Archive for February, 2011

Used: 2007

After spending one night in Queenstown, it was an early morning for an approximatly 5 hour drive to Milford Sound for a senic cruise. I just mapped the distance on Google Maps and it only says 3.5 hours, but you gotta allow for time to stop and take a million pictures along the way. Once you get your arse past Te Anau, get ready for beautiful scenary and lots and lots of stops for pictures. Luckily, even though the road is one of the more popular ones during the summer, there are still so few people, that you can pull off almost anywhere it’s safe to take a picture and you don’t have to worry about being mobbed with lots of crowds. Don’t forget to stop before you enter the Homer Tunnel. And stop off at any of the many Senic Viewing Points to say hello to a Kea bird. These birds are so smart! They look like parrots and will come right up to you begging for food. The one we saw was limping and we were all like, aww, it’s limping! Lets give it food! (We didn’t.) We found out later that lots of them do this trick to evoke sympathy to get food specifically. How funny is that?!

Sister, Mom and Me striking a pose (note the date is one day off as my Dad never changed it on his cam. A running joke in his pictures later). And this is just the drive in!

The upper entrance to Homer Tunnel

Typical traffic jam during peak travel season in a heavily touristy one-road area in New Zealand

We arrived early for our cruise. Once you get into the Milford area, which will be totally obvious with all the cars filling the parking lot and the road, just find a spot and park where. We went to the cruise boarding area to get our tickets. All the cruises start and end in the same place and under the same roof, so just remember which company you bought from. We did our cruise with Real Journeys and they were good, but I doubt there is much difference between them unless there is something specific you want to see or go on a longer then 3 hour tour (I kid you not with the time). Since we arrived early, we walked back over to the cafe and information centre which was a great place to grab a coffee and snack before the cruise.

The cruise was fantastic. Super touristy, but you kind of have to do it when you come to New Zealand. There are other tours of the area, some focus more on nature and some more adventure ones where you can go kayaking, which I would have liked to do if we had more time. (Oh well, reason to go back someday!) There are also other less popular sounds, such as Doubtful Sound which for some reason or another don’t get the tourist levels that Milford gets, but I am sure are just as good.

This is also home to one of, if not the most popular hike in all of New Zealand in the summer, the Milford Trackwhich takes 4 days to trek.

I did this with my family, so we had a car but another altertive is jumping on one of the millions of day tours from Queenstown where they pile you on a bus and someone else does the driving. After the long day of driving I had and getting stuck behind a bus on the long and windy road out of the Sound, the bus route actually sounds pretty good.

Instead of driving all the way back to Queenstown that night, we stopped for a night in Te Anau and stayed at the Edgewater Motel which was very pleasant. We got upgraded to the Honeymoon suite, which had a jet bathtub, which I claimed immediatly as I hadn’t stayed in a place with a tub in nearly a year and because of all the driving I had done. Ohmigod, it was fantastic. Unfortunatly, we were only in town one night, but the next morning, my sister woke up early and went for a run on the lake’s edge and I remember her coming back and saying how nice everyone she ran by was. Everyone said hello to her! That’s New Zealand for ya!

Moral: The whole thing is super touristy, but for good reason. The sceneary is so beautiful, spiritual, as my mother said. It rains most of the year, so summer is your best bet, but still not a gaurentee. We got super lucky with our weather and it was a fantastic day. We saw seals sunning on rocks, dolphins in the water and full water falls. It was worth the drive and a great way to start a great trip.

Dad having a "spiritual" moment in Milford Sound

Milford Sound, New Zealand.

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Waterfall in Milford Sound, New Zealand

Milford Sound, New Zealand

4 Years Since Setting Off for the Unknown

Used: 2007

Exactly 4 years ago on this day,22-February-2007, I left for New Zealand. I picked this day for the lamest of the lame reasons. TV. In other words, LOST on TV.

This was the first time I wasn’t binded into anything, I didn’t have to leave or come back by a certain day. I picked a random day that I thought would be good. I love winter. Unlike most people, non-stop winter sounds like a joy to me. That was a big reason for me to pick to leave in February. Los Angeles winters would be heading out around this time and hopefully New Zealand winters would be just arriving. 22-Feb-07 was a Thursday. When they announced that LOST would air on Wednesdays that year, that is why I picked Thursday, so I could squeeze in one more episode of the show I loved. I would deal with the rest of the season when I arrived and figured out what I was doing. Worse comes to worse, just skip the show until I come back and catch up on DVD then. I love TV, but traveling beats it by a mile.

I remember that day. Unlike most people, I didn’t start packing until that morning. Since I only had one flight and it didn’t leave until like 9pm, I had no reason to pack up early. I made my lists early. I made two lists that I carried around with me everywhere for a few weeks, just in case I remembered something else to add. The morning of, I did my laundry, threw everything in my bags, boxed up my computer, just in case I was in a position to ever have it shipped (what did I just say?!), unplugged my tv and vcr and pushed them into a corner of my room at my parents house where I had been camped out for nearly 6 months, to go unused until I returned.

It rained that day. The winter I was trying to follow had finally arrived in Los Angeles. Perfect timing! Because of the rain, traffic getting to the airport was horrible. I was so freaked that I was going to miss my flight that I instantly ruined the manicure I had gotten the previous weekend with my chipping. I flew Qantas and luckily, there was only one flight leaving when mine did (mine) so while the check in line was long, there was no way I was missing the flight. YAY! For the amount of times I have flown international, oddly, I had never been to the international terminal at LAX. This was the first time. I didn’t know how long security would take and while my parents offered to have one final coffee with me, I was the most anxious I had ever been about travel and just wanted to get through security, so I turned them down. Security was about as normal, not very short, not very long and when I got through I did have some time to kill.

Everything was on time. My start to New Zealand was going swimmingly!

Moral: Freaking out is pointless. While I rarely stress about flying, mainly because nothing bad has every happened, I do find it worthless, especially when looking back on this day. For the most part, I was calm. Hello, leaving for who knows how long and not packing until the morning of? Do you know anyone who works like this? The ride to the airport was the worst stress and biggest worry about my entire trip. Otherwise, I was pretty chill about everything.

The first picture I took in New Zealand, at the airport, bright and early, 7am on 24-Feb-2007 while waiting for the Airbus

Used: 2008

I lived in Sydney for about 4 months, but before hand I visited for a week when a friend of mine was in Australia and I met up with them from New Zealand during their time in Sydney. After I got home, about a year ago, a friend of mine emailed me for tips on what she should do with 4 days in town and below is the recap I gave her. I am also going to leave in all the little details I gave her as she grew up in LA and rarely travels and before this trip for 3 weeks on a tour of New Zealand and a few days layover in Sydney, had only been out of the US once before.

Day 1
-Morning: Tour and/or walk around Opera House and Circular Quay (pronounced Key)

Doesn't get any better then this.

-Afternoon: Boat ride from Circular Quay to Toranga Zoo (Bring your student ID if you still have it!)
-Night: Darling Harbour (kind of overrated, as it’s just a bunch of restaurants, kind of reminded me of Universal Citywalk)

Darling Harbour

Day 2
Harbour Bridge Climb or just walk across it. The climb is pricey, but I loved it. The walk across is great too, I did it a few times.
-Wonder around The Rocks. If you are there on the weekend, they have a great artist market. I got some super cute salt and pepper shakers and a really interesting wine holder.

The Rocks Market on Saturday

-Go on my favorite walk from the Opera House to Harry de Wheels, a pie cart which I am drooling just thinking of it. I have attached a map of my favorite walk there. There are some hidden stairs where indicated and it takes you on a short cut. Also, when I say pies, I don’t mean like desert pies. In both NZ and Australia, they eat small meat pies as snacks. It’s their version of drunk fastfood. And these are soooo good!!! The cart in Woolloomooloo is the classic cart. Do not be turned off by the pictures. So good! I highly recommend the Tiger (or curry Tiger, if you are feeling spicy). They also have a cart in town, if for some reason you don’t make it to this one. But you must try a pie at some point!!

Map from Opera House to Harry de Wheels

Day 3
Bondi Beach or boat ride to Manly Beach. Bondi has the name (and is lovely) but I liked Manly more because it is a little out of town and more of a suburb in its own right. Plus you have to take a boat, so you get to see more of the harbour! Both places are great if you want to do a surf lesson.

Manly Beach. If this was our "worst" day in May, Australia is pretty damn good.

Typical Bondi Beach day 24/7/365

Day 4
-The most popular one-day get out of town spot is to go to the Blue Mountains. You see kangaroo’s in the wild, go on some hikes and see some nature stuff that is in guide books. It is killing me that I can’t remember the name of the tour that I went on because it was more nature based instead of hitting like all the typical tourist spots. I probably have the flier at home. The most important thing when booking this tour is seeing how many people they pack onto the bus. Ideally, you want a group of like 10-20 people on a mini-bus because you don’t want to spend half your day driving around town and picking everyone up. Stay away from large 30+ people tours. **Edit: I went back and looked through all the brochures and papers I saved from my two years (!!) and found the tour I went on. It was with a company called Wild Frame and they were great. My friends and I were on the “older” end of our day and we were only 26, 27 and 31!! We originally opted for the Q26 tour with the two shorter walks, but once we picked everyone up, and realized everyone else was doing the Q25 walk with the one, really long walk, we changed our minds. I didn’t mind the longer walk, but by the end, the 4 of us were dying while the rest of the group seemed fine. Just to give you an idea! But the company was great.**

Blue Mountains. Like a plant covered Grand Canyon. Where Australia gets their "green" in the "green and gold"


Maritime Museum. It’s in Darling Harbour and I think I liked it a lot because it was free. But it’s also a great intro to the peoples of Australia as well.
The Aquarium in Darling Harbour. A bit pricey, but they have a really cool shark tank where it seems like the sharks are swimming all around you.

Tunnels at the aquarium in Sydney

-You can’t hold a Koala in NSW. Lots of stuff in Australia is divided by states and for some reason, they don’t allow this in Sydney’s state. Lots of places advertise “cuddle up to a Koala” and it’s just getting your picture taken next to one. Cute, but not the picture you picture yourself with when you come to Australia.

This is what you picture when you think "cuddling a koala in Australia" but this picture was taken in QLD

This is as close as you'll get to a koala in NSW

Paddy’s Market, which is sort of between Chinatown and Darling Harbour is a great place to stock up on cheap crap for people back home.

Moral: This list just includes my favorite things to do as a tourist in town, if you are short on time. No way even a partial list. Even when I was living there, when I was bored, I did half this stuff in my spare time, especially the walk from Harry de Wheels to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. This always cheered me up.

Used: 2009

Invercargill is the largest, farthest south town in New Zealand. The only town farther south is Bluff, a 30 minute drive south and there is not much there. The only reason to be a tourist and come here would be to catch a ferry ride to Stewart Island, which I heard was actually kind of amazing and people seeing kiwi birds in the wild. I had seen kiwi’s already in animal sancuaries and birds aren’t really my thing in general and when doing the math, didn’t really feel worth the expense. Sometimes I regret traveling all this way and not doing stuff like that, but for this I don’t.

I stayed at the Tuatara Lodge which is very central to town and it was pretty good. Huge kitchen and eating area and two great lounges. Parking is very limited and the town is actually kind of big so you’ll most likely be needed the bus at some point. I drove so I can’t say much on it.

I stayed in the area for 2 full days and that was 1.5 days too much. No regrets, as I rarely regret going and staying anywhere and try to only see my expirences and use them for future use, but if I had to do it again, I would have stayed in Dunedin longer. Of course I don’t regret going at all, as I got to expirence the Catlins drive back, which I loved.

My first stop was the information centre which is located at the Southland Museum in Queens Park. I quite enjoyed the museum. It covered a lot of different topics, both the people and animals from the area. One of its famous residents is Burt Munro in which the movie The Worlds Fastest Indian was based on. Burt used the beaches surrounding Invercargill, which are some of the flatest in the world, to race his motorcycle. I quiet enjoyed this movie and reccomend picking it up before you visit New Zealand, even if you don’t go to Invercargill. The Southland Museum has an exhibit dedicated to him.

Tuatara at the Southland Museum

What this little guy is all about. Classic NZ description.

Beaches surrounding Invercargill

I also drove down to Bluff and and went to Lands End and got some pictures of what does seem like the end of the world. It wasn’t raining on the day I was there, but it was very windy, some of the windest I have ever expirenced and slightly overcast, so I couldn’t see Stewart Island.

End of the World

Next stop...

Next stop, Stewart Island

Other then that, there wasn’t much to do in the area. I spent some time in the library next door to the hostel and time at some of the various cafes along Tay Street and just enjoyed my time back in New Zealand.

Moral: Traveling is about seeing new places, whether it’s somewhere you’ll return one day, pass along the good word to or just see for a bit and move along. Invercargill is of the latter. A large town at the end of the world and not much else. Seemed a little depressing too. I wouldn’t reccomend a stop unless you are shacking up for the night on the way to or from somewhere else, even if it’s just doing the Catlins drive. But 2 days there was way too long.

Used: 2007

So when I lived in Kingsland, it was at the very edge of zone 1 in the bus zone. During the week, I would take the bus into and out of town to work. On the weekends, when the weather was nice, I would walk into town as it really wasn’t that far, about a 45-60 minute walk and it was pretty flat. And really, what else did I have going on?

In the mornings I would try and catch the 200 bus as it cut through the city and made less stops, but it came less often. And it was always packed because of this. I remember one day I saw the bus come to a stop at the corner near my building and I ran to it and the driver, as it was always the same driver every day, saw me running and he opened the door and let me on. When would that ever happen in the US?! I was so greatful. Another day when all the normal drivers where at a meeting or something and we had another driver, he went the wrong way, the way the majority of buses go and some of the other passangers made a comment and the driver apologized and rerouted us, even though it didn’t make much a difference. Still kind of funny.

An alternative way of transport is the train. The train system in Auckland and New Zealand as a whole is quite weak and in Auckland they are trying to get more people to take it more and therefore is like half the price of the bus. The station was quite close to my building, but it was about a 15 minute walk once I got to town, so I never took it to work. But, on the weekends as there was no major supermarket very close to Bond Street, I would stock up in town at the Foodtown supermarket and then since it was really close to the train station, take the train home. At the main station you can either pre-buy your ticket or buy once you get on the train, but most stations, you don’t buy until you get on. The train, at least on the weekends were dead empty and really nice! I loved them, I just wish they went more places. And funny how they are trying to get more people to take it by making it a lot cheaper then buses. That rarely happens!

Moral: I loved both the bus and train system in Auckland. Nicest drivers who will stop if it’s convenient and safe for them and you plus everyone always says “Thanks” or “Ta” when leaving the bus, a good habit to get in and I like to say that I still have it with me. Granted, I rarely take buses in the US and would only say thanks if exiting through the front, but still, I know it’s a good habit I still have.

This is the only lame bus and train sign I can find in my files! It tells you when the next bus is coming which is better then most American cities. Plus, if you press the button on the pole, it VERBALLY tells you when the next bus is coming, for the deaf! How awesome! But annoying when the kids press it for fun.

Used: 2001-2007

All my Harry Potter books

In general, I am late to the party in regards to Harry Potter books. I hated “magical” books when I was a kid and by all assumptions, I shouldn’t like these books. For some reason, it was the trailer of the first movie that got me interested (a movie trailer had never done that before, in 20 years!) and after seeing and loving the movie, I went out and bought all 3 books available at the time (4 was still in hardcover and no way was I investing in that). I’ll fully admit to anyone that the movie got
me into the books, because like I said before, I normally do not like stories like this. So this is Fall/Winter 2001. I went to Boston in January 2002, and when I was on the T, I saw someone reading a PAPERBACK copy of #4 and nearly freaked. Since it was a different cover, I came to the conclusion that it was a british copy. Luckily, I was headed to the UK in March! Part of souviners for myself and my friends were paperback copies of HP and the Philisophers Stone. NERD ALERT! Plus, I got a copy of #4 in paperback, even though by this point, I had read the american version of #4 (of course).

The following summer, 2003, #5 is FINALLY getting released. Of all places, I happen to be doing my “European Backpacker Summer” at the time and happened to be in London at the time! I hemmed and hawed if I wanted to join the midnight release parties and I actually ended up sitting out, mainly because the following day I was headed on the train/boat to Calais and I knew I could buy the book at the train station. And I am not one of those that is going to start (and def. NOT) finish the book in the middle of the night. I could wait. But the next day, picked up my copy (along with like bunch of other adults headed out on early morning trains) and a cool bag at WHSmith. YAY for the British cover! So this cover was yellow and that is the version they sold all over Europe all summer, so I got so used to seeing that cover, that when I got home, I was like, what is with the blue cover? So weird to me, even though I think it (the US cover) is a better representation of the book, as it’s a more dark story then the rest of them.

I was in the US for #6, nothing special there.

So they announce the relase date for #7, probably what, like a year in advance? It’s coming out summer/July 2007! I am going to be in NZ! I preread #6 before I leave to refresh myself and because I don’t want to take it with me. I have reread all of them way more then once anyway, but I am off for who knows how long and I am not trading my Harry Potter books away, as is my plan for the rest of my books while I am traveling.

July rolls around. It was the middle of winter. It rained. If you are in a time zone ahead of the UK, the book gets released in time with them, so for NZ, we’re talking 11am, Saturday morning (12am UTC, 4pm LA time, the previous day!!) If I was crazy, I could have read the book before LA even got their hands on it! NUTS!!! I think the book should have just had a full on UK release time, no matter what time it is in the US. That would have been so so so awesome. Anyway, I get to the mall and the two book stores aren’t packed at all, maybe like 30 kids at each. That is how NZ rolls! After the crowed clears like 10 minutes after 11am, I just stroll to the counter and just say, one please. The sales person knows what I am talking about. I take the bus home and dig in. I actually finish the book in 2 full days and unlike the previous 2 where I plow through them, just so no one ruines it for me and usually by the end, I am totally burned out, this is the first book that I actually read very closely. What else is new, there isn’t much else to do in NZ.

The cover of the international copy of black, so I get used to this one, even though it’s a horrible cover. Unfortunatly, since I was unemployed for the first 6 months of coming home, buying the US version of HP got shifted low to my priorities list. And even now that I have a job, I actually haven’t picked up the US paperback yet. I really should. The US covers are so much better, plus they have those little pictures at the start of each chapter! Pure HP fans think the UK “versions” are better, but they kind of aren’t. Since I have so many versions of the whole series, it takes up an entire shelf on my bookshelf at my parents house. I do like that.

Moral: I am such a nerd, that I love having stories like these about my book buying expirence, especially for such iconic and non-American books like these. I liked seeing how crazy fans are in every country and as usual, the US is still the most nuts. I have little stories like these about the movies too, since I was only at home for like half of them. Maybe later this year, when the last one comes out, so I can write a complete story.

Super Bowl Overseas

Used: 2009

I am not a sports person at all. Which is probably one of the big (but lame) reasons why I could never live in New Zealand or Australia forever. They just care too much. At least in the US, there is other stuff to do and you aren’t looked down upon when you don’t care. But when I said I didn’t care about rugby during the Rugby World Cup or “footie” it was like I said the N word or something. I was always met with blank stares and looks of astonishment that this could possibly exist.

I know I haven’t talked about the jobs I have had overseas yet, but the big one I had in NZ, lets just say that I could watch TV for a large portion of my day. We got TV feeds from the US for various events and unfortunately I didn’t realize that we got the Super Bowl feed on Monday (!!) until it was nearly the end of the game. I wasn’t too broken up.

The following year, I was in Australia. I was in Melbourne, filling my heat-filled summer weekdays by jumping from library to library and food hall to food hall. It was Monday and I was in one food court for lunch when I looked up at one of the tv’s they had on a wall. It was playing the Super Bowl. It was Monday, lunch time. And there was a small crowd of about 5-10 guys just standing there watching it. I couldn’t believe it. Half way around the world, people actually care about teams and a sport that don’t even play in their country. I immediately texted my sister to find out what channel it was on and what the “big show” was going to play after, as that wasn’t going to play in Australia. It was 2009 and it was on NBC and they showed THE OFFICE after, fyi. During commercials, they cut to local Australian comedians and sports broadcasters doing commentary, which is funny as well. They did not air the same commercials as they do in the US. Back in 2009, the game was on Channel 10 in Australia. I don’t know if that is tradition or what.

Australian locals in Melbourne stop what they are doing to watch the 2009 Super Bowl

Moral: But just the fact that the Super Bowl airs in the middle of a WORK DAY and people actual stop and care, this was just shocking to me. And cracked me up at the same time. Just goes to show you how big Americas reach on the world is.

Australian Open

Sorry, I just realized that this post is going to come a little late as the Grand Slam is now over! D’oh! Just goes to show you how much I care about tennis. But I do have a cute little story that just goes to show you how awesome the people of Melbourne are. I might be kind of blah on the city itself (especially compared to Sydney) but I found the people to be some of the best in the world. I travel alone most of the time and have a hard time striking up conversations with people on the street, but I never had an issue with the people of Melbs.

The first was on Inauguration Day and then during the Australian Open finals, I met some great people, just on the street. I worked the day of the mens finals and on my way back to my hostel, decided to “nerd it up” with the people of Melbourne and stop at Fed Square and join the crowd to watch the finals. I don’t care about tennis at all, but I am a total sucker for huge, large, public gatherings. It goes to my childhood when I always wanted to be a part of “something”. Being with a huge group like this makes me feel a part of it. And I think I like it more when I don’t care about what is happening, so I can concentrate on the people rather then the event at hand.

Anyway, I stopped and got some fries for dinner at Lord of the Fries (YUM!) before crossing the street and trying to find a patch of cement and watch the final along with the crowd. I pulled up a patch near the back (like I cared) and sat and just enjoyed being a part of something. I eavesdropped on the people around me at their convo and became interested in a group of kids around my age who were yakking about traveling in the US. One of the names they kept saying was “Rebecca” which is my name and of course, my ears perked up at that. Something happened and everyone laughed and of course, since I was listening too, I laughed. I appologized for laughing, but said my ears perked up because my name was Rebecca too. I knew they were talking travel to the US and of course my accent spoke volumns, so we started chatting about travel and the US and why I was here, etc, etc, that old chestnut. The group was 4 girls and a dude, boyfriend of one of the girls and I chatted with all of them easily, them including me immediatly in their conversation. They all of course loved tennis. I had to fake caring. The final in 2009 was Nadal and oh god, who is that guy from Switzerland? I don’t want to have to look it up! And funny enough, if you gave me a line up of faces right now, I could actually pick him out. AGH!!!! FEDERER!! I am not going to lie, I had to look that up. Anyway, the crowd wanted Nadal to win (which he did) and I sort of wanted Federer, if only because my sister worked for a Swiss company the year before, so I had a small connection to that. Other then that, I totally did not care at all.

We chatted in between plays and sets and whatever about everything. It was just really nice to have people my age in person to talk to. I had been going through a rough time lately with hardly a job and the weather being total shit (way to hot) and my accommodations sucking hard. The dude went and got the girls some hot chocolate (are you serious? It was like 100F at 9pm) and he got me a cup as well! I felt so touched. I didn’t ask for it and just that gesture and conversation meant so much to me.

Not the finals, but another random day of watching the tennis on The Square

Moral: So between this little bit and the previous few weeks, I have great memories of the people of Melbourne even if the city was kind of a bust for me. Even if it’s not the first place I’ll return to when I return to Australia I won’t cancel it out completely, thanks to the great experience I had with the people.