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.
Words by Brendan Schenk
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We only had four nights in Vancouver, but could have used more. The city is expensive, but who cares when you’re traveling.
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.)
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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. The size of Birkenau, I can still not comprehend.
Tuesday, October 15: We spent most of the day at the Vancouver Aquarium followed by a big walk home through Stanley Park full of autumn colours and squirrels getting ready for the winter.
The Aquarium is really cool! Seems to be some great conservation projects going on and the shows by the dolphins and belugas were so awesome!
Thursday, October 17: Our last day in Vancouver. We woke up to fog covering the city, it was quite incredible to see from our high balcony! We met with Janine & wandered around Kitsilano, the beach, and saw the 100 foot centennial totem.
Friday, October 18: After a long flight to Frankfurt all of our plans to explore the city for a few hours went out the window. The nice people at the Meininger airport hotel made a room available for us early so we showered and slept and slept and ate terrible food in the “restaurant”. I was full of cold and in quite a bit of pain from it and quite happy to do nothing but sleep and feel sorry for myself.
Saturday, October 19: ICELAND. After one night in Frankfurt we flew with Iceland Air to Reykjavik. This city, man! All we did this day was walk to the mall that Brendan dumpster dived at last time and ate some dinner, inside, that we paid for.
Sunday, October 20: Time to explore the city! The Phallological Museum (yes, a museum full of penises), some classic Icelandic food, Hallgrimskirkja church, a big ol’ graveyard, and super cute little buildings.
Monday, October 21: The Laugardalslaug pools warmed us up from 0 degrees so we could walk through the botanical gardens. We tried desperately to find the entrance to the fun park/zoo but failed until we saw a driveway with the gate open and suddenly there were animals! Icelandic horses, seals, and stags. But most importantly there were a couple of beautiful arctics foxes! I almost cried. I love foxes so much and these were my first real life sightings.
We explored the park a bit and on exit finally found the real entrance…where you’re supposed to pay. Oops.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.