are dozens of species of flowers, vegetables and other flora, all of which surround yet another central pond from which flow four streams.

We returned from the walled garden via a winding pathway through a cherry orchard and several wild flower gardens. It was a lovely walk on a warm and sunny day. Then we spent about 30 minutes on a guided tour of the Poison Garden. This is a small area but contains about one hundred species of plants that are poisonous in one aspect or another but are in many cases often found in English gardens or in the countryside. The guide made the tour very interesting and amusing – and, I suppose, a little unnerving as many of the plants were very familiar to most of us.

Finaly we walked through a beautiful rose garden and then proceeded to the castle. By this time it was after 3pm so we were advised to go directly to the state rooms as they would be closed at 4:30 and, in fact, we spent the rest of our time in the castle in those rooms.

DSC07429 DSC07431

The 8th Duke of Northumberland and his family live in the castle at least part of the year and many of the rooms we visited were their living quarters containing magnificent works of art, statuary and beautiful furnishings – as well as the occasional modern photograph of a family member or grouping. These rooms, and in fact the whole of the castle that we saw were extremely well maintained and we were told that much had undergone major restoration over the past ten years (Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside). We have visited a number of stately homes and palaces throughout Europe (including those of St Petersburg just last year) and, although Alnwick is on a much smaller scale, we felt that it compared favorably with its more well-known and famous counterparts.

How much of this is a direct result of the money that has been generated from the use of the castle by the television and movie industry is difficult to say but the impact of setting two Harry Potter films here must have been significant, not only in direct revenues but in the increased tourism resulting. I was pleased that this aspect of the castle has not been overtly exploited and certainly did not detract from the inherent attractiveness of the castle and gardens.

A more recent claim to fame for the estate has been in the filming here of an episode of the very popular British TV series “Downton Abbey”. This is a series about aristocratic life in the early 20th century and apparently Alnwick castle provides a perfect setting for many of the indoor scenes. We learned that a second episode will be filmed here – starting tomorrow!

The Percy family (the lineage granted the Northumberland title) has been a major family in British life since Elizabethan times and has generated a great deal of wealth in a number of industries and seems to be doing things right to maintain that lifestyle. However, the fate of so many aristocratic families of Britain has forced many to not only open their homes to the public (as at Alnwick) but eventually to sell off large parts of the family’s assets to pay for upkeep and taxes (“Death Duties”). It is to be hoped that the entrepreneurial ideas of the Percy family will avoid a similar fate for the magnificent castle.

We had another nice meal in the hotel and had a picture taken of the four of us in the lounge.


On Saturday we checked out for the journey home. Rather than follow the same route back, we decided to head west towards Carlisle and then south to Kirkby Lonsdale and home. We followed some very scenic areas through the Borders, had some distant views of the hills of the Lake District and stopped a couple of times for a snack. One of these was in the tiny village of Haltwhistle, which claims to be the “Center of Britain, being equidistant from the north and south coasts as well as from the east and west.


At the center of Britain



It was another warm day and it was a beautiful drive and a perfect ending to a very pleasant four days with good friends.


Permanent link to this article:

The Ilkley Criterium Cycle Race

On a pleasant evening this week, cyclists and visitors alike gathered in the center of Ilkley for several road racing events. The 1.5 Km course was closed from late afternoon until 10:30 pm and five events took place between 6 and 10pm (yes it was still light enough for racing!).

Cycling and all types of road and off-road events are very popular throughout England and were made even more popular as a result of the Tour de France spending its first three days in England in 2014. Particularly in this part of England, cycle clubs are very well supported and this town of Ilkley (population about 15,000) has a Club membership in excess of 1000.

With such a short (but grueling) course, the spectator sees the riders every few minutes as they complete each lap so there is not much standing around – and a lot of excitement. I watched the last two events – the Ladies and Mens races of 40 and 50 minutes respectively. The Ladies was pretty much a solo event with the winner enjoying a 20 second or more lead for much of the race but the Mens’ winner waited until the final 4-5 laps to pull away and he also eventually won quite handily.

This event draws world-class cyclists and is only slightly less prestigious than its near neighbor, the Otley Criterium. This latter has been a classic for many years and has been won by Olympic, Tour de France and other similar level participants. This year’s Otley race will take place on July 1, just one week after the Ilkley event. I may make the 10 mile pilgrimage!

Here are a few photos of the race this week.


The Ladies on the Start/Finish flat


The first climb


Hard work up the hill; two leaders



Ready for the Mens mass start


The men go up the hill


The Mens winner coasts home






Permanent link to this article:

Golden Wedding Anniversary, 2015

We have almost completed a series of celebrations marking our Golden Wedding Anniversary. We started back in April when Christopher, Cyndi and Samantha visited Ohio for a long weekend and, at a family dinner, presented us with a collage of photographs in canvas (we posted a blog on this previously).

Since arriving in England on June 9, we have had an anniversary dinner treat from Dorothy and David at the Blue Lion Inn in a small village in the Yorkshire Dales (June 13). This past Friday (June 19) we had our English Family and Friends celebration at Monkman’s restaurant in Ilkley. Joining us for a super evening were Dorothy and David, Fran and Alan, Robert, Keith and Eileen, Roy, and Keith and Zena. Brother, sisters, cousins and school friends, a great meal and excellent conversation. Nothing better!


Part of our dinner group



Another part!









On the actual day (Sunday June 21) Molly and I drove to the venue of our wedding reception in Sheffield. The church where we were married is gone unfortunately, but the Whirlowbrook Park Hall still stands and indeed is still used for weddings and receptions. After a family debate as to the actual location (fifty years had caused confusion in some minds between Whirlowbrook Hall and nearby Whirlow Grange) as we entered the park grounds on the outskirts of Sheffield there was no doubt that we were at the right place.

The Victorian home looks as it did 50 years ago and the grounds are as beautiful as ever – albeit somewhat more “established” than in 1965. There are two lily ponds across the main lawn from the house which provided a classic backdrop for bride and groom photographs. In fact, on our wedding day (and I suspect on many others) the photographer stood across the lake to capture the couple and the water, with a tree-filled rock garden as backdrop.


Whirlowbrook Hall


The lily pond with “Bride and Groom”.


On our visit last Sunday we had to settle for two photographs with cameraman (a friendly visitor) and couple on the same side of the water – but we felt we had re-captured the moment rather well. In fact – without the benefit of the old black and white pictures from 1965 – we could easily think that the scene and ourselves hadn’t changed at all! If I feel it necessary, I may try posting the “before” and (50 year) “after” pictures sometime to convince others. In the meantime, we can compare Sunday’s photograph with one of Molly and I getting into our limousine immediately following the church service on June 21, 1965. Elizabeth kindly posted this on Facebook and we received many compliments.


Starting our life together, June 21 1965



The celebratory weekend finished with dinner on Sunday evening with our niece Joanne at the Clocktower restaurant in Rudding Park near Harrogate. It was a very pleasant meal with my late brother’s daughter and her husband Robert and another chance to reminisce and extend the festivities. But there was one more treat: our nephew Mark had booked us into a suite at the Rudding Park Hotel (“The best UK hotel outside London”) so we didn’t have to drive back to Ilkley that night.


Rudding Park


Our balcony









Our suite is at extreme left, top floor




Quite a contrast to our honeymoon spent in a two person tent!

We have one more celebration to come. In two weeks we are spending three days in Northumberland with our friends Keith and Zena. Keith (my grammar school best friend from the fifties) and Zena celebrated their Golden Wedding at the beginning of June so we decided to spend a few days together to cap off a wonderful series of family activities.

Permanent link to this article:

High School Graduation for Hayley Christine Shepard

Last evening, June 5, we had the honor of attending Hayley’s graduation ceremony as she completed her years at Cincinnati Country Day School.

The Commencement was held outdoors on a beautiful summer evening (temperature in the low 80s and low humidity) in the very pleasant setting on the lawn just outside the main lobby of the school. The graduating seniors numbered only 73 so the whole ceremony lasted just under 1 1/2 hours.

The faculty and seniors were piped in (a Scot was the bagpiper) and took their seats on either side of the main podium. There were short speeches by the Head of School, the President of the Board of Trustees and two of the seniors – the Senior Class President and the President of the Student Council. The two seniors did an excellent job and, I think, gave more interesting and inspiring talks than the faculty members.

Then the 73 seniors in turn received their diploma. We found it interesting that one of the teachers gave a short (three or four sentence) “biography” of every one of the graduates – a very nice touch and something possible only for such a small graduating class.

The whole ceremony was a wonderful occasion for us and Hayley’s family and provided a stark contrast to the way Molly and I left Grammar School 55 years ago and, we believe, the way it happens even now in England. We just left!

One final note which only our American friends will understand. This was the only graduation ceremony (school or university) where Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance march #1 was not played interminably as the seniors (sometimes several hundred) received their diploma. Our English friends may wonder why a British patriotic song is a “standard” at American graduation ceremonies – but we have no answer!

Below are a number of pictures which I hope capture the feeling of the event – and that of two very proud grandparents.


The grand entrance


The graduating class




Almost there…..









I did it!

I did it!





Hayley’s boyfriend Wyatt, who also graduated


A very proud grandma!



Relaxing after the big event: Hayley, Mom and Grandma





Permanent link to this article: