Kiwis and Castles

Monday, March 26, 2007

Back to school, back to school ...

I started back at university at the end of January and have just finished my first practicum. I spent three weeks at Johnsonville School teaching a split year 5/6 class, which is the Canadian equivalent to a grade 4/5 class. I really liked the kids and my associate teacher was great. I learned a lot, but most importantly, I got to go to camp with the kids! It was fantastic and I had a wonderful time. Today was my first day back in lectures, and I can't believe how tedious they're not feeling. I just want to be back in the classroom with the children. I don't know where my next school will be, or what grade I'll be teaching but I have a feeling it will be little ones. We're meant to be given a range of grades and different income levels at the school and in the surrounding areas.

I would write other stuff that's been going on, but really, it's just all been school! Between teaching and planning and camp and my uni assignments and readings I haven't had much time for anything else. Puppy is getting pretty big and will get, um, fixed fairly soon.

A big congrats to our friends Hannah and Phil on their baby boy born this morning, named Mikko. I haven't seen him yet but they can't keep me out for long!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Updates

We got back from the UK about a month ago. It was a great trip and Matt's brother's wedding was beautiful. The reception was held at the ruins of an old castle on a hill, exactly what I thought a British wedding should be. Then we went on our cruise and got to see some friends from Australia who we had met on the Tahitian cruise last year. We had port days in Southampton, Dublin, Glasgow, Bergen (Norway), Rotterdam (we went to Amsterdam), Bruges (Belgium) and then we got off a day early and went into Paris for a few days. We did a lot of sightseeing and a whole lot of eating. And for the most exciting news from the cruise ... Matt proposed! We don't have a date yet but it will be sometime during the summer of 2008 in Canada.

Since we've been home I've been working at Captial Gymnastics as a competitive coach and doing some office work. I'm really enjoying coaching again and I like competitive - it just feels more construtive than coaching recreational. My girls have finished competing for the year but hopefully next year I'll get to take them to some competitions.

We've also bought a house! It's in a suburb called Hataitai which is just over a hill (or through a tunnel) from downtown. If we walk to the top of our backyard there is a bit of a view of the water between the North and South islands. It has 2 bedrooms, a large living room and a huge kitchen and hardwood floors! Right now it's painted a boring shade of Sell My House Grey but we'll be changing that. We've been out the past few weekends trying to buy things we need that we don't own because we've been renting, such as linen, duvets and toilet brushes.

Matt says that he's planned a surprise trip for me in November but I have no idea where we're going. He says that it's international and I'll need my passport so I'm thinking that we'll be going to Australia. Fiji would be awesome but I think it's a bit far for a long weekend. I'll be sure to post when/if I find out where we're going before we actually go. It's something nice to look forward to though.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I Chocolate You

I'm back from my travels in China and Vietnam, as well as my trip to Canada. On Saturday we're leaving for Wales for Matt's brother's wedding, after which we're going on another cruise! We're taking Matt's parents with us, and some friends from Australia are coming too. Should be good times.

China and Vietnam were certainly eye-opening. I'd never been to a country were I absolutely couldn't communicate with anyone, so that was the first challenge. We did see a good amount of "Engrish" on signs and whatnot. Now, anyone in China who speaks more than 5 words of English beats my 4 words of Mandarin but I'm not publishing anything onto billboards. "I Chocolate You" was my first experience with Engrish, found on a cell phone ad in the Beijing airport. I still have no idea what the Mandarin says or what the proper English translation should be.

Our first couple days in China were spent in Xi'an, mainly to look at the Terra Cotta Warriors. We started with Pit 3 based on advice from the Thorn Tree Forum on Lonely Planet. I'm glad we did since we saved the biggest and most impressive excavation pit for last. I knew there were a lot of these guys but I was overwhelmed by the number of them and the size of the pits. That feeling seemed to follow me around China as very few things were how I expected, but many how I wanted them to be, if that makes any sense. I guess I just didn't expect things to actually be how I imagined ...

We made friends with a Namibian family in Xi'an and agreed to meet up with them the next couple days in Beijing. We stayed at a wonderful hostel called Red Lantern House in a traditional hutong area. I bumped into a friend from Biluim who I hadn't seen since we were 17! Over the next few days we went to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, a giant indoor market with great knock-offs (twice), the Summer Palace, the Lama Temple (the biggest Tibetan buddhist temple outside of Tibet, although the Sino-Tibetan Relationship Museum was mysteriously closed), and, the absolute highlight of the entire trip, the Great Wall at a section called Simatai.

I read that this section had been restored enough that it was safe-by-Chinese-standards to walk along, but not so restored that it looked like it had been built in the 1970s like some other more touristy sections. The Wall was exactly how I wanted it to be: very few other people, I could see it snaking off into the distant mountains, very isolated, and decaying enough to give you the sense of time that it had been around. We hiked for 4 hours along the spine of the Wall and yet got nowhere - we really understood the enormity of the whole thing. It was basically a four hour StairMaster but incredibly worth it.

After 6 days in Beijing we boarded a train down to Vietnam. We were put in a room with a British girl and Australian guy and joked that the government arranges so all the foreigners are together and can be easily monitored. I think we were right since nearly everyone else in the whole carriage were tourists! We slept most of the ride, played cards, ate terrible food and instant noodles, and read.

We had to adjust to Vietnam more than I thought we would. The city of Hanoi only has an estimated 5 million inhabitants but it felt so much more crowded and hectic than Beijing, although much smaller. Everyone and their chickens rides motor-scooters. I'm actually not kidding about the chickens. We played the How Many People Can You Spot On A Moto game, and although our record was a measly 4, some friends we made said they saw a family of 6 plus the week's groceries plus caged chickens on one little moto! Now that's impressive.

We toured around Hanoi and saw a water puppet show, visited some temples, did some knock-off shopping and lots of eating, as well as went on trips out of the city. We spent two days on a boat in Halong Bay which was stunningly beautiful. I met a woman whose parents lived in the same tiny Welsh village as Matt's parents! We bumped into her again during our last day in Vietnam on our trip to the Perfume Pagoda.

We also spent 3 days in the North-Western mountainous region in and around a town called Sapa. We walked around the village of Cat Cat which hangs off the hillside of Sapa Town itself. Our guide, Lyly, took us into a typical home there. It was very National Geographic, with an indoor cooking fire, dirt floors, two small sleeping areas for the 9 or so people living there and dirty and bottomless children running around. As we were leaving they of course tried to sell us small trinkets and jewellery. We both bought a few things for the equivalent of about $2 USD each. The next day we set off on a two day trek through the mountains and right through the rice paddies. It poured the entire time. We weren't thrilled. It was amazing to walk through some of those villages though, and we got to see our guide's village and her old school although it was shut for summer vacations. We spent the night in a homestay, but we had very little interaction with the family. There was a British guy, a French couple, and twin sisters staying in the same home so we had lots of fun talking with them. It ended up that one twin went to UVic and the other to UBC! I don't remember if they were from Vancouver or Victoria but it was another funny coincidence in the middle of nowhere.

All in all it was a great experience although not exactly a relaxing holiday. New Zealand felt so empty when I got back!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cruise part 2

Seeing as I'm going to China on Monday (!!!) I thought I should finish off writing about this cruise. I'll have heaps of stuff to write about when I get back from Asia. I'm going for 3 weeks and will see Beijing, Xian, Hanoi, Halong Bay, and ethnic minorities in the Vietnamese mountains. Now back to Polynesia ...

Day 4: At Sea
This day was mainly spent around the pool. It was great. I'm sure there was a show at night and it was probably midly funny and mostly cheesy. The dancers on the ships were dropping like flies so by the end of the cruise there was only 1 female dancer left! On day 4 there would have been a full cast though. I can't remember exactly but this may also have been our first formal night. I wore a white dress with a black flower print and we had some photos taken at our dinner table. I don't remember the food being special that night, but it was great throughout the cruise so I really have nothing to complain about!

Day 5: Rarotonga
The capital of the Cook Islands, this places was one of my 2 favorite islands we went to. It was just stunning with the stereotypical postcard crystal blue lagoons and soft sunlight and lush tropical jungle and hysterically funny tour guides. We did a 4-by-4 tour of parts of the island, going off the main coastal road and into the mountain. We were taken to a few look-out points for gorgeous photos, to a marae (native sacred temple-like structure) and our guide's home for juice and fruit at the end. His brother played the guitar and sang to us. The whole family came out and sat around and talked and they were very kind and funny and didn't try to sell us anything. Our guide kept making jokes that it was great to be classified as a third world country because France built their power station, NZ built their water purification system, the UK did this, Australia did that ... He told us a funny story of how one country came in and decided they needed a zebra (pedestrian) crossing on the one main, paved road on the island. So the country funded it, painted it, and it's never been used. Our guide said that the island people have enough sense to look one way, look the other, and cross. They never understood the zebra crossing. It rained a lot that afternoon so we just went back onto the ship and didn't stay on the island. (Our tour was about 4 hours so we saw lots of it, and all the shops were closed because it was a Sunday.)

Day 6: At sea
At sea again. We played a lot of Bingo and won some money. I'm sure we drank, ate our usual 2 lunches and then had ice cream at 3:45. I think it rained most of the day so there wasn't much laying by the pool.

Day 7: Raiatea (rye-ya-TAY-a)
This was my other favorite island. It was a really small with a couple tourist shops right at the port, but once you walked beyond that one block it was very undeveloped. Just the restaurants, shops, and supermarket that the locals use. Nothing was painted pretty or cleaned so as we walked around there for a little while you got to see real island life. As always, the people were extremely friendly. We pattered around the tourist shops for a while as well, and I was surprised to see that the prices were fairly reasonable. I still didn't buy anything though. We got on the ship again in the afternoon as it had started to drizzle and we had a night activity booked. We were taken to a small island just across the lagoon and had a umu meal and more polynesian dancing. The umu (which is the same as the Maori hangi as far as I can tell) is like an underground oven. A large pit is dug, ridiculously hot rocks are layed on the bottom, then meat and veggies are put on top in pots or metal racks. Then I think some more rocks, then dirt, then tarps and a few other layers are added so the heat doesn't escape. It's left in there for hours to cook. We watched as the Mama of the island directed the men to open it up and showed us how the food was cooked. We got to eat (and there were a few non-pork dishes) and they even cooked the dessert in the umu. Then about 6 children from the village danced and I got pulled up to dance for the second time on this trip. It was fun, embarassing, and of course Matt took photos. As soon as the dancing was finished it began to pour and it leaked through the thatch roof we were under. We made it back to the ship very full and very wet.

Day 8-9: Bora Bora (although our Italian captain pronounced it Borrrrrrra Borrrrrrrra so it sounded like we'd landed in Europe)
I think I had very high expectations of this place because of all the publicity it gets from celebrities hanging out there. It was much less built up than I thought - in fact, it was barely built up at all. The 'downtown' area clearly hadn't been built to accomodate tourists at all. It was hot, dusty, unpaved, and with only a few tourist shops and cafes. Further around the island were a few large hotels but they were spaced out enough that it didn't make much of an impact. It certainly wasn't Miami. We had lunch in Bloody Mary's which is the famous restaurant there and the prices reflected that. There were boards outside with the names of all the celebrities who had eaten there dating back quite a while, as well as the names of some locals who had come by and painted their names on the boards. The meal was good although nothing that really merited the restaurant's fame. I had an unnaturally blue cocktail that was quite nice and Matt bought a t-shirt. The weather was really nice that day so we found an old boat dock and just sat and relaxed with some friends for a while, then wandered back to the 'city'. That night was our "Sunset Champagne cruise" which would have been a great trip except it rained a lot. Still, the alcohol was flowing freely and the guides were fun and entertaining so it could have been worse. We were on a giant catamaran sailboat. The funniest thing that happened that night was a man who struck up a conversation with the crew of the sailboat about how he has a big boat like this, he's a master captain, he sails all the time, if they need any help he knows how to do everything, etc. About halfway into the boat ride Matt and I notice that he's wearing the motion sickness patch behind his ear!

Day 10: Moorea (mo-RAYA)
We didn't spend any time in the touristy part of this island, which is visible from Pape'ete. This was the day we got to swim with dolphins! We knew it was overpriced but neither of us had done it before and in the end we were glad that we were. It was a bit chilly (for polynesia) and raining a little bit but the dolphins didn't mind. We were meant to be taught about them and shown what they do for 30 minutes, then were to have 30 minutes in the water with them. Our guide could see that we were cold so we just got in the water right away. I don't remember our dolphin's name but it was a 2 year old male and he was really energetic. He did some jumps, spins, and peed. We learnt the signals to make him jump and tried those out. Two of the women in our group seemed to be afraid of the dolphin and we wondered why they'd joined onto this program, but it just meant that I got to touch the animal more. Then we did the obligatory kissing-the-dolphin photo and to be fair, it turned out really cute. Then it was back on to the boat for our second formal night which was a lot of fun because the stuffy British couple at our table got drunk and stopped being so stuffy. The waiters also made a big showing out of the baked Alaskas that were for dessert and everyone was just very relaxed.

After disembarking we went to the hotel we'd be spending the next two nights at. It was a lovely hotel but unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate. It drizzled and such for a couple days, although not constantly so we still went swimming and spent time in the pool. Then we flew back to NZ.

All in all it was a fabulous vacation!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Cruise ... 5 months later

I apologize for the ridiculous delay in writing about the Tahitian cruise, but better late than never I suppose! For some reason not all the pictures are loading into my Photobucket page so I'm still really behind with those. I'll get it sorted (and by I, I mean Matt) and post photos as soon as possible. We left for Tahiti November 27th, the cruise started November 30th and was 10 days long. We were back in NZ on December 13th I believe.

Pre-cruise, days 1-3:
We arrived in Pape'ete in the evening and were taken directly to our hotel. It was very nice and our room had the biggest bed we've ever seen. It was actually two doubles pushed together! The first night we were there was the French Polynesian National Fire Dancing Championships so we had the insanely expensive buffet that was on and watched men rub themselves with fire. It was like extreme baton twirling for the solo performances, and extreme fire cheerleading for the groups. It was really neat but got old kinda quickly. The next 3 days were spent mainly in the pool despite the fact that the warm ocean was about 10 feet away. But the ocean had a surprisingly strong current and lots of shells in the sand so we mainly stayed in the soft sand-bottomed pool. We both got burnt eventhough we were wearing SPF 30! We went into the city of Pape'ete for an afternoon but it was very unimpressive and went back to the hotel after only a few hours.

CRUISE:
Day 1, Pape'ete [Pap-ee-tee]:
After checking in with the cruise people we looked around our room (which didn't take very long) wandered around the ship and started eating. We didn't stop until the flights home. There weren't any shore excursions that first day. For dinner we thought we'd be placed at our assigned tables but it was "free" seating. This meant that the wait staff put everyone at tables as they showed up, but tried to match approximate ages. This worked fabulously in our case and we were put at a table with a "slightly" older couple from Florida (who were so rich we think they owned the entire state), a couple from Vancouver (!), and a couple who had been living in Kentucky (she's American) but had recently moved to Australia (he's australian). We became good friends with the everyone at the table and spent the rest of the cruise together.

Day 2, Pape'ete:
Our shore excursion for today was the Papenoo Valley and Waterfall 4-wheel drive trip. We were taken about halfway around the island, then through the bush to some beautiful waterfalls and lookouts. It was absolutely gorgeous, with black sand beaches and crystal clear blue waters and palm trees everywhere. That night we were seated at our proper table and were about 50 years younger than the other couples. One was a posh British couple and the others were lots of fun. He lived in the UK and she lived in Spain but they were together. It took the posh couple a little while to understand this arragement, and they didn't seem to approve. But it was funny to watch them try to be polite! We met our two waiters who were hilarious and very friendly, and started the nightly ritual of eating way too much. And then ordering dessert.

Day 3, Huahine [Hwah-hee-nee]:
We woke up and were just off the coast of this absolutely gorgeous island. We tendered into port and put on another boat for our shore excursion. We were given a bit of a sightseeing tour of the island from the water by the guide Dolores. She told us a bit about her and a bit about the island, but honestly, nothing speicifically exciting that I remember. They grow a lot of vanilla on the island. We were dropped off on a motu, which is like a small island off the coast of the main islands. The motu form the outside barriers to the ocean and creates the lagoons between them and the main islands. The water is calm, warm, and crystal clear. We were given a (mostly) traditional Polynesian lunch and our picnic tables and chairs were right in the water! There was a bit of Polynesian dancing and of course shell necklaces and pareos (sarongs) for sale. The rest of the afternoon was just spent being lazy in water and taking lots of pictures. I don't remember what the entertainment on the ship that evening was, but it was most likely a cheesy musical dance show.

More cruise to come soon ...

Friday, March 03, 2006

More picture testing

The picture in the previous post is of Big Ben and the Parliament buildings taken from the London Eye - the giant ferris wheel type thing with the viewing pods attached. It spins really slowly so that you get nice views London all the way around.



This photo is of the Paris Opera house. The hotel we stayed in was about a five minute walk from the M�tro station right across the street from the Opera house so it was a lovely sight every night on the way back to the hotel. I've changed the size of this picture so it should be smaller (and thus load faster) on the blog post.
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I finally have some photos online but half of them wouldn't upload for some reason. I'll get Matt to fix them so that I can post more. This is just a test to see what the photos look like on the blog because I'm posting this directly from Photobucket. I think you would be able to see all the pictures I've uploaded so far by going to www.photobucket.com and looking for my album Gill391. When I have all my pictures online I'll actually organize them into proper albums.
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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Australia highlights

I got back from Australia about two weeks ago, but forgot to finish writing about my time there. After Lake Burrinjuk we all went back to Canberra where I had another couple days of wandering the city on my own. I did end up going to Questacon which proved to be a lot of fun. Some of the exhibits were clearly for younger kids, and some of them were nearly identical to ones either at ScienceWorld in Vancouver or Te Papa here in Wellington, but Questacon's Circus exhibit was really neat. There were some optical illusions, carnival games and the science behind them, and a death-drop slide. It was a giant slide, about 4 meters tall, and it looked like it dropped vertically down. I was taken up to the top, put on a silly jump suit, took my shoes off, and hung from a bar at the top of the slide. Looking down it seemed totally counterintuitive to let go - it looked like I was going to drop 4 meters and break both my legs. The staff said to let go on 3: "1 ... 2 ... 3!" I hung on and said "year right." He laughed and assured me he's put 500 primary school kids down it and not one had gotten hurt. So finally I let go and sure enough nothing was broken. The slide slants just enough so that it catches you feet on the way down you just end up sliding on your back. But good grief it was scary.

Here are my picks for the top three most random things that happened while in Canberra:

#3: The kangaroo at the Lake with the world's biggest testicles. I swear, this was one well-endowed roo. They were bigger than any I've ever seen before, on any species. And he would just stand outside the door to the cabin so when you went outside, you really couldn't help but looking.

#2: Being asked by a group of female Japanese tourists to take a picture. I assumed they wanted me to take their picture, but as soon as I said yes they put their arms around me and pointed to one of their friends who snapped a photo. I think they'd be disappointed if they found out their white Australian friend was really just a tourist as well.

#1: Dressing up as a World War I nurse in the War Memorial. Doesn't sound nearly as funny as the picture looks. (And on that note, I promise promise promise to start posting pictures soon. We've finally loaded them onto the computer so it's just a matter of uploading them into an online photo album, then I'll provide the link.)