Thursday, January 06, 2011

Road Trip Part II: The Real Wellington

Walk into any travel agent in the land, or log onto a myriad of travel webs and one is invariably faced with multiple images, mostly falling into one of the following three categories;
i)                     Beach scenes with hot young guys and girls in fashionably skimpy swimming costumes; aqua-blue water, sparkling white sand, azure skies and horizons punctuated with coconut palms and/or sailing vessel.
ii)                   Ancient ruins with groups of grinning young girls and guys decked-out in funky threads; all looking like they're having the time of their lives, partying their way through all the attractions of Europe and the middle east.
iii)                  Mountain-top vistas in front of which pose fit looking young women and men, all decked-out in the latest, brightly-coloured outdoor trekking gear, beanies and cool sunnies reflecting the bright sun and deep blue sky of the upper Himalayan atmosphere.

Obviously the pony-tailed marketing executives have done their homework and decided that of all the things that people want from their travels, these three scenes strike a strong chord with the geographically bored, and offer hope and excitement enough for people, regardless of their physical appearance, fitness, fashion sense or ability to party, to sign their hard earns away and take to the skies.

Interestingly, the common element of the three scenes is age; everyone in these pics is young, regardless of the location or the activity, suggesting perhaps that they are designed to make people feel young, or to think that going on a trip might make them young again.  Of course this is ludicrous, and anyone with half a brain would be able to see right through this cheap marketing stunt in an instant.

Fortunately, between Mrs Donkey, Hambones and myself, we manage to come-up with just over half a brain, and this type of manipulative marketing has no effect on us, whatsoever.  Quite the contrary, in fact; past experience has demonstrated time and again that Mrs D and I are much more likely to visit an attraction if it is the recreational choice of octogenarians with hearing aids and colostomy bags, rather than young people with iPods and stubby-holders.

For example, many years ago we slipped-off early one Sunday morning to try out a different Samoan beach from our usual, idyllic locale, and spent a delightful half-hour alone together beneath the swaying palms.  Shortly afterwards, however, a tour bus pulled up and within moments the water around us had taken-on the appearance of the set of Cocoon; the beach became crowded with tanned, leathery, old German men and women in skimpy Speedos and rubber bathing caps – a greasy slick from sunscreen and tanning oil oozing in their wake.  They were joined by more buses, and we subsequently made our way home.

On another occasion, we left Glasgow with raging hangovers from a week with friends, and decided to see some of the English countryside on the way back to London.  First stop was Lake Windermere, where the white and purple hair brigade had booked-up every poky English accommodation option in the whole district.  Despite the grumbles from Mrs D, I kept my chin-up and pushed on to The Cotswolds, where the sights may well have been pleasantly quaint, but where there was nary a place to sit on any of the public lawns due to their having morphed into jammed parking lots for wheelchairs and walking frames.

We can't miss a trick, really.  But this was going to be different.  This was NZ!  Home of extreme sports and by all accounts, fine food and wine.

And by mid afternoon on day 2, I'd had about 13 cups of ball-tearing New Zealand coffee, and was having a little trouble getting to sleep during a scheduled afternoon nap.  The same seemed to go for Hambones, who must have been breathing-in the caffeine which was seeping out of my pores in great, brown droplets.

So after much tossing and turning, up we all got, and tooled-up for a jaunt around Wellington.  It's a little known fact that, contrary to popular misconception, the English name for gumboots does not derive from Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, but rather from the only appropriate footwear to be worn in the city which bears his name.  As we walked out of the hotel, there was so much horizontal rain beating down upon us that we made a dash across the road to the only dry tourist attraction within sight – the Wellington cable car.  Within moments we were safe from the elements, and making our way up above the city to the botanical gardens, encased in glass with thirty or so others, all of whom were over the age of 94!  Here we were again – the Real Wellington.

And they were all white, too (not just their hair, but their skin) ... mostly Australians taking advantage of cheap airfares and seniors' discounts to cross the pond and immerse themselves in the world of their collective childhoods; where dark-coloured skin was only read about in His Majesty's Colonial School Readers.  And what better way to relive the Glory Days of the Empire, than by a jolly outing up the hill to the beautiful, English-inspired botanical gardens.

Grumpy, cold, wet and defeated, we waited out the storm and travelled back down the mountain as the sun started through the clouds.  We bailed out of the train, crossed the road and piled into the first pub we could find with an open fire.  To our pleasant surprise, we found that a left turn in the rain, rather than a right, would have brought us to the other half of the population; here were the people from tourism propaganda photo number ii (see above), all singing and dancing and having a great old time.

So despite the cold and our depression at having been yet again exposed to the 'waiting for God' travelling circus, we kicked-back our heels and got stuck into some fine Sauv Blanc and about two dozen Mac's Sassy Reds – now this is what I call a town!  Sure, it may be small, and it may be the destination of choice for aging white supremacists, but the food and drink is superb ... and cheap.  It's not for nothing that Lonely Planet named Wellington an extremely "liveable small city" ... however the caveats around that award were starting to show through the cracks – it is small, and it was time to get out before we became completely water-logged.

Load-up the boot, Mrs D ... it's time to hit the road, Kiwi-style...

This scene is reminiscent of Donkey and Mrs D's romantic, early-morning visit to a secluded tropical island beach in 2000.  Pic:

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