Travel

Malta & Sicily

As I was still getting used to work, C and Hannah were settling into life in our new home.  We still had no furniture (with the exception of a second-hand mattress and early 2000’s TV) and only very basic kitchen essentials.  It was cold and dreary in England with the sun rising at 9am and setting by 4pm.  We were feeling unsettled and itching for some sun.  So C suggested we head south to the Mediterranean, specifically Malta and Sicily.  In all honesty, I hadn’t ever really considered either destination but we went for it.

We boarded an Air Malta flight from London arriving in Valletta.  It was a pretty basic flight but they did serve food and drinks for no additional charge which is becoming more and more rare these days, particularly on inexpensive European carriers.  We had decided to stay in Valletta and not venture out of the city.  Malta has some beautiful islands, beaches, snorkeling & diving spots, but it was February and we were only there a short period of time.  Valletta is quite compact and although beautiful, we found 2 days to be plenty of time to see the sights.

Our Airbnb was a traditional Maltese house made of stone with tile floors and an enclosed balcony overlooking the street.  Interestingly enough the toilets were in the back spiral stairway not truly “inside” the house.  Our hostess was great, even arranging for airport transportation for us.  The only con was there was a small shop across the street that received early morning deliveries which woke us earlier than we’d have liked.

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Valletta is a port city with a lot of very interesting history, particularly as a strategic base for British soldiers during WWII.  You can see glimpses of it’s colonial past in its red phone booths and English speaking population.  Our first afternoon and evening we explored the area near our Airbnb, picked up a takeaway dinner and just took in the sights.  Hannah was particularly fond of the phone booths and insisted on going into any and all she found.  We also walked down to the Fort St Elmo and found some cats to play with chase.  A stop off for gelato on the way home was the perfect night cap.

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Our only full day was spent exploring St. John’s Co-Cathedral.  Pictures and words cannot do justice to the beauty and intricate detail of this church.  Unfortunately, the two year old decided to be a two year old but C chased her while I gawked at gold painted ceilings and marble detailing.  We then walked to see the underground tunnels but they were closed for an unknown reason…probably had something to do with the Turkish diplomats visiting.  (Or I assume that because there were a bunch of fancy black cars flying the Turkish flag, lots of police and cordoned off areas.)  Instead we wandered down from the waterfront to the Lower Barrakka Gardens and found a playground with gorgeous views of the water and port.

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After nap we wandered through the main shopping drag to the famous, and somewhat controversial, city gate.  Then we made our way to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, which were closed off earlier in the day.   We had decided on pizza and pasta for dinner and found a well rated restaurant close to the Airbnb, Sotto Pizzeria.  We walked in to an empty restaurant as they had just opened for dinner, but were quickly told they had no tables as they were full with reservations for the evening.  They did offer takeaway though, so we opted for that.  C had read good reviews on their tiramisu so asked for an order of it to go with our dinner.  Unfortunately you cannot get it for takeaway as they bake it into ceramic cups.  He really wanted to try it so we ate desert while waiting for our dinner to be ready.  It was delicious!  And dinner was good too.

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Our last morning we ate a delicious breakfast at a cute cafe, 67 Kapitali, then caught a ride back to the airport.  We boarded a Ryan Air flight to Catania Sicily.  It was our first experience with Ryan Air and it actually wasn’t bad.  My only complaint was the flight attendant made us put Hannah’s blanket up in the overhead bin for takeoff and landing since we were in the bulkhead row.  I mean, the thing is a baby blanket so weighs a few ounces and is only a couple feet long but I wasn’t going to pick a fight.

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We weren’t able to find an Airbnb we liked in Catania but I did find a serviced apartment rental that looked good.  And it was great!  We had a rooftop deck, great views of the city and a rather comfy bed.  However, the lodging was the best part of Catania, we found.  We wandered the city visiting a park which had seen better days.  It had an okay playground but it was a bit crowded.  The one upside was there was some sort of celebration where all the kids were dressed up in costume and throwing confetti everywhere.  It was a sight to see Hannah covered in confetti and chasing after the local kids.  The city overall was a bit tired, dirty and just not terribly interesting for us.  Honestly, I wouldn’t return to Catania, but maybe a different city in Sicily.

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It was a fun trip but we were ready to get home because our things were being delivered from the states shortly after our return.

Cheers!

Lisbon, Portugal

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It did not take long for us to start planning travel in and around the UK and Europe once we had all arrived.  We were going to be waiting a few more weeks for our furniture and boxes to arrive so decided to hop off to Portugal for several days.  It was a location we had on our list last time we lived abroad but never got the time to visit.

We had a fairly uneventful flight with minimal toddler tantrums and were able to quickly grab a taxi after getting our luggage.  Our Airbnb was located on a hill overlooking the city so it was great to have the taxi rather than public transport + walking as we often do.  The cab driver was also great, giving us recommendations on places to see and eat as well as talking with Hannah.  When we arrived at our Airbnb, I was instantly impressed.  It was billed as child friendly and was it ever.  It had a toy room, y’all.  It was stocked with baby/toddler toys, a bath, high chair, books, child friendly dishes & utensils.  Not to mention spacious and great views over the city to the water.

Living room

Guest bedroom View from the living room

Some light reading ;-)

The master bedroom

The playroom

Cute little patio (that is totally not kid safe!)

Unfortunately we realized we had made a rookie mistake and completely forgot to pack electric adaptors for European plugs.  Oops!  We messaged our host for recommendations of a place to purchase some.  It was Sunday so we assumed many stores would be closed or closing early.  We didn’t hear back for a while so decided to head off on our own to try and located something.  Yeah….that didn’t go so well.  After traipsing up and down streets for 30 minutes with no luck, we finally found a tourist information spot so popped in and asked the lady at the desk for advice.  She directed us to a music/electronics store in a shopping center about 10 minutes walk away.  We stopped off at a beautiful square before heading that direction.  We found 2 adaptors and quickly left to make our way back to the apartment.  Only to find the apartment was less than 10 minutes from the store.  It was late so we fixed Hannah a simple dinner from groceries we’d purchased earlier in the day and put her to bed.  C and I were so tired we ate cereal for dinner and called it a night.

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The next day we ventured across the city to find a place to play for Hannah.  It was bit of a hike but we found the beautiful park, Jardim de Estrela, which had a pretty good playground.  She had lots of fun playing with the sand/rocks and generally making a mess, ha.  We were near Mercado de Campo de Orique, so stopped off there for lunch. It was nice because you could grab meat, produce, bread, and prepared foods then grab a seat in the center and eat.  We were there fairly early on a weekday so it was not very busy (which honestly was nice with a toddler to look after).  That afternoon we lazed around the apartment planning out the next couple days.

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Our third day called for rain so we went to the Lisbon Oceanarium.  It is a bit outside of the city center so we took the metro then walked the remainder.  It started raining, no pouring, on us about 5 minutes into the 15 minute walk.  We arrived pretty soaked.  It was a really neat aquarium with a large center tank that you kept coming back to on different levels.  There were also penguins and otters in addition to the usual aquarium fish assortment.  We all enjoyed it and learned our lesson about walking in the rain so opted for a cab back to the apartment :-)

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Our final full day we went to the Castelo de S. Jorge perched atop the hill where our Airbnb was located.  The grounds were beautiful and offered amazing views over the city and beyond.  We walked some of the ramparts, through the gardens and came across several peacocks.  Hannah loved seeing the peacocks but only from a safe distance.  Instead of walking directly back to the apartment, we turned the other direction to wander the narrow cobblestoned streets of the Alfama neighborhood.  It was filled with cute colorful homes.  We stopped in at Pois Cafe for lunch and it was great.  They offered Hannah a stuffed dragon to keep her company and paper and crayons to color.  They also had board games, various books and sofas to lounge on.  Naptime for Hannah meant downtime for me to read and enjoy a glass of wine.  Since it was our last night we splurged on a nicer dinner at Le Petite Cafe.  We actually had plans for another restaurant but it was closed.  We got there early so we were the only people in the restaurant apart from the waitstaff but it was perfect.  I had a delicious duck dish and C enjoyed a Brazilian style steak.  Hannah enjoyed eating off both our plates.

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Before heading to the airport on the last day I convinced C we had to search out the famed Portuguese pastry, Pastel de nata.  There are many opinions on the “best” pastel in Lisbon, but we only had time to try one.  We went with Manteigaria based on reviews and were not disappointed.  The woman behind the counter convinced us to get a couple extras and I’m glad she did.  They were great warm with a bit of cinnamon sprinkled atop.  Yum!

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Our first trip definitely had a couple bumps in the road, but overall we had a great time and found Lisbon to be a great city.  There was a lot we wanted to do but did not get around to it all.  Perhaps we will just have to go back :-)  But then again, there are so many new places to see.  Decisions, decisions.

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Cheers!

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.

Brisbane

We arrived in Brisbane very early on Thursday morning.  After going through customs and immigration we took the train into the city center.  From there we had a short walk to the apartment we had rented.  We dropped our things off and decided to wander a bit.  Unfortunately it was raining, but we made the most of it and managed to venture across the river and get a great view of the city.  Hannah napped the entire time (which was much needed!) then we stopped off for some lunch.

Trekking across the river to the other side of Brisbane

Trekking across the river to the other side of Brisbane

Shhh...sleeping baby!

The rain continued off and on throughout the day so we just laid low and relaxed, napped and played in the apartment.  Come dinner time we decided to walk to an Italian/pizza place we had found online.  It was a bit of hike but thankfully the rain held off for the most part en route.  We settled in for the night and crossed our fingers that Hannah would sleep well.  Around 4am we heard her fussing so  I went to get her.  I hoped nursing her would calm her and she would go back to sleep.  No such luck, she was up and ready to play! After playing for about an hour, she decided she was sleepy and back to bed it was.  We got up later and found some breakfast down the street.  Unfortunately it was another rainy day so we wandered around the shopping area and spent a little time at the museum.  The rain got pretty intense throughout the day with impressive downpours (even for Texas standards!)  We attempted to leave for dinner, but just walking half a block away we were soaked despite umbrellas so we turned back and ate whatever food we’d picked up from the grocery the day prior.

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Let’s play!

Just a smidge of rain as seen from our windows

Just a smidge of rain as seen from our windows

That sucker hovered over Brisbane alllllll day

That sucker hovered over Brisbane alllllll day!

Thankfully, our 3rd day called for sunny skies and absolutely gorgeous weather.  We hoofed it across the river to catch a boat to the Lone Pine Koala sanctuary.  I had read up on this animal sanctuary and the big draw for me was the opportunity to hold a koala and feed kangaroos.  We caught the boat for a lovely ride up the river with some commentary on various sights.   After about an hour we arrived at our destination, disembarked and entered the park.  The visit was great!  We got to pet and feed kangaroos and wallabies, walk around with emus, see a dingo, platypus and other native Australian animals.  And last but not least we saw a bunch of koalas and I even got to hold one!  We hoped to get a family picture with the cuddly guy but Hannah wasn’t having it so it was just me and my new friend.

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Brisbane from the river

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Having fun on the boat

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Koala cuddles

We had a great time at the sanctuary before boarding the boat for the trip back to the city.  Once we arrived back at the dock, I noticed a bunch of people and decorations not too far from us.  So we wandered that direction and stumbled across a festival celebrating Buddha.  It was fun walking around and seeing all the people, listening to music and taking in the beautiful surroundings.

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Passed out after a busy day

Passed out after a busy day

Eventually we crossed back over the river heading back to the apartment.  As it was our last night we packed our things and prepped for the next leg of our journey, Auckland!

Australia: Take 1

Once upon a time there was a young couple who loved to travel.  When the wife was pregnant, they planned a dream trip to Australia and New Zealand timed to coincide with their child being 6-7 months old.  Many people asked if they were planning to bring the baby along; and their response?  “Yes! Of course! Why wouldn’t we?”  So they booked plane tickets before they even knew the sex of the baby and over the course of several months worked on decided cities to visit, places to stay and what to see.  The baby got her first passport when she was only 2 months old.  The couple researched tips on traveling with an infant and took her on a few “practice” trips around the states.  Then, shortly after their baby turned 6 months old, they packed their bags and boarded a flight to the other side of the world.

Sounds crazy, right?  Well, that’s exactly what these crazy kids did.  As you know if you’ve read any of this blog or know us in the slightest, we have the travel bug.  We had been wanting to make the trip “Down Under” for years and had saved up a big chunk of airline miles to spring for business class seats.  We figured the best time to take Hannah would be when she was not yet mobile or talking or when she was old enough to occupy herself for 14+ hours in a metal tube.  So we picked the former because we weren’t interested in waiting until she was a teenager.  We knew it was going to be different than our previous travels, but were excited nonetheless.

At the end of April we packed up 2 large suitcases, 4 carry-ons and a stroller then headed to the airport.  Because we’d used miles we were in First or Business class the entire trip to and from Australia.  We arrived to the airport early, checked in, then headed to the American Airlines Admirals club to wait out or flight.  A couple hours later we boarded the plane, excited to start our big adventure.  Well, we were going to have to wait a bit longer.  A few minutes after everyone was settled, the pilot announced there was a maintenance issue and we would be delayed.  Shortly after that announcement he came back on the PA system to inform us the plane would be taken out of service, we would have to deplane and they would either find us a new one or we would all be booked on new flights.  We had a 12 hour layover in LA so we weren’t worried about missing our connection, but it was a bit annoying.  After about an hour, we boarded a different (and older) plane ready to get going.

All ready to go

All ready to go

Flying fun with daddy

Flying fun with daddy

As we were sitting there entertaining Hannah, a nice gentlemen walked up the aisle, smiled at her and made some comment about how cute she was and touched her.  C, Hannah and I smiled and said thank you as he took his seat in the row behind us.  As he walked away I turned to C and said, “Is that…?” He smiled and nodded.  We had just met Sean Astin who is most famous for his roles in The Goonies, Rudy and Lord of the Rings.  We were a little dumbfounded, especially since Rudy is one of our favorite movies!  As we taxied and took off C and him started up a conversation about Hannah and where we were headed.  When he learned we were going to Australia and New Zealand he offered up a lot of advice of things to see.  He was pretty interested in Hannah and they hit it off.  We talked with him off and on during the flight and he was a really nice and personable guy.  I wanted to ask him for a picture with Hannah (he was pretty smitten with her, as she was with him) but I didn’t want to be weird or annoying.  Of course, now I regret that.  It was her first celebrity meeting and I failed to get any evidence of it occurring!  Ah well, she’ll just have to trust us.

We made the most of our long layover in LAX and spent time with my family celebrating my mom’s birthday.  It was a great time and was nice to get out of the airport.  And, while at my parents’ house Hannah decided to roll from back to belly for the first time.  She was very proud of herself and did it multiple times while we were there.  Finally it was time for us to head back to the airport and check in for the flight to Brisbane.  We were able to enjoy some time in the Business Lounge for Qantas and it was fancy pants.  After an hour it was time to board our flight.  As I previously said, we saved up airline miles and redeemed them for business class seats.  We were able score seats in the upper deck of the plane so there were only 20 or so other people for Hannah to harass.

Celebrating with Grandma

Celebrating with Grandma

Thankfully she did extremely well on the flight!  We tried getting her to sleep in the bassinet which folded down from the bulkhead but it was so small that I don’t think she was able to get comfortable.  So we traded off holding her while she slept or played.  After 14 or so hours we landed in Brisbane before 7am local time.  We took the train into the Central Business District (CBD) and made the short walk to our apartment.

Enjoying cartoons on the plane

Enjoying cartoons on the plane

We survived the flight! Yay!

We survived the flight! Yay!

Trains are fun :)

Trains are fun :)

Up next, 3 days in Brisbane!

Babymoon: Part 1

When we first started talking about where to go for our last vacation pre-baby (aka babymoon), I knew I wanted to go somewhere with cooler temperatures than Texas in August.  Not too difficult, right?  We also didn’t want to travel out of the US.  I didn’t really want to go somewhere beachy because, well, who wants to be in a swimsuit at 7 months pregnant?  Not this girl!  So we started thinking of Northern CA, Oregon or Washington.  We were using hotel rewards points and a free night for lodging, so narrowed it down based on where we could get good hotels within those constraints.  Finally we decided on Bellingham and Seattle Washington in addition to Vancouver Canada.

Our first stop on the trip was Bellingham.  For those of you who don’t know where Bellingham is, it’s located about 1.5 hours north of Seattle on Puget Sound.  It’s home to a fairly large university so it had a nice college town vibe.  My best friend has family in the area so I asked her for recommendations of things to do.  She suggested a cruise to the San Juan Islands.  I loved the idea because we could see some great scenery without too much exertion so I found a well rated one and booked tickets.

We met the boat at the harbor on an extremely foggy morning.  I was hoping to see some wildlife, but was pretty discouraged by the fact that you could barely see 10 feet off the boat due to the thick fog.  Thankfully, the further away we got from the docks, things started clearing up some.  We spotted a couple bald eagles in trees along a small island.  It was really neat to see them in person in their natural habitat.  The boat captain then decided to head toward an island known for having seals.  Sure enough there was a huge group of seals sunning themselves on the rocks and two huge guys who started giving us all a good show playing with each other.  As we’re all oohing and aahhing over the seals, one person pointed out an orca off the bow.  Sure enough, there as a pod of orcas swimming nearby.  As we got closer, we saw them being very active and playful.  And as we followed them we discovered it was a group of almost a dozen orcas!  It was so amazing watching them all swim and play together.  They are truly beautiful creatures!

See the eagle in the treetop?

See the eagle in the treetop?

Fog enveloped islands

Fog enveloped islands

Loads of seals

Loads of seals

 

Getting feisty with each other

Getting feisty with each other

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Orcas!

This was about half of the group

This was about half of the group

Playing around

Playing around

After following these guys for a while we had lunch on the boat then went to Friday Harbor, a cute town on one of the San Juan Islands.  We got off the boat and wandered around town doing a little shopping then treated ourselves to some ice cream.  We we re-boarded the boat it was time to head back to Bellingham.  We cruised through the various islands hearing about interesting history and seeing some really beautiful scenery and homes.  It started sprinkling on us a little toward the end, but nothing crazy.  That night we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant recommended by my friend for their handmade pasta.  It did not disappoint!

Boats at Friday Harbor

Boats at Friday Harbor

This preggo loves ice cream!

This preggo loves ice cream!

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Sea Plane taking off

Sea Plane taking off

This is what happens when you ask an older woman to take a picture ;-)

This is what happens when you ask an older woman to take a picture ;-)

An island for sale - no running water or electricity (and you can't install anything either) but it sure is beautiful!

An island for sale – no running water or electricity (and you can’t install anything either) but it sure is beautiful!

The next morning we had breakfast the hotel and went shopping in the historic area of Bellingham.  We popped into a few cute boutiques and toy shops looking for something fun to get Hannah.  We did find a really cute and soft penguin “lovey” to buy.  Otherwise our wallets stayed in our pockets.  The area was really cute but since it was a weekday morning there wasn’t a whole lot going on.  I could see it being more fun on a weekend with more people milling around and at the cafes and coffee shops.  After our wandering we decided to pack it up and head off to our next destination, Vancouver!  More on that in a separate post.

California getaway

Back in mid August, I took off to California to visit family and friends for one last time before baby.  My sister graciously offered to fly out from S. Carolina while I was there and throw me a baby shower.  So I flew in Saturday morning and had a shower that same afternoon.

The shower was smallish, but very nice.  Guests included high school friends, my best friend with her mom and 2 girls, family friends, my mom, my sister, my sister-in-law as well as my nieces and nephew.  We had food, played a small game then opened gifts.  And there was a lot of chatting going on, of course!  Our baby girl got tons of clothes blankets and books, all of which were very much appreciated.

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I love little tiny bows for little tiny babies

I love little tiny bows for little tiny babies

The blanket my mom made

The blanket my mom made

High school buddies

High school buddies

The next day I went to the church where I grew up.  It was fun seeing people I’ve known since I was a little girl and seeing how much the church congregation has changed.  Baby girl even got another gift – a beautiful handmade blanket.  I have to admit it was a little surreal being at the church I’ve known since I can remember (where I also went to preschool-6th grade) talking about preparations for my own baby.

The rest of the time in CA was spent with family including a trip to the beach with my nieces one day, dinner with friends, catching a Peter Pan musical with my best friend and nieces and relaxing.  It was a short but nice trip.

Silly girls at Peter Pan

Silly girls at Peter Pan

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My sister's youngest girl - Juliet.  She's quite the character!

My sister’s youngest girl – Juliet. She’s quite the character!

After several days in California, I boarded a plane to Seattle to meet up with C and start our babymoon in the Pacific Northwest!