New York, New York

Y’all, I am officially and irrevocably in love with New York City.

I didn’t expect to be. I hate crowds, I get claustrophobic, and NYC has twice the population of New Zealand crammed into it. I was fully expecting to grit my teeth and bear it for the sake of ticking a city off my bucket list.

But… I loved it. Absolutely loved it. We stayed at an AirBNB in Brooklyn because it was about 5 million times cheaper, so we got to navigate the subway system. What we didn’t quite think through was that we wanted to be in central Manhattan by 8:30am&mash;so we were in the middle of Monday morning commuter traffic. But, we survived, and we made it to Gray Line to start our two days of bus tours! We started with the Downtown loop, which we broke into two parts when we had to switch buses. Then we stopped for lunch before jumping on the first part of the Uptown tour. Then we jumped onto the Bronx tour, before returning to where we started for the remainder of the Uptown tour. Jumping between buses was fascinating because all the tour guides had different interests and different areas of focus—one told us where all the celebrity houses were, another told us where to get local/non-tourist-trap food, another talked a lot about history.

By this time it was about 4:30pm and we didn’t want to do the night tour until it was close to dark. So we stopped off in Starbucks for a while for coffee, non-coffee for me (who is allergic to coffee), as well as a NYC Starbucks mug (which I collect in every city). We nursed these for a while until it was a reasonable time for dinner, when we decided to try that cultural US staple, TGI Friday’s.

A few drinks and appetizers later, it was time for the night tour! This tour guide knew so much about all the buildings and the periods they came from, it was absolutely fascinating. Plus, seeing New York City lit up at night was absolutely breathtaking beyond belief. Once the tour was finished, we took the subway back to Brooklyn at around 11pm. That was… fun.

On Tuesday, we got the ferry from Brooklyn, past the Statue of Liberty, and on to One World Trade Center. That was a stunning trip and we got some amazing views of Liberty Island! Seeing the crowds lined up at her base, though, I think we made the right call not going right to the island.

Once we got off the ferry we headed to the One World Observatory for views of the entire city. And oh, boy, were they some views. The observatory is over 100 floors up, so you can see all of Manhattan, the Bronx, and a fair chunk of New Jersey from up there.

Then it was time for lunch, so we decided on that high cuisine, Burger King. Y’all. Y’all. They had table service and served beer. I am so confused.

After lunch, we visited St. Paul’s Chapel. Unfortunately the chapel itself was closed for renovations, but we could walk around the grounds. This chapel has a fascinating history—George Washington attended service here after taking his oath of office, it’s survived multiple fires with barely a scratch, and despite being just one block from the World Trade Center it didn’t sustain a single bit of damage on 9/11. It’s part of the parish of Trinity Wall Street, where Alexander Hamilton is buried.

Then we jumped on another bus tour, this time of Brooklyn. The tour guide was a Brooklyn native, and very biased towards his hometown—which was actually great because he knew everything. A very cool way to see the city!

After this it was time to head to Broadway, because we had tickets to Hamilton. It was my first Broadway experience, and it was a cracker. I’m still somewhat incoherent with joy and am struggling to fully articulate my joy at seeing this show live. Suffice to say, Javier Muñoz (the new Alexander Hamilton) has a fucking incredible voice, and everything about this show was pretty much perfect. It was an experience beyond all belief.

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Universal Studios and Whose Live Anyway?

On Thursday, I had finally recovered enough from my stupid bug/cold/whatever to hit Universal Studios. We had a relaxed start to the day, leaving home around 7:45 to arrive at Universal a little after 9am. I decided to shell out for front gate parking, figuring that there’d be enough walking around without a hike before we even got to the gate!

Because I am a giant nerd, we decided to start in Hogsmeade. Y’all, Hogsmeade is real shops. It was the greatest thing ever. Our first ride was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which was an incredible 3D dark ride—I absolutely recommend it to anyone who’s going, Harry Potter fan or not. After this, we did Flight of the Hippogriff which I didn’t really like. After wandering through the Hogsmeade shops for a while longer, it was on to the Revenge of the Mummy ride, which I loved! After this was Transformers 3D, which broke down… twice.

It was getting pretty hot by this stage, so we jumped on Jurassic Park, which is a water ride. That well and truly cooled us down! By now it was lunchtime, so we grabbed some lunch in Moe’s Tavern before getting on the Studio Tour.

Y’all, the Studio Tour was so, so great. It was an hour long, took us all around the studio, and we got to see some incredible special effects—including a simulated flash flood!

Once the tour was over, we had just enough time to rush to the next WaterWorld show, which… wow. It was performed by people whose main careers are stunt doubles, and it made for a visually incredible spectacle—people backflipping off 20-foot platforms into the water, setting things on fire… absolutely mind-blowing.

Once this was over we were pretty much done for the day. We picked up a couple of Harry Potter souvenirs (of course), including Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans for my cousins which made us very popular when we got home!

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On Friday, we went to Whose Live Anyway? in Thousand Oaks. I am a massive drama/improv/comedy nerd (Josh and I met when I was doing a standup comedy gig!) from way back and have been watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? since long before it was appropriate for me. So a chance to see Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, and Jeff Davis (as well as Joel Murray, who’s not a WLIIA alum), with the inimitable Bob Derkach on piano, perform live? Hell to the yes!

I got balcony seats, far enough away to avoid being picked on. This was a very wise move. The show ran for ninety minutes and it was absolutely hysterical. Lots of singing games (to be expected with Jeff Davis in the lineup) and lots of lots of Trump jokes. Ryan Stiles had twisted his ankle so was hobbling around the stage like an old man the whole night, which also led to a few jokes. All in all, an incredible experience—I’m so glad we went along!

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Big Bear Lake, part deux

This is fast becoming an annual pilgrimage… and I’m okay with that!

Because I was still feeling a bit grotty on Friday, we stayed at home on Friday night and made s’mores. Y’all, s’mores are STICKY. And they get everywhere. And they’re amazing.

Saturday morning we hit the road, arriving in Big Bear just in time for lunch at El Jacalito in the same booth we sat in last time we went. Once we were stuffed full of proper Mexican food, we quickly unloaded the car at the cabin before heading down to the boat.

The Americans kept telling us it was too cold to go tubing. It was approximately 5 billion degrees with a slight breeze. So, naturally, Josh decided to jump on the tube as we zoomed around the lake. He lasted quite a while before finally wiping out, actually! The lake is beautiful, although I’d probably appreciate it more if I wasn’t in the throes of a low-key panic attack the entire time (I am terrified of water).

Sunday we went up the mountain to 8,200 feet in the Scenic Sky Chair. The views were breathtaking and the food was pretty spectacular too. Although, Josh and I did get pretty horrifically sunburned while we were up there… oops.

Midday Monday was time for home and a relaxing jacuzzi. All in all, it was a beautiful peaceful break and I’m so glad I managed to get well enough to enjoy it!

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Someone’s got the flu, flu, flu…

Okay, it’s probably just a cold, but that’s less catchy.

Yes, the reason for the radio silence over the last few days isn’t because we’ve been out having amazing adventures, but rather because I’ve been sneezing, coughing, and throwing up for the last three solid days. YAY.

I think I’m over the worst of it, but I’d really like this to go away right now please. We were supposed to be heading up to Big Bear Lake this afternoon, but it’ll probably be tomorrow instead.

California Dreamin’

Let me extol to you all the gloriousness, the magic, that is Air New Zealand’s SkyCouch.

Josh is one of those lucky people that can sleep anywhere. On the train, in the car on the way to work, and yep, even on a plane in economy. Sitting up, no problem. Outside noise, no problem. He’s asleep in minutes.

I, on the other hand, cannot fall asleep unless I’m lying down. Can’t do it. Last time we flew to the US, by the time we arrived I was running on about 40 hours with no sleep.

So when we found out the SkyCouch was only an extra $400 each way (total, not per person), I signed us the hell up. And I am in love.

It’s about 5’1″ long, which is fine for me as long as I bend my knees a bit, but Josh is quite a bit taller than that. So he sat in the window seat (can sleep anywhere, remember?) and I stretched out with my head on the aisle end and feet in his lap. And, oh my gosh y’all, I actually slept. I mean, yeah, I woke up every time I tried to roll over because it was a bit of a mission, but overall? I slept (or at least dozed heavily) for nearly eight hours. Which meant that I wasn’t a complete zombie by the time we got off the plane.

Even sitting on the runway for 45 minutes after we landed waiting for a gate was okay (though I felt sorry for the people who were connecting to another flight). Customs and immigration was basically painless (apart from the guy who seemed very confused that New Zealand was eligible for ESTA and therefore to use the electronic gates), and then we found out the whole family had come to meet us at the airport! Which was so awesome.

All in all, I think 3pm is a much more humane time to land than 6:30am like we did last time. By the time we got back to Stevenson Ranch and settled in, it was dinner time. Then just enough time for a wine and The Bachelor before crashing out in bed around 9:30pm. I woke up at 7am and feel basically adjusted. (It’s 10:42am and Josh is still asleep, so we’ll see how he goes…)

We’ll be picking up our rental car this afternoon! The temperature will be hovering around 39C until Thursday, so we don’t have many plans yet apart from sitting under the air conditioning and crying. When it cools down to a more humane temperature, it will be adventure time!

Packing Fail

It’s 45 hours until we fly out of Paraparaumu airport, and I have not packed a single piece of clothing. So instead of packing, I’m procrastinating, by complaining on the internet about my lack of packing skills. Obviously.

I don’t know why I suck so hard at this. Every time we travel, I swear Never Again. I swear that Next Time, we will pack The Weekend Before. And yet, here we are, with 45 hours to go, and I’m thinking, “I should wash some jeans. Also, how many pairs of underwear do I even own?”

I’ve tried going on Pinterest to get packing tips and… there are people who swear that they can pack two weeks worth of clothing in a carry on bag?! Who are you people and how the hell does that even work? I think I’m the travelling version of parents who try Pinterest crafting with their kids. I try, I really do, but I throw one pair of jeans in there and the whole thing just fucking explodes.

I will definitely pack tonight.

…Or tomorrow.

Probably tomorrow.

Gold Coast Bound!

While I completely understand the logic of needing to check in to a domestic flight 60 minutes before if you’re connecting internationally, that does fall down somewhat when your domestic departure airport is somewhere like Paraparaumu. The absolute maximum number of people departing from here at any given time is 50. So, leaving my house at 5:30am made me bitterly resentful.

Probably all for the best, though, as the Air New Zealand computer system crashed halfway through checking in. A nice auspicious start to our morning! The old adage of turning it off and on again seemed to do the trick, however, and we had enough time to spare for a breakfast panini (and a massive coffee for Josh).I checked in online yesterday, and our Auckland-Gold Coast flight had assigned us seats across the aisle from each other. Because this leg was a Virgin Australia codeshare flight, I was unable to change the seat selection while checking in. However, when we got to the airport this morning the computer gave them an alert to reprint our boarding passes — and our seats had changed so we could actually sit next to each other. Not sure if this is because I grumped at them on Twitter, or if it was a coincidence, but either way, props to Virgin Australia for actually letting us sit together on our nice romantic getaway 🙂

Now, here is a PSA for you when you’re travelling. If someone on your flight has a medical emergency, for the love of all that is good in the world, don’t bloody crowd around them! A guy on our flight got up and fainted in the aisle, and like half the plane shot out of their seats to gather round. With nothing but good intentions, I’m sure — but honestly, I can’t imagine anything worse than passing out and waking up to 20-odd strangers staring at me.

Anywho. A bumpy landing in Auckland, but we arrived in one piece and wandered over to the international terminal. We had a five-hour layover, so Josh’s grandparents drove out from near Pukekohe to say hi and hang out for a while. It was great to see them.

TripIt gave us a notification that our flight had been delayed — only by 25 minutes, though, thank goodness. So we headed through security and managed to score a couch I could nap on for an hour or so until we finally had a gate announced.

Sidenote: of all the places to stop and check your bags, why on earth would anyone pick the end of the escalator?! Someone actually did this, and nearly got barrelled into by a couple of people. You can’t just pause an escalator…

Then it was on the plane to the Gold Coast, yay! The flight itself was painless — Josh had a toddler playing under his seat for a while, but apart from that, a nice smooth trip. Then it was through customs (painless) and a 30 minute wait for our shuttle.

On the shuttle, I discovered that two other people in the shuttle were also in town for the same conference I’m attending! So we were chatting for a while about the market and what we were hoping to get out of the conference.

Then, finally, we were at our apartment. We’re staying with a family friend who very generously offered us a room, and the place is absolutely stunning — and right across the road from the convention centre, hooray! Josh went on a scouting mission for food and we had dinner at like 4pm (time zones are weird).

I had a session to go to at 7pm, so I went to that while Josh slept. While the session was great, to be honest I was completely exhausted and very glad when it was over and I could just crash into bed! Thursday is a no-conference day, so we might be able to get a bit of exploring done. Or just sleep all day…

Go Somewhere Cool

I promise I’m not getting paid for this!

I stumbled across a gorgeous website today, and I wanted to share it. Go Somewhere Cool is a website that will… well, it will show you somewhere cool. I know, shocking, right?

Just click the button to be taken to a random unique AirBnb property—I clicked through a couple of times and found an original old Afghani yurt in Germany, a 14th century Italian palazzo, a designer sustainable eco-home in Costa Rica overlooking rainforests, a cubehouse in the Netherlands, and a room in the St Pancras Clock Tower in London.

This is one of those websites that will either sate your curiosity, or horribly inflame it. In my case it is well and truly the latter—I’m back to planning a Europe adventure after seeing some of these amazing properties!

Around the Neighbourhood

For all the travelling we do, sometimes it’s important to stop, take a breath, and remember the beauty in our own backyards.

Over the Christmas break, Josh and I went down to Kaitawa Reserve in Paraparaumu and Raumati Beach. We caught a beautiful sunset over the Tasman Sea out towards Kapiti Island, and took some time to remember how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful area.

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