Archives for posts with tag: travel

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We got up at 4:40 am to disembark and fly to Cairns. Once there, we met up with our Cairns tour guide and checked into the hotel. We had free time in the afternoon, so Mom, Aunt Pat and I walked down the Esplanade, got gelato (it’s ungodly hot and humid up here in the tropics), checked out the Lagoon (big outdoor public pool and entertainment area) and picked up a few souvenirs.

We reunited with the smaller Cairns tour group and went to Hartley’s crocodile farm via a highway through the Barron River’s flood plain and acres of sugar cane (sugar cane is the #1 industry in the area aside from tourism). We cruised around the marsh and saw a lot of crocodiless and saw the up-close feeding of three or four. We had yummy canapés and I held an olive python and a baby estuarine crocodile. We saw a croc show and learned more about them, then had a great bbq complete with a ton of desserts.

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Saturday morning, Elaine, Tammy and Jula met up at my place. We packed up Elaine’s car and drove up to Big Bear. We walked around the village and got some old fashioned candy, then had lunch at a great little italian place with a big outdoor seating area. We checked into the hotel and spent awhile sitting in the sun on the patio by the lake, eating Swiss and German chocolate and relaxing. We all took naps then got ready and, after a no-show taxi, went to Oktoberfest.

We ate a lot of the good sauerkraut, drank a mini keg, and had apple strudel. Jula made friends with the band and requested some German songs – the band was loving that she knew all the words – and danced for hours.

Sunday we checked out of the hotel then had a nice picnic brunch by the lake. We loaded the car then went on a nice two-hour hike through the boulder-strewn woods. We saw some great views of the lake and the town. A good relaxing weekend.

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I had a month off between semesters, Eric had a whole week off for a Japanese holiday (he works for a Japanese company). So – last-minute camping trip! Eric found an available campsite at Patrick’s Point State Park, just south of Redwood National Park, and it was a done deal.

I drove up to San Francisco on Sunday, and fought terrible traffic the whole way. The light at the end of the tunnel was the promise delicious pizza and lasagne at Piccino. Afterwards, Eric and I got supplies at Whole Foods to make dessert – gourmet pearl sugar waffles, ice cream, fresh berries. INSANELY good. Watched some anime and made shopping lists.

Monday we packed up my car and got supplies at REI and the grocery store. Had lunch at the Counter, then drove up to Sonoma. Checked into our cabin, named ‘Make’, at the Andiron seaside inn. The cabin was adorable – filled with old craft kits, patterns, a paint-by-numbers wall, paint and crayons. We drove up to Fort Bragg and explored the glass beach – the remains of a bottle factory and had dinner at a really good little Thai place.

Tuesday we hiked a bit at Russian Gulch, then had lunch at the North Coast Brewing Co. restaurant. Dessert was Cowlicks ice cream, a much-celebrated local brand – and for good reason! Probably the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Drove to Eureka for groceries, continued on to Humboldt County, and got our first look at California’s giant prehistoric trees. They. Are. Huge.

Made camp at Patrick’s Point and cooked dinner and made s’mores. As we were cleaning up we found a little slug on our picnic table; s/he was after some hot chocolate that had spilled and soaked into the boards. Read in my sleeping bag for awhile and finally got to sleep after having some quiet mini-freak-outs about some suspicious noises that sounded like someone being bludgeoned to death.

Wednesday morning – no police, no suspicious activity, so I assumed no one had actually been murdered. Had breakfast at camp, then drove up to Redwood National Park. Got some maps and guide books then hiked a few hours through old-growth redwood forests. Hiked around another campground too, tried to view the Klamath River from an overlook, but the pervasive fog was too thick.

We returned to Patrick’s Point in time to hike down to the tide pools at Palmer’s point, at the south end of the park. Eric and I spent hours exploring the tide pools – a vast expanse of flat, rocky beach, shrouded in fog. Even with a family exploring nearby, it was eerily quiet and bleak – like an alien landscape. We saw a lot of kelp, snails and anemone, some barnacles and several starfish. After the tide pools we made dinner at camp (fajitas!) then had some s’mores and retired to our tent.

Broke camp on Thursday morning, drove down the coast to Humboldt Redwood State Park, and did some more hiking. Made it back to SF without incident, and arrived just in time to see the fog roll in.


more photos over at furfin.

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Breakfast in the International Dining Room with Aunt Linnea, then the cooking demo and galley tour, which were really interesting!

Spent most of the day on the Sun Deck – watched the cocktail competition, the ice-carving demonstration, and had the Asian buffet and a big bloody mary for lunch. Ice cream later on, then went to the live taping of ‘The Wake Show’, the ship’s morning show. Spent some time in the sun, then hung out in the hot tub with Dad.

Watched the replay of the international crew talent show on TV while we got ready for dinner. We went back to Vivaldi, and saw our waiter from the first night, Chicken, and talked with Shirley and Ken, some new friends from the cruise.

driving from queenstown to franz josef

franz josef glacier

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We ported in Hobart, Tasmania and enjoyed a room service breakfast. The particular brand of Australian yogurt the ship stocked was the best yogurt I’ve ever tasted.

We took a bus tour from Hobart out to the countryside, where we saw acres and acres of hops fields. Tasmania is the largest hop-growing area in the Southern hemisphere! We saw gorgeous sweeping plains and rolling hills – beautiful even though the state was in the grip of a serious drought.

We visited Mt. Field National Park, the smallest national park in Tasmania, and home to Russell Falls. We walked through the forest, under giant tree ferns and over creeks. We saw cute little rufus wallabies everywhere! Russell Falls was secluded and magical-feeling, even though the drought left it at a mere trickle. I hiked a side path to Horseshoe Falls (I think), and heard white cockatoos in the trees.

We went on to Meadowbank, where we were treated to a private tour of the sheep farm and winery – something they only do for Princess Cruises. The owner, Gerald Ellis, demonstrated a sheep muster with his dogs, old Cooter and young, eager Ruby. He directed them, all the way up in the hills, using only whistles!

After the muster, Andrew demonstrated shearing a Merino sheep. Our model was a sheep they call a ‘criminal’ – a Merino that managed to avoid the yearly shear and now carried far too much wool.

We were served a homemade BBQ dinner outdoors, by Gerald and his family and staff. We were able to taste and purchase their delicious wines. The cruise videographer sat at our table and we got to hear a lot of anecdotes about life aboard ship, and the cruise industry in general.

On to Bonorong Wildlife Park, and if we were worried we wouldn’t get to see a kangaroo…there were kangaroos everywhere! Not the giant red kangaroos, but smaller (still imposing) kangaroos, which hopped about freely in a giant enclosure. There was feed, and they eagerly ate from our hands! We could rub their necks (a place that’s hard for them to get to) and feel their soft, coarse fur and sharp-clawed, clever hands. We saw emus too, and Tasmanian devils, running around in circles and growling!

At the end, we got to see the main attraction – the koalas! The keeper brought out Banjo – a 30-35 lb. koala who was about 17 years old (koalas usually only live to 12!). He was sleepy and patient, and calmly clung to his branch while we all clambered to get our photos taken and pet his soft little back.

We were running really short of time, but on our way out I was able to pet a wombat! Wombats are my favorite – cute little faces, look like squares from above, and fur that feels sort of like a kangaroo (coarse like a little brush!).

Back on the ship we went to Aunt Linnea’s for snacks, then had dinner at Santa Fe. Afterwards, we caught the stage show ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’

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Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day

Fiordland National Park cruising day…but rainy and cold with almost no visibility. Slept in, breakfast buffet, got some throat lozenges because I could feel a cold coming on – probably the same one Dad had been fighting throughout the trip. Went to morning trivia and checked out the ship’s Valentine’s Day decorations…which were INSANE.

Hung out on the sun deck, had the Indian buffet for lunch and saw the guy who looked a lot like Grandpa again. Went to afternoon tea! Afterwards the rain finally let up and we could see the fjords we were cruising through. But of course, the only one we got to see was Milford Sound, which we’d already toured.

Mom and Dad played some ping pong then at dinner, Aunt Linnea and Dad threw down a ping pong challenge! Mom gave our waiter some chocolate for Valentine’s Day and to make it extra special, put it down her shirt first! He thought it was hilarious and was very thankful :)

Feb. 15

Got up early and ran around the top deck and went to exercise class. Captain’s Circle meeting, vegetable-carving demonstration, ship-wide ping pong tournament. Went to tea with Mom, saw the ‘Piano Man’ stage show, watched ‘the Time Traveler’s Wife’ in the main theater, and saw Jack Wilks’ comedy show after dinner.

Feb. 16

Slept in – didn’t feel well. Dad brought me breakfast and I stayed in bed and watched ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’. Mom brought me soup and then I went up and watched Dad and Aunt Linnea battle it out over ping pong. I did my puzzles outside for awhile and worked on my tan. After dinner, watched ‘the Proposal’ in bed and ate way too many cakes and cookies.

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We ported in Chalmers, and came ashore to a chilly, rainy day. A perfect day for a train ride! We boarded the Taieri Gorge Railway, a historic stretch of the Otago Central Railway, and wound our way through the rocky countryside. Most of the time we followed the Taieri River, dipping into the Taieri Gorge.

The train cars were vintage, and our host and hostess were incredibly kind and entertaining – wonderful ambassadors for their country and completely consistent with the level of kindness and consideration we experienced with every Kiwi.

On board, we sipped mimosas as we watched the countryside glide by, ate a surprisingly delicious box lunch (including wine from Montana, the winery Mom, Dad and I toured!).

After the beautiful train ride we boarded buses and visited Larnach Castle. We had a great guided tour of the house, and heard the sad story of the family who first lived there (read more via the links here). We had time to explore the house and grounds, and I spent a good amount of time on the roof (accessed via a very tight steep stairway) enjoying the near-360° ocean view. The castle and grounds were beautiful and reminded me a bit of Linderhof Palace. Less grand, of course, but a similar feel: grand palace in miniature, beautiful grounds.

That evening we went to Aunt Pat and Uncle Denny’s cabin for wine, and I brought some appetizers from the buffet. From their balcony we could see a bagpiper and drummer playing our farewell down on the dock (Dunedin is very Scottish)! We had dinner in the Santa Fe – I had an AMAZING Thai rice crème brûlée with lime sorbet.

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Got up early – 6:30am! – for an exercise class, then Mom joined me for the stretching class afterwards. Went to the omelettes-to-order station and the buffet for breakfast with Mom, Dad and Uncle Denny.

Watched the fruit-carving demonstration in the atrium, hosted by our assistant cruise director, Mark (who is hilarious on the ship’s morning show), stayed for a bit of the martini-mixing show, then read on-deck until it started to rain. Hit the special Asian/sushi buffet for lunch then we went to the wine tasting. It was a pretty big affair, and the wines were delicious.

Hung out in our cabin until it was time to get dressed up for the first formal night of the cruise. Got great spots to watch the champagne waterfall, then had dinner at Pacific Moon and watched the couples dancing to Maurizio’s music in the atrium – including one man dancing extremely oddly.

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We ordered breakfast in-room to save some time, since we had to be at our meeting point very early in the morning. Our first port was Tauranga, and our first shore excursion was to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a park where we explored some of the features of the volcanic area.

First we drove through Te Puke, the world center of kiwifruit. We made a comfort stop and I called Maria to wish her a happy birthday. At Wai-O-Tapu we saw the Lady Knox geyser erupt, then spent awhile walking around the park, looking at vast boiling crates of mud and steaming, sulfurous, color-encrusted pools.

We had lunch at the top of Mt. Ngongotaha, and enjoyed a Maori cultural show. We drove through the government botanic gardens and saw the old baths and bathhouse. We also saw a spring that was 1000° that feeds water to the Polynesian spa, which gets up to 40°C.

We drove on to Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park. Trout are bred here, and there were endless ponds bursting with huge trout. We saw a lot of big fish up close, pretty birds, and redwoods that were over 80 years old. Apparently, for some reason redwoods grow twice as fast in NZ. We also saw a longfinned eel (called ‘tuna’ in Maori) that liked to hang out inside a pipe, upside down!

Back at ship, we left port and I read and had a mojito out on deck. We hit the buffet for dinner, then saw a musical stage show.

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An early morning – we saw a hot air balloon high in the sky as we left Queenstown. We drove through Otago and saw cows, thousands of sheep, and even a few deer farms. We entered Southland, gassed up in Te Anau, and drove through the Southern Alps and through Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound. The drive wasn’t nearly as rough as expected so we arrived a few hours early. We enjoyed the loud sounds of the rainforest, the lovely views of Mitre Peak and examined some big, papery white spiders that had spun their webs along the tour building’s portico. We had lunch at the one eating establishment – the Blue Duck Café. I ate a meat pie and we listened to the Johnny Cash playing over the stereo.

The boat tour of the fjord was gorgeous. At the beginning of our voyage we saw bottlenose dolphins playing at the bow. We learned that the area gets over 20m (65ft) of rain a year, and it rains 200 out of 365 days. It hadn’t rained in a few days, but previous to that had rained three weeks straight. The fjord was huge and impressive, and the scenery was fantastic – rainforest running up the mountains and right down to the water’s edge, exposed parts of the Pacific plate’s fault line and fur seals sunning themselves on big flat rocks.

We stopped at the Milford Underwater Observatory and saw black ferns, schools of tiny fish, starfish and urchins. The water was full of sediment, which the guide said was a recent development; usually the water was crystal clear and they weren’t sure why it was so cloudy. (note: the observatory is where I got my sand flea bites)

We boarded a different boat to go back to the dock and got a good look at Bowen Falls, which provides water and power for the few buildings in the area. On the drive back to Queenstown we stopped and saw a gorgeous waterfall in a gorge called ‘The Chasm’ and took photos at the Mirror Lake.

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I met Mom and Dad at LAX, but before we could board the plane – small hiccup: a security breach at the checkpoint by our gate. We were delayed while police searched for who knows what/who, and our whole flight crew was trapped on the other side of security. Eventually we were allowed aboard the plane, and were assured we’d make up the time in the air. We had a great flight on Qantas – a little schedule so we’d know when food was coming, good food, great entertainment, a surprising amount of sleep.

We landed in Auckland then flew to Queenstown. Had a laugh at our first exposure to the New Zealand accent – at the airport a woman kept coming over the PA asking passengers to go to the check-in hut which sounded exactly like ‘chicken hut’. As we flew over the South Island we had amazing views of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea. When we exited the plane onto the tarmac the air smelled wonderful – like cinnamon toast, I swear! A good beginning to the trip. We were surprisingly un-jetlagged so after we checked in at the hotel (Dad did great driving on the other side of the road for the first time!) we took the gondola up to the top of Bob’s Peak and took in the view of Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables and the paragliders. We walked up the path that wound its way through and over the luge track, and basked in the sun awhile (it was super hot in Queenstown – probably nearly 90 and the excellent weather and blue skies would follow us all around the island) then came back down the mountain and ate dinner at a pub. We got dessert to go – this AMAZING Bailey’s molten chocolate cake – and managed to eat most of it before going to bed.

Thursday, July 2: fly into O’Hare at about 7:30. Take the blue line to meet Cecile and Matt at California, then we go to el Nandu for Argentine steak! Delicious steak and empanadas, plus super-dangerous sangria. Afterwards, Cecile and I hit City North for the 11pm screening of ‘Public Enemies’.

Friday, July 3: wake up early and take photos of Cecile peeling the tongue. Spend the afternoon/evening/night with good friends eating exceptional food. Cecile’s tongue pie is the best meat pie I’ve ever had! And putting red pepper flakes on the pineapple before grilling it is a fantastic idea – sweet and spicy!

We played the Battlestar Galactica game (I was finally a Cylon! I was finally on the winning team!) and then a few other board games – Crazy Cat Lady, Monster Squad – before Andy and Virgina had to go. then Jon, Cecile and I watched ‘Ghostbusters’ as a drinking game and pigged out grade-school-sleepover style on junk food.

Saturday, July 4: a rainy and kind of gloomy day, but we made the most of it. In the morning, Trent made breakfast for some of his friends and I got to meet some more new people who are aces with me since they let me share their food. Cecile and I left for Nora and Kate’s apartment as it was starting to sprinkle, and were very nearly there when we were sidetracked by the bargain store called ‘Pay Half’. We went in for the duration of the harder rain and came away with some dresses and cute purses – all pretty cheap.

Kate and Nora put on a great BBQ – delicious brats from Paulina Meat Market, pretzel buns, Mustard Girl spicy mustard (???), quinoa salad, cucumber salad, potato salad, sauerkraut, fresh watermelon and chili-chocolate brownies with what I think was a fleur de sel sprinkled icing. DELICIOUS! Oh, also some really good summery ales. Which we’d all had too much of, because when we sat down to play VCR Clue, we were all totally confused for about the first half hour.

The hour grew late, and I wanted to stop by Lindsay’s BBQ, so Cecile stayed to watch a movie with Nora and Kate, and I headed to the Ukrainian Village. Lindsay was throwing a cookout for her friend’s birthday so I got to see the tail end – grilled meats, dessert and present-opening. Most of the guests left for the California Clipper, and I stayed to talk some more to Lindsay. Outside, we stopped to watch some fireworks on the other side of the church across the street, and marveled at their proximity and the sheer number of fireworks displays happening in the neighborhood. As we drove around we saw they were EVERYWHERE! Every street in Chicago had a fireworks display going off – the whole city was celebrating.

Back and Cecile’s, I texted Katie to see about another BBQ and crazy fireworks display, but then started to feel the effects of three straight days of eating more food, richer food, and meatier food than I normally do, so I watched ‘Firefly’ on Hulu and did Kakuro until I fell asleep.

Sunday, July 5: Cecile left in the morning to go to Bikram yoga, and I got ready to meet Mark for breakfast. Our first choice restaurant was closed, but we went to our old standby, the Flying Saucer. Then, Mark came back to Cecile’s with me, and while I changed into kayaking clothes, visited with Lindsay who had come to pick me up.

Lindsay and I drove to Erehwon to get kayaking gloves for me, but they were closed, so we checked out the new big Whole Foods instead. Then we met Katie R. at the kayaking place and got started. We kayaked for two and a half hours and went six miles round trip. The view of the city from the river is fantastic, and we even got to hear bits of the architecture tour as those boats passed us. Kayaking is fun, but definitely work – my shoulders and hands will be complaining tomorrow, I’m sure! We also all got pretty wet, which was horrifying considering how dirty the Chicago River is. Every time a drop of water splashed into my mouth or, worse, my eye I felt a little panicky that maybe my face was going to rot off.

After kayaking we were all pretty hungry, so we went to Pockets for a quick bite. Lindsay dropped me off and I (thank god) showered and made plans for dinner. Cecile and I met Jon, Katie and one of her friends at Crust. I had a flight of two shots of their infused vodkas and they were really good, as was the arrabiata pizza and apple tart. We sat outside on the back patio and the night was perfect.

The next week I spent at home in the Quad Cities, where I went to eat at the usual places (Shanghai, La Flama) and saw a few movies. My mom and I also went to the Quad City Botanical Center. I got some great photos of the flowers and plentiful (and ginormous) bumblebees. I did the Bix at 6 and pushed myself too hard (again) but got to take a day off from activity before going to the John Deere Classic for the last two days of the tournament. Mom and I walked the course, following my Dad’s group (he’s a scorekeeper) around.

On Tuesday Mom drove me back to Chicago and I had dinner at Irazu with Lindsay and Scott, whom I hadn’t seen in years. After that I met Cecile at City North and we saw the midnight screening of Harry Potter. The next day I flew out – I good-length-ed and well-balanced vacation!

Ashley, Robyn, Erin, Holly, Meghan and I met up in Las Vegas for a weekend of great food, sunbathing, and maybe a little too much gambling.