Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Utah in the Springtime

Despite claiming I didn't want to get on a plane for a long, long time after coming home from Australia, just five days later I was on a plane to Utah to see Taylor graduate from BYU.  Thankfully, this Utah trip just had some major turbulence, nothing quite like the last time I'd traveled there.

The entire school had a massive graduation ceremony on Thursday (who graduates on a Thursday?).  Can you find Taylor the photo below?
Proud parents, with their 2nd college graduate.  One more to go!

Taylor and Court were in the process of buying a house under a short-sale.  It wasn't quite theirs due to paperwork, but we got the keys and were able to check it out.  The views are pretty stunning!
Friday was the graduation for the business school where Taylor walked and received his diploma.  And then he walked straight out the door and skipped the last part of the ceremony.  Dunzo!
We had family dinner at some Mexican place in downtown Provo.  I had planned to wear a dress to graduation, however April in Utah is still freezing!  I stuck with boots and jeans.  
Before leaving, I hit the Hogle Zoo with Brett on Saturday.  Quick trip, cold trip, time to go home to Phoenix and stay for awhile.


Friday, December 10, 2010

An Aussie April

I'm incredibly lucky that I have a job that sent me to Australia for work.  Even luckier that I have a boss who used to live down that way and understands my need for travel and let me go early to explore her former home.

Despite thinking that I would fall madly in love with New Zealand and never want to come home (I mean, I did completely love it and must go back), I think I fell in love a little more with Sydney!  It's certainly a place I could see myself live and enjoy.  There are many reasons why it's one of the best places to live in the world!

I arrived Sunday afternoon and after dropping bags off at the hotel in Darling Harbor, I jumped on a double-decker hop-on, hop-off bus to cram in as many sights as I could, since Sunday was really the only day I had for that.  Sadly, I got on the last bus of the day around 4pm, so I didn't really get to hop off anywhere.  Just once, so I could catch the other bus route that went out towards Bondi Beach.  I couldn't go to Sydney and NOT go to Bondi, right?

All photos were taken in motion, from the top of a bus, so they're not the best.  But they'll have to do!  Next time, despite my fears, maybe I'll have to climb the Harbor Bridge.

Ah, the Opera House!  The Kennedy Center of Sydney.  Smaller than I had expected, I think.

The Queen Victoria Building below is just beautiful - and it's a shopping mall!

Caught the last bus to Bondi Beach and arrived just as the sun was going down.  I couldn't get off the bus to grab any photos, so they kind of suck.  Just another reason to get back that way.  And soon!


Monday morning called for work to begin, and after a quick 10-minute walk to the office, I was ready to move.  I love this town!  I loved being back in a downtown, vibrant business district, with people in my own demographic (same age, single-ish, social, semi-stylish, etc) out and about at lunch.  I swear everyone in Australia was blessed with the attractive gene.  Mega eye candy - men and women!  It was also so great to finally meet all these people in the office with whom I've worked via phone for the last couple years.

Most of my days were spent back and forth between the hotel and the office, though we did have a nice work dinner one night in Darling Harbor, walked around the Opera House area, and another evening my coworker from India and I took a ferry to Manly Beach to explore.  I'd only wish I could've seen it in the daytime!  I hear the north side beaches are great. Also a bit bummed that Le Kiosk was closing up when we arrived (after walking down a loooong path to get there).  I guess Tuesdays at 9pm aren't busy enough to stay open for late dinners, but I heard amazing things!  I had to settle for a kebab on the boardwalk before catching one of the last ferries back to Sydney for a night.

This is someone's view from an office window - um, coveted view!!


Most of the downtown shopping closes up fairly early, except on Thursday nights when they're open late.  It was my last night in town, so we made a team trip out of shopping.  Yes, Sydney is an expensive city, but I was amazed at how much goods from the US go for in department stores.  After import taxes and exchange rates - you really want to pay $450 for that pair of jeans that is $150 in the US?  Even the drugstore shampoo and makeup that I buy here for $5 a bottle is about $18+ down under.  I would have to get lots of care packages from home if I ever moved there!

I did find lots of less expensive goods at the airport to take home as souvenirs.  Thank goodness World Market carries Aussie licorice!  The apple flavor is beyond amazing.  Mango and raspberry, also delicious.  I think I need to pick some up very soon.


Before I knew it, it was back to the hotel on Friday around noon, quick jaunt to the aiport, and back on a plane to San Francisco where I'd have to sit for 8 hours since they wouldn't let me take an earlier flight back to Phoenix.  Exhausted, in sweats, but still sitting in first class! I'm sure I was a sight to behold....Thanks, OZ, I'll be back soon.  Next time, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Whitsundays, and koala land!!

New Zealand - North Island

I already blogged about my adventures on the South Island of New Zealand - the north side had to wait a few months longer.  When planning my trip, I had heard with only a week there, you should pick one island and stick to it.  At first I was convinced that it should be the South Island.  Then I read about the North Island - both had so many amazing different things to see and do!  I really couldn't pick, hence the roadtrip through half of each.  Maybe I didn't get to the most amazing parts (which seem to be at the extreme ends of the country but the middle is pretty awesome as well.  I figure I saw enough to know where I'd want to come back to and where I could skip.

North Island! Wonderful, windy Wellington!  The ferry came around and entered the Harbor (where also enters the Antarctic Winds - yikes!) and I caught my first glimpes of New Zealand's capital city, which soon became my favorite.  Despite the sweeping landscapes that make NZ so incredible, I am still a city girl at heart.




We checked into our hotel, where once again, we were offered milk.  Sometimes they don't even ask - they just hand you a small carton of milk with your room key.  I was really confused, but it's tea time!  And they assume you will need milk with your tea.  Of course!  I don't even drink milk, but at this point, it's just easier to take it and not protest or ask questions.

For dinner I think I really wanted to eat at Wagamama; something about hot noodles in a soup sounded really good.  Unfortunately, after Google Maps and walking around, we still couldn't find the place.  I think it was buried back in some shopping center near the water.  At least we got to explore and walk around a bit.  With only one night in a place, you've really got to make the most of your time.

Wellington has a great nightlife scene - restaurants and bars - and sadly I didn't really get to do any of that.  I was more than a little bummed that I didn't get a great night out on Cuba St, but all the more reason to go back!

The next morning we checked out of the hotel and drove down to Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand.  I am not always the biggest fan of spending time in museums - usually I'm down for the quick tour - but I actually really loved this place.  Might be one of my favorites 'round the world.

Wellington has a really great cultural scene, and I'm super glad it was such a beautiful day!


The most well-known exhibit at this museum is probably the Colossal Squid, which is truly enormous, looks like an alien, and freaked me out completely!  It's soooo gross to look at, yet captivating.  The have a video playing that shows the capture, how the moved it, preserved it, etc, and you couldn't have paid me enough to touch that thing.

I've never once wanted a tattoo, but after being in New Zealand, I decided that if I ever did get one, it'd have to be a Maori decoration of some sort.  I love the designs and colors of their artwork.  These painted beams go up in a house to form the roof.











After a quick morning at the museum, we worked our way through downtown to catch the Cable Car up to the Observatory and look out points.  It seems every major city around the world has some sort of funicular, and I always have to ride them.  It's usually worth the vantage point!


Wellington really is such a beautiful city - the San Francisco of New Zealand - and I really hope to get back there (just not when the Antarctic winds are rolling in).  I could've easily spent a handful of days here.





But onward and northward we go!  We had a few hours of driving ahead of us and didn't want to miss the scenery after daylight.  We followed the coast for awhile on Highway 1.  Highways in NZ = 2 lane roads (sometimes with a passing lane) that are quite curvy and hilly at times.  At this point we had driving on the left down pretty well.




There was a pit stop at KFC at one point.  Not as good in NZ.  They don't have the green beans!

I really wished I had more time to leisurely meander through the countryside.  One of the highlights of the North Island is the volcanoes at Tongariro National Park.  We started driving though as the sun was starting to get low in the sky and the clouds were covering the peaks.  This is definitely a place I would stop on my next trip.  You can hike in the summer and ski in the winter - nevermind the active volcanoes!  One of them played Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings.

Just near sunset we stopped at one of the most beautiful areas of the whole trip - Turangi - the fly fishing capital of the world.  My dad would've been in heaven!  We pulled over into a little area and got out of the car.  There was a little house for sale and directly across the street was the fishing stream.  My parents so should've bought it.




We were almost to Lake Taupo, our stop for the night.  I got in one sunset picture just as my camera battery died - sad!

After arrival, it was time to hunt for food and go through the town's grocery stores trying to find Banoffee Pie Cadbury bars for Karen (not successful, as the motel owner mentioned they were a limited edition thing).  But I'm always willing to look - international candy is usually just better somehow!

I remember grabbing a quick dinner to go at Subway, since we were pretty tired from the long drive.  My excitement over the pizza sub on the menu (long since gone from the US menus, though a favorite memory from high school) came quickly to gross disappointment as I was reminded on first bite that marinara sauce in other countries is merely a ketchup-like plain tomato sauce.  Do you like ketchup with your pepperoni pizza?  Didn't think so. I was kinda grossed out and did my best to scrape it off.  Sad dinner.


It was a beautiful clear morning the next day and the lake was nice and blue, as expected.  We took off towards Auckland via Tauranga, with a couple awesome stops along the way.

First stop, Huka Falls, which was one of the highlights for me.  Something about big, rushing water in a beautiful blue color could keep me occupied for hours.  Huka is the Maori word for foam, and there was lots of it!  I'd definitely spend a couple days in the Taupo area on the next trip.  Really, there just isn't enough time to see things properly with one day in each place.




Next little roadtrip stop - Craters of the Moon!  This area of the North Island is known for its geothermal activity - think natural hot springs, boiling mud, and steaming craters!  For a few bucks we got to walk around  a hot field for an hour or so.  Kind of a cool thing, I'm glad we stopped.  If you haven't ever seen boiling mud puddles, you should really try and find some.



We made it to Tauranga, which also would've been a lovely place to spend a couple days.  Sadly, we only had a couple hours.  Just enough time to have a true Kiwi lunch (a couple bucks from a local deli!) - a meat pie and an L&P, the world famous in New Zealand soda.  The soda comes from natural spring water in Paeroa and some lemon and other ingredients are added.  It's a bit like 7-UP, only better!  I really need to find a US distributor.



We walked through some shops down to the water and a park for lunch, then had to head back to the car and continue our journey to Auckland.



Somewhere along the way we took an exit for a little pit stop, ending up in an area where we couldn't get back on the highway and instead had to explore some fields and cows!


Finally, the last city of our road trip!  Trying to get through half of New Zealand in just 6 days is not recommended.  Thankfully we had 2 nights to spend in Auckland before hopping over to Sydney.

I have a work friend in the Auckland office (she's from California, and she's one of the few coworkers I'd met in person), so we planned to meet up at some point during the weekend.  Friday night was out though, as we were pretty tired.  We did venture out for some food and saw most of the major downtown action on Queen Street.

On Saturday morning it was time to ferry over to Devonport, a small village on the north side of the Auckland Harbor.  There are three small volcanoes on that side, so it's quite hilly to walk around, but some of the views are nice and it was a beautiful day!


During the afternoon C-squared had scheduled a jump off the SkyTower - craziness!!  I was perfectly happy to watch from below.  We had to go to the top while he got outfitted in the cartoon-like jumpsuit, then one of the workers took me down to the target landing pad so I could watch.  There were only 3 people in the jumping group, and they weren't that busy, so the instructor girl said the group could again for free if they hurried back up; I think they all did it again!

I'm just not a thrill-seeker!  Looking out the windows from the top was enough.  The glass bottom freaked me out a little, so I just had to remember not to look down.


After a nap, it was time to get out and go out!  Not to bash on traveling companions, but after you've been with the same person, 24 hours a day for a week straight, it's nice to have some other interaction.  I'm too social to be confined in that way.  Adonica's bf, Steven, picked us up at our hotel and took us to Adonica's place.  She lives with this lovely family in a beautiful home in Parnell, gorgeous backyard and deck, perfect for entertaining!  We started the night there before heading out for a night on the town.
Jamie (above, left) is a Scotsman who grew up in Oman - amazing!  Oman has been on my Top 5 travel list for quite awhile.  Strange to meet someone who grew up there, Scottish in origin, and living in New Zealand.  I love the world.  

Also in the bunch was Andrew, who used to work at the same company as me, and we worked together via phone for a brief period.  Despite his job change, he lived just down the street and had stayed in touch with Adonica, so he came out with us for the night.   Fun times ahead!

We started near the harbor at Pasha for a lounge vibe, danced for awhile at Bungalow 8, at which point C-squared headed back to the hotel for sleep.  The rest of us cabbed to Ponsonby (or Pon-snobby, as it's locally known) to hit Longroom, which was definitely my kind of place.  I've been known for some international flirtation, and the gang almost had me convinced to go talk to a couple of the All Blacks that happened to be there. Sadly, I passed up that opportunity.  Another reason to go back?
Another cab down to Ink, then on to Supper Club, which is pretty much open starting at 6am til ?  The sun started to come up and it was time to bid adieu to Auckland after such an amazing time.  Quick walk back to the hotel, since we'd essentially made the full loop of the city, a shower, pack, and off to the airport for a flight to Sydney.  See you in OZ!

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