Thursday, June 30, 2011


Today, I need to write about something that is quite an adventure.

Driving on the wrong side of the road is not easy.

It has been hard enough walking with traffic on the opposite side.  You look for cars to be coming in the lane near you, you think it's clear, then you realize you looked the wrong way.  ACK.

I have to be extra careful with the kids.

But that's a piece of cake compared to getting in the car.  That has all kinds of problems.

First, the steering wheel is on the wrong side.  So you have to get over your lifetime of training on where the drivers side is supposed to be.  This is not easy.  Even when you're just a passenger.  

Then after opening the wrong door, you walk around to the other side and you get in the driver's seat.  And you reach for your seatbelt over your left shoulder.  It's not there.

You go to put the car in gear with your right hand.  There's nothing there but the door handle.  So, you reach with your left hand and put the car in gear.  (Thank goodness that I got an automatic hire car and not a standard transmission!).  

Then, you go to turn your blinker on, and the windshield wipers start.

And you have yet to get on the road.

Once on the road, you have to let go of all your driving instincts.  Because if you try to think through them applied to the opposite side of the road, you will be confused and make mistakes every time.  Instead, you must rely on a different native instinct.  The HERD instinct.  If you just follow all the other cars and try not to think too much about it, you will be good.

But, the first time I got in the car I immediately turned the wrong way into traffic.  After turning around got so turned around that I ended up going the wrong way for two blocks until I figured out my error.  I've been good ever since.

Australia sights

I said I would post some photos from Australia.  It was hard to choose which to share.

First, a view of some of the quintessential scenes of Sydney:  Opera House, Central Business District (CBD) and the Harbor Bridge.

 Here are the "Free Hugs" people, who stay around the main shopping district.

Sarah walking on Manly Beach.  Manly was supposedly named because the British military guy befriended the natives and was impressed by how 'manly' they seemed.  When we learned this, Chris said, "That guy had to be gay."

 This is the Cathedral next to Hyde Park in downtown Sydney.
This bird is an ibis. (We think.)  We were told it is a nuisance.  But we found its head fascinating.

Anna feeding a wallaby.  This photo (and several that follow) was taken at the Featherdale Wildlife Center.  It is a "rescue zoo" that take animals that were either hurt or domesticated and cannot be returned to the wild.  They allow you to get very close to several of their animals - and every animal there is a native.  It was really cool.

A tasmanian devil.  It was really hard to get a good shot of him, because he kept running quickly in circles.  He may not look like 'Tas' - but I could see the inspiration.

An Aussie Croc.

Dingo puppies!!!

Here is a kookaburra.  Whenever we were singing the 'kookaburra' songs in Music Together class, I somehow pictured something bigger and less cute.  Their laughter was interesting, though.

This view is in the Blue Mountains.  They were so named after the blue haze that hangs over them.  We were looking at a canyon that looks a lot like the grand canyon - but with trees.

Next post:  adventures in driving on the wrong side of the road.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I had hoped to post that we had a nice, uneventful flight to Christchurch and focused on settling into our little home.

However, that would not be in character with this journey.

We got to the airport in Auckland, only to learn that the Chilean ash cloud was back - and our airline had cancelled all flights to Christchurch for the morning.  They rebooked our noon flight for a 5 pm flight, but could not guarantee that it would actually leave that day.


So, we gave up, took a miniscule refund and booked flights for later that afternoon on Air New Zealand.  We came in at about the same time that we would have arrived with the other carrier.  And, since Air New Zealand flew low to avoid the ash cloud - we got to see views like this.

We are now inside our cute little 2 bedroom house in Christchurch.  We have a garden, a reasonable kitchen, and a bathroom with no power outlets (?).  I can walk to several different restaurants, but unfortunately, the good grocery store and the wine shop are a little far to get to without a car.  I guess the rental car and driving on the opposite side of the road will have to be our next adventure.

In New Zealand - one more flight to go

We are in Auckland, although I can't really say that we've seen it.

Our flight arrived at 11:50 pm local time.  By the time we lugged the sleepy kids off the plane, got our luggage, talked to them about the still missing bag with all our toiletries, makeup, etc.., got through customs and made it to the hotel that I'd booked for what was supposed to be our last night of our North Island vacation...  it was 1 am.

Perhaps the most amusing part of this leg of the journey was watching our sleepy almost-six-year old try to walk to the taxi.  She was so tired that she resembled a drunk sailor trying to wobble around.  We finally balanced her on the handle of our luggage trolley.

So, we are off to catch our flight to Christchurch now.  Aussie photos will follow from there.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


I love Sydney.

I got here by accident, but it is a happy accident.

We met some ex-pat brits today in the Royal Botanical Gardens.  They gave us some great suggestions for further exploring with kids.  Then they told us how surprised they were that Australia wasn't on our itinerary in the first place.

So am I.  If we ever make it to this part of the world again - it certainly will be on the itinerary.

In the meantime, we do have a date we will be leaving.  After 1.5 hours on the phone with Qantas yesterday, we are ticketed on a flight for Tuesday.  And the website says that flights will be operating to New Zealand starting tomorrow!

So, if everything goes on track from here, we will be arriving in Christchurch on Wednesday - according to our original plan.  Hopefully, our last piece of luggage will find us before then.

Now -- off to find out the best way for my kids to meet a kangaroo....

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A sense of adventure.

Greetings from Australia.

"Australia?"  You ask.  "But, I thought you were flying direct to New Zealand!"

Well, so did I.

American Airlines and my New Zealand travel agency, however, had a different idea.  Two hours before we would need to leave for the airport to catch our original June 22 flights, I called the New Zealand travel agency’s US phone number to check in on our rebooking.

Good thing I called.

They had NOT rebooked us for the next day, as originally planned.  We were booked for the same day to transfer through Sydney. 

After I finished very politely ripping them a new one, we had approximately 1.5 hours to complete everything we needed to do before leaving for the airport.

Thus begun the craziest travel day I have had.  From a wet seat cushion that delayed our Austin flight by half an hour, to an interterminal bus at LAX that only ran every 30 minutes, to an airport employee setting off a nasty security alarm and not turning it off, to not being able to eat any airplane meals on the 13 hour flight because of my gluten allergy, to all flights being cancelled to Auckland, to lost luggage, and a cab driver that couldn’t find our hotel…  I was glad that I still have a sense of humor.

The good news.. I got to go shopping and we are having a small vacation in a triple suite in a luxury hotel the Bondi Beach area of Sydney.  This is all courtesy of Quantas Airlines who is putting us up until the ash cloud is alleviated.  

And I’ve never been to Australia before!

Credit where credit is due:  all flight attendants were wonderful.  And my children were complete troupers on the 14 hour flight from LA to Sydney.  

With the general comedy of errors, I might just have had more meltdowns than they did.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

..or maybe not today.

As soon as our travel agency confirmed that, yes, we could move our tickets up to June 22, I got to work on planning.  (I’d already packed over the weekend, just in case.)

I booked a hotel in Aukland, a rental car, a spot in Rotorua and a tour of Hobbiton - as all good Lord of the Rings fans should do.

With all my web research figuring out how to do this, I somehow missed the importance of the giant Chilean volcanic ash cloud.  Most of the photos are beautiful – but this screenshot shows a not-so-beautiful image.

Yes, my flight is cancelled.

I found this out  this morning, I was trying to contact Quantas to see about getting a gluten-free meal for the flight.  (The travel agency neglected to do this.)  And in the process, realized that I might just want to click on the ‘check your flight status’ button.

So, our wonderful New Zealand travel agency answered their phone when I called the US 1-800 number at 2:30 am their time.  They have found me tickets for tomorrow for LA to Auckland, but haven’t fixed our leg from Austin to LA.  I’ll find that out when the daytime crew gets in around 2 pm my time.

At least this time I’m not stalking the postman on the day of our flight in order to find a much-delayed child’s passport.  That was our last international family vacation, and a story for another day.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Getting there

This trip has been a long time in the making.

It started soon after we got married and DIDN'T go to New Zealand on our honeymoon.  We wanted to.  But somehow - between moving from California to Texas, going back to California for our wedding, and then taking off on our honeymoon immediately from there -- figuring out a New Zealand itinerary was a challenge.

But my husband didn't give up on the New Zealand dream.

He has a colleague who teaches at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, NZ.  Six or seven years ago, Chris contacted this colleague about teaching at the University of Canterbury.  Well, years passed, and then last fall, the colleague asked if we were still interested.  He had figured out how to do the paperwork and sponsor us for an Erskine fellowship - where a US professor is invited to teach in New Zealand temporarily.

And thus, our plans to leave summer in Austin were fulfilled.  Instead, we will experience two months of winter on the South Island of New Zealand.

If all goes well, we will be leaving on Wednesday, June 22.  Our housesitter moves in on Monday June 20.  Cold weather - here we come.