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.


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

Back to work

I spent the night in Budva, Montenegro and explored the old town before heading to Zagreb which I had visited in April. I made a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park which were lovely, but a few too many tourists for my liking, however I did manage to find a couple of quiet spots. I indulged in some retail therapy and went to one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants – …Nishta.

Old town, Budva

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

I took the train to Budapest which was a bit of an experience. A soviet era train that seemed to make quite a few strange stops then we all had to get off a take a bus for 30mins where there was track work going on. When we got back to the train to get on again there was no station or platform, just a train in the middle of nowhere. With no platform, this meant the first step was almost as high as my hip off ground, needless to say, mind the gap between the train and the platform.

I was in Budapest to start my first official government work in a year, I was off to a UN conference. I had to present two papers from New Zealand that were written by a colleague. It was quite exciting sitting behind the little New Zealand sign.

The last time I was in Budapest I didn’t get a chance to see everything and I had a friend come to visit while I was there so it was a great chance to explore the city some more. Highlights included climbing up to the Citadel and seeing the excellent view of the city, witnessing an engagement, going out to some bars, having a relaxing afternoon at the Gellert Baths after the conference, eating far too much delicious food and attending the conference dinner with Hungarian food, music and wine. It’s pretty great when the dinner organiser tells you “drink as much as you can”.

I also had my birthday while I was there and despite having to spend a long day listening to talks, and then presenting early the next morning, I had a great day, dinner and drinks out with friends.

I am now at Schiphol airport about to start the long journey home. I came from Hungary via Hamburg yesterday.

I have a short stopover in Singapore, so I might write another post once I am home.

Amanda xx

Six days in Albania

Well how can I even start a post about Albania? Go there! It’s a great place with lots of under visited sights, plenty of solo travellers and lovely locals. Actually ignore that, don’t go there, I want to keep it all to myself.This post is going to be very detailed and I will provide some advice about travel to Albania too, so friends and family, bear with me.

My summary of the last 100 or so years of Albanian history: in 1912 independence was proclaimed, subsequently Albania was occupied in WWI by nearly everyone and in the 20s it became a monarchy after the interior minister over threw the government. Mussolini invaded in 1939 and two years later the Albanian Communist Party was formed. They fought the Italians and then the Germans before alining with the USSR. In 1960 they decided the USSR wasn’t communist enough and re-orientated itself with China. When Mao Zedong died Albania went all North Korea and isolated itself after deciding China too was too liberal. The borders were closed and movement was restricted. With the changes in Europe in the early 90s, Albania was encouraged to end communist rule. People were allowed to drive (this explains some of the bad driving and road conditions) and the country became more open. With religion again allowed, Islam reappeared as the main religion, but in a more relaxed way, however I was still woken most mornings at sunrise by the call to prayer.

I took a ferry across to Saranda in the south of the country from Corfu. My first impression of the country was that it’s a relatively poor place, but with lovely people and plenty of flash cars. (Aside: here’s a joke about the Albanian’s and their cars: A German, an Italian and an Albanian meet at the pearly gates. When asked how they ended up there, the German responds, “I bought a Porsche and while driving too fast I had an accident”, the Italian agrees and says “I bought a Ferrari and crashed it at high speed too”. When the Albanian is asked why he’s there, he responds “I bought a Mercedes and couldn’t afford to eat”).There is also a large expat population living in Detroit, USA and working in the automotive industry.

After a day in Saranda with the nicest hostel owner ever, I headed up to Berat. The journey was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had on this trip, or maybe ever. I paid my €8 for a 6 hour journey and got on board a small bus/mini van. The roads were very windy and the bus was overloaded at some points by up to 8 people. Additionally it was hot, the van didn’t have AC, so the ticket man spent most of the trip hanging out the open door. Three people threw up but we made it there safe and sound.

Buses in Albania run sporadically and often leave from various different places around the city. Getting from one city to another isn’t too hard however, as long as you do it before 3pm when everything tends to wind down and people go for a siesta.

Berat, Albania

Berat’s claim to fame is a hill of ottoman era houses (1000 windows) and a castle. The first day was spent drinking Rakija (a clear spirit made from grapes, usually bootlegged with the person serving it to you having made it, so alcohol content can be around 50/60% or higher). It’s seen as rude to decline a shot (or two or three…) In the evening I went out for dinner with people from the hostel and some American peace corp members who are living in Albania.

Berat Castle, Albania

Early morning climb up to the castle to beat the heat was very rewarding (paid for it the next day with sore legs). People still live within the castle walls making the most of the excellent views over the region.

Next I was off to Tirana and the heat had really set in! Up to 37 degrees carrying my giant pack. Some of us from the hostel hitched rides to the bus station which was a little out of town. Hitch hiking is quite easy and safe in Albania since the locals like to connect with outsiders (as I explained, they were shut off to the outside world for so long). They won’t pick other Albanians up, just foreigners.

I arrived in Tirana which has no main bus station and immediately had to navigate the public transport without a map all in nearing 40 degree heat. That night I went out with some others from the hostel with some Albanians to watch the Denmark vs Albania football game. We watched it in a big square outside the prime ministers office with all the locals, there were celebrations afterwards despite it being a 0-0 draw. I’m pretty sure I featured on Albania TV. The Albanians took us to a couple of bars where some more Rakija was drunk and it became very obvious that it was going to be hard to blow the budget here (€35 for a couple of rounds of drinks for 6 people and some more Rakija).

Gazi telling a story in Tirana

Day two in Tirana started with a walking tour of the city and learning all about the communist past from our guide Gazi. He was asked about the Albanian mafia which he thought was becoming less of a problem. Although, it’s thought that most of the drugs in Europe come from or are trafficked by Albanians. After lunch, making friends with a Portuguese guy on the street and a nap it was time to eat far too much food and try various different “flavours” of Rakija, although all I could taste was alcohol. I taught friends from the hostel some drinking games and then we headed out to the Skybar and got chatting to a group of ladies on a hens night. Things are still very traditional in Albania when it comes to meeting people (even friends), and they couldn’t understand that we had met the day before and called each other friends. 

I was sad to leave Tirana, but I was heading north to Shkodra and a day trip on a lake. I had heard lots of great things about this boat trip on a lake that was created in 1978 by damming a river. The lake Koman ferry is mainly used by locals to get to their houses along the banks/hills next to the lake. For most of them the ferry is the only way in and out. They scramble up rocky cliffs in some places with necessities they have bought from town (or as one man did, a case of beer). The scenery was also stunning. While on the boat a local family and I shared snacks despite not being able to communicate verbally. It’s was a nice moment.

Lake Koman, Albania

On the ferry, Lake Koman, Albania

Lake Koman

After heading back to Shkodra, I started my journey north through Montenegro and Croatia to Budapest. I’ll write about my last week of travel next time.

Amanda xx

The end… or maybe not?

I flew to Berlin from Paris and met up with Yoshi and his friends, I was staying with them in Mitte. Three excellent days were spent eating, drinking and a little sightseeing. We went to a club that I quite liked called Griessmühle which was right by a canal and we stayed out until the sun came up. Otherwise I ticked off all the regular tourist stuff like the Brandenburg gate, Reichstag Building, Holocaust memorial, check point Charlie and the still remaining section of the Berlin Wall called the East Side Gallery.Next stop and I was on to Amsterdam. This was supposed to be the end of my trip… BUT thanks to my work for stepping in and asking me to continue the adventure with a conference in Budapest three weeks later. (More on what I did with my extra three weeks soon).

Berlin Wall

I met up with Lynsey, an ex-colleague from NZ and we drank plenty of beer then went to the Rijksmuseum the next day to see all the Rembrandts and Vermeers. Unfortunately after visiting the Gallery of Honour, our next stop was to Dutch A&E, Lynsey having missed a step and badly crunching her foot. Luckily they were fast and we were on our way pretty quick. 

The Berghof, Amsterdam


For the rest of my time I explored the Jordaan area and Nine streets, the Begijnhof, visited the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, FOAM (photography art gallery), hired a bicycle and explored Vondelpark, ate frites and watched some people pulling a lost bicycle out of a canal. I had a nice time once I had escaped any tourists.


I then flew to Corfu for four days of getting tanned, food poisoning and losing my necklace. The beach was lovely and the water perfect.

Since I have a lot to say about my next location, I’ll be devoting an entire post to it! It’ll be coming your way next week.

Until next time,

Amanda xx

Goodbye France

It’s been more than a month since I last wrote a post about my travels. After my last post I did indeed head north to a cooler climate, all the way to Calvados to help Nick and Sue.My first task was helping show two young future race horses at a national show in Haras du Pin. I helped groom the horses, run around and find out what we had to do and then take some photos.
Once the excitement was over with the horses I spent three weeks with Nick and Sue, eating very well and helping out with all kinds of things, from feeding and walking dogs, to herding sheep, preparing the raspberry patch, stacking wood, building fences, cleaning the house when it was too wet outside and a few more things with the horses for good measure.

Haras du Pin

In my spare time I read more books, did more yoga, walked and talked as well as tried to write two presentations for the upcoming conference. I also watched some of the first TV I’ve watched in almost a year (and decided it was still bad)!

I also met some of Nick and Sue’s friends at dinner parties, fashion shows and at the local Tabac on a Friday night. The percentage of expats in the north of France is high. At the end of three and a half weeks I was very sad to be leaving but I had a whole week in Paris to look forward to. 

Galleries Lafayette, Paris

Jardin des Plantes, Paris

Eiffel Tower, Paris

A week in Paris was a perfect way to say goodbye to France. I stayed with Emma (thanks!) and did my last sightseeing and visiting. It really was a great week, here is some of the stuff we/I got up to: visited the Opera Garnier, Gallerie Lafayette department store, watched The All Blacks playing Australia at Café Oz (go the AB’s!), went out to the Comptoir General (a bar with an African general store feel near Canal St Martin), wandered the streets of the 6th with Emma, Jardin des Plantes, the Grande Mosquée de Paris (mint tea and middle Eastern treats), saw a partly naked man sunbathing in the Jardin du Luxembourg, got throughly creeped out at the Catacombes, visited the Cité de L’Architecture et du Patrimoine, said goodbye to Naomi over some beer, visited CF for one last day trip, where I finally climbed to the roof of the cathedral and ran some errands.


For my last pastry in France, I got a raspberry and almond croissant, must have been about 1000 calories, going out with a bang!

More next post,

Amanda xx