Oh the places you’ll go

Well, it’s been a month since my last post!  Oops.  Time flies when you’re flying around the globe, living your best life 😊   But damn, it’s daunting to try to put that whole experience into words!  A couple of things happened. I visited another continent, threw myself off planes, cliffs and platforms, turned 33, visited one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, returned back to Minnesota, started to put to practice all that I learned in Thailand… to put it lightly, it’s been a great month.  I think I’ll do 3 posts about my last month, and then trip in general.  Today – the places I visited in the last month; tomorrow – what I learned and then the new years special of what it’s left me thinking about and what’s next.  And more pics with each one 🙂

Ok first off, I shouldn’t be a travel writer or critic, because I really loved all of them (except Taiwan, but as stated in an earlier post, I know I shouldn’t go somewhere for an overnight, but that’s for later).  Every place I went I thought, damn, this is cool.  I could live here.  I don’t think anything would get less than 8 out of 10 stars, and a lot would get 11 out of 10.  So this is not a relative comparison, because I’m going to use a lot of AMAZING and FANTASTIC.  Oh well!

Where I traveled: New Zealand – Auckland and Queenstown.  Australia – Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns.  Taipei, Taiwan (just over night).  Tokyo, Japan.

New Zealand: Auckland and Queenstown

In one line: Mother Earth smiled when She created New Zealand.

High: 16,500 feet high – skydiving on my 33rd birthday in Auckland.  Haha, good pun, right?  But really, the adventure sports were amazing, and the nature was amazing. 😊

Low: There’s so much of the country I didn’t get to see, including visiting the Marlborough reason on the South island, which is one of the reasons I wanted to go to New Zealand hahaha.  Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, I’ll catch ya next time.

If I could do it all again: I would spend more time there.  In reality, I spent over a week there, and up until this whole quit my job to travel thing, I hadn’t taken a vacation longer than I spent in New Zealand, so that’s maybe a little bit of a cop out.  But there isn’t anything I did, that I wouldn’t do again or recommend!

Blah blah blah:  The way New Zealand came about was impulsive.  I booked it one day during detox in Thailand, when I was just hot and felt like crap as I was purging toxins from my body, and was like, I need to go to a Western world on a fluffy mattress and a bathroom that has a shower door/curtain and drink wine!  So it was really researched and thought out 😊  I didn’t know much about New Zealand except that it was far away, but everyone I’ve talked to who has been there has loved it.  So I mean, if I’m on that side of the world and not doing habitat for humanity in Fiji and I have to leave Thailand by the end of December and get towards Australia – then WHY NOT!?

I stayed in Auckland for 4 days.  I hadn’t heard as many great things about Auckland as I had the South Island, but it’s where I booked my flight, so I went with it.  But it was just beautiful.  Mother Earth was smiling when she created New Zealand.  I was immediately struck by how amazing the clouds are.  The sky is just a beautiful blue and then these huge cumulous clouds float in the sky like one of those art projects a little kid does, where they paint the top half of the paper as a horizon with sky blue paint then glue huge clumps of cotton balls.  Then it’s on the ocean, and I just love the sea.  It was another beautiful blue.  One of the days I took a ferry to this amazing island for wine tasting, and I saw a pack (school?  Cluster?  I don’t know the word for group) of dolphins swim by the boat.  It was out of a movie.  And the trees!  I was obsessed with the trees.  One of the days I went for a tour, and there was some mix-ups and blah blah blah, the guy offered to give me a personal tour in the evening… so I got to see a lot of Auckland, and there are all these native species that are only in New Zealand.  I tried to take picture, but it didn’t do it justice.  The leaves, the shapes, the trunks, the bark… so interesting.  I asked around in both New Zealand and Australia, and I started to learn about why I was so amazed… well 1, there are just species that are only on these continents, so I have never seen them before.  Fine, makes sense.  Then the North island where Auckland is, was formed by volcanos and has a warm but temperate climate, so it can grow hibiscus trees and conifers.  Just so much variety.  There’s more, but my writing doesn’t do it justice.  Just, yeah, the trees were super cool.  There’s a lot more about the nature in Queenstown, but the last of Auckland is that I turned 33 while I was there, so I went skydiving on my birthday!  It was so cool – the skydiving itself.  16,500 feet allows you to freefall for a couple of minutes, so I really had a chance to look around at the amazing scenery.  Then, it was a perfect storm of the bartender at the hotel’s birthday was also December 1, and I had met some nice Americans on my wine tour, and a couple of other Kiwis that I actually had a birthday posse?!  Not too bad 😊

So the day after my birthday, I went to Queenstown.  And first off, I didn’t really drink much on my trip, but I somehow ended up getting drunk on the nights before I flew, so I’m hungover on the next flight, haha.  So December 2, I flew to Queenstown.  I had heard great things about the South Island, but again, didn’t really research.  And ah yes, the reason I picked Queenstown is that when I was leaving Bangkok, the man working at the ticket counter for check in was like, you can’t enter New Zealand if you don’t have an onward ticket.  I was like, I have a ticket home from Japan and things booked in Australia, I promise I’m leaving.  This man was Chinese, working for a Chinese airline that mostly deals with Chinese people, so the conversation wasn’t that easy.  But in the end, I booked a ticket from Queenstown to Sydney because it was the best deal I could find and both places I thought I wanted to go.  Again, super well thought out travel planning.  Anyway, Queenstown is the self proclaimed adventure capital of the world and a lovely town nestled between lakes and mountains on about the same latitude as Minnesota in Southern New Zealand.  I went on another wine tour, a hike, visited the Milford Sound – which they like to call the 8th wonder of the world and land of 10,000 waterfalls.  You drive a few hours through lots of sheep, mountains, lakes, and rolling greens, and then take a boat tour.  It was just untouched natural beauty.  I give the Kiwis a lot of credit.  There was no cell signal the last hour of the drive.  It’s one huge projected park.  We stopped at this little creek and drank the water.  It was so clean and pure, you could see the colors of the river rocks on the bottom.  But the sound itself was like nothing I’ve ever seen or experienced.  As you travel through the sound out to the Australian sound, you’re surrounded by mountains that touch the clouds.  We saw penguins and seals on the rocks.  There are waterfalls everywhere you look.  Just beautiful.  The final thing I did in Queenstown was completed my trifecta of adventure sports – paragliding and bungy jumping!  I did paragliding on a facebook recommendation, and it was so cool.  It was maybe my favorite thing.  You drive up a mountain, then strap yourself to an instructor who has a parachute on him, and run and jump off a cliff.  Then you sail around and look at the mountains and lakes for a good 15 minutes.  It was like out of a dream.  The bungy jumping, well that’s what Queenstown is really famous for.  Bungy was “invented” here, and they have one of the top 5 highest jumps in the world.  I was torn if I should do it, it didn’t interest me as much as the others, but I figured WHY NOT.  Well let me tell you, actually jumping off the platform aka throwing yourself towards a rocky ravine, IS NOT NATURAL.  It was thrilling.  I’m glad I did it, but I’m not in a hurry to do it again 😊  The one thing that didn’t work out, is two night I tried to do stargazing on the mountain.  You take a gondola up, and they have telescopes, and I just think stars are cool and I wondered if it was different in the Southern hemisphere.   Does the North star point North?!  Can you see the Big Dipper?  But both nights it was too cloudy, so it was canceled.  However, the stars were cool in Great Barrier Reef (I mean, when you’re in a boat at sea there’s not really any light pollution 🙂  and there was a meteor shower which was awesome, but I digress.)  So all in all – New Zealand treated me well. 

Bungy jumping as seen in a series of nervous smiles: Before, just jumped, bottom, after.

Milford Sound, because as I’m typing this, I think it might be a bucket list activity.  JUST SO BEAUTIFUL.

Australia: Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns

In one line: had two of the most unique and amazing singular experiences of my life all while feeling a sense of comfort and relatability.

High: To piggy back on the previous – seeing the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House and scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef are my two bucket list experiences.  Both things that moved me to tears with the amazingness of them, that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.

My night at the Sydney Opera House:

Low: I got attacked and bitten by a trigger fish on the last day of scuba diving – only after I had been inadvertently tempting them all trip.  It was pretty funny, after every dive, my dive buddies would be like, did you see that trigger fish?!  I thought you were going to get attacked?!  I never did.  I thought I knew what trigger fish were, but then I would avoid random fish I thought were them and swim right at other trigger fish.  To me, scuba diving is like being on a beautiful alien planet.  Everything is new and just amazing.  It’s like a whole new world.  In school, I wasn’t super interested in science, so we probably learned about these things but I didn’t retain it.  But I digress… good news, now I finally know what trigger fish are! But I mean, it’s a good badge of honor (or maybe honour since it’s Australian) to say I got attacked by while diving with sharks and sting rays and barracudas in the Great Barrier Reef, and survived 😉

If I could do it all again: Like New Zealand, I would spend more time in the places I traveled, and then I’d see more of the country.  But that’s a cop out – so I would wear sunscreen!!  I hadn’t burned all trip.  Then on my last day in Sydney, I went to the beach.  It was beautiful.  I was excited to clean up some tanlines before I went home.  Instead, I fried my back which then ALL peeled and looked like a skin disorder while scuba diving #classy

Look, I’m at the beach getting rid of my tanlines, living blissfully unaware.  Then I scuba dive and then I finally get to Japan and check out my work at my airbnb and DAMN.  PS sorry, these could be used as really sad sexting teasers.  I’m not trying to sext tease.  Unless you like it?  JK.  Look at that peeling!!

Blah blah blah: I’ve wanted to visit the Land Down Under since I had this video as a little kid, where these kids traveled around the world.  I don’t remember the other countries, but I loved the kookaburra song, the koalas, the kangaroos and the accents from Australia.  But as an adult, damn, it’s far away.  I started in Sydney.  When you ask people about their favorite places in Australia, Sydney doesn’t seem to be number 1, but it’s in the top 5.  I went to a performance at the opera house, which was just amazing.  Like the trees in New Zealand, words don’t do it justice.  It sounds SO corny, but the beauty of art and nature has just started to resonate with me.  It’s amazing.  It’s transcendent.  My experience at the opera house was magical 😊  Before I start, I looked for tickets because a friend I used to play basketball with when I was little, replied to one of my facebook posts that going to the opera house was a great experience for her.  Again, it’s so cool how connected we can all be.  The performance when I was in town wasn’t an opera, it was the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performing the music from La La Land, conducted by the Oscar winning composer Justin Hurwitz.  Basically, the movie played on a big screen and the orchestra played the music.  It was so cool.  I think it was even more special to me, because I had seen La La Land once, in the theater.  I was driving home after coaching a basketball game when I lived in Boston, and the roads were super gross and snowy.  It was at the time when I had started seeing my therapist out in Boston, but I hadn’t come anywhere close to getting a handle on my grief let alone my mental health.  So it was cold and snowy and I was in a bad head space, and I went to La La Land and was just charmed.  It’s so whimsical and charming, while also being sad and regretful.  Like life.  You can see what you did wrong and what’s doing you wrong, or you can the beauty and take the opportunity that the present is giving you.  So fast forward about a year to Sydney, the day before my mom’s birthday… and I get to go on this beautiful La La journey with the heightened experience of the music live by some of the best musicians in the world.  Just amazing. The rest of Sydney and Melbourne (my next stop) were great.  I loved it.  I would move to either, which is the point I’m poorly leading to – they were interesting and beautiful but also felt familiar.  The cities are easy to get around.  There is good coffee, lots of great cuisines at the restaurants, beautiful parks.  The cities are big, but clean and easy to get around.  There is sunshine and parks.  The yoga classes I went to felt great.  It also helped the cities causes that my connections to home ran deep.  I had dinner with a great friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in years.   I had lunch and explored the city with old coworkers.  I went to a comedy show that my old coworker’s high school friend was headlining.  It’s a small world.  It felt awesome to experience something new and foreign and connect with old friends and see friends from the Midwest, who had similar life experiences with me at one point in time, thriving on the other side of the world.

Then after Sydney and Melbourne, I went to Cairns to scuba dive.  So if the Sydney Opera House is a one of a kind performance venue, the Great Barrier Reef is definitely a one of a kind diving experience.  I was already smitten with diving from Koh Tao, Thailand.  It’s like a alternative universe.  Explaining it is like speaking a different language because most of what we experience on land is different than what we experience under water.  I knew that in my head, but I didn’t really understand it until the Great Barrier Reef.  So yeah, I went on a liveaboard, which is where you take a boat out to the dive area and float around and basically eat, sleep, and dive.  I read that the Great Barrier Reef is the only living thing that can be seen from outer space, and now I get it.  The reefs – which are the landforms are just so big, and there are so many of them.  Everywhere you look there is something amazing and cool to see.  I loved it.  I just want to keep diving and learning about what makes up this alternative universe.  The Earth really is an amazing place.

Some Great Barrier Reef pics.  They don’t do the magic justice, but hey, I actually have pics from underwater?! 

Tokyo, Japan

In one line: A beautifully unique clash of a very developed and sophisticated country and culture that is soooo different than what I know.

High: The food.  Nearly every meal was a guess.  The English on the menus or that the people at the restaurants used was not descriptive.  But all the meals I had were SO good.  Sushi and ramen, but then just these other mystery dishes that were so rich and flavorful!!  And at my wonderful cooking class, I went to learn to make gyoza (potstickers/dumplings) cos, um, I LOVE THEM, but I also learned how to make okinayamaki which was this savory pancake thing?  SO GOOD.  And the food wasn’t really expensive.  It was cheaper than going out for meals in the United States.  Just go to Japan and eat.  You’ll be happy!

Food experience pictures, clockwise – making okinaymakayi in cooking class – finished product – fun classmates and teacher.  These “vending machines” were in some restaurants and the menus in English weren’t helpful.  So I pushed a button, it prints out a slip that you give to the cook and the bowl under me cooking is what I got! Then, this cute little counter where I got a delicious mystery noodle dish, miso soup, a raw egg and gyoza.  I mixed the noodles, soup and raw egg together.  It was good.  I’m still alive.  Finally, the sushi from some fixed menu that I could choose from but I didn’t understand.  It was good though?

Low: I went to the wrong subway station to go to my Airbnb and then obviously got lost (because I was at the wrong station) but my screen froze, so I was literally out in the cold, lost and lugging my luggage like a chump.  But I went to Starbucks, pulled up my laptop, figured out how to reset my phone, and wrote very explicit directions to get to my Airbnb and how to get in, and two hours later, everything was ok 😊

If I could do it all again: Yes, of course.  More time.  More places.  I’ve heard so many cool things about Osaka and Kyoto.  Mt. Fuji.  Just so much more to see.  But what would I do that I didn’t do?  Stay in a hotel one night instead of an airbnb just so I could have the complete Japanese breakfast.  I heard it’s cool and I do love a good fancy hotel breakfast 🙂  Multiple people said I should try Japanese breakfast, but I would just go to coffee shops, and let’s be honest, every meal I really rolled the dice, so I don’t know if I could order Japanese breakfast if I tried! 🙂

Blah blah blah: If you’ve talked to me about my trip, I’ve probably said – ugh, I hate the terminology “first world” and “third world” countries.  And even if I think about my liberal arts background and use “developing” nations, it still just seems so dismissive and biased from my Western upbringing.  Thailand has a rich cultural heritage, so calling it third world or developing just seems wrong.  I don’t think Thailand “aspires” to “develop” to be like Minnesota.  Nor are they inferior.  But alas these words seem to a bit of the image I’m trying to draw on which is that in Koh Tao, the streets are intermittently paved and not marked.  There aren’t addresses that I could see.  You can’t drink the water from the tap.  There is garbage on the side of the road.  It’s just different than how I’ve lived.  And China, our Great Red Panda World Super Power, you can’t call an uber.  You can’t just go to an ATM and get money.  You can’t navigate the roads.  So I just felt intimated by Asia in that I felt it was SO different that what I am comfortable with and how I grew up and what I knew.  I loved Thailand in the end, but I struggled a bit in the beginning.  I didn’t have a chance to settle into China or Taiwan and I just felt like an outsider.  So I was worried that Japan would be the same.  I would just feel lost in the 4 days I was there.  But I didn’t!!  Yes, Japanese is NOTHING like English.  I can’t look at a road sign and be like, yup, that’s my street!  Or oh yeah, that’s the Japanese word for chicken, I’ll have that.  The building are tall, the spaces are small, and there’s a lot of people.  But google maps work.  I could understand the hand gestures.  It’s clean.  There are parks.  I felt comfortable and safe, but just so intrigued by it all.  I definitely want to go back.  I want to see more than Tokyo.  I really really really liked Japan 😊

4 thoughts on “Oh the places you’ll go

  1. Oh Ness, You are truly amazing!!!! Thanks sooo much for sharing…I wish we could have spent more time together over the Holiday, just, not enough time!!! Please continue to share your experiences. I told you Christmas Eve, you look absolutely amazing, AND, so at peace with yourself. I am so happy for you. I admitted to you that I questioned the “wisdom” of your embarking on this adventure, it is now very obvious that it was a very wise decision. Love ya tons, Auntie Sandy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mo

    Bonus trivia: Kyoto is Boston’s sister city. There is a full scale Japanese Home inside the Children’s Museum that was deconstructed and put together again. I was a tour guide there and used to know lots of Kyoto facts!

    Liked by 1 person

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