Embarking solo – Week 1

For various reasons I started the move off by myself with C and Hannah staying behind in Texas.  I actually did not feel much anxiety about leaving until the night before my flight was scheduled to leave.  I have taken trips away a couple times now and they’ve been fine.  But knowing that I would be gone for almost 3 weeks with only a short visit at Christmas to break it up was tough to swallow.  I shed a few tears at the airport saying goodbye.  Hannah was fine but mostly because she didn’t truly understand what was happening.

The flight across the pond was uneventful but uncomfortable.  I didn’t sleep much but did get some reading and movies in.  My first week was a bit chaotic.  I checked into my temporary lodging which had been setup for me.  It was an extremely convenient location, but very basic.  Essentially a bed, tv, bathroom, mini fridge and microwave.  Not exactly glamorous but it would do.  As it was the week before Christmas there was a lot of things that weren’t open, had limited hours or people who weren’t even in their offices.  Thankfully I was able to get my ID card the 2nd day there meaning I had access to everything I needed and the ability travel freely.  I rented a car for a couple days to get around while looking for a car to purchase.  I also attempted to set up several house showings.  However, most of the letting agencies I spoke with couldn’t let me view anything until after Christmas, or even after New Years!  Thankfully I was able to get one set up for that same week and another for the following week.

My super snazzy hotel room - home for 3 weeks

My super snazzy hotel room – home for 3 weeks

English countryside at dusk (at 3:30 pm...ugh)

English countryside at dusk (at 3:30 pm…ugh)

Life living solo in a hotel = takeaway Thai food, a glass of wine and FB surfing

Life living solo in a hotel = takeaway Thai food, a glass of wine and FB surfing

In addition to searching for a house and car, I needed to set up a bank account, get car insurance and work on everything needed to start my job.  It turns out we never closed our bank account from our previous time overseas.  We thought they might have closed it due to inactivity, but low and behold, I walked into a branch, gave them my account information and ID card and sure enough there was a teeny tiny balance still there.  Whew!

A coworker’s wife had a lead on a car that her mechanic was selling so I set up a time to go see and test drive it.  Well, the shop was in a heavy traffic area so I let him drive while I sat.  It had only been 2 or 3 days since I’d started driving on the “wrong” side of the road again so I felt much more comfortable with him driving.  The car looked good and was a good price so I agreed to purchase it.  Two days later I returned to hand over the money and get the keys.  Thankfully another coworker was kind enough to schlep me to the mechanic’s shop in order to get the car.

My new ride

My new ride

That same week I was able to view one property.  Turns out it was a perfect size, great location and had assigned parking (which can be difficult in the area we wanted to live).  I phoned up the letting agent and told them we were very interested in the property.  The landlord and agreed to “consider” pets so the agent presented our information to her for approval.  This was a Thursday afternoon.  They were closed the next day until after New Years.  Which meant we had to wait….for 10 days.

The street with the house I viewed

The street with the house I viewed

Alas, the next day was Friday which mean I was heading home!

Cheers

Radio Silence

About a month ago I posted the news that I was back in the UK and the rest of the family would be joining shortly.  I had planned to write about the process of finding a house, car, bank, etc and setting up life in a new country.  I thought about creating separate posts for separate topics related to moving overseas with a toddler, dog and 2 adults.  But, I haven’t done any of those things.  Here we are near the end of January and it’s been silence in this space.

Why?  Not for a lack of thoughts, to be honest.  But more so because life has been less than glamorous, a bit tiring (okay very tiring), stressful and sometimes just plain hard.  There has been a lot of stress, frustration, fear and self-doubt in the recent weeks.  I knew it would not be an easy process or else a lot more people would do it.  We have hit more road blocks and issues than anticipated leading to more angst than expected.  However, I can happily report that the road is straightening out a bit, the potholes are becoming fewer and life is getting a little easier.  In the coming days and weeks I’ll be writing a few posts detailing our experiences and getting up to speed with life across the pond. But for now, I have an important appointment with my pillow.

Cheers

We’re Baack!

You may recall that just over 3 years ago we returned stateside, sad that the adventure was over so quickly, but grateful for the opportunity.  Well, we are even more grateful now because we are back in the UK…I am at least.  Long story short, I received a very unexpected email in the fall that there was a new position approved.  I first checked with C on his thoughts honestly expecting him to shoot it down.  To my surprise, he said go for it.  After several weeks of conversations and deep thinking, I said yes!  Fast forward 2 long months and I boarded a plane to England.

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For various reasons, I am out here before the rest of my little family.  That is a blessing and curse.  First, it allows me to get things situated for everyone such as a car, a house, a bank account, etc.  It is nice to do those things relatively unencumbered by a toddler.  It’s also allowed me flexibility in doing all the tasks I need to start working including trainings, meetings, visiting random offices asking for things.  However, it also means I am alone in a different, albeit familiar, country around the holidays.  There are some people here from my first “visit” that I know, and they have been super helpful, but it isn’t the same as close friends and family.   I’ve also met some great new people who have provided tons of guidance and advice for which I am eternally grateful.

So, here I am, in my temporary lodging counting down the days until my people are here with me.  I hope to post semi-regularly depending on availability of topics and time.  Come follow our adventure (again)!

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Fall Family Fun

Despite the fact that mother nature still thinks its summer, our little family has been enjoying the various fall offerings around here.  Like every fall, we have attended numerous TCU football games.  It’s been a tough season with ugly wins and even uglier losses but we’ve stuck it out.  Last weekend we took Hannah to the game with us.  She hadn’t been all season and we really weren’t sure how she’d do.  She loved it!  Had fun at the tailgate sitting with the adults, eating junk food and raking in the oohs and aahs.  Then she enjoyed going into the stadium, seeing all the fanfare and cheering on the Horned Frogs.  As any true TCU toddler should be able to do, she said “Go Frogs” “TCU” “football” and “touchdown” quite well!  And she clapped, danced and cheered along with the crowd.

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The Arboretum hosts an amazing pumpkin patch every year complete with pumpkin houses, pumpkin carriages and all sorts of other pumpkin decor.  A few weeks ago, we joined friends for a Sunday morning (along with seemingly half of the metroplex) to see the pumpkin village.  It was a warm but nice day and we had fun taking various photos amongst the pumpkins.  We also took a break to sit and eat snacks including homemade cinnamon rolls and mimosas under the trees.  Despite the crowds we had a great time and hope to make a tradition of it!

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She was pretty upset that a stranger had mommy’s camera and was taking her picture with it :-D

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Hannah has really gotten into pumpkins this fall so on top of the Arboretum we took her to a local pumpkin patch that was full of pumpkins, cutout characters, mazes, bounce houses and more.  She was much more interested in the toys and play structures than the pumpkins.  She even tried out a bounce house for the first time and thought it was pretty cool despite her inability to actually jump. :-)

Playing at the pumpkin patch

Playing at the pumpkin patch

I've got this mom

I’ve got this mom

Bounce house fun

Bounce house fun

Mom and dad even got some quality time with just each other.  We took our first real trip away from Hannah since she was born.  Apparently all our trips prior to this point were with her (or me solo).  We dropped her off with the grandparents and hopped in the car for a roadtrip to the Texas Wine Country.  C’s aunt, uncle and cousins live that direction so we took the opportunity to visit.  The next day we spent time wine tasting a various tasting rooms along the main drag.  It was nice spending time just the two of us.  However, come Sunday afternoon we were so ready to see our munchkin again.

Wine, wine, wine

Wine, wine, wine

Our little picnic snack halfway through our wine adventures

Our little picnic snack halfway through our wine adventures

I kinda like this guy

I kinda like this guy

Last stop of the day - a little something for both of us!

Last stop of the day – a little something for both of us!

We may or may not have stopped at the baby store and bought a new diaper :-)

We may or may not have stopped at the baby store and bought a new diaper :-)

Grabbed cocktails at this super cool place with an amazing patio!

Grabbed cocktails at this super cool place with an amazing patio!

And you can’t celebrate fall without Halloween, right?  Several of our neighbors go all out decorating for Halloween with large inflatables, pumpkins, cutouts, lights…you name it.  So all Hannah has been able to talk about is Halloween!  She finally got to dress up and go trick or treating tonight and really seemed to love it.  However, after several houses she was done and ready to go home.  Then of course, about 5 minutes after being home she was ready to “find” Halloween again.

Our little cheerleader :-D

Our little cheerleader :-D

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She wasn't afraid to go up to doors and say "Happy Halloween!"

She wasn’t afraid to go up to doors and say “Happy Halloween!”

Checking out her loot

Checking out her loot

Of course, fall around here also means a big birthday.  But more on that in a separate post.

Cheers

Anybody Home?

Oh hey!  Anyone still out there reading my tiny corner of the internet?  If not, I wouldn’t blame anyone seeing as it’s been over a YEAR since I’ve blogged.  Yikes!!  I have the usual excuses: work, child, husband, life, lack of motivation, etc.  However, we are coming up on Hannah’s 2nd birthday and I started going back through photos of the last year.  I quickly realized I have TONS of photos but not many documented stories behind them. Sure I remember a lot of the memories just by looking at the pictures, but let’s be honest, that won’t always be the case.  So it’s time to start documenting again and I’m going to do it here.  If you want to follow along – fabulous!  If not, that’s cool too, it’ll serve as my own little journaling space.  :-) It’s getting late at night and I’ve been up since before the sun so I’m not posting anything of substance tonight, but check back in a few days to see what I have come up with.

Cheers!img_0190

From Sydney to Columbus

After we got back from our Australia and New Zealand tour we attempted to settle back into our routine again.  It took about a week of midnight play sessions and zombie-like days for all of us to adjust to the time zone but we managed!  The next big trip on the agenda came in mid-July and was just Hannah and I going to Ohio to visit one of my dearest friends from the TCU days, Emily.

We flew up on a Thursday and Hannah did pretty well.  I had the option to upgrade to a first class seat for a small fee which I decided to take advantage of.  I thought it would be nice to have the space and food seeing as Hannah was traveling as a lap infant.  However, it wasn’t really worth it.  I didn’t get the chance to eat because I was either entertaining her or trying to not wake her up.  I did, however enjoy some nuts and a warm chocolate chip cookie!

Playing in the airport playspace

Playing in the airport playspace – this little girl adored Hannah

Thank God for a carrier and a baby who enjoys being worn! Best travel tool ever!

Thank God for our Boba carrier and a baby who enjoys being worn! Best travel tool ever!

Em has a daughter, Grace, who is a few months older than Hannah and I was so excited for them to see each other again. Our last visit with each other was Emily’s visit when Hannah was only weeks old.  Obviously much had changed in the months since then!  At first Grace wasn’t too sure about this smaller version of herself taking her toys, crawling around her house and stealing her mom’s attention.  By the end of the weekend though she warmed up a bit.

Hannah and Gracie

Hannah and Gracie

Our first day was low key as we had arrived later in the afternoon.  We let the girls play while the mommas caught up on life and gossip.  We stayed up way too late just chatting.  The next morning we planned to have lunch then take the girls to a splash pad.  We hadn’t really planned well and didn’t bring any water friendly clothing or swim diapers.  That didn’t stop us from letting them get into the fountains though!  Grace loved it!  Hannah was pretty excited too, but was a bit hesitant about the water shooting up from the ground.  After the splash pad we headed down the road to COSI which had a great play space for younger kids.  The girls crawled all over sticking various toys in their mouths, nearly avoiding getting trampled by other children, going down slides and various other activities.  They also had a water play area with a few water tables, one specifically for infants.  It was so great watching them explore and have fun.  We may or may not have played a little long distance prank on C involving a fake x-ray and dress up bandages…. 😉

Splash pad fun

Splash pad fun

Gracie loved it!

Gracie loved it!

Hannah took just a little more convincing

Hannah took just a little more convincing

Our little head injury patient

Our little head injury patient at COSI

Fun on the playmats

Fun on the playmats

Water table

Water table

She had to go all the way to Ohio to sit on a saddle for the first time

She had to go all the way to Ohio to sit on a saddle for the first time

Having fun with Ms Gracie

Having fun with Ms Gracie

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After all that excitement we were all pretty tired.  It was a low key night back at the house with takeout food and a rousing game of Phase 10 after the girls were asleep.  Party animals, I know.  However, the next morning we were treated to some delicious homemade cinnamon rolls thanks to Emily’s stepmom (who runs a fabulous bakery out of her home).  We were more than happy to taste test her newest product before it hit store shelves!  We needed full bellies for our afternoon at the neighborhood pool.  Their town has a really neat pool complex with a zero entry pool and play area for younger kids, full lap pool and lazy river plus lots of grassy sitting area and picnic tables.  We spent several hours in and out of the water and we all had a great time.  Hannah crashed when we got back to their house taking a much needed nap.

Takes me back to college

Takes me back to college

Holy deliciousness batman!

Holy deliciousness batman!

Excited for pool time!

Excited for pool time!

She loved the water

She loved the water

Yep, that's my daughter trying to take out one of my best friends' daughter... proud mama here...

Yep, that’s my daughter trying to take out one of my best friends’ daughter… proud mama here…

Love love love

Love love love

See?  They do like each other

See? They do like each other

Em and Gracie

Em and Gracie

This is what exhausted looks like

This is what exhausted looks like

That evening Matt, Emily’s husband, showed off his grilling chops and helped us make a great summertime dinner which we enjoyed on the back patio.  Hannah woke up from her nap in time to enjoy some of my grilled chicken then play with their water table.  After dinner she had her first experience with a swing.  She wasn’t too sure about all of it and whined nervously until we took her out.

Swinging

Swinging

Our final day was spent shopping.  We started off browsing at Paper Source which is a dangerous place for me then hit up a few other stores.  I also made it a priority to get ice cream from Jeni’s because ice cream….

She really really wanted to try that ice cream but I selfishly kept it all to myself

She really really wanted to try that ice cream but I selfishly kept it all to myself

Hannah's first trip to Jeni's, but definitely not her last

Hannah’s first trip to Jeni’s, but definitely not her last

After a nap it was time for us to head home.  Our flight back was blissfully uneventful with the exception of Hannah throwing her food packet at the poor gentlemen next to us about 3 times despite my best efforts to catch it.  Thankfully he was a pilot and very sweet.  As always, it was so fun spending time with Emily.  I’m so happy we have girls close in age and can’t wait to watch them grow up together.  I only wish she lived in Texas :-)

Flying home

Heading home

Last Stop: Sydney

The final city on our Australia & New Zealand tour was Sydney.  We flew from Wellington into Sydney late afternoon, arriving in the evening.  After navigating the trains we walked a couple blocks to the apartment we’d rented.  Unfortunately we were greeted with bugs in the kitchen and living room!  Turned out to be german cockroaches according to the owner.  Thankfully we were able to get a hold of him, and since he lived in the same building, he came down and saw exactly what we were talking about (no less than 5 of the nasty little things scurrying around).  He offered to get a different apartment ready for us to check into the next day if we wanted and said it was higher floor, nicer amenities, etc.  However, we still needed to decide what to do that night.  Mind you, at this point it was after 9pm and we were hungry and tired.  I may or may not have shed some tears through all this.  C quickly started looking for hotels to stay for the evening and likely the rest of the 4 days in Sydney.  We were able to find one with good reviews, decent price and run by the same company we’d stayed with in Brisbane.  He called, they said they could provide a crib and a room and we quickly left the apartment.  Then we waited downstairs for a cab for about 30 minutes.  Ugh!  While waiting we met a very nice and funny Aussie who told us how he loved the U.S. and couldn’t stand how rude people were in Sydney (got a good chuckle out of that one) then our cab driver was extremely nice and helpful.  We arrived to the hotel/apartment and the front desk clerk was amazing.  He even pulled out a map to give us tips on where to go and what to see.  He did mention to avoid only one area in the city, King’s Cross.  Guess where our original apartment was located…?

Despite the rough start and late night, Hannah did great.  After a very quick bath we got her down for bed before crashing ourselves.  Sadly we were in a great location but the noise from the bars and clubs nearby was pretty loud.  The next morning we checked with the front desk to see if we might be able to move to a higher floor and mitigate the sound issues.  They told us nothing was available at that time but we could come back around noon and they would have something for us.  We decided to go grab breakfast before heading up to repack our things.  Long story short, there was some miscommunication, a new room was never put on hold for us and after waiting for quite some time, getting keys to an already occupied room and waiting a bit longer, we finally got a room on the 49th floor.  The room was amazing!  Completely updated, huge, had a bathtub and a large balcony with great views.  Our luck was finally turning in the right direction!

Views from the 49th floor

Views from the 49th floor

Sunset from the balcony

Sunset from the balcony

We spent that afternoon walking around the city including Hyde Park, the Queen Victoria Building and Darling Harbor.  It reminded us a lot of New York City but a little bit cleaner and not quite so foul smelling.  There were a whole lot of people milling about on the streets, shopping, sightseeing and just wandering.  I loved the Queen Victoria Building which was built in the late 1800s and has since been restored a filled with shops and restaurants. It houses a beautiful clock in addition to ornate ceilings, neat floors and good shopping!

Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park

Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park

Hyde Park

Hyde Park

Sleeping babe in Hyde Park

Sleeping babe in Hyde Park

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Old men playing giant chess?  Adorable entertainment for free

Old men playing giant chess? Adorable entertainment for free

Queen Victoria Building

Queen Victoria Building

Queen Victoria Building ceiling

Queen Victoria Building ceiling

The clock in the QVB

The clock in the QVB

The next day we decided to get out of the city and board a ferry to Manly Beach.  I knew I wanted to visit a beach and this was the easiest to access from the city with good reviews.  Despite it being a bit windy on the ferry, we enjoyed great harbor views and it was a pleasant ride.  After arriving in Manly we picked up lunch then headed to the waterfront.  We walked through a market, around a neighborhood and popped into a couple shops along the way.  We watched several surfers trying to catch the ultimate wave (Manly is said to be the birthplace of surfing) but the seas were fairly calm.  After walking along the sand for a bit, I suddenly felt a sharp pain on the bottom of my foot.  Turns out I stepped on a bee and got stung.  It hurt like crazy!  C took out the stinger and I rinsed it off in the ocean.  It started swelling up and was painful so we walked to a pharmacy to pick up something to treat it and hobbled back to the ferry terminal to get back to the city.  We ended up having to wait some time for the ferry so indulged in some gelato to pass the time.  Rough, eh?  We did get to catch the sun setting behind the Sydney Harbor Bridge on the ferry ride back and it was a gorgeous sight to see.  That night we stayed in thanks to my foot.

The Harbor Bridge from the ferry

The Harbor Bridge from the ferry

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

On the way to Manly

On the way to Manly

Someone's excited for the day's adventures!

Someone’s excited for the day’s adventures!

Manly beach

Manly beach

On the beach with my babe

On the beach with my babe

Manly wharf

Manly wharf

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<3

Looking down the beachfront

Looking down the beachfront

Sunset over the harbor

Sunset over the harbor

My goofy girl

My goofy girl

 

When traveling, I really enjoy visiting local markets especially farmer’s markets.  We couldn’t find a farmer’s market open within close proximity while we were staying in Sydney so we went to The Rocks Market instead featuring handmade goodies ranging from soaps to clothing to toys to jewelry and everything in between.  The Rocks is a historic area located at the base of the Harbor Bridge so the setting was quaint as well.  It was a great way to spend the morning and we even picked up a kangaroo onesie for Hannah! We worked up an appetite and decided to get lunch and a pint a Sydney’s oldest pub, Fortune of War.  Since we had a baby we couldn’t sit in the bar area, but did get a nice table near a window.  I even tried a kangaroo burger which was really good.

The Rocks Market

The Rocks Market

Shopping!

Shopping!

The Rocks

The Rocks

After lunch, Hannah was tired so we let her nap in the carrier and we walked over to the Opera House to see it up close.  It’s interesting in that it is much more beautiful from afar.  We wandered around the outside snapping a few pictures of it and the bridge in the distance.  Hannah was still asleep so we walked up to Hyde Park.  It seemed much closer on the map than it actually was!  We popped into St. Mary’s Cathedral which is on the edge of the park.  It was the first church we’d stopped in on this trip which is really rare!  We usually see one in every city.  It was not as ornate as those we’ve seen in Europe, but still very beautiful.  With tired feet we walked back to the hotel and called it a day.

The opera house from the wharf

The opera house from the wharf

Looking across the harbor to the bridge

Looking across the harbor to the bridge

Close up

Close up

Detail

Detail

Detail

Detail

Opera house selfie

Opera house selfie

St. Mary's stained glass

St. Mary’s stained glass

Rose window

Rose window

St. Mary's

St. Mary’s

St. Mary's Cathedral

St. Mary’s Cathedral

 

For our last day we contemplated several different plans.  First thought was going to the beach again, but a different one than Manly.  We’d looked into a few different coastal walks, but decided we were just too tired to do one.  So then we thought about going to the zoo or aquarium but couldn’t make up our minds.  We did make it out of the apartment to get cronuts for breakfast, but they weren’t as good as the one in Hawke’s Bay.  Finally by early afternoon we had decided to just relax, wander a little and really just focus on resting and packing for the trip home.  

The final morning arrived very early and we grabbed a cab to the airport much earlier than the sun.  We got to enjoy the Qantas Business Lounge which had a great breakfast spread then boarded a flight to Brisbane.  From Brisbane we boarded our long haul back to the states.  The flights were not nearly as smooth as our first ones.  It was daytime so Hannah had a really hard time sleeping despite being tired.  I’d also left the Boppy in our checked luggage on accident which was what she’d slept several hours on from LAX to Brisbane.  C ended up walking several hours with her in the carrier to get her to sleep and allow me a couple hours of sleep.  After a big snafu with a hotel we’d reserved in an attempt to allow all of us to sleep during our long layover, we ended up back at the airport with several hours to kill.  We tried getting an earlier flight home to no avail so spent several hours in the Admirals club.  We each were able to sleep in armchairs and get some food before getting our last flight home.

Farewell Sydney!

Farewell Sydney!

Couldn't have survived the flight without this guy entertaining and soothing Hannah as much as he did

Couldn’t have survived the flight without this guy entertaining and soothing Hannah as much as he did

Finally catching some Zzz's in LAX

Finally catching some Zzz’s in LAX

And this little monkey finally zonked out on mama's chest

And this little monkey finally zonked out on mama’s chest

Although the trip home was tough to say the least, it did nothing to diminish the fantastic adventure we shared.  It was a once in a lifetime experience and I am so glad we ignored the naysayers, took a leap of faith and did it.  We learned some valuable lessons of what to do and not do going forward when traveling with a child, especially an infant.  And we learned that seeing your child experience new and exciting things is even better than experiencing them yourself.  However, for our next great adventure with Hannah we’re planning somewhere with a shorter flight. :-)

Cheers!

Wellington, New Zealand

We left Napier on a beautiful morning.  On the way out of the area we drove through several vineyards with sheep grazing among the vines.  I was tempted to pull to the side of the road to snap a picture, but I’m pretty sure C would’ve freaked out. Instead I tasked him with getting a decent phone picture of the scenery.

If you look closely you can see the white sheep

If you look closely you can see the white sheep

The drive took us through more beautiful countryside including lots of sheep and cattle grazing, farmland, mountains and along the awesome but nerve-wracking Manawatu Gorge.  Finally we came to the west side of the island and were in the home stretch.  However, we desperately needed to get out, stretch our legs and grab some nourishment.  We stopped at a really cute roadside cafe that reminded me of England.  We made it inside the cafe just in time to miss an epic downpour.  It was a delicious lunch, Hannah got to play some then we packed back into the car for the remaining hour.  Driving into Wellington is pretty great.  You’re driving along with mountains on the left and trees on the right then all of sudden you see ocean and rocks to the right.  The sea was pretty rough making for some great waves.

The view from the cafe

The view from the cafe

How cute is this place?  The inside was even better

How cute is this place? The inside was even better

Views along the road

Views along the road

More driving views

More driving views

First views of Wellington and the harbor

First views of Wellington and the harbor

We made our way to the apartment we’d rented only to discover we had never received the check-in information from the host.  Thankfully the owner answered her phone immediately, gave us the access code for the door and we made ourselves at home.  We also realized we had never confirmed that we wanted a portacot for Hannah and after another quick phone call her lovely husband dropped it off and even offered to set it up for us.  This was by far my favorite lodging of our entire trip. The house had huge floor to ceiling windows in the living/dining room overlooking the city and water below.  The kitchen was well stocked, bed was super comfortable and everything was stylishly decorated.  Hannah even had her own bedroom!  However, it did have one downside….it was perched on a hill, at the top of a steep drive.

Dining with a view

Dining with a view

The kitchen

The kitchen

Our bedroom

Our bedroom

She loved the carpet!

She loved the carpet!

Safety first! Yikes!

Safety first! Yikes!

Can't beat this view!

Can’t beat this view!

Yes, its a steep as it looks

Yes, its as steep as it looks

That first afternoon we wandered around the downtown area looking at the shops and such but didn’t really do any sightseeing.  For dinner we ventured down the road to a great Italian restaurant which would have been rather romantic if it weren’t for an adorable 6 month old.  However, she did get lots of smiles and coos from the table next to us so we were okay with it.

They had this really cute old fashioned high chair

They had this really cute old fashioned high chair

The discarded toy graveyard

The discarded toy graveyard

The next day we popped into the National Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa.  It has the largest squid on display which was pretty impressive, if not a little gross.  It also had an extremely well done exhibit on the ANZAC forces at Gallipoli in WWI.  Unfortunately it was pretty crowded meaning people were moving very slowly and Hannah was starting to get hungry we we had to kinda push through the crowds to get through and find space to feed her.  Turns out I had completely forgotten to pack a nursing cover in our bag for the day, but the museum had a parent’s room which provided the perfect private space with comfy enough chairs to nurse her.  Afterward we were all tired so left without seeing much else.

While in Wellington everyone says you must explore Cuba street which is famous for coffee shops, bars and the music scene.  We did as instructed but weren’t super impressed.  Perhaps its because it was the middle of the day, but it just looked a little grungy and not all that exciting.  C found a coffee shop off of Cuba Street with really great reviews so we stopped in there for a cuppa and to rest our laurels before continuing on for the day.

On our last day we took a trip to the Botanic Gardens which were a short walk from our lodging.  It was a blustery day but thankfully we were protected by the large trees.  I really wanted to take the famed cable car down to the city center so we trekked from the rose garden to the cable car stop.  It seemed a lot closer than it actually was and we worked up quite a sweat doing it.  The trip down wasn’t anything too special but was a nice way to get to the city and rest our feet for a little while.  We finished the day with window shopping before heading back to pack our bags.  The last night we had dinner at a BBQ place which was very popular with the afterwork crew!  Thankfully, the waitresses were super sweet and helped us score a table.  We didn’t realize it until the next morning but Hannah dropped her beloved Sophie giraffe at the table and we walked off without it.  Big parenting fail!

The rose gardens - looked a bit barren but it was fall

The rose gardens – looked a bit barren but it was fall

Beauty amongst beauty

Beauty amongst beauty

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A glimpse of the cable car through the trees

A glimpse of the cable car through the trees

Views of the city and harbor from the cable car stop

Views of the city and harbor from the cable car stop

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This face!

This face!

The last picture we have of Sophie the 1st

The last picture we have of Sophie the 1st

Our BBQ spread - not too shabby!

Our BBQ spread – not too shabby!

We finished off the evening with a stroll through some of the city streets before catching a bus back to the apartment.  Our final morning was spent cleaning and finishing up packing.  We then dropped the car off at the airpot and caught our flight to Sydney, our last destination on the trip.

Ready for another flight!

Ready for another flight!

Sunset over the clouds en route to Sydney

Sunset over the clouds en route to Sydney

Lake Taupo & Napier, New Zealand

After Hannah’s dramatic episode while driving from Piha Beach back to Auckland, we decided to leave a day early and split our drive into 2 days.  Initially we planned to drive from Auckland to Napier (about 5 hours) but since we had no idea how Hannah would fare, we made the last minute choice to stop over in Lake Taupo for a night.  It took us longer to pack up and leave the apartment than planned so we ended up sitting in afternoon traffic on our way out of the city.  Once we hit the countryside all was well.  We passed through a lot of farmland, some hilly terrain and a few cute small towns before arriving in the evening.  We witnessed a beautiful sunset over some hills shortly before getting to our hotel for the evening.  Since it was fall, the town was pretty dead and we easily got a room at a well rated hotel and table at a cute restaurant.  After a late meal we settled in for the evening.

The next morning we got up, packed the car and headed down to the main area of town for breakfast.  We decided on something quick and ate while walking along the lakefront.  After we spent some time wandering the town streets and finding nothing terribly interesting.  There was supposed to be a market somewhere just outside the main area, but we decided to head out in time for Hannah’s morning nap.  The drive to Napier was another pleasant one, but much less inhabited.  There were long stretches of road with no signs of life, except for sheep, cows and the occasional farm truck.  I think we drove almost 100 km without passing a fuel station.  Driving into the Hawke’s Bay region was absolutely beautiful.  You come through mountains and more farmland until you start seeing orchards and wineries popping up alongside the highway.  Eventually the bay comes into view and it is gorgeous.  Thankfully, Hannah did wonderfully on the drive both days!  She was quiet (we assume sleeping) for 2+ hours each time and only started getting fussy in the last 20 minutes or so.

Lake Taupo showing off it's fall colors

Lake Taupo showing off it’s fall colors

My babywearing baby

My babywearing baby

More of the lake

More of the lake

This is what you get when you ask your husband to take pictures while you drive

This is what you get when you ask your husband to take pictures while you drive

We arrived in Napier and checked into our hotel which was very cute!  Then we did some exploring around the area most importantly walking down to the beach.  Hannah got a nap in our Boba carrier while C and I enjoyed the breeze coming off the ocean and the beautiful surroundings.  After she woke up we treated ourselves to an ice cream cone and went back to the hotel to research activities.  Since it was a sunny day we decided to head back to the beach later that afternoon and see what Hannah thought of the sand and water.  Well, she enjoyed putting her feet in the sand but did not like the cold water!  In all fairness, it was really cold even for me!  We finished the day off with some wine by the outdoor fire at our hotel and takeaway Indian food.

She was a fan of the book and toy the hotel provided with her portacot

She was a fan of the book and toy the hotel provided with her portacot

The view down to the waterfront from our balcony

The view down to the waterfront from our balcony

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The beach

The beach

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All ready for her first trip to the beach!

All ready for her first trip to the beach!

Mama I don't like this!

Mama I don’t like this!

Not too sure about the sand, either (although she warmed up to it)

Not too sure about the sand, either (although she warmed up to it)

The next day was Mother’s Day so I got to choose everything – my favorite kind of day!  We started with breakfast at a nearby cafe then went to the Hawke’s Bay Farmer’s Market.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was definitely impressed!  We arrived just about an hour before it was scheduled to close and things were still in full swing.  There were the typical vendors selling fruits, veggies, baked goods and cheeses. But there were also wines, olive oils, cider, hot foods and a juice bar.  Plus there was a girl singing & playing the guitar.  There were a bunch of families and couples milling around just enjoying the beautiful day and atmosphere.  We picked up a cronut and a bottle of cider and spent some time listening to the musician.  If we hadn’t just finished breakfast or were staying for a few more days, I probably would’ve bought some of the great looking food for offer.

Some of the crowd at the farmer's market

Some of the crowd at the farmer’s market

Having fun!

Having fun!

Fall colors were beautiful

Fall colors were beautiful

They're the best travel companions!

They’re the best travel companions!

We couldn’t stay long, though, because there was more planned for the day.  Next up was a trip to one of the many wineries in the area.  I had done a little research and found one of the best reviewed cellar doors (tasting rooms).  As we were pulling into the car park, one van was pulling out and we ended up having the place to ourselves.  The gentlemen who did the tasting was very nice and informative and we were able to taste some really good wines.  We ended up buying a bottle of Viognier and each having a glass outside.  Hannah took a snooze in the carrier and we just enjoyed the sunshine, quiet and conversation. Afterwards we loaded back up into the car and drove to a Cidery close by.  There we grabbed a spot at a picnic table, got lunch and washed it down with a cider flight.  We’d decided we had enough alcohol and sun for the day so went back to the hotel for some R&R.  I enjoyed reading & watching the sunset from our balcony while Hannah and C each napped.  And we ate the cronut from the farmer’s market which was delicious!!  It was probably a good thing we only bought one!

The view from the winery

The view from the winery

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Family photo with a sleeping bebe

Family photo with a sleeping bebe

Yummy vino!  Too bad we can't get it here in the states

Yummy vino! Too bad we can’t get it here in the states

A cider flight - pretty yummy

A cider flight – pretty yummy

Family selfie

Family selfie

Hannah among the apple orchard at the cidery

Hannah among the apple orchard at the cidery

The cronut...yummm

The cronut…yummm

Sunset over Hawke's Bay

Sunset over Hawke’s Bay

We were only in Hawke’s Bay for 2 days but we had a marvelous time.  I definitely would have liked to stay longer, explore some more and enjoy what the area had to offer.  But, alas, it was time to move on to Wellington, our next, and final, destination in New Zealand.

Buh-bye Aussies, Hello Kiwis!

After 3 days in Brisbane we bid farewell to Australia and headed for Auckland, New Zealand.  We lucked out on the flight and ended up with a row to ourselves, so Hannah got her own seat.  She did well on the plane and the Chinese tourists across the aisle from us just loved her.  As the plane approached the airport, I was treated to some amazing views of the west coast of NZ and some farmland as well.  Let’s just say it was love at first sight! We made our way to the apartment we had rented and were quite entranced with the views from our teeny balcony.  We had a low key afternoon and evening focusing on getting settled and getting Hannah some sleep.

It's difficult to "pack light" when traveling for 3 weeks with an infant!

It’s difficult to “pack light” when traveling for 3 weeks with an infant! (Our luggage while waiting for the train in Brisbane)

Ready for takeoff!

Ready for takeoff!

Enjoying her own seat

Enjoying her own seat

The first peek at NZ

The first peek at NZ

Isn't it beautiful?!

Isn’t it beautiful?!

The view of downtown and the harbor from our balcony

The view of downtown and the harbor from our balcony

Auckland at night

Auckland at night

Our second day was another low key day where we focused on orienting ourselves to the city, grabbing some groceries and buying C a new pair of shoes (his tennis shoes had quit on him).  We even ran into fellow Texans in the grocery store…too bad they were Baylor fans!  Our 2nd full day in Auckland we hopped on a ferry to Waiheke Island.  It is a largish island in the Hauraki gulf, easily accessible by ferry and know for beautiful beaches, wineries and a “hippie” culture.  We opted for a bus tour of the island to see the highlights.  We were treated to gorgeous views over vineyards, looking back at Auckland across the gulf and a few beautiful beaches.  After the tour we spent some time wandering the shops of one of the towns before stopping in for lunch at a restaurant.  The wind was picking up and it was getting colder so we decided to catch the next ferry back to Auckland.

Excited for the tour

Excited for the tour

I could live right here

I could live right here

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Or here…

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On the beach

On the beach

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Family selfie on the bus

Family selfie on the bus

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Some local flora

Some local flora

We followed up that day with a day at the Auckland Zoo.  After missing our stop on the bus, we hiked a little ways and finally arrived, just in time for the elephant’s walk around the zoo.  It was pretty cool to see this massive animal sauntering down the walkway.  Hannah loved looking at the various animals like giraffes, zebras, chickens, ducks, monkeys and more.  We tried to find the Kiwi bird but didn’t see any in their enclosure.  It was a really nice zoo and pretty empty so we were able to enjoy it without huge crowds.

Nothing to see here...just a big ol' elephant walking around the grounds

Nothing to see here…just a big ol’ elephant walking around the grounds

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Corey trying to talk to the hens and rooster

Corey trying to talk to the hens and rooster

Hannah liked the chickens

Hannah liked the chickens

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Checking out the monkeys

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I just love baby animals

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I couldn't agree more!

I couldn’t agree more!

Our 4th day in Auckland was the day we planned to pick up our rental car and see some of the surrounding areas.  Well, Hannah had a different idea and ended up taking a later and longer nap than planned.  By the time we actually picked up the car it was mid afternoon.  Nevertheless we decided to head to Piha Beach, a black sand beach west of Auckland.  It was an interesting drive with very windy roads, steep drop-offs but beautiful scenery through mountains and farmlands.  When we arrived it was a bit cloudy but nice.  There were only a couple other groups of people so it felt very isolated.  The beach was breathtakingly beautiful.  Black sand, a huge rock (Lion rock) jutting out of the sea, waves crashing against the rocks and wind blowing through.  After a little while the skies opened up and it started pouring on us!  We tried our best to run back to the car, but running through sand while wearing a baby and tennis shoes isn’t exactly easy.  Of course, by the time we made it to the parking lot the rain had stopped.

We decided it was time to leave anyhow, because we wanted to get back to the city before dark thanks to the windy roads.  About 10 minutes into the drive, Hannah started fussing and quickly escalated to full meltdown.  Despite C getting in the backseat to try and comfort her, she just continued to scream and cry.  Thanks to the stress and distraction of that, the windy roads and impending rain, I missed a turnoff and got a bit lost.  We pulled off in a town to get her out of the car and calm her down.  We decided to put her in the carrier and get her to nap.  We made several laps of this small town while she slept then loaded back into the car for the rest of the trip back.  Of course, she still fussed but it wasn’t nearly as bad.  We had a small fiasco trying to park the SUV into a teeny parking space at the apartment but finally made it back in one piece.

Lion rock on the left

Lion rock on the left

I just love this picture

I just love this picture

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Happy girl before the storm

Happy girl before the storm

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Looking down onto Piha beach

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Isn't it amazing?! I can only imagine how beautiful it is on a warm sunny day

Isn’t it amazing?! I can only imagine how beautiful it is on a warm sunny day

That night we decided to cut our time in Auckland short by one day in order to break up the drive to our next destination.  Since Hannah had melted down in such dramatic fashion, we wanted to minimize driving long distances as much as possible.  So the next day we packed up our things and headed for Lake Taupo.