Monday, September 1, 2008

Honeymoon: Travel Day

Here's the overview: SeaTac to SFO, SFO to Auckland, Auckland to Queenstown. The first leg was pretty uneventful, so let's skip to SFO:
Once we hit the ground in San Fran, we got some replacement sunglasses for Melissa (her original ones lasted for quite some time, but they disappeared sometime during wedding weekend after the BBQ at the park, and there’s no way she was going snowboarding without them). The Sunglass Hut fortunately had the exact same pair of Ralph Laurens that she got years ago – at $20 off, so now she’s set.
To switch from the domestic terminal to the international terminal in SFO, there’s a bit of walking and you actually leave the security area. So back through security again for us (which meant we had to chug the bottles of water we’d bought in Seattle). Travis set off the metal detector, and we’re not sure if it’s because he had splinters of steel in his hand from grinding off part of a truck that morning or if it’s because his shoulders are so broad they almost brush the edge of the detector or if it’s because cargo shorts have a ton of metal in the various snaps and buckles they sport. We got through eventually though. We had a 3-hour layover, and we’d made it through security so we stopped for dinner: Mexican food, margaritas, tequila shots – our kind of dinner! The only disappointment was that our favorite tequila (the blue & white bottle we bought in Mexico) was only there for show – the bar tender was willing to pour from that bottle, but it was definitely not the same thing! At the bar, we met someone who was also en route to NZ, going to visit his girlfriend’s family for the first time. We think our reason is a bit more fun.
We finally boarded the huge 777-200 plane: it had tall enough ceilings that Melissa didn’t actually get claustrophobic (which was a worry with 13 hours stuck inside the thing), retracting luggage storage above, and a TV screen in the seat ahead. On the television, you could select from tons of different movies or TV shows to watch, play games, or if you didn’t want to use your eyes, you could listen to books on tape, cds or radio stations (although they were recordings from radio stations). Melissa enjoyed three different romantic comedies that Travis would have hated and Travis watched Top Gear and World Cup Racing (that’s cars, not sail boats). So we were both happy. Melissa then moved on to play Tetris, but she’s definitely lost some of her skills. She made it to level 10 every time, but then the shapes just piled right up. They served us both dinner and breakfast on the plane – chicken with pasta and ricotta for Travis and beef with sautéed onions and mushrooms for Melissa. Both meals came complete with unidentified foods: some weird fruit and vegetable salad as well as some kind of pudding for dessert (and we’re talking some weird baked good, not Bill Cosby’s kind). Breakfast was a more mundane fruit platter with yogurt & juice (although we actually knew everything on the plate that time).
When we landed at Auckland, we had to go through customs, retrieve our luggage and then go to the domestic flights terminal. Seems easy enough, right? We’ve already been through security so many times, this is just once more… Except what Aunt Judy quoted from their NZ pilot: “Welcome to Auckland; set your clocks back 20 years,” is true. Everyone at the baggage claim was getting their luggage carts (although they’re known as “trolleys” here). Travis decided we didn’t need one (these Kiwis just must be lame); we had our rolling suitcase that we can strap both the carry on & Melissa’s purse to, and he’d just carry the snowboard bags. So we went through customs (they’re really concerned that you’ll bring foreign dirt into the country – we had to declare our snowboarding boots and then when our luggage went through the “biosecurity” x-ray, they asked us if we used our sneakers to go hiking) and we went out to the main lobby area of the airport. We followed the first set of signs to the domestic terminal – the signs that said it would be 12 mins (no, that’s not some weird, metric distance measurement – that’s minutes). We followed the blue & white line outside, across streets, through parking areas, and finally into the domestic terminal. We took this picture so you could all see what the Auckland airport international to domestic trek looks like:
We were passed by a nice Kiwi couple that told Melissa there were trolleys available – so helpful when your husband refuses them! We checked our bags and then had just a scant 4 more hours until our flight to Queenstown. We enjoyed coffee from the airport espresso bar (they all have “flat white” as one of the coffee options – what New Yorkers would call “light” and Seattleites call “drip with cream”), got some NZ dollars out of the ATM, and Travis called work since he didn’t put in for vacation prior to actually landing in New Zealand.

We got some Burger Rings (full on burger flavor) out of the vending machine. They taste nothing like burgers. They mostly taste like fake cheese and a beef bullion cube (especially the salty part). The bag says “no artificial flavours or colours,” and on their list of ingredients they list corn, vegetable oil, and then “burger rings flavour”: obviously from the native New Zealand “burger ring flavour plant.”

We also enjoyed our first New Zealand breakfast (thank you, Stephanie & Jamie!): Miso Ramen soup – Melissa had roasted chicken and Travis had steak. It was really good soup, with lots of flavor and definitely some serious garlic going on. Melissa’s chicken was huge chunks of chicken breast (more than she could finish).
We finally meandered through security which is really lax on the domestic flights, and ended up in the gate area, waiting for our flight. This whole time, we’d been hoping to run into someone chatty that new more about NZ than we do. But everyone that wanted to chat with us had either never been there themselves or was a tourist as well. This time, we were in luck. We were sitting, reading and waiting for our flight to be called when a grandmother and grandfather who live just outside of Auckland sat on the same bench as we were. She told us all about how she was flying to Queenstown because her daughter-in-law that lives in Sydney is turning 40 on Wednesday, so she’s bungy jumping for her birthday. But being a native Kiwi (not an Aussie), she was determined to do the original, A.J. Hackett Kawarua (harder to say than it looks) Bridge jump. So the “littlies” (grandchildren) and son & daughter-in-law had flown into Queenstown for a celebration & grandparents were going to meet them. She had a cooler bag full of the food her littlies had asked her to bring – baking and home-cooked treats they normally only get when going to Nana’s house. She chatted with us quite a bit, about the hurricane (“how can they possibly evacuate so many people – what town can take them?”), about what we’re doing on our honeymoon, about all the great things in New Zealand we’re missing out on, and we got an ear for the accent (finally!).
There was some turbulence on our flight to Queenstown and Travis had already read that landing in Queenstown was “a bit dodgy,” which he neglected to share until after we landed. It was only iffy because of how they actually fly between the mountains that surround the area. Really. There were mountains out the windows on both sides of the plane. Melissa didn’t notice until Travis pointed it out. It might have made Melissa nervous considering there were gale force winds happening while we were landing. The turbulence wasn’t as bad as they led us to believe, but there would have been some concern about being blown into the mountains if she’d known. Here's the view of the air field after we'd landed:
We got our baggage for the final time, and loaded it onto a trolley (Travis had agreed after the last time that anytime everyone around us is using them, we will too). The car rental area was right next to baggage claim (even closer than they are in Seattle), so that was easy. We got a little lost getting to the right parking lot, and ended up with our trolley on the wrong side of some fencing, but we just took it through the street instead; no harm done. After we’d found the car and loaded the luggage in, Melissa went into the building to ask where we leave the luggage cart. That was a little lost in translation: “Are you done with your car? Got all the luggage out?” “Oh – not car, cart. Ummm… trolley?” “Oh, the trolley – just take it out the lot and leave it on the grass right round the corner. The guy will come round and get it up.” There are apparently lots of people that come to NZ from “drive on the right” countries – they feel the need to sticker the speedometer:
We can’t actually blame them: driving on the wrong side is definitely nerve-wracking for both of us. At least it is through town: the highway’s not bad, but in town with traffic (and traffic circles all going the wrong way) it’s a bit harrowing.

We checked into the hotel and unpacked and enjoyed our first showers after so many hours of travel – so nice! We have a bit of a view from ourbalcony:

After that, we took the shuttle back into town for lunch/dinner at Winnie's. They're a great little brick-oven pizza place with cold beer on tap and a retractable roof above the fireplace seating. Bruschetta was huge and the pizza was really tasty. We settled on splitting the steak pizza with homemade barbeque sauce and bacon; a little different than anything else we'd had before. We stopped in at the one Queenstown Starbucks for coffee, and walked around downtown, acquainting ourselves with the sprawling metropolis (6 blocks by 3 blocks). We hiked backed up the hill to the hotel and settled down for reading & tv for as long as we could stay awake. We’re trying to get more solidly on the NZ schedule, but it’s a bit hard to tell what that is, since the sun rises at 7 & sets around 7, but the bars are still open at 5am. Every business in town says that it’s open from whenever “until late,” whatever that means! We hope to figure it out while we’re here!

The one thing we keep telling each other is, "I wish we'd picked somewhere pretty for our honeymoon..." here are some pictures so you all can see what an ug-fest we're in the middle of:

1 comment:

Jason said...

Absolutely beautiful...

I mean, yeah, too bad you couldn't go somewhere nice.