“Would you like some wine?” said the Mad Hatter. “Yes.” said Alice. “We haven’t any and you’re too young.” said the Mad Hatter.
Fortunately, New Zealand doesn’t card people, even when they clearly look under 18 (I can say this because two separate students in Melbourne who interviewed me for school projects told me I looked 25).
The rest of the Wellington, New Zealand trip was amazing- so good it has taken me days to finally write this post. We can thank jet lag for waking me up at 4:00 am Kenyan time! My friend Jessie (another friend met in Antarctica) took a few days off from work and we had a much needed holiday from my holiday. In saying this, I realize how truly ridiculous it sounds, but traveling is tough work! And a break was needed! Fortunately for me, Jessie shares my love of movies, knitting and wine so she planned the perfect adventure. It was so perfect, in fact, that few photos were taken and you will find this post a little light on visuals.
New Zealand takes their cinema nearly as serious as their coffee and the movie houses are more neighborhood than multiplex. The first stop was in Wellington where we brought fantastic wine into Independence Day and armed ourselves with plenty of knowledge to fight off the queen should aliens attempt to attack this July 4. Then it was off to the New Zealand countryside to see why James Cameron and Peter Jackson have purchased 63% of the land (yet another fabricated statistic). Oops- before we were off, Mustache announced the grand opening of their cookie truck and it just happened to be across the street from where we were- so cookies and coffee were acquired for the drive. The cinnamon cookie is my personal favorite!
The Wairarapa region was the lucky recipient of us. First stop, pie. Second stop, the Mount Bruce Pukaha to see the bird sanctuary. In Maori, every bird name starts with the letter K (fabricated statistic alert). Here we saw kaka, kiwi, kokako, kakariki, keraru (PSA- also a great brewery in Upper Hutt) and my personal favorite, the piwakawaka. My good camera was in the car so no pics of him- just the kaka during feeding time.
All of that working bird watching meant it surely must be time for wine and cinema- the selection was a hilarious New Zealand film, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, made even better with locally produced wine.
We had been invited to James Cameron’s house for lunch so we headed further out into the countryside (I think this goes without saying, but fabrication). We got distracted with the Cape Palliser Lighthouse and the fur seals hanging out near its base and never made it to James’s house. I hope he can learn to forgive. The 250 steps helped me quickly forget the slight.
The adorable but not curious enough for my liking fur seals helped as well.
A final stop in Ngawi to see the bulldozers that push and pull the local fishing boats into and out of the water. Some people have made good use of their down time!
Enough nature now- off for wine tasting, beer tasting and Quiz Night at the local hotel pub. We placed a respectable fourth, doing quite well in the Geography, Cinema/TV and Random categories. A few more weeks in that town and we would have OWNED quiz night!
Final Wellington must do item- visit Miramar, the primary location for NZ film. We saw the giant outdoor green screen where LOTR filmed and visited Weta Cave where the trolls graciously let us pass.
And so ends the wine, knitting and cinema adventure of Wellington. One flight to Sydney with a 24 hour layover, one 13 hour flight and one 5 hour flight and I am BACK IN AFRICA!!
“Rule #42: All persons more than a mile high must leave the court immediately, “said the King of Hearts. “But I am not a mile high, and I am not leaving.” said Alice. “Sorry, rule #42, you know.”
Week three of my adventure and I am already falling behind on my blog. So this one takes you from Melbourne to Auckland to Wellington. And it begins with coffee, of course. I have a new hobby. I am going to learn everything there is to know about coffee. Fortunately, I have the attention span of someone who has had way too much coffee so this will likely be a passing fancy. Nonetheless, I kicked off my education in Melbourne at Seven Seeds, a local roaster and coffee house. They do something there called cupping, which as far as I can tell, is a not very well known and someone unfortunate name for a coffee sniffing and tasting experience. We tried coffees from around the world, starting with a dry sniff, a wet sniff, a crust evaluation and finally a taste. While this taste is supposed to resemble a wine taste (sip and spit) most of us took advantage of the opportunity and over caffeinated ourselves. I was able to determine that my coffee palette is not as expensive as my wine palette as I did not enjoy the $55 per pound coffee from Papau New Guinea.
One of the truly fantastic aspects of this adventure is that it is taking me to visit so many friends from around the world. One very, very rainy and very, very chilly night in Melbourne was spent in the company of Louise and Erin. Erin had the foresight to reserve the entire restaurant for us so that our laughter would not disturb the others. It was either that or the cold and rain inspired lots of nights home under blankets, but I prefer to believe it was our high social standing.
And then finally it was time for an authentic Australian footy match at the G. If you want to spend two hours watching a game that makes absolutely NO SENSE, swing by one of the mile high AFL stadiums and observe. I am quite certain that penalties are called on a completely random schedule and that the rules are made up as they go along. My favorite element is the random coaches (?) dressed in pink that run around the enormous field and point at other people. I read that the players run a half marathon at each game. Clearly, they are insane. But I donned my Collingwood Magpies beanie and cheered on the team during one of the coldest days Melbourne has seen. In Chicago terms, it was a pleasant autumn evening.
Then it was off to Auckland, New Zealand- my country #35. I was strongly advised to not spend too much time in Auckland so of course, Hobbiton was the first stop. You may know Hobbiton by its real name, The Shire. Here, I was able to swing by Bilbo Baggins home. It was clear the Dwarves had just been there and they were off on another adventure so we didn’t spend any time together. I was able to grab a beer at the Green Dragon before going in search of Smaug (because who wouldn’t want to be in the company of a Benedict Cumberbatch voiced, gold loving dragon?).
A drive south of Rotorua presented a visit to Waiotopu, pronounced in way I couldn’t possibly guess, but it means sacred water and is a volcanic, geothermal site. Here there were erupting mud pools, sulfur lakes and mini geysers. Photos can’t possible do justice to this amazing place. My achy muscles would have loved a dip in the hot springs, but it was time to fly to Wellington.
The main day in Wellington kicked of with….wait for it…. wait for it…. coffee!!! My love of coffee may only be surpassed by my love of peanut butter. If I was on death row (no current plans by the way), my last meal would consist almost entirely of peanut butter. And there is a little shop in Wellington that makes their own peanut butter. And they have this little window that you walk up to and they hand you samples. Thank goodness I am not a mile high and could easily access this window to heaven.
Final stop of the afternoon was a visit to Parliament, where a session was open to the public. Holy moly, what an experience. A punch of Kiwis and I rolled into the gallery and sat down for what would be a highly entertaining session. Members would ask the Prime Minister and other Ministers questions and then proceed to yell and insult each other until the Speaker called for order. My highlight was when a rather vocal member of the Labour Party yelled out “poppycock.” Time to invoke Rule #42- you must leave now. Especially because I was soaked from the rain!
Next is off to wine and sheep country in New Zealand and promises to be filled with knitting and wine and knitting and wine. Thank goodness my Antarctic friend Jessie shares the same passions!
“Clean cup. Clean cup. Move down!” said the Mad Hatter.
I may just stay in Melbourne forever, for their coffee. These people don’t mess around when it comes to a good cup of coffee. I should know. I have had several. Today. And likely again tomorrow.
Day One in Melbourne was a bit of a lazy day. All of my friends that have taken significant time off to travel reminded me that this is a marathon and not a sprint and you will wear yourself out if you go all day, every day. And so I follow. Something you won’t often hear my say.
The first activity on the agenda was a trip to visit the home of the Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective (totally fictional, but imagination really is the best gift we have). I waited outside for Mr. Butler to invite me in for tea or to help solve a murder but, alas, it never happened. Perhaps I will try again tomorrow.
Then it was off to Queen Victoria Market, which resembles nearly every produce, meat, cheese, bread, fake designer handbag market in the world. But it is always fun to see what the locals eat. In Melbourne, it is a lot like the U.S. Interestingly enough, it appears as though the Official Restaurant in Melbourne is Subway, which also smells the same everywhere in the world. They have the highest number of Subway’s per capita (totally made up fact- imagination, remember?). Ironically, they have the same number of 7-11s.
The evening was spent in a movie theater, because it is critical to compare the movie going experience around the world. Interesting difference. Australian cinema kicks off with 15 minutes of commercials, mostly car commercials from what I can tell, before the previews begin. Expected similarity. Popcorn is ridiculously expensive in the Southern Hemisphere as well.
Day Two was a wee bit more active. The sun was shining so I took advantage and hit the streets, covering Collingwood, Abbotsford, North Richmond, South Richmond, Yarra and what feels like the whole of Victoria if you ask my feet.
First stop….coffee. And it surpassed my expectations. I have no idea why the United States has settled for such horrible coffee, truly horrible coffee. Literally everywhere in the world makes it better than us. So I am starting a campaign- Make America’s Coffee Great Again (#makeamericascoffeegreatagain). Feel free to join my cause. Clean cup! Clean cup! Move down! I plan to move to a seat that serves better coffee.
Next stop- street art. Melbourne has embraced street art and I found some good ones. If you go, I very much suggest turning into lots of alleys. You never know what you might find. Even the dumpsters (rubbish bins- must remember to translate) are covered in art.
This walk led me to my new favorite place. Brunswick Street. If I lived here, I would easily weigh 400 pounds (28.5 stones your conversion purposes). The whole of Asia and a good portion of South America had restaurants here, in addition to adorable boutiques and environmentally friendly shops. This place is a vegetarian’s heaven.
At this point in time, I was clearly tired and in need of some rejuvenation. Hmm. What to do? Coffee!! I found a fantastic little cafe, ordered myself a latte and pulled out my knitting. If you ever want to meet people, sit in a cafe and knit. Even if you can’t knit, find a friend that does, borrow a half-finished project (any good knitter has at least 6) and pretend to knit. In no time, you will be chatting away with people. And hopefully sharing coffee. Clean cup. Clean cup. Move down!
“If a fish came to me and told me he was going on a journey, I should say ‘With what porpoise?'” said the Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland.
I don’t snorkel. Like ever. Pretty sure the last time I snorkeled, I was able to levitate over the water. I still have tortured memories of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride at Disneyland.
But, I was at the Great Barrier Reef, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and in keeping with my rule of “Just Say Yes” on this trip, I decided to give it a try. We took off from the pier in Cairns (PSA-pronounced cans) in Queensland Australia and headed two hours out into the ocean, using my Antarctica found ability to stomach sailing across the waters.
And then it was time to snorkel. My enthusiasm was moderate, at best, but I donned my fins, my wetsuit and mask and snorkel and jumped in the water, having absolutely no idea what to expect. To say I was disappointed, was an understatement. It was a bunch of rocks under water. I posed for the scuba diving photographer and swam a bit away from the boat. Holy Nemo, what a surprise I had in store. THAT was the Great Barrier Reef! I spent the next few hours swimming amongst the fish, some that could feed a large family and admiring the coral. The photos below were taken with my phone which does not have an underwater filter so they are a bit blue or green, but you get the gist.
Being me, I was whistled at twice for pushing the limits of the boundaries, but who could blame me, right?
Then it was time to head back, so I channelled my inner Calypso and stood against the wind and sea spray on the deck and watched us sail back into Cairns. I am not sure I get the allure of snorkeling, but I can now at least say, I see the porpoise of it.
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” said the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.
And so the adventure began…by ticking off my last continent, my #7. And in well under two years. I am now on the quest for the appropriate tattoo to celebrate- any artists or creative minds out there are welcome to contribute ideas! Australia was also country #34 for anyone keeping track (me!).
My too short four days in Sydney were a mishmash of randomness and good fun, a mixture of urban and nature and solitude and social. Any road will get you there.
Day One: While my quest on this journey is to spend time being a traveler and not a tourist, this day was a fail. I saw Sydney Harbour, the Opera House, Botanical Gardens and walked the Bridge- totally urban day. Fortunately, a random encounter with a security guard allowed me my first opportunity to discuss American politics (something I fully expect will happen quite often) so I at least spent a few short minutes not being a tourist! The night was capped off with VividSydney- highly recommended for my dear city of Chicago to add. Outside of the accent and the need to abbreviate every word, Sydney could be in any city in the U.S. I hear Melbourne will feel slightly more European- which certainly means better coffee, right?
Day Two: Today began to get closer to a Kim Style Day. It began with a train ride to Bondi Beach. Had I brought my wetsuit, or actually owned a wetsuit, or had a desire to learn to surf, I might have found this somewhat underwhelming beach more impressive. As you can see below, this beach is where mermaids go to die.
Fortunately for me, the next stop was Manly featuring a fantastic hike up to the North Head. Finally! I got to climb rocks out onto the edges of cliffs and push through branches to find the path. Manly is quite the random place. A turn left could drop you into an old cemetery where plague victims are buried but a right turn leads you into army barracks that now house a Cross-fit and a Sewing Shop. Enough left turns brought views such as this. Any road will get you there!
Tired legs finally arrived at the North Head- nearly 8 miles later. The reward could not have been any better. A family of three whales was making their way across the Harbour entrance and spent the next 30 minutes entertaining us with the breeching, tail slaps and spouting.
Day Three: Less tourist/more traveler. The beauty of my Antarctic trip in 2015 was the amazing friendships that were made, with truly like minded people. Many of them will make appearances throughout this story since we have done a pretty good job staying in touch. Today, I met up with Betty and Annette and went to the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition, featuring clothes form Season Three. Cue the total #fangirl music. If I actually ever felt embarrassed, this would be one of those times. Fortunately for me, that wasn’t an emotion I acquired so I prattled on and on about the clothes and the episodes, finding a few like-minded, crazy old Australian ladies to share. Unfortunately, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson was not there to be swept off his feet and join me on my adventure. I then drowned my sorrow in Betty’s homemade cauliflower curry and all was right in the world again.
Not to stop there, I got to meet up with more Antarticans. Erin and Jason met me for a pub crawl around Darling Harbour, that included a drink or two (or three or four or…) and bowling, air hockey and motorcycle racing. Public Service Announcement, Sydney Water Taxis do not operate after midnight, even if you try to bribe them or wake the dispatcher with your call.
Day Four: Now we are talking. I sat up straight in bed around 6:30 that morning, not long I believe, after I had laid down to sleep. I needed to get to the Blue Mountains- they must have been calling me. 50 minutes later, I was on the train for a ride to Katoomba. I got myself a ride out to The Three Sisters and spent the day hiking- my kind of day. AND FINALLY- I spent my day talking to people that were not tourists. I met tons of people that make the Blue Mountains their home and had amazing conversations about what really is important! You can see below what the answer to that question is! Interesting tip- the mountains are blue because of the eucalyptus oil that emanates from the trees and the UV rays reflecting off it.
And then to round off the randomness of Sydney, I checked off my Must Do Item of every place I visit….dinner at a Chinese Restaurant. One final Antarctican joined for that adventure. Josh had the unfortunate opportunity to join us in Ushuaia Argentina for this event, where we indulged in what is possibly the worst Chinese food in the world- and I truly feel I might be the foremost expert in this. Sydney did not assume this title and fared well in its Chinatown.
And so farewell to Sydney and off to the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns.
April was the month I made three mad changes to my life.
I started wearing red lipstick.
I bought a pig.
I quit my job to travel the world.
In that order.
Decision #1- Inspired by Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, I decided if she could rock some red lipstick, why couldn’t I (this, from someone who doesn’t exactly spend a full minute on daily hair and makeup). Just before I left for my March trip to South Africa, I committed to the lipstick, a bit of glamour in the bush.
Decision #2- A pig you say? OK, so George isn’t a real pig- he is stuffed. And yes, I am fully aware that he isn’t even an actual pig, but a warthog (please pause now and watch The Lion King if this is lost on you). He’s is Mr. Pig! George stands as a symbol of my most recent trip to South Africa. I adore warthogs, in all their hideous cuteness. On safari, they inspired nonstop, spontaneous spouting of Lion King quotes that my pack of fellow travelers had to suffer and eventually yell alongside me. He will be joining me on my adventure, an ever present reminder of what led me to Decision #3.
Decision #3- South Africa stands as a symbol of this rather significant decision. I returned from South Africa, a country that stole my heart, with the burning need to keep the euphoria going. Walking from the train to my office after that trip, I made the decision. I could wait no longer. I needed to travel. And not a week here and there-really travel. Two weeks later, I submitted my resignation and six weeks later, I write this post.
You’ve quit your job to travel the world. Now what?
In order to get ready for the trip, I had some major tasks to accomplish. These included:
The Great Purge of 2016– sell it, donate it, fix it, toss it or pack it. In the end, I will fit all of my belongings into a 10×10 storage unit. I have also mastered the art of eBay, proudly sporting my “Above Standard” selling rating. I have no idea what that means or what is above that level, but my fierce competition strength almost drove me to sell random pieces of junk to improve on that status. Fortunately, my flea sized attention span ended that dream quickly.
Book some trips– if it feels safe, economical or practical, I go alone. When in doubt, book a group trip. So in Egypt, my camel ride will be led by an seasoned camel rider as opposed to my purchase of a random camel at the market and subsequent education on camel spitting.
Break the news to my family/friends– needless to say, no one was shocked. The exception to this statement was my youngest niece who lectured me on the need for a job to earn money (meaning buy her more clothes) and have a place to live (meaning, don’t plan on living with us and taking my playroom for your bedroom). My personal favorite comment of hers was “you can’t live with us between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That will really get in the way of our decorating.” Perhaps one of her Christmas presents will be a jar of that camel spit.
Binge watch Cosmos– the likelihood of me running into Neil deGrasse Tyson is highly likely (in my mind) so I wanted to fully prepared for a conversation with an astrophysicist.
Set up blog– to fulfill my fantasy of doing this travel thing forever by allowing the world to embrace my words. If you enjoy it, share it. If you don’t enjoy but have a friend with a totally different sense of humor than you, stop reading and tell them about it.
Plan my knitting schedule– I can be caught in the jungles of Cambodia without a toothbrush, but the idea of being without knitting needles and some yarn is terrifying. I figure I can also trade homemade mittens for food rather than resort to begging for a roll in the alleys of Tokyo.
Practice my Canadian accent– for those moments when it might be considered dangerous to broadcast that fact that I am an American. Or for when one of my jokes falls flat and I need to blame it on their wacky sense of humor.
Countless other boring things– like bank accounts, VPNs, address changes and more, that I am happy to share with anyone that has questions or is about to embark on this adventure as well.
Just how many airline miles are we talking?
Where can you expect to see me over the next year? I can partially tell you and partially tell you that I have absolutely no idea. Of course, once Johnny Depp George Clooney meets me on the beach in Phuket, everything will change (most importantly being the quality of hotels).
I have broken adventure into at least three parts.
Part One- Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.
I wanted to start the trip by arriving on my final continent, my 7th continent in two years. In 2015, I visited North America (all over), South America (Argentina), Europe (UK, Poland, Germany), Antarctica and Asia (China and Hong Kong). In 2016, I visited Africa and will soon be walking on Australia. Suggestions for applicable tattoos commemorating the event are being accepted!
Part Two- United Arab Emirates, Oman, India, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong and Japan.
Pause for the annual Thanksgiving Caribbean Cruise and Christmas where I will attempt to get a job for the Holidays to refill the coffers.
Part Three- Iceland and who knows where. At this point, I will make my way across Europe, moving when I get bored or am enticed by an event or friend in another country. All of my European friends should consider themselves forewarned. I may one day be on your doorstep in need of a hot shower!
Something to show for my efforts?
So that my entire experience isn’t wasted on meeting people, learning new cultures and experiencing crazy things, I have set some goals. The problem with me is I love lists. Like seriously love lists and can become somewhat obsessive about completing them. Self-awareness forces me to limit the items on this list. Adventure encourages me to ask for your thoughts on what I should add. #conflicted
My theory for this trip is to say “yes” to everything- try everything – with a few exceptions.
No meat or seafood.
No bungee jumping.
So bring it on, lay it on me. What else should I do? Here is what I have so far.
Learn all of the words to La Vie en Rose. In French.
Read all of the Game of Thrones books.
Play Phase 10 on every continent (Europe and Australia remain).
Learn to knit mittens.
Master rolling a quarter across my fingers.
Tackle conversational Italian.
Learn to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius.
I want You to spend how much time reading this stuff?
So what can you expect to get out of the time you invest with me? While this first post is heavy on facts and history, I hope to be able to share a lighthearted take on travel with a little bit of useless trivia. My humor doesn’t always translate, but know that, while you may find a post mildly entertaining, I am laughing hysterically.
Not all posts will be this long- I myself, hate commitment (it is a miracle I have been someone’s daughter this long) so I won’t ask you to invest too much time in my escapades. But let’s be honest. I love the stage so your undivided attention is my goal!
I really love exclamation points so you can probably plan on a lot of those (I also love parenthesis)!
My observations on nearly everything, sometimes to the excruciating minutiae will be another highlight. This is a perfect example of what might be hysterical in my head and may not quite translate to the screen (hopefully photos will help)! People I meet or observe will often make appearances and their stories may be retold. My follies will definitely be prevalent with a healthy dose of pop culture references on the side. For example, I was blessed with both a horrible singing voice and incredible self-confidence- a terrible combination for anyone so unfortunate as to be on an adventure with me. Just ask the pig. And eventually the camel.
Hopefully you will enjoy- I look forward to your thoughts. As one of my favorite song quotes goes, “Give me the hook or the ovation. It’s my world and I have to have a little pride.”
So off I go- knowing full well, the red lipstick was the craziest decision of the three.