Friday, August 28, 2009

September is New Zealand (and Australia) Month

Yeah...while I am planning my trip to NZ for Nov/Dec I am aware of how far off the actual dates are. But that doesn't stop me at all from starting my planning now...why, cuz it's fun damnit! I am in my ElEmEnT!

Anyhoo, as I am scouring my travel books and remembering all of the trips I took while I lived in New Zealand (let's not forget the month I spent in NZ, three years before I lived there), I can't help but want to share with you all the wonderful discoveries I was blessed enough to experience.

Yes, I have posted a bit about NZ on this blog, but this time I wanna post the minute details, those places I went to for a day, which I vaguely remember but I have this great picture and oh yes, more things are coming back to me - those kind of places! Also the bigger places and the awesome stuff I was able to do...swimming with dolphins, watching penguins mingle with sheep, hiking in glaciers, horseback riding in LOTR territories, even visiting the set of the film!

This will be a great way to overdraw from my memory bank and get even more psyched for my upcoming adventures, getting me to focus more on doing the stuff I haven't done - or just relive the memories of the scenes past. I will also be posting stories and guides to certain areas of Australia...especially since I JUST found my journal and a bunch of photographs from that tim.

I've decided I am just gonna start from the top of the North Island of NZ and make my way down as the month goes on.

So, to start:

Cape Reigna

Cape Reigna is located at the very tip of the northernmost finger on the north island. It's just very north.

It's also an amazing and special place where the churning South Pacific Ocean slams against the wily Tasman Sea.

I only had a few weeks left in New Zealand when I decided I needed to do one last trip. I had been in the country for well over a year and hadn't set foot into the "Northland," aside from a few random beach journeys into the outermost reaches of Auckland city.

My plan was to explore the much-hyped Bay of Islands - basking in the rays of the late summer sun - and then catch a bus tour up to The Cape to witness the northernmost point and to frolic merrily on the golden fine sands of 90-mile beach.

Clearly, it didn't occur me to me that it might rain the entire time I was celebrating my last hurrah.

And that's what it did.

The first day, I flew up to Kerikeri for the sake of time. It didn't take very long in that tiny plane and I promptly grabbed a shuttle heading to Pahia, the main town of the Bay of Islands.

It wasn't at all what I expected and that's probably because nothing really seems right when it's raining, especially in a place in which every photo shows gorgeous blue waters, green headlands, golden sand and azure skies. Instead it was just a small, beachside town done up in various shades of grey.

At least the hostel I was staying at was nice:

Cap'n Bob's Beachouse

The owners were very nice and the hostel itself had wonderful views from the delightful decks and common areas upstairs. The bathroom area was rather large, with shower stalls (if I recall correctly) but the backyard had wonderful spots amid tropical greenery for socializing. The dorms themselves were spacious, modern and clean.

It's located a little bit out of the main centre of town (and when I mean little bit, I mean like 10-15 min walk, no biggie). But it's very close to a supermarket, as well as Waitangi, home of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This place is full of cultural icons from the colonial-style treaty house to its detailed whare (spiritual house) and imposing waka (war canoe). This of course was the place where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840, between the UK and the NZ Maori's. The three flags - UK, Maori and NZ - that wave proudly above this spot are stoic reminders.

It's one of those places you have to visit in New Zealand, if not just to get a glimpse into the history of this amazing yet turbulent land.

That said, I never went there. For the life of me I can't remember why. I guess after having New Zealand history drilled into my head at school, I figured I knew enough. Either that or the rain had put a damper on my spirits.

It's amazing how much stuff you forget over the course of 6 years - I'll admit I had fuzzy ideas of where I was staying in Pahia and actually had to look at pictures of the various backpackers online to remember where exactly it was that I stayed. Now, I know, Cap'n Bobs, and on that note, Pahia has PLENTY of backpackers and hostels to go around.

The bus trip: "Magic offers a great 1 day tour to Cape Reinga called 'Northern Exposure' - This is one of the most action packed and diverse day trips on offer throughout the country. Travel north from Paihia through land significant to the Maori people and rich in native Kauri forest, shown magnificently in the Kauri Kingdom. Get your blood pumping by sliding down the mighty sand dunes on a boogie board and travel to Cape Reinga, where the view of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean crossing is spectacular.

The specially designed coach will drive along Te Paki Stream and Ninety-mile Beach before passing through some of the picturesque small towns in the area, and enjoying New Zealand’s best fish and chips!"

And so, I awoke super early, tip-toeing past sleeping backpackers and caught the bus to Cape Reigna. The buses all depart from the Mariners building outside the Paihia wharf, which wasn't a far walk from the hostel.

The bus adventure was fun, but being a single traveler I felt slightly out of place with all the pairs on the bus. Either way, it was a very long trip (literally all day) which felt even longer because we were followed by a rain cloud throughout the journey.

Our first stop was to walk amongst the giant Kauri trees, which were once widely harvested for their gum. While I had seen these stoic trees before, they still managed to impress me. As did the jungles of New Zealand's only native palm tree, the nikau.

Afterwards we cruised further northward, past sleepy fishing villages and pastoral farms which linger in my head like fragments of a dream. Eventually, when we couldn't go any more North, we had reached the Cape.

This is what it looks like on a nice day:

And this what we got to see:

As disappointing as it was to see the Cape in all its stormy glory (I admit, it was kind of moving and powerful), it was even more of a let-down to reach our next destination...Ninety Mile Beach (which is actually NOT ninety miles but I digress).

This is what it looks like when its nice out:

And this is what it looked like when our bus cruised onto the wet sands:

It was neat to drive along the beach, though I had already done this a few years ago on Fraser Island in Australia, and the expanse of this sand was massive. But honestly...who likes the beach in the rain? No one strayed very far from the bus and before long we were bound for our next destination.

Sand boarding!

For the life of me I don't remember why I didn't partake in the fun that is taking to a boogie board and sliding down massive sand dunes, but I had a feeling it had something to do with me not wanting to get wet. Either way, it was fun to watch - wish I had been more adventurous! I also had done something on Fraser Island (again) which ironically was also in the rain, so I wasn't too put out. Me + beach = rain, apparently.

The rain stuck around the remainder of the trip back - I have ambiguous memories of stopping at some barn/cafe for some sort of meal and listening to Avril Lavigne's "Complicated" on the bus radio (hey, it was March 2004!).

Of course, the last day I had in Paihia (was due to fly out that afternoon), it was nice and sunny. I spent a nice hour or two sunning myself beneath a pohutakawa tree on the beach in front of the hostel. Ahhhh, hopefully THIS time when I go up to NZ's Northland for a quick road trip with my bestie, the weather gods will be as nice as they were on that last day!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Typically Me

This is lifted from a post I did on my other blog 3 years ago, but I figured it was too good (or sad, depending how you look at it) not to share with everyone. Plus, more screw-ups have happened in three years and it's wrong not to update it:

As you all know by now, I am an experienced world traveler. What you may not know is that being an experienced world traveler does not mean you are any good at it. In fact, most of the valuable "experience" I have received while traveling was due to some negative situation that could have only occured because I am such a fucking moron. Don't believe me? See below.

Case(s) in point:

*In Auckland, NZ, many years ago, I went to a Singles Party I had won because I called up the local radio station and bitched about New Zealand men. Prior to this party I got loaded beyond relief, as did Kiwi and her brother. Kiwi got so loaded that she smartly stayed behind at puked at home while her brother and I reveled in debauchary. Did I mention that I had my passport with me? That I drunkly knocked my bag under the table? That after searching half-assedly and blindly for my passport and purse contents for about 5 seconds, I gave up and proceeded to go "Meh. It'll turn up." Well, it didn't. And I had the exciting task of trying to get a new passport while in another country. Fun, fun.

*Also in New Zealand...I got viciously drugged one night at a club and lost my cell phone. Even though I never stepped foot in a cab that night, it turned up in one a week later.

*New Zealand AGAIN: My mother and were traveling on a bus to the ferry station, heading over to the South Island. We were seated near the back of the bus. Behind us was a sketchy man who did not look like he could afford to take the ferry anywere. After I got of the bus and gathered my things, I realized I left my Louis Vuitton purse (a fake thank God, but new nonetheless) on the seat. And then the man bolted past us with my purse. We barely had time to board the ferry, let alone catch him. Purse, gone. Wallet with money and credit cards gone. New makeup, gone (Boo hoo hoo).

*Australia; Airlie Beach - Whilst leaning against a wall in reading a newspaper and grinning at Russel Crowe's win for Gladiator that I witnessed on the Academy Awards show the night before, I notice a sketchy man (yes another sketchy man) hovering about. Freaked, I take off down the road, only to leave my wallet behind. Thankfully, this man was actually an angel in disguise and I got my wallet back, money and everything intact.

*Australia, Townsville - I purposely sleep at the backpackers above the bus station so I won't miss my greyhound bus the next morning, which I have already paid for. I go down to the station early and wander off into a gift shop. I wonder when they are going to call my bus to board. Eventually I wander up to the counter and inquire about the bus leaving for Katherine (yesh, it's about 24 hours away by bus. Yesh I am nuts). The man behind the counter tells me that the bus left 10 minutes ago.
I'm about to freak. I'm about to cry.

But this other angel in disguise tells me to get in his car and we can catch him. While the other clerk at the desk is radioing the bus to stop, I jump in his ute with my backpack and we race against time. Five minutes later we catch up to the greyhound which is pulled over on the side of the highway on the outskirts of town. I thank the man profusely and chagrined as hell, get on the bus. I think a few people clapped.

*Going to Disneyland - Poor Kiwi. How much of my insanity have you witnessed? This was no exception. I bought tickets to Disneyland online and they were shipped to my house. We were set to fly to LA in a week.

The time comes, we go to the airport. I have my plane tickets in hand. Kiwi asks "Got the tickets" I wave them at her.

Later, in the cab over, she asks again, "You sure you have the tickets?" "Yes!" I yell at her. Can't she see? I'm not a complete moron.

A wee bit later we are lining up to check-in.

"Got the tickets?"

"FUCK!" I cry and cram the tickets in her hand.

"No, not the plane tickets. The Disneyland tickets."


So I find a cab, tell him my story, he drives off like a rocket and gets me home to get my tickets and back to the airport, all in the nick of time.

*Mexico, Cabo San Lucas - You know the story. I arrive at the airport with no money, no way of getting to the hotel, no way of knowing where my parents are and no way of getting in contact with them. Sigh. Again, thank GOD for Angels among us (as cheesey as that may sound).

*Mexico - A few years ago I flew back from Puerto Vallarta by myself. It took awhile since ALL the computers in the terminal were down and tickets had to be issued manually. Which meant we would have to recheck in at LAX (the stop before Vancouver). Thank God for that because, guess what I did? I left my plane ticket from LA to Vancouver in the seat pocket of the plane. Yup. Thankfully because the last checkin was done manually, the ticket was void and they were going to issue me a new one anyway. Sigh.

(As I am typing this and more and more instances flood my head...I'm amazed people let me travel at all. Amazed and ashamed.)

*Norway - Staying at my aunts, I leave a pair of black pants in her closet. I go away for a few days and come back. She didn't know the pants were mine and gave them to the poor. Now this seems laughable BUT THEY WERE MY FAVOURITE PANTS IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD! Do you know how hard it is for me to find good pants? Needless to say, I think I cried and my aunt felt really really bad. Oh and bought me a new pair.

*France; Cannes - I have a hostel room all to myself. But despite this, I am still cautious of others (I'm a careful traveler, :P) so I hide my leg wallet, with passport inside, under my mattress. Next day I check out and head over to this island before I catch the night train later that evening. While I'm sunning myself on the island's rocky shores I realize "Fuck me, my passport is still under the bed!" Or at least I hoped it was still there. It was.

*France; Menton - I run out of money. I spend an arduous day searching the town for a money exchange place or a bank that will allow me to extract money from my visa. Never find one...there isn't one. Not in Menton, not in Ventimiglia, Italy (next store) and not in Monaco (next door, otherside). Spend a few days having a nervous breakdown and not understand why I don't have money. Realize I was taking money from the wrong account.

*France; Carcassone - I run out of money. Again. This time it was no accident. Funds that were to be transfered are delayed because of a Canadian holiday. So I arrive at the backpackers, broke and penniless. Luckily the people were super swell, gave me free food, lent me money and even gave me a bottle of champagne upon arrival.

*Germany; Koln - I stay at my friend T's house before I am to take the train to Brussels and then the Eurostar to London (which I was 2 seconds from missing because my train to Brussels was late. It was me and some Indian family running through the terminal while Eurostar employees on the sides cheer us on "Hurry up! You're gonna miss it! It's pulling away from the station! You have 1 minute! The doors are closing! No refunds!").

But I did make the train. Only I didn't have everything with me. You see, a few days later while I was leaving London for the Gatwick airport, I realize I do not have my Air Transat ticket.

Oh well, I think to myself. I'm in the computer.

So I get to the check-in counter and yes, I am in the computer. I even have a seat assigned. But I still need the paper ticket. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! I don't know why exactly I need the ticket but I do, so says the snotty bitch at the counter.

So she gives me my options. Either buy a new ticket right there. Or dont go home. I explain that I don't have any money, let alone the 300 quid (over $600!!!) to buy the ticket. She basically says tough luck. Tough luck or I can use a credit card number. "Any number," she says, encouraging fraud. Luckily I memorized my dad's Visa number off the top of my head and away I went.

Paid for a ticket I already paid for.

I was just so grateful to get out of there though, especially since the London Bombings happened 4 days later.

* The day before I leave to Paris and Scotland for Xmas trip, I can't find my passport. I rip out my apartment, crying, kicking and screaming until I start retracing my steps.

The last time I used my passport was two weeks before when I came back from Mexico (see above). I recall putting my passport in the seat pocket and then remember the magazine I was reading at the time.

I find the people magazine with Prince William on the cover and shake it frantically to have the passport plop out and on to the floor.

* A year later, I JUST return home off a flight from Palm Springs. I pull into my driveway to see our family friend standing there, barking at me "WHERE is your passport?!"

"What do you mean where is my passport?" I say, "right here." I reach into my bag. Can't find it.

I am quickly led into the house where he plays me back a message on the answering machine. It's from the person that cleans the plane that I just got off of an hour ago, and would you believe it, he found my passport in the seat pocket. Oh me oh my.

* Going to Disneyland - NO this time I had the tickets AND my passport, but lo and behold, I have forgotten to check when it expires.

In the cab, 530 AM, 5 minutes from the airport and I see that it expired SIX MONTHS AGO. I don't know whether to scream or cry, I just keep looking at the passport and willing it to change, for this to be a bad dream. But it's not a dream, it's just plain bad.

However I go to the counter and though they changed the rules just a wee bit before (that you have to have a passport to enter the US by air) the ticket agent double checks with US customs for me. US customs decides to let me enter the country with expired passport and by issuing me a free visa (after sticking me in that glass waiting room for awhile). I don't know if it's luck or my tears or the fact that I was going to Disneyland but they let me in.

And then coming back into Canada, our customs agent just says "Oh we let people in without passports all the time. I'm suprised they bothered to give you a visa."

* To further prove that these rules are meant to be broken, a few weeks ago my camping trip's location was rearranged. To the States, Point Roberts to be exact.

(Point Roberts has a mainly unpatroled border - you may know this now because of the Jenkins case in which he killed that model/stripper Jasmine Fiore - you know the case all over the news and TMZ).

Anyway that's fine and dandy. Point Roberts borders on my town - ie it takes 2 minutes to drive to the border. However, though it is August and my passport has now been expired for almost a year, I still haven't gotten it renewed and ever since June 9th, you need a passport to cross the border by car.

Yep, it's happening ALL OVER AGAIN! And once again, I go to the border without a passport (but with a receipt that I did in fact apply for one and pay for it two days before) and once again they let me in after giving me a lecture.

Something tells me though that after this whole murder fugitive hoopla around the Point Bob Border Crossing that I was extremely lucky I went camping THAT weekend and not last weekend!

Once again...just my luck.

Now that I'm off to New Zealand for a month on November 20th, I can't wait to have more crazy-ass stories to share with you all!!!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lyon - the Paris alternative

This is originally published on my NEW online fashion/travel store here.

Paris might have the Seine River, the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame but Lyon, France has two fabulous waterways, the Rhône and Saône rivers, the statuesque Tour du Crédit Lyonnais and the stunning pious delights of the Notre-Dame de Fourvière and Saint-Jean Cathedral. Not to mention all the pre-requisite patisseries, cobblestone streets, charming nightlife and, of course, oodles of culinary delights. After all, Lyon is the gastronomy (culinary) capital of France.

Lyon is nestled in the mountainous Rhône-Alpes region, located 470 km from Paris and 320 km from Marseille, its location between the two cities allows it to be a major centre of business. Lyon forms the second-largest metropolitan area in France after that of Paris, with the population of its urban area estimated to be nearly two million.

But amidst all those people, you will find a city that hasn't forgotten its history, its charms...or how to eat!

The Saint-Jean Cathedral, seat of the Archbishop of Lyon

Bartholdi Fountain at the Place des Terreaux

The Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica

Why is the church thanking Mary? Well, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who is said to have saved the city of Lyon from the plague in 1643. A small church was erected in gratitude, to which the gilded statue of the Virgin was added in the mid-nineteenth century, to mark its bicentennial. Each year in early December, Lyon thanks the Virgin for saving the city by lighting candles throughout the city, in what is called the Fête des Lumières.

The basilica has a very prominent location on the top of Fourvière hill, which overlooks the city. This same hill is where the Roman forum of Trajan, the forum vetus, was located (along with the Roman Theatre) and has one amazing view. To get to the top of the hill, you have to ride the Ficelle, the world's first funicular train.

The Roman-era Theatre on the Fourvière hill


Passageways - called traboules - are abundant in the Saint-Jean and the Croix-Rousse areas of the city. Though many of them have been turned into private courtyards, these narrow passageways pass through buildings and link the streets either side. These mysterious streets were designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.


Located in this area, and among the old cobblestone streets of the enigmatic Old Town, are scores of wonderful restaurants called bouchons. Bouchons are usually convivial restaurants serving primarily local dishes, and local wines. My first night in Lyon - blinded by jetlag - I snacked on escargots. They were local, fresh and cooked to perfection. My jetlag judgement won on that matter.

Traditional local dishes include saucisson de Lyon (sausage), andouillette, coq au vin, esox (pike) quenelle, gras double (tripe cooked with onions), salade lyonnaise (lettuce with bacon, croutons and a poached egg), marrons glacés and cardoon au gratin.

Speaking of local delicasies...Voila! La macarron!

And hot mulled wine, sold on the street was a perfect accompaniment.

You can literally spend weeks walking around Lyon, eating your way through the has cute, tucked away restaurants that only locals know about (and gives away free shots of chesnut liquer!)...

...and many entertaining bars, such as The Wallace, the only Scottish bar in Lyon. The locals love this place, if not for its extensive array of Scotch.... can also pick up many local eats at the Saturday market, held along the Saône river.

Whatever you choose to do in Lyon, you'll find a French city steeped in culture, braised in history and sprinkled with latin sensibilities.

And like it's classic layout and return to simplicities, so is the fashion and style inspired by Lyon. To purchase my clothing items for a true Lyonnais feel, please click here.

The Lion of Lyon (Lyon is french for Lion, d'accord?)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stay Safe, Stay Stylish

You've heard the horror stories. Tourists in Barcelona being knifed for all their belongings, a man accosted by street urchins in Milan and having his passport nicked from inside his front pocket, a woman on the night train from Prague to Warsaw, having her money belt removed from her while she slept.

Makes you wonder how on Earth you really can keep your important documents safe while traveling.

Well, money belts are a good start. They are a hell of a lot better than keeping important items in your purse, backpack or wallet. But one of the problems with them is that thieves now know where to look. They know you've got one around your waist or on on your belt.

The second problem with money belts is the fact that they are just plain ugly.

When I travel I try hard not to look like a tourist and the first step towards that is to stay fashionable. Look good, wear clothes that you would wear at home, don't fall into the tourist trap and start wearing baggy shorts with big pockets.

And don't have a money belt rising out of your low-riding jeans or sticking up under your clingy dress.

Have this instead:

This is a leg wallet from Cactus Creek. It follows the same principle as the money belt, only it fits around different places on your leg. It's adjustable with comfy velcro straps, so you can wear it on you calf if wearing pants; your knee if wearing a skirt or your thigh if wearing shorts. Best of all, it's got special fabric that wicks sweat away, it's sleek so it doesn't show under clothes, and it's comfortable, so that you forget you are even wearing it. Leg wallets aren't the first thing that is going to pop into a pontential criminal's mind, so it's safe and it's big enough to keep a few credit cards, extra money, plane tickets and your passport.

I wore it for three months straight and it was a lifesaver. Even when I was paranoid about my bags being rifled through or my purse being stolen, I knew that everything I really needed was on my leg and out of sight.

Like I said before, the number one tip to avoiding being a victim of crime and getting a better cultural experience is to blend in with the locals.

Which means, NO FANNY PACKS.

Seriously. Don't do it. They are ugly, so "soccer mom" and an easy peasy target for thieves. Why don't you just wear an American Flag shirt and sandals with socks while you are at it?

"But I don't want to carry around a regular purse. I might get robbed."

Sure. But you carry around a regular purse in your own home city, right? What makes you think you are going to be targeted in Amsterdam? Oh right. The Fanny Pack or Day-Packs. Look around the people in your home city. It's easy to spot the tourist, isn't it? That's why the criminals are going after them and not you.

But I understand that while traveling you don't have the securities of home and are more likely to be carrying items that are irreplaceble.

The solution? The leg wallet, which I posted about below, and a bag that not only looks stylish but will make you feel more secure.

Messenger bags are in at the moment and you can get them anywhere (Old Navy, H&M, etc). Look for ones with a thicker strap so it doesn't put too much pressure on your shoulders (and doesn't cause that ugly line of seperation on your chest). Make sure you wear it across your chest, with the front of the bag facing forward, close to your hands for safe keeping. This way, your bag is less likely to get pick-pocketed and by wearing it across your chest, it becomes hard for someone to run past you and gab your bag (without dragging you along with it). Most messenger bags come complete with lots of secure pockets too and are quite roomy, so they make excellent companions for traveling.

Best of all, a messenger bag doesn't scream tourist. And if you buy the right one, it may just say "Ooh, la la. Je suis Parisian."


Ah. That's better

Friday, August 14, 2009

Paekakariki, NZ

Paekakariki, New Zealand, is located on the Kapiti coast on the southwest side of the North Island, just a short and scenic train ride from Wellington, the country's capital.

Because Wellington lacks good budget accommodations, Paekakariki is an excellent choice, do to its close proximity to the city, its abundance of beaches, parks and activities and a warm and wonderful backpackers.

If you are planning to visit the gorgeous and culturally thriving city of Wellington, I highly recommend you stay in Paekak (as the locals call it) if not just for a night or two.