New Zealand

Interesting Signs photographed along the way

As we travel between Scotland and Argentina, we thought we’d take a break from chronicling our travels and do something a little different with the blog today. As you might expect, we’ve taken thousands of photos on our trip so far. Along the way, we’ve seen some hilarious, curious and confusing signs. We wanted to share ten amusing photos that we’ve seen from New Zealand to London.

Really, really a place that serves food

We saw this marquee in Kyoto, Japan and it has since become one of my favorite photos from the trip. Hey, if you don’t know what beef is, I’m probably not going to eat at your restaurant. Every time we look at this photo, we come up with more questions than answers.

THAT's a Camera?

This unmarked sign could be found everywhere on highways and major roads throughout Asia and in parts of Europe. It wasn’t until we arrived in Scotland did another adjoining sign give us a clue on its meaning “Cameras being used to check speed.” In what century is THAT the image you use to indicate camera? Should we be on the look out for a photographer on the side of the road with his head behind a hood and holding up an old-timey flash? If you’re speeding, will he chase you down in a horseless carriage? Good Goulash, that sign is outdated.

Don't go chasing after your hat!

This one can be found at Tokyo regional rail stations. I love it because it’s such a remarkably specific sign. Although I can’t read any of the Japanese, I’m going to go ahead and translate this as “If you’re a young girl who has dropped her cute hat on the subway track, please wait for the transit worker with the long stick clamp thing to retrieve it.”

This one is just so simple its genius. Several locations in Eastern Europe have a very simple designation to let you know when you’re entering or leaving a city, area or region. It’s actually one of those things that is so basic, it took us a while to figure it out. The first sign means that you’re entering this area and the second sign means you’re leaving this area. No knowledge of the local language needed!

Aye! Breakfast!

This package in a Highlands grocery store had me in stitches because I don’t think you could put a larger, more outlandish Scottish Stereotype on a box of Oatmeal. Its like having Uncle Same bursting out a box of Rice Krispies. The only thing that’s missing is the tagline: “Before you go shot putting in the Highlands with your kilt and chiseled, model good looks, make sure you down some Oats!”

Brooke has never been so confused

Every now and then, Brooke and I revisit this photo taken at Tokyo’s SkyTree Tower. We’re like scientists reworking an experimental theorem hoping to find something we missed the first time. To this day, we still don’t know what in Godzilla’s name is happening on the front of this package. Or even what is inside the package. Odder still? We found this in a toy store.

Old City, Bucharest

Clever bar owners know how to attract attention. And in Bucharest’s Old City you have tough competition with bars that have clever names like Beer O’Clock. But this entrance to a themed bar wins the award for best bar entrance we’ve seen. No, we didn’t go in. Yes, I went ahead and looked up here skirt. No, I’m not telling you what I saw.

Well, THAT'S not the tower

Fair enough: The Military Museum in Belgrade only has a bit English on the displays, but they really got this one wrong! Not many people mistake the Arc De Triumph for the Eifel Tower! You have to look closely at this one or click to blow it up, but the caption says “Victory Parade of the German Army at the Eifel Tower.” Man, The Eifel Tower sure looked different in 1939. You can see some visitor was kind enough to pencil in the correct building name.

I roared with laughter when I read the name of this Edinburgh furniture store aloud. Who doesn’t love a good pun? But judging by the “To Let” sign, I don’t think things were “so good” for very long.

Want to end this post by showing that the amazing stuff we’ve seen outweighs our snarky nitpicky take on signs. Here is a great image I just rediscovered from the early days of our trip on a New Zealand beach outside of Raglan. This trip has been made of amazing moments from the hilariously surreal to the sublimely beautiful. I can’t wait to see what’s waiting for us in Argentina!

-Phil

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Categories: City Visits, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, New Zealand, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Our Last Day in New Zealand

The scenic coast!Well, our time in New Zealand has just about wound down to a close. Last night, Brooke and I jetted about an hour north of Auckland to have dinner in Warkworth. We dined with another set of new friends whom we had met when we first arrived in the country. Our last dinner in New Zealand was at an upscale pub where we finally had a chance to sample the fish ‘n chips we had been salivating over from town to town. Deliciousness followed. Driving back, we were greeted with the gorgeous site of the Auckland nighttime skyline welcoming us across the bay and into our final New Zealand hotel stay. I know I’ve said this a dozen times in a dozen posts, but it is a beautiful country.

We leave New Zealand about a thousand times more knowledgable about the culture, people, geography and history than we were when our plane landed in here thirteen days ago. And we’re still learning new things. For one, it turns out that when a sheep gives birth, the result is always twins. Never just one baby lamb, but two. We’ve also determined that given the Kiwi bird’s propensity to sleep up to 20 hours a day, Brooke might actually be part Kiwi. (Note from Brooke: “At least I wish I was. At least then people wouldn’t judge. Oh, they judge.”) Last night, we also learned about the Feijoa: A fruit that boldly claims to be like none other. Since the feijoa are out of season we won’t get to sample. But I’m continually surprised by the sheer number of fruits that I’ve never heard of. Last week, Brooke discovered and fell in love with the Tamarillo. A tart citrus fruit with the essence of a tomato. Unique, no?

Post Cards writing and Long Black Drinking BrookeWe managed to see a little bit more of Auckland on our last day including stumbling across an adorable shop called The Garden Party in the Ponsonby section of town. We limited our purchase to an Andy Warhol styled Sheep Coaster set (trust me, they’re awesome. Come to our new place for drinks and we’ll break them out) but the store had some endlessly great gear. We ordered one last Long Black coffee at one last café, sent a few postcards, and I even found a respectable enough looking barber to give me a much needed haircut. Our last day to-do list included wanting to try a Meat Pie for lunch which, despite it’s off putting name, is a much beloved local favorite. No stranger sounding than a Sloppy Joe, I suppose. We weren’t able to make that happen, but we’ve added it to our next time list. Our to do list for when we return to New Zealand is getting longer by the hour! We have a whole Southern Island to explore!

I think one thing I’ll remember most about New Zealand is the roads. We’ve been told that an old Kiwi joke is that road builders here get paid not by the mile of road they lay down, but the number of curves they install. Every day outside of the cities is a bit of adventure driving. Yesterday, we came across the commonly seen sign for “falling rock ahead.” Less than a mile down the road, we nearly plowed into a giant friggin’ boulder the size of a small Honda Civic. The mammoth rock was firmly situated about a third of the way into the road. Yikes. Also, in driving over 1,200 KM we saw a singular Kiwi Bird Crossing sign. Ah, I should have taken a picture of that one. Moving forward, my stress dreams may consist of riding around curvy mountain hills that you can’t see around, only to discover a double-long logging truck barreling down the other side of the two-lane road with 300 foot drop-offs.

Off to the AirportIn our next post, Brooke and I will share our favorite moments from New Zealand. But for now, Vela has been returned to the Spaceport, we’re at the Auckland International Aiport well in advance of our flight and will board our China Southern flight back to Guangzhou and then to Tokyo, Japan. Brooke and I are looking forward to our path to Tokyo and our stay at Camp Zama tomorrow. Next stop: The land of the rising sun! Onward to new discoveries and new adventures.

Categories: Driving, Eating, Japan, New Zealand, Reflections, Transportation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

It’s always a good time

Greetings from the YHA Hostel in Taupo, New Zealand. Brooke and I just wrapped up a home made dinner and some time in the community lounge watching, of all things, Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups” with some fellow travelers. Taupo brings us the smallest room stay to date (you might have to step outside to change your mind), but it is clean, cozy, comfortable and friendly so it will work out nicely. We are learning that we prefer hostels and services like AirBnB to hotels since they have kitchens, community areas and a more unique atmosphere. Besides, when you’ve seen one Hampton Inn room, you’ve probably seen them all.

Maps getting us from place to placeToday was mainly a travel day which meant a day of Vela trekking through some towns and some more windy roads in a bit of unrelenting rain past plenty of contented sheep. Driving in the rain makes us sleepy, but State Route 1 took us through plenty of small interesting towns. For example, we drove through a town called Bulls which has a sign welcoming us to (this is true): “Bulls – A town like no udder.” They also had garbage cans that said “Be Responsi-bull.” Hah! You know I love a good pun. The time in the car is always scenic since the terrain changes every 150 miles. Today, we drove through the “desert road” section of the North Island, which was mostly just brown. Not so much with sand. Our spaceship also took us past Mt. Tongariro which had erupted last week but is quiet now. Hoping to avoid a bunch of that. As Brooke keeps saying, while it would make for a good travel story, we don’t need a story that good!

The Silver Fern -Painted on the table at our Hostel

The Silver Fern -Painted on the table at our Hostel

Our New Zealand discoveries continue. This week, we’ve happened across Vogel bread and Vogel cereals which is the pride of the Kiwis. Native to New Zealand, it is beloved and delicious. We also learned that “Old Blighty” is an excellent slang term for England. Yup, when we come home, we’re going to be those people who refer to garbage as rubbish, calling someone as ringing someone and England as Old Blighty. Oh, and from now on, a Zip Line is a Flying Fox. That’s right. I’m also learning about rocker Johnny Devlin – New Zealand’s hip-swinging answer to Elvis Presley in he 1960’s.

Look! A Gum named after me!

Check it out! The kind people of New Zealand and Wrigley’s have named a chewing gum after me!

Wanted to end the post today with something a little bit different. Below are some YouTube videos (sorry e-mail subscribers–you’ll have to go to http://www.luggagetagtravels.com to view these) of sites we’ve seen in New Zealand that just quite weren’t the same in photos. Something to mark our second to last night in New Zealand!

-Phil

Categories: Driving Abroad, Eating, Exploring, Hotels, New Zealand, Random Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Bound to Happen

We knew it would happen.  It was bound to happen.  We figured, Japan, China, Vietnam–any place where the food was strange and the menus are in another language.  But no.  It happened here in safe, English speaking New Zealand–food poisoning!  After a rough night of sleep, Phil woke up feeling a little off kilter, which led to feeling awful as he “vommed” up the dinner from last night.  We didn’t go to some shady restaurant or anything.  This place was very highly rated on Trip Advisor.  And to be fair, the dinner was lovely, it was just the aftermath that left a little something to be desired.

We considered blaming Phil’s Aunt Joanne, who wanted to know if he had tried the lamb in New Zealand yet.  So, he ordered lamb.  Everyone can guess how that worked out.  I actually blame Phil, who touted cute pictures of lambs laying lazily in the fields as we drove through the countryside, then turned his back on them by eating lamb for dinner.  It is a bit of cosmic revenge, wouldn’t you agree?  Whoever is to blame, let’s just say it was a bit of a rough day for Phil, which is really too bad because it was a gorgeous, spring-like day here in Wellington.

Once we got Phil up and on his feet, we decided to take a drive along the Wellington coastline.  It is absolutely beautiful, with waves crashing against the shore, native birds swooping over the beach and people coming out in droves to enjoy the sunshine and uncharacteristically mild August day.  As we wound our way around the coast, we saw a sign for a penguin crossing!  How cool would it have been to see penguins!  Sadly, it was not meant to be.  However, we were able to glimpse the snow-capped mountains of the South Island as we looked out across Cook Strait.  Just seeing them made us even more sad we won’t be able to make it there on this trip.  Next time, I suppose.

What has been really great about today is getting to spend time with our lovely Air BnB hosts, Sara and Danny.  Knowing Phil wasn’t feeling up to par, Danny insisted we join them for a homemade dinner that “wouldn’t poison us.”  We sat on the deck, drinking wine and watching the sunset, as Danny cooked up a delicious dinner on the barbecue.  We talked about lots of cultural reference points regarding both America and New Zealand.  We were discussing all that we learned on our trip to the museum yesterday, when Sara brought up Danny’s film “Rage.”  Danny Mulheron is a director, actor and teacher at the Film Institute and he made a truly engrossing film about the 1981 Springbok Tour.  Never heard of it?  I hadn’t either until I visited New Zealand.  It is the fascinating story of the South African rugby team’s visit to New Zealand in 1981. Because South Africa engaged in apartheid, the Maori rugby players were not allowed to play against the Springbok when they played in South Africa.  Now that the team was visiting New Zealand, many citizens refused to stand by and support their racist policies.  The civil unrest that followed is fascinating and Danny captured it well on film.  We watched the movie alongside Danny and found it to be a very unique experience to screen a film with the director.  We have a lot more insight into his choices, the actors and the history of the story.  In short, we had an awesome evening!

Sadly, it seems our time in Wellington is winding down, as is our time in New Zealand.  Tomorrow, we begin the journey back north to Auckland.  We won’t make the drive all the way in one day, as it is rather far and don’t want to spend the whole day in the car.  We are just glad that Phil is feeling back to himself and we won’t have to change the name of our spaceship from “Vela” to “Vomit Comet”!

–Brooke



Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Driving, Eating, Health, New Zealand, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Wellington, New Zealand

On the Cable CarDuring our time in New Zealand, we’ve slowly made our way south on the North Island. We started in Auckland, the largest city in the country, and now we are exploring Wellington, the nation’s capital. After one full day we can say with great confidence, Wellington is a wonderful city and probably the first city we’ve visited where we could imagine ourselves living. Unlike Auckland, Wellington has character and personality. It has a vibrant pulse and a livelihood that Auckland really lacks. We can’t get enough!

Wellington is a big city, with a very urban vibe, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming or intimidating. Situated on the coast of the Cook Strait and in the hills of the Rimutaka Mountain Range, its winding roads and steep hills are remniscent of San Francisco. Not only that, but the independent shops, restaurants and bars give it a very cool feeling that reminds us of the best parts of the Lower East Side in New York City.

So sleepy!We began our day at Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. The new building and modern exhibits immediately impressed us. We were especially amazed by the holographic explanation of life on the boats of the Maori people when they first arrived in New Zealand. Another fascinating exhibit taught us about the fight for equality regardless of race, sexuality or gender. Their struggles are strikingly similar to those in America, though in many ways we are finding New Zealand’s ideals far more progressive. For example, they are an anti-nuclear country which caused a split in alliance with the U.S. in the early 80’s. Also, they have a member of parliament who is openly transsexual. Fascinating.

Grip Car 2After the museum, we wound our way through the city centre to Wellington’s famous cable car. Because this is such a hilly town, the government decided at the turn of the 19th century to build a cable car to help open up some of the neighborhoods in the hills to the shopping district downtown. It still gets used today by both residents who are heading home or to university and also by tourists like us who want to get a great view of the city. It has a rich history, and visiting the museum at the top was really interesting. The ride was a little freaky because the hills are quite steep, but it was totally worth it. The views from the top are amazing and if you are interested, you can also visit the nearby botanical garden and observatory.

Wellington

After such a busy day, we navigated our way back home using the city’s extensive bus system. When I say “home” of course I mean the home where we are staying. Our stop in Wellington is our first time using Air BnB. This method of finding accomodation lies somewhere between couch surfing and staying in hostels. People who have a room available in their homes post it on Air BnB, and then people can book it like a hotel room (though often for a much more affordable rate). We are staying with Sara and Danny, who have a beautiful home in the hills above Wellington. The views are amazing and they have been super welcoming. Danny and Phil spent much of last night testing each other’s trivia knowledge over a few glasses of wine. There is something really nice about staying at someone’s house, especially when it is as nice as this one is! Plus they’ve ensured us that it is safe to be here in an earthquake because it is a wooden home, therefore it will bend with the motion of the Earth. By the way, did you know Wellington is on a major fault line and regularly experiences earthquakes? We didn’t either!Awesome house!

After our lovely day in Wellington, we’ve decided that we need a little more time here. Phil found an amazing vintage/record shop called Vanishing Point and I know he wants to go back. We feel like we’ve only just begun exploring all the cute shops and interesting bars and cafes. Because of this, we are extending our time here for one more day. That is what is so wonderful about this trip. If we hate a place, we leave. If we love it, we stay a little longer. We really can’t go wrong!

-Brooke

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Exploring, Friends, Hotels, Museums, New Zealand, Random Thoughts, Self Guided Tours, Transportation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Thoughts on traveling in New Zealand so far

We wanted to quickly say that Brooke and I have been flattered and delighted by the number of views and comments we’ve received on the blog so far. We are really glad that people seem to be enjoying (or at least reading) our travel journal. As a reminder, if you’re interested in keeping up to speed (and don’t mind some more junk in your inbox) you can sign up to get an update via e-mail every time we update the blog which is about once a day. To do so, just click on the “follow this blog” link on the right hand side of the screen.

Baby lamb photographed from the side of the road!Our trek through New Zealand continued today as we’ve made our way to the southern tip of the North Island. Our spaceship is now docked in the capital city of Wellington. A day driving in rain ended with a stay overlooking the city and a warm bowl of soup and delicious pizza on Cuba Street in the heart of the city. Another day driving through rain and small towns on roads that you fear might turn to gravel made us twice as glad to arrive. We look forward to explore New Zealand’s most hyped city.

We touched down in New Zealand a week ago and now we’re getting the hang of adapting to the long-term travel lifestyle. Turns out that all I really need to start the day has been a hot shower with good water pressure. Success at at every stop so far. And all Brooke needs is just a solid cup of coffee somewhere along the way. We’ve also found that living in New York City for the last six years has prepared us well for this trip. Dealing with nighttime noise, small beds, smaller hotel rooms, navigating public transportation and even discussing living in NYC (a city that everyone knows and has a thought on) has all worked to our advantage. And, of course, I’ve been blessed with the perfect travel partner who is helping to make this trip amazing each day.

Over the past week, it’s been a blast to soak up all the small differences that we’ve found so far while traveling. I’m getting pretty quick at converting kilometers to miles, centigrade to farenheit and US dollars to New Zealand dollars, but still get thrown for a loop when I have to figure out how much $7.99 NZD per Kg of zucchini really is. There are lots of small but unique contrasts in language, social behavior, and more that we thought were worth sharing.

Coffee for a long drive to Wellington!The first lesson we learned is that coffee is a whole new ballgame here. While there are vibrant, independent coffee houses every two blocks in New Zealand, ordering a cup of black coffee will only reward you with a confused look from the barista. Thanks to our new friend Jason, we’ve learned that a “long black” is what we’re after. It is basically a shot of espresso topped off with steaming hot water. Delicious and strong but not cheap. The minimum we’ve paid for a solid cup of joe has been about $3.50. And there are never refills. American coffee may be living up to the cliché of being on par with mud in comparison, but at least you can get it by the gallon for a couple of of bucks at the local gas station.

Another thing we’ve noticed is that although everyone speaks English, we keep stumbling across some different words. In all public buildings, restrooms are just called the toilet. Which makes us feel relatively crass when we ask “Where is your toilet?” when at a restaurant. Sort of on par to “Point me to the crapper!” but it gets the job done. You “hire” a car instead of “rent.” On a menu, appetizers are called entrees. And entrees are called mains. When spoken aloud, websites such as http://www.Rugby.co.nz is referred to as “dub dub dub Rugby dot co dot en-zed”which is just fun.

Paying for purchases is also a bit different. Everyone takes credit card, but entering a pin number is much more common when you charge a purchase. Signing is decidedly against the norm and they check our signature against the signature on the card every single time. Since no one ever checked in the US, I would sometimes sign faux names like “Johnny Tellyawhattodo.” That won’t fly here.

Lastly, the people we’ve met so far are an incredibly friendly, well traveled bunch who are endlessly hospitable. It’s interesting to hear how they see America. It gives us some perspective on our own country. For example, we forget that, say, since Texas is almost nothing like Maine, 50 different states really does translate to 50 different mini-countries.

Overall, we are glad we started with New Zealand, because even though there are some small and interesting differences, we can generally clear up any confusion by asking a few questions. We are intimidated by our anticipation of how this will work in the next several countries we’ll be in (Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore) where English will be much harder to come by. I guess we’ll find out soon enough!

-Phil

Categories: Cell Phones, China, Discounts, Diversions, Health, Museums, New Zealand, Wardrobe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Napier – On The East Coast of New Zealand

Welcome to NapierSalutations from another locale in New Zealand- Napier. Today, we made thee short hop out of Rotorua and smack dab on to the west coast of the North Island. We packed up our Spaceship, stopped at the local post office to mail some postcards home to friends & family and began our trek fairly early. Our roads today were marked as the Thermal Explorer Highway which logically would qualify us as documented Thermal Explorers. Hmmm…I better get that on my LinkedIn profile ASAP.

Amazing Views continueAs with other drives we’ve conquered, today was a bit of Adventure Driving. Two lane divided highways through sharp curves and up and down mountains makes for some serious head’s-up motoring. But the stunning views through dramatic changes in topography over the course of just a couple hundred kilometers make up for it. Scenic? Not even close. The sites of mountains, sloping hills and more are the very definition of majestic. We now have had a chance to drive through both the east coast and west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Both are relatively different with the east coast delivering more mountain ranges. However, no matter where you drive, you’re sure to see lots of grazing sheep happily gallivanting and lots of roundabout traffic circles. Yup. Sheep and roundabouts. Just make it the New Zealand motto.

The Criterion HostelBefore long, we were cruising into Napier and stumbling across the western edge of New Zealand. Nothing but ocean in front of us. Napier sits right on the coast and is chic, sunny and warm. The town has a very different vibe than Rotorua and is laced with endless charming cafes downtown. As with each town before it, Napier is already different from each town we have already visited. We quickly found a hostel (with the help of Lonely Planet) that was centrally located and was just what we were looking for. The Criterion Hostel offers a solid deal, free breakfast and oozes a bit of charm in an art deco style building.

Some Prime Art DecoA bit about Napier: The town is best known for a horrific 1931 earthquake that was New Zealand’s worst natural disaster and the corresponding rebuilding that established the town as the Art Deco capital of the world. There are markers and tributes to the earthquake everywhere and the art deco style is universal. What’s truly fascinating is that the earthquake ADDED almost 40 sq km of NEW land to the city that had previously been swamp land. When the city rebuilt, a very deliberate decision was made to create almost everything in the style of the day: Art Deco. In fact, it’s hard to spend an afternoon in Napier without being constantly reminded of the towns two claims to fame. They are touted heavily everywhere. Even more recent construction keeps with the Art Deco theme and while I don’t know I.M. Pei from I.B.M. the buildings really do standout and have a great look to them. The hilly residential section near downtown reminded me a lot of San Francisco. We’re glad to be here, even if its just for a day. It’s been fun to kick around the town for a while.

View from the bluffsAfter arriving, we discovered that the bluff overlooking the shore was the perfect place to munch on a sack lunch while enjoying the view and watch a large container ship ease into the Napier Port. Later, we stumbled across the Art Deco Trust Centre (where we did our best to sit through an only slighlty mind-numbing 24 minute video) and embarked on a self-guided walking tour of the Art Deco buildings throughout town. Good times overall, but Brooke and I struggled a bit with the self-guided tour. In part because the guide was less than stellar with the information and in part because architectural beauty isn’t completely our cup of tea. We became more adept at self guiding when we started wandering into buildings and asking questions. In one top hotel, several old built-in-wall vaults now double as high end liquor storage. It was a quality crash course in the overall building style. Brooke and I can now speak knowledgeably to zigzags, sunbursts, ziggurats, facades and more.

We ended our day with drinks and dinner at the Brazen Head down the street from our hostel after abandoning plans to visit an upscale winery. While watching music videos in the bar, it looked for a minute that Ron Weasley had embarked on a pop career. Turns out, wait, he’s just acting in a somewhat hilarious music video. Well played, Ron Weasley! We even were able to enjoy a new local beer called Rooster Lager. Tomorrow: Windy Welly (that’s Wellington) and checking into our first AirBnB stay!

-Phil

 PS- Note that you can always make photos from the blog bigger/see them in more detail by clicking on the photos. We know that sometimes they appear kind of small and clicking on the photos will give ya the full experience!

Categories: City Visits, Communication, Diversions, Driving Abroad, Exploring, New Zealand, Self Guided Tours, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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