Reykjavik Street Art

Toadstools

Reykjavik reminds me of Wellington in a few ways. There is great street art and the people can be very sarcastic and ironic, it was nice to share inside jokes in a foreign country. We’re both laughing at this ignorant tourist, haha.

Art transcends language but it really helps when everyone has learnt your native tongue at school.

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Mountain
Street art

Fake flowers

Indie

Ties

Ear muffs
Ear muffs
A few of the statues around town had been given ear muffs

Spear

Fire face

Vancouver, Canada

Words by Brendan Schenk

Kitsilano

Before leaving there were high hopes for Vancouver. There’s just something about Canada that is quite alluring. If you forget that the government is yet another one packed full of right-wing morons bent on short term gain, the country has a charm much like New Zealand

Vancouver is a cool place. The people are really friendly. Even the bus drivers greeted us warmly every time. In Wellington that is unheard of.

The food scene is great, hell I even found a good coffee there. We stayed in the West End, which is gay-friendly central. Decorating the street were rainbow flags, and one crossing in particular used the flag instead of zebra stripes on the road. There was a parade a while back that blocked of a section of the street, which was turned into a pedestrian area with benches and tables. They decided to keep it that way. The city is massive, but our location was great. It was a short walk (a few blocks) to any of the shopping areas we wanted to hit. Just around the corner there was a community garden filling up an empty lot. Around the other corner the city changed completely as everything became residential; Amazing houses on tree-lined streets, it was hard to believe that the bustling city was all around you.

West End

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The public transport was easy and efficient; though my sister, who lived there at the time, didn’t happen to think so. Compared to what we have in Wellington, it was a breeze. Getting anywhere we wanted to go was a piece of cake. So we explored.

The Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park was fantastic. It is home to two beluga whales, and two rescued pacific white sided dolphins. Their rescue program is awesome. There’s a wall of cute pictures of the various animals they’ve helped over time, matched with equally awesome names such as Wellington the seal, or Dumbledore the other seal. I mention the cetaceans as they are the main attraction, given that there are two shows each a day showing off their various skills in the water. You can also see seals, porpoises, sea lions, sea otters, heaps of frogs, reptiles, tropical fish, and jellyfish. Tonnes of jellyfish. When we visited they were doing a special focus on the gelatinous creatures.

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After our tour of the aquarium we walked through Stanley park all the way back to our apartment. Despite its size the city is walkable, if you don’t have too many other places to go.

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Granville island was also really cool. There’s a huge market there open every day, filled with butchers, fruit stands, spice stalls, anything you can think of. Living near there would mean no supermarket shopping ever. Outside they have amplified buskers performing everyday. As such, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but the atmosphere is pretty great. The Granville Island Brewery is easy to find, and you can sample a range of their products. The beer was good, unfortunately the bartender was a bit of a dick.

Granville Island Brewery
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We took a ferry to north Vancouver at night to see the skyline from across the bay. We also visited Gastown, another area of the city that stands out from the rest, where a lot of colonial buildings still stand. The downside is there’s a tacky souvenir shop every second door, but it’s still nice to walk around. Near to there is Chinatown where there are some fantastic gardens. Unfortunately there was some big movie being shot in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden, but there’s a free one around the other side that you can stroll around.

As far as shopping goes the city has everything if you know where to look. There is some great op-shopping to be had down commercial drive. You can find brand stores on Howe Street. I’m sure there are other spots out there.

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We also visited Kitsilano, where my sister was staying, but only got a feel for the residential area, which is nice. There’s a beach nearby that would be awesome in the summer. A unique feature is the rows of large logs lined up on the sand. In the little park area nearby there’s a tall totem pole worth looking at.

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We only had four nights in Vancouver, but could have used more. The city is expensive, but who cares when you’re traveling.

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See the full set of Vancouver photos here.

Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

I never thought the Tongariro Crossing was something I’d be capable of doing even if I wanted to. I guess 11 years in Wellington have trained my legs well.

When Kate decided she’d like to hike the crossing I signed up without much hesitation and I’m so glad I did! We spent the weekend at Discovery Lodge in National Park with views of Tongariro and Ruapehu and had the most glorious Saturday for the climb. I was prepared for crazy alpine weather if it hit us, but was quite pleased to not be blown around, rained on, or burnt to a crisp.

I owe a lot of my success and enjoyment of the 19.4km hike to walking poles. They were worth every single ounce of dignity I may have lost by looking so uncool, cause who was still able to lunge the next day? Me! (And then a couple of days later my knees gave out and I couldn’t walk well for two weeks, so I suppose the poles were worth even more than that because they kept my knees from giving out while I was actually on the trail.)

Tongariro Crossing - 29 March 2014
Tongariro Crossing - 29 March 2014
Tongariro Crossing - 29 March 2014
Tongariro Crossing - 29 March 2014
Tongariro Crossing - 29 March 2014
Tongariro Crossing - 29 March 2014
Tongariro Crossing - 29 March 2014

365 in 2013

Tuesday, November 19: We spent our last day in Budapest climbing Gellert Hill and marveling over how visible the smog is despite the overnight rain.
Tuesday, November 19: We spent our last day in Budapest climbing Gellert Hill and marveling over how visible the smog is despite the overnight rain.

Wednesday, November 20: A quick three hour train and we're in Vienna. Finally the Christmas markets I've been so looking forward to! This amazing art installation was at our first market.
Wednesday, November 20: A quick three hour train and we’re in Vienna. Finally the Christmas markets I’ve been so looking forward to! This amazing art installation was at our first market.

Thursday, November 21: After galleries as we make our way to a church which is bound to have more Christmas market to explore.
Thursday, November 21: After galleries as we make our way to a church which is bound to have more Christmas market to explore.

Friday, November 22: More zoo! Vienna zoo was also excellent. Rockhoppers are my favourite penguins, I love their hair.
Friday, November 22: More zoo! Vienna zoo was also excellent. Rockhoppers are my favourite penguins, I love their hair.

Saturday, November 23: We had a walk around Vienna's weird Prater Park. It was half creepy empty and half super loud music, flashing lights, and haunted houses.
Saturday, November 23: We had a walk around Vienna’s weird Prater Park. It was half creepy empty and half super loud music, flashing lights, and haunted houses.

Sunday, November 24: So many lights.
Sunday, November 24: So many lights.

Monday, November 25: Our first snow, kinda, it was pretty light @ Belvedere Palace.
Monday, November 25: Right before our first snow, kinda, it was pretty light @ Belvedere Palace.

365 in 2013

Tuesday, November 12: Wawel Hill is quieter now so we're back to check out one of the exhibitions and more vine covered brick buildings.
Tuesday, November 12: Wawel Hill is quieter now so we’re back to check out one of the exhibitions and more vine covered brick buildings.

Wednesday, November 13: We're going to Budapest by train tonight so there's lots of time to kill hanging out in restaurants and coffee shops trying to stay warm. Krakow's main square is pretty at night.
Wednesday, November 13: We’re going to Budapest by train tonight so there’s lots of time to kill hanging out in restaurants and coffee shops trying to stay warm. Krakow’s main square is pretty at night.

Thursday, November 14: Budapest! The end of a long day of finding our bearings and another walking tour. The view from the castle hill is vast and stunning.
Thursday, November 14: Budapest! The end of a long day of finding our bearings and another walking tour. The view from the castle hill is vast and stunning.

Friday, November 15: Utterly exhausted we deem our number one priority to be soaking in a thermal bath. Budapest has many of them but we chose the largest Hungarian style baths for our soaking - Szechenyi Thermal Baths.
Friday, November 15: Utterly exhausted we deem our number one priority to be soaking in a thermal bath. Budapest has many of them but we chose the largest Hungarian style baths for our soaking – Szechenyi Thermal Baths.

Saturday, November 16: The Budapest Zoo is incredible. I'm obviously a huge fan of good zoos, but wow! In the Budapest Zoo there are a few enclosures where you are right in with the animals.
Saturday, November 16: The Budapest Zoo is incredible. I’m obviously a huge fan of good zoos, but wow! In the Budapest Zoo there are a few enclosures where you are right in with the animals. There are Zoo volunteers wearing fluro vests, but there is nothing separating you from the sloths, lemurs, bats, and vultures, we were in enclosures with all of them.

Sunday, November 17: The Great Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe.
Sunday, November 17: The Great Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe.

Monday, November 18: Puder Bar where I finally try the Hungarian liqueur unicum.
Monday, November 18: Puder Bar where I finally try the Hungarian liqueur unicum.

365 in 2013

Tuesday, November 5: The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn is another of Prague's gothic beauties.
Tuesday, November 5: Our free tour of Prague, full of laughs and wacky sound effects from our enthusiastic guide ends, and after finally finding a place to eat that is both warm and not smokey we leave just in time to finally catch the astronomical clock doing its dance. The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn is another of Prague’s gothic beauties.

Wednesday, November 6: Already running out of things to do in this pretty, but ultimately not very exciting, city we end up at places like the John Lennon memorial wall.
Wednesday, November 6: Already running out of things to do in this pretty, but ultimately not very exciting, city we end up at places like the John Lennon wall.

Thursday, November 7: Our final day in Prague, more time to head back to areas we've already been to and explore them better. Across the river is this monument to the victims of communism.
Thursday, November 7: Our final day in Prague, more time to head back to areas we’ve already been to and explore them better. Across the river is this monument to victims of communism.

Friday, November 8: The castle on the hill features some pretty interesting combinations of architecture styles.
Friday, November 8: We rolled into Krakow at 6.30am after spending the night not sleeping much on a train. Exhausted, we drop our bags at the hotel and because it’s so early have to head out again for breakfast and then straight on to a walking tour. The castle on the hill features some pretty interesting combinations of architecture styles.

Saturday, November 9: Lots of pretty horses to look at in the square while we wait for our second walking tour to start. This time a tour of the Jewish district.
Saturday, November 9: Lots of pretty horses to look at in the square while we wait for our second walking tour to start. This time a tour of the Jewish district.

Sunday, November 10: Benefits of traveling on shoulder season include free entry to castle exhibitions. Drawbacks are that this is when locals and weekend visitors come to the city and the lines are too long to make visiting possible.
Sunday, November 10: Benefits of traveling on shoulder season include free entry to castle exhibitions. Drawbacks are that this is when locals and weekend visitors come to the city and the lines are too long to make visiting possible.

Monday, November 11: It is Poland's National Independence Day, which we mark by watching some parading and speeches we don't understand while waiting for our tour to start. Today we're visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau. It was...worse than I expected.
Monday, November 11: It is Poland’s National Independence Day, which we mark by watching some parading and speeches we don’t understand while waiting for our tour to start. Today we’re visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau. It was…worse than I expected. The size of Birkenau, I can still not comprehend.

Sonobe, Kyoto

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Onwards to Kyoto

The day before Kate and I left Tokyo for Kyoto I got quite sick. I suspect it was the sushi I ate in Akihabara, but who knows, maybe I just touched a stair railing and then touched my mouth.
We dragged my sorry ass to the train station and caught a Shinkansen to Kyoto. Kate was able to treat herself to a bento box lunch and a beer. I lined up four drinks across the tray table: water, plain unsweetened iced tea, grapefruit juice, and pocari sweat (which thankfully doesn’t taste as gross as it sounds).

We arrived at Kyoto station and eventually found Fiona and Pia, the friends who would be hosting us in Sonobe for the week. Sonobe is about 40 minutes from Kyoto station so we had a look around the shops and stopped at an Irish pub for something to eat. I know, I know, I come to Japan and eat at an Irish pub? Well you try not eating for a few days while in a foreign country after having dysentry and traveling by train and then try telling me that you’re not just going to stop off at the first place with familiar food and an English menu.

Anyway, the nadir of the trip was reached and it all got better from here.

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What I saw of Sonobe was a small town with trees reminiscent of My Neighbour Totoro. Despite the small size it had luxuries like taxis and street corner vending machines (and a train!) that my small hometown back in NZ could only dream of.

It was great to experience real Japanese apartment life; where your futon is rolled up daily and the floors are covered in tatami. The internal walls are thin and everything feels a little too small for a western body. Balconies are used to dry clothes and air bedding. The luxury of sitting at the kotatsu (a low heated table with blankets!) on a winters night.

On the day I left Sonobe Pia called one of her Japanese speaking friends to ask if she could please call the taxi company and order one for me. Life isn’t easy when you don’t speak the language, but you find ways to get through. As we bundled my suitcase into the boot of the car it started to snow. Ain’t that some poetic shit.

Train from Sonobe Map at station

Views from the train from Sonobe to Kyoto / A map at Sonobe train station

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The view from Fiona & Pia’s lounge & balcony

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Vege patches everywhere

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Winter frosts

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Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown
Queenstown

What a beautiful part of the country!

It’s unusual flying into Queenstown for the first time. Growing up I constantly saw images of our epic landscapes; snow capped mountains with streams running between them and not a person in sight. Exposure to these images increased in the years following New Zealand’s transformation into Middle Earth. But now, making the sharp right turn toward Queenstown’s airport, those images are very real and present.
So real I heard that pilots flying into Queenstown have to be good enough to ignore warnings coming from the safety systems telling them they’re going to crash into a mountain. (Nervous collar pull.)

Air New Zealand Wellington to Queenstown

I always expected that these sorts of landscapes could only be accessed with a lot of money, a helicopter ride, or a two day trek in the snow. Not the mere act of standing on solid ground with Lake Wakatipu on one side and Queenstown’s low profile city centre on the other side.

A large number of Queenstown’s population is transient, travelers there for a few months, a few weeks, a few days. It’s easy to become a local, just stay put for a couple of years. I wonder if everyone is so nice because they know they’ll be gone soon…or you’ll be gone soon.

We ate some incredible food in our four days. The coffee wasn’t half bad either.
If you can afford it then Amisfield Winery is well worth the visit. We loved Kappa for more affordable Japanese food. I was impressed with the coffee I tried at Vudu in Queenstown, Espresso Love & Cafe Mondo in Arrowtown, and Kai Whakapai in Wanaka.
All of the rumours about Fergburger (and Fergbaker) are true: huge cheap delicious burgers and fast friendly service. And if you’re a sweet tooth like me go try some of the many fudge varieties at one of the Remarkable Sweet Shops.

See all of my Queenstown, Arrowtown, and Cromwell photos on Flickr.

Fergburger, Queenstown

In the end it all comes back to the view. Wander around the gardens at the lake (try not to get hit by frisbees on the frolf course), take a trip up the Skyline gondola, and if you’re as lucky as I am get your friends to take you over the Crown Range and eventually on to Cromwell for a classic Southland Cheese Roll next to Lake Dunstan.

Arrowtown
Cromwell
Cromwell

Amisfield Winery: We tasted some wines at their cellar door and then sat in the sun to share a charcuterie board with wild rabbit rillette & apricots, dried venison sausage, chicken liver mousse with pistachio crust, pickled vegetables, and sourdough; huge slices of pork belly with barley and blood orange; and a spiced kumara tart with caramel walnuts and vanilla ice cream for dessert. I loved the noble sauvignon blanc so much I had to bring a bottle home with me.
We got out just in time to cross the road and catch the bus into Arrowtown.

Amisfield Winery, Lake Hayes
Amisfield Winery food
Amisfield Winery, Lake Hayes

Our first night in town was a bit cold, but still fine enough to eat our burgers down by the lake. For the most part though we were totally over prepared, the sun shone and we found ourselves having to strip off coats and thermal layers.

Cromwell
Cromwell

Queenstown Gardens and Lake Wakatipu
Queenstown
Queenstown
Queenstown
Queenstown
Queenstown
Queenstown

Skyline Gondola
Skyline Gondola, Queenstown
Skyline Gondola, Queenstown
Skyline Gondola, Queenstown
Skyline Gondola, Queenstown
Skyline Gondola

Lake Wanaka
Wanaka

Arrowtown and the Millenium Walk
Arrowtown
Arrowtown
Arrowtown
Arrowtown
Arrowtown

See more of my Queenstown, Arrowtown, and Cromwell photos on Flickr.

Tokyo, Japan

Swan boats and autumn leaves in Inokashira Park

Inokashira Park

13 days, 13 nights, three cities, and a bout of dysentery.

Tokyo is big. BIG big.

I was expecting a big, highly populated city but it really took me by surprise. I’ve been to other big places, Hanoi, Bangkok, but Japan being what it is I kinda mistranslated “excellent public transport” to “fast and easy to get anywhere.”
You can go lots of places, it’s true, and the trains will arrive on time, they’ll be heated and clean, and they’ll have announcements in English; but there’s a lot of distance to cover and train changes to coordinate.

The size was hard for me to adjust to and it meant I didn’t enjoy my time in Tokyo as much as I’d hoped. We stayed at a cute, very clean place called Nui Hostel in Kuramae. Unfortunately the excellent cheap digs came with a price we didn’t factor in – an extra subway ride just to get to the main train line. I definitely recommend first time visitors, and those not good at navigating, stay on the JR Yamanote loop line.

Spending so much time on trains was a really good way of observing Japanese culture though. Everyone learns to get comfortable so close to strangers and you’ll find many people napping with briefcases on their laps. The trains were where I saw the most interesting clothes and accessories, and where I sat next to a guy casually reading anime porn. They were where we learned how to pronounce Tokyo and Kyoto place names correctly.

As a Gaijin in a foreign country not knowing any of the language I found it pretty hard to find good Japanese food (completely my own fault). Going to restaurants we’d researched were missions in their own right which we didn’t have the time or energy for; we’d often end up eating at the (excellent) convenience stores, or an American themed family restaurant. It was a real treat when we got to meet our Wellington friend Mika for dinner, she read a whole menu to us and acted as translator.

Despite our terrible language skills we found everyone to be very accommodating and eager to use any English they knew. Most people were really friendly and welcoming, with the occasional scowl from an elderly person, and a pointed finger from a child wondering what’s up with the two pale girls and how did that one end up with pink hair?

We spent six nights in Tokyo before catching the shinkansen to Kyoto, which is much closer to my pace of living.

I took A LOT of photos. Rather than trying to use the awful WordPress galleries I’ll post a few of my favourites and leave you with links to explore more of them on Flickr. Enjoy. (See all of my Tokyo photos here.)

The Sumida River as seen from my window at Nui Hostel, Kuramae, Tokyo, Japan

The Sumida River as seen from our window at Nui Hostel

View from the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

View from the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku

We (I) got a bit lost getting here, but a nice man saw us staring at our map and walked with us a few blocks to point us in the right direction. Well worth the visit because it’s free! If you’re not familiar with the area try to get off the subway at Tocho-mae Station on the Oedo Subway Line. (See more sights of Tokyo)

Our first visit to the famous Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo, Japan

Our first visit to the famous Shibuya Crossing

King of the boats, Tokyo, Japan

Swan boats in Inokashira Park

Inokashira park was a beautiful surprise on our walk to The Ghibli Museum. Full of autumn leaves, dogs wearing coats, little black ducks, fountains, …and swan boats. I’m sure there’s some kind of terrifying swan boat king horror movie in the making here. (See all photos of Inokashira Park and the Ghibli Museum)

Ghibli Museum

Ghibli Museum turret in autumn

The Ghibli Museum was more than we could have hoped for. We squealed and exclaimed about all the small details. I hadn’t been a Studio Ghibli fan for long, animation really isn’t my jam, but the museum really solidified my love.
There are no photos allowed inside which meant no one standing in the way taking selfies. I got to take it all in without my camera glued to my face. (See all photos of Inokashira Park and the Ghibli Museum)

Robot Soldier, Ghibli MuseumFood is advertised this way everywhere in Tokyo & Kyoto. There's a whole market devoted to plastic food for advertising! (Tokyo, Japan)

Robot Soldier guarding the Ghibli Museum rooftop garden / Pfft pictures of food is for chumps, Japan advertises with plastic plates of meals

Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street), Harajuku

Takeshita Dori (Street) is where you’ll find the cool kids shopping for cheap jewellery and the latest fashions. Like really, this is where trends are made and new products are test-marketed.

Lunch at Brown Rice Cafe in Shibuya

Lunch at the Brown Rice Cafe in Shibuya

We got a litte lost trying to find this place (you have to go through a holistic health store on one side) but it was well worth it. Just vegetarian whole foods made delicious.

DisneySea

Carousel

DisneySea

Me & my Tigger hat in front of DisneySea’s Mount Prometheus

DisneySea

The American Waterfront & SS Columbia

This was my first visit to a Disney park, and wow. Wow. DisneySea is next door to Tokyo’s Disneyland. It’s designed for an older crowd, which definitely appealed to me as I kinda really don’t enjoy children.
DisneySea has seven ports with different rides and landscapes, and it’s just so cool. Everything looks amazing so even when you’re not on the rides there’s lots to discover. The day we went wasn’t too crowded but there was still quite a long wait for the rides. We managed to go on everything we wanted to and we stayed for the christmas shows…which really weren’t as cool as I was expecting. I read “floating christmas trees” and somehow equated that with trees floating in the air rather than in the big lagoon.
The best rides are always the most terrifying ones, so if you get to DisneySea then make sure you ride the Tower of Terror. (See all photos of DisneySea)

Nui Hostel

Nui Hostel

Nui Hostel, Kuramae

The aforementioned cute digs, Nui Hostel. Everyone working there was super nice, and the place was decorated beautifully. The hostel lobby doubles as a cafe/bar, tree trunks hold up huge wooden bar tops, and exposed concrete walls are decorated with dried flowers and planter boxes. (See all photos of Nui Hostel)

Neko JaLaLa Cat CafeMeiji Shrine, Shibuya

Lazy cats at Neko Jalala / A beautiful bride (?) at Meiji Shrine

Kate and I love cats so we obviously had to check out a cat cafe in Tokyo. Kate had heard about Neko Jalala in Akihabara so we went there one night to have a play. Unfortunately all the cats were tired and grumpy by the time we got there. Grumpy cats unite! (See all photos of Neko Jalala cat cafe)

Meiji Shrine, Shibuya

Meiji Shrine

At Meiji Shrine we were treated to a procession of beautifully clothed people. We’re still not sure what they were doing but I’ve deduced that it was probably a wedding party entering the shrine to be married.
Elsewhere in the grounds a few children in colourful traditional clothes ran about being cute. (See all photos of Meiji Shrine)

Photo sets: Nui Hostel & Kuramae; Inokashira Park, Ghibli Museum, & Mitaka; Sights of Tokyo; DisneySea; Neko Jalala Cat Cafe; Meiji Shrine

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries

Flying home

I’m planning some trips in 2013 (if you couldn’t already tell from my 13 in ’13 list). They’ll be both close to home and on the other side of the world, and I’m pretty excited.

Even though I was born in Christchurch I haven’t been in the South Island since I was a couple of months old (bar a few hours spent in Christchurch Airport). The one time I attempted to travel to Christchurch it was so foggy that the plane flew to Christchurch, circled the city a few times and flew back to Wellington. So this year I’m going for sure.

We want to see Arrowtown when it’s all sparkly for the autumn festival, pretty with autumn leaves, maybe find a good deal on a bed and breakfast. Brendan has been writing a script based in Arrowtown gold mining times on and off for a couple of years so it will be really great to see the area for himself.

The truly big trip will be in October and November. Six weeks, six countries, six cities. Prague, Berlin, Reykjavik, Budapest, Krakow, and Vienna. I’ve wanted to go to Germany for about 10 years, German is my favourite language (though I don’t speak it). Iceland, though a relative newcomer to my list of favourite places I’ve never been, should be incredible. The Northern Lights! Potentially some kinds of snow dwelling animals! Though my narwhal and polar bear viewing mission may have to wait a few years till Brend and I both have the desire to spend $12000 on an 8 day arctic safari cruise.