Andy gets queasy in Queenstown, New Zealand
Action captial of the world, Queenstown
Whenever I get asked the question, where in the world is my favourite place to visit, I always choose New Zealand. Why? For one - the whole country looks like it was designed for a postcard with water so clear, mountain views so crisp and skies so blue that often you struggle to comprehend the beauty of what you’re seeing. It’s no surprise that Lord of the Rings was filmed there because there is something incredibly mystical about the place, almost like you're stepping foot in a completely untouched land.
Ask me next what my favourite city or town is in the world is and it has to be Queenstown. On the south island of New Zealand, although Queenstown looks like a small sleepy town on the surface, it is globally known for its adventure sports (skiing, bungee jumping, jet boating), the stunning backdrop of the Southern Alps and its lively evenings. Frankly, it's a place not to be missed when travelling through NZ. It’s been 5 or so years since I visited Queenstown but the memories never get less fond.
It's not often you get to wake up to a view where the reflection off the lake is just as clear as the towering, snow tipped mountains in front of you. I recommend getting your coat and boots on and exploring this incredible landscape. Whether you’re having a game of frisbee golf in the park, enjoying all that the ski season has to offer or simply sat by a fire, enjoying the homely bars, restaurants and cafes scattered around the town – you’ll leave Queenstown with some incredible memories.
Top 3 Things to Do in Queenstown
1. Whether it’s ski season or not, get yourself onto the cable car travelling up the mountain to check out Queenstown from above. Then, if heights don’t make you queasy, there’s no better way of getting back down than a LUGE RACE with your friends. With nothing but gravity powering you down the hill, you’ll need to make sure you use those brakes effectively.
2. Grab a burger at FERG BURGER. This place is a tourist attraction in itself. Open all day until the early hours, you’ll be sitting down there for lunch then finding yourself there again at 3am. If you’ve still got room when you wake up, I’m sure there will be some left on your shirt.
3. End the night in COWBOYS, famous for its bucking bull. Don your hat and get ready for a ride. This is a great themed bar with a buzzing atmosphere where you can really let go after a day on the slopes. I recommend holding off on your Ferg Burger until after this one.
Perfection. Luge racing whilst admiring the stunning Queensland views (photo credit: IG @erm_0202)
Andy gets silly in Shanghai, China
A visit to China
I never really knew what to expect when visiting China for the first time this year. From the stories I’ve been told I half expected having to push my way around every busy street through a cloud of smoke. I must admit when I first arrived at the airport and the queue for customs was c. 2 hours (and my phone was out of battery), I considered turning around and running back to see if I could catch my plane home and cry.
Happy I didn’t because it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Benno and I were there on our first ‘business trip’ to visit our awesome manufacturer – although we had so many beers across such a short period of time that the line between business and leisure started to blur.
Shanghai, magical city
Shanghai was thriving when we arrived due to the Grand Prix so we got to work and went straight into the 1st restaurant we saw for some food and beers. Ordering in Chinese when you have zero experience in the language is like playing darts blindfolded. Point your fingers and hope for the best. At the equivalent of 50p a dish we were willing to have a stab at a few dishes and take on the valuable learning that English speaking was rare here. On a similar note, I recommend that you don’t leave anywhere without knowing the name of the place you are going to and coming back to in Chinese! Have your hotel write them down for you, otherwise you may never return.
Stomachs full from a mixed bag of dishes and having spotted quite a lot of homeless people throughout the streets around our hotel, we packed up the leftovers and headed out to hand some meals out to some of those less fortunate. Seeing their faces light up like it was their first meal in a long time, really brought it home to Benno and I as to how important it is to us to use our business to do good in the future. Watch this space.
A work trip (with a bit of play)
We then proceeded to spend 3 days with our manufacturer. Visiting the factory, meeting the team, and exchanging gifts (a key culture for building relationships in China). I must admit, they were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and Benno and I were treated like royalty being whisked around from one lovely restaurant to the next. We must have tried over 50 dishes across the 3 days from boiled chicken feet, to grilled jellyfish and eel.
The culture in China is that you try every dish on the table and that you should NEVER finish everything on the table. Benno and I got taken to this delicious Korean one day for lunch and following a horrendous hangover, we proceeded to clear the table of every dish going. Little did we know, by doing this we were essentially saying that the meal didn’t fill us up (it really did). Our manufacturing agent proceeded to order double the dishes at our further meals to prevent this issue from happening again and our bodies proceeded to fill up like a scene from Willy Wonka.
The whole thing was a real ‘once in a lifetime experience’. The factories were incredible operations of great efficiency and we left pleased with how our factory (and the employees) worked. Our translator who went around with us is normally a factory auditor and he too was impressed with the operation, which was comforting given the understandable pre-conceptions and worries that we had.
Outside of our factory visits, we got to indulge in Shanghai life from walks along the famous waterfront (The Bund), to relaxing at rooftop bars and even having a go at some questionable street food. The streets weren’t as busy or smoggy as expected and the whole experience from start to finish was unforgettable. I always thought many wore breathing masks due to the smog but in fact it is often to prevent others from picking up an illness they have at the time. Switch over to London, where a sneeze to the face on the tube is almost considered a weekly ritual and you realise there is much more to learn about this incredible and very unique culture and I can’t wait to go back.
Top 3 things to do in Shanghai
1. Never have I felt so close to a skyline as when you walk along The Bund at night. Lined with unique buildings that light up the city, bringing the darkness of night to life. A time to reflect on the beauty and unique character of this city, whilst ensuring you get the right angle for your selfie.
2. If you like a drink and you’ll need to if you’re reading my blog, then Bar Rouge is the place to go. Especially if out and about on a Friday or Saturday night. With a crowd handpicked from every corner of the globe and an outside drinking area looking over the skyline, this is hands down the best view I’ve ever experienced at a club. Don’t expect to have a cheap night though. Little tip - don’t get so drunk that you get pick pocketed leaving the club and have your money swapped with counterfeits. No comment who this happened to. Funny all the same.
3. If you’re visiting China, you can’t leave without feasting on Dim Sum. And Michelin star restaurant Din Tai Fung is known for being the best. Being a Londoner, the prices here seemed very reasonable but are expensive in relation to Shanghai as a whole. Be sure to order the Xiao Long Bao (also known as soup dumplings) but as a word of warning, the soup inside is HOT. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your trip with an ice cube in your mouth, handle with care.
Andy takes charge in Toronto, Canada
Summer camp adventure
Our western cultures have taken a noticeable shift since my parent’s generation and it’s a shift that has helped inspire Dock & Bay. Previously, the focus has always been about saving money to invest in your assets such as a car or a house (the serious stuff) but the trend these days for many of my generation is to invest your money in experiences first (the fun stuff) before you get bogged down in the financial woes of things like home ownership. This new sense of purpose is exactly what has led me and so many of my friends to travel and work around the world over the years, regularly taking ourselves outside of our comfort zone.
For me, one of my best memories has to be my working summer at a children’s camp called ‘Camp Timberlane’ in Canada back in 2012. Something that I was very apprehensive about but I worried that I would only regret not giving it a go. For 2 months, I spent every single day within this gorgeous woodland that looked out onto a huge lake, near a small town called Haliburton, about 2 and a half hours outside of Toronto. Accompanying me was nearly 180 other staff and over 700 kids ready for the best summer of their lives.
Along with 5 other staff, I lived every day in a cabin attached to another cabin full of fourteen 8-10 year old kids, essentially becoming their acting parents for the summer. This was the youngest group at the camp, which definitely made them the hardest work but also the most rewarding. We spent almost every minute of their waking hours with them from getting them up for breakfast at 7am, guiding them through all their day and evening activities & meals before finally trying to get them all to go to sleep by 9pm. This was a challenge. Imagine a group of kids all together on a 2 month sleepover, sleep was the last thing on their minds!
Every day brought a new challenge. From constant home sickness - to refusing to eat - to dealing with the broad offering of bad behaviour - to illnesses - to solving many of their arguments. But if I’m honest, that’s not what I really remember when I look back.
A growing experience
I remember the way these kids would look up to you as their counsellor, the way they would see you as the best person in the world if you managed to make them feel less homesick, the happiness on their faces as you announced that ‘inflatables on the lake’ was their next activity and the way they would be so sad to leave at the end of it all. They literally had their best summers ever, summers that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
This was just part of my experience too. For 2 months, the camp is almost all you see, your own little community that starts from nothing and just grows on you more and more every day. With technology and everyday ways of living largely taken out of the equation, you are given the chance to really get to know people, making some awesome friends with lots of miniature romances blossoming along the way. All the staff would look forward to our one day off a week (usually split between Friday or Saturday) where we booked ourselves a hotel room off the camp and piled into the local deserted village bar to enjoy the finest Canadian beers and cheesy music choices. Our one chance a week to take our guard down and enjoy it to the fullest! This is the part I always find hardest to remember.
All in all, an experience like no other and one that I would highly recommend, just watch out for the bears. With Dock & Bay moving into the Canadian market over the next few weeks, I thought it was an appropriate time to share this unforgettable summer with you. For anyone interested in a similar experience for Summer 2017 then you can either contact Camp Timberlane directly here or alternatively you can enquire about other Canadian camps on NyQuest’s website. This week, I’m going to tackle my top 3 a bit differently, giving you my ‘Top 3 Memories’ from that summer.
One Direction Tribute Band - Obviously
Simon Cowell stand in at the talent show
Top 3 memories from a working summer abroad
1. The lake. Waking up every morning to the most beautiful sunrises around, over this stunning lake, was breath-taking. The view would regularly stop me in my path as the kids rushed past me to breakfast. Top this with the sunsets, the awesome daily water-sports (inc. learning to water-ski) and the over-looking star studded sky at night and you realise why that place has always stayed fresh in my mind. I haven’t seen stars that clearly since they were stuck to my bedroom ceiling as a youngster.
2. New friendships: You can’t beat working somewhere as unique as this, where your friends come from all over the world including Canada, America, Israel, Australia, UK & Spain - to name a few. The weekly bar trips where we really got to know each other, often left us all nice and embarrassed the next day as we had to walk past each other c.100 times. You just had to embrace it.
The Canadians have to be some of the nicest people out there and even though many had grown up at that camp, they made us all feel welcome, showing us the ropes to camp life and putting us up on our return to Toronto as we celebrated the end of our summer. Being the Brits, we treated the camp to a special One Direction tribute band. I'm still crossing my fingers for the internet to crash in the hope it removes that video now embedded in the World Wide Web.
3. Being a counsellor. This is what made it unforgettable. It was so nice to play such a major part in the kid’s summers, their favourite and most memorable time of the year. Through the highs and the lows, all the hard work was completely worth it when we met the parents at the end and they excitedly told us how incredible their children’s summers had been and the huge part that we (the counsellors) had to play in it all. One kid even told me that I was his ‘best friend’ on parting, but hopefully that passed as I can’t say I kept in contact.
Andy taking pottery class in Toronto