Well Done BA

I am somewhat of an airline snob, holding top-tier status with Air New Zealand, and generally avoiding non-Star Alliance carriers. Recently we had to fly British Airways, and had a problem with damaged luggage. But to their credit, even though I have no status with them, they dealt with the situation promptly, and turned around a bad experience. Well done British Airways.

Airline Snobbery

I have been Air New Zealand Gold or Elite for the last 5 years or so. This provides certain benefits when I travel with Air New Zealand – some free upgrades, discounted upgrades, extra baggage, free seat selection, priority boarding, etc. The most important things I get are priority check-in, priority baggage, lounge access, and often fast track security and immigration.

This means I am also Star Alliance Gold, so I get some benefits when flying on any other airline in the Star Alliance group. None of the on-board benefits like upgrades, but priority check-in, security, lounge access, etc still apply.

If you only take one flight a year, none of this really matters. If you fly a lot, this makes a big difference, and you get grumpy when you can’t get it. My company policy is economy class for the ‘little people’ like me. It makes shitty US airlines just a little bit more bearable when you get a few extra benefits.

As a result, I always look for Star Alliance options when flying, and will pay a moderate premium to do so. If there’s an Air New Zealand-operated direct flight, I probably won’t even look at other options.

What if There’s No Star Alliance Option?

Star Alliance is a big network, but they don’t fly everywhere. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, and have to fly with one of the other networks. That’s what happened recently when I needed to find a flight from Edinburgh to London. The only options were British Airways, or the discount carriers like EasyJet and RyanAir.

This always makes me a bit uncomfortable. You start looking at weird routing options, to see if there’s any way around it. You dread the idea of getting stuck in monster queues at check-in or security. You wonder what the airport Wi-Fi will be like, and how much is it going to cost to get something to eat & drink when you’re stuck in the hell-hole that is the typical post-security ‘shopping and dining experience.’

Eventually you give in, accept that it’s just a short flight, and you’ll cope. So you book the flight, in this case with BA. BA has been getting some bad press recently, related to some of their cost-cutting measures. I wasn’t too worried about that: you don’t expect a full meal on a 1-hour flight.

In-Flight Experience: No Problems

Check-in was straightforward, with no delays. Security was fine, it was slow for everyone going through Edinburgh. I was a little bit lost when I got through security. Normally I head to the lounge, for some peace and quiet, but instead I had to hang around the gate. But it wasn’t too bad, and we got on the plane.

Flight was fine, no problems. Only annoyance was at Gatwick end where we had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal. This always adds annoying delays, but it’s not BA’s fault: It’s Gatwick’s design.

Luggage Damage

The problems occurred when we picked up our luggage. Anna couldn’t extend the handle on her suitcase. Makes it a bit difficult to wheel it along, and we had a fair bit of walking and changing modes of transport to get to our destination.

There were some marks on the outside of the bag, but it wasn’t until we unpacked it we saw what had happened:

The bag had taken a heavy blow, bending the handle and the tubes it slides in. Not the sort of thing that you could easily repair either. The tubing was crushed, making the bag a write-off.

You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

I was wondering what we should do about it. Make a claim on travel insurance? Complain to BA, and get sympathy but not much else? Or just write it off: It wasn’t a super-expensive suitcase.

On a whim, I thought I’d check out BA’s policies. Turns out they have an online form for making a claim about problems with a flight, including damaged luggage. We filled it in, not expecting much.

Surprise! They got back to us very promptly, and said “That sucks. How about we send you this Samsonite bag as a replacement?”

It’s not the top of the line bag, but it’s a more than reasonable replacement for our damaged bag. It was sent to us in San Francisco quickly, and is now in the closet, ready for our next trip.

Summary

I’m very pleased with this quick turnaround. It took something that could have been a bad experience, and turned it into a positive one. That’s a text-book example of how to treat your customers well.

In the short-term, I will probably still continue to fly Star Alliance flights, because United is my company’s ‘preferred’ airline, and Air New Zealand is my best option for flights back to New Zealand. But it’s good to see that you don’t have to be flying business, or hold top-tier status in order to get good treatment. I will be happy to fly them again in future for intra-Europe flights. Sadly US domestic options will continue to be mostly rubbish.

Four Cities and a Wedding.

I have been wanting to get back to the U.K for 15 yrs, so one year ago, before we left New Zealand, Lindsay told me about an invite he had received from a friend/colleague to his wedding! I was overjoyed.

As it turns out, between us we have numerous friends and some family that we both really wanted to catch up with. So this holiday became the adventure of the year as we worked our way to and from different groups in Sweden and throughout the U.K.

Sweden

Our first visit was to Stockholm to visit my brother Grant and his family. This includes my two fabulous nieces Bianca and Olivia, and Grants partner Kristina along with her two son’s Alexander and Carl whom Grant has become a kind of foster father to. My brother and family extended their hospitality to ensure Lindsay and I were very comfortably looked after and fed, and we totally enjoyed our stay.

However, it turns out the proof of Aunty and Uncle love, requested by all our nieces and nephews throughout the world, is the love that only lolly/candy/sweeties can show! And what is the most requested! Jolly Ranchers – requested from NZ to Sweden; they all want the old fashioned hard candy…YEK!

Carl, Bianca, Olivia and Alexander divvying up the kilo’s of American candy and New Zealand lollies that we were directed to deliver! You think they would look happier, but this is serious business…to make sure that no one gets any more or less than the next person!
Exploring the streets of Stockholm.
Exploring the streets of Stockholm.
Out in the centre of Stockholm for a restaurant meal. Getting a little after dinner exercise  From left is Olivia, Grant, Me, Lindsay and Bianca.
The outpouring of grief following the 7 April 2017 attack in central Stockholm when a hijacked truck was deliberately driven into crowds along Drottninggatan (Queen Street) before being crashed through a corner of an Åhléns department store. Five people & one dog were killed, and around 15 others were injured.
Kristina’s stunning home steeped in history.
Easter dinner at Kristina’s with all the family. Prepared from start to finish by the fabulous Carl who at 14yrs is a superb Spaghetti Bolognese chef! Best I’ve had.

The Wedding in Derby, England

After three nights in Stockholm we flew to Manchester where we hired a car and drove to Derby for a three night stay. We had a fabulous time at David & Natalie’s wedding, everything from the venue to the catering, and music was great. As was the company.

Just your average view of a castle on a hill as one drives through England.
Lindsay and I all cleaned up for the wedding.
Throwing confetti to celebrate the Newlyweds David and Natalie Gee.
David and Natalie dancing (kind of) along with other wedding gifts to a song from their youth. We couldn’t join in – didn’t know the moves!
Action Shot of Lindsay crashing into me with his dodgem on an evening out with the newlyweds and new friends.

Scotland

After Derby, Lindsay and I enjoyed a day worth of driving through the English countryside as we headed towards Edinburgh in Scotland where we were to spend 4 nights. Lindsay and I are both fans of getting of the main road and exploring the back roads, villages and out of the way sights.

Lindsay feeling the chill at Hadrian’s Wall close to the border of Scotland, in England.
Hadrian’s Wall close to the border of Scotland, in England.

We stayed with Scott (whose business also happens to host this website/blog). Scott’s an old kiwi friend of Lindsays whom he met watching an All Blacks game in a Scottish pub, back when Lindsay lived in Scotland. Scott’s generosity was incredible; he shared his home making his room available to us whilst he slept in the single bedroom. He fed us fabulous home made food, and gave us the grand tour of Edinburgh.  Although we had lived in Scotland before, we’d never really seen Edinburgh the way he showed us. Thank you Scott, it was awesome.

Lindsay, Scott and Myself exploring Old Edinburgh.

Lindsay and I both love Scotland. I suspect it’s because we both enjoyed great experiences with friend whilst we lived here; that and the Scots aren’t to different in humour and lifestyle to Kiwis.  We spent a bit of time driving around visiting friends in Kilmarnock, Glasgow, Tillicoultry, Dundee and Edinburgh. We both really enjoyed catching up on the changes in our lives and rekindling old friendships.  We’re both pretty keen to get back soon.

The old stone farm house I had the pleasure to live in 15yrs ago, in Tillicoultry, Scotland. The oldest parts of the house date back about 400yrs.
This fabulous school! found in Edinburgh. I suspect there would be some awesome haunting stories to be told.
Greyfriars Kirkyard. A very old and interesting graveyard in the centre of Edinburgh.
Century old homes reflecting on the night waters in Leith, Edinburgh.
The Fabulous Edinburgh Castle.

London

From Scotland we flew down to London for a final three nights where my fabulous little brother Sam and his lovely girlfriend Elle shared their awesome flat with us.  The day after we arrived Sam took the day off and together we explored central London upon my request, visiting Hyde Park first before heading up to Oxford St and then down to Soho. London was nothing like I remember.  Im pretty keen to head back however and do some more exploring at some stage. I still love it, though I don’t think I could live in London. In all honesty I think Im just over living in cities.

Myself, Sam and Lindsay in Hyde Park. Just before we heard the Canon Salute to mark Queen Elizabeth’s actual 91st birthday.
Lindsay favourite map shop in Central London.
Lindsay perusing the same map he purchased for his cycle tour. This one I think a map to guide him over the countries of the Silk Road.
The last of my friends still living in London, now with their own families. From left Bianca, Paula, Victoria, Lindsay, Anna and Anna(me).
Gypsy’s Clydesdale Horses grazing on the local green…much to the delight of the surrounding residents!

The Jetsetters

Turns out I’m not good at this jet setting business. As I don’t sleep well on planes, Lindsay paid to upgrade to Premium Economy (not too expensive as he’s a frequent flier and gets special pricing). Unfortunately we have discovered the only place I ever manage to sleep is in economy (usually from sheer exhaustion)!

DC New Years – Brrrrrrrrrrr

This post is a little late.  It’s now April which meant we were in DC just over 3 months ago.  And although the freshest memories have gone, I wanted to share a little of what we saw of this very different and pretty part of America.

We arrived in DC late in the evening, and after a small mix up we decided to take the Metro from the airport, which by the way was pure delight after travelling on San Francisco’s Muni/part underground whose stations can be quite dirty and unloved.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

We stayed with Blair a Kiwi friend, his American wife Tara, and their children. It was a delight to walk into a quintessential American home complete with a large Christmas Tree aglow, shining through the living room window to the dark street outside. Tara had even installed a little Christmas village complete with tiny lights and a working Thomas the Tank Engine train set – very cool.

We headed out the next day to check out the main tourist sites that DC is famous for including our picture with the Whitehouse in the background.  It reminds me of the time in 2003 when I visited Graceland in Memphis – both are just not as big as you imagine.  The Whitehouse is surrounded by hotels and buildings, and a short way from a busy road that runs in front of it.

The Whitehouse pictured as I expected it, with large sweeping lawns, sitting gloriously on its own.

A Trump owned hotel – a couple of buildings to the right of the Whitehouse! Its a popular destination with visiting dignitaries.

We had plans to do further exploring, but in late December even without snow, the wind whipped through the parks chilling us to the bone. We gave up on exploring  and headed into the Smithsonian National Museum of Modern History which included original Muppet characters, a transplant of Julia Child’s actual kitchen, really old cars, and a massive American Flag…the flag which in fact inspired the National Anthem the Star Spangled Banner. It was here that my understanding of American Culture, so different to many other western nations, really started to come together.  This discussion is long and meant to be had conversationally.

The rest of our exploring was done from the warmth of a car. I would really like to get back to this historic city to explore and view the monuments and buildings so entrenched and familiar in my memory from watching them on a screen, but never seen in real life.

The National Christmas tree – and it’s a large evergreen tree!!

Our final days were spent with Blair & Tara’s family. We had New Years to celebrate which turned out to be a quiet affair. We started with a raucous evening meal with our hosts and their friends before heading into town, only to discover bars set up to party, but patrons missing, probably due to the cold.  That’s okay – we found the free glasses of bubbles, and borrowed a few party hats and whistles and made our own fun!

The last day of our Christmas break saw Lindsay and I wandering around Gunners lake, close to Blair & Tara’s home.  It seems it would often freeze over in winter, but not this year, or at least not while we were visiting.  On our return Tara introduced us to Velveeta dip. I suspect it’s the stuff of American children’s birthday parties, or for consuming when watching a big AFL game.  Its a very yellow thick melted cheese, mixed with a simple tomato salsa, made for dipping nacho chips into. I feel its an acquired taste, that might stick your insides together if it had the opportunity to cool. However, some might find it a little addictive!

Playing with Blairs Christmas Present!! A Virtual Reality Headset…yup and looking over my shoulder as everyone in the room laughs at me 😉

10 years later

Ten years ago, a slightly naïve, skinny white guy with an overloaded bicycle set off from his house in London, aiming for New Zealand.

Look how shiny those panniers are! Back then they didn’t even leak!

I had been living in London, but wanted to go back to New Zealand. I’d travelled around Europe and the Middle East by bus, boat, train, but I’d had enough of that style of travel. I wanted to be able to go where I wanted, stop where I wanted, and see the world in a different way. So I went by bicycle.

I was at a stage in my life where I could do it. I was single, I had the money, and I had the time.

So I set off, thinking how hard could it be?

Yeah, well, there were a few tough times along the way, but it’s not as hard as you might think. In aggregate it seems a lot, but on a day to day basis it’s mostly about dealing with simple challenges: Where will I get food? Where will I sleep? Should I turn left or right at the intersection?

I’d done a lot of reading, I’d spent time getting my gear sorted out, I had maps for Central Asia and China…but once I actually got on the road in Europe I realized I still had a lot to learn. I had to figure out how to look at a map and identify good cycling routes, loading/unloading the bike, what sort of food I needed through the day, etc.

As much as anything, I needed to figure out my routines on the road. But the good thing is that I had plenty of chances to practice. You figure out your routines, and they become default. Next thing you’re taking it easy, eating your morning pastry beside yet another river-side bike path, and life is good:

I made it to Turkey, growing a nice beard along the way:

From Turkey I headed through Iran, this time with some company. I’d been alone across Europe, but now I would bump into other touring cyclists regularly.

On the advice of locals, I shaved my beard off in Iran:

Central Asia meant cheap vodka & beer, sometimes with rough consequences. But then THERE WAS A SUPERMARKET! You know your perspective on life has changed when you’re marveling at shopping trolleys, aisles, and air-conditioning.

Kyrgyzstan presented a new sort of challenge, having to replace my passport & visas. But I had time, I had money, I could work through the logistics. It was a little frustrating at time, but I kept calm about it.

I think that’s one of the things I learnt about myself along the way. I can just roll with the punches, dealing with situations as they arise, and not getting all worked up. When I was stuck between Iran & Turkmenistan, I sat down and went to sleep, rather than ranting and raving. A lot of patience is required when applying visas too.

My legs are my best feature??

Some of my best riding was in China, from the deserts in the West, to the crowded cities in the East. It felt like China was where I really hit my rhythm on the bike. I figured out how the cities worked, navigation was simple (follow the G312!), food was an adventure…it was a good time. Even when I did look like an extra from The Walking Dead:

…and my feet looked decidedly odd:

That’s what comes from only wearing sandals for 6+ months.

I spent four months riding across China, before heading south through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. I had some great company along the way, including my sister and her husband.


Remarkably, in Malaysia I caught up with my old drinking buddy Jan, having last seen him months before in Uzbekistan.

I put the bike on a plane from Singapore to Darwin, Australia, and rode through the center of Australia. The support crew for the first half made all the difference:

It was hard going for the last few weeks, knowing I’d come a long way, but still had a tough slog to go. I’d gotten used to the bustle of Asian cities, and the typical Australian roadhouse doesn’t offer quite the same level of excitement.

After months of cycling, I’ve realized that I’m not the fittest cyclist, and definitely not the fastest. There are many other cyclists who are much faster than me. But I can persevere, and just keep plodding along all day. Then the next day I get up and do it again, and again.

Anyone can ride 100km in a day. The difference is in whether you can get up the next day and do it again.

Finally, some 25,000km after starting, I made it home:

2008: Home…for a While

I tried to settle back down in New Zealand, working a regular job. But the first few months were hard. There’s a sense of dislocation, of not belonging. Even getting used to regularly sleeping in a soft bed was difficult. But I stuck with it, and settled down for a while…but I still had some unfinished business.

2009-2010: Closing the Loop

About 18 months after getting back to New Zealand, I went on the road again, this time to Patagonia. I spent several months in Southern Chile & Argentina, battling rough roads, wind, rain and snow…but with some amazing landscapes.

And then I closed the loop: I went back to the UK, on a sort of pub crawl from London to Scotland. All the countries I’ve visited, and the UK is one of my top destinations. It might not seem ‘adventurous’, but who cares? A great network of bike paths takes you along country lanes, through small villages, there’s always a pub that doubles as bed & breakfast, and English language media is always available.

Too early, couldn’t get photo over the prime meridian
Lancaster Canal – typical English bike path
Entering Scotland

From there it was back to New Zealand, with one more encounter with bedbugs in Singapore along the way

2011-2015: Now Biking for Two

Life changed in 2011. I got married to Anna, and now our lives are a joint affair. It’s not just about me any more. We do things together: This started with the honeymoon, where we could have stayed in a resort for a week, or gone cycling for a month: Anna chose wisely

About to set off
Who buys this stuff?
Eating pho
Vietnamese Children

We were settled in Auckland, New Zealand for the next few years, going on a few bike trips around New Zealand. Not fully loaded touring – instead we’d go mountain biking, or checking out the new New Zealand Cycle Trails.

2016: USA, Land of the Free?

Six months ago we moved to San Francisco, where I’m working. We’re getting settled in here, and starting to explore the country (LINK NEEDED). There’s a lot more to learn about this place yet. I don’t know how long we will stay in the United States, given the upheaval at my current employer, and the current political climate. For now, we’re staying here, and we hope to stay longer.

What will the next 10 years hold?

I don’t know.  There will almost certainly be at least one more international move, and hopefully a TransAmerica bike ride. Maybe a chance to walk the length of New Zealand too?

From the Land of Fruuit & Nuuts! (Ruston, Louisiana)

See this picture where I look happy? Well I wasn’t! That’s me pretending to smile when waiting around at the rental car company for 6hrs whilst they found our pre-booked rental car – every customer was grumpy…and some a little shouty on this fairly warm and very muggy winter’s day!

We finally left New Orleans with me wanting to go back for more, and we headed to Ruston, Louisiana some 515kms/320miles away. Our drive out of New Orleans was memorable for the 70kms/43.5 miles we traveled on a suspended 2 lane (in each direction) highway over a Bayou (large marshy wetlands). Travelling for that long distance over water seems a little disconcerting, but I could imagine zooming around on an airboat like I’ve seen on TV shows set in the area…escaping the croc infested waters!

I was somewhat excited when looking at the map, as I thought in the immortal words of  Johnny Cash “I’m going to Jackson”. Unfortunately we turned off just before we got there and I didn’t get to check out this famous town.

We arrived in Ruston late in the eve to a lovely warm welcome from our hosts Matt (Lindsay’s friend and work buddy), Tara & their children Audrey & Sam.  That night Tara and Matt cooked us up a traditional southern meal including shrimp and large American steaks, cooked on an the amazing Green Egg charcoal grill that would make any of our meat adventuring friends, quite jealous!

Matt had a few items for us to do during our visit to Ruston. No. 1. A walk up Driskill Mountain, the highest point in all Louisiana at 163mtrs/535ft (a far cry from the 7000ft we cycled up a couple of months ago in Denver). But it was a lovely walk through a winter forest with Matt and his family, and a great photo opportunity at the very tip top of Louisiana for Lindsay and I.

No 2. on the agenda – a trip to the gun range!!!  When in Louisiana, one must do as the locals do.  Lindsay had previously told Matt that the all important ‘wifey stamp of approval’ would not be issued for such an outing but I like to keep him on his toes, so off we went.  This little trip gave us the opportunity to meet people we would not otherwise get the opportunity to converse with. So much to my delight, and Matt’s slight chagrin, we got chatting to a good ol’ southern conservative.  His two best lines included his excitement at the election of the new great president – “you just wait and see how things improve when he gets in”. And when asking where we were living, he told us in that slow southern drawl that “once I visited San Francisco. That’s the land of Fruuit & Nuts”, referring to the very different, liberal folk on the west coast!  Lindsay and I were in fits of laughter, and continue to tell the story.  I think we’re more the nuuts than the fruuit, but I’ll let you decide 😉


 

No.3.  A tour of Ruston.  Ruston is a small city, who’s main economics is built around the Louisiana Tech University. When semester is in full swing, the city almost doubles in size! Our hosts took us on a tour of the campus and I managed to get this great picture of them all…and Lindsay.

This holiday included a LOT of food.  And whilst in Ruston we got to sample to a wide variety of local fare including Po’Boys which are basically big meat sandwiches; Gumbo; Home made Monkey Bread; Biscuits which in America are savoury scones which include almond milk and sugar in their ingredients; and of course one breakfast with almost bottomless Mimosa’s – well we polished off two bottles of bubbles! Lindsay was also quite taken with the coffee we picked up at from the drive-through Starbucks. I didn’t think to get a photo of this phenomenon, which is merely a fact of life in the U.S.

 

After several days with our wonderful hosts it was unfortunately time to leave.  We have been invited back for some real adventuring, which we hope to take up the offer of one day in the future.

Our relaxed drive back to New Orleans, from where we would fly up to Washington DC, was through lands that seem typical of what I expected to see in America.  Big American flags; Cornfields stretching for miles without fences; extra large 4wd’s. And of course a drive over the impressively large and infamous Mississippi river that makes its way through all of North America.


Oh – and just one little addition for the ardent readers!! Lindsay has a bit a thing with world maps that don’t include NZ including a Reddit feed and the website World Maps Without NZ. Well much to our horror we found that Matt’s daughter Audrey, may also need some educating on this topic…………

Welcome Mr & Ms Hee-ill (New Orleans, Louisiana)

“Welcome Mr & Ms Hee-ill” was the first thing we heard when we arrived at the hotel Pontchartrain in New Orleans at about 11pm on Christmas night. Lindsay thought at first this man speaking with a Cajun/New Orleans accent was a bit exaggerated, but it turned out to be real. From now on Lindsay wants to be known by this pronunciation!

We took a 9 day trip on the 2016 Christmas holidays to New Orleans, then Ruston-both in Louisiana, and then to Maryland/Washing DC.  But I might split this little blog into 3 as each place was so interesting and diverse.

After our late arrival, we weren’t ready for sleep as the time East Coast time difference was 3hrs ahead of West Coast time, so we headed to the hotels roof top bar ‘Hot Tin’ for a cocktail (Unfortunately there was no cat to be found).  It being Christmas day, we thought we were lucky it was open. We weren’t expecting this bar, with sweeping views out to the Mississippi (well there would have been except for the low lying cloud and mist  – but we could see a big bridge), to be filled with party goers, with some even dressed in suits…on Christmas Day!! Lindsay tells a story of being overwhelmed for a moment when I went to the bar to order a second cocktail and he was set upon by three 20-something blonde southern bells on the hunt for some man flesh! Fortunately I returned to save him much to his relief, and my amusement.  After a genuinely warm conversation with these girls, they went off in hunt of some other single men.  Lindsays still recovering…and still telling the story!

Before heading to New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) I had asked a few people if they could give us tips on where to stay and what to do.  Unfortunately some of it came in a little late (I hope they don’t mind, Ive added their tips at the end of this post for any other NOLA adventurers) but we got enough to set us on our way.  Our gorgeous hotel, which was reminiscent of a time gone by, was in the middle of the ‘Garden District’. Lindsay knows I love a characterful old home so after wondering along some of Magazine Street checking out the shopping (a little quiet on Dec 26), and popping into two of the many historic and fascinating cemeteries, he took me off exploring down side streets with all sorts of colourful, delectable, gorgeous old homes. From the stately antebellum mansions, to the old and rustic cottages…all colourful, and a feast for an old home junkie like me.


 
 

Later we headed to very central French Quarter which is now a tourist mecca.  It reminded  me of our time travelling around Cambodia particularly Siem Reap, both with a very strong French History. However it seems time halted in this area when in the early 19th century Napoleon sold Louisiana to U.S. The buildings have a strong French flavour but are far more  bright and colourful than anything I saw (in my short visit to Paris many years ago). I suspect the colour is due to the Spanish and Cajun influences. The buildings, pavement, everything seems as it would have been.  There are plenty of very expensive French influenced antique stores to shop in and lots of bars and restaurants, most pitching jazz and blues, and true southern delicacies.  However, Im not a fan of the heavy tourist pitch. Bourbon street specifically had a strong smell of vomit from the usual tourist fare with cheap drinks served in plastic yard glasses, and individuals attempting to peddle their restaurants fares. But the streets running parallel are definitely worth checking out, and smell quickly improves the further away from Bourbon St you get.

A friend had recommended getting away from tourist food and trying some of their haute cuisine. So Lindsay Yelped his way to Toups Meatery where we found some utterly divine, cajun influenced food and the most wonderful and friendly waitress who we for once were happy to tip.  As a side, I asked her what the large cat sized creature was, with a long think tail that had run across my path on our walk to the restaurant.  It was a Nutra Rat. I never want to see one of these again. Apparently they have nasty big teeth, equalled with a nasty big bite!

 

I’ve been told from many who have traveled to NZ, including the Aussies, that NZ does the best coffee in the world, and its available everywhere even in small towns. We’ve struggled in San Francisco to find great or even good espresso (Americans treasure their drip coffee above all else), but in NOLA it seemed there was a fairly abundant supply of good espresso coffee, though your out of luck if your after a flat white! On our final day (Actually after we’d travelled to the far side of Louisiana and back) we quickly popped out to Marigny area to see if the coffee was even better there. You see, the hipsters have discovered this area and now its an up and coming boho part of town. Where else would you expect to get good coffee? Unfortunately like San Francisco, it seems New Orleans doesn’t get going till late morning so no other shops were open, but we happened across this lovely coffee shop, where I got my morning expresso to set me up for the day.

Before leaving town we headed to the the Unites official WWII museum.  Unfortunately I was a little unwell, and we were short on time, but definitely worth a visit.

Nola tips:

Lindsay and Anna

  • Lunch – not very NOLA but very nice. La Casita, on the way if you walking  from the Garden to French Districts.  https://www.yelp.com/biz/la-casita-new-orleans?osq=mexican+food
  • Other links included in text

Linda

  • Freetoursbyfoot.com …we did French Quarter ghost tour (just ok) and the Garden District/Lafayette Cemetery tour (REALLY GOOD!…our guide was Sarah and she was great). Must reserve a space online. The organization offers free tours but asks for donations at the end.  pharmacymuseum.org -quite interesting. You can just look around, but I recommend taking the short guided tour. I think they only have a guide available for one tour per day.
  • Food: Jacques-Imos is really good and is a fun place out of the Quarter.   Coop’s is in the French Quarter. It used to be very good however the last two people I sent there said they didn’t care for it much. I don’t know if they’ve changed cooks or anything like that.  Acme oyster house is defintely packed with tourists but they are really good oysters.
  • Oh, Magazine Street in New Orleans…lots of fun shops and good food.

Charlotte – “NOLA is epic you will have an amazing time. We were there for a week and didn’t get around everything we wanted within the city limits”

  • Howlin’ Wolf Sunday night hot 8 brass band (they are in my top 3 so seeing them for $10 at their local was incredible. HW also holds comedy on a weeknight
  • Spotted Cat Club – this is a good start for music into her French quarter but most of the music clubs are quality so you just have to find what you like.
  • Gazebo Cafe in French Q. – Order the roast beef Po’ Boy
  • Whitney Plantation (we took Greys bus lines) if you book two greys bus tours you get a discount. This is the only plantation we toured. It was amazing and we were provided with a true account of the history by a historian who descends from the Israelite slaves. They provide umbrellas but they only have a few so hat and water. Probably cooler now than when we went
  • Airboat swamp tour – take sun protection and water. We went with Airboat Adventures and they were great
  • **you can get a one day plantation and a swamp tour deal, Whitney Plantation wasn’t included with a deal so we booked boat separately.
  • Buy a 1, 3 or 5 day jazzy pass for the street car up to the Garden district – wander around the mansions (they are something else)
  • Visit the Cemeterys – pay the $5tip at the gate for a tour worth it otherwise it’s just another cemetery (I was interested in the history).
  • Free walking tours in the French Q. (Pay a tip)
  • WWII museum. We aren’t really ‘military/war people. We expected to be a bit “meh” about it but ended up staying 5.5hours! Ammmmazing and a little expensive but amazing.
  • If you haven’t already download the TripAdvisor App. Save the places you want to go in the app prior to going and when you are close to one of your stored interest the app will alert you 🙂
  • The French quarter art market is nice (we spent waaaay to much money there!) as is the normal market.
  • Bourbon street is something you have to do even if only once. – buy a daiquiri and wander around the streets it’s nice because the drinking culture isn’t like oz or NZ people are more relaxed – dance! Find a night club and dance like no ones watching!

Sam

  • Once you get past the cheap local joints. Go for the nicer spots and be blown away. Catfish and crawdads are not what New Orleans are best at. Their haute cuisine is out of this world as is their jazz and blues
  • There’s gator tours and in the swamp (I didn’t do) and some good evening walking tours. Some voodoo shops are funny for their entertainment factor 🙂
  • Find good blue grass and jazz in the evenings, check out the 2 main cemeteries and surrounding plantation houses during the day
  • Food. Maybe 1 day of crawdads and po boys then get into the real diner side of south cuisine. TripAdvisor can help there

Denver, Colorado

I don’t want you to think that we spend all our time hanging out in liberal enclaves in California, or hipster gin bars in Polk St. Sometimes we venture further afield. Earlier this month we got away to Denver, Colorado for a weekend.

Arriving late at night, the drive to the hotel was pretty dull…flat lands, freeways, and monstrous stores…Anna was not impressed. But then the sun came up to a clear but bloody cold day, we went out to explore, and pretty soon we said: “You know, this looks like the sort of place we could live.”

Interesting neighborhoods, nice old homes, the city feeling busy but not overwhelming. Plenty of options for physical activity too. Bike paths everywhere, trails along the river, and the mountains nearby, offering plenty of options for mountain biking, snowboarding, etc.

Cold though:

We didn’t plan it, but the annual Denver Parade of Lights was on while we were in town. So we stuck around to watch it:

You can’t see it all that well, but these are “lowrider” cars. Hilarious to watch, but maybe not the most practical. Note the angles some are on:

On Sunday morning we went out mountain biking with Nick from Front Range Ride Guides. This turned out to be a fantastic choice. We could have just hired bikes, but going with a local guide made it a much better experience.

We met Nick just outside Denver, and then travelled with him to the trailhead. He provided top-quality full-suspension bikes. No crappy rental fleet, these were good bikes, like I would like to own.

It was still clear and cold, starting off below freezing, warming up to maybe 45°F/7°C. The rivers were half-frozen, and you can see a little snow lying on the ground. We were super-lucky with the weather – a couple of days later and the temperature dropped a further 20°. We were able to have a great day out biking:

Nick was great company, easy to ride with, super-knowledgable about the area. He was clearly a very experienced rider, but he had the ability to work with different levels of riders, and make you feel at ease. We needed it too – you can see from these shots that we were up in the mountains. Something like 7,000 feet, and we’d only just arrived in the area.

Riding along flat to gentle inclines was fine, but as soon as we started climbing the lungs started burning. Later we’d stop, and my legs would be jelly-like, as if we’d climbed much further.

The ride was nicely paced, with great opportunities to stop and check the view, with a nice long downhill trail followed by a gentle ride back down the dirt road to the trailhead. Well-balanced, and perfectly finished with a couple of beers back at the parking lot, enjoying what was really a superb day, considering it was 3 weeks from Christmas.

We could have hired bikes ourselves, and spent time researching trails, consulting maps, getting lost, etc. I’ve done that sort of thing plenty of times in the past. But I’m glad we did it this way. No hassle, just turn up and bikes are ready to go, you don’t have to worry about navigation, someone can advise on trail choices, etc.

The best thing about this particular setup was that it was totally customised to us. No large group tour thing. This was set at our pace and ability, with no pressure to keep up, or waiting for slower riders. We got to do exactly the sort of riding we wanted to do, with someone who knew exactly what they were up to. Highly recommended, and we’ll catch up with Nick again when we return to Denver.

That There is Real Bear Country

…but not a bear in site? We are still pondering which Bear of the brown and the black bears you run from, and which bear you freeze for? Fortunately we didn’t see a real live bear!! Lots of taxidermy though!
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So 6 Kiwis, an Irishman, An Aussie and one token American go for a weekend in the woods! Sounds like a joke, but it’s not. Our friend Sarah’s boss had kindly leant her his cabin in the woods and said she could take up a group of friends.  So on a Friday afternoon 9 people piled into two cars, and we traversed 243 km/150 miles from the centre of San Franciso to Arnold, California. Located within the massive 900,000 acre Stanislaus National Forest, adjacent with Yosemite National Park. We seemed to spend an hour driving uphill to the cabin which sat at 4000ft/1200mtrs above sea level!

The car Lindsay and I travelled in got there late in the evening. The first group that arrived earlier in the day had already organised supplies and offered me a refreshing beer when I walked in. Pity I have never learnt to enjoy the taste of beer, after many failed attempts!
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The next day we woke up and opened our curtains to a view of a pine tree forest.
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After some discussion about the days activities we took a short drive to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, where Camp Leader Sarah took us for a tramp, oops I meant Hike, amongst the giant Sequoia trees. Before departing, some of the party went in search of water to ensure they didn’t dehydrate on the trek. Here, Kurt and Tim model their Water Bottle Bags. It seems their ability to grip with their hands didn’t appear to be working.
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Before leaving, we thought about joining the forest church, but the woman leading the singing was so out of tune, we couldn’t bare the noise.
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The trees in this part of the park are so large that our group of 9 could easily fit on this stump, appropriately named “Big Stump”. img_7579

These massive sequoias only germinate when they are scarred by fire and many had burn marks up the side.  Other trees were dead, stripped of their bark though still standing.  In the early 20th century one of the trees had its bark stripped in sections, and taken on a roadshow. The bark was reassembled over and again, to show the impressive girth and height of these amazing mammoths
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It’s pretty hot in this forest at this time of year, though in winter it snows, so we decided to head off to an alpine lake for a bit of a dip and a cool down. After agonisingly walking into the freezing water up to our knees, we decided to give up on the swim. However there were some fun sights to be seen including this paddle boat swan, which also had a tiny outboard motor.  Kurt and I were so intrigued, we got a photo with it.
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Finally at the end of the huge day, we headed back to the very large cabin and Clay aka Carl, the token American, prepared dinner marinating chicken and beef to be thrown on the grill(BBQ) later in the evening.  It was a fabulous meal, with a new group of friends. The evening was finished off with board games, with Lindsay and I tucking into bed a little earlier than the more youthful members of the group, who’s ability to drink later into the evening is still peaking.
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I think the best way to tie up this post is with this short clip. Out and about tripping in this amazing forest, singing along with the great Neil Diamond. Click on the following pic to watch and laugh….be warned, have your volume turned down:
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Thank you everyone for a fabulous weekend.
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Getting Up To the Start Line

We have now been living in San Fransisco for officially one month, and it has been a larger social and cultural shift than expected, therefore taking us a while to find our feet and feel like we are getting started. Everything seems just that little bit different – from the size of teaspoons, variations in banking terms and function, tipping even when service is not good quality, sugar in bread, cheese, bacon cooked to a crisp, and so much more. But we are quickly getting our head around the way things work, thanks to the support of friends who get it.

FOOD

It seems from an outsiders perspective that Americans love their food (Don’t we all), especially meat, cheese and Bacon. So a surprising aspect of living in San Francisco was the variety of food choices.  In all honesty it was to be expected as it is a melting pot of international communities, and opens its arms to social diversity. But still it is refreshing to find that portions don’t have to be over generous, and there’s a great variety of vegetarian/vegan options (we aren’t vegetarians, but we do eat a fair bit of vegetarian and  fish). We continue to strive to find good espresso, and though it can be found, a good cappuccino seems a little elusive.  My excuse to get my Breville expresso maker!  Not one to take pictures of food, I did enjoy my lunch at Foreign Cinema in the Mission, where at night they project old movies onto a back wall.  I ordered the Duck – too pretty not to photograph.
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And if you are a meat eater who likes lots of food, you will be well catered for too!! This was shared with 5, and there were leftovers!
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SETTING UP HOUSE

We have recently moved into some short term furnished accomodation till October 23rd. Last week I realised that even though we don’t know where we will be living, I might have to organise some basic furniture. We are shipping some household goods including most of our kitchen, but we need a bed, sofa and cutlery. I’d been recommended to go to Crate & Barrel which has everything for a home you might wish for, but due to massive Labour Day sale prices, we found there would a 12-13 week lead time on what we wanted. So I let my fingers to the searching and found a Bed Frame on Etsy.
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I further trawled the internet for a couple of companies that made the style of sofa I wanted, finding three.
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The first place nearly knocked me dead with the price. The second store, Furniture Envy was so good, we put our order in – customised to how we wanted it, price was reasonable, delivery expected when we wanted! Fingers crossed it goes to order. The final item of must buy was cutlery – Lindsay noticed that U.S. standard sizes of what we might call desert and teaspoons were quite different to what we were used to.  So after hunting around and not finding what we wanted, we went back to searching the online New Zealand stores, but then buying it on sale from UK eBay which was far cheaper than anything we’d seen.  Lindsay who’s not big on spending money on household items, appeared a little relieved with that saving. And thats the end of the spending on the big stuff until we have recouped our costs from paying massive bonds on our current and next rental properties, and the first months payment in advance. We did go to the Alameda Point Antiques Fair, a HUGE antiques fair that occurs on the 1st Sunday of the month, with my mother who was visiting on her way back to NZ from visiting my bother in Sweden.
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Mum did try to get me to buy some of the fabulous goods on sale, but alas failed due to this shut down in spending till moved into our next more permanent apartment.  That’s okay – It happens every month, and I’ll be back once we’ve moved into a more permanent home!!

OUT & ABOUT

When we’re not buying furniture, or eating, then I/We are out and about, exploring the city.  This has been made simpler for me with the introduction of Hildegarde.
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Lindsay has been leant a road bike from a tall friend whilst he waits for his touring bike to arrive in shipping, but it needs a little alteration before he can reach the pedals!

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A colourful Dragon on display outside the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

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Loving the green pergola

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Looking back at AT&T Park, the home of the Baseball Giants

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Colourful crossings in Castro

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The stunning views out over SF

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Exploring Golden Gate Park – I’ve got so much still to find

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A stunning green park in the middle of very parched and dry SF

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Day time and night time views of the Bay Bridge.  I haven’t yet made it around to the Golden Gate Bridge since we arrived. In the next week I hope.

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A caravan park – with permanent parks….Sunnyvale, further down the Bay

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An art fair in Palo Alto. These artists displaying their craft on the streets

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Twitter: And the heart of Twitter that flashes on and off – apparently every time a tweet is completed.  And an original antique cabin, disassembled, shipped and reassembled inside the Twitter offices!  Best thing about Twitter – their chocolate!!!

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A dress we’re considering purchasing from Valentino…hmmmm! Let me think!

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Apple Love – Art out the back of Apples Union Square store.  Thanks to Lisa Halford and a little exploration.

Goodbye Rain, Hello Fog

Anna and I have had enough of the high property prices in Auckland, and the frequent rain. So we’ve moved to a place with even more expensive real estate, and fog…but little or no rain.

That’s right, we’ve moved to San Francisco. My company has relocated me to the Bay Area, to work at HQ. Anna has worked very hard over the last few months to make it happen. Packing, selling stuff, giving it away, closing accounts, etc. Lots and lots of administrative work.

But now we’re here. We’re staying in an AirBnb for another week, then we’re moving to a furnished apartment in the SoMa district of San Francisco. We’ll stay there for a couple of months while we figure out where we want to live. We’re undecided if this will be in San Francisco, or maybe down the peninsula, closer to where I work.

It’s a new adventure for us. You’re all welcome to visit us, as long as you don’t mind sleeping on the couch or floor!