Thursday Sept 5, 2019

There are train rides … and then there are rail journeys. There’s your weekend chug-a-lug to visit your favourite Aunt Gladys … and then there’s the Rocky Mountaineer: “the most spectacular rail journey in the world!”

No exaggeration: the past two days have been a blast! Following an early-Wednesday transfer to the Banff rail station, we settled into our luxury Silver-Leaf Service railcar aboard the famous Rocky Mountaineer train for a scenic rail adventure that took us almost 1000kms … up-up-up into the spectacular Canadian Rockies, then all the way to the west coast of Canada and Alaska.

In between being fed and entertained and waited on hand-&-foot, we enjoyed panoramic views out our big picture-windows of high mountain passes, rocky lakeshores, interior ranch-lands, and hold-your-breath tunnels. The food was delicious, and the highlights were numerous: the Continental Divide, the Spiral Tunnels, the Kicking Horse Canyon, Rogers Pass and Craigellachie – where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven home.

Ours was a very long train – 26 classy railcars (some double-deckers), linked end-to-end, plus two generator cars, pulled by three giant diesels, and carrying 750 excited passengers. But, en route, we encountered several much, much longer goods trains – one of which was towing 180 fully-loaded carriages. (Ask Warwick, if you don’t believe me: he counted ‘em!)

A cosy hotel bed awaited us at the midway town of Kamloops in the heart of British Columbia. Then, this morning, our Rocky Mountaineer excursion continued its westerly direction – towards the Pacific Ocean and the coastal city of Vancouver. The views through our big picture-windows and overhead glass-domes kept changing – from the desert-like environment of the interior, through winding river canyons and pristine forests, to the coast and Cascade Mountains and the lush green fields of the Fraser River Valley.

Our rail romp ended several hours ago in lovely Vancouver … but those memories will stay with us forever. (Well, at least until we get home and can bore you with all our photos!)

COMING UP: We’re in cosmopolitan Vancouver, the envy of the Pacific Northwest, with rain forests and mountains back-dropping clusters of mirror-glass skyscrapers everywhere you look – and out on Victoria Island, the fabulous Butchart Gardens. So stay tuned …

PEOPLE-NEWS: We’ve got pink pigs to give away this trip – oink, oink – and the first little piggy has found a new home …

  • Tricia has won our ‘Breaking & Entering Award’ – for causing great consternation amongst hotel staff by locking her padlock-keys inside her padlocked suitcase. She called the front desk, and a willing young attendant came running – but he misunderstood the problem and brought with him only a pair of scissors. He, in turn, called security, and another young attendant showed up eventually with giant bolt-cutters. Tricia finally got to bed before dawn.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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Wednesday Sept 4, 2019

Believe it or not, we’re on a train right now … a famous luxury scenic train … and we’ve begun a rail journey that’ll take us 1000kms, up-up-up into the spectacular Canadian Rockies, then all the way to the west coast of Canada and Alaska. But, sorry, that’s all I’m gonna say. I’ll tell you more in my next post. Because we’ve already been busy here in North America, and I need to catch up.

We departed Auckland aboard an Air New Zealand jet two days ago (or was it three? I’ve already lost track) – arriving 13 hours later in Vancouver (British Columbia), where, a couple of hours later, we added a 1½-hr Air Canada flight to Calgary (Alberta). We were flying BACKWARDS, of course, through the time zones, and eventually touched down at 7:36pm Saturday … 40 MINUTES BEFORE WE LEFT AUCKLAND! (Go figure!)

After those long hours in the air, by the time we got to the elegant Fairmont Palliser Hotel our Mad Midlifers weren’t up for much – so we grabbed some dinner at the in-house restaurant and grabbed some shut-eye in our nearby beds. Aahh … yes!


Calgary, once a sleepy little Wild West outpost, has become one of Canada’s fastest growing cities – tempting visitors (each July) with its legendary Calgary Stampede: “the most fun you can have with yer boots on!” We had missed that fun, of course, and were too late to see any outlaws shootin’ up the sheriff in a sleazy saloon. So we packed bags and bodies into a coach (driven by the super-friendly Alex) and left Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway – heading, past thumping great mountains and fast-flowing rivers, for Jasper National Park

When we reached the charming resort town of Banff, we rode a gondola for some breathtaking panoramic views before checking in to our hotel – then awoke next morning ready to have our socks knocked off all over again. First stop was the gorgeous world-famous Lake Louise – ‘Jewel of the Rockies’ – where we oohed and aahed and isn’t-it-beautifulled. Following which we drove further north via one of the most spectacular mountain routes in North America – alongside towering peaks, tranquil lakes and cascading waterfalls – to the Columbia Icefield, spread over 325 square kilometres and one of the largest accumulations of rock-solid ice south of the Arctic. Here we stepped uut onto a stunning glass-bottomed skywalk, jutting into mid-air over a yawning canyon … then we boarded an oversized Ice Explorer ‘bus’ for a guided drive onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier: a true Ice Age adventure!

Oh boy! Talk about an unforgettable introduction to this remarkable region. And it’s only gonna get better from this point on …

COMING UP: We’re on the fabulous Rocky Mountaineer scenic train, ogling vast ranchlands, rocky lakeshores, high mountain passes, Kicking Horse Canyons, and hold-your-breath tunnels. So don’t go away …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brie



Friday August 30, 2019

I don’t know why, but it’s the same each time we go adventuring. Only one more sleep to go – and a week’s worth of things still to do! Aarrgghh! But, for us and our Mad Midlife friends, the excitement is mounting! Bags are being packed, and unpacked, and repacked again … phonecalls are being made … lists are being ticked-off … money’s being counted … neighbours are being informed … mail’s being stopped … pets are being relocated … and people are lying awake in the wee small hours worrying: “WHAT HAVE I FORGOTTEN?”

Of course, come Sunday night, it won’t really matter – and what hasn’t got done won’t get done. Because our smallish group of fun-loving Kiwis will be settling seats aboard our Air NZ jet, and going up-up-and-away!

MIDLIFE MADNESS IN CANADA & ALASKA – that’s what we’ve got planned. Our North American odyssey will begin with a day with two eye-popping days on one of the most spectacular rail-routes in the world: the Rocky Mountaineer scenic train! And then an elegant cruiseship, the ms Westerdam, will take us on the next leg – up the chilly Alaskan coast, through the famous Inside Passage, to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Anchorage, Denali National Park and Fairbanks.

There, at the top of the world, we’ll find outback townships, fishing villages, thrilling histories, drop-dead-gorgeous scenery, icebergs and glaciers, wildlife galore (including black bears fishing for salmon and humpback whales hunting for herrings) – plus, weather permitting, the magical Northern Lights. In short, we’re gonna have a BALL! But more of that later – because Robyn and I still have things to do, places to go, people to hug, stuff to pick up, stuff to drop off, and last-minute items to cram into our bulging suitcases. So we’ve gotta run.

We’ll add more blog entries once this journey’s actually underway … let you know what our fellow-travellers get up to … and include some award-winning pix. So, whatever you do, stay tuned …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.)


Spain & Portugal Blog 10

June 2019

“No city on earth is more alive than Madrid,” claims Lonely Planet, “a beguiling place whose sheer energy carries a simple message: this city really knows how to live!” And any self-respecting Madrileño will tell you that (i) their city’s medieval mansions and royal palaces are up there with architecture’s best … (ii) art lovers keep coming back, again and again … and (iii) foodie-fans go nuts over Madrid’s gastronomic delights.

Little wonder we Kiwis were excited when we drove into Spain’s elegant capital late Saturday afternoon. And we weren’t the only ones! The city’s population of 3.3 million was boosted by planeloads of partying Brits who had arrived for that night’s soccer final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur!

Madrid was still waking up when our Sunday morning tour kicked off: a leisurely stroll through El Retiro Park, created as a royal retreat, now valued as the green lungs of the city, and littered with monuments and sculptures … followed by a highlight tour of the Museo del Prado: one of the world’s premier art galleries, overflowing with priceless paintings and sculptures by Spanish and European masters. (Cameras not allowed, unfortunately.)

That evening, we fought our way through the still celebrating/commiserating crowds (Liverpool had won) – enjoying a Food Lovers’ tapas-&-wine tour! Yum! At one tapas-stop, we found ourselves in the street where Miguel de Cervantes lived while penning his famous novel about Don Quixote: ‘Man of la Mancha’.

Come Monday, our last sightseeing day in these unforgettable countries, we hit the pavements one final time for a panoramic tour of Old Madrid – including the Cathedral area … the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) … and the Plaza Mayor (Madrid’s grand central square, one-time site of bloody bullfights, heresy hangings, and burnings-at-the-stake during the Spanish Inquisition).

That night we had a bonus Midlife Madness treat. Pulling on our tight-fitting muscle-shirts (men) … and hitching up our flared, truffled skirts (ladies) … we rendezvoused at the Corral de la Moreria restaurant for a very classy Flamenco Dinner & Show.


Panoramical aerial view of Madrid in a beautiful summer night, Spain

WRAPPING IT UP: All good things come to an end, of course. And our Spain & Portugal Adventure was over all-too-soon. A transfer to Madrid’s Barajas International Airport and a very grateful “Adios amigo!” to Sandra (our tour manager and friend), then we Kiwis were up-up-and-away on our 23-hour flight back to Godzone.

What to say in closing?

Well, allow me to tie up any leftover loose ends with 14 sweeping (and probably inaccurate) generalisations:

  1. If it wasn’t for Spanish and Portuguese explorers the world would still be largely undiscovered.
  2. People socialise on the streets and in the plazas – not at home – because their apartments are tiny and up several flights of stairs in buildings that are older than Columbus!
  3. Everyone smokes. Or that’s the impression you get.
  4. They kiss big-time – on both cheeks – from right-to-left (not left-to-right like the French).
  5. They talk loud – and often seem to be shouting at each other.
  6. Everyone’s Catholic. (Well, almost everyone.) And they love their gorgeous cathedrals, even if they never attend.
  7. The Spanish go gaga over tapas – the Portuguese over codfish. And both swish their food down with oodles of olive-oil.
  8. Given a choice of meat, they prefer eating pigs. And their pigs prefer eating acorns.
  9. Wine flows freer than water – but I can’t recall seeing anyone drunk. (Oh, except those soccer-crazy Brits!)
  10. Flamenco is quite scary. And the dancers look quite angry. Getting stomped on would be a horrible way to die.
  11. The siesta (midday nap) is their very best invention. We should make it compulsory here in NZ.
  12. They all play guitars – and when the music starts they get extremely romantic.
  13. Bulls don’t chase people down narrow streets. At least they didn’t in the cities we visited. What a shame.
  14. Nobody works. Okay, they must work at some point, but they weren’t when we were watching. They get up late, take all afternoon over lunch, and don’t start dinner until NZers have gone to bed. Way to go!

PEOPLE-NEWS: The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain. And our last Quacky Yellow Duck decided to stay, too …

  • Sandra received our ‘Mother Duck Award’ with honours – for escorting her flock of happy fluffy ducklings safely around the Iberian Peninsula. She may have missed the train in Barcelona, leaving us to find our own way to Cordoba, but all 16 of us Kiwi birds were still waddling along behind her when we finally finished in Madrid. Sandra was simply wonderful, going above-&-beyond at every stage in our grand journey … and we’re all gonna miss her big-time!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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PPS: And if you’d like to join us on one of our UPCOMING CRUISES OR TOURS, go to … phone Glen (our Bookings Manager) on 0800 323 333 … or email Glen

  • We’re cruising ALASKA & THE ROCKIES in September 2019 …
  • touring JAPAN in cherry-blossom season, March 2020 …
  • river-boating along the RHINE & DANUBE in May 2020 …
  • enjoying a WILD AFRICAN SAFARI in August 2020 …
  • and lots more!