Archive for November, 2011

Used: 2011

The biggest downfall to guided tours that I have is that I rarely pay attention that what I am seeing. I am mixed on if it is a good thing or a bad thing. If I wasn’t on the tour then I probably would not have made the initiative to see anything but the bad thing is I don’t take notes and I can’t remember anything later on. Like now.

After landing in Cusco the day before, we were out of town bright and early the following day, on our drive and tour through The Sacred Valley. We ended up in Ollantaytambo at night but in between, we saw stuff. We drove by Sacsayhuamán (pronounced “Sexy Women”) but entry to the site was not included in the tour. We stopped at various other look outs (and there were always locals selling their crap, everywhere) and a village where women did a lot of knitting. We got teased by llama’s and bought scarves. We stopped at another site that was overran by tourists from all over the world. Even though it was winter, it was very hot.

Ruins outside of Cusco, Peru

Yarn and Llamas, Sacred Valley, Peru

We stopped for lunch at a buffet place in the middle of nowhere that was actually quite good and not to expensive. We made it to Ollantaytambo by the late afternoon and toured another site, which included a steep hike up an amphitheater type ruin. We joked that we were tired and how were we going to make it on the Inca Trail? The view of the whole area and town was fantastic from the top.

The "long" hike up

Me and ruins of Peru

After a whole day of touring, we finally had some free time to wonder around the small town. It was the perfect place to feel safe in Peru. While Lima is huge and wild and Cusco is overrun by tourists, Ollantaytambo still has tons of tourists, but is just way way smaller. I always felt safe. Also be aware that there are only two ATM’s in town, so bring money if you can. The main one wasn’t working one night and the other one, which is located in one of the fancier hotels in town didn’t dispense USD (which unfortunately I needed at the time, but otherwise shouldn’t be an issue).

My shadow, tourists and Ollantaytambo, Peru

Gap sets you up at the cutest little hostel. No heaters, but tons of blankets. No tv and the walls were very thin, but otherwise clean and comfortable. Plus I felt like we had the run of the place, so it’s not like we were bothering people with our rowdiness. Since the train to Machu Picchu starts in Ollantaytambo, I would recommend this place as an alternative to staying in Aguas Calientes but know that the place is small and Gap uses it for their groups.

Ruins in Ollantaytambo, Peru

For dinner, we all headed out to the Blue Puppy Café, which was very good too. Peruvian and pub grub, which is kind of odd in the middle of nowhere Peru, but welcome none the less. Portions were HUGE and ideally shared.

Moral: Once again, are tours good or bad? For me, I like sprinkling my travel with tours because sometimes it’s nice to be told what to see, especially in a country were you do not speak the language or the infrastructure is a little third world or you are short on time. I was very happy with what Gap provided in way of sights along the Sacred Valley, especially since it was only our second day at that elevation and a good intro for those having problems adjusting.

I am going to get my complaints out of the way first. And regarding all things Australia, of course as that was pretty much the only place this author went to that I had been. First off, you can’t take the train in Sydney all the way to Bondi Beach. CHECK YOUR FACTS. And also, how do you now know how to pronounce Bondi?! Oy, that drove me crazy. And his spelling of Macquarie (not MacQuarie as it’s spelled in the book) drove me batty too. Oy, doesn’t anyone edit these things? Okay, whew, that is out of the way!

Okay, so this book was about a dude who took a year off from his job to travel around the world. A little bit of a rarity back in like 2002 when he went, but not so rare now. Or maybe I just read more stuff about people doing it, I don’t know. The things that made this story a little different then the blogs I read on a daily basis is that this guy was a little older it seemed, maybe in his late 30’s or so and he didn’t stay at hostels but in fairly swank places and the fact that he is African American. It was interesting to see how people reacted to him based on his skin color and it was a little bit of the book, but not a major part. I felt it was mentioned and brought into the story just the right amount.

Otherwise, this book was okay. I think I would have liked it more if I had read it years ago, instead of where I am in my life. I have lived abroad. I read blogs on a daily basis about people, even Americans, who are doing round the world trips like this. But it reminds you that up until really fairly recently, people just didn’t do that. Especially older people. A decent read.

Feed the Face – Eating in Cusco

Used: 2011

I was the worst at finding places to eat. I was so scared of getting sick on something in fear of it ruining my trip as I was on a semi-tight schedule and traveling alone and didn’t speak the langauge. Or something even worse. Luckily, the guide on my tour was really good and I just ate where ever we ate as a group. Some people in our group had been in town a few days before the trek and had eaten at some places around town, so I took those for ideas too.

On the first day, we landed so late and I was starving, I was about the run up to the McDonalds in Plaza de Armas and stuff my face with something I knew I could count on. Luckily, I held it together long enough to eat at a restaurant off of the Plaza with the group. It had all your typical Peruvian foods, such as guinea pig, llama and of course, pizza. Pizza seemed to be everywhere in the higher altitudes of Peru. It was one of my pricier meals in Peru, but quite fancy for what I am used to, even though we sat outside and enjoyed the mid winter sun of Cusco. A local band came around while we waiting for our food and played us some music, which was enjoyable and thankfully, not overwhelming. Tips were greatly appreciated, but not required. The food was very good and since we ate so late in the day and because of the altitude, I was not hungry when dinner came around. No one else was either. So while a bit more expensive, split over two meals, it wasn’t too bad.

McDonald's in Cusco.

Flash first meal in Cusco. Don't forget the Sin Gas (no gas) water!

The day we got arrived in Micchu Picchu, the British couple celebrated their one year wedding anniversary. We traveled back to Cusco that day and later that night, half the group ended up at Paddy’s, the highest Irish Pub in the world ! I only had beer that night as I filled up at lunch at the high altitude and wasn’t hungry (see a theme?), but the food looked so good that the next day, when I was wondering around town, thinking of where to eat for lunch, I ended up back at Paddy’s, mainly because I knew the food there was safe and everyone spoke English and this was my first day since the first day I landed that I was technically “on my own” and I had gotten used to the tour mentality. After ordering my plate of nachos (yeah, I know, in Peru and eating nachos!) I looked around and who should be taking a midday break as well, but the British couple! Too funny.

For dinner the following night, I debated heading to Paddy’s again, just because I knew what to expect, but instead hit a place nearby to the hostel I was staying at, called Inka…fé as the menu looked really good. I just ordered a pasta dish and bottled water and it was pretty good. The menu was in English (yay!) so I could just point to what I wanted and sit there as long as I wanted until I signaled the waitress for my check. The place was super cute, it would have not been out of place at all in any American town in it’s décor and menu. I kind of wish I had found this place earlier as the menu was pretty extensive and I wouldn’t have gotten board with it anytime soon.

Moral: I am the worst when it comes to food. I get hungry and then I wonder in circles till I am about the pass out and then I just end up eating something lame like chips for dinner. I was always a bit nervous about the food going into this trip, but thankfully I mostly made it work. While I didn’t eat typical Peruvian food all the time, I never risked street food (for shame, backpacker! Whatever, I couldn’t afford the time if I had gotten sick or worse, being by myself in a country where I didn’t speak the language) and probably paid for it with price, but I wasn’t looking to cut corners on much and definitely not my health. The one thing that they don’t really have in Peru is the concept of takeaway, which sucks as a solo traveler. But I never felt awkward eating alone at restaurants and never had an issue being served.

This book was written by the founders of Lonely Planet. I am not a Lonely Planet fan by any means. In my whole “anti-popular” phase, which apparently I still have today for some things, if everyone has one thing, then I must, just for my own sanity, head the other direction. And for travel guide books, this is one of them. I have read too much on how Lonely Planet has westernized too much stuff and I am so blah on a lot of that. Not that I am any better. I still use books and my series of choice is Rough Guides, which isn’t too far off from LP. So go figure. One thing, that they talked a lot about in this book and something apparently they take pride in are the maps, which is something I am kind of blah on anyway. I find their books concentrate too much on maps and on history, two things I can get when I arrive and have no use for in lugging a big book around.

I did like reading about the history of the people though, how they ended up traveling overland from the UK and Australia and just settling down in Oz, because in the early 1970’s, it was just that easy, especially if you were from the UK. How nuts to think about that today. In looking back, they were on the cutting edge of a lot of things, especially computers and stuff. They talked a lot about how the business grew for them personally and locally and not too much about their writers and the shit they dealt with. They talked about pictures and royalties for writers from the books and how that’s changed a lot. Since it’s a couple that started the series, they chatted a little bit about their personal life, but not too much, but just the right amount on how it’s impacted the business. This is not a full-on business book by any means, but interesting enough for a non-business person to enjoy. Since their first book was Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, and since they ended up being based in Australia, a lot of the book was about traveling in Asia which I have never been to and glossed over a lot of the locations there, since I couldn’t relate. Interesting to hear about what they have started, sold off, bought into and the like in a variety of countries. No way could this company have been started by anyone but Europeans, especially UK’ers, with their reach into so many countries. All in all, a decent read for anyone interested in business and/or the travel industry.

Used: 2011

The Prisma Hotel that Gap put our group up in, in Cusco was really quiet nice. It was about a 10 minute walk to the Plaza de Armas which in the center of town, in an area we all called “the mattress district” as every single store on our street seemed to only sell mattresses.

Conveniences nearby that I used were a supermarket about 2 blocks away that opened late and closed late, but sold cheap water and other provisions. The other was an ATM in the Plaza that was open 24 hours and located in an exchange shop that had an armed guard out front and issued both US dollars and soles. I took out money from here a lot as it seemed the safest.

I stayed at this hotel twice, both before and after my trek and these were my findings after staying in two different rooms:

The first time, my roommate and I got a very large room that faced the main street and therefore was very loud until the mattress shops finally closed up. It had an AWESOME view of the town and the houses on the hill. The second room we had was a lot smaller, quieter and facing a parking lot in the back of the hotel. Both were good for different reasons.

View of the hills of Cusco on our first night

I can highly recommend the showers in this place and had two very good ones, both before and after the hike, which is very important in finding a place to stay in town. Great tv channel selection as always (though the remotes in both rooms didn’t work) and a very nice front desk who spoke fine English and could answer all my questions. They have a large meeting table on the second floor as well as a computer with free internet for anyone to use. It moved pretty slow, but free is free. The free wifi was also iffy in my rooms. A free breakfast was provided, typical tea and bread as well as cheese and meat slices, which was a nice touch. They also sell water and other snacks in the gift shop (for a hugely inflated price, of course) just in case the market is closed.

Moral: I had originally booked this place to stay an extra few nights after the tour ended and was disappointed when they wanted to move me to another place. It was in a great location, safe with a helpful front desk, well maintained, great breakfast and awesome showers. Even if you are not here with a Gap tour, I would recommend this place, though be prepared for tour groups in the halls and at breakfast.

Used: 2011

Lan is the major airline in Peru. They have a flight from LAX non-stop to Lima but for me, it wasn’t the cheapest, so I didn’t take it long haul. My Gap tour included a flight from Lima to Cusco and they put us on Lan flights. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check in. The airline allows one checked bag up to 20kg included on the ticket! Oh the good ‘ol days! And that isn’t the only difference. After we passed security, the terminal was PACKED with flights leaving for all points around the country. They kept making unlistenable announcements in Spanish, which I couldn’t understand anyway.

Cloudy Lima storefronts at sea level

I kept an eye on the screen with our flight and right when we were supposed to board, the flight disappeared. I didn’t think much of it immediately until they started announcing names and I realized that some people from my tour were heading to the counter, so I followed. Apparently, our flight was canceled (well, actually not canceled, just skipping over stopping in Cusco and heading straight to Arequipa) and we were all being rebooked on a flight 2 hours later and they were just calling up group by group for our rebooked tickets as well as food vouchers to get something to eat at the only place to eat in the terminal. Luckily, the ticket agents spoke perfect English and was writing out my ticket right when I happen to approach the counter and I just handed in my old ticket and was issued a new ticket. Funny enough, between the time some other group members tickets were issued (less than 5 minutes earlier) the gate had already changed. Typical! Luckily, we all pretty much gathered in the one place to eat and I informed the other members of the gate change. Something we needed to keep an eye on anyway, just in case of another change. Luckily, all the gates were pretty much in the same area, so it wasn’t too much of an issue if there were any changes. I found out later, that one of the Norwegians on the tour was booked on an EVEN later flight then the rest of us and had to kick up a minor issue to be placed on our flight. Annoying! I would have freaked if that was me. Because of that, she sat totally separate from her partner on the plane. I groaned when I realized that I was in the last row of the plane and in the middle seat (kill me now), but luckily, the seats went back and I was in between the British couple, who for some reason was separated as well. Very weird!

Looks like rain in Lima

We sat on the runway for about an hour, which would have been annoying except I was chatting and getting to know my group mates the entire time so I barely noticed, but just an FYI, that things just run a little different in Peru.

The flight was pretty awesome! I took a peek out of the window as much as I could and the left side of the plane was pretty amazing, seeing all the snow-capped mountains. Even though the flight was slightly over an hour, we got beverage service (you must drink the Inka Cola!) as well as a snack box! The chocolate was the best part but actually getting food on a domestic flight is always a treat.

Sunny in Cusco, up high!

So between the 2 hours delay in the terminal and then an hour on the runway, when we got to Cusco, the snack box helped a lot but I was still starving. The airport in Cusco is tiny (though you actually do exit onto a jet-way) the baggage carousel is half inside, half outside. And the touting starts at the airport, but easy to brush off.

Plaza de Armas in Cusco, nice and sunny!

Moral: Lan was awesome! I met some people who had taken it from LAX and it sounded really great, with individual screens at each seat (my fav!) but the price is usually a lot more than some other carriers. But when our domestic flight was canceled, which either must happen all the time or we were given sort of special treatment because we were on a tour, they quickly rebooked us on a later flight with no fuss or muss from the client. And besides the delay, the flight was very enjoyable and the employees were nice and all spoke English. I would defiantly look into booking with them on my own to fly with them again.

This book was good, but dated. Hello, right up my ally! For the most part I liked it, but I am going to say the big thing that I didn’t like. It tried to jam too much into a short book. I wish the author had written like two books, one about her time in the Peace Corp and maybe her courtship with her husband and then another book about their time in Africa. Instead, it was jammed into one, kind of short, book. And in doing that, lots of detail was left out. And it’s the details I would have liked! Oy, what can you do. It’s not my story to tell.

Girl finishes school, had no idea what to do, works a bit and then joins the Peace Corp, but not before falling for her recruitment officer. They have a relationship before she is shipped off to South America for 2 years. She lasts 9 months before coming home, which apparently is quite common. She picks up her relationship again, they marry and then Boy gets a job in Africa and they settle there. Their time in Africa is like half the book. So imagine how rushed all that first part is! She writes about her life in Africa, her getting a job, being pregnant, having a kid and then coming back to the US, which is where the book ends. Oh yeah, and all this takes place in the late 80’s, early 90’s!

The pace was the biggest issue I had with this book. The whole story was jammed into like 300 pages, which is a good length of a book for me, but not for this entire story! I felt too much was left out. Okay, I’ll get over it. Otherwise, I liked this book. Different places, different people, different cultures. A decent read.

Used: 2011

I had always heard good things about Gap (now G Adventures) and had been wanting to try them out for years. When I finally traveled to a truly foreign-to-me country, I eagerly combed their website, finally in the market to buy! Of course, I did my research among other tour companies, but since I had already booked my airfare and knew the two big activities I wanted to do (and specifically knew I wanted to do the Inca Trail first, just in case anything happened to me) and knew the dates I wanted to do them, Gap had the exact tour I wanted starting on the day I needed. I also knew I wanted to mix up my trip a little bit and didn’t want to do something fully inclusive for my entire trip, so my Gap tour only last for the first week, which was perfect.

I had been tracking online when the Inca trail permits were starting to sell out for August and sent an email in April when I realized that I needed my passport number to make my reservation but had forgotten it at home. I got a call at the ass crack of dawn the next day from a 416 number and let it go to voice mail. It was from Gap and I called the adviser back and Ali picked up immediately and started my trip booking. Apparently, even at this point, 4 months prior, the Inca Trail permits were on request which got me nervous, even though according to the website, there were plenty left. I gave Ali all my information and he said he would email me back within 48 hours to confirm the trip and add-on any extras at that time. As promised, two days later Ali emailed me my confirmation and my tour was booked! I was so excited! I replied to his email and booked additional nights before the tour at the same hotel the tour started in, a ride from the airport to the hotel and additional nights at the hotel at the end of the tour. I had to pay a $250 deposit for the tour (the rest to be paid 60 days before the tour starts) and when I got my credit card bill the following month, I noticed an international fee charge. I know it’s my choice on which credit card I use and mine charges international fees, but I was still kind of disappointed! I know Gap is a Canadian company, but with the amount of business they do in the US, these fees should not exist. I was not informed of these fees over the phone nor was it obvious on the website (though I didn’t look through the T&C page) but I was still surprised to see them on my bill. When Ali emailed me, he also said that since I filled out a survey back in January that was attached to my email, I was getting 15% off my tour, which did make up for the credit card fees. I was looking like I was breaking even on everything.

Gap guide and local, both working hard

I was also informed that I would need travel insurance for the tour, which is something that I really had never bought before. Ali emailed me information on insurance through Gap because I would have to show proof at the start of the tour. About 6 weeks before the tour, after doing some minor research on my own, I realized that Gap offered the best price on insurance that I probably wouldn’t use, so I bought their smallest package to cover me for my entire trip, which cost slightly more than what I was quoted because I had it covered for 2 weeks instead of one. It came to $67 for the two weeks, which I found reasonable. (FYI, I didn’t end up using it, of course.)

Out to make a buck (or a sole). Locals selling their wares on the side of the road.

About two weeks before the trip, I was emailed all my vouchers to print out and bring with me. The week before my trip, I was emailed about an alert on Peruvian Airlines, just in case I was flying with them (I wasn’t) but a nice perk. More importantly, I was also emailed regarding a hotel change for after the tour. Apparently the hotel the tour was staying at was booked and they were moving those who booked additional nights to another location. I googled it and checked it out on Trip Adviser and it got pretty bad reviews. I am pretty good about reading between the lines and not take reviews too seriously, but every review for the last 6 months were pretty negative. I hummed and hawed if I should call Gap to see if I could get a refund. The voucher said no refunds after they had been issued, but figured it couldn’t hurt to ask, considering this wasn’t what I technically bought. The person on the phone was very nice and asked why I was asking for a refund and felt bad about saying it was the reviews, but it was true. She went to check with her supervisor and it was approved quickly. I then asked if I could put it on hold while I went to check if I could book somewhere else which i felt bad about saying, but what could I do? I immediately found two cheap, but good looking hostels in town that were nearby and emailed them both. They both got back to me within 2 hours and I confirmed with the first place to get back to me and immediately called Gap and cancelled my additional booking. It was processed the next day and the refund showed up on my next bill, international credit card fees included.

Sacred Valley, Peru

I had a really good experience using Gap and never had a problem with them, but a girl on my tour (or actually not on my tour) had a huge problem with them which would maybe make me think twice about using them, but I really don’t know. When I booked my trip, I didn’t book the single supplement so I had to share a room for all the nights we had in hotels and some of the nights on the trail. Luckily, the first night on the tour, while I was still in Lima, I had the same room I had the first night and I didn’t have to share. When I got to Cusco, we had all day in town and because of the altitude, I crawled into bed around 8pm, no additional roommate in sight. Around 9:30, I was dead asleep and the phone in my room rang, altering me that my roommate had arrived and they were sending her up. I quickly cleaned up my stuff that I had spread everywhere and a very nice German girl arrived. I informed her that we were getting an early start and she then informed me that she wasn’t going on the Inca Trail, but the Lares Trail. Her communication with Gap was very unclear about where she was supposed to go the following day, as according to her tour, she had a free day in Cusco before heading out to the Sacred Valley, but just in case she went back downstairs and picked up a trail bag and packed it up for her trail. And thankfully she did! Our guide told her to come with us, therefore depriving her an extra day in Cusco and he would figure out where she was supposed to pick up her tour. All day and all evening, communication was very unclear about where the rest of her tour was until the following day, right before we were supposed to leave and she was informed that there were going to be just three people on her tour (just her and an Australian couple!) and the guide. And that’s it! Luckily, German girl was super easy-going and it didn’t seem to bother her so much on the lack of communication. She had been traveling around South America for a few weeks already and I guess was used to this lack of communication. But that isn’t even the worst part! During our afternoon in Ollantaytambo, we were just chatting and she told me that she actually booked the Inca Trail back in February but something happened to her reservation. Gap called her in June to tell her that they didn’t get her Inca Trail reservation, so they put her on the Lares Trail. Of course, she checked around to other companies, but by that point, the Inca Trail was all sold out for August and September. I was so mad when she told me that story! She thankfully got a minor refund on the tour, but between that booking error and horrible communication on leaving days, I was so angry for her! That could have easily been me, as I was super nervous when booking my trip because the passport number has to match up to trail permit. But that story! It makes me think twice about booking with Gap.

Gap group at the start of the trail

The employees of Gap were all great though. From everyone on the phone, to the orientation meeting and transportation connections to the main guide from Cusco to the Sacred Valley and Inca Trail. Besides the guide being awesome, he was very up front about meals and inclusions. The tour I chose only included meals on the Trail and everything else I had to pay for out-of-pocket. The guide suggested places on our recommendation, being up front about what he would get from the places we might choose to eat at. He said he wasn’t getting kick backs, but he would get a free meal from the places. He would suggest a place, say a time and if you wanted to show up, you could or didn’t have too. And every single time, the entire group would show up. The places he choose were really good too, not too pricey, but not dirt cheap. And the majority of the group, this tour was their big vacation for the year, so we didn’t mind spending a bit more than we probably would if we had bought street food. We were all on the same page when it came to food.

Gap group in the middle, at the top of Dead Women's Pass

The make up of the group I ended up in was really awesome too. There were three Americans (me and a young couple from the East Coast), three British, three Norwegians, two Irish and a family of four from Canada. And the German girl, who I include, even though she didn’t do the trail. The most shocking part was no Australians! It was a great group because not one nationality dominated and everyone got along really well.

Gap group at the end! We finished!!

Moral: For my first big tour, I had a really good experience with Gap. The guide and all employees were really up front about everything and kept me in the loop through every step of the way in booking and changes in the tour. The group I ended up with was probably the most awesome part and because of the level of the tour, both in price, inclusions and active level, everything just meshed really well. Besides hearing about German girls experience with the company, everything went as planned and was fantastic. But being worry-wort me, I would keep her experience in mind when booking again.

Used: 2008, 2009

I remember one of the first times I heard of someone I knew flying Air New Zealand. They flew from LAX to LHR. That’s right! You don’t even need to fly anywhere near New Zealand to experience New Zealand hospitality. But the first time I flew them was actually just a really quick trip return from AKL to CHC over Easter Weekend as they have the most flights within the country (duh) which is super helpful for a major holiday weekend when everything is expensive anyway. Flying domestic in New Zealand is a joke anyway, especially compared to what I am used to in the United States. I worked in central Auckland and got from my work to the airport by taking the shuttle and passing through security and sitting at the gate within an hour. Like I said, JOKE! You don’t even need to show ID to board a domestic flight.

Anyway, it was a pleasant but a generally unmemorable flight as it was only a little over an hour. I loved the airport in Christchurch, they have this awesome open air deck in the domestic terminal were after you pass security you can watch the planes land and take off, outside! I loved watching all the tiny Air New Zealand planes doing their business. I am so used to only seeing huge planes, that it was so funny to see tiny propeller plans flying!

View from the outside deck at CHC

Later in the year, Air New Zealand had a major promotional push in advertising their trans-Tasman flights across the ditch to Australia. They were becoming major players against the strong hold, Qantas. They upgraded tons of their planes and the types of planes they used to only use on long-haul flights, they were now flying just a short 3 hours to various ports to Australia. I barely even thought about it when booking my return flight to Australia after my summer vacation back in New Zealand, as they were cheaper than Qantas anyway from Christchurch to Sydney. It wasn’t until I boarded the plane that I remembered about their upgrades. And they were awesome! My favorite perk, individual screens on every seat. Actual meals served. And of course, a nice, smooth ride, as the plane was a lot bigger then the Qantas jet I had flown over on a month earlier.

I got so excited a few weeks later when I made plans to fly back to the US. Air New Zealand ended up being the cheapest option out of Melbourne, with a quick layover in Auckland. Back in 2008, you had to pay an exit fee when you left New Zealand and I was 50cents short in cash my fee when I left Christchurch (so I had to pay with a credit card, annoying!) but since I had a few hours to kill in Auckland, I was happy to have the extra cash to buy food and magazines and other last minute items. I was so excited for a last minute trip to Auckland before I finally came home even though I never left the airport. I just loved my time there so much, I was so happy to have once last goodbye. You don’t pass passport control when you transfer plans in Auckland, but you have to go through security again. I had a whole bottle of water with me, which they asked me to toss, so I backtracked and tossed the water in the sink in the bathroom so I could pass with my empty bottle, one of my flying tricks of the trade. I went through metal detection again and filled my bottle up at the various water fountains in the terminal. So annoying and a waste of water! I specifically wore one of my favorite New Zealand t-shirts for the ride home and when I boarded the plane, the flight attendant commented on how much she liked my shirt!

Me in my All Blacks Kiwi shirt, moments after walking into my parents house after 2 years and 2 weeks overseas! My dad made this awesome sign.

The flight back was awesome. Great selection of movies and tv shows, which is key for me. I watched and caught up on so many shows I hadn’t seen in months that I doubt had even aired in Australia or NZ at that point. Awesome selection of movies. I love telling people that I chose to watch High School Musical 3 over Slumdog Millionaire (have you ever tried to read subtitles on those tiny screens?!). Don’t remember the food, though we got served a lot, so I am sure it was good. One of my favorite parts was how they did drink service. They gave us all cups at our first meal and we were supposed to save them. A flight attendant was continuously walking around the cabin with spare cups (just in case) and a pitcher of water and all you had to do was hold your cup up and they would fill it up for you on request. You didn’t even need to leave your seat! I lost my cup at one point (in those small seats and area?! I know, it happens) and they happily replaced it, though I did like that they tried not to. And I felt bad when a few hours later I found my cup at the bottom of the pocket. The seat space is pretty big too, way more than Qantas. I was impressed with it and I am not a big person anyway.

The tail in Auckland. Rainy, of course!

Something that I didn’t experience, but my family did when they came to visit me. Apparently, they used to have a code share with Air Pacific, the Fijian airline which is one of the few routes that you can fly from LAX to AKL, but you have to stop in Fiji. My mom first booked tickets for her and my dad and a week later booked my sisters ticket on the same route for the same price. They all show up at the airport to check in and apparently my sister is booked on the Air New Zealand flight. Same times, same route, just a different terminal. There was no note anywhere on the ticket about this and they didn’t know until they showed up at the airport. And what a huge difference between the airlines! My parents were jammed in while my sister had whole rows to herself, since they all flew over Christmas. My sister said the flight attendants welcomed all the kids with gifts because they were “skipping Christmas” (They left on the 24th and arrived in Fiji on the 26th). But at least they evened out on the way back. My parents got the Air New Zealand flight after their Fiji layover while my sister was stuck with Air Pacific the whole way because we realized that Air New Zealand only flew from Fiji to LA on certain days and my sister stayed longer and flew on a different day.

Adopted home, home on the range!

Moral: Air New Zealand doesn’t fly too many routes outside the south pacific but if I am flying somewhere they go, I will make them a priority, thanks to their service. Plus, I miss New Zealand tons and anytime I can grab a little bit of it, I will take it. They vary in price and even if they aren’t the cheapest, if they aren’t too different in price, I would take them into consideration depending on how long the flight is. I would love to fly them over to London someday! How fun!

Who Loves to Win? (I Do! I Do!)

In celebration of my 146th post and 16 months of fairly consistent blogging (hey, that is the same amount of time I lived in New Zealand!) I have a give away!! Really, I am doing it now because the holiday season is coming up and I am nothing, if not a giver. Or in reality, a re-gifter. A big part of my life since I got back from my 2 years of traveling, is only keeping things I need. If I don’t need it, I immediately get rid of it (or put it in “storage” aka: my parents house, but I really try not to do this, as my room has turned into their storage and I just hate all the clutter). I have lived in my apartment for nearly 2 years and it’s still almost as empty as the day I moved in. What do I need a dining room table for if I eat all my meals on the couch in front of the tv? Another place for clutter? No thanks!

Earlier this year, I won a prize from another blog which included a 3-day car rental which I will gladly put to use eventually and a $25 iTunes gift card, which I (oddly) have no use for. I am not a big iTunes user, have no interest in pretty much anything Apple or Mac (though I will admit to owning a few iPods, but that scene in SEX AND THE CITY where Samantha gives Carrie her iPhone to use and Carrie replies something along the lines of “I don’t know how to use this” describes me to a T). So my card has just been sitting around, gathering dust. And why should it, when it could be in the hands of someone who will actually use it?! And just in time for the holiday season too, if you want to be like me and re-gift! Either way, this is my present to you!

How to enter:

1) Reply to this post, telling me your best travel present that you have either received or given (A flashlight? A round the world trip? A ride to the airport?)

2) Do you read my posts through RSS or email? Let me know via another comment!

3) ReTweet any of my previous posts from my blog (all are eligible EXCEPT this one, as it’s pretty lame). All tweets must include my twitter handle (@purplekat99 or #purplekat99) so I can find them and enter you an additional time. This step can be repeated once a day, so retweet a different post to up your chances of winning!

Unfortunately, the card is only useable for US iTunes store, so I’m sorry my two international followers out there (unless you have a US account!). Shipping is included for the winner!

I’ll be using to find the winner. Contest closes a week from today, Thursday, November 10th at 12pm Pacific Time.

Good luck!!

**Update** Guess most people aren’t into winning stuff. Thanks to Heather at There’s No Place Like Oz (and yay! one of my favorite blogs that I read on a regular basis!!) for entering! The card is yours, use (or re-gift, hehe) it wisely!

Nothing to do with music or iTunes, just like this pattern!