Reflections on 2015

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Wow – it’s December already, and Christmas is only a few days away.  Yikes – where did the year go?

2015 started with some lovely family time – Connor and Kyla came across from Brisbane and we had all the grandkids together. All the Grandkids Jan 2015

On the home front things have been good.  Kyla has settled in and has added spice to our lives.  She and Joshua are wonderfully close and the two cousins keep us on our toes.

My travel has been pretty hectic – as evidenced by the TripIt stats:

2015 Total
Trips 24 166
Days 171 1139
Distance 336,448 km 1,621,588 km
Cities 34 70
Countries 11 22

Highlights for me were visiting the Taj Mahal, QCon  London in March and getting to Thailand and Malaysia for the first time.

On my way to London I stopped in Grenoble and had a night in Paris before taking the Eurostar – my first trip through the Chunnel.  Definitely more relaxed than flying between cities.

Fondue in Grenoble

Paris by Night

For my birthday Spence and his lovely family took me to Bletchley Park.  It’s sad when you see computers you actually worked on in a museum.

I wrote my first programs on punchcards

 

In March the Agile Alliance board meeting was in Wellington – the only face to face meeting we’ve had that I didn’t need to travel to.  It was great being able to host the event, we had an open space event before and Arthur cooked us an amazing meal on the Monday afterwards.

Agile Board in Wellington

In April we took a trip to Taupo and Tauranga.  Serena and Abigail came with us and we had a great time catching up with family in the Bay of Plenty.

 

Kyla, Joshua and I went river rafting on the Rangiteki River, level 4 rapids.

We survived the rapids

Grandad's girls

Big news on the family front was Melody getting together with Hayden, and the two of them promptly deciding to have a child.  The baby is due in early January, so we’re heading across to Brisbane to greet the newest granddaughter.

Melody & Hayden

Jade and Cam came down to Wellington in May to meet Abigail.

JAde, Cam & Abigail

Cyberview Resort in Malaysia

Abigail turned one in July and Scott’s family came across from Melbourne for the event, as did Melody and Hayden.

Abigail's First Birthday

In June I was in Thailand and had a chance to do a very brief tour.  I definitely want to go back.

Agile 2015 was in Washington DC, and I did some sightseeing there one evening.  Thanks Sharon for being such good company.

The Lincoln Memorial

Thailand

In September I spent an amazing week at Menlo Innovations learning about the Menlo Way and how they really have created an environment of joy in work.  It was truly inspirational and I’m trying to bring the ideas and philosophy into my own work and the workplaces I come in contact with.  Richard, James and the Menlo team truly live the values and are wonderfully generous in sharing their ideas.

In the same trip I visited Minneapolis and Des Moines – thanks Angela, David, Kent, Lisanne and Juao.   Then on to Portland for an Agile Alliance board meeting and open space event.   We were defeated by the overwhelming sweetness of Voodoo Doughnuts!

Voodoo Doughnuts

In November I went along as a (grand)-parent helper when Kyla’s class had a trip to Kapiti Island.  It was a great day out, even if my legs swore at me for the next week!  I flew the next day to Thailand for the Agile Tour and was definitely hobbling around the conference.

Looking back at Paraparaumu from Kapiti Island

SoftEd has opened an office in Singapore, which means I’ll be spending more time in that part of the world.

This year I’ve done quite a bit of conference speaking, including being invited as a keynote at Agile Tour Singapore – I do enjoy the great variety of people I get to meet at conferences and have made many new friends in different places this year.

Next year I will be speaking at Agile India in March and have submitted proposals for Agile 2016 and Agile Australia – I’m sure more will emerge🙂

My last trip for the year was to Brisbane and Saudi Arabia.  It was great to meet with a small agile community in Riyadh.

 

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

On the family front, Steven, Serena and Abigail are flourishing and it’s wonderful to see Abigail growing so happily.

Mom has moved to a rest home close to us and whenever Serena comes to visit Abigail and her NanNan get into all sorts of mischief together.

At the rest-home Christmas party they had a group of bikers taking people for rides – needless to say both Mom and Kyla took full advantage of the opportunity.

NanNan on a Harley

Kyla Close BehindI got to catch up with Matthew, Colette & Conner and Melody & Hayden in Brisbane – they’re all well and thriving.

Jade and Cam are doing great in Auckland, as is Robert.

Arthur and Nicole are also thriving – Arthur is still at Ortega Fish Shack and spoils us with his culinary prowess whenever the come and visit.

Joshua did very well at school this year and is headed for great things.

Kyla also brought home a great report, and she’s decided to stay with us next year too – doing her high schooling in New Zealand.

Cressida is well, still struggling with the loss of Chris but coming through it.

Arnold is engaged to Sam(antha) – the two of them make a lovely couple.  Sam is looking for work in Wellington and will move over here when she finds a suitable role.

To end, Nancy and I wish all who celebrate the holiday a blessed and merry Christmas and everyone a wonderful 2016.

 

 

I took this photo from the beach close to us – it symbolizes why we love living where we do.

Sunset over Kapiti Island

A lightning fast trip to the Taj Mahal

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Last week I was in Malaysia and India, teaching in Kuala-Lumpur then on to Bangalore for a one-day business agility class.

In K-L I was working in Cyberjaya, a purpose built hi-tech community, the centre of local offshore services. The place is new with great roads and infrastructure and all the big name global organisations seem to have a presence there. It is a hub for business process outsourcing with a limited amount of software development.

I stayed at the Cyberview resort – very comfortable, great service, friendly and helpful people. They run a shuttle service which takes guests to and from the places they’re working at.  This was the hotel the APEC leaders stayed at in 1998 and the gardens are named for the event.

APEC Garden at Cyberview The Spa at Cyberview

 

One example of the excellent level of service was the way they treated me on my last day, I had checked out of the hotel on Thursday morning as I was flying to Bangalore that night, after work I caught the shuttle bus back to the resort to collect my bags, but I had a couple of hours to spare. They invited me to take a shower in the spa and then relax in the lounge, with full internet access and attentive service. Low stress and comfort, just what is needed before flying out in the evening. I heartily recommend the Cyberview Resort as a great place to stay.

One disappointment on this trip was Malaysia Airlines – I booked on them because they offered the best connections for the route, and the mechanics of the flights went fine, all flights on time. They are part of one-world so I had access to the lounges, Premier Lounge in Auckland (not great) Malaysia Airlines in K-L (nice) and the Green Lounge in New Delhi (mediocre). The food on the flights was some of the worst I’ve eaten on plane trips and the service attitude not very good. The entertainment system is fair, but it’s not available until well after takeoff and switched off 20-30 minutes before landing – totally unnecessary today. Unfortunately I would not recommend Malaysia Airlines and will try not to fly on them again.

I flew into Bangalore late in Thursday night, stayed at the Zuri Whitefield again and delivered the class on Friday. The Zuri also offer a shuttle service and the driver collected me from the office and took me to the airport for my evening flight on Air India to New Delhi.

Bangalore and Delhi airports are brand new, examples of modern airport design. In New Delhi I was met by the people from Adventure World (Highly recommended – great service and really helpful people) who took me to my hotel (Raddison Blu close to the airport, comfortable, nice breakfast) and arranged to collect me in the morning for the day trip to Agra.

Promptly at 07:30 the next morning Ravid, my driver for the day, collected me at the hotel. Bags in the boot we set off for the three hour drive to Agra. I was lulled into the false sense that traffic in Delhi was more like I am used to as we drove through the embassy area, then reality struck as we got into the more heavily populated  areas – this was the chaotic Indian traffic I was expecting.

Family transport Refreshing breeze Make sure you carry a spare IMG_4123

 

After we got out of town we took the new toll-way and again I would not have believed we were actually driving in India – everyone sticks to their lane, the traffic flows smoothly and people even move out of each others way. The road is monitored with cameras and at the toll booths they check your average speed between stations, overspeeding can get you in trouble.

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The area is very agricultural with small farms growing a wide variety of crops including mullet, potatoes, rice and grapes. There are places where the soil is clearly clay and lots of small brickworks have been built – the kiln chimneys popping out of the landscape.  It looks in places like the whole landscape has been lowered by the removal of the clay and then topsoil re deposited.

Kilns

After leaving the tollway I was reminded what real Indian traffic is light as we made our way through Agra to collect the local guide (Lelet) who escorted me around the various sights, smoothing the way past security checks and avoiding queues.

We started the tour at the Taj Mahal, my primary reason for taking the day out – it truly is a bucket-list place, and no pictures can give the true feel for the place. It truly is magnificent. The craftsmanship that went into building it is amazing, the work involved to build a monument to one person almost beyond belief. Many subtle things have contributed to the overall excellence.  For instance the size of the lettering inlaid around the archways, lower down the letters are smaller than higher up so that when you look up at them from the entrance they appear the same size, and the slight outward lean of the four towers so that if there is an earthquake they will fall away from the central building.

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From the Taj Mahal we went to the Agra Fort where the Mogul Kings had ruled from. The fort is another example of the architectural excellence and craftsmanship that India achieved in the 15th and 16th centuries.

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From here we visited a craft store where the craft of carving and inlay is still carried out using the same methods used to make the Taj. They have scale models of the Taj which are amazing in their detail. I did buy a small table, which made the baggage somewhat heavier.

From here it was lunch at a very nice restaurant and a final visit to another tomb before starting the trip back to Delhi.

It was a long and exhausting day which I am really glad I was able to fit into this trip. If ever you get the chance to visit Agra it really is worth it.

So, what happened to 2014?

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Wow – it’s December, in fact Christmas is only a week away!  Where did the year go?

Well – Tripit tells me that I’ve travelled 312762km, been to 12 countries and 28 cities this year, which means way too much time sitting in aluminium tubes breathing recycled air!  Only four flights to go (I’m in Riyadh and start the 40 hour trip home in about 8 hours) then I will have finished travelling for the year.  I finished the last course for the year a couple of hours ago and I’m one working day away from a few weeks off, staying home!

It’s been a pretty full year for the whole family – some pretty significant events and some great times.

We started the year taking the three younger grandkids away for a whirlwind trip around the North Island – Taupo, Rotorua, Hobbiton and river rafting on the Tongariro River.  It was great to spend time with them, and we’re looking forward to another adventure together in a couple of weeks when Connor & Kyla come to visit again.

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At Hobbiton

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Them’s Hobbits them is

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Looking out over Taupo

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Mt Rhuapehu in the background

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We started out dry

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But didn’t stay that way for long

 

A big change for 2015 is Kyla staying behind with us when Connor goes home – she’s decided she wants to experience being a Kiwi and will be living with us for the next few years to finish her schooling in New Zealand.

At the same time Arnold and Joshua have moved in with us as well, so the house is full again. It’s great having family around.

After the grandkids went home in January it was back to work, my travel started with a trip to Jeddah, Orlando and Vancouver – the first of three circumnavigations of the globe this year.

Jeddah is an interesting and very different city.  I was teaching at the Islamic Development Bank, an organisation with a truly humanistic vision dedicated to improving the quality of life of people in the Islamic world.

Orlando was work on the BABOK and an Agile Alliance board meeting, then on to Vancouver to work with Steve, Susan, Chris and Dave on an eLearning course for Agile Business Analysis.

February was the second circumnavigation – Riyadh, then London for the QCon conference then on to Austin, TX and home.

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Big Ben in March

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View over the Thames

In March we were privileged to be present at Lee and Mike’s wedding in Auckland- they are wonderfully happy couple and it’s great having Lee in NZ, even if they did desert us to live in Auckland.

The happy couple

The happy couple

It was great to be there with Lee & Mike

It was great to be there with Lee & Mike

The wedding party, including folks from SA on Skype

The wedding party, including folks from SA on Skype

 

April was Brisbane & Saudia Arabia for two weeks, Nancy came with me and spent the week I was in Riyadh with Melody.

For me the travel highlight of the year was the trip Nancy & I did together in May where we went to Tokyo, Prague and Vancouver – it was wonderful to be able to take time to see the places together and enjoy some us time.

The beginning of June had us hosting Mom’s 80th birthday bash – a jolly good time was had by all and she was thrilled with the party.  Family and friends came from far and wide and it was wonderful to be able to share this significant milestone with everyone. Having Elthea visiting at the same time was extra special.

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The Streets from Tawa

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The Erasmi

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Barry & Nola

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Steven & Nicole supervising the cooking

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Serena & Janice – Mother in law bonding


Arthur, Joshua, Serena, Roxanne, Alex

Cousins & their little auntie: Arthur, Joshua, Serena, Roxanne, Alex

Scott, Tracey & Nola

Scott, Tracey & Nola

Arthur & Nicole

Arthur & Nicole

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A special cake

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Zandra & Basil

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Pete, Mom & Elthea

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A disreputable bunch if ever there was one

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Sonia & Hunter came down from Auckland

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Dad & Daughter

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The Hastie Men

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Another dangerous grouping

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With Jade

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Left & Right Sock

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Jackie came from Brisbane, Jade & Cam from Auckland, Caren causing mischief

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With my wonderful wife

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With the worlds best neighbours (Dana & PJ) and long time friends (Antony & Jacinta)

Later in June I went back to Riyadh for a week.

In July the years biggest blessing happened – Serena gave birth to a beautiful, bouncy baby daughter.  Abigail.

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Grandad melting

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Precious and peaceful

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Proud parents

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Doting Granny

In August it was back to Orlando for the Agile 2014 conference.

In January I’d done some shopping in anticipation of our newest princess arriving.

Grandad's Little Princess

Grandad’s Little Princess

 

September had me in Chicago for an Agile Alliance board meeting.  I ate genuine Deep Dish pizza for the first time.

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View from the meeting room

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Chicago architecture sure is interesting

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Deep Dish Pizza – oh, so rich!

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More interesting architecture

 

One benefit of all the flying is you occasionally see an amazing sunset or a great view of the mountains.

Mt Taranaki at sunset

Mt Taranaki at sunset

Sunset over Auckland

Sunset over Auckland

At the end of October I was back in the USA to talk at the PMI Global Congress in Phoenix, AZ.  A group of us ran an agile business analysis and product management open space telling the PM community about the benefits of both agile and good business analysis.  The PMI Business Analysis practice guide was announced at the conference and launched in December.

Convincing PMs of the value of business analysis and agile

Convincing PMs of the value of business analysis and agile

 

November was another big trip – Singapore for the Agile Singapore conference then on to Bangalore and finally to Pune to keynote at the Agile Pune conference.

In Singapore the conference speakers stayed at the Marina Bay Sands hotel – an amazing building which was evidently the most expensive building ever built when it was opened (cost over US$4BN, and paid for completely within 5 years from the profits at the casino).

I had a memorable evening with Richard Sheridan (author of Joy, Inc and founder of Menlo Innovations) and Linda Rising.  Watch out for an InfoQ article of our conversation.  They are two truly inspirational people and it was great to spend some time with them, as well as the speakers and attendees at the conference.

On the Saturday Richard, Linda and I walked around the Gardens by the Bay – another truly impressive venue.

SoftEd were sponsors of the conference, Dan, Kathy & I manned the stand

SoftEd were sponsors of the conference, Dan, Kathy & I manned the stand

The Marina Bay Sands comples

The Marina Bay Sands comples

The view from my room

The view from my room

The infinity pool on the 57th floor

The infinity pool on the 57th floor

View from the 57th floor

View from the 57th floor

 

Surreal artificial trees - they help keep the domes temperature and humidity regulated

Surreal artificial trees – they help keep the domes temperature and humidity regulated

View over the gardens

View over the gardens

Looking back at the Marina Bay Sands

Looking back at the Marina Bay Sands

You can take a lift to the lost world!

You can take a lift to the lost world!

Intrepid explorers

Intrepid explorers

Interesting sculpture

Interesting sculpture

Christmas in Singapore

Christmas in Singapore

In the garden

In the garden

From Singapore it was on to Bangalore for a week and then to Pune for the Agile Pune conference, where I met up with Linda again.

This trip to Riyadh has been the end of my travels for this year, heading home with a day stop in Brisbane to see Melody and have a BBQ with Matt & Colette before the night-time flight back to Wellington.

Nancy’s had a year of experimenting with new artforms and foodstuffs.  She’s been mixing spices and making delicious blends and then did a “weedwalk” class where they learned to forage for edible plants (some interesting salads and flavours in the cooking), learned Shibori fabric dying  and did a portraiture course.

Unfortunately Shadow passed away at the end of 2013 and the home was too empty without a feline presence so Rafiki (a seal coloured Burmese kitten) came to join us in the middle of the year.

Rafiki

Rafiki

The rest of the family are all well – Jade and Cam are thriving in Auckland.  They’re not coming down to Raumati over Christmas as they are heading to Melbourne for a holiday.

Serena, Steven and Abigail are happy in their home and family.

Cressida is doing well and got engaged to Chris early in this year.

Melody is making some major changes in her life – moving to a country town in Outback Victoria for a complete change of pace and environment.  She plans to be settled in her new lifestyle early in 2015.

A winery lunch with Melody

A winery lunch with Melody

Matthew and Colette are doing well in Brisbane, there was a rumour of a possible stint in the USA but nothing more has been said yet.

Matt & Col

Matt & Col

Arnold is “in a relationship” with a lady he’s been playing online games with for a few years.  Sam is visiting us this month and they’re wonderful together.

Joshua’s finished his first year of high school with high marks and a good report.

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Connor and Kyla are doing well at school and in their extra-mural activities.  Connor is in the air cadets and plans a career in the air-force, Kyla is doing gymnastics and loving it.

Connor & Kyla

Connor & Kyla

Robert is doing well at his job, there was some concern about the business being shut down but new owners are taking over and all is safe.

Arthur is doing a wonderful job as a chef at Ortega Fish Shack – we’ve eaten there a couple of times now and every time been amazed at the quality and flavour of the food.  We all get the benefit of his training and experience when he and Nicki come to visit on a weekend and he takes over the kitchen.

Arthur at Work

Arthur at Work

So – that’s the story of our year.  It’s been a busy and joyous one with the addition of Abigail to the family.

All that’s left is to wish you one and all a blessed and happy Christmas and all the very best for 2015 from Nancy, Shane and the whole mob in Raumati.

Here’s a very different Christmas carol for you to enjoy:

A Brief Stopover in Vancouver

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We’re on the last long flight of this trip, heading from Vancouver to Auckland. Nacy and I spent a brief three days in Canada as the last stop on this whirlwind trip around the globe.

Vancouver is a lovely city, one of my favorite places to come and visit, both for the people I know there as well as the city and its surrounds. Surrounded by water and mountains Vancouver always feels friendly and welcoming to me.

We arrived on Tuesday afternoon, picked up a hire car and made our way to the Holiday Inn Downtown on Howe St. It’s a comfortable, slightly aging hotel, conveniently located in the city and nowhere near as expensive as those on the waterfront. Tuesday evening we relaxed and recovered from the days’s travel.

Wednesday we drove around and explored the city – along the waterfront, then spending most of the day in Stanley Park. This is a thousand acre parkland on a peninsula right next to the city centre, a great place for the community.

Our first stop in the park was the Totem Pole Garden, which contains ?? Totem poles from various First Nation peoples in British Columbia. It’s an interesting and impressive sight, they really are magnificent.

From there we moved around the Park , stopping to admire the views and environment until we found the Vancouver Aquarium, our primary destination for the day. We’ve visited aquaria around the world, from Kelly Tarlton’s in Auckland to Walvisbaai in Namibia, as we have a fascination with sealife. This one is impressive – not the largest we’ve seen (that’s probably Monterey Bay) but definitely one of the most diverse,

They have the usual fish exhibitions, with sea life from a wide variety of habitats, a particular focus of their research is jellyfish and they have some fascinating exhibits of different species. Then there’s an Amazon exhibit where they’ve created a small tropical rainforest area, complete with River, tress, birds, butterflies and a sloth. The design allows visitors to see both above and below the water with a representative sampling of the wildlife which includes both an anaconda and a cayman, neither of which you want to get closely aquatinted with.

From the Amazon exhibit we went to their outdoor/marine mammal area. They look after a small number of marine mammals, all of who. Have been rescued and classified as “recovered, non-releasable” as they will not survive in the wild. Most of their recovered animals were recovered from fishing nets and they bear the scars.

There are two Pacific white-sided dolphins who put on a great show for the crowd, a pair of beluga whales at look like ghosts as they swim around their enclosure and a small group of sea otter, one of whom is blind from injuries sustained in a fishing net.

From the aquarium we continued around the park, taking a late lunch a t a restaurant overlooking Lion’s Bridge, then we drove Round the city and back to the hotel to freshen up.

For dinner we joined Steve and the team from Development Knowledge (we’ve been working together on building elearning content) at the Observatory restaurant on Grouse Mountain – the first time we’ve needed to take a cable car for a meal. It was great to catch up with a group of people who have become good friends. The food is good, the views magnificent.

Thursday had us up early, we were collected from the hotel at 07:00 for a day trip to Whistler – heading up by train and back on a seaplane (a first for both of us). We were collected from the hotel and delivered to the train in the rail yards in North Vancouver. This train trip has the well-deserved reputation of being one of the great train journeys to take and I can certainly see why.

At 08:00 we departed, sitting in comfortable seats in a 1950’s vintage train carriage. The trip follows the coastline then hearts inland following a river until the train gets to Whistler. The views along the way are tremendous, the scenery changing from expensive housing (North Vancouver is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy property) to coastal beaches and riverine forest. Each car has a guide/conductor who serves the meal (a chilled breakfast of fruit, yoghurt, muesli with a ham&cheese croissant) and provides running commentary about the areas you pass through.

The trip was relatively short, only 3.5 hours, and we arrived in Whistler around 11:30. On the train we had booked a tour of the Squamish Lilwat cultural centre. The train company are really well organized and they delivered us to the centre after a brief pass through the village.

The cultural centre is very interesting. The area surrounding Whistler is in the overlap of two First Nation tribes, and rather than bickering over it they decided to collaborate, and this centre is one examples that collaboration in action. The tour included lunch which was very tasty – “Indian Tacos” with venison mince. After lunch we were greeted with a song and shown an interesting film about the two tribes, then guided around the exhibits before being tasked to make some cedar rope which we got to keep. (Hopefully MAF will allow us to keep it when we go through customs in Auckland – they did🙂 ).

After the cultural centre we walked around the village before taking a taxi to the gondola transfer station where would be picked up for our flight home,

Whistler’s a tourist village, it was founded to be a destination for events (they bid to host the Winter Olympics 4 times before finally hosting them in 2010) and has an impressive network of ski trails and mountain bike tracks. For the sedentary traveller Whistler’s not got a lot to keep you occupied (although we were told the museum is rgood, but couldn’t find it).

We called the floatplane operator at 14:00 to check on the status of our flight – they don’t confirm the seaplane flights until the weather for the day is known, and they could be cancelled at any time if the weather changes, and no night flights on seaplanes (no runway lights in the water).

Our flight was on so we were collected and taken out to the lake where the seaplanes fly from. There were only four of us taking the trip to Vancouver that afternoon (seating capacity is 6 in the plane).

In the plane the safety announcement is a video played on an iPad, covering all the usual elements, it was interesting to see the emergency exit hatch (above your heads) shown as part of the safety briefing. The plane is equipped with headsets for each passenger so the pilot can talk to you (without the headset the noise makes conversation impossible) and ours gave a running commentary as we flew down the river towards Vancouver.

The seaplane trip was fun, and amazingly turbulence-free, especially given the weather was rain and clouds that afternoon – he could point out to us where things were but many of the landmarks were shrouded in clouds. Despite this the trip was wonderfully scenic and the commentary interesting. Many more photographs were taken🙂 We definitely recommend it.

We landed back in Vancouver at about 18:15, and took the Harbour Air shuttle to our hotel, and crashed – it had been a long and tiring day.

Friday morning we caught up with Steve for breakfast, spent the morning relaxing in the hotel, found a great Northern Chinese style restaurant for lunch (dumplings!) then took a drive through the suburbs of Vancouver before dropping off the hire car and getting to the airport. It was a somewhat lazy day, which we needed after a frantic but great fun three weeks.

Hopefully the pictures below give you a feel for our stopover in Vancouver.

A wonderful week in Prague

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We’re winging our way on the next leg of this trip around the world, having just spent a wonderful week in one of the nicest cities I’ve ever been in. Everyone who I spoke to before coming here told me that Prague is a beautiful, friendly city, it seemed almost too good to be true people were so gushing about the place. Well, they were right!

Prague is a magical city – a vast array of architectural styles, hidden walkways, majestic castles, churches, bridges and rivers. The people we came across were all friendly, welcoming and generous of their time and knowledge.

We arrived from Japan late on the Monday night, eventually getting to our hotel The Barcelo Old Town just after 01:00 Tuesday morning. The room we were allocated had twin beds but we weren’t going to make a fuss at that point – we just needed to sleep. Breakfast in the restaurant goes until 10:00, which we just made the following morning. The reception staff cheerfully accommodated our request for a different room and moved us to one with a king bed.

The first day we wandered around the Old Town on our own, just getting the feel of the place, almost overwhelmed by the magnificence of the architecture, the sense of history, and stumbling over the cobblestones.

Wednesday we were a bit more organized and took a guided tour in a 1960’s vintage Scoda Octavo – the soft-top version of that car was only made for a very short period during the communist era, it was considered too decedent so they stopped production of it after a very short run. Our guide and driver showed drove us around Old Town, New Town (new – founded in the 1360s), the Castle district and the Jewish Quarter, with a running commentary full of interesting anecdotes. I definitely recommend a tour like that as a great way to familiarize yourself with the general layout of the city.

In the afternoon we walked around the Old Town, crossed the Charles Bridge and purchased a lovely water colour done by an artist on the bridge.

Wednesday evening we took a guided tour dinner cruise. This started with a half-hour tour around the city then we boarded the boat for a two-hour cruise along the River Vltava. As the sun set and the full moon rose it was magical to see the buildings lighted up at night. The food on the cruise was OK, but not the best we ate in Prague by any means.

Thursday we were spoilt – Dana’s friend Michal generously gave up a large chunk of his day to take us around and share the stories of his town from a local’s viewpoint. He took us on the tram up to the castle and we spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around the castle and cathedral complex, then down many stairs to lunch in the NewTown. Thanks Michal, we hope one day to be able to reciprocate and show you our home in New Zealand!

Thursday evening was the beginning of my “official” reason for being in Prague – the Agile Alliance board meeting. We met with the local Agile community for a “Q&A on the future of agile event. Great questions, good discussions and wonderfully passionate people. After the session they generously hosted us to a lovely dinner.

Friday to Sunday was the board meeting – a great collaborative event during which we achieved a number of significant outcomes which hopefully the global agile community will see the fruits of over the next year.

We dined together every evening and the food was consistently delicious – Czech food is wholesome and tasty.

Sunday night four of us went on the Jazz Boat dinner cruise – from 8:00pm till 11:00pm being serenaded by a really good jazz ensemble and enjoying a great repast.

I’ve found another favorite rum – the Czech brand Bozkov. It’s smooth and easily sipable with a unique favour.

Monday we relaxed in the morning, spend the afternoon exploring more of the Old Town, got some gifts for family and friends and ended our time in Prague over dinner with new friend Joanne, who was visiting from Washington, DC.

So, if you ask me about Prague I will gush about the place with the best of them – we had a great time and would definitely recommend this lovely city and country as a holiday destination.

Hopefully the photos below show some of what we found in this wonderful city.

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Japan for leisure and fun, just for a change :-)

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Nancy and I are taking a two-week trip which is mainly leisure – a welcome change from the predominantly business-focused trips I do.

We’re circumnavigating the globe in 3 weeks stopping in Tokyo, Prague and Vancouver.

This weekend we’re in Tokyo, a whirlwind stop with two very full days. We arrived on Friday evening, and hour and a bit late due to weather over Narita airport delaying our landing. We’re staying at the Grand Prince New Takanawa hotel, a very comfortable nice environment. (I’ll post a Tripadvisor review and link it here).

Saturday morning bright and early we were up for the Mt Fuji & Hakone tour with Sunrise Tours . They collected us from the hotel and took us to the central bus station where we were sorted into groups based on the tour we were doing. Our guide Yasushi was very knowledgable and kept us entertained with a potted history of Japan and stories about the regions we passed through. Unfortunately there were traffic problems which meant the planned 90 min drive took 2 1/2 hours and scrambled the carefully planned day. We were able to do all the planned activities and enjoyed it immensely, the only glitch was getting back to Tokyo about two hours later than planned.

Our first stop was Lake Kawaguchiko where we ended up doing most of the planned activities.

Since the trip had taken so long it was lunchtime by the time we got to the lake, so we had the “regular Japanese” lunch (non-vegetarian) with fish and chicken. It was tasty and authentic.

After lunch we took the Kachi Kachi Yama Ropeway cable car to the top of the mountain overlooking the lake – yes, Nancy did do the cable car!

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Fujisan

The views from the top are magnificent and the Tanuki (Racoon) dumplings oh-so-sweet.

The Bell of Tenjo

The Bell of Tenjo

We rang the Bell of Tenjo together.

After descending on the cable car the plan was to take a boat ride, but the wind had come up and the boat wasn’t going so it was back into the bus for the 50 minute drive to the 5th Station on Mt Fuji – the highest point that is currently open and right on the snow line. Here we walked around, did some shopping (got the fridge magnet) and enjoyed the views.

Yasushi had been checking on traffic & weather conditions and found that we could do the boat trip, so it was back to Lake Kawaguchiko for the half-hour boat ride – again magnificent views and wonderful scenery.

Mt Fuji from Lake Kawaguchiko

Mt Fuji from Lake Kawaguchiko

After the boat ride we were back in the bus for the ride to Hakone – and another lake. We caught some shots of Mt Fuji with the sun setting behind it, and of the lake. Why there’s a galleon on the lake I have no idea but it definitely makes an interesting sight.

From there it was time to head back, two hours to Tokyo – dropped off in Shinjuku and a taxi back to the hotel, just in time to get dinner before the restaurants closed.

Sunday was a leisurely morning, and we missed breakfast time in the hotel restaurants – times are strict and you can’t get breakfast after 10:00!

We wandered around the hotel garden and spent some time just relaxing in the lounge.

Sunday afternoon was the Best of Tokyo walking tour. Our guide Masa Nakayama met us at the hotel and we took the subway from Shinagawa to Shibuya and visited the Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Lake Kawaguchiko

Lake Kawaguchiko

Sunset over Hakone

Sunset over Hakone

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Entry to the Shrine Gardens

Shrine Entrance

Regular Japanese Lunch

Regular Japanese Lunch

Imperial Palace Grounds Entrance

Imperial Palace Grounds Entrance

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Inside Mitsukoshi Department Store

Dinner with Masahiko

Dinner with Masahiko

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In the Gardens

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In the Gardens

 

We learned the difference between a Shrine and a Temple – Shrines have pillared gates, Temples don’t – and that Shrines are for beginnings (births, weddings) whereas Temples are for endings (funerals and to commemorate the departed). Shinto is a fully inclusive religion – accepting all other faiths and beliefs.

We were fortunate to be there just in time for a wedding procession through the courtyard.

From the Shrine we took a taxi to the Imperial Palace Gardens

 

The gardens are huge, it’s fantastic to see such a wonderful green space in the middle of a city. The path around the outside is 5km long and lots of people run, bike and walk it every day. Entry to the gardens is free and it’s a very popular space. They use a simple token system to track how many people are inside and prevent overcrowding – as you go in you get a plastic tile which you give back on the way out – the number of tiles available determines how many people can be in the garden at any one time and at closing time they know if everyone has left simply be counting the tiles.

There was an exhibition of modern Kyoto-style dinnerware made by a master potter Kanzan Denshichi which we were able to visit on the way out of the gardens.

From there it was a short subway ride to Mitsukoshi Department Store the oldest department store in Tokyo. Fascinating and horrifyingly expensive – definitely no souvenirs from here! There was a quilting exhibition – The Beautiful Japan Quilting Exhibition – which Nancy was thrilled to see.

Our afternoon tour ended at a tea shop with special green tea, following which we said goodbye to Masa and took a taxi back to our hotel.

On Sunday evening Masahiko, a friend who worked with me on the BABOK took us to dinner at Tsukiji Uemura, a traditional Japanese restaurant, we had a feast of sashimi, tempura and crowned it with Kobe Beef Shabu-shabu – delicious! Thanks so much for a wonderful evening Masahiko-San!

Monday morning it was up early, out to the airport and on to Prague via London. I’ll write about that part of the trip later.

We had a great time in Japan, and would love to come back for a longer visit.

Where did the year go? Wishing you one and all the very best for 2014!

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Wow – it’s December, where has the year gone?  It feels like just last week I was writing our 2012 Christmas  message and looking at the blog log there have only been two entries posted this year.  I promise to try and be a better correspondent next year.

TripIT tells me I’ve done 30 trips, 28 cities, 8 countries and 193 days away this year, which might explain why I’m feeling ready for a break.

At this time of year we reflect on the things that are important to us, and right up there at the top of the list is the value we get from friends and family.  It’s true that with the hectic pace of life we don’t pay enough attention to maintaining the close relationships, years can go past without us seeing each other, but know one and all that we value and care about you.

In my travels I’ve managed to catch up with quite a few of our friends in distant lands, and have made more as I’ve traversed the globe this year.  The opportunity to get face to face is one I cherish and wish we could do more, but even if we didn’t meet in person the social media definitely make the world seem smaller and keep us aware of what’s happening in each other’s lives, so please continue to connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

Looking back over the year some of the highlights for me are:

  • January in Floriniapolis, Brazil.
  • Walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in February
  • Finally getting to the Wellington 7’s
  • Great time at Murdoch James wineries
  • Working with a great team on the ICAgile VMBA track.
  • Interesting artworks and a relaxed weekend in Newcastle.
  • Celebrating a special birthday with Moira
  • Meeting up with good friends in Vancouver
  • Spending time with our wonderful children, at home and away
  • A restful weekend at Yallangup
  • Catching up with old friends and making new ones at Agile 2013
  • 100+ Agilists line dancing at the Wild Horse Saloon
  • Watching a show at the Grand Ole Opry House
  • Nashville on a Saturday night
  • Getting the the US Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama
  • Seeing the Americas Cup village, even if the racing was cancelled that day
  • Some amazing sunsets when driving between Wellington and Auckland
  • Good meals with good friends
  • Hayes Mansion in California
  • Watching our grandchildren growing up
  • Getting to drive a Tesla (even if only around the parking lot)
  • Another successful Arts Trail for Nancy, Caren & Derek
  • Actually stopping in Dubai en-route to Riyadh
  • And now being able to stay home for a whole month!

So – a busy year, good times and plenty of places.  All that’s left is to wish you one and all the very best for a fantastic Christmas (for those that celebrate it) and health, happiness and prosperity in 2014.

With love and best wishes to all

Shane & Nancy

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