Majestic Princess Day 6, Auckland

First up for today was our only booked excursion, the jet boat! We had to meet in the onboard theatre, get a sticker put on our shirt then get to the meeting point just off the ship. We walked less than a km with our guide, Lucy, to the little jetty where the jet boat was tethered. The boat was driven (captained? Piloted?) by Nate, who had apparently been doing the job for 14 years and was yet to tire of it. Jet boats were invented in NZ and they get up to speeds of 100kph. We also got to experience what was essentially a handbrake slide, a 180 degree spin that sprayed water over everyone in the boat multiple times. It was super fun and Nate had a laugh at Dad, who had found goggles in his bag (according to Nate the first person he’s ever known to bring goggles on the jet boat) but didn’t manage to get them on until the very end. I don’t know why Nate thought it was so funny, from the moment the boat sped up I’d wished I had brought googles too, the worst thing about the ride was 100km wind in my eyes making them water and getting salty sea water splashed in my face. If you’re reading this and thinking of doing this excursion, take goggles!

Before the drenching!

Anyhow, despite stinging eyes, we laughed the whole way and it wasn’t at all scary, just very, very wet! I wore my raincoat, but wished I’d tightened the wrists and zipped it up properly because the angle of the water coming in meant it flew in every gap and down onto the seat, soaking all our underwear. Really, the best outfit would’ve been swimmers with a light windcheater. I hope this information is useful to someone!

We returned to the ship for a shower, noting the weather was getting finer. Entry to the ship was through the port authority building and there was a souvenir shop set up inside. Unexpectedly, the prices here were excellent (4 NZ themed tea towels for $35!) and the lady at the counter said they get that comment a lot.

After a much-needed shower, Luke and I walked into Auckland. We’d thought to go to the art gallery and the Weta Workshop but then decided against Weta since we hadn’t seen the films the exhibitions were based on. This turned out to be a mistake, as Michael and Izaac went and said it was excellent plus it turned out they did have artefacts from “Lord of the Rings” on short loan from the bigger Weta Workshop in Wellington. So if you’re in Auckland, and particularly if you have kids or are interested in special effects in films, make sure you go.

The walk to the gallery wasn’t far, although mostly uphill, and the front of the building has a beautiful portico of wood. We checked our bags, noted the ‘free wifi’ sign and went for a wander. In the gallery there was a group of Māori women doing a live demonstration of printing on fabric and singing.

It was beautiful in every way! We looked at more printing in traditional techniques by a lady named Anna White, whose work was also influenced by Japanese block printing. It was very beautiful and on a very large scale.

We also saw many paintings and photographs, my favourite was this contemporary portrait.

After the gallery we took a walk through the park behind the building and admired the huge Morton bay fig trees, and bright flower beds that contained many impatiens and miniature sunflowers.

We retrieved our bags from the gallery and enjoyed their free wifi for a bit before wandering back to the ship, stopping to buy six kinds of SnackaChangi chips on the way. The artwork is magnificent and I’m going to put them up on the toilet wall at home!

The back of the package is almost as entertaining as the front.

I’d had a headache on and off all day so I had a nap when we got back. In the evening we had dinner in the Concerto dining room then caught the last of the sunset over Auckland as the ship sailed out.

Finally, some blue skies!

Paris: Wine Tasting at Ô Chateau.

While doing our food tour in Nice we met Sheandra, a lawyer from Atlanta in the US who was great fun and we all got along like the proverbial chateau flambé. We ended up going out for a few glasses of wine after the food tour and then deciding to meet up again in Paris, this time for a Rick Steves-recommended wine tasting lunch at Ô Chateau.

We all arrived a little early and caught up on what we’d done since we’d last seen each other then went downstairs into the stylish cellar where the tasting would take place.

Our instructor for the day was Gerald, a man with excellent English and even better wine knowledge. His presentation not only covered how to taste wine and how to discuss it, but also the history and geography of French wine. If you are an aspiring connoisseur or just interested in wine I’d hugely recommended it. If you already know a lot about wine they have an experts course too.

Some of the things I learned were:

1. How the sediment is removed from champagne bottles without the gas being lost. The neck of the bottle (where the sediment had settled) is frozen, then the plug of ice removed before the bottle is resealed.

2. What ‘brut’ refers to. I’ve always wondered yet never bothered to look and it turns out that it means a minimum of sugar is added to flavour the champagne and sometimes none. So when a champagne is ‘brut’ it means that it is dry. Champagne that is ‘extra brut’ is in fact more sweet because extra sugar is added.

3. When a champagne is labeled ‘Blanc de blanc’ it means ‘white of whites’ which means only Chardonnay grapes have been used. The other two grapes used to make champagne are red – Although champagne is never red because the skins are discarded.

4. NVB stands for Non Vintage Brut. This means that grapes from multiple seasons have been mixed to provide a more standard flavour.

5. Champagne glasses are tall with narrow stems because until modern methods were involved, the yeast sediment used to settle in the bottom of the stem.

6. To see if a red wine is aged you can tilt the glass over a white background and note that the pinker the tint of the wine the younger it is and the redder, or browner the colour the more it has aged.

Of course we learned a great deal more but, thanks to drinking about 8 glasses of wine, I seem to have forgotten most of it. C’est la vie!

I found that we knew quite a bit about wine terminology and a bit about production. Where we always fall down is in the actual tasting, although Gerald explained so well and gave us a few hints and so we did pick some of the flavours. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we guessed successfully.

The cheeses were paired nicely and each came from the same region as the wine.

Number three was my favourite pairing and the Sancerre (a Sauvignon Blanc) was my favourite wine, but I was tickled to be trying a Chateauneuf du Pape. Partially because I had just read about there being a pope who chose Avignon as his capital (traveling around Europe is like piecing together an endless historical puzzle) but mainly because it is mentioned in a Beastie Boys song and every time I read it I start singing Body Movin’ to myself.

Anyhoo, we were properly fuzzy when we left and we said goodbye to Sheandra before heading to the Musee d’Orsay.

We had a quick look at some very elegant Art Nouveau furniture and then their impressive collection of Van Gogh works. Van Gogh is always amazing, but seeing his work surrounded by other artists of the period really impresses on you how special he was. So vibrant and expressive. I took a photo of this one for Jess, as it featured in one of my favourite Dr Who episodes.

Last night (a week later) Luke and I had a long discussion about art we liked since we’ve seen so much lately. We both agreed that we thought the very best art (fine or otherwise) was the kind that appealed to many people on many levels. Work that could be enjoyed or be controversial or in some way stimulating for everyone, whether you were trained to appreciate it or not, but which held layers of meaning so that the more you knew the more there was to appreciate. I think this is why I find some modern art so interesting – the more technically skilled but also provocative it is, the better I like it.

I’d be interested in what other people think about so leave a comment if you have thoughts!