Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Intermission

What a day I had! Ok, maybe that's being a little facetious. All I did on this cloudy and somewhat rainy day in Sydney, was eat, sleep, do research, eat, sweat, sleep. I am not feeling well, so my bed seemed a better place than any to spend my day. I wish I could give you some cool story of what I did today, but I have nothing. Today was just an intermission, that has hopefully prepared me for the long flight that awaits me.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Wait, we're still in school?

This afternoon gave us all a "Wait! We are supposed to be in school right now" slap in the face. The blog must be caught up (thankfully I've actually done mine consistently, and there's no "catching up" to do), different projects have to be finished, and we will be in real classroom in one week. Life is tough, right? 

I didn't return from the land of the dead until 11:00 in the morning, giving me one hour to do whatever I needed to do before meeting up with the group and going on a tour of the Sydney Opera House. We've seen in, we've been near it, we've taken pictures with it... but until today, we hadn't been IN it!





The evening helped us Environmental Design students forget about the impending completion of the trip. Meghan's mom took us out to 360 Bar and Dining, where we dined in style. The bar makes up a piece of the Sydney skyline, as it is tall enough to overlook the entire city, and all the areas beyond. We each got different entree's and shared with each other. I was able to taste, and thoroughly enjoy, scallops, tuna tataki, venison carpaccio, rock oysters, and some chicken & pistachio galantine. Raw tuna sounded disgusting, but was delicious. The same applies to the raw venison! After such an amazing display of food for the entree, I was excited to receive the main meal. The black angus beef fillet was amazing! Dessert came last, and we all shared a sample platter of pecan tart, creme brulee, stonefruit, caramelised banana, orange mascarpone, espresso ice cream, prune cake, and chocolate mousse. Granted, they were each in small portions, but there was enough for everyone to try some of each. I will never forget going to this restaurant. It was delicious, and I enjoyed every minute of it. We spent the entire meal slowly rotating around, allowing us to take in every sight there is to see of the city. The sun set, and filled the city with gleaming rays of orange as the light reflected off Sydney's monumental structures. Once dark, the lights in the distance were gently twinkling. It was an amazing evening out on the town!





Grand Finale begins

At the end of a television series, there is always the finale. It may be a season finale, or it may be over for good. Instead of an hour long program, you generally get hit with 2 hours of cliff hangers, which prepare you for months of awaiting the next episode. Well, this program is ending, but only for a season. The last leg of the trip has begun, and we are nearing the end of the journey. That said, it won't be over forever... Eventually, the producer(s) will air new episodes, containing new adventures. 

We arrived in Auckland, bright and early on a beautiful Sunday morning. Luckily, as mentioned in my last post, I had time to catch a cab to the church building. I enjoyed an amazing worship service, with a great group of Christians. Their faith and genuine love was made clearly evident in their hospitality. I was welcomed into their service with open arms, and even received a well meant "Roll Tide" from a member. Once I said I was from Auburn, they quickly withdrew the previous statement. After a while of chatting and getting to know some of the members, one drove me back to the airport to save me the cab fare. When asked how I got there and back, a fellow student seemed surprised that I was given a ride back from the church building. This made me realize exactly how blessed I am to have a "family" everywhere I go. If you visit a church, you are guaranteed an invite to lunch, often in the member's home, and if not, they may buy your meal out at a restaurant. If you need to get somewhere, no worries! Someone will give you a lift. This comes second nature to me, but I realized today that it's rather "abnormal." I praise God that I have had the opportunity to worship with my family in other countries. It is an experience that I will forever treasure.

Once back in Sydney, we were free to do whatever we felt like doing. Meghan's mom flew into Sydney a few days ago, so she (Meghan) was eager to take off and meet up with her mom. We dropped all our stuff off at the dorms, cleaned up a bit, and went to find Mrs.Joyce. On the way down the main street, we were stopped due to the Dragon Parade. There is an enormous Asian population here, and the Chinese New Year is a big deal. It was neat being able to see such a huge cultural celebration!

All in all, it was a fun evening, in which we just caught Meghan's mom up on some of our adventures, before finally saying goodbye. We were all tired, and were close to falling asleep at the dinner table. After being awake 20 hours, sleeping for 3, and then being up another 41, I was ready to crash. After a shower and some quick school work, I laid down in bed, and...

Yes, the show is ending. Here's a commercial break before the next hour of the finale begins. Grab some popcorn and a soda, and hang in there. Just pray that this show isn't similar to "Lost" in which the plane from Sydney to Los Angeles has some issues!!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Christchurch for 12 hours

The day started out horribly for me. I had booked skydiving, and arrived at the shop at 7:30, all ready to go. I paid, signed my life away, and began preparing. As we were about to leave, the air traffic controller called and said the winds were too strong. Skydiving was canceled. I couldn't reschedule, as we were all leaving at 9:30. I tried to think the whole, "It just wasn't meant to be" nonsense, but let's get serious. Even if it wasn't meant to be, how does that make me feel any better about losing my chance to go skydiving in the most beautiful place I've ever seen? This set the precedent for the rest of my day, although I honestly did try to "think happy thoughts."



Six hours or so were spent crammed in a van, as we traveled across New Zealand, from Queenstown to Christchurch. The drive was great, and the scenery was gorgeous. Unfortunately, I was exhausted and kept falling asleep. I believe I have hit a point where no matter how much sleep I get, I am just continually exhausted. Maybe a few days of sleep, like a hibernating bear, will cure that when I get home in a few days. 



We arrived in Christchurch, stored our bags at the airport, and went out on a quest to find food (I'm pretty sure this quest occurs everywhere we go. Food is a big deal folks). We got our grub on, and then walked around the perimeter of the Central Business District. There are fences up, so that pedestrians/vehicles can't enter, due to the destruction and devastation that is on the other side. The earthquakes here have shut down the center of the city. I am not joking when I say that I felt like I was in the movie, "I am Legend." 


After seeing what was to be seen of the Christchurch CBD, we headed to the 2012 World Buskers Festival. Local festivals are always a good way to learn about a community, and I'm afraid I wasn't impressed. The comedy that so many people were entertained by, was disgustingly raunchy. They didn't try to inadvertently touch on topics such as sex, drugs, and incest, which were the main focal points of the shows I bothered to listen to. Continual cursing, all kinds of words, were shouted out over loud speakers. Although you had to be 18 to enter the area in front of the stage, one could hear and see everything from outside that area. There were children eating, and playing, while the F bomb was yelled by the performers, and while they encouraged the spectators to repeat it back. There is no way a show like that would be at a festival in the states. I got up and left, hoping to find something better to listen to, but in the end, we all just went back to the airport to begin a night of...Well, you'll see. 

One of my worst times in life (it's not horribly high up the list) is when my flights were delayed going from Jacksonville FL to Atlanta GA. After what seemed like forever, we finally took off, but I had already missed my connected from ATL to Seattle, WA. The next flight wasn't until the next morning. Now, most of you might be thinking, "No big deal," right? Well, this was my first time flying since I was an infant. It was a horrible experience, at 18 years old, having to spend all night in the Atlanta airport. The only thing that kept me sane, was the USO, where I was provided with some chairs to make into a little bed, and some snacks.

So that's the past. Now, why is it being dredged up? At this second, I am sitting in the Christchurch Airport, at 4:24 in the morning, and I have been here since 10pm. Due to our early flight (6:30), we decided to not get a hotel and to just sleep in the airport. Well, there is no sleep in this airport. You are only allowed to sleep in a designated area, and it's freezing cold. You can't sleep on the chairs, only the floor. Yea, maybe I'm whining... but let's be real. It's almost 4:30 and I haven't slept. When that's by choice, it's one thing... but I've been splayed out on this floor, trying to sleep, with absolutely no success.

Overall I wish we had just stayed in Queenstown. It was too late to change plane tickets ($300 ticket instead of $80), so we tried to make the best of it. Maybe this is just my bad mood talking, but another day in Queenstown, would have been SO much better. I will come back to Queenstown one day, that's for sure. I fell in love with the city, the country side, the air, the food, the people... I was just in awe every moment that I spent in the area. For now, the next stop is Auckland, where we will then kill time before leaving for Sydney. I hope to get a cab and make it to worship as soon as our plane lands in Auckland. Fingers crossed!

E.KEY, out. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Queenstown = Adrenaline

After getting up at the crack of dawn, ok, BEFORE the crack of dawn, and heading to the airport, we finally arrived in Queenstown. Everyone that came on this side trip (free weekend, baby!) was psyched to be in such a gorgeous area, so the mood of the group was excited and peppy. 

We grabbed a taxi, and made our way into town. A discussion started up with our taxi-driver, about all the activities to do in Queenstown. Someone mentioned the Nevis bungy (as we were planning to do it the next day), and the driver said, "Oh, the Nevis? I haven't been on that one yet 'cause they're fixing it from where it snapped." The van got quiet, as the driver quickly retracted his statement and said he was just kidding. Now who isn't nervous?

We made it to the hostel, and immediately found a local place to eat lunch. We stumbled upon Fergburger, an apparently famous restaurant that has been visited by people from all over the world. The burgers were enormous! The burgers and fries were delicious, and I couldn't even finish half of mine before I was stuffed. 




After eating such an amazing meal, three of the group (including myself) decided to go jet boating. A jetboat is a boat propelled by a jet of water ejected from the back of the craft. This eliminates the need for a propeller, allowing the boat to travel quickly through water only 4 inches deep. The experience was amazing, and the completely different view point of the scenery was great. It took 45 minutes to get to the jet boat starting point, and all that time was spent winding around one lane dirt roads through the mountain. There were times where I couldn't look over the edge, because our van seemed to be hanging over the edge of a sheer cliff. At one point, our driver pointed out the remnants of a stone wall that was along the edge of the road. He said, "There used to be a wall along this road, but all the vehicles that have fallen over the edge have taken it out over the years." Well, that's reassuring. The scenery was worth it the terrifying drive, and I got some great shots. On the way back to town, we stopped at an old 102 meter bungy jump that is now out of business. The view was amazing!

A site from "The Fellowship of the Ring"

102 Meter bungy 


We finished up with our adventure of the day just in time, because as we pulled into the center of the city, it began to rain. It progressed through the evening, and got foggy, wet, and cold. This was all the excuse I needed to just hang out at the hostel, and meet other travelers from all over the world.


The next day began early, as we were all anxious for what the day held. NEVIS. That word strikes something within me... The Nevis bungy is 134 meters. It is the tallest bungy in New Zealand, and THAT, my friends, is what we were on our way to do. There is no explanation necessary, really. I mean, I jumped out of a perfectly good cable car, to certain death. Ok, I didn't die, but I could have! On the way to the jump site, "Highway to Hell" began playing on the radio... That wasn't very reassuring, but then "Don't Worry, Be Happy" came on, so they evened each other out!

Ready to go!









After watching that video, nothing I say now will pique your interest but I'll try. After the bungy jumping, and a much deserved nap, we went to a bar called Minus 5° in Queenstown. Yea, yea, I went to a bar, Mom. This bar was completely made out of ice. The glasses, ice. The benches, ice. The tables, ice. The walls, ice. Hence the name, minus 5 degrees. Don't worry, that's 5 degrees Celsius! It was a blast, and although it was pretty cold, we all had fun!




Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Black Beach Only (No racism here folks!)

Before discussing today's events, I just want to comment on something. In Australia, if you didn't know better, one could walk around and hear/see nothing about aborigines, and their culture. Here in New Zealand, it's completely different. The Maori people are still strong in society, and although people aren't walking around in leather skirts and screaming war chants, the culture is thriving. There are Maori words all over the place, and the professor at Unitec even described yesterday how normally, he would greet us in Maori. Well, he proceeded to speak in Maori, and let me tell you... It's a very guttural, and hard to understand language. I am glad to see that the Maori people didn't just assimilate and lose their identity. 

Back to today's adventures... We ventured out, in a much nicer, less rickety, bus than the last bus trip we took, to Piha beach. On the way, we stopped for a quick rest, and also to see an amazing view of the New Zealand countryside. The building on site has won awards for it's architecture. That said, I feel like a bad student for not knowing more about it than that.

Maori sculpture







 The beach is also known as the Black beach, because of the iron content in the sand. The sand is literally black. Also, if I had the forethought to take a magnet to the beach, I would have been able to pick up sand with it! The view of Lion Rock, standing tall and proud, was amazing. You know where you are ready to go home from the beach, but your feet are all sandy, so you don't want to put your shoes on? With no shoes, the hot sand begins to burn your feet so you hop around like a mad man? Imagine that with BLACK sand. Someone get me some ice for my feet!!!


Having a blast


Jason rolled in the sand...


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I have not mentioned as of yet, that here in New Zealand, we actually have a REAL, FREE, breakfast. That’s right, free. Cereal, toast, fruit, yogurt, coffee, and orange juice are all we need to get excited at this point. Generally, I complain when a hotel doesn’t have a waffle iron, or if they only have one type of jelly. Now, I will gladly take the tiniest bit of jelly, with a sip of orange juice, because it’s free!

After enjoying the free food, our visit to Unitec, an institute of technology in Auckland, commenced. We were spoken to by a Landscape Architect, a Construction Management professor and an Architect from Arizona that now teaches in New Zealand. The visit was informative, and helped greatly with my research. I was given some phone numbers, so that I can ring different people that can give me some information regarding my research topic. That in and of itself made the trip worth it!

Upon completion of this journey, we were granted freedom for the rest of the day. You all know what this meant to me... You don't? Well go read the previous blog post dummy! Yea, that's right, I'm going to jump off the Sky Tower. Let me guess... you didn't think I'd actually do it...


Monday, January 23, 2012

One Tree Hill ain't just on the CW!

I've been abroad too long, and haven't heard "ain't" and "y'all" quite as much as I'm used to. I need to fix this, as it is a part of who I am!! Y'all ain't neva gonna b'lieve where I went t'day.

First, we visited with faculty members and grad students from Auckland University. They spoke to us about what programs are offered at their institution, and also gave us a short tour of their wide expanse of a campus. Although this was all interesting, it was not the most exciting part of my day. (Sorry to the professors reading this, but I'm just being honest!)


We went to Albert Park on our tour

After a brief respite, the group rejoined and we changed gears. Sitting in a room hearing someone talk was great and all, but hiking through New Zealand pasture was even better. We went up to "One Tree Hill." This, as many of you well know, is a TV show aired on the CW, a station previously known as WB. That said, this is not the same One Tree Hill. We hiked up to the top of the hill, where there was not one tree, but many. I am not sure where the name came from, but still, the view was gorgeous. The setting on my camera was for B&W, and I didn't realize this for awhile. None the less, the photos still turned out great! The sheep were quietly grazing, and the wind was sweeping through the tall grasses. I stood and just watched the wind play with the grass. It's a beautiful thing, that one cannot even attempt to catch in the still frame of a camera. This world, and it's creator, continue to amaze me as I travel through this foreign land!



After this journey was complete, we were given leave to do "whatever" until 8:30pm, when we would then meet at the base of the Auckland Sky Tower. By "whatever," there are only two legitimate choices. EAT or SLEEP. I mean, there is plenty to do in New Zealand, but eating are sleeping are all most of us care about after being away from home, running around, getting lost, and staying out too late, for over 30 days.




We entered the sky tower, just in time to watch the sun set. Looking out over the city, with the sun setting on the horizon, was absolutely amazing.


While in the sky tower, you can vaguely see the bullseye that is down below. Tomorrow, I plan to jump off the Sky Tower, and land (Lord willing), on that bullseye. 

video

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Confuzzled

 Confuzzled : adj.) Being both confused and puzzled; clueless or unclear.


Ok, well you should all know it isn't a real word, but I was confuzzled all day today. It began with waking up early, yet not knowing what the plans were for the day. We knew we were to be leaving early, but weren't sure exactly what time that was. Furthermore, it's Sunday, and whatever our plans were for the day, would interrupt worship services. If you ask me, that's pretty "confuzzling."

Our plans to go hiking were canceled, as it was raining, and quite dreary out. Instead, we met and headed back to the War Memorial Museum for a second shot at it. This time, we got in, and watched an awesome "Maori Cultural Experience" show. The Maori culture seems to still be strong in this area, and after watching the movie "Whale Rider" for class, it was cool to see the real thing.



After exploring the museum a bit, we headed into the city to get new SIM cards for our phones, so that we would be able to use them here in New Zealand. On the way back to the room, we ended up completely lost and had to get a taxi to take us back to the hotel. Yet again, confuzzled.


A house seen while we were lost
Dark and Dreary

Remember, I missed worship this morning, right? Well online, they said there was a 6pm service. As much as I disliked skipping one service, just to go to the other instead, it was the option I had. So, I hired another taxi, and went to the church building. Unfortunately, the website was wrong, and there was no one at the building. CONFUZZLED.


What could possibly bring my life back into order, and away from all the confusing, puzzling, and downright annoying events of the day? A&W Root Beer. That's right folks, I found some Root Beer in an Asian market in Auckland. Life is back in order, and I'm ready to take on tomorrow's adventures!

Go Green or Go Home

New Zealand is... Green. The view from the plane was absolutely breath-taking as we soared across remote areas of this gorgeous land. The airlines here are a bit more strict on the use of electronics, so even though my phone was in airplane mode, I didn't try to take pictures of the ground below us. The trees, plants, grasses, shrubs and flowers are all blooming, and thriving in the amazing climate of Auckland. Everywhere you look, something green is staring back at you.




Our accommodations here in Auckland are very nice, and we finally have a real kitchen!


We walked around a bit as a group, in search of the War Museum, but upon finding it, realized some event was being held there. I'm not sure exactly what the deal was, but we just sat around and enjoyed the view for a bit, while taking pictures of course, before heading back towards "home" in a quest to find something to eat. A few of us ended up at a great little Japanese restaurant, where we hung out for a bit before returning to the hotel. These first hours in New Zealand were rather uneventful, but still amazing.

War Museum
The sun was just beginning to set

A part of the "event" that prevented our entrance to the museum.