“New Zealand, that’s in Europe right?”

It has now been a whole six months since I left Canada and came back to New Zealand. I can’t believe I’ve already been home for so long and I’m definitely getting itchy feet & wanting to travel again. Partly because I like travelling and seeing new things, but also because I love discovering people’s unintentionally hilarious ideas about NZ. It seems like people have one of two possible thoughts: (a) it’s a tiny pacific island without electricity and a population of approximately 50 people; or (b) it’s the part of Australia where they filmed Lord of the Rings. When I studied abroad I started a list of the things people said to me upon learning I’m a kiwi and I’ve been adding to it ever since. These are some of my favourites:

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A typical NZ home

  • “New Zealand, that’s in Europe right?”
  • “I’ve never heard of it.”
  • “What part of Australia is that?”
  • “You’ve completely lost your accent!” followed by someone else declaring “Your accent is so strong!”
  • “Do you speak English in New Zealand?”
  • “Can you speak kiwi?”
  • “Do you have a national bird?”
  • “Are there black people in New Zealand?”
  • “Do you call it summer when it’s hot or is that called winter for you?”
  • “It’s about the same size as Vancouver Island, right?”
  • “Do you have hair salons in New Zealand?”
  • “I’ve heard there’s a minister for hobbits, is that true?”
  • “What’s the difference between Australia and New Zealand?”
  • “Are you from England?” -No, I’m from New Zealand. “Eh, same thing.”
  • “What’s the capital of New Zealand?” -Guess. “Brisbane?”
  • “I know in Australia they teach kids how to catch kangaroos when they’re really young, do they do that in New Zealand too?”

If you’re from NZ or another country that people completely misunderstand, I would love to hear your own stories!

April ’17 Favourites!

Every month, a million different things seem to happen and April has been no different – I feel like I’ve fit an entire year into the past 30 days. As well as catching up with people I haven’t seen in forever, I’ve also managed to score both a flat (which I move into today!) and a job (which I start tomorrow!). This month was huge, and I get the feeling it won’t slow down any time soon.

EASTER: A couple of weeks ago, Lox and I drove up to Tauranga to spend Easter with his family. I was a little apprehensive about heading up because Cyclone Cook had recently hit NZ – there were extreme weather warnings throughout the North Island and lots of people were advocating for staying put. We ignored those warnings and I’m so please we did – the weather was absolutely beautiful and we had an amazing time. I’ve never really spent much time in Tauranga before and now I can definitely see why it’s such a summer hotspot. We spent Easter Sunday at the beach which felt like a wonderfully kiwi thing to do:

WELLINGTON: I have a confession to make – I’m not actually from Wellington. Most people have never heard of my hometown, Lower Hutt, so it’s easier to tell people I’m from the capital, plus I went to uni in Wellington and spend most of my time there anyway. But minus study abroad and my working holiday, I’ve actually lived in Lower Hutt my entire life. Ever since I started uni in 2012, I’ve wanted to move into town (I even wrote a blog post about it once), and today I finally am! I’m so excited to finally live in my favourite city in the world. Plus my new flat is a block away from one of my best friends, and I am so stoked at the thought of being a 2 minute walk to her house.

WORK: I was excited to return to NZ but I was also dreading the job hunting process. I don’t think anyone enjoys looking for a job and it didn’t help that everyone was saying that the job market in Wellington was pretty bleak. After countless interviews (really it was 10), a pretty cool company decided they liked me enough to hire me. I’m thrilled, but simultaneously I’m terrified. This is my first permanent, full-time job – I’ve had full-time jobs before but they were fixed-term, and my part-time jobs were during uni so they were never going to be forever. Despite my nerves, I’m so happy that I’ll be earning money again and actually working in the field that I want to be in. My coworkers seem very cool and the job itself is walking distance from the flat! Bless Wellington for being such a walkable city, and bless this month for giving me so many things to look forward to.

Going Dutch

On Saturday afternoon, exhausted from flying and from our chronic lack of sleep in Iceland, Lox and I arrived in Amsterdam. We basically crashed as soon as we checked into our hotel, but the next day we woke up suitably refreshed and decided to explore the city. Amsterdam is one of those places that is unreasonably beautiful without even trying. I took the picture below with no filter, no fancy camera, and no real skills – just pointing my phone vaguely in the direction of the pretty view gave me this result:

🇳🇱 #amsterdam #netherlands #nofilter

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Throughout our time in Amsterdam, we covered basically everything you could want to do there. We’re both John Green fans, so we spent an afternoon scoping out the filming sites from The Fault in Our Stars movie. When we found the bench, there were a bunch of other people taking photos by it, plus some people had attached padlocks to it, turning it into a kind of lock-bridge-bench. Later in the week, we visited the Anne Frank Museum, also featured in the movie. We booked the Introductory Programme because regular tickets were sold out (pro-tip: book well in advance!), and even though it was more expensive, I’m so glad we did. Hearing someone speak about her life instead of just reading about it on the wall was so moving. I’m the sort of person who cries about old teddy bears so I’m a mess when it comes to things like the Holocaust. I can’t really say anything about it that hasn’t been said before, so all I’m going to do is urge you to visit if you ever have the chance, and also to be aware that things like that are still happening and could still happen.

On a more cheerful note, Valentine’s Day fell about halfway through our time in Amsterdam. Neither of us is that fussed with the day, but we decided we should probably do something for it, so we booked ourselves a cruise through the canals (pro-tip: a cruise with a bunch of other people is much cheaper than a private gondola ride). This was a super cheap and convenient way to see the whole city, plus it continued the trend of Amsterdam being unreasonably beautiful. We continued the day by going to Madame Tussauds. It wasn’t highly recommended in lists of things to do in Amsterdam, but Lox had never been to one before and I’d only been to the one in Vegas. It boasted a pretty large collection and was actually a really good time. We finished off the day by wandering around the Red Light District – perhaps not the most romantic way to round off Valentine’s Day, but it seemed like something you had to do while there, and the neighbourhood itself had quite a cool vibe to it, similar to Commercial-Broadway area in Vancouver.

We also visited the Van Gogh Museum, which was probably what I was most excited about. If I haven’t mentioned it enough, I’m a giant art history nerd and adore Impressionism/Post-Impressionism. Van Gogh in particular holds my heart – there is no one whose art compares and whose story rips apart my heart more. He’s often associated with French artists because he spent a lot of time in Paris, but he was Dutch so I was super excited to see how he was commemorated in his own country. The museum was set out in a way that beautifully told his story and contained most of my favourites, and I possibly teared up when I actually saw the Almond Blossoms painting (the header of this blog). We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the art but I did get a picture of his actual paints and palette, as well as a selfy in front of a screen showing his most noted works. Later when we walked around the city, any mention of Van Gogh rendered me slightly useless as I stared at it sadly.

All up, we spent 6 days in Amsterdam which felt like the perfect amount of time. There was nothing that I felt I missed out on or anything that I wished I could have done. I also felt totally safe there, despite its reputation as a place of debauchery. Only one person on the street offered us drugs (which we politely declined), but there was actually very little evidence of anything even vaguely illicit. In all honesty, Vancouver is much sketchier and has a much stronger marijuana presence (read: “smell”) than Amsterdam. Amsterdam is an amazing city and if you ever get the chance, you need to visit it. If you have been before, or want to visit, tell me about it or ask me any questions!

3 Nights in Iceland

When I was working in Vancouver, one of the multitudinous ads from the Skytrain would not get out of my head – the ad offering a free stopover in Iceland when you book a flight with Icelandair. After months of it refusing to leave my brain, I finally looked up prices and found that flights were ridiculously cheap. Getting to Europe from NZ is super difficult (it took me 3 flights & 30 hours flying time to get to England for my exchange) so coming from Canada seemed like the perfect opportunity. Lox and I decided that we had to take them up on the offer, booking a trip to Amsterdam with a 3 day stopover in Iceland for February.

We took a red eye from Toronto and arrived in Iceland at 7am Wednesday morning to apparently the “worst weather we’ve ever had”: heavy rain and gales under a pitch black sky. We had an Airbnb booked but check-in wasn’t until 5pm, so we decided to head into town, hole up in a café til the sun rose and it stopped raining, then explore the city. We found a few cute cafés (I recommend the blueberry pancakes at the Laundromat Café) and after a while, the weather cleared so we could explore outside for more than three minutes (that wind was seriously fierce, and I’m from Wellington, so that’s saying something). We were running on about 3 hours of sleep, but my tired eyes could still recognise how beautiful the streets were. Where there could have been blank walls were glorious, vibrant murals. All of them were awesome but this was my favourite:

Me as a mural 🌈🦄⭐️ #iceland #reykjavik #mystopover

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Eventually we were able to check in to our Airbnb and promptly passed out.

The next day, we went to the Blue Lagoon. I was super excited about this, because I’m addicted to planning trips on Pinterest and the Blue Lagoon heavily features in every single post about Iceland. It was expensive but totally worth it – it was cold outside but not blustery, so being in a huge hot spring was beautifully relaxing.

After the lagoon, we headed back to downtown Reykjavik to properly explore. We were delighted to find that Iceland is home to the world’s only penis museum, so we spent about an hour checking out the Iceland Phallological Museum. It was truly bizarre and a little uncomfortable, but fascinating nonetheless (did you know humans are one of the few mammals without a penis bone? Now you do). We had a tour for the Northern Lights booked that night too, but unfortunately nature wasn’t on our side so we didn’t get a chance. The sunset was incredible though, so I can’t be too upset about it.

Our final day, we went on a day tour of the Golden Circle. This was probably the highlight of Iceland – we saw so many parts of the country we never would have got to otherwise. We saw Geysir, apparently the first geyser in written history, as well as the Strokkur geyser which explodes every few minutes (someone definitely has a video of Strokkur exploding and me squealing in surprise in the background). We also went to the Golden Falls which were huge and so impressive.

Our flight to Amsterdam was at 7am the next morning, so we decided not to go back to our Airbnb that night, and to spend it in town instead. We walked out to the Sun Voyager statue on the waterfront in the hopes of finally catching the Northern Lights. The sky stubbornly remained cloudy, but it was still a beautiful way to end our trip – gazing out to sea and holding hands under the midnight sky.

For anyone wanting to visit Iceland, here are some tips so you can learn from my mistakes and make the most of your time!

  • Book with Icelandair. Totally not sponsored, I just can’t get over what a wicked deal it is to get a free stopover when you fly with them. I paid something like $500 for a flight to Iceland, a flight to Amsterdam, plus return. You’d be lucky to get that kind of deal flying to Queenstown from Wellington.
  • Check sunrise & sunset times. This didn’t affect our stay at all, it was just surprising to realise that the sun rose at 10am and set at 5pm in February. It’s worth finding out so you don’t make plans that make no sense with the sunshine.
  • Be aware of your flight times. We took a red-eye and arrived early in the morning, thinking it’d be no big deal to explore the city til we could check in to our Airbnb. This was a bad idea. I fell asleep in several coffee shops and nearly passed out from exhaustion while walking. If you have to arrive early, book a day tour on a bus so you can see the sights without exhausting yourself, or get to your hotel straightaway to sleep for a bit. Everything is good when you’re rested, and impossible when you’re not.
  • Don’t stay in an Airbnb (unless it’s downtown). Our Airbnb was lovely and our host was really friendly, so this is nothing against that. It’s just really difficult to get around if you’re not staying downtown. The reason we didn’t sleep on our final night was because there was no public transport in our area that would’ve got us to the airport in time for our flight. If you’re doing tours too, the tour bus will pick you up from your hotel, so it’s way easier. The money we saved on our accommodation was probably spent on public transport to get downtown, so save yourself the hassle.
  • Book tours! Easily the best way to get around and see everything without renting a car. It’s expensive, but worth it, so work it into your budget. Without the tours, it’s very likely Lox and I would have slept most of our trip away due to our extreme exhaustion and jet lag. The tours forced us to get up early and actually see Iceland.
  • Bring jandals with you to the Blue Lagoon. After we soaked in the lagoon, we wanted to take pictures of it and GOOD LORD it’s cold out there. You can’t wear your regular shoes past the changing rooms, so you have to brave the cold barefooted. Bring jandals (thongs/flip flops/whatever you call them) so you can stay outside for more than 30 seconds and take some wicked photos.
  • If you dye your hair, don’t wear a white shirt to the Blue Lagoon. You need to condition your hair before entering the lagoon because the silica in the water will severely mess with it. This means you need to rinse it out of your hair once you leave the lagoon. I forgot that my hair was freshly recoloured and that it takes approximately 3 days to dry, and cleverly wore a white shirt. No drama if you have short or non-dyed hair, but my hair is Ariel-red and the stains my hair left on my shirt made it look like someone stabbed me.
  • Don’t pin your trip satisfaction on the Northern Lights. Apparently it’s quite common to not see them, plus no one can control the weather so it’s a gamble. Don’t be too sad if you don’t. It just means you’ve got an excuse to visit again!

Iceland is an absolutely stunning country and I’m so stoked I got the opportunity to visit. If you’ve been or have any questions about visiting Iceland, let me know!

Road tripping around Canada: The Maritimes

After spending over a week in beautiful Quebec, Lox and I headed to New Brunswick. We didn’t have much interest in it, but we wanted to get to Prince Edward Island and to get there, we needed to cross the sparsely populated NB. We only had a couple of days there which we spent chilling out in our Airbnb – the most beautiful old farmhouse with a cat that I fell in love with far too hard.

My new hobby is having photoshoots with the cats at our Airbnbs 📸🐱 #cats #airbnb

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After chilling out in NB, we headed to Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island. PEI was similar to Tofino, in that I assume it’s glorious in the summer but kind of irrelevant during the rest of the year. There were some fantastic coffee shops and the farmers market was very cool, but so much of what could have been on offer was closed. Canada has this weird thing where during “winter” – really from October to April – everything shuts down. I was pretty disappointed the Anne of Green Gables house was closed – we drove to see it anyway, thinking we could just take a look around the outside, but no such luck – there were NO TRESPASSING signs everywhere so we really didn’t want to risk it. PEI was very pretty, but I can’t say I’d recommend it to anyone or want to visit it again.

We hadn’t originally even planned to visit Nova Scotia – I may have forgotten that it existed – but our hosts in PEI asked if we were headed there, so we decided we may as well knock out all of the Maritimes. Halifax surprised me – I wasn’t expecting much but it’s actually a really beautiful city. We were treated to stunning weather and it was actually pleasant to be outside for a change, so we spent our time wandering the city. The Halifax Harbourwalk was especially beautiful and made me forget that it was still winter.

Hitting the east coast means that we are officially halfway through our road trip, and only a couple months away from heading back to NZ. Now we’re slowly headed all the way back to Vancouver, hopefully stopping at some new sites – and stopping again at places we loved! – along the way.

Voyage au Canada: Montréal

I can’t speak French. Parlo un po’ d’italiano and entiendo un poco de español, but my French is limited to parlez-vous anglais? and inappropriate lines from Moulin Rouge. The only French part of the world I’ve spent much time in is Paris, and in all honesty, most people speak English anyway so it’s no big drama being monolingual. I knew that I shouldn’t expect that same level of comfort in Montreal, so I was prepared to flounder. Before arriving, all I had been told was that it was freezing and that the drivers were very aggressive. That combined with my lack of French made me a little apprehensive about visiting Montreal.

So I was pretty surprised to discover that I loved Montreal. It was super snowy when we arrived so the car skidded around a bit, but we didn’t notice drivers being any worse than the rest of Canada (fun fact: Canadian drivers, especially those in Vancouver, are the worst drivers I’ve ever come across – I’ve had Canadians confirm this with me so I promise I’m not being unfairly judgemental). Our Airbnb was really lovely: we stayed with a vegan couple who gave us awesome restaurant suggestions and they also had two adorable cats. There we brought in the New Year, joining the NYE party our hosts threw. Despite being the only non-French speakers and the only monolingual people in the room, we had a really great time. Everyone spoke at least a bit of English and the language barrier was less of an issue the drunker people got.

We spent most of our time in Montreal eating and wandering the streets, though we did stop in the Underground City and I finally bought myself a hardier winter jacket on sale – they really weren’t kidding about Montreal being cold (one day it took us about 20 minutes to dig Cindy out of the snow). The city itself has such a cool vibe. It reminded me a little bit of Vancouver’s Commercial-Broadway area mixed with Gastown, mixed with a bit of Wellington’s Cuba St and Newtown, mixed with the picturesque parts of Paris. Old Montreal especially feels like you’re actually in Europe, and is one of the prettiest places I’ve been.

As well as being beautiful, Montreal is home to some of the best restaurants I’ve tried in Canada – amazing breakfasts at L’Oeufrier, a huge portion of Indian food for only $8 at Chand Palace, authentic poutine at La Banquise, and the best Montreal bagels from Fairmount. I still haven’t found any coffee shops to rival Wellington, but our Airbnb had an espresso machine that made a pretty wicked long black. Luckily, Lox loved Montreal just as much as I did, so we’re planning to visit again in early February – hopefully then we’ll find some good coffee shops! I never expected to fall in love with Montreal, but now, along with Vancouver and Banff, it’s one of my favourite cities in Canada.