Va Vino

Husband and I LOVE wine, and have frequented many a Virginia Vineyard!  Here is our list of where we have been, and a short review of each.

VA is known mostly for their white wines, like Viognier and Traminette.

Gadino Cellars - Washington, VA
-Fav Vino - EVERYTHING! Seriously, we love this place.  We have been going since their beginning, and they make really great reds, and have convinced us to drink more whites.
*Certified Virginia Green Winery, pretty sure tastings are free, they frequently have live music and have bocce courts and sometimes have off-site food and wine paired dinners.

~Virginia makes wine, Napa makes auto parts (a sign at Gadino) =)

Barrel Oak Winery - BOW - Delaplane, VA
-Fav Vino - Petit Verdot
*We love this winery, because they love dogs!  We bring ours and always have a great time tasting and sitting outside on the picnic tables listening to some great music! 

Gray Ghost Vineyards - Amissville, VA
-Fav Vino - Ranger
*This winery has really fun events.  One year we did a tasting right out of the barrel, and did our own blends.

VA Winery Reviews
Quattro Goomba- Aldie, VA
-Fav Vino - Wine Frappe - a yummy frozen wine bevvy & their dessert wine Vino Dolce
*$5 tastings, dogs & kiddos welcome
-This winery was decent, I enjoyed the creative "wine frappe", but found it strange that they offer tastings from wines in California??  Worth checking out once.

Travel Tips

Regardless if you are a seasoned or first time flyer, I have some tips that can make those long flights a bit more bearable! 
The general idea is to bring as little as possible, but still be comfortable and have everything you need, and maybe a few things you want.  So if you have a big trip coming up, and are feeling a bit overwhelmed about what to bring, I am here to give you some tips!

To Do Before You Leave
-Call your cell phone company and have them enable international calls and Inquire as to the roaming price – you may need it in an emergency
-Notify your bank of your travel destinations and dates so they don’t freeze your account! Also - although the commercials claim it, amex is not everywhere you want to be, visa and mastercard are!
-Exchange rates - At the ATM, you sometimes will have the option to let the local bank pick the rate or let your bank do it, go with your bank! It is always a good idea to carry cash because american credit cards do not have the smart chip yet and a lot of european cards have it so you may have trouble using your card.
-Be prepared and print out your itinerary and include maps – we tried to put our maps on our ipod and it was an epic fail – too small, you couldn’t see anything – maybe an ipad would be better if you want to go electronic.
-Scan your passport photo & have an electronic copy in your email just in case you lose it, this makes obtaining a replacement a lot easier!

-Report your international trip to the Dept of State
-Check the Dept of State website and know emergency phone numbers
    -The number for US citizen services (for emergencies 24/7)
            daytime - 212-661-79-70-00 nightime - 212-661-13-19-39

Travel Apps for iPhone – Pay attention to what applications require the internet, because you may not have service or are roaming overseas & won’t have access to them.
-Most large cities worldwide have transit map apps - some are free too
-My Language is free translator tool – very helpful, but needs the internet
-Tripcase is a great program that will organize all aspects of your travel (flight, rental car, hotel) and it will notify you, or others you designate, if there are changes in your flight and also can do take-off and landing notifications.  This app does not require the internet once the information was e-mailed and downloaded to your phone once.

Here is my list of necessary carry-on accessories!

You can carry-on any bag you want, but my friend is a representative for Thirty-One Gifts, and they have some super cute bags!  Check out the site - Here

The Essentials - I recommend keeping these things in a smaller pull-out bag so you can schlep it to the bathroom with you all in 1 easy little case.
-Hand sanitizer – Traveling involves lots of people in a small space, and you don’t want to have to get up from your seat every time you eat or have a snack so pack a travel sized hand sanitizer and resist the swine flu!
-Face wipes – I prefer the pre-moistened type such as olay daily facials express wet cleansing cloths, they will also take off make-up so you do not have to schlep your liquid make-up remover with you on your trip.
-Toothbrush – those long international flights make your teeth feel fuzzy, right?  So you have a few options for toothbrushig in-flight.  
I personally really like the wisp – it’s a small, disposable toothbrush with toothpaste on it, and on the other end it also has a toothpick.   

The popbrush is a cool travel sized toothbrush, just make sure to bring along your travel sized toothpaste...and clearly you can get them for advertising =)

Obviously, you can bring your normal toothbrush, and when I do, I toss it in a Violight toothbrush UV sanitizer.
They also make disposable flossers that are convenient for traveling. 

-Extra clothes – It is generally recommended to pack an extra set of clothes in case your luggage goes to an alternate destination – but I rarely do this, and have only regretted it twice. Its up to you!

Long flights
Like really, really long flight to Europe or Australia?  Here are a few tips for surviving-

The international flights I pick usually are night flights, so I can sleep at my normal time and wake-up on the other side of the lake! 

Long flight essentials – Some airlines such as quantas provide such amenities, but if they don’t… you don’t want to be stuck on a 12 hour flight without these!
-Ear plugs – pretty self-explanatory.  Hearos make some pretty good ones.  These will also come in handy when you are staying in hotels with thin walls. =)
-Sedation – Yep, I said it.  And nowadays you have more options than just destined for fuzzy brain Benadryl.  I like to use Dramamine, and if you prefer the more natural route, take some melatonin, which is a chemical naturally found in your brain to regulate sleep and wake cycles. 

-Eye shade – Long international flights generally dim the lights after serving a meal, but if that is not enough for you, then bring along some eye shades
-Travel socks/slippers – Sounds silly, I know, but my mother in law gave me these really cute lamb slippers that travel with me on every international flight.  On a long flight you are going to want to kick off your shoes and relax.  So bring along some comfy slippers to make you more comfortable.
-Travel Blanket – They usually hand these out and I am fine to use them, but if you prefer your own, bring it! 
-Contacts/Glasses - If you wear contacts, the dry air on airplanes can really dry them out, and if you plan to sleep, doctors generally recommend removing them.  So don’t forget to pack your solution, and glasses.
*Clear Care contact solution warning - The "travel pack carry-on size" box would lead one to believe that you can pack it in your carry-on bag, but that is not the case! This solution contains peroxide, and the little red line at the top of the label on the bottle alerts TSA staff that you are attempting to bring peroxide on board and they will take it! False advertising at its worst!!

Travel Sized items worth checking out

-Razors – I love the travel sized intuition – no need for shave crème – Also, keep the plastic cap for storage. 
-Hair Care – Conair 2 in 1 curler/straightener or a travel flat iron with heat proof wrap
            *Check international amperages!
-Scentsy Travel Tin - $5 to help your luggage or hotel room smell better? DONE!
            *My friend is a consultant, and you can get them Here

Do you have kids or an annoying husband who prefers to poke you rather than catch up on the latest trends?  Here is a list for your entertainment-
-e-readers – Heres why I love it – Its small and you can bring multiple books and travel guides in a compact size without elbowing your neighbor for 9 hours.
-Travel sized Electronic movie/game console – A lot of international flights have in-flight entertainment, but if they don’t its going to be a loooooooong flight without one! 

Long taxi & take-off? – Bring a book of soduku or word games to keep everyone entertained during times when electronics cannot be used.

Other Electronics

*It is VERY important to pay attention to amperages and have the correct plug changers so that you can operate your electronics sans explosion.

- Travel power strip – If your hubby is like mine, he has more electronics than a radio shack. Monster Cable makes a compact power strip that can handle european voltages
-Plug changers – European wall plugs have different shapes than ours, so bring along a plug changer so you can charge everything
-It may also be a good idea to carry a portable battery back-up, New Trent makes a compact, portable charger for necessary electronics like your phone that you may need in a pinch.
-If you are planning on doing some driving, bring along an aux input jack to listen to your tunes 
-Plug with a USB outlet you can plug into the car or wall – To charge everything with a USB - make sure to check the input

Tips for Hubbies
-Why carry 2 belts when you can get one that is black/brown reversible
-Soap/shampoo bar combo from J.R. Liggett’s *from an old new England recipe =)

-Medicine! – Are you prone to allergies, or a sensitive stomach?  It is important to bring along your regular medications, plus a few extras “just in case”.  Some countries do not have the same medicines available over the counter for the occasional sniffle or upset stomach.  Bring along a small number of a variety of medicines that you could anticipate being helpful. At least bring pepto, you’ll thank me later. =)
-Check the weather!  And always plan for rain – bring a jacket with a hood, or samsonite makes a great travel sized umbrella
-Fast flats – You will most likely do a good amount of walking, and if you opt for cute shoes, bring a plan B so your feet don’t hate you in the morning.  Dr. Scholl’s makes small flats you can stash in your purse and swap out in a flash!
-Travel Jewelry holder
-Dirty clothes bag to separate them from your clean clothes
-Cutex nail polish remover pads - no liquid acetone!

Safe Travels!
~Maine Girl

The Older I Get,The More I Travel, The Less I know

Everyone has heard the saying above, in various forms, but it was Chef Anthony Bourdain who coined that version, linking it to travel.  I have often felt the same way when traveling abroad, whether it be attempting to figure out a new countries abode, or understanding cultures and customs.  I was particularly fascinated with my first Muslim country experience.  Growing up in America, its difficult for me to imagine women actually wanting to cover their bodies, especially on those hot Moroccan days.  
In Spain and other Spanish speaking countries, the culture is so laid back, it is common for businessmen to gather in cafes to have a leisurely breakfast, and get to work... well... when they get there.  In America, all we do is rush around from A to B.  I thought about this topic on my last trip to Puerto Rico.  In PR, you commonly have to wait 5 HOURS to see a doctor, even if you have an appointment.  Shops are randomly closed, and even government offices sometimes stop seeing people at random times.  It is nice and relaxing to enjoy a long breakfast or lunch, but I was brought up to believe that if you have appointments, then you owe it to those people to show up on time, inshallah, of course! =)

You may think that you have a good understanding of the world around you, but you truly do not until you go out and experience it.  

~Maine Girl

Windstar Cruise - Turkey

Where: Kuşadasi, Bodrum, Istanbul
When: July 2009
Highlights: Kempinski Hotel, Istanbul Markets

Our first stop in Turkey was Kuşadasi.  This is where some of the best ruins in the area reside – Ephesus.  But truthfully, husband and I were all “ruin”ed out.  So Husband and I booked a scuba dive trip.  It was a 2 tank, boat dive, and it was pretty lame.  We did get to go through some “caverns”, we saw some old pots, and felt warm water currents coming up from the sea floor.  The guide also cut open a sea urchin to feed some fish, for our amusement.  But we could have done without the dive.  There wasn’t really any nice coral, and not a lot of fish.  Atleast we can say that we dove in the Mediterranean, right?  Husbands brother went to Ephesus and liked it, and here is the best pic, in my opinion, he took of Ephesus.

We opted for a relaxing day at an amazing resort for our visit to Bodrum.  We spent the day at the amazing Kempinski Hotel.  Some of us went to the SPA for massages and reflexology, and some enjoyed the sun and the infinity pool.  We had a lunch arranged for us, and just enjoyed the day at this fantastic hotel.  I highly recommend visiting one if you have the chance!

When we were departing Bodrum, we saw that some kind of bathtub regatta was taking place.  There were a number of teeny, tiny little sail boats racing to a finish line. 

Our next day was a day at sea as we were sailing up the Dardanelles, all the way up to Istanbul.
The crew brought to our attention the Dur Yolcu Memorial, which is a WW I memorial

the words are loosely translated into –
Traveller halt!
The soil you tread
Once witnessed the end of an era.
Stop wayfarer, remember the price Turkey paid for victory at the Dardanelles - 87,000 dead and over 164,000 wounded.

Many soldiers from numerous countries died defending Turkey.

Next was the Kilitbahir Castle, also known as the “lock of the sea” and is located at the narrowest part of the strait, and was originally designed to control the water way.

We were also informed that the Trojan horse from the Movie Troy is on the opposite side of the straight… its kinda hard to see

It was bitter sweet to arrive in Istanbul.  We were excited to see the city, but it meant that our cruise was over! We departed the ship and dropped our bags off at our hotel so we could go check out the market.  As with most ports of call, the cruise ship give little pointers about what to expect, and how to act. Specifically, they told us to barter at the market.  You may not know this about me, but I am a serious negotiator.  Which is good, because Husband sucks at it, and always lets me fight it out. 

We arrived at the market, and were really excited at what we would see.  There was ample food, such as cheese and fish.  We also marveled at the variety the market offered – from tea sets to hookahs. One of my good friends was taking belly dancing classes, so I wanted to get her a couple skirts for belly dancing.  I came upon the first shop that sold them, and the vendor pulled a few colors out for me, showed me what GRRRRREAT quality they were, and told me the price.  I offered about 65% of his original price, and he got PISSED and turned away from me.  Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?  I was instructed to do so, and this guy shut me down.  Pfft FINE!  I’ll go somewhere else.  I actually had a hard time finding another store, but, don’t fret, I found one eventually!  We bought tea, a beautiful carpet, spices and a hookah.  Yes, hookah.
We also stopped along the Bosphorus for a nice meal.  Husband ordered fried red mullet, small red fish that looked unappetizing and ended up being delicious!  We also enjoyed some of the local beer, Efes.

What do you do after having a nice meal in Istanbul?  Smoke some hookah in bean bags on the river.  This one actually looks a lot like the ones we bought.

We also walked around the botanical garden.  It has a really neat water fountain

The next day, we had a tour of Istanbul.  We first went to the Hagia Sophia, which was first an orthodox patriarchal basilica, and later converted into a mosque, and is now a museum.  The tall spires are common on mosques, they play the call to prayer, 5 times a day. 

Some of the Christian paintings were not removed, they were just covered by tapestries and signs.  I found that interesting.
Next, we visited the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque.

I loved visiting the Blue Mosque.  It was just gorgeous.  Prior to entering, females with bare arms were required to wrap in a shawl, and everyone removed their shoes.  The inside was just breathtaking!!

Well, that was the end of our amazing trip to Greece & Turkey.
~Maine Girl

Windstar Cruise - Greece

Where: Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes
When: July 2009
Highlights: Acropolis, Santorini

Greece & Turkey were my 2nd big international trip, and I had high expectations for our flight, which were quickly dashed.  We flew on Delta, and my suffering began early, at the safety briefing video.  The video format is actually a lot better than most flight safety videos, but I just have 1 question – robot or botox?

Anyhoo… I had a great time on Qantas, and was expecting the same service and entertainment, and I was greatly disappointed.  They showed some movies on big TVs, but we didn’t have our own Tvs, good thing I brought along some entertainment.  Husband refuses to read and defaults to annoying me when he is not entertained.  So I packed him the Nintendo DSI, Sudoku, a book (I’m not giving up yet), and some movies on our Ipod. 
Our flight also departed late, due to strikes at the control tower in Greece.  We arrived a few hours late to Athens and met our arranged car to take us to our hotel.
Our hotel was gorgeous!  It was called the Athenian.  We were exhausted, but had booked a private tour, which we were already late for.  So we dropped our bags, had a quick bathroom break and headed on our tour.  I only mention the bathroom break because my first experience with a “european” toilet was quite memorable.  I got in the bathroom just fine, but when I went to flush I had no idea how.  So I looked around and eventually found a button on the wall that was divided into 2.  Ok, not so bad.  I then washed my hands and attempted to exit the loo.  Attempted is indeed the correct verb.  I could not figure out how to operate the door knob.  I turned it, and pushed it and pulled it.  Nothing.  I was starting to get concerned.  I eventually found a small button above the knob that unlocked the door and I was freed.  This experience made me realize that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore! 
Ok, on to the tour.
We hopped in the bus that was waiting for us at our hotel, and headed to our first stop.  On the way, we drove by this neat statue in the middle of the road -
Our first stop was the 2004 Summer Olympics track 

We then went to the Acropolis.  You have probably heard of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, let me, if I may, explain to you what they are.  The Acropolis means “high city” in Greek and is a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Athena, and its construction was said to have started in the thirteenth century BC.  BC!!  Temples were built upon the acropolis, such as the Parthenon, which was built in the fifth century BC. 

As one would assume, this site involves a lot of walking, up-hill!  But it was worth it!  The view was truly breathtaking.  It is up above the city, and here is a view near the top.  

They are restoring it, and large pieces are missing, and can be found in London and New York museums. =(
Heres the Acropolis exit sign.. I love the greek alphabet… so pretty!

We also took a city tour, and saw a “changing of the guard”.  It was interesting.

That ended Day 1 tours.  We returned to our hotel.  Here is a picture of our hotels elevator.  I thought it was really cool!

We were all exhausted and opted to have dinner at our hotel, which was phenomenal!  The restaurant was on the roof, check out the view!!

And there was a harpist.  What an amazing meal!

The next day, we had another tour, and we drove about 30 miles south to Poseidons temple ruins.  Heres a pic of it from far away.

 We then were taken to a winery.  We were all really excited to taste their wines, but we were all sorely disappointed.  It was all bad, in our opinion.  I have never been to a winery before where we didn’t like even 1 wine.  They even served us flat champagne.  Awesome.

We got back and wanted to walk around a bit and buy some stuff.  I love Athens, especially how a new city can be intertwined with an old city.  Heres a good example –

We toured around the city, riding around on their local metro to various locations, including other ruins, and market places.  The metro was really nice and clean, and it had ruin displays inside.  We had dinner plans that night at a local restaurant, and we took the metro there and walked a bit as well.  Our first tour guide had told us about Athens stray dogs.  They are everywhere.  They have food and watering stations for them as well.  That was about all our tour guide told us, but upon doing some research it turns out that the conditions of the pounds were terrible, and an activist group documented it and the Mayor ended up being charged with mistreatment of animals, and so all the pounds disappeared.  I got that info from this guys Athens Blog.
So I brought up the stray dogs for a reason.  We were walking to dinner, and a stray dog was tagging along.  He was just loping along behind us, wherever we went, he went.  So we came to a cross walk at a very busy intersection, where a median divided 3 lanes of traffic on each side.  The signal instructed us to walk, and we started across the street and the dog came with us.  We only made it to the median and stopped and waited again for the sign.  At this point, cars are starting to drive by us, and our stray dog goes bezerk!  He starts circling us, and attempting to attack the cars that drive close to us, snapping and barking.  Oh geez… we were very concerned this was not going to end well.  The people driving by just honked at him and shook their fists at him, but he didn’t stop.  We were signaled to finish our walk across the street and he ran circles around us, herding us to safety.  He then trotted off.  I guess his job for the day was done. 

The next day we headed to port to catch our cruise ship.  That night we sailed to Mykonos.

Gorgeous!  I plan to retire in the Greek Islands, and sell white and blue paint. 

We took an excursion to a small island close by, called Delos Island.  According to mythology, Apollo was born on Delos. They have some amazing ruins, and a little museum.  

It was July, and blisteringly hot, so I was eager to get back to Mykonos for some shade and a cold drink!  We took a boat back to Mykonos and started walking around. 

The island is made of little passageways like this, apparently originally built to confuse intruders who would come by boat.  They would get disoriented, and drop their loot and flee back to their boats.  It was really fun exploring!  We also had an amazing drink at a local bar.  We returned to the ship for a special dinner on the deck, it was our 1st anniversary! 

Imagine opening your window shade and seeing this - 

Yea.. I know!  Totally unexpected and totally magnificent!  See the top of the island, far away, with white peaks.  That is not snow, that is the village of Oia. 
We planned an excursion to take a boat to an island that had an “active volcano” and swim in hot springs.  It turned out that the active volcano consisted mainly of warm rocks and some steam, and the hot springs swim was more of a luke-warm swim in slimy water.  So after that fun, we headed to Santorini to see what we could see!  The towns are at the top of the island, and as you can imagine, its not very easy getting there.  You have 2 options of getting from your cruise ship to Fira, the capital.  A gondola, or a donkey ride or hike up about 600 steps. See below – the zig zag lines are the donkey trail, and to the left is the gondola.  We opted for the gondola. 

Husband really wanted to get to Oia, so we went to the bus stop, and just missed our bus.  Crap.  So we took a taxi!  And made it to Oia, in all of its amazing beauty, and took a ton of pictures.  We also bought some dessert wine, and a few other items. 

We didn’t have much time to hang out in Oia, so we hurried back to the middle of town and were able to catch a bus back to Fira.  We were hot and tired, and made our way back to the gondola to ride down.  The only problem… was that we spent all our cash on getting to Oia and the few items we bought.  The gondola does not take credit cards, and there are no ATM machines to be found.  Soooooooo remember when I said there are 2 options, gondola aaaaand donkey stairs?  Right.  We had to climb down 600 stairs to get back to our boat.  It was swelteringly hot, but we literally had no other option.  We started down, and it was much worse than I thought.  The trail was a covered in donkey mess, making it both slippery and smelly.  We were on a mission to get down, and were passing donkeys laiden with tourists.  Once in awhile we stopped to pick up someones item they dropped, or push their donkey that was refusing to take another step.  We did eventually slip and slide our way to the bottom.  I was hot, smelly and miserable.  But it makes for a good story, right?
We made it back to the boat, and they always hand out green tea wet towels as you get back on, and that was a nice relief. 
Next stop is the Greek island of Rhodes, our last stop in Greece.

Rhodes was a pretty laid-back destination.  We walked around.

Saw a castle.  

Went shopping, where I attempted to buy cough syrup and found out that there are no active ingredients in their “cough” medicine, just honey, basically.
We also had an exciting lunch.  Apparently we ordered a special dish that involves a celebration where sparklers were placed on our large plate of food and set afire with flags and bells waving about.  We then experienced Das Beer Boot.  We stayed awhile enjoying beer boots on an outdoors patio.  There was no photographic evidence of this, so I grabbed this off the net for your viewing pleasure. 

Rhodes was the end of our Greek Getaway, but this trip isn’t over.  Check out the rest of our cruise in Turkey Here.

 ~Maine Girl

About Me

Like the title says, I am a girl from Maine who is out to see the world!  I love to travel with my husband, and experience different cultures and cuisines. Thus far, my trips always involve outdoor activities, with ice climbing and scuba diving at the top of my list. I have been to 107 cities in 15 countries, including 18 Caribbean islands. So far, my favorite destination is a tie - South Island of New Zealand and the Greek Island Santorini.

"Not all those who wander are lost" ~ J.R.R. Tolkien 

~Maine Girl


Australia - July '08 - Sydney, Adelaide, Whitsunday Islands, Great Barrier Reef
Greece  - July '09 - Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes
New Zealand - July '08 - Rotorua, Waitomo, Matamata, Fox Glacier, Queenstown
Turkey - July '09 - Kuşadasi, Bodrum, Istanbul

Coming Soon!

Living in Puerto Rico - The ULTIMATE Guide 

Caribbean Cruise- Nov 2008
St. Croix - March 2009 
Caribbean Cruise- Aug 2009
London, Scotland, Ireland- Oct 2009
Spain, Morocco, France, Belgium- May 2010
Oktoberfest! Berlin, Munich- Sept 2010
St. John- May 2011
Aspen Food & Wine Classic- June 2011

Honeymoon Extravaganza - New Zealand

Where: New Zealand
When: July 2008
Highlights: Ice Climbing, The Shire, Gorgeous Mountains

Ok so this trip is actually the middle of our honeymoon, we started in Sydney, Australia then flew to Auckland.  But… it wasn’t that easy.  We get to the Sydney airport and find out that our flight has been delayed.  Husband has JAM packed our itinerary, leaving little to no room for silliness such as bad weather and plane malfunctions.  Soooo this was a problem.  We needed to get to Auckland to pick-up our transportation/housing for the next couple days and head to our first destination.  So husband figures out that this could be a serious problem, and he is trying to use the free internet stand, and we all can ascertain how well THAT worked.  I have taken many a flight, and had my share of canceled/delayed flights.  So I go to the counter and inform them that we have all these plans and that if we can’t make it in time, then we are really in trouble.  I have previously had airlines put me on different carrier flights to get me where I needed to go in cases such as these.  And I worked my magic, and we got on a different flight. And we made it to Auckland!
We had rented a type of small motor home to drive around the north island.  We were also going to stay in it at camp sites.  The motor homes are very different over there, and look more like commercial vans than motor homes.  We were excited and loaded out stuff into our new home on wheels.  Did I mention that they drive on the left side of the road AND the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, AND this vehicle was a standard transmission?  It makes everything more exciting, right? It was actually fine, husband is good at adapting and always does a good job driving on either side of the road.
We had seen a grocery store on our way to the rental place from the airport, and made a stop for some food and of course, booze.  We loaded up on a few snacks, stuff to make a few meals, and box wine.  We like to keep it classy.  We then headed on our way southish.  This is the part where us newly weds would learn something new about each other.  I am a terrible navigator.  I suck at reading maps.  It's still a problem and a source of contention.  Soooo husband THOUGHT we were going to Waitomo (way down south) the first night, so he followed signs and was headed that way.  I could not figure out the map, as usual, but to my credit, I had NEVER looked at a NZ map before and it was all new.  I had no clue where we were going or how to get there.  Husband had made a detailed spreadsheet on excel of where we were going/staying/doing each day so I pulled that out and it turns out that we were not supposed to go to Waitomo.  That was a surprise to us, but it was good because we actually were going to Rotorua, because it was closer.  We drove at night for 3 hrs and eventually found our way to Rotorua.  Along the way, I was laughing at the road signs that attempted to scare you into driving safely.  They were staggered and went something like this….
The Quick Are The Dead; The Faster You Go, The Bigger The Mess; Tired drivers die; and I remember something about paralyzing your passenger.  I need to look up fatality stats in NZ and see if the scare tactic works.  I have a feeling that it doesn’t.
So we made it to our campground, Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park, we swung open the doors and ..WHAM!  Our nostrils burned with the foul smell something similar to what you would expect from Labyrinth’s Bog of Eternal Stench.  Sulphur.  Awesome.  Now would be a good time to explain that I don’t usually plan our trips, its all Husband.  In fact, I didn’t plan much of my wedding.  I usually just agree to a general plan, and show up on time.  I help with some research and what not, but the majority of our trips are all put together by Husband.  I did not know anything about Rotorua, but it turns out that it has natural hot springs and volcanic terrain.  One person we met who was on vacation (“holiday” as they call it), said that whenever you go to Rotorua, you always bring it back in your suitcase (your clothes will reek). 
Anyway.. it was late but they left us directions and we went to our parking spot and plugged into some electricity and went to bed!  The next morning we headed out to Wai-O-Tapu, a “Thermal Wonderland”.  I should mention that the native people of NZ are Maori, similar to native Americans, and Wai-O-Tapu means “sacred waters”. Wai-O-Tapu was really neat, smelly, but neat.  We pull up and you can see a hill with areas of steam rising up.  There are volcanic areas where the earth is all kinds of different colors, a bubbling mud pool (yes, exactly like the Bog of Eternal Stench), and a geyser, Lady Knox.  We took a leisurely stroll around the park, saw the geyser, and returned to our home on wheels for some eats.  We had wine and cheese, and then felt sleepy, so we took a nap.  In our camper, there in the parking lot.  I loved it.  You wanna take a nap, and you just DO IT.

We eventually headed back to our campground, and I wanted to partake in their hot springs hot tubs.  Husband didn’t want to go, so I went by myself.  Did I mention that we were there in July?  Yea, ok so July is winter in the southern hemisphere, so its cold.  Not too cold, but coldish.  There were actually 3 hot springs tubs, with varying temperatures.  I was actually kinda bummed because they were not as hot as I had hoped.  That evening we had a  “Maori Hangi” dinner and performance with tamaki tours.  Its similar to the Hawaiian luaus, so I have heard… I have not made it to Hawaii yet!  We were picked up by bus and transported to our Hangi location.  It was a large area, with a mock village set up.  They did a Maori fight demonstration, it was raining and chilly so I was eager to get inside, but it was good.  We then walked around the “village”.  After that, we went inside and the females put on a dance show for us and talked to us a bit about the culture and then we all went into the large hall for food.  It was alright, nothing spectacular.  After the meal, we headed to our respective buses to head back.  We were tired, but the bus drivers were earning their tips and were entertaining us, and she even did about 10 laps singing a silly song in a roundabout.  Which was fun and scary, considering we were in a big yellow schoolbus!

Next stop: Waitomo.
We drove east to Waitomo the next day.  Husband was really looking forward to Waitomo because he looooves canyoning, and that was next on the agenda.  We headed to our tour destination, The Legandary Black Water Rafting Co and prepared for an adventure.  We were outfitted with wet suits, helmets and booties and shuffled onto a small bus.  Our first stop was a hike to a small hill where we would practice rappelling.  Remember how I said it was winter, yea well there was no snow, but it was freaking cold, and rainy, so that part was not fun.  We did our required 2 practice rappels, and hiked to the entrance of the cave.  I was slightly alarmed to find out that we would be rappelling down a small hole for 200 feet.  That’s kind of a lot.  Anyhoo down we went.  They took pictures of us going down.  I look like a ninja.

Probably because I am one.  So it was my turn, and I discovered that it took, what seemed like, forever to get down.  About half way I tried to talk to the person below me, and I got no response.  Nobody could hear me.  Awesome.  We then hiked on questionable metal planks and go to a zip line… that led down a completely black tunnel.  Ooooooooookay.  I was not the first to go.  The first person went whooshing down, and all of a sudden you hear a loud WHAM.  Uhhh and then the next one is sent down and again… WHAM.  And the next. WHAM, WHAM, WHAM. What the heck is going on down there? Are we crashing into something.  This, uhm, made me a little uneasy.  It was my turn, and I jumped off with great trepidation into the dark, zipping along, and it ended normally, but I heard a loud WHAM.  Turns out that one of the guides was slamming their bag on the wall to freak us out.  Hahaha good one, buddy! 
Sooo it's cold and dark down there and we turn our head lamps on.  We are on a ledge and below us is……. Water!  We all sit on the ledge and partake in some warm tea while the guides are gathering black inner tubes, our water vessels.  One by one we either grab our tube and jump off the ledge, or the more cautious ones, *ahem, like myself, crawled down and gently plopped into the water.  It was fricking freeeeeezing!  We floated along, checking out the stalagtites and stalagmites.  At one point, they had us turn our head lamps off and look up.  The ceiling was glowing with what looked like thousands of little green dots.  It looked beautiful!  That is until they told us it was actually dangly, slimy glow worm larvae.  Yup.  So next, its time to ditch the tube and swim.  WAHHH It was sooooo cold!  We were swimming/walking/slipping through the water.  At one point, one of the guides was pretending to help us through a rough spot, when he was actually tossing us down a naturally made water slide.  Good one, again, buddy.  They then let us out of the water and it was time for more warm tea and crackers. Mmmm that was really nice.  At this point, they had 2 options.  You can go through the hard route, or the easier route.  I have always had a fear of drowning, and I really don’t like water constantly spraying in my face, so I was nervous about going on the hard route and freaking out, so I went lame-o and did the easy one.  Husband did the hard one, and he said it was no biggie and I could have done it.  Oh well.  We eventually found our way out of the darkness and back to the bus.  I was really cold!  We got back to their lodge, we had a warm drink and headed back to our campground.  I hopped in the hot tub when we got back to try and warm up, and it was reeeeeeeeeally hard to pull myself out of it.  I took a hot shower, and we turned the heat on in our van and slept really well that night!  The next day we went to some kind of small animal park to see the renound Kiwi.  I saw pictures of it all over the place, and thought it looked like a cute little bird.  We weren't allowed to take pictures, so I took this one off the internet.

I was wrong about the cute & little part.  We paid our entrance fee and first thing was the Kiwi exhibit, they were huge.  Well not huge like emu huge, but it stood about a foot and a half tall.  Creepy. 
Next Stop: Matamata = The Shire movie set from The Lord of the Rings!
Husband was particularly excited about this as well… I mean come on… we all know I didn’t plan a stop to see the shire!

It was a GORGEOUS day!  Blue skies, warmish temperatures, just perfect!  We arrived in Matamata at the meeting place before our tour.  We grabbed a quick lunch, and I ordered a “Lord of the Rings Beer”, that apparently was made for the crew.

It was the worst beer I have had in my entire life, and basically had no alcohol.  Blech!  Our tour started off with, of course, a sheep sheering demonstration, those Kiwis looove their sheep!  We then were bussed to the location of the shire.  We got to walk around and take pictures.  A lot of the little houses were still intact, but a few were falling down.  Apparently movie sets are RARELY kept, and it was a bummer that this one may fall apart eventually.  We took a picture at Bilbo Baggins Diggs, and I embarrassingly took a picture of Husband in front of the party tree pretending to put the ring on (runs off in shame).  It was really a cool experience.  They picked a great location.  NZ is beautiful with rolling green hills, and this location was very secluded.  Our LOR tour was not over yet, we did one more portion on the south island.

 Bilbo's Diggs!

That night we drove up to Waihi beach, to spend our last night before flying to the south island of NZ.  The next morning husband got up super early to get pics of the sunset, but if you know me, I don’t get up early for anything except to catch a plane or go fishing.

So I stayed in bed.  We headed to Auckland to catch our plane, and this was where my lack of navigational skills caused a bit of a rumble in our camper van.  I really had no idea where we were supposed to go, and I was giving Husband directions, to the best of my knowledge, which has been established as completely sucking.  I was looking at the wrong airport symbol and we got super lost, and went too far.  Husband was flipping out because he thought we were going to miss our flight and we were lost, but it turned out that our flight was later than he thought and we made it in time. Phew! 
We had a quick lay-over in Christchurch, and we took a teeny tiny little plane to Fox Glacier.  This was the most gorgeous flight I have ever taken.  The mountains were just breathtaking.  It is also the smallest airport I have ever been to.  We had a rental car waiting, and we hopped in it.  I was grumpy and had a headache, probably cause I was hungry, and when I am hungry I turn evil.  We decided to stop for dinner at a small town, and then head to our hotel, Fox Glacier Sunset Motel.  The drive there was interesting, lots of twisty-turney roads, and one-lane bridges.  This was all very interesting because we, again, were driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car.  It was kinda funny because Husband kept hitting the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal.  The next morning we had to get up early for our ice climbing adventure!  I was actually not that excited about it because it was much colder on the south island.  I was worried I would freeze my arse off all day.  We got up early, and headed to our guide company, Alpine Guides Fox Glacier.  We bought stuff for lunch, and they outfitted us with everything we needed from a backpack to a thermos with hot tea, and all our ice climbing gear.  Our guides were 2 young girls about my age… Sweeeeet!
We were driven to the glacier, tossed on our packs, and started hiking.

We had to hike quite a bit in the woods on a trail to get to a spot where we could get on the glacier.  I had never seen a glacier before, and it was stunning.  The glacier has “paths” for less adventurous people to take a lame-o glacier walk, and we walked along that for awhile until our guides found a good practice spot for us.  We had never been ice climbing before, so we needed to learn the basics before attempting to conquer a wall.  They gave us a brief demo, and gave us the go ahead to start practicing.  Husband went first, and did well.  I was a bit nervous because ice climbing basically consists of 2 steps – 1. kick your feet hard into the ice so your crampon sticks and 2. Hit your ice picks into the ice so it will hold you.

We practiced a bit and the girls decided we were ready to try our first wall, so we set out to find it.  The cool thing about ice climbing is that the terrain is always changing.  This glacier in particular is actually growing a meter or 2 a day, so one day a hard wall will be easy and vice versa.  They found a relatively easy crevasse for us to try, and they set up our gear.  They raced to the top and hammered in the equipment, and bam we were ready to go.

  Husband went first, and did awesome!  I went next and got tired half way up and quit.  I was bummed I didn’t make it to the top my first try, but it just motivated me more to try harder next time.  We walked a bit more around the glacier and found another wall and this time I made it all the way up… Score!!  We then stopped for a bit of a warm up with our hot tea and lunches.  The problem with having lunch on a glacier is that there is nowhere to sit that is not cold and wet.

So we sat for just a bit on our bags and moved on to the next wall.  This one was gorgeous!

We were pretty tuckered out, and this was our last wall.  We both made it to the top.  We hiked a bit more on the glacier, and we stumbled upon a rare glacier moulin.  We were able to go into it and climb out the other end.  Pretty cool.

It had been a long day, and we were ready to head back.  Kicking your feet into ice all day REALLY hurts your toes!  And the boots they give us are sturdy, similar to downhill skiing boots, and they are NOT fun to walk in.  I loosened them on the hike back, but I was in agony after a full day in them.

We made plans to meet our guides at a local pub for some warm mulled wine after a quick clean-up.  We had a great time drinking with them, and the mulled wine was delish! We slept like logs that night.  We actually really liked our hotel, comfy beds, warm room, awesome bathtub.  I guess anything is nice compared to living in a camper, right?  Next up: Drive to Queenstown for Husbands birthday dinner!
The next morning, I was hurting.  I had used muscles I had never used before, and I felt it.  The muscle soreness comes second only to class 5 white water rafting, but both times it felt like I was hit by a bus.  We were in no rush to get to Queenstown, so we started down the road and eventually stopped at some sort of a scenic outlook for a small hike, to stretch our sore muscles.  This was such a great little side trip!  Check out what we saw – When you look closely at the snow, there are little crystals.

The scenery along our drive was just breathtaking.  You feel so small amongst such large mountains.  I just loved it.

As we got closer to Queenstown, we drove by some Pinot Noir wineries, but they were closed, because it was winter time.  NZ makes a mean Pinot, I highly recommend it!  We made it to Queenstown and checked in at our lodge.  It is a ski town, and was busy with skiers.  We had some time to kill before dinner, so we walked around the shops downtown.  We had reservations that night at a cool restaurant at the top of a mountain called Skyline.  You take a gondola up there, so it was pretty cool.  We got there early, and had some pre-dinner drinks, and met another couple.  It turns out that they had just moved there, and the female was the new manager at the restaurant.  So we had dinner with them, and discussed the food and had a great time.  I mentioned to her that is was Husbands birthday, and they made a big deal about it and brought out all kinds of stuff and sang a song and had lots of candles.  We had a great night and headed back to our hotel.  Next stop: Glenorchy – Horse rides through LOR territory
We drove to Dart Stables for our “morning river wild ride” tour.  I was soooo excited.  I love horses and used to ride but haven’t been able to in a long time.  We were assigned our horses and headed out.  Husband had not really been on a horse, so of course he got stuck with the fat, lazy one.  We started off down the road and ended up taking a trail into a valley.  It was beautiful, but I was actually a bit nervous because the ground was frozen and I had a previous experience of a horse falling with me on it, and that wasn’t all that pleasant.  We mostly walked around, we crossed a few rivers and the scenery was, as usual, just wonderful.

Our guide was interesting.  He was some kind of writer from South Africa.  We actually got into a bit of a heated discussion because he told me we were riding thoroughbreds, although they were shorter and stalkier than the thoroughbreds I was familiar with and looked more like quarter horses to me.  The ground thawed and we did some trotting.  He said we could try cantering, and I was excited about that until I attempted it.  These horses used to be race track horses, the kind that pace, so they weren’t trained to canter.  He did not mention this until AFTER we tried to canter.  I gave mine multiple signals and he just kept extending his stride and I was so confused as to what he was doing.  It was a comfortable gait, but just not what I was used to.  Of course Husbands fat and lazy one wouldn’t get near a fast trot, so we gave up.  But it was great to be back on a horse in such beautiful scenery! 
That concludes our trip to NZ, and from here we flew to Adelaide.  We absolutely loved NZ, it is breathtakingly beautiful, and I hope you have the chance to see it for yourself one day!  We can't wait to go back.

Maine Girl