Friday, December 31, 2010

Wellington Pictures


If you have missed out, most of all of our travel pictures are posted here.  The latest are the pictures from Wellington, New Zealand.

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Nun of That Nunsense


There is something about a nun riding a segway that arouses ones curiosity, and that is exactly what happened with me. The City and Sea Museum here in Wellington used the painting of a nun on a segway to advertise their current special exhibit. When we left Rotorua, the taxi driver told us to make sure we went to the 3rd floor video presentation at The City and Sea Museum, but would not tell us more than it would surprise and entertain us. This really made me curious, so we had to go. It sits on the waterfront; we walked there, a considerable distance, but the best way to view the city when you are not familiar with the transportation system.

As one enters this museum, there is a display of 100 years, each year providing an achievement in the city’s history. Some were memorable by tourist standards, while others were local knowledge/interest only. Either way, one hundred exhibits to get through it is tiring regardless. By fifty, we skipped out and moved on to the temporary exhibit with the art work. There was an explanation of each piece is a special booklet. I took it along and read each piece as I viewed the fifty plus pieces individually. It was the nun on the segway that intrigued me most. Perhaps it is because they have segway tours in Budapest and I have been invited to try it, but have yet to do so. They do look like fun.

As the name of the museum intimates, it is about the city and the sea around it. Not being a person interested in sea culture, most of it was zip past through without paying much attention. There was a documentary movie on a ferry that never made it from the north to south island, which we did watch intently. We were taking that ferry crossing ourselves. Finally, when I  had had enough, we went to the top floor to see this video we had been advised not to miss. It was worth the efforts. Using holograms, they did a presentation of a Maori mythological story that lasted for 9 minutes. It was quite well done and highly entertaining as well as educational. Strangely, there were only adults in the audience, but this is not a museum one would think to bring children to.

Outside there was a shiny red helicopter ready to give rides. My fantasy for decades has been to take a helicopter ride. As fearful as I am of heights, there is something about a helicopter that gives me chills in a positive way. This is on my bucket list for before I die, but it was not to be today.

We still had a number of things to do, the next being the Botanical Gardens. To reach it, we took the Wellington cable car, a major tourist attraction. However, after living near San Francisco and now living in Budapest, this is not such a thrill. What they call a cable car, I would call a funicular or a cogwheel system. It was fun, more so because of the excitement of others than the ride itself. Once at the top, we were loose in the botanical gardens to do as we pleased. It is a public garden with no closing hours, so we could stay as long as we chose. Up and down like San Francisco hills we walked looking at flowers, trees and beautifully appointed gardens. Being a holiday, many of the buildings within the gardens either closed early or where closed for the day.

Leaving the gardens, Ron wanted to see the bee hive. This is actually a parliamentary building, but it strongly resembles a bee hive. As we walked, it was apparent that this was a holiday. Strangely, most places received holidays for both Monday and Tuesday after Christmas because both Christmas and Boxing day landed on weekend days. Now with New Years they are closing early for the eve and will be closed for the day itself. It is yet to be seen if they will close for the following Monday to make up for losing a weekend holiday or not.

Like moths to a flame, we returned to Cuba Street for a beer at the Hotel Bristol. We debated having dinner there, but we enjoyed the food at the Asian place last night and it was so cheap, we decided to return there again. We were not disappointed. Dinner again was excellent.

Just out of curiosity, when we stopped for something to go without our after dinner tea, we asked how much cigarettes were selling for here. We were told they are $NZ 14.90 a pack, one box. OH MY GODS IN THE UNIVERSE. How do these young people afford it????

Was New Year’s Eve in Wellington fabulous? Don’t ask me. We were asleep by 11pm. Early morning tomorrow. If you find out it was exciting, don’t tell me about it. I hate missing out on things.
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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Broken Record


Well isn’t this special! John our ‘host’ is showing his colors, deformity or not, it is not the way to run a hospitality business. When we went up for breakfast, a loosely defined term here, breakfast includes a choice of Wheatbix or muesli, a choice of toast or no toast, a glass of juice and instant coffee or tea. On the table was jam and peanut butter. I saved myself for going out and finding real coffee. However, this is where it gets hairy.

Another couple came in to the breakfast room, where the sole computer sits for guests to use. The husband was not able to connect to the WiFi, a common complaint it seems. He went to use the computer, but John shouts from the kitchen, “The computer is not to be used during breakfast. There are twenty-two hours in the rest of the day it can be used, but not during the two hours of breakfast.” What the hell difference does it make? Are the tapping on the keys going to upset someone’s crunching on their muesli? Will the distraction cause them to not savor the flavor of the plain white bread toast? But, it gets better still…

The next couple to enter the breakfast room has apparently used his laundry facilities. In a loud voice he asks them what they had forgotten in their pockets and who was responsible for the remnants of white fluff recycled paper goods that are now decorating the downstairs hallway like an aberrant snowstorm that ran amuck.

When yet another couple dares to enter the room at 8:45am, he announces “You had better eat fast, you only have fifteen minutes to finish breakfast before it is over.” OMG, OMG, what insanity is this in running a bed and breakfast like this? Our first night, we had not even been to our room yet, when John shared that an Israeli woman gave him a rating of a 2 out of 10 on some travel site “just because she could not get her computer to connect to the WiFi.” I think it is more than that now that we have had time to observe the happenings.

Needless to say, we were out early, too early as a matter of fact, because the museum we wanted to start with, Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand, did not open until 10am. There was a coffee “Shag Shed” that was the name of it, honest. It was right next door. I gave thanks to the caffeine gods for sharing their java beans.

Well we beat our own personal records for staying in a museum. Entering at the 10am opening, took the guided tour at 10:15am with our docent Norrie. Norrie brought us to the high points, giving us history and background, but just enough to make us panting for more, which of course made us return to each area to read, see, and absorb all the information there was. The tour lasted for one hour, so he requested that we don’t slow the group down by taking pictures just then, but to return after the tour to take as many as we wished. After a delightful hour, we were on our own to explore. Probably equal time was given to reading, viewing, and taking pictures, but being a multisensory museum, there were a number of short films, usually documentary, about one topic or another.

We did not leave the building until 5:45pm. Our lunch was in the cafeteria, so we had a twenty minute lunch break, but all the rest of the day was going through the exhibits reading just about everything. Entrance to the museum is free, but the tour cost us NZ$12.00 each. It was money well spent. The only way to describe the museum is a combination of ethnographic and natural sciences. For children or curious adults, there are four Discovery Zones where learning activities centered on a particular area are in abundance. With the sun setting close to 9pm, there was still plenty of sunlight for a daily dose of vitamin D.

From the museum, we walked extensively covering a good part of the city. Limited time, a holiday, and a list of ‘want to see’ things made our time feel tight, prompting us to cram more in than usual. The public transport is not great, only buses, but there are no good maps showing thr routes either. After looking at the map to see what distance we covered today, it was close to 6 miles by the end of the day, but that doesn’t take into consideration the miles we walked in the museum itself. Dinner was at an Asian restaurant on Cuba Street after having a beer at the Hotel Bristol. From the outside, the hotel doesn’t look like much, but being on the heavily trafficked Cuba Street, we wandered in. Inside, it was booming with people drinking, but mostly people eating dinner. Cuba Street is about a six block long pedestrian street. It is only by accident that it is as such. At one point, the city had to close it to traffic to do repairs to the pipes under the street. The merchants discovered that they garnered more clients when there was no auto traffic, prompting them to petition the city to maintain the car-free zone. They did and it continues to be a high traffic area for pedestrians only.

By the time we meandered back, we were too exhausted to walk, so found a bus that would aid us in by-passing the majority of the hills on the way to our B and B. With a bus stop two blocks beyond where we need to get off, we walk back, but downhill. It was 9:30pm, so we just had enough energy for a movie in bed; we watched All the Queen’s Men.       
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Napier, New Zealand Photos


The Napier photos are now posted here.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Well, It Is Now Off to Wellington


Moving day again! We are leaving Napier today for Wellington on a 1:30pm bus. We have the morning to roam the city, so we spend an hour or so in the public library. For a small city, the library is well stocked with all of the ingredients one would expect from a library: books, magazines, DVDS, books on tape and more. Just as impressive are the numbers of people utilizing the services. There was one elderly lady who had her cane with her, but did not need it due to the library providing little shopping carts to carry the books to the check-out counter. She had 8 books in her cart and was still pulling off of the shelves. From the looks of her, it was questionable which would expire first, her or the due date of her books. I hope she has a codicil in her will to get those books back to where they belong. As they say “Good on her.”

We could not leave town without one last cup of java from our Glory coffee shop. We sat around and read the paper there absorbing the information about the storm that just peeked in at Napier but gave a full showing elsewhere. Then it was back to the hostel to collect our things.

While here, we came across a luggage sale. I have been wanting to replace my carry-on bag for some time; the zippers are getting temperamental. They had one about the same size on sale for $NZ64 with a 7 year guarantee. The saleslady assured me I would not need to return to Napier to make good on the guarantee if the need arose, so I bought it. Being a sentimental fool, I had difficulty parting with my old bag. It has served me well for seventeen years and is part of a set Ron and I bought our first year together. Sentiment has taken over; it is traveling with us still.

Our bus ride today is 5 1//2 hours. The bus was overbooked, so we had to wait for a second bus to arrive, which was fortunate. There were only six of us on it initially, though we did fill up and drop off plenty of others along the way. After 3 hours, we had to change buses completely. This shed a load off, but even better, the new bus was a double decker with plenty of room. Best of all, it had a bathroom.

Once more the scenery was spectacular. What occurred to me is that the roads are not oversized highways where highway hypnosis is a concern for drivers and passengers alike. The highways run through towns as well as wide open spaces, giving a full range of things to stimulate your senses. Trying to think of the colors of green I saw, this is the list thus far: green apple, lime green, avocado green, lemon-lime green (can you guess I did not have lunch?), forest green, emerald green, bluish green, mint green, and others that I cannot think of names to describe at the moment.

Traveling on a number of roads cut through mountains, there were these chicken wire type fences holding the rocks in place with steel girders. The way they protruded, the thought came that these were for sure over the shoulder boulder holders, a slang term used for bras or as Ron said the male version would be a rock strap (instead of a jock strap).

Our final destination was the Wellington railroad and bus station. From here we took a taxi to our bed and breakfast. As we made our way through the city, we could not help but notice how hilly the city is. Our driver kept saying what an ideal location we were in. It is only ten minutes to this and that from where we are staying. In the neighborhood of our bed and breakfast, the buildings remind us a great deal of San Francisco. The hilly streets add to this nostalgia. What the taxi driver failed to tell us is that we are ten minutes away from things if we were on a skateboard or had wings. By foot, it is a whole lot longer. Walk a block, use the respirator, walk another block, use the respirator again. These hills will be the death of me or the great fortune of taxi drivers.

This bed and breakfast is run by a man whose home as well as he himself was burned in a fire. His house has been rebuilt; his face is still a work in progress. His marketing makes it clear that he looks like the beast without the beauty. The social worker in Ron came out pushing him to book us here. It is quite shocking at first, but a friendly fellow he is without a doubt. Our room has room, which is quite an oddity thus far, this trip.

From the taxi window on the way to our B and B, we passed a Welsh bar. In the name of all of our Welsh friends, we felt a need to stop in for a pint. Martha and all of your descendents, we hope you recognize the sacrifice. It did make me want to return to Wales for a future get-away. Wandering around, we could not decide on a dinner spot, until we finally discovered Two Souls Bistro. What an excellent choice it was. Quiet, lovely surroundings, service that was superior, and the food was top par. It was a fabulous evening made better by finding a bus that passes our hillside B and B allowing us to travel beyond it causing us to walk downward to reach it. Life is good.  
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Whine and Wine


Someone stole our butter. We started out having our breakfast of date scones, but Ron found our butter was missing. There was over a ½ pound left to the block; you would think they could have used part of it and left the rest, but then again if you are stealing there are no rational thoughts. While we were wrapped up in culinary concern, parts of the country were dealing with matter of far great importance. Thought they do not get hurricanes here, they did get hurricane-like winds   with torrential blasts of rain causing flash flooding. As they say, the Kiwi thing to do this time of year is go camping, but hundreds of families those that chose to do that had to be evacuated due to the weather. From what we heard others say, there have not been weather conditions like that in decades. Fortunately, it only lasted for hours and then it was gone.

By the time we were ready to make our way into the world outside the skies were clear with the rain seemingly behind us. We only had the morning to occupy ourselves having to be back at the hostel by 1pm for the wine tour pick-up. We have covered as much of Napier as humanly possible on foot, covering the downtown and regions further afield at least once, but many twice or more times already. For such a small city, it is densely packed with stores, bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants for about five blocks in all directions.

Deciding to do a little shopping, all of a sudden, we were mixing and mingling amongst hordes of people puffing up the small town like too much yeast in a batch of bread dough. Where did they suddenly materialize from? The cruise ships were in port. When cruise ships stop here, which they do often in the season, all of these floaters find their land legs for a few hours of shopping. Depending on the cruise line, the passengers may have from 2 to 6 hours to come ashore to populate the stores like a bad case of roaches when the lights get turned on at night.

With their treading on Mother Earth, they can now say “Yes, I have been to New Zealand” without the qualifying the fact that all they witnessed were some shops. With our 3 days and we are out, I feel like we are playing tourism baseball. Instead of 3 strikes, our similar days stay is just giving us a sampler platter of the different cities. Though I must say, we do cover a tremendous amount of territory hitting the ground running. What we do not get to see is not due to lack of time, but lack of transportation. There are places and things that locals say are a “must see”, but they all require a car because they are where no public transports dares to go. Neither of us have a driver’s license any longer, so we can safely say we cannot rent a car. Safely I say, because they drive on the opposite side of the street than we do in North America and in Hungary. It is difficult enough trying to cross the street without causing an accident; driving would be treacherous for sure. 

At 1pm on the dot, Hamish from Prinsley’s Tours picked us up for an afternoon of wine. The whines would not begin until the headaches appeared at the end of the day. There were three in the van already, a mother, son, and daughter-in-law. All three were locals, but none had ever done the wineries before. Son and daughter-in-law are living in Australia, but came home for the holidays and gifted this tour to mums for Christmas. They were quite lovely mates for this tour, keeping it refreshingly small besides.

The first winery was originally owned by the Marion order of priests and brothers. They still have a financial hand in the winery, but not the operations. The grounds are splendid rolling hills, one of which serves as an amphitheater for summer concerts. Each year, they have a dedicated wine label specifically for that concert that attendees can purchase as a remembrance. Quite clever marketing! One interesting fact here. They allow the sheep to run through the vineyards to eat the lower leaves from the vines. This allows the lower grapes to get sufficient sunlight, yet the sheep will not eat the grapes. At that stage of development, the grapes are too acidic, so the sheep do not like the taste.

Here we tasted 6 different wines: 4 white, 2 red. I am always impressed with the intriguing ways that they describe wines. This one has a vanilla tone with a hint of caramel, while there is a fleeting taste of wild raspberries and a touch of oak. Really? Come on. To me, it tastes like fermented grapes, end of story; they all burn the back of my throat. Having quit smoking, I can say that I do taste differences more distinctly now that I did in the past, but please don’t try telling me you can get grapes to taste like Heinz 57 varieties. Oh, this white has a nutty flavor characterized by its grapefruit undertone with shades of turnip and a long tongue that is reminiscent of bangers and mash.

To me all of these asinine descriptors are all marketing. It reminds me of when I was a child. I received a letter in the mail claiming my entry had won the contest I had entered through the breakfast cereal promotion. From the pictures and vivacious wording on the cereal boxes, I was certain that I had won a ’59 Chevy convertible in candy apple red. Wow, what a gift this would be for my parents. They had never known what it was like to have a vehicle that was not previously owned by hordes of others first. On the day of delivery, a mailman arrived at the door for a signature proof of delivery. Had I not been 5 years old, this should have been a red flag. Mailmen do not deliver cars. My reward, my dream, my excitement, my gift, fit in the palm of my juvenile palm. The length of the car was shorter than the distance from my wrist to the tip of my middle finger. From that moment, I became an advocate for truth in advertising.

After the first winery, the others were small by comparison, close to boutique sized. By the third winery, we had had sampled about sixteen different wines. What I wanted to ask, but after sixteen samples of wine the question was only a passing thought “If you only bottle 200 cases of this wine, shouldn’t you be saving it and not giving it to us for sampling?” If I only had 200 of anything to show for a year’s work, you can bet your bottom dollar I am not going to be giving out any samples to a group of people who just want a go at it.

At the end of the third winery, we had a cheeseboard, which we paid an addition supplement. For the five of us, the cheese was quite stingy. There were four varieties all of them quite tasty, but not generous chunks. If each of us coughed up the extra $NZ 10.00, that cheeseboard was a $NZ50 commodity, but like my red Chevy, it did not come close to expectations.

One of the highlights of this particular tour was going up to a look-out summit. Hamish was not sure if this would be possible or not due to the winds. The roads are like a serpentine snake winding around this mountain and barely two lanes for bidirectional traffic. High winds make it especially dangerous without guardrails on the road as you climb the mountain in either direction. As luck would have it, we were able to make it. The elevation is 1,200 feet at the top with a vista that is magnificent. You will find pictures in the photo blog under today’s date. This once flat land was pushed up into its current position by earthquakes. Another testament to the power of Mother Earth.

By 5:30pm we were back at the hostel, all graped up and nowhere to go we went to the Irish pub for a beer, saving the one bottle of wine we bought today for a more sober occasion when we would appreciate it. Back at the hostel, Ron cooked up chicken cutlets stuffed with apricot and cheese. Before you get too impressed, we bought them frozen already prepared. If no one has done it yet, I think it would be a fun idea to put together a hostel cookbook. I have seen some of these young people create quite imaginative and incredibly delicious smelling dishes from what looks like the minimalist amount of ingredients. Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

The wineries we toured are:
Moana Park
Ngatarawa – Liked the Pinot Gris the best
Black Barn

To reach Hamish's company, it is Prinsy's Rural Experience and Wine Tours of Hawkes Bay. You can reach their website here.
They are also bookable at the iSite office or any accommodation.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

Photos For All of Our Trips


Photos for all of our trips are now here. After reading the stories, you can view the pictures. For current trips that include more than one city, I will not post a slideshow until we leave that city. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I have enjoyed taking them.

Once in the photo blog, if you want to return here, just click on the BudgetNomad picture in the right hand column. It will bring you back. 

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Deco for Days


After one night in this hostel, I am not as impressed as I was with the one in Rotorua. We do not have an ensuite room, because they don’t have them. Our room is off of one corridor after climbing 4 steps to our door. The 2 bathrooms around the corner from our room seem to be available when needed, but the problem is ventilation. It is much warmer here in Napier than it was in either Auckland or Rotorua. We have one small window that only opens outward about 3 inches due to a security bar that holds it from venturing further. It is hot and stuffy in here, but worse yet, the minimal air from the window and the wind in the hallway combine forces to make a game out of rattling our door…all night long. Barricading the door to keep it steady has not helped in the least.

Without the benefit of shopping yesterday upon arrival, we were obligated to find a place for coffee and a bite. Being what seems to be perpetual holidays here, most places were still closed, though we were up and out at 8am. We did find a little bakery/coffee shop called The Glory Hole. What a name. They made a delicious latte coffee and the ginger bar I had was a real treat. The first thing on our “To Do” list was to get to the grocery store. We gathered the things we needed to make our way through the next few dinners and breakfasts, before we move on yet again. The one refrigerator counter that really made me laugh out loud and caused me to photograph was the cold section of pet food. There amongst all of the other cold storage foods was a large display case of pet foods. I had to take pictures of it. I have never seen anything like this before.

After dropping off the goods at the hostel, we were going to make our way to the tourism office. The goal was to book a wine tour for tomorrow, but as we wandered, we came across a modern interesting looking white, white church. It was St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, so we wandered in to take a peek. Inside is shaped like the inside of a shell, an ultra modern construction for a Catholic church; it looked more like an amphitheater. Pews were arranged in a semi-circular fashion with the altar looking like a stage. For those of you familiar with Catholic confessionals, the Conciliatory room as they refer to it was a well proportioned room partially divided by varied lengths of wood from Tasmania. On either side, there were comfortable chairs. It gave me a chuckle that above the door was a sign “Emergency Exit”. In case of emergency, confess and escape. Some service had just ended when we entered, so one of the church members caught Ron, giving him an interesting history of the church and the rebuilding of the church. This church and its properties had multiple fires, most assumed were set by arson.    

As we walked out of the church, this car pulled up beside us and the woman passenger waved to us. It turned out to be out dinner companions at the Maori cultural show from Rotorua. After that dinner, we ran into them on Christmas day at St. Faith’s and now again in Napier. What a coincidence.

Napier is also known as the “Art Deco City of the World”. Almost the entire town was destroyed in an earthquake, so when it was time to rebuild the Deco architecture phase was in full swing. The local architects took their inspiration from what was happening in the US and Europe applying it here. Focusing again on that wine tour for tomorrow, we made it to the tourism office where for NZ$ 7.50, you can buy a self-guided tour of the downtown area that starts at the Deco Center, a historical memorial center and gift shop selling all things deco. We bought the booklet tried booking the wine tour. The problem was that the tour operator we wanted was not answering his phone. The tourism agent left a message, so we had to return to see if he responded. She believed that he may be booked up with a cruise ship that was coming into port in the morning. If this were the case, there would not be any other tours given.

With the booklet in hand, we started our Deco walking tour where it states it will take 60 to 100 minutes depending on your pace. For each address on given streets, there was a brief history of the architectural style, meaning the motif of the Deco style chosen and the year it was rebuilt. Very few incorporated Maori devises into the patterns for external décor. By the end of 2 hours of doing this walking tour, we needed to treat ourselves with a gelato that the bus driver had recommended. He was right, it was excellent. We wrapped up our tour after this refreshment, check. I am not a fan of Deco interior decorations in the least, but the architecture I find somewhat interesting. When I post the photos of Napier, for today a fare share of the shots will be of architecture.     

By the early evening we made out third trip to the tourism office to find we could indeed book the tour. With that out of the way, we went for a beer and then to the beach to read for an hour. We did not go onto the beach. It is all rocks, but there are benches along the promenade where we could divert our reading for glimpse of the ocean.

Dinner was pork apple schnitzel that we bought frozen and Ron fried. A salad and some potato chips completed the meal. After dinner, we took another walk along the ocean promenade. The hostel is right across the street. Cloud clusters fascinate me. At one point the sky looked like Swiss dots had been splattered across it. Later in the evening after sunset, one portion of the sky appeared to have a thick dark blue blanket pulled partially over it, while the rest still had the lighter blue sheet exposed. When we returned to the hostel, we heard people mention a storm was coming.
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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day - Round 1


I never really understood Boxing Day and after living in Europe for over 9 Boxing Days, everyone  I have questioned has no idea what the significance of the holiday is. So why is it that countries so far away from Europe still celebrate it as a holiday? The British invasion is the answer. It is another excuse to have a day off, close the stores, unwind after a lackluster (by American standards) Christmas day. Did that South African or Australian Christmas picnic really take it all out of you that you needed an extra day to recuperate? 

Well, with the few options left to us, we had to source out the things that were open. Our bus leaves for Napier today at 4pm, so we have the day to play. Our bags are secured at the hostel. We ventured back to Government Gardens where reportedly the Rotorua Museum was open today. T'was, so we opted for the free tour provided by volunteer docents. Today, Anne was the docent of the day and she gave us a comprehensive tour of this incredible museum. It was designed by a Balentologist, though I am not sure of the spelling, it is a specialist who determines bodily cures based on the mineral composition of thermal waters. The one who designed this thermal bath was from Germany. Unfortunately, his design could not be fully carried out due to money, but the main structure was built and functional. Ahh, but the great earthquake that ruined so much, did this building for a time also. For thirty years, it was leased as a nightclub, but then the lease ran out the city took it over once again. 

There were a number of impressive parts to this thermal that stood out for me. One of the 'treatments' was to put electricity into the tubs when people were bathing to reduce stress. There was 'vibration' therapy for ladies to reduce hysteria. We know what that means, don't we? The baths were taken in private tubs, nothing communal, yet the men and women were still segregated. Mud baths were commonly used, covering a person's body with hot mud. This is something that is in vogue in California as well as other places too. 

There were two movies, which we watched. One was the role of the Maoris in the World War serving in their own battalion. Not only was this eye-opening, it reminded me of the African Americans who fought segregated from the other soldiers. The other was the history of the earthquake. This was in a different room with pew like seating. About half-way into the movie as they start showing the earthquake, the seats start to shake, rattle, roll to the point of having to hold on to the seat. It was quite a surprise, but impressive at the same time. We wandered to the rooftop where the view was spectacular and finally into the basement. It was a splendid 2 1/2 hours. 

We did a final walk around the city, before going to the Pig and Whistle for a late lunch. They had spare ribs, my favorite, which I pigged out on. 

Our bus was at 4:30, so we had time to return to the hostel, relax, read, and write for some time before going to the tourism office. The bus was almost empty; there were only about 7 people on it, so we had our pick of seats. The ride was 3 1/2 hours to Napier, our next stop. 

The scenery was awe-inspiring. For over an hour, it looked like the Jolly Green Giant planted miles upon miles of broccoli. The tops of trees looked like the tops of broccoli spears. The green was never ending. Then miles later, there were pastures that seemed to go on forever. Because of the hills and mountains, it looked like some giant throw out a large green carpet, but never bothered to flatten the wrinkles and bubbles. Can one go green blind, like snow blindness? Awesome! Just totally awesome. I really tried to break my vision from the window to my book, but was only successful for minutes at a time. 

Napier is on the ocean. Our driver let us off at the tourism office on the ocean front. He shared with us that the best gelato place was directly across the street and if he did not have 3 passengers on the bus, he would indulge himself. He reminded me of a hairier version of Jack Black

Our hostel, another YHA, is down the street. The facility is not as wonderful as the last one, but it is clean and the people are friendly. Once we dumped our things, we headed for the grocery store, but it had closed at 8pm. With no hope of groceries, the next best thing was a pub, and then bed.
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Saturday, December 25, 2010

I Guess It Is Christmas


The first thing we did this morning, was go for our Christmas stockings, dumping the contents out on the floor, and then ripping the paper off of each little gift that Santa brought us. What that amusement was over, we ran to sit under the Christmas tree and took turns passing presents to each other waiting patiently while the other opened it, had time to ooh and aah, say thank you and set it aside waiting for the next turn to come around. 
Okay, fantasy over. There were no stockings, there was no tree, there were no presents large or small, so there was no Christmas paper to worry about whether or not it is recyclable. What a stressful situation that has turned into. Do I toss or recycle? There was nothing to remind us it was Christmas, not that it matters that much to me anymore. I do feel saddened over loss of traditions for the next generations, but I guess they are making their own. 
Christmas Day is a difficult day for travelers in many countries, because so many places close for the day, but to make matters worse, there are a number of them that close the next day too for Boxing Day. This makes choices of things to do severely limited. Ron always finds it entertaining to go to mass. Since he goes to mass weekly at home, it is not an unusual activity; what is unusual is that I accompany him. Christmas only mind you, I don’t want him to think I am going to make a habit of this. Actually, I only go to mass if I think it will be different or really interesting. I went with him in Kenya last year and Melbourne the year before. We have done Christmas mass together in Thailand and Rome our first year today. It turned out he was able to get tickets to the Vatican for midnight mass. Who could pass up that show?  As it turned out, we had ringside seats. Talk about a great score!

This Christmas, we went to the 9am mass at St. Faith’s Episcopal Church. It was quite a distance from the hostel, taking us a good thirty minutes of ins and outs of streets to find it. It sits on the waterfront, so when one finally sees it from a distance, it is quite impressive. St. Faith’s is in the Maori district, starting as a parish to meet the needs of the Maori people. Certainly, the Maori people didn’t have needs that their tribal religions did not fill, but Christians showed them “THE WAY”. Outside the church looks like a little British church with Tudor décor, but inside is the surprise. Every wall is covered with Maori tribal weavings on the walls, completed in reeds and other materials. On a side altar, a stained glass window has Christ wearing a Maori cloak as he is walking on Lake Rotorua. The priest started out really deadpan, but broke out into a humorous sermon, starting with “If I don’t see some cheer in your faces, I am packing it on and going home.” Apparently the congregation enjoys him. For the most part, it looked like the sermon was warmly received. What was interesting was the fact that the service, prayers and songs were in both English and Maori. Everyone, excluding Ron and I, repeated everything in both languages. We both wondered how English never won out as the only language with a congregation mix of 70/30.  Across from the church is the Tama-te-kapua Meeting house, built in 1905 for the Te Arawa Maori as a sacred meeting house. It is not open to the public.

From here we walked a different route back to town while along the way checking to see which restaurants were open. When we found the restaurant street, it was a major disappointment to see only two open from the twenty or more that filled blocks. We did stop at one and had pancakes with “streaky” bacon. Our assumption was that streaky meant it had fat on it. Either way, it was delicious. We had hoped to go to the Pig and Whistle, a historic restaurant, but it was closed.

With not much to do, we walked to the Government Gardens, a tremendously large English style garden area with six crochet courts that each could easily sport 2 or more games at once, a mini-golf range, baseball batting range, the Rotorua Museum and a hot thermal spa. Being a holiday, everything commercial here was closed, but we did manage to spend a few hours walking around the area. Because this area is known for its sulphur deposits, the air is thick smelling like the stink bombs we used to make in high school chemistry for a prank. As you walk around the area, there are numerous geo-thermal areas with the hot water mixed with chemicals is bubbling out of the earth, causing stream. They are easy to find; they are fenced off for security. There is one walkway you can view what it has done to the earth in certain areas. This is called Sulphur Bay. (note that sulphur is the British spelling; American English, it is sulfur).

By the time, we returned from our walk, we hunted down a café for a coffee, but ran out of luck. With the limited choices of restaurants, we decided to change our plans by having a Caesar salad using up our lettuce, cheese, and ham tonight. Tomorrow, we will go to the Pig and Whistle for dinner before our bus out of Rotorua.
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I Don't Get It


This is a quickie for those of you who are not a native English speaker. I use a lot of slang, idioms, and other word play in my titles and often in the posts themselves. Even if you are a native English speaker, you may miss the reference due to our age differences or just experiences. In any case, if you are not 'getting something', there is something you just don't understand, don't hesitate to drop me an e-mail at

Our Hungarian friend Anna, who I have referred to as our guardian angel, sent me a note about one of my Christmas posts. She did not understand why I would not sing a particular song in Budapest. She as an English teacher has done so often. The song included "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow". The humor that was I was trying to convey was if I sang the song, I may bring bad luck for our trip by getting snow in Budapest, therefore delaying or canceling our flight. 

Another post title that may confuse some is the "Must Dew". We Americans commonly write out a list of things that we need to remember. These are called "To Do" lists or "Must Do" lists. Must or musty also means that something is smelling or tasting old, stale, or moldy. Dew is when water droplets form from the moisture in the air, usually at night,  and form onto cool surfaces. In bathrooms or rooms of a house where there is a concentration of moisture like a tub or shower, it creates water droplets, which in turn cause musty smells and mold.
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Evening


For this evening, we chose to book an excursion to Rainbow Springs Mitai Maori Village with the Kiwi Wildlife Park. The people at the hostel registration told us this was the best of those offered. Our transportation was here at 6pm to collect us and then some others along the way. After giving our names at the village, we were sent to a large tent where we were assigned to seating. Thinking the show would take place there, we took the prime seats being the first at the table. As it turned out, it did not matter. There were only four of us at our table and we were not there for long.

We were greeted by a Maori entertainer who it turns out was one of the shuttle drivers. He basically did a comedy routine, before shuffling us off to the food pit, where our dinner was roasting. They dig into the earth similar to a Hawaiian luau, but here were dozens of chickens, lamb, white potatoes, and their version of sweet potatoes. Moving us forward, we followed a trail that wound through what looked like a tropical forest. The greenery was lush, with a high umbrella of foliage protecting the delicate ferns at eye level. We lined a wooden post fence along the river waiting for the Maori warriors to paddle their canoe downstream. Just as we were waiting, one of the fathers went to grab his kid from going down the embankment, slid, and went into the water himself. It was little over ankle deep, but still mortifying. Only a few of us held back our guffaws. Once the warriors arrived, we were then shepherded into the entertainment hall.

As I entered the hall, Ron and I had become separated, so I went to save good seats for us. The strangest thing happened; my pants ripped. What was so strange is that these are cargo pants with a dozen pockets and zippers that I only wear on vacations to warm spots. They did not rip on a seam where one would expect a pressure point to be, but completely away from any stress area. The material just shredded. It was funny that the only reason I realized it was because we sat on plastic seats and one part of me felt a bit colder than the rest. When I reached back, I was horrified, but totally thankful I had a sweatshirt on. I took it off to wrap it around my waist to cover up. Then of course, I had to wonder how many people had spotted my southern exposure, but never mentioned a thing. Thinking back, I don’t recall any snickering. Maybe this was my punishment for finding the humor in the guy falling in the water.   

 Ten Maori men along with 6 Maori women performed various ritual dances, war songs, shared some of their mythology, and the ways they are trying to maintain their culture and language. Each one had ‘tattoos’ on their face, both the men and women. It was not until the end that we learned that for most of them, it was only cosmetics. However, many Maori have their faces tattooed for real, women also. There are four bird symbols used. The bat is the first, though not a bird, when the Maori first encountered one, they thought it was since it could fly. The owl, the parrot, and the kiwi are the remaining three. Each has their own significance for home, hearth, wisdom, courage and so on. This performance was very similar to that at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, but Ron had never seen it anywhere. For me, it is always enjoyable.

Finally, we had dinner, a buffet consisting of over a dozen dishes. The main courses were chicken and lamb. Both were melt in your mouth tender and delectable. The unexpected treat was a cauliflower salad with mayonnaise and sesame seeds. The cauliflower was minced finely; raw I think. It was so delicious both of us had to have seconds. Dessert was fruit salad, trifle, and chocolate Yule log.
All of this and yet the night was not over. We were taken on a tour to see glow worms.   Glow worms are not worms at all, but are the larvae (maggots) of a particular type of fly known as a fungus gnat. A small group of fungus gnats are carnivores; therefore, larvae of these species use their glowing lights to attract small flying insects into a snare of sticky threads. One species, Arachnocampa luminosa, is found throughout New Zealand, and others occur in Australia. When hundreds live together, on damp sheltered surfaces or caves, their lights resemble the stars in the night sky. The Maori call them titiwai, which refers to lights reflected in water.

Our continued nature tour included learning about kiwi and finally visiting a couple of them in their protected habitat. Being on the verge of extinction, they are heavily protected here. From here we were deposited into the gift shop, but our shuttle drivers were anxiously waiting for us by their vans.  
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Christmas Eve Day


Without a coffee pot available we resort to tea. Neither of us takes to instant coffee without a struggle. Ron was getting breakfast ready, so I decided to look for butter. At the reception, they told me about a ‘dairy’ a few blocks away giving me directions to find it. Thinking ‘dairy’, I was not sure what to look for, but pictured a place with cows that offered fresh milk, butter, and cheese. After following the directions for five blocks, I found Diana’s Dairy, disappointed when what I found is what we would call a convenience store. Besides butter, I was able to find a bar of soap, we had forgotten that at the supermarket too, resorting to have to use shampoo for showering. They also had band-aids, so I bought a small box for my blistering small toe.

As I left the dairy, I could not help but notice a lovely bakery right next door. They had luscious looking goodies, so I splurged on 2 mango muffins for breakfast. They had coffee to go, so I thought to get 2 of them, but they didn’t have way to carry multiple cups back. I had heard the woman tell the guy ahead of me to be careful, it was hot, which clued me in to ask before ordering. She directed me to yet another place down the street. I cannot help but wonder how much business they lose out on with such a simple solution at hand. With an armful already, I hesitated roaming down the street, but noticed that there was a coffee shop two doors away from the bakery, yet it was not the one that the bakery lady had suggested. I went in and sure enough they had a cardboard tray for me to negotiate the coffees, the muffins, soap, butter, and band-aids that I had to cart back to the hostel.

When I arrived bearing gifts, well it is Christmas eve morning after all, Ron had already heated up the two quiches we had bought as well as ham on garlic bread. The muffins were set aside for another meal, but the coffee was certainly good.

We had decided to visit the Agrodome: The Unique NZ Experience where there is fun, entertainment, and education. Sales pitches like these make me suspicious, but it did sound fun at the same time. I was hoping they were not pulling the wool over our eyes. Having an early breakfast, we had time to catch the 10:30 bus to get us to the Agrodome for the 11am show. Directions for reaching the bus stop were a bit convoluted, so we had to ask multiple times, but found it with 10 minutes to spare. The driver let us out right at the foot of the Agrodome entrance and we rushed up the 3 block long entrance to get our tickets in time for the show.

We bought the combo tickets, so our first event was the sheep show, but prior to it starting, you are welcomed to go around and pet the nineteen different types of sheep will be displayed for the show. Not one of the stars was sheepish about having his photos taken; they all posed like the little lambs they once were. One by one, each of the nineteen breeds of sheep were introduced taking their place on a pyramid stage where their breed name is displayed beneath them. There was only one that was naturally black, but three breeds with big horns. The commentator gave a brief history of each variety once they were in place. After all sheep were on their step, the commentator did a sheep shearing demonstration. A champion sheep shearer can shear 700 sheep in a 9 hour day. Once the poor spectacle sheep was now shown naked and sent off stage, the next event was the dog herding exhibition where three trained dogs show off their mettle in handling three petrified ducks, not letting them get out of hand or off of the stage. Finally, volunteers were called to the stage. Ron was amongst them. Each was giving a bottle, and then baby lambs were let loose to be fed by the volunteers. At the end of the show, the sheep were left in place for us to pet again and pose with for photos. All nineteen of them said “Make sure you come baaaaaaaaack soon.”

Outside, the next part of the show was a dog herding demonstration with sheep. The dog ran those poor sheep this way and that way, but it is obvious the dog is well trained. Last on the agenda was a farm tour. A tractor pulls an open vehicle that holds about thirty people. We were taken into the kiwi orchard, to examine kiwi just now fruiting. If kiwi are not yet ripe and kept cold, they can be stored for up to 9 months. After they start to warm, they will fully ripen, making them ideal for exportation around the world. We also saw an orchard of a fruit none of us had heard of before, something like a jiajua, though we did not see any on the vines, so we still do not know exactly what they are. We were treated to kiwi wine and kiwi juice mixed with Aloe Vera.

From here the real fun began. The farm has thousands of sheep, goats, alpacas, and one llama. We were told that due to the mild year round climate, all animals can live outside year round, so they have acres and acres to roam. However once they see this vehicle, they all come dashing toward it. We are all given handfuls of pellets to feed them and they know the good guys have arrived. If you have never been stampeded by alpacas, you have not lived. One red alpaca took a shine to me, but butted me each time I gave any food to a sheep or another alpaca. At the same time, she/he would whine letting me know I had an unhappy furball on my hands. It was tons of fun playing Dr. Doolittle. The last part of the journey was through the cow pasture, where they have twelve varieties of cows from around the world. One bull was about the size of the bull statue in the NYC financial district and is often shown in movies. Humungous!!

All during this time, we were wearing shorts, but the weather changed cooling down considerably. Once the show was over, we were anxious for the bus to arrive. Standing on the roadside, when we spotted the bus, we flagged it down the way the driver delivering us had taught us, but the driver of this bus pointed and passed us by. It took a couple of cold minutes to realize he was going to turn around to pick us up on the other side of the street. We made it back in time to rest up for the evening’s adventure.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Time to Leave Auckland


Time to leave Auckland for this go around, but we will be back. Perhaps by then, we will either need the rest or find something exciting to do. D has proven to be a gracious host. He does do a very nice breakfast with his home baked muffins. We left right after breakfast to catch a bus downtown. The plan is to go to Esquires Coffee where you receive one free hour of Internet with every purchase. We will make our purchases individually for more time. At 12:15, we will catch the NakedBus out of the city.
Esquires turned out to be a bit of a dud. At the very least they are very misleading in their offer, which claims an hour of free WiFi Internet. There is a catch, a rather significant one. Yes, you do get an hour; however, you only receive 25 MB of data transfer. Twenty-five MB in this day and age is a thimble full of data. I sometimes get 1 e-mail that is over that amount. Needless to say, I was downloading my mail and was kicked off of the Internet within minutes. Ron went to place his order, I received his sign in card and again within minutes, slam-bam-thank you sir-goodbye. That was the end of part 2 of the Internet chronicles, but the beginning of my dashed hopes of having free Internet service. Purchasing it is NZ $3 for a half hour some places and an hour at others, but that still runs into money when I receive over a hundred e-mails a day and have a need to blog. Okay, put that on hold for now.

Time to board the NakedBus. There are no assigned seats, so you need to muscle your way in early on. NakedBus is like an earthbound version of RyanAir or other economy modes of transportation. We are taking multiple trips with this line, but this is the first of them. We will ride for four hours from Auckland to Rotorua (pronounced roe-toe-rue-ah OR if you prefer row-tow-roux-ah). More on this town later, but the bus was great. The seats are wide, new, and comfortable. They have video screens hanging from the ceiling, but no movies were shown. Just as well. I found the scenery interesting most of the time, green hills and dales, pastures of sheep and cows, but napping was on the agenda as well. There are no bathrooms on the bus, so the rest stop had everyone making a mad dash out the door.

As we pulled into Rotorua, it definitely had a feel good vibration. The business district was extensive, but still had a cozy, small town feel to them. We are staying at a YHA Youth Hostel Association. We used a couple of YHA facilities in Australia and found them to be excellent, so we are testing the NZ varieties. Regardless of the moniker, any age persons are welcomed and we are not the oldest here. Our modest private room is ensuite with two twin beds, a plastic chair, a wooden box for a table and some hooks on the walls. The beds are comfortable, the sheets and shower are clean; all our needs are cared for. The kitchen has six stove tops, each with four burners, six sinks as well and two huge refrigerators for everyone to store their food. Footlocker type shelving is available for non-perishables. Stickers are provided to mark all of your goodies so others will not mistake them for their own.

We trekked to the nearest grocery store, which turned out to be a real trek. It is outside of the downtown area in a mall type one level of stores environment. If I had my camera, I would have taken pictures of the different and unusual foods lining the shelves. This is a fascinating part of travel, one you are sure to experience when hostelling. It saves so much money by cooking then eating out 3 meals a day, every day. Alternatively, with the grocery store such as walk, when you forget a stable, you want to kick yourself. As soon as we returned, we did not get butter. But heck, we did remember the beer, so all was not lost.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Take the "Awe" Out of Auckland


We slept until 6:30, but was up and showered again by 7:00. Though we had told D we wanted breakfast at 8:30, when he heard us up, he served us right away. It was an impressive spread of jellies and marmalades with homemade muffins and toasts. He had Wheatbix and granola, orange juice, fresh coffee, and then made us scrambled eggs.

The bus stop is right outside their property line. Paying NZ$3.60 for one bus ride shocked my system a bit, but it took us right downtown. D had warned us at breakfast that the city had done close to nothing about decorating for Christmas. The reasoning was multicultural sensitivity, which he pooh-poohed claiming the city goes all out for the Indian holiday as well as the Chinese New Year. He was right. There were barely any decorations at all and those that did exist were pitiful. Not even the department stores had decent decorations in the their windows. One store had puppets playing out Cinderella. What does that have to do with Christmas? If I were a little boy, I would feel totally cheated.

After three hours, I shared with Ron that I did not think there was any “awe” in Auckland. For this I was admonished with the questions of how could I come to that conclusion after only three hours o walking around downtown, the pier, the sky tower, having taken two buses, and had one coffee? How silly of me to make snap judgments. An hour or so later, he confided that most of his research for this trip did say that Auckland is the most boring as compared to the rest of the country. I felt reprieved.

We did not do all that much. After a trip to the Sky Tower where one of the tourist offices is located, we took a free circuit bus around the center of the city to look at the buildings. The mix of old and new architecture in many cities that redeveloped or upgraded themselves can be a stimulating visual mix, here not so. A walk around the wharf was equally unexciting. Compared to Sydney or Cape Town, this has nothing at all. We took another LINK bus around its circuit through different neighoborhoods, but stayed on for a complete go-round. There were a couple of districts that looked promising with interesting looking shops, but otherwise, nothing special yet again.

We have a few days here before we fly out of here home again, so checked out some hostels. We booked the one that offered a NZ$12 discount per night, because I have an International Press Card. By 5:00 pm, we were ready to head back to the B and B, if nothing else to check on our luggage. The problem was, we could not remember the bus numbers to get back. Asking several bus drivers only resulted in conflicting information. We were sent back and forth over an eight block distance until finally an older woman driver insisted she take us to where we needed to catch our correct bus.

B had been trying to call the airline luggage department on our behalf for most of the day. He said most attempts resulted in busy signals or being put on hold for so long he would just hang up. We tried three times. Three is indeed the charm. We reached a person, Amy. She said that a huge number of bags had just arrived. If we gave her a half hour, she would look for ours and call back on my mobile. I was thankful I had bougth a local SIM card. To stay preoccupied, I went out to write. When a half hour passed, I lost hope. By now it was 7:10 pm and the luggage office closes at 8 pm. Just then Amy called. She found both of our bags, would give them to a courier at 9 pm, and he should be to us by 10 pm.

We went to a Syrian fast food place for dinner. It was close by so if the courier had problems, he had my mobile and I could run back quickly. With plenty of time to spare, we were back waiting. I was outside at 9:30 pm pacing. Ten o'clock on the dot, the courier pulled into the driveway. I had to seriously insist he take a tip. Finally, he did after I told him this was like a Santa delivering our presents. Come to think of it, Santa doesn't take tips. Maybe I should have offered him milk and cookies instead.

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