The governor’s home opens up for the holidays
By WENDI WINTERS
The open house is not only an opportunity to shake hands and chat with Gov. Martin O’Malley and his family, but to admire the public rooms of this 142-year-old mansion.
Visitors also will be entertained by youth choirs and string quartets, and nibble one of the more than 8,000 cookies baked for the occasion. Each visitor will receive a commemorative pewter ornament. As for the beautiful, understated décor, the butler did it — with some help.
Each year, Barb Harward-Troska, the Government House butler, and her assistant Christy Sweeney plan, prepare and put up the decorations throughout the public rooms on the main floor.
The effort requires hanging ornaments on the 15-foot Fraser fir in the Entrance Hall and winding dozens of yards of artificial pine garlands through the spindles in the banister of the main staircase.
“We’re staying with a very traditional look, again, this year,” Harward-Troska said. “We used things we had in the house.”
The tree in the Entrance Hall is laden with angels garbed in patterned ribbons strumming instruments, and gilded glass ornaments, sparkling silk blossoms and clusters of golden grapes.
The Empire Room houses the “Peace on Earth” tree. Among the classic glass ornaments and glass icicles are hydrangea blooms harvested from the Government House garden.
The rest of the public rooms are dotted with displays of flowers, mixed evergreens and pine cones, and dangling ropes of magnolia leaves twined with gilt-edged ribbons.
In the kitchen, meanwhile, the cook staff was busy baking homemade cookies. Vickie Fowley, the first lady’s assistant, pulled out a list of the 19 varieties of cookies that will be served during the open house. Besides classics like double chocolate chip and sugar cookies, there will be cookie flavors of coconut pecan, white chocolate macadamia and snickerdoodles with M&Ms.
Life of sheer luxury on the water
As your eyes stretch up its bright white flanks, 15 passenger decks high, past the encased yellow lifeboats, up to the angled funnels 64 metres above, you begin to feel very small.
You get a sense of how insignificant those people on Southampton docks in 1912 must have felt approaching Titanic. Except this ship is nearly 50 metres longer than Titanic and three times as heavy.
The Voyager is one of the 10 biggest ships in the world. If it was stood on its bow it would be taller than the Eiffel Tower.
It is just 8 metres shorter than New York’s Chrysler building. It was the biggest cruise ship in the world when delivered in 1999 and cost US$500 million to build.
Once inside, it becomes obvious why people refer to this as a floating town.
It houses 5020 people and has all the facilities you would expect to find in a small town. There is a medical centre, shopping arcade, basketball court, swimming pools, mini-golf course. It even has its own postcode.
But there are facilities you wouldn’t typically find in a small town: An ice-skating rink, 1200-seat theatre, 14 bars, clubs and lounges, casino, art gallery, climbing wall, inline skating track, and a three-storey restaurant which accommodates 1800 at one sitting.
It is the details which make Voyager an experience.
The three tiers of the restaurant are stylishly interlinked with curling staircases of ornate black wrought iron topped with polished wood. A grand piano sits on the middle tier and gently serenades diners as they eat.
Each area of the ship is designed by a different architect and visually refreshing as a result. For those of a forgetful disposition, there’s even a carpeted floor panel in each lift which is changed daily to tell you what day it is.
Strolling around you find yourself craning your neck at cathedral ceilings high above, marvelling at the scale.
The ship’s dimensions are not the only massive statistics though; there’s the food consumption. There are 105,000 meals prepared each week and within that 28,000kg of eggs, 30,000kg of fresh vegetables, 18,000 slices of pizza and 30,000 litres of ice cream.
The food and drink is endless and, if the guilt kicks in, you can burn off those extra calories in the gym. Its curved serried ranks of steppers, bikes, rowing machines and running machines stare out to sea. And, if you have to be running for 30 minutes getting nowhere, there can’t be many better views.
It is easy to be impressed with the Voyager but taking in the panoramic scenery from the bridge is a reminder of just what a stunning place this is we call home. Here I meet the Voyager’s charismatic Norwegian captain, Charles Teige, who is of the same opinion.
“New Zealand has the most beautiful ports in the world, there is no doubt about that. I grew up in the Norwegian fjords and the landscape is very similar but we don’t have such fantastic weather.”
Garrulous and gregarious with a ready smile, he makes the perfect ship’s captain. He is not averse to a one-liner either.
“We have upgraded the casino because of the Chinese guests and on this leg, with so many Australians joining us, we’ve had to make sure we have enough beverage on board.”
As we chat, our conversation is interlaced with references to “biggest”, “largest”, “first”.
The Voyager was a groundbreaker in the cruise ship industry when launched, redefining the rules.
“Even if it’s one of the biggest cruise ships in the world, it’s easy to find your way around,” says Teige.
I’m not so sure about this though. I think it would take me a while to get acquainted with the labyrinth of corridors. And the number of craning passenger heads we encountered, looking back and forth bemusedly, would seem to bear testament to that point. But if you did get lost it would scarcely matter, with 1200 smiling staff members (from 60 different countries) you’re never far from assistance.
The ship is in the midst of a 14-night cruise, including stops in Sydney, Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Dunedin and Melbourne. Those on board this trip include 1500 Australians and 65 New Zealanders.
The Voyager will remain in Australasia until March, offering a range of cruises. A two-night sampler cruise out of Sydney, Australia, costs $476, while a 14-night New Zealand and South Pacific Cruise is $3143.
Her affable Scandinavian skipper has been in charge of the Voyager for 10 years.
“Of course, everybody thinks it’s easy to be a captain,” he smiles, “but it’s 5020 people and a US$650 million ship, so it’s a big responsibility. You’re just like the mayor of a small city.”
The most difficult part of his job is not, as you might expect, manoeuvring such a vast ship into difficult harbours. It is, he says, all the small organisational matters that need to be undertaken when coming into a new port; jobs where he is forced to rely on others outside the ship’s staff.
Not that he has had a problem in New Zealand.
“Small details can make for big delays,” he says.
“I have to say though, both in Australia and New Zealand, you deliver what you promise. You go to other places in the world, like Italy, it’s not always the case. But from the morning everything here has been excellent, tug boat, gangways, everything.”
If Teige is not the world’s happiest man in his job, he does a very good impression of it. He is energetic, enthusiastic and his stream of chatter is not interrupted by too many breaths.
“Every morning I come to my job I see the sun coming up and see these wonderful views.” he says, casting a blue-blazered arm out towards Mauao.
“I don’t have to sit in a car battling traffic for hours and I get to navigate these beautiful waters,” he says.
“Of course, sometimes I have to work shoreside on projects. Every time I do, I’m longing to get back to my ship.”
Bucket List Adventure: ‘Shrek’ the halls at Opryland this Christmas
Breaking bread with an ogre or sluicing down a 20-foot chute of solid ice may not be on your holiday bucket list – but you can bet it’s on your kids’ and grandkids’ wish list, along with the chance to earn Honorary Ogre cred and hobnob with their favorite green swamp dweller.
Gaylord Opryland’s “A Country Christmas” event has returned to Nashville for the 29th year, bringing with it Shrek, Princess Fiona and the whole cast from the swamp in the kingdom of Far Far Away. There’ll be dancin’ in the streets, feasting with the world’s most famous ogre and lots of other “green” themed holiday fun. Also back is the Gaylord’s jaw-dropping world of ICE!, a magical frozen playland carved from 2 million pounds of ice. This year, for the first time, ICE! is all about DreamWorks’ “Shrek the Halls,” and is it ever impressive.
It’s hard to believe these frozen tableaux – where the temps hover at a brisk 9 degrees and visitors must snap themselves into oompa-loompa type parkas for the journey – are mere steps from the tropical warmth within Opryland’s lushly planted atriums. Here, the dense green foliage, compliments of thousands of ornamental plants, get a seasonal pop of color from a profusion of deep red poinsettias and creamy white anthuriums, along with thousands upon thousands of twinkle lights, miles of beribboned and be-wreathed garland and a ceiling-scraping Christmas tree dazzling with shiny packages, baubles and stuffed teddy bears.
As irresistible as kids will find the hotel for its “Shrektacular” amenities, their parents will love it for its crisp and comfy guestrooms and suites (nearly 3,000 of them), many with black wrought iron balconies overlooking the gardens, fountains, waterfalls and river that flows through the nine acres of gardens. This, plus an array of restaurants – burgers-and-fries casual, “outdoor” cafes meandering beneath the glassed rooftop, an upscale steak house tucked into an antebellum mansion and more – please the big people in the party.
And the activities? Inexhaustible. The list includes everything from retail shops, ice cream parlor and coffee klatches to the chummy Library Lounge perched on Delta Island – for ordering up martinis, not checking out books – to the spa and fitness center to the roaring fireplaces in the Magnolia lobby where musicians entertain to the seasonal shows that overtake the hotel like an out-of-control snowball.
Autumn and winter trend round up from interiors expert
Just like the fickle world of fashion, interior design trends are constantly changing and evolving. Staying on top of current looks is a career must for interior designers, but knowing where to start can be a daunting task for homeowners. Stacey Sibley, design director at Alexander James, kindly agreed to give What House? the low-down on this season’s key trends, colours and textures
There are two strong looks this winter, which lend themselves to certain colours. The country look is in vogue at the moment and the colours following through to autumn/winter are navy blues, soft greys and tan browns. At the other end of the spectrum, the current bold geometric
trend is all about crisp black and whites, pea greens and luxurious purples. Gold is making a big come back with a lot of designers introducing it into fabric and wallpaper designs.
The country trend has moved on from the soft floral patterns and stripes of the summer, changing to bolder stripes, tartans and paisleys in linens and wools. Faux leathers are being used to create a worn vintage feel and the popular textures are tactile.
Wallpapers are huge at the moment with trompe l’oeil patterns everywhere and people are loving the faux wood panelling effect. The geometric trend has exploded in wallpapers and fabrics with bold designs and colours inescapable.
The masculine vintage industrial look is popular this season, particularly with furniture. You’ll see a lot of oak mixed with wrought iron, and silver metal panelled chairs combined with vintage leathers.
Upholstery is all about comfort at the moment, with large soft sofas in linen slip covers or sumptuous velvets and large winged beds with deep button and stud detailing, covered with cushions and throws to sink into and wrap up in.
Lighting is all about big statement pieces. With most people having downlight in their homes, they want feature lighting over their dining tables or in their hallways. The designs are getting quirkier, for example wrought iron birdcages that have crystal chandeliers inside them.
Cushions are very quirky in their designs. The key looks are signage, animal pictures, arts and crafts designs and French linens.
Panama City’s charm lies beyond the canal in Casco Viejo neighbourhood
With dilapidated buildings and whimsical art along the streets, Panama City’s Casco Viejo neighbourhood is fascinating to explore.
By Carolyn Ali
Juan Carlos is giving us the hard sell. As our boat approaches the first lock of the Panama Canal, he stands at the bow with his camera in the area roped off for crew members only. Excited passengers press against the barrier, as if a rumour just broke that George Clooney had stepped onto the red carpet. But the attraction isn’t Juan Carlos, or JC, as the tour guide calls himself. It’s our first glimpse of the man-made marvel that is Panama’s star attraction.
“Now is your chance!” JC booms into his microphone. “I will take your photograph in front of the Panama Canal! For only $10, I will give you a photo and a certificate that proves you were really here!” One by one, he leads takers under the white rope to grin for his camera, which he deftly operates with one hand while clutching the microphone in the other. “Remember,” he repeats, “this is your only chance to certify that you visited the canal!”
While I declined certification, it turned out that there were plenty of excellent opportunities for free photos to come. My five-hour boat ride, which transited part of the Panama Canal, provided an unforgettable look at the 20th-century engineering feat. And since I experienced the canal on a day trip from Panama City, rather than as part of a long journey on a traditional cruise ship, I could flee the boat in the afternoon and spend the rest of my vacation on dry land.
The gentrification has a long way to go, however. Walking around Casco Viejo is like walking around a partially completed Hollywood movie set. On one corner, there’s a magnificently restored Spanish mansion with freshly painted walls, brilliant bougainvillea, and exquisite wraparound wrought-iron balconies. On another, there’s a shell of a colonial building with punched-out windows and palm fronds busting through. Next to that is a boarded-up, graffiti-covered residence, and further on, an apartment building with a treacherous wood-plank staircase open to the street and barbed-wire railings on the balcony. It looks like it should be condemned, but children’s voices come ringing from inside, along with the clank of pots and pans.
to be continued