Happy New Year! Bonne année à tous! 2016 already? Yikes!
It’s been a typical kiwi holiday break so far, for the most part. Most Auckland businesses close between noon on Christmas Eve and early January. For many of us that means “mandatory” annual leave days, where you can’t work (even if you have work to do) and they claw back 4 days from your allocation. In Canada they just gave us the days, knowing they got more than enough out of us during the other 11 months of the year. [/end rant]
We provided the venue for Christmas
dinner lunch: our deck, our kitchen, our pool. My in-laws brought in all the food, cooked and served the meal. We just had to tidy up. It was a lovely warm sunny summer day and we had a grand time. Boxing St. Stephen’s Day was our annual pool party for the lads. Just some cold drinks, nibbles, and a chilled vibe. On the 27th we headed north to Uretiti, which is a gorgeous DOC public campsite right on the beach. More on that later.
Aside from the usual year-end double issue of the Economist–which is always excellent, though my iPad subscription makes it unreadable in the summer sun–I had the foresight to load a couple of books onto my Kindle. Whilst I do appreciate devices that offer a rich set of affordances, Amazon’s cracked something with Kindle and their liquid paper screen devices. Unlike my tablets, I can read my Kindle in any conditions: indoors or out, shade or sunshine. And it’s super efficiency in terms of battery performance means one charge lasts a whole week of intensive holiday reading.
Robert J Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts is a travelogue, sort of. And a history book, sort of. And a polemic, sort of. But mostly it’s an exceedingly well written book that uses Kaplan’s decade of exploring the Balkan peninsula throughout the 80s and early 90s. He weaves a series of tales that focus on different people he meets from Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania. More importantly, he looks beyond the obvious and superficial, in order to understand the roots of late 20th century events in this tumultuous region of Europe. I wasn’t expecting this to be as great a read. It was.
Andres Kasekamp’s A History of the Baltic States is a more academic book. In trying to produce a comprehensive, integrated history of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, he’s taken on a large task–and produced a book that in places suffers from historiitis: too much detail, rendering it difficult to consume. But overall he gets the balance between detail and narrative right. Another interesting read.
Uretiti DOC campsite is nothing short of fabulous. A mere 2 hour drive north of Auckland (unless you get stuck in traffic on Highway 1, which can add an hour to the journey), it’s on a long, white sand beach. The water is warmer than west coast beaches, but there are more waves than Auckland’s rather docile harbour beaches. It’s a large site, protected by large dunes on the ocean side: avoid being too close to the road, since traffic noise can be a bummer. There’s lots of compost toilets, cold water showers and slop sinks; Waipu and Ruataka are a 10 minute drive away for supplies (or a restaurant meal). If you go, bring something to provide shade from the intense summer UV.