Four frantic days in the UK

I post this after just hearing about the London attacks… thoughts to all affected.

I had originally planned to stay longer in the UK but that didn’t happen and instead I had a very busy trip. 

I flew into London Luton and despite the airport being so far away managed to make it to my friends house in London, shower and get to the arranged bar all in about 3.5 hours. The weather was great that day (I think I’m the London weather God – tends to always be stunning when I’m there) so we sat outside and I embraced summer with some wine and fish and chips.


I wasn’t in London long though, the next day I picked up a friend – Danielle – and we headed off for Oxford and some sightseeing. Danielle likes books so it was a perfect location to visit together. We made the most of my alumni card and visited Christ Church (college). Also checked out the Bodleian Library, Blackwells Bookshop, The covered market, got a cookie from Bens Cookies and met my friend Clare for lunch. The sun was shining all day!


That afternoon I got the train to Leeds where I went out for dinner and some drinks with a friend from teaching in France, Luke. Sun was setting quite late there and I couldn’t quite understand the people dancing in bars when it was still light outside. 


The next day I had lunch in York with Liz and we got hailed on twice. The lovely weather had well and truely packed it in. However was really nice between rain spells. We wandered around some of York that I hadn’t seen before and I picked up some reading material.

That night I had dinner with my family in Harrogate and stayed with them for the night, catching up on all the news and family drama.

Sunday morning I took the train to Manchester. It was only a couple of days after the Ariana Grande concert terrorist attack there and everyone was on high alert but I felt like it was not only safe, but the best time to visit as the military were out in force like in France.

Louise and I were headed to Madrid together Monday morning so we had a quiet day with her cats, did some laundry, watched tv and ate. I ate a curry for dinner as it seemed appropriate. We also went to a market in the afternoon and got some amazing donuts, diet time when I’m home. The market was very cool and sold lots of homemade items and many of the stalls had goods that were Manchester themed and/or were donating proceeds to the families of those killed in the attack.

We had to get up super early the next morning to go to the airport to fly to Madrid, which I will cover in the next blog post.

Amanda xx

Cheese, Chess and Cerveza.

Everyone asked me why I was going to Bulgaria. It was a mixture of weather, cost, culture and a sense of adventure. Bulgaria stood up to my expectations and more!

I arrived into Sofia in the afternoon and was immediately confronted with communist apartment buildings and a run down airport. Things weren’t looking good but that was about to change.

The centre of the city is a mix of different architectural styles and churches. I partook in what seems to be a late afternoon ritual, walking up and down the main shopping street. The weather was already holding up its part of the bargain.


I joined the evening free walking tour. We saw the main churches, Sveta Nedelia, Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska, Alexander Nevski, Sveti Nikolai Russian Church, Sveti Georgi Rotunda (4th Century), Sveti Sofia Church (how Sofia got its name), the Banya Bashi mosque and the mineral baths (I drank some of the miracle water) before going to see the president’s office and two very bored looking guards. I went for dinner at a student bar/restaurant with some people from the walking tour. A pint of beer was NZD$2.25!


The next day I went on a day trip to the Rila Monastery. The monastery is like the Bulgarian Jerusalem. It’s more than eight centuries old. It was seriously beautiful! It’s tucked into the mountains and surrounded by wilderness. As well as the extravagant church in the middle of the monastery which was covered in murals and filled with various gold gifted items, there was another smaller church down the hill by the graves of a lot of the monks. It was very peaceful by the running stream. I’d love to return again in winter when snow coats the ground.

Back in Sofia I went into the churches and mosque. I also went to the National art gallery and saw some Bulgarian art, there was a cocktail party happening in the main gallery, Bulgarians know how to party. Since the weather was so nice I got to spend some time sitting in the sun in the park and watching old men play chess.


The nightlife in Sofia was also good. I went out a couple of the nights. We went to all kinds of different places from nightclubs to speakeasies. 


After Sofia I spent two days in Plovdiv, Bulgarias second city. I took the bus and stayed in the old town. I wandered around the city checking out the roman ruins scattered around the city. There is a roman amphitheatre, roman stadium, roman forum and a roman odeon. Most of the ruins have only been uncovered recently, with the stadium running right under the main shopping street (and buildings), so at this point they have only uncovered a small portion. There doesn’t seem to be a large budget for this kind of thing.


At the top of the hill in the old town there are a bunch of ruins also (ruins of eumolpias) and great views of the city. It’s free and you’re able to climb all over the ruins.


The next morning I did the free walking tour then had lunch in Kapana with some of the others from the hostel. We then went inside the Dzhumaya mosque (built in the 15th C using the bricks from the old roman aqueduct) and sat at the cafe outside drinking tea and eating baklava. We had some entertainment when two men got into a fight.


I left early the next day to go to Veliko Tărnovo which was the capital during the second Bulgarian Republic and home to a rather stunning fortress. The city is built on the hills at a snake in the Yantra river and this makes for stunning views. There is a monument at the top of a hill on a horseshoe bend in the river with stunning views of the houses on the other side. There is a cute old town called Varosha that has shops and places to eat. I visited some churches, the church of St Peter and Paul (home to some stunning 14th – 17th century murals. They were damaged when the church partly collapsed from an earthquake in the 30’s but have been restored), church of Sveta Bogoroditsa (in Varosha, and can be seen from all around Asenova and the fortress), church of Sveti Dimitâr, Forty Martyrs Church and Church of the Assumption (the last three are in Asenova).


The Bulgarians are very proud of their yoghurt and cheese. The bacteria used to make yoghurt is even named to honour Bulgaria (lactobacillus bulgaricus) as they claim to have invented it. Cheese is on almost every dish and is a white feta like soft and salty cheese, served on fries, salads and pizzas, and in banitsa (pastry).

Despite enjoying the food, it was carb and cheese heavy, thankfully all the walking helped! 

Next post will be about my four days in the UK where I traversed the country and tried to see as many friends as possible.

Amanda xx

Why not?!

Well, it was more than time for me to go on another holiday! This time I’m back in Europe for three weeks, enjoying some early summer weather and seeing friends.I flew to Paris via Auckland and Shanghai. I got to exit into China for all of about half an hour before rechecking my bag and disappearing back into transit to wait for my flight. I also got a free health check when passing into China I set off the heat detectors. China (and other countries) are very careful in the face of many international health epidemics like Bird and Swine Flu.

In Paris, I took the RER to my hostel where I had a quick shower and headed out to meet Naomi one of my friends from my year in France who is now living in Paris. We ate some food and drunk some wine followed by kirs on the terrace of a bar. 

The next day I went back to Clermont-Ferrand to spend a night with friends and watch the Champions Cup final between ASM Clermont and Saracens on the big screen with about 50,000 other people and a beer. I wore my ASM tee shirt and painted my nails accordingly. 


Unfortunately my team lost, but the atmosphere was great and a great night was had out with friends after the game.

It was really strange being back. Everything felt the same, but I was completely different. It had been almost two years since I had left and I think I have grown up some in that time. Also, was so strange having only a handful of friends there and not all the assistants who I was so close with when I was there. Walking around the city felt so familiar but strange at the same time.

The weather in Paris was so lovely, so it was a good opportunity to get out and see some sights, eat some food and hang out with friends. The only issue… tonsillitis. I get this chronically and I was pleased I packed such a comprehensive first aid kit.


I stayed with my friend Emma in Paris for four nights, it was excellent to catch up with her and she is coming to the end of her time there so it was a good time to visit.

My first full day I got up early and climbed the nearly 400 steps to the Sacre Cœur and the view over Montmartre and Paris. I then walked down the Rue Des Martyrs eating the best strawberries I’ve ever tasted, all the way to the Seine stopping on the way to read some in the Palais Royal. Later in the day I joined Naomi for lunch by the Canal St Martin and a stroll through the bookshop of the 6eme arrondissent and a couple of hours in the Jardin du Luxembourg gossiping. Emma and I had Italian for dinner near the Eiffel Tower after a drink on the bank of the Seine where we were warmed by the evening sun.


The next day I spent a half day in Giverny visiting Monet’s gardens. I arrived on an early train and arrived at the gardens just as they were opening. I highly recommend doing this, as the crowds in the small gardens only seem to increase as the day goes on. My afternoon was spent shopping and attempting to recover from my sickness.

Wednesday I woke late and went to the doctor to get some medication prescribed. This turned out to be really quick and easy in the end and the pharmacist complimented me on my name and said she was impressed with my french!


In the afternoon I went to the Promenade Plantée which is a walkway that was built as another railway/metro line then only used for a short while and now it’s a raised walkway. Yes, like the Highline in New York. Yes, this older and was the first one! After sitting in the nearing 30 degree heat in the park halfway down the walkway for a while I went to meet Naomi for one last drink and a wander around Le Marais. Oddly enough, we ended up at the same restaurant that I took Rhea and her friend to two years earlier.

This morning it was an early one. I had to be up at 4:30am to get to Porte Maillot and catch a bus to Beauvais, the budget airline airport about 75min drive from Paris. Where I’m going? Well you’ll just have to wait until my next post to see! 

Write again soon,

Amanda x

New York City

If the weather was great in Texas, it was terrible in New York City. I got unlucky, five cloudy rainy cold days wedged in between two lovely Spring weeks. I couldn’t complain though, I had to make the most of it. I only didn’t get to go up the Rockefeller centre, I had wanted to watch the sunset from The Top of the Rock but the cloud meant there wasn’t a good sunset to be seen. Being my second trip to the big apple, I’d already done a lot of things including going to the top of the Empire State Building the first time around.

Looking up 2nd Avenue


The day I arrived I didn’t do much, I got my laundry done, which was as easy task since I was staying in an Airbnb on the edge of Chinatown. I went for dinner in a cute wee Italian place and chatted to the chef.

The next morning I went to checkout the UN and got my passport stamped after the tour, the security council was in session but I didn’t get to see anyone important. It turns out Aunty Helen wasn’t in the building anyways.

UN General Assembly

I had Shake Shack for lunch at Grand Central station and then did a little shopping and wandered around the area I was staying in and did some window shopping in SoHo.

The sun came out for the most important day of the trip, the day I went to Sakura Matsuri, the Japanese Cherry Blossom festival at the Brooklyn Botanical gardens. It’s was spectacular! So many blooms and tulips too. I went to a tea ceremony and an Ikebana demonstration as well as taking hundreds of photos of the flowers. That night I got tickets to An American in Paris and wandered around the Upper West Side, around the ponds in Central Park and watched some young kids playing baseball. The show was excellent, singing and dancing and elaborate costumes and sets!

Sakura Matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Sunday was very chilled out, it was quite wet so I didn’t really have the motivation to do a whole lot. In the morning I wandered around the Lower East Side, visited another Whole Foods and did some window shopping at expensive boutiques. In the afternoon I went to a Degas exhibition at MoMA (thanks to my Airbnb host for loaning me her members card) and shopped 5th Avenue.
I spent four hours on Monday morning at the 9/11 museum, it was such a moving, thought provoking and informative exhibit and I just couldn’t speed through it. I’d been to the 9/11 memorial before the last time I’d visited in 2012, but the whole site surrounding it was a construction zone last time and now they’ve nearly finished building the new World Trade Centre buildings and infrastructure. The museum itself was at the foundations of the original buildings with the main exhibit under the south tower memorial, right in its foot print.

I needed a pick me up after that experience so headed to Century 21, a cut price department store a block away for some retail therapy. Then I headed to Brooklyn to wander through Brooklyn Bridge Park and admire the New York skyline from the other side of the East River with views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. I sat in contemplation for a while – until it threatened to rain when I headed for DUMBO and the subway. That night I had cheap and cheerful Chinese from Chinatown and an early night.

Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park

My last full day in New York came far too quickly! However I had done most of the things I had wanted to do (and that the weather had let me do), so I spent the morning wandering the streets and had a truly magnificently hipster New York lunch of squash and quinoa salad with avocado and artichoke heart with a red juice. To continue with the hipster vibe after that I headed to Williamsburg. I shopped and ate (some New York baked cheesecake) and drank in the surroundings. I’m sure the rain and the fact it was a Tuesday helped, but it felt much more quiet and suburban than I imagined.

For my final night in the Big Apple I did two of my favourite things, I ate cheap pizza and saw my favourite show. The pizza really was cheap 99c a slice and the show was Chicago, the cast were great, and I stayed after to get autographs and take photos with the stars. It was my third time seeing it and definitely the best! Bianca Marroquín who plays Roxie Hart did an excellent job, the best I’ve seen, thoroughly recommend.

Williamsburg

Wednesday morning I had two tasks, see a friend for a coffee and pack. I was sad to be leaving, but I had to take all my new shoes back home. I crammed my bag shut and left for the airport, not before getting some serious help lugging my suitcase up the subway steps.

I’m back in Wellington now, and the adventures don’t end there, I’m moving house in two weeks and this weekend I’m off to Christchurch to see my family.

More next time,

Amanda xx

Texas and Louisiana

I started my US trip with 10 days in Texas and Louisiana. I was very pleased to hear that Air New Zealand was starting direct flights from Auckland to Houston so it was a great opportunity to spend 14 hours on an aircraft! Actually in all honesty, the flight wasn’t too bad, and we landed early. It also saved me from a stopover and another 3ish hour flight from the West Coast to Texas.

Oak Alley Plantation

I arrived into Houston on the wettest day they’ve had since the floods last year. I really just thought the rental car agent was trying to up-sell me to an SUV for his own commission, but really his statements about the flooding being up to the hood of his car were true. Luckily I managed to avoid all of the flooding and arrived at my hotel faster than expected and with a great impression of Houston traffic.

When I found out the shopping mall was mostly closed I realised how bad it was.

I headed away from the rain the next day to New Orleans to stay with a friend from my time in France. The drive was quite long but for about the last hour you could really tell why New Orleans is so at risk from hurricanes (the next day at the brewery tour the guide showed us how high the water got during Katrina- 8 feet)!

Alex and I went to dinner before heading to a local bar/music venue where we listened to some jazz/funk music and got our groove on!

On my full day in New Orleans I was busy! I started the day with a tour of the Laura Plantation and explored Oak Alley with its exquisite white mansion and two rows of oak trees leading up to it. Once back in town I explored the French quarter on foot before joining a tour of a local rum brewery. I couldn’t resist the Cajun spiced rum and right now I am hoping it hasn’t exploded in my bag enroute home. For dinner we went to an outdoor bar where you choose cheese and cold meats and they arrange on a platter with bread and all the other nibbly bits!

New Orleans


My next stop was Dallas for two nights where I stayed with friends. The first night we went out to a rooftop bar with great views over Dallas, the food was really good too.

Dallas


I went to the Sixth Floor Museum that tells the story of the JFK assassination, went up the reunion tower and also my friends work had a petting zoo come visit and I went along too.

I went to the Fort Worth stockyards and watched the cattle drive and a staged fake shootout, it was all very Disneyland western styles. 

Fort Worth Stockyards cattle drive


My next stop was a few days with Niki, keeping it weird in Austin. There was so much to see and it really reminded me of Wellington!

The weather was perfect to be enjoying the outdoor sights of Austin. The city is very much an outdoor loving place, but with a lot of traffic due to the influx of people moving to the city. It’s the fastest growing metropolis in the USA with something like 150 people moving there every day.

Niki took me to the Greenbelt where every other person (at least) had a dog. We then climbed Mt Bonnell for a great view of Austin and the Colorado River. We then ate fried pickles (crumbed type coating on the pickles and fried – my gluten free diet was temporarily shelved while on holiday), vegetarian hotdogs and drunk some local beers.

The next day started in the most American way I could think of, breakfast at the farmers market and laughing at things like dogs in prams. We then went to the oh-so-hip SoCo, to check out the cute stores and people watch. We went to the first Whole Foods and ate pizza. I got my nails done and we went to a movie at the Alamo Draughthouse. The theatre serves you and drinks to your seat throughout the movie without you having to move, what an excellent idea!

SoCo, Austin


The next day we spent checking out Hill Country. First we went to Hamilton Pool, a gorgeous waterfall and pool of water that made me feel like I was in some tropical local. To continue the day of feeling like I was somewhere else we then climbed a giant Uluru type rock (Enchanted Rock). It was great to get out of he city and see some of the stunning Texas countryside and being Spring all the bluebonnets and wild flowers were out. On the way home we stopped by Fredericksburg for a Michelada (like a Bloody Mary but made with Beer instead of vodka) and sampled enough dips, pickles and chutneys at a shop to not need dinner. Our last stop was Luckenbach, population 4, where we were serenaded by a a man with a guitar and we sang along to country songs while sitting under a big old tree.

Hill Country, Texas


The next day we ate crawfish! They were yum, like mini crayfish, and so messy to eat. After lunch we went to the Bullock Texas State History Museum which was a great way to solidify my knowledge of Texas history and after that we went for a wander to check out the Capitol building and have a wander through the city (we ate yummy burgers at P. Terry’s Burger stand and donuts at Voodoo Doughnuts). 

My last day in Austin (and Texas), Niki and I went tubing on the San Marcos river. It was quite fun but I ended up with a couple of bruises from getting stuck in the trees once or twice. Before we went out on the river we went to Gruene (pronounced Green) for lunch, and checked out the oldest dance hall in Texas. For dinner we had Tex-Mex and found a lost dog. I had to leave to head to Houston ready for my early morning flight the next day but I wanted to see what happened with the dog. Luckily the dog had a microchip and a quick trip to a shelter for a scanner and a phone call to get the owner contacted and the dog was picked up within the hour. It’s always great when there is a happy ending!

My next blog will be about my five days in New York.

Amanda xx

Six months of travel and experiences at home in New Zealand

When you travel to other countries you realise how little you may have seen of your own country.
So after a year away exploring, I decided it was time to see more of New Zealand and experience more of the things Wellington has to offer.

Wellington


After I arrived back in Wellington, I booked a couple of trips away and a couple of events.

I had two trips to Christchurch in November to see my family and a bonus trip to attend a conference that I managed to get to go to for, I extended my time for this one and spent two weekends in town as well as the week of the conference. For one of the weekends we headed away to our bach and I spent some time picking berries in the garden. 

Christmas was also spent with my family in Christchurch and at New Years I went away to Diamond Harbour, a relaxing time was had.

Flying to Nelson over the Marlborough Sounds


In January I had a long weekend in Kaiteriteri camping which was lovely as the weather was perfect and I spent every day at the beach swimming and sunbathing.

Wellington Anniversary weekend a friend got married in Masterton on an amazing summers day, the bride looked beautiful. I stopped and picked lavender at a pick-your-own lavender farm on the way. The Wairarapa is really beautiful.

View from the Mount, Tauranga


Waitangi weekend was a three day one which as most wonderful. The boyfriend, JJ and I headed away to Tauranga for three nights. We swum in the sea, ate out, went to a waterfall, climbed the Mount and got chased by a crew of water fowl. It was my first time in Tauranga and although we actually stayed in Mount Maunganui, I really think it’s a place I could live. 

I started back at French lessons soon after getting home, determined to keep progressing and not to lose too much from when I was in France. I hope to be able to sit my DELF B2 this October. With this in mind, the New Zealand French Film Festival was an excellent opportunity to watch some French films. JJ and I made it along to the opening night and I managed to make it to three additional films. The opening night film Rosalie Blum was excellent, very funny and cinematically quite well done, telling the same story from different points of view. We also enjoyed Monsieur Henri et l’Étudiante. It was such a heartwarming story with some dramatic twists. 

I also decided my volunteer activity for this year would be teaching English to migrants and refugees and I was trained by an English language school and I was matched with a Korean woman who wants to practice her spoken English. I’ve been seeing her for three weeks now and she has made so much progress already. The training we received was really helpful too, some of which would have been helpful for my teaching in France.

My parents have also made three trips to Wellington since I’ve been home, we’ve been to Te Papa to see the WWI Gallipoli exhibit, to the War Memorial museum to see their exhibit and mum and dad went to see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

I’ve been to Te Papa another two times too, and sent guests who have been staying with me there twice too. Living so close to such an amazing museum has been great. It has been great to have some people staying with me too, instead of me staying with people.

My new flat has been great, I’ve been lucky with some great flatmates. One of them even got JJ and I free tickets to the dress rehearsal of the Royal New Zealand Ballet show in March. 

On the topic of shows, I went to see Robbie Williams on Halloween. I had tried to do see him in France but tickets were sold out. It was a great night for it and I stayed up all night to watch one of the All Blacks Rugby World Cup games, which of course we won.

Robbie Williams

I’ve been up to Auckland three times, twice for work, the teams I support are Auckland based, and once for pleasure. This weekend JJ and I did a rental car return so we could spend a weekend in Auckland, see stuff on the way and then be able to fly back. The rental car return was a great idea, $4 to rent and a free tank of fuel, which was enough to get to Auckland and drive around a bit too. We spent a relaxing day travelling up on Saturday stopping in Paeroa for a pic with the famous L&P bottle. We spent Saturday night at the casino playing the money wheel and some blackjack, rebelling against my statistical ways (we came out up $15). On Sunday we spent the day on Waiheke island, eating and drinking, unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best but we had a good time anyways.

The Feelers, Homegrown


Last weekend we went to Homegrown, a music festival on the Wellington waterfront with home grown talent and plenty of nostalgia, favourite act: The Feelers! 90s/00s rock band.

Waiheke Island


Earlier in the month we were in Christchurch for my dads retirement party which was an excellent night.

I’m off to the US next week, and I’m sure I’ll have more New Zealand based adventures soon too.

Until next time,

Amanda xx

Europe trip in review

Well I’ve been home for five months now, and with every intention to keep blogging or at least write one more post, my life caught up with me and here we are!

Singapore was a nice place to have a stopover, I went on a city tour, watched a movie and did a little shopping at the airport before having a shower and jumping on my last flight home.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore


What have I been doing since I’ve been back? I was straight back into work the day after arriving home, don’t be too jealous but I don’t get jetlagged. I spent the first week in the Christchurch office to spend time with my family before heading back to Wellington and spent the week writing conference trip reports, articles and processing most of the 1,200 emails I’d received since being away.

Coming back to Wellington I found an apartment and settled in easily, and I even decided I was ready to commit to having a plant.

Now five months later I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on and answer questions about my trip. Things like “what was your favourite place?”, “where do you want to go back to?” And “where are you going next?”

Choosing one ‘favourite’ place is difficult and I will explain why: I travelled to 23 new countries in addition to the three I’d already been to (England, France, Spain) in 386 days. That’s 89 cities.

I took 27 flights, 83 trains, 32 long distance buses, hired a car three times (France, Greece, U.K.) and took 9 ferries. I also learnt how to do covoiturage in France and hitchhiked in Albania.

I stayed in hostels, b&bs, hotels, Airbnbs, in people’s spare rooms (thanks guys), at a university hostel, on overnight trains and on the floor of Amsterdam airport.

I saw so many incredible sites from the ancient, modern and natural world.

I got lost, sunburnt, food poisoning, stranded (more than once), attacked by mosquitos, gained 5kg and lost a gold necklace. And I’d still do it all over again!

All in all, it was one of the most amazing trips of my life!

Coming home and trying to settle into my old life was hard. I had the same job in the same city, and for the first month I lived in the same apartment I had before I left (and after that I only moved upstairs). I found it hard to ‘reintegrate’ as I had changed so much in a year and didn’t want things to go back to how they were before.

I spent the first month saying yes to a bunch of activities before settling down into my life, I’m happy to add that I now have a plant and a boyfriend.

And of course, I’ve booked my next holiday, I’m off to the US in April.

I’ve also made a couple of trips around Nz that I will share about in another post.

Until next time,

Amanda xx