Archive for October, 2017

A day at the beach

October 29, 2017

It’s not all sightseeing and gallivanting on our holiday, we do chill out as well. Swimming in the pool at the villa is always on the agenda, and to be honest, to allow us to cool down, we also went swimming in the sea and we can now say that we have swum in the Atlantic Ocean.

A couple of mornings before breakfast, Roy, Alex, Christine and I went to the local beach at Costa Teguise for an early morning swim and after a few days of running around it was decided that a day off to chill out would be in order. Alex & Ian were to spend the day at the beach (and to have a break from hanging out with the oldies!!), Roy and I were going to go down to meet them for a swim before going off to explore another beach on the other side of the island and Barry & Christine were going off to visit a cactus garden in the north.

Having a swim later in the morning meant that the beach had filled with tourists and locals alike all enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful clear waters.

yes, that is Ian at the left of the picture with ice cream in hand

Once we had had our dip, we left them to relaxing in the sun and Alex was also keen to have a go at paddle boarding.

Alex coming into shore from paddle boarding.

Roy and I headed off over to the other side of the island to a beach area renown for its surf, a beach called Playa de Famara.

it was a lovely drive over, with the landscape changing from volcanic to more tussocky and sandy, a lot like the dessert road we thought.

We came over the hill to be met by a large sweeping vista down to the ocean.

The entrance to the parking area at the beach

There were lots of people surfing and many more swimming, although I could not figure out the flag system they had set out as it appeared that people were swimming and surfing all along the beach.

After a wander along the beach, which we noticed was bereft of any shells, and watching the surfies battle the waves, it was time for us to return to home base, and another dip in the pool.

perhaps this time someone will tame that unicorn!!!

A day to remember

October 27, 2017

We had a full day planned, first we were heading to the northern part of the island to visit Cueva de los Verdes, a cave system formed as part of a lava tube created around 3000 years ago after a major eruption. The cave system is formed by lava streams cooling on the top developing a solid crust before the lava drained away underneath leaving the top part as the roof of a cave. In many places the roof of the cave collapsed forming a cavern, known by the locals as a jameo. The caves extend for around 6km with around 2km open for guided tours.

We purchased our tickets and waited to be taken down into the cavern before entering the cave system. Can you see Roy? and Alex & Christine waving?

And I made it this far in

before looking over the edge and down underneath to the tunnel to where we were to go next and quickly came to the realisation that there was no way that I could go that far underground. I had a terrible sick feeling in pit of my stomach, my hands started sweating, my mouth was dry and the panicky feeling was steadily rising so I made the quick decision to turn around and make my way back outside, telling the others that I just could not go through the cave system and reassured them that I was happy to wait for them to do the tour, and I would be just fine outside in the sunshine.

They tell me that it was a great tour but they all understood why I could not make myself continue into the cave system.

reflections in a pool inside the cave system, it is so still that it is difficult to detect where the water starts and ends.

a backlit cave

Apparently in earlier centuries, locals hid in the caves to protect themselves from European pirates and Muslim slave raiders. A very scary thought, especially for those of us who aren’t keen on enclosed spaces.

About 45minutes later the rest of the crew emerged from the depths to join me in the sunshine after enjoying their tour.

From here we headed to our next destination, Mirador del Rio, a viewing point about 500metres above the sea, which is along a narrow winding road that climbs to the top. Now some of you will know that Roy is not good with heights, especially when he is in a vehicle and there are steep drop-offs to the side. And it seems that Alex has inherited similar traits so the drive up to the top was proving to be an interesting one. Roy wasn’t comfortable at all and I could feel the tension rising, so we asked Alex to pull over to let Roy out of the car. It did not help that there was no where to pull off the road and that there was a line of cars behind us, with tensions and stress levels rising all round Alex finally found a spot on to safely stop, Roy leapt out of the car saying he would wait for us at the road intersection where it would be safe to pull into on the way back. It turned out that we weren’t too far from the top, we safely parked in the car park and were reunited with the Denny’s. At this point it all became a bit much for Alex and a few tears were shed, but it was just a bit of stress relief and she was quickly back to her usual self and we were off to the lookout.

the entrance with the building in the background.

We headed for the entrance and in to the building and platform, it turns out to be yet another Caesar Manrique designed building which is cleverly built into the landscape so that it is barely visible from the road. Inside is a shop, a cafe and a viewing platform, but for us it was time for some refreshments and a chat before admiring the view. We couldn’t help wondering how Roy was getting on and if he was OK, I tried calling and texting him but he had his phone switched off! Oh well, I’m sure he will be ok so for us it was on with admiring the views.

the panoramic view

It is a spectacular view however it is a straight drop down and I must admit I did not like being too close to the edge. At the base of the drop on the left hand side of the picture is a desalination plant, one of five on the island supplying the only fresh water for the island. Once we had all finished admiring the view it was back to the cars.

Now, hopefully we will be able to find Roy approximately where we left him and that he is ok. He is known for wandering off and exploring so we weren’t confident that he would be where we left him.

The trip back down the hill was much better as we were now driving on the mountain side of the road rather than the cliff edge and it wasn’t long before we reached the intersection where we had dropped Roy off, sure enough there he was, grinning from ear to ear ….

with a glass in hand and a new friend!!

We should not have been concerned at all it seems. It turned out that Roy had taken a seat on this mans wall in the shade and before long they had started ‘chatting’. Apparently they had a long conversation with a Roy speaking no Spanish and his friend speaking not a word of English. Amazing what you can do with hand gestures, the odd familiar word and sign language.

From what we understood, Pedro (not sure of his name but this seemed to fit), was a farmer, he was cutting up corn stalks for feed for his 25 goats. He looked after his goats, milked them and made cheese from the milk – all of this information was gleaned with the appropriate hand gestures.

He also made wine, cue the picture above, and brought out a bottle of wine and two glasses, one large glass for Roy and one small one for himself. By the time we got to meet him, Roy was well into his second glass of wine and was very chirpy. I had a taste of the wine, it was very similar to grappa….in other words strong stuff! No wonder they both looked so happy.

We are not sure if Pedro knew where New Zealand was, or how much he understood, but as well as the above info we did get that he was ‘solo’, and he did get that we were married and that Alex was our daughter. What we do know is that we should not have been concerned for Roy at all as he was making new friends and enjoying local hospitality!! We Vannini’s are gaining a bit of a reputation for making friends with the locals.

All in all, it turned out to be a memorable day for the Vannini’s and their combined phobias.

Family connection

October 26, 2017

Who would have thought that I have a family connection to Lanzarote? My cousin Pauline and her husband Pat live in Playa Blanca so it was without a doubt that we were to arrange a get together. Now the last time I saw Pauline was 7 years ago which was a very brief meeting at a family gathering in Yorkshire, prior to that it would have been 1963 when I was 4 years old that I last saw her as this was when we emigrated to New Zealand.

We arranged to meet in Playa Blanca, Pauline had given us excellent instructions on how to get there and exactly where to park, and sure enough she was waiting for us in the car park. I cannot explain how emotional and exciting it was to finally meet up, but let’s just say that I was really quite overcome.

After the welcome we wandered down to the main part of Playa Blanca and ended up at a lovely restaurant on the waterfront where we all had lunch together. I really admire Pat & Pauline, as they have really immersed themselves totally into the local culture including learning Spanish and organising their own residency applications, it takes some courage to step out of your usual comfort zone and routine to live a very different lifestyle and move away from familiar surroundings especially when you are retired…..oh wait, it must be in the genes, we have also been known to up sticks and move on to new horizons!

L-R, Pat, Bernice, Pauline, Barry, Christine, Ian, Alex and Roy.

We had a lovely lunch overlooking the sea, and just as we had finished our lunch a familiar figure wandered up to our table to say hello. Yes, it was my neighbours from the flight over! Small world eh? We chatted for a bit before they continued on their way. I must be memorable!

After a look around the foreshore, Barry, Christine and Ian went off to have a look around the shops whilst a Roy, Alex and I headed off to Pauline and Pats lovely home for some family talk.

Pauline’s mum Maude and my mum Hilda were sisters, part of a very large family of 19 children, my Mum Hilda was number 17 in the line up, whereas Maude was the 11th. Our grandma was an amazing woman, well, she must have been to birth, feed and clothe all those children and it was lovely to hear that Pauline knew lots about her as she had spent a lot of time with Grandma in her young days.

Pauline had some photos for me, some of which I had never seen before including a picture of my Grandma as a young girl as well as some pictures of my parents wedding day with Pauline as a wee tot presenting Mum with a horseshoe.

I was completely blown away when Pauline brought out a couple of letters that she had kept, both from me! One was written by me as a 4 year old (clever clogs that I was!!), when Pauline had just had her first baby and before we emigrated.

the letter and envelope.

She had another letter written by me from when I was 12, it brought back some hilarious memories of everyday life. I had forgotten that I was in an all girl pop group with 4 of my friends, we sang at socials, and apparently we even wrote a couple of songs as well….we were obviously the original Spice Girls!! Shame the fame and fortune did not follow.

Pauline also had a picture of Grandad and Grandma together, Grandad died when my mum was 10years old and I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of him before.

Grandad and Grandma Womersely (OMG, Mums double)

But the next picture of the family (14 surviving children) brought shouts of laughter when Alex Roy and I were pointing to the different characters in the photo as we could see that my nieces Sarah and Frances resemble a couple of these characters and brother Steve as a young man has a doppelgänger in the picture!!! We shall see if they agree.

back row l-r: George, Fred, Doris, John and his twin Maude, Tom (his twin died),Alice, Bill

Front Row l-r: Betty, Alec, Mary, Grandma (Alice), Ella! Hilda, Edna

I am picking that this photo was taken in around 1938.

After talking, laughing and swapping information throughout the afternoon, it was time for us to leave to drive back to our villa in Costa Teguise.

I shall treasure our visit for years to come, and we hope we shall be able to meet up again soon.

Timanfaya National Park

October 25, 2017

Timanfaya National Park is volcanic National Park on the southwest of Lanzarote island

The volcano last erupted between 1730 and 1736 which resulted in the island being covered in the volcanic matter we see today. Timanfaya volacano remains active as the surface temperature in the core ranges from 100 to 600C at a depth of 13 metres.

We drove to the park entering through the gates some way from the mountain and the car park with the queue of traffic snaking its way for some kilometres in front of us as well as behind us.

The entry into the park is well controlled as the car parking area is very limited so you are only let in when space is available.

Cars queued in front of us

And cars snaked for kms behind us

we have no idea why it was so busy on a Monday, when there were no public holidays and it is not as though it is peak tourist season either.

Once we reached the car park and safely negotiated the parking area we then hopped onto a bus for a tour of the park, the only way to view the park as it is a one way, narrow winding road.

the motley crew

this is known as Manto de la Virgen, which we took to roughly translate as nuns mantle

The view across to the Caesar Manrique designed visitor centre and restaurant nestled on the top of the mountain.

Back at the parking area we were invited to watch the attendants show just how near the surface the heat is. The attendants shovel in dried scrubby material which ignites almost immediately.

Next they poured a bucket of cold water into a vent hole which then spurted with a hiss and a roar, much like a geyser, into the air to the oohs and aahs of spectators.

After watching this show, you can appreciate how a visit to Rotorua thermal area in New Zealand would be a mind blowing experience for some people!!!

It was time for some lunch in the Caesar Manrique designed restaurant nestled into the top of the mountain, with an impressive view over the whole park. (More on Caesar Manrique in another post).

After lunch we left the mountain to head down to an area further along the road where we all decided to have a go on a camel ride. This is a bit of a different camel ride to others that we have done as on this ride the seats are astride of the camel.

our rides waiting patiently

yes that is Roy waving madly at the camera, with Christine and Barry in front of us.

Alex and Ian led the way on the safari into the dunes.

Holiday in the Canary Islands

October 23, 2017

Sorry for the delay in posting blogs but we have no excuses except we’ve been too busy chilling out to write!

It’s not often that you can say that you are having a holiday, from your holiday, from your holiday, but we are!

We were picked up by taxi for our trip out to Stansted airport, Christine & Barry had already been picked up and it was our turn along with Alex & Ian. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our 4hour flight to the Island of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, names not for the feathered variety of Canary but for dogs as the Latin word for dog is Canus……not that we have seen that many dogs either.

The Denny family all had seats together, with Roy, Alex and I in random seats scattered around the plane, not that we minded at all. I sat beside a lovely couple whom we sat quietly beside each other for the first part of the flight, however we struck up a great conversation in the second part of the flight and they filled me in on the ins and outs of life on Lanzarote. We were to later meet them again but that’s later in the week.

We landed late in the afternoon, the landscape is the first thing we noticed (after the heat) as the island is completely volcanic, as in, it is a barren scoria filled and lava flow landscape apart from the planted palm trees and cacti. The buildings in contrast, are all painted white, and all constructed from concrete.

We had two rental cars awaiting us at the airport and it wasn’t too long before we were on our way to the villa with Ian and Alex in charge of driving. The villa is well appointed and located in Costa Teguise which is about 15minutes north of Arecife Airport. The villa has 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, laundry, lounge, kitchen and dining rooms and pool of course with bbq and pizza oven with outside dining area.

This is the pool at the rear of the villa

and yes, that is Alex Ian Christine & Barry looking over the fence from the path at the rear of the villa

And the view from the front door…looks desolate doesn’t it?

After settling in for the evening, we were soon all off for a good nights sleep.

The following day Ian, Barry & Christine went off to the aquarium whilst Roy, Alex and I went for a walk down to the local shopping and restaurant area to check things out. We saw some interesting sights including this one;

We did look up what this is all about, apparently one can join the club and you can go along buy what cannabis product you prefer and use it in the club in a booth. And no we didn’t go and check it out.

The weather was incredibly hot, with the daytime temperature sitting at about 35C, however, they were experiencing the Calima, a hot sand filled wind coming straight from the Sahara Desert which made the sky hazy, but kept the temperatures high and was apparently unusual for this time of the year.

We all met later in the afternoon back at the villa for a cooling swim before heading off into the town as there was supposed to be a market in the town square which we thought might be worth a look. We walked down into the town and found the market before settling down at a local bar to have a drink before finding somewhere to have dinner.

When in Spain, one must drink Sangria…

After a very pleasant dinner which included lots of local fish, it was then a leisurely stroll back to our villa.

The following day, Saturday, we decided to head into the hills where we knew that there were vineyards and to do a bit of wine tasting. Now they grow grapevines here quite differently to anywhere else we have encountered. For a start there is no soil as such, it’s all volcanic pebble like material, and to protect the vines from the wind the larger rocks are built up around the vine for shelter.

Some of the vines were grown along straight lines with the vines left to grow along the ground. But the higher we climbed, the landscape changed to resemble a moonscape. Over the years, local farmers have perfected an almost foolproof method for protecting the grapes. The plant is placed into the ground after the framer scrapes out a wide, shallow crater-like hole in the volcanic soil. Then, larger volcanic stones are balanced around the wind-facing edge of the crater, creating a low, semicircular barrier. The height of the makeshift wall and the depth of the the depression are important. The vine has to be able to soak in the sunshine without being hampered by shadows, and the hole has to be shallow enough that the plant is still getting nutrients and trapped water from the soil.Each vineyard has thousands of these holes and walls, each holding a single vine.

It is a sight to see.

We visited a number of bodegas (vineyards), one also held a museum which showed the development of wine over time on the island. We continued on and tried another couple of bodegas for wine tasting and some tapas, with the last one we visited proving to be the best. This was a very small family owned and run establishment, we were told by our lovely hostess Caroline, that her father was the 5th generation of his family to own the vineyard.

After ordering our drinks and tapas, Caroline told us that the goats cheese we were eating was made by her Mum, the tomatoes were grown by herself, and the wine made by the family. A lot of banter and good humour ensued, and we thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the sun with Caroline and her parents making us feel as though we were part of the family.

The bodega and the happy customers enjoying the hospitality.

the lovely tapas

with our new friend Caroline…..hi Caroline, if you are reading this, you made our day xx

We came away with a few of Caroline’s tomatoesand some of her mums delicious cheese, some wonderful memories having made some new friends.

Back to London and a show

October 15, 2017

We left our lovely apartment in Langermark late in the morning and headed off to Lille, I have to admit that I was ready to hand the car back although the driving had become easier as we went along. Funnily enough I found the roundabouts the easiest of all to handle and I have to admit that my co pilot was excellent at guiding me and making sure I was OK, and as well the roads are easy to drive on and well maintained.

We got to the Lille train station in plenty of time, however, we missed the entrance to get into the car park building so ended up going around in a grand circle to get back to where we should be, it only took an extra 30 minutes of driving through central Lille with blood pressure slowly rising, sweaty palms, and a dry mouth before we got to where we should have been. We got into the parking building only to discover that we needed to be in the next building to return the car….with a lump rising in my throat at the thought of more driving, we made the move to the next building and returned the keys.

Whilst at the station we saw a couple of things which were memorable. The first was the free charging station for devices, to power the charging you sat at the desk and cycled!

Right next to this was the lounge with plenty of plugs and USB charging sockets, guess which one we used?

Once we got through immigration – and we did get the third degree at immigration too…..why were we away so long? When are we going back to NZ? Where were we staying in the UK? Where did our daughter work? What does she do? Why were we in Europe? What was our connection to Passchendaele? Did we intend to work in the UK?…..and so it went on. Once through we met up with a couple of crazy but ever so friendly Scotsmen who were raising money for Cancer research by standing for 24hrs and travelling from Edinburgh to Paris and return. They were really lovely and were having a great time and were raising lots of money too.

The trip back to London was a breeze with Alex picking us up at Ebbsfleet Station which is much closer to her home than St Pancras in the city.

We had a lovely weekend in and around London. Sunday, Alex and Ian told us that they had organised a surprise for us for the day, so at about midday we headed off on the train into town then a walk through to a lovely rooftop bar overlooking St Paul’s cathedral. Ian, Roy and Alex with St Paul’s dome in the distance

panorama from the roof top

From here we went off into Piccadilly Circus where we were to go to a the show ‘A comedy about a bank robbery’. It was fast paced, hilarious and well acted play, I haven’t laughed so much for a long time. It was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

After the show we took a London black cab

Passing Trafalgar Square along the way

To near Victoria Station for dinner where the fellas tried a beer or two

Then it was a train back home to end a fabulous day, well done Alex & Ian.

Menin Gate

October 14, 2017

We had hoped to stay in Ypres for the Last Post service at the Menin Gate which takes place every evening at 8pm. However, our last bus back to Langemark left 5minutes before the ceremony was due to begin, so we resigned ourselves to miss out on the service this time. But Gary & Jen, who were the other Kiwis on our tour around the battlefields came to our rescue, inviting us to have dinner with them before the service, then watch the ceremony with them and they would drop us off on their way back to their accommodation at Ostend. What legends!

We had dinner in a bistro a bit away from the main centre and Menin Gate and got to know our new friends a bit better over a drink before our meal.

Roy’s choice of dark Belgian beer.

We had been told earlier by our tour guide to be at the gate by 6.30 and she also told us the best best place to stand for the optimum viewing. There was quite a large crowd gathering and by the time the ceremony started it was fairly packed.

From 11 November 1929 the Last Post has been sounded at the Menin Gate Memorial every night and in all weathers. The only exception to this was during the four years of the German occupation of Ypres from 20 May 1940 to 6 September 1944. The daily ceremony was instead continued in England at Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey. On the very evening that Polish forces liberated Ypres the ceremony was resumed at the Menin Gate, in spite of the heavy fighting still going on in other parts of the town. Bullet marks can still be seen on the memorial from that time.

We took our place for the ceremony and began our wait.

These are some of the 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers names engraved on the walls of the memorial gate, no New Zealand names though except for those who served with British or Australian Forces, NZ soldiers are listed on the dedicated NZ Memorials. It’s difficult to visualise the numbers killed, however to put it into perspective 54,000 would be a capacity crowd at Eden Park.

There was a visiting regiment of English Army Engineers, we got chatting to the Major who told us that this year the soldiers reciting the poem and laying a wreath had a family connection to the Battles of Passchendaele which made it all the more poignant.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.”

there was also a piper who played a lament.

It is amazing to think that this whole ceremony is organised, run and manned by volunteers, including the buglers. They do an amazing job from stopping the traffic going through the gates from 7.30pm to making sure that those who wish to lay a wreath are accommodated. We watched a large number of groups lay wreaths and flowers, including our kiwi friends from yesterday who laid a wreath on behalf of the 28th Maori Battalion.

After the service ended we met up with our friends from yesterday, the wreath layers, who were so impressed with Gary & Jen looking after us that they presented them with both Poi and a badge, kiwis looking after kiwis whilst away from home is what it is all about. We left after lots of hugs and well wishes and it wasn’t long until we were safely delivered back to our Apartment in Langemark. Thanx Gary & Jen from Hamilton, we wish you well on the rest of your travels.

The warmth and friendship shown to us on this trip from both locals and fellow kiwis alike has been humbling and refreshing.

Ypres and the battlefields

October 12, 2017

Having previously been in this region when we visited in 2010 which you can read about here, and after the ceremonies the previous day, we decided that we would again head into Ypres which is just a short distance from Langemark. We arrived in the central square which is dominated by the spectacular Cloth Hall, rebuilt completely after the whole town was demolished during the war.

The Cloth Hall before and after WW1.

And the Cloth Hall today

A amazing piece of restoration that today houses a museum, tourist information centre, cafes and other businesses.

We decided that we would take a small guided tour around the battlefields to gain a good overview of the region, and as we had caught the bus into Ypres, it seemed a great way of getting around. We met our tour guide and fellow travellers, two more kiwis and three aussies, our tour guide said she was changing the route slightly to focus more on the NZ and Australian involvement which suited us all perfectly.

Flanders Battlefields Tours

Our first stop was at Essex Cemetery where we walked down to the canal running along the back of the area to show us where temporary bridges spanned the canal, the two lines of the fronts and the general area of conflict.

It was here at Essex Farm at the nearby Advanced Dressing Station where is Canadian Surgeon John McRae wrote his famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ at the beginning of May 1915.

We had a quick look inside the stark, small, concrete bunkers where thousands of men were attended to before being moved on. And I say a quick look as it was a very small space, dark and not very pleasant. We can only imagine what it must have been like to be either a patient or a medical attendant, with crowded conditions, men in pain and agony and others dying around them. It was all very sobering.

Here is a map of the two front lines to show you what a small area these hundreds of thousands men were fighting for, the fighting area covering an area of only around 5 square miles, and with over 4 million shells deployed over 4 years, it is no wonder that the area was decimated.

It isn’t until you see photographs of the area where not a tree or building survived, and the mud was never ending that we truly realised how lucky Roy’s Dad was to not only survive his wounds but also just to be able to be evacuated. The following picture illustrates the heavy going encountered by those saving the wounded.

It’s all very hard for us to comprehend today how difficult and wearying it must have been.

From Essex Farm we want to Langemark-Poelkapelle, which is in fact the town we are staying in, where there is a German cemetery. This cemetery is where there are over 40,000 men interred, many of them moved from many of the other German cemeteries around the area and are now buried in a mass grave. It is a very different cemetery to the Commonwealth ones, very dark with lots of trees throughout, headstones are laid close to the ground, with most grave markers listing many names as well as even more unknowns.

In the centre of the cemetery is a grassed area where over 20,000 men are buried. Apparently just the previous week, three more men were quietly interred here with no fuss and no ceremony, as bodies are continuously being uncovered in the region.

The grassed mass tomb overlooked by 4 statues.

From here we made our way to Tyne Cot Cemetery, it is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world and left us speechless. I shall let the pictures tell the story

Our next port of call was to Polygon Wood Cemetery, the location of yet another significant battle of the Passchendaele offensives. All the way on our travels we were given a full running commentary illustrated by pictures and significant view points indicated. Polygon Wood Cemetery.

Our last port of call was the museum at Sanctuary Woods Hill 62 where outside there are the remains of tunnels and trenches.

From here we returned to Ypres, where Roy and I had intended on staying for the Last Post at the Menin Gate but the last bus back to Langemark left Ypres at 7.55pm, 5 minutes before the ceremony begins. What were we to do? All will be revealed in the next post.

NZ Memorial

October 9, 2017

We had to find our way from the 9 Elms Cemetery to the NZ Memorial which is located at Gravenstafel very near where Roy Snr was wounded. We hopped into the car and tried to set the GPS to take us there, well, you know what is coming next don’t you? The GPS did not recognise the road at all, we tried various spellings all without success. The road, according to Mr Google and our printed instructions, was called ‘S Gravenstafel but no matter what we did we could not find it.

We were doing all of this whilst parked on the side of the road not far from the 9 Elms cemetery, when in front of us two cars pulled in so Roy went to see them to see if they knew where to go. Sure enough some of them were locals and yes, if we followed them they would take us to the NZ Memorial. But first Roy and I were desperate to find a toilet, there was a petrol station just a few hundred metres along the road, so we said we would go ahead, use the facilities and keep an eye out for them and follow them. But it was even better than that, we had just hopped back into the car at the petrol station when both cars turned up beside us with the driver gesticulating for us to follow.

We arrived in good time at the NZ Memorial after being led through back roads, around more barriers to a parking area not far from the Memorial. It turned out that the men were actually some of the Flag bearers for the ceremonies, I greeted them all with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks with profuse thanx for saving my stress levels from rising to new heights!!! We got talking to one of the men, it turns out that he was a Belgian who had just retired from 38years of service in the Bomb Squad responsible for deactivating the bombs, explosive devices, grenades and gas canisters that are dug up daily in the battlefields around this area. He showed us one badly burnt and scarred hand and a photo of himself in hospital from two years ago wrapped up like a mummy after a device exploded in his hand. He is lucky to not only be alive but not to have much more serious scarring on his face and body. He explained to us the area where Roy Snr would have been injured and gave us lots of background information to what happened. He was also wearing a replica jersey from the Original All Blacks such was his empathy for all things New Zealand and the sacrifices made by men from the other side of the world for his country.

Roy and our new friend.

You will note in the above picture the name of the road on the sign above Roy, complete with local spelling…

There is no “s” before the t, no wonder the GPS could not find it!!!

Program for the service

Again, the ceremony was dignified and moving, with local input being particularly poignant. I managed to find a seat next to some fellow kiwis who were there as members of the Passchendaele society, two of the women were also representing their father who served with the 28th Māori Battalion in the Second World War.

We chatted after the ceremony before walking down the road to the cheese factory where drinks and nibbles were awaiting us. Our new Belgium friends walked down the road with us, again showing us where particular conflicts took place and indicated the location of Abraham Heights, where Roy Snr was wounded.

At the reception we met Willie Apiata again, what a gentle, humble and respectful man he is and always happy to talk to people and have his photo taken or being asked for his autograph.

Willie Apiata and Roy

We sat with the people we had just met at the ceremony, after a long chat they gave us a parting gift each. For me some mini Poi and for Roy a Maori Battalion badge.

We left the reception after a while to return to our accommodation in Langemark-Poelkapelle.

9 Elms Cemetery, Poperinge

October 8, 2017

Firstly, apologies to those who receive an email notification of a blog post, as I had to delete the post almost immediately as I had accidentally posted it out of order!

The first service of the day – Wednesday 4 October 2017 – was to be held at 9 Elms Cemetery in the countryside near Poperinge, Belgium. This is the day that 100 years ago at the Battle of Broodseinde that Roy’s father, Roy Corti Vannini, was severely wounded and it is the main reason that we have made the pilgrimage to Belgium at this time.

We left ourselves plenty of time to find the site by following the instructions of the GPS. However, in true Vannini fashion, it was not going to go completely to plan. We ended up on a very narrow back country road/lane which was definitely only one way with deep ditches either side of the road and with tractors crossing over the roads, it was a rather exciting drive. We meandered through country lanes until we came to a barrier across the road blocking our passage, damn, I guess that means we were supposed to enter the road from the other end. Ok, plan B it is, find a place to turn around and go back to the main road and enter from the other end of the loop. Back along the meandering lane we drove until we came across an intersection, where we saw a car coming approaching from the other road, we pulled off to the side and stopped, hopped out and waved them down to ask if we were on the right track. The very nice lady said yes, turn around and go back around the barrier and continue along about 1km and the cemetery will be on your right, in fact she says, follow me, I will take you there. We followed her back along the road we had just driven, drove around the barrier and down the road to the gates of the cemetery where she stopped, hopped out of her car and wished us well. This would not be the last act of kindness shown to us on this journey.

cover of the programme

There was a large contingent of representatives from all of the NZ Forces present, including youth ambassadors from NZ plus lots of locals as well as visitors from NZ like ourselves. This cemetery is where Dave Gallagher the Captain of the 1905 All Black team is buried along with 116 other New Zealand soldiers. David Gallagher’s grave Willie Apiata VC paying his respects.

Dave Gallagher was the captain of the 1905-6 All Black team, the captain of the “Original All Blacks” the first representative New Zealand side to tour the British Isles. Under Gallagher’s captaincy the Originals won 34 out of 35 matches over the course of the tour, including legs in France and North America. The New Zealanders scored 976 points and conceded only 59. He was killed on 4 October 1917 at age 43.

Willie Apiata is NZ’s only living and the first ever recipient of the NZ Victoria Cross. He was a member of the Special Air Services (SAS) and received his honour in June 2007 for bravery in Afghanistan when he carried a gravely wounded colleague to safety whilst under fire. His citation in part reads as follows:

“In total disregard of his own safety, Lance Corporal Apiata stood up and lifted his comrade bodily. He then carried him across the seventy metres of broken, rocky and fire swept ground, fully exposed in the glare of battle to heavy enemy fire and into the face of returning fire from the main Troop position. That neither he nor his colleague were hit is scarcely possible. Having delivered his wounded companion to relative shelter with the remainder of the patrol, Lance Corporal Apiata re-armed himself and rejoined the fight in counter-attack.”

The ceremony was poignant, dignified and very moving. A combined services choir singing a Maori hymn, speeches were given and a speech given by Karl French particularly resonated, he is the son of Tom French a Maori All Black who was also injured on this day 100 years ago and was a mate of Dave Gallagher. It was a poignant speech as Karl was born when his father was in his 70’s, we had presumed that Roy and his younger sister Karel may be some of the youngest direct descendants around but no, here was someone much younger. We had a good chat to Karl later in the day. the crowds gathering waiting for the ceremony to begin

youth ambassadors lined up waiting for their turn to acknowledge some of the men from many nations buried at this cemetery, including; NZ, Australian, British, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, South African, Indian, German, Chinese, Nepalese to name a few.

We were told by the Alderman of Poperinge that the town of Poperinge has a population of 20,000 and that there are over 21,000 men and women killed during WW1 buried around the town in the numerous cemeteries. A very sobering thought.

The NZ Veterans Band played accompanying music, flag bearers from many regiments were present and soon the ceremony was over. The next ceremony would be held at the NZ Memorial but more of that in the next instalment because you know that it would not be straightforward don’t you?