Europa 50

Joined April 2018Living in: Napier, New Zealand
  • Day38

    The circle is complete

    October 28 in New Zealand

    While waiting in the Singapore Airlines business class lounge I looked up to see a very familiar famous face. Fighting the urge not to strut up to this person and start talking I quietly told Jean and instead we clicked off a couple of sneaky selfies. I hope he forgives me, but I'm a massive fan of his and couldn't miss the chance. See if you recognize him in the photo below.

    After 3 flights with 2 different airlines and 36 hours of continuous travel we finally made it home to NZ, touching down in Auckland just before 11am Saturday the 20th of October. We had been away almost exactly a month and it was lovely to see New Zealand sail into view as we flew over the Manukau heads. In less than twenty minutes we had breezed through border control, collected our bags, which is always a relief, and sauntered through customs. Rolling our suitcases through the arrivals hall we emerged into warm Auckland sunshine, which is an uncommon event for us. Normally it's winter when we return from overseas, so this was a real treat. Catching the shuttle to our airport hotel we checked in, reached our rooms and zonked out for the next seven hours. Bliss!
    Read more

  • Explore, what other travelers do in:
  • Day29

    The long way home

    October 19 in Singapore

    We left Istanbul yesterday about 2pm and flew Lufthansa to their hub in Frankfurt. It was a short 3 hour flight, but comfortable and the meal was decent. The only fly in the ointment was on landing in Frankfurt. The Germans aren't doing themselves any favours if they want to lose their reputation for being officious and sticklers for rules. We were only transiting, but still had to go through security. Because we were flying business class we could go through the Fasttrack lane. If that was fast then slow must be glacial. Most of the delay was down to one portly Aryan who liked his job just a little too much.

    After finally getting to the front of the line and emptying my pockets, putting all electronics in trays and pulling out my pockets to show they were empty, the hauptsturmfurhrer let me proceed to the body scan station. Obviously this wasn't revealing enough so the next drone had to feel me up. Eventually we cleared security and made our way to the Lufthansa business lounge. This space made up for the negative experience at security. Lightning fast wifi, good food, a range of space and chairs, including zero g chairs to relax in.

    After about four hours in the Business Class Lounge bliss we made the long walk to our gate and boarded our Lufthansa A380 for our flight to Singapore. Finally we got to ride on the upper deck of a plane. Lufthansa's A380 Business Class is comfortable and very nice, but China Airlines business offering remains our favourite. 12 hours after leaving Frankfurt we landed in Singapore. Currently we are relaxing in the Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounge, scoffing the complimentary food and drink and taking advantage of the showers to refresh ourselves. One more 9 hour flight to go and we will touch down on home soil.

    Check the links below for video of our Lufthansa Business Class experience.

    https://youtu.be/Thn-ByAGpjU

    https://youtu.be/yhGlSAuEvVA
    Read more

  • Day27

    How bazaar!

    October 17 in Turkey

    Today we travelled over 2000 years in less than a day as we toured the ancient and contemporary city of Istanbul. There are a few mega-cities on the planet and Istanbul is certainly one of them. With over 15 million people living in this bustling metropolis you certainly notice that number when you hit the road. That's when it seems that every resident owns a car and all of them are heading exactly where you want to go. In Auckland this would cause complete gridlock, but here the drivers just get on with it and wriggle and swerve into spaces you'd swear they'd never fit, but the end result is the flow of traffic continues.

    After 45 minutes we arrived in the centre of old Istanbul and began our walking tour of this ancient place. We began with the Blue mosque, a massive holy building that is over 400 years old. Just next door is the Topkapi Palace, former home to the Ottoman Sultans who ruled their empire from this seat of power starting in the 15th century. Next was the Sultan Ahmed mosque, another ancient holy building, but one which is still used as a place of worship. This means that all women must wear a headscarf to enter, which Jean was pretty excited about. To a westerner this seems a little old-fashioned, but on the same notice was a rule I can get on board with, no leggings or yoga pants are permitted in the building. Now, can we just export this rule to New Zealand please.

    After our dose of culture we headed to Istanbul's most famous shopping centre. In Istanbul even this has a historical twist, as the shopping centre in question was the Grand Bazaar, the world's largest covered market, which has been in continual operation since 1455. Over 90 million people visit this market every year and from the hustle and bustle when we visited it seemed they might have all arrived on the one day. The bazaar is a great place to get a bargain, if you are practiced in the ancient sport of haggling. Half the stalls seem to be selling counterfeit handbags, shirts or football shirts but there are also plenty of Turkish specialties such as rugs, gold and of course Turkish Delight and Baklava. Even before we were within a kilometre of the bazaar we were propositioned by numerous guys trying to sell us their traditional hand knotted rugs. They were persistent and had all the answers to natural objections such as price or no way to get it home. I resorted to telling them that I was violently allergic to any kind of hand made textiles. This eventually did the trick and we carried on unmolested.

    We continued wandering the old cobbled lanes of central Istanbul and made our way down to the impressive waterfront, where you can look from Europe across to Asia. Two continents in one photo, now that's priceless. After admiring the serenity we caught our last taxi ride of this trip back to our hotel. Maybe fate knew this was our last ride because he sent us a doozy. Our driver spoke no English, which is fair enough as I speak bugger all Turkish, but this did make explaining our destination challenging. I bring up the photo and address of our hotel on my phone and point to it in a friendly manner. Normally this works, not today. There are two hotels in Istanbul with names that are very similar. They are in the same hotel chain. Even after reading my phone screen our driver took us to the wrong one. But at least we rode the wrong way at hyper speed. I swear he hit 150kms in some stretches, which was exhilarating. If Formula 1 is ever short of drivers just pick any 5 Istanbul taxi drivers and they'll have their guys. After the wrong hotel we eventually arrived at our correct destination, paid the driver and went upstairs to chillax in our room. Tomorrow we begin the long haul home. Aotearoa we're on our way!
    Read more

  • Day26

    A terrible beauty

    October 16 in Turkey

    After yesterday's taste of Istanbul traffic I had psyched myself up ready for today's drive to Gallipoli. We woke early and crammed in a fast hotel breakfast before riding the 7am hotel shuttle back to the airport and the Avis counter. I had pre-booked a Toyota CHR, so naturally I was given a Renault Kadjar. Does anyone ever get the rental car model they specify? Is it a giant giggle the rental companies are having at our expense? "I see you have booked a BMW 5 series sir. Please enjoy your Dacia Duster (look it up)." Mild disappointment forgotten we set the sat-nav for Eceabat, the closest city to Anzac Cove, and hit the road. All went well for the first 5ks, until I missed one lane change and we got to enjoy the charming but very narrow side-streets of central Istanbul, for about 15 minutes. Luckily I managed to get us back on the motorway and our journey resumed for about the next 4 and a half hours. Along the way we noticed a few interesting things about Turkey. Firstly the driving. The phrase 'drive it like you stole it' may have been invented here. The drivers aren't rude, they are determined and they are going where they are going, whether there is a lane there or not. Secondly speed limits. These are mere numbers to give people something to look at. At times I was doing 130 on the 120k stretch of motorway when multiple vehicles sailed by as though I were parked and if you aren't going fast enough, or move over promptly the flashy lights you shall get. Finally the wildlife. Wherever we pulled over there were what seemed to be stray dogs laying in the sun, on the motorway and at rest stops. They all seemed fairly chilled out, except for the lanky fella who chased our SUV down the road. I think he was a sheep dog though and he may have been near-sighted, so I'll forgive him.

    Eventually we arrived at Anzac Cove and looked upon the beach and landscape where so much of our Kiwi identity was forged. It was definitely lump in the throat time. I had two conflicting thoughts battling for attention as I looked around, what a beautiful tranquil place and at the same time what a horrible, impossible landscape to try and stage a landing on, against a foe with command of the heights. It hits you like a punch to the gut how tough it must have been for the men clinging to cover and trying to scale the hillsides while bullets and bombs rained down.

    After Anzac Cove we continued on down the peninsula, headed for a memorial that holds very special meaning for me and my family, the Hill 60 cemetery. Last night I was checking the internet to make sure of the location and directions when I had some very upsetting news. It seems that the road to the Hill 60 cemetery has been undergoing work since late July and is not due to be completed until the end of October. This meant that it was closed. As I read this I wasn't sure how to react. The whole reason for travelling to Turkey was so I could visit my Great-uncle's grave at Hill 60 and pay homage to the men of the Otago Mounted Rifles and the other New Zealanders who died in this especially difficult battle.

    After soaking in this news I decided that I would not be stopped. I owed it to these men to visit their graves and let them know that New Zealand still remembers and we still honour them. However, until we arrived at Gallipoli we wouldn't know just how closed the road was, so I set off hoping that the work might have been finished ahead of schedule. When we had travelled just a further 5k along the peninsula from Anzac Cove it was apparent that the work was very much still underway. The road had been completely dug up and was bare earth, ready for gravel and tarmac. It was also blocked off. I was ready to ditch the vehicle and walk whatever distance remained to the memorial, through fields, scrub and gorse. Luckily I noticed a gravel road just before the main blocked route. It looked like a farm access road, so we pointed the Kadjar down it and after half an hour, some off-roading and a few bewildered stares from farmers we arrived just 500 metres from the memorial. At this point I knew there were 76 named headstones and my Great-uncle Malachi was not one of these. What I was clinging on to though was that the names of the other 400 or so soldiers killed in this battle would be inscribed on the memorial. Approaching the quiet glade which houses the Hill 60 cemetery I don't think I breathed the whole way over to the memorial, until I located the section for the Otago Mounted Rifles. Scanning the names I finally found Malachi's and just instantly started sobbing uncontrollably. Of course I never met my Great-uncle, nor did my father, but we share the same family name and the same bloodline and I think what got me so emotional was how very far away from Southland this little piece of Turkey is and how the immediate families must have felt, never to see their loved ones again, alive or dead.

    I had brought with me a little bit of home to leave with Malachi, a sliver of paua shell from the beach at Fortrose in Southland, near where he grew up. I felt a little better in making this offering but I still found it really hard to leave the cemetery and these New Zealanders lying in a place so many miles from home. From the uttermost ends of the earth.

    Retracing our steps back to the paved and permitted roads we continued touring the battlefields, stopping at Chunuk Bair and the Ataturk memorial before reluctantly turning the car towards Istanbul and travelling back to our hotel. This was a quiet, reflective journey, except when we struck Istanbul city traffic and I had to reprise my Stig impression, bouncing between lanes like a slalom skier.

    The final challenge was to locate the rental car returns yard. I had had a heads up on how tricky this was to find, so had made a pin on a Google map to assist. Thank goodness I had, otherwise I would have had to circle Istanbul for eternity, like some 21st century Flying Dutchman, but in a Renault. Now we are comfortably back in our hotel room, decompressing and processing the day's events. Tomorrow the Istanbul city sights await.

    Click the link for Hill 60 video
    https://youtu.be/jtsoYAXiCro
    Click the link for Chunuk Bair trenches video
    https://youtu.be/gIP9MLEx0S0
    Read more

  • Day26

    Yesterday was another travelling day. We rolled out the door of our airport hotel at Gatwick and walked the arduous 50 metres to security, then checked in for our Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.

    The flight left a little late, but we've come to expect this from Gatwick. None of our flights to or from this airport has arrived or departed on time. Despite this tardiness we were very impressed with Turkish Airlines. Comfortable seats, great in-flight entertainment choices and the best economy class meal I have ever eaten. All this at a really competitive price. I would happily fly Turkish any time!

    We arrived at Ataturk Airport, Istanbul and cleared customs without fuss. NZ'ers don't need visas but Aussies do, which gave me a good laugh. Ataturk airport is showing its age, but an impressive massive new airport is due to open in Istanbul...in a fortnight! Doh, just missed it. Collecting our bags, which I'm always happily surprised to see turn up, we exited the terminal and joined the throng waiting to catch taxis. Forgoing my rough and rudimentary command of Turkish I resorted to the cliched tourist fallback of sign language to communicate my destination. However, this being 2018 I was also able to show the driver a picture of our hotel on my phone. Message received and understood we blasted off into peak hour Istanbul traffic. Although it was only 6k's to the hotel that was long enough for Jean to leave finger indentations in her seat, as she held on for all she was worth. Meanwhile I was grinning like an idiot with my head on a swivel trying to take it all in. One thing is for sure, we ain't in Kansas no more and so far I love it.
    Read more

  • Day24

    Going backwards to go forwards

    October 14 in the United Kingdom

    Yesterday we bid a reluctant farewell to the grandeur and luxury of Disney's Wilderness Lodge and rode the 45 minutes to Orlando International airport. We checked in, cleared customs in mere minutes compared to the chaotic 90 minute clearance on arrival and departed the States on time with Norwegian Airlines just after 4pm. The trip out here was 9 hours, but due to the vagaries of the jetstream our return journey was only 7 hours. Normally this would be cause to celebrate, but in this case it meant that we arrived into London Gatwick at 4.30am. We had booked a hotel room inside the terminal itself, but seeing as standard check-in times are 3pm, we would normally be wandering the streets for hours like beggars. Not this time however, I plucked the gorse out of my pockets and ponied up the 39 pounds extra for an early check-in. This saw us in the room by 5am and zonked out to help reset our internal clocks to GMT.

    After a few hours rest my mission awoke me and I felt an irresistible force pulling me towards north London. This meant it was back on the train into central London and then a seven stop tube ride on the Victoria line, before a final short ride on a bus to pull up outside hallowed ground in Haringey. There I beheld a glorious vision, the gleaming new stadium of the glory boys themselves, Tottenham Hotspur. A little shine was taken off this spiritual moment by the fact that the stadium was meant to have been finished and in use over a month ago. No matter, this was still a powerful moment garnished with the obligatory London drizzle.

    After staring adoringly at the stadium for a while we went searching for the temporary Spurs club shop. Once the new stadium opens it will have the largest club football shop in Europe. For now there is a pokey little store tucked away on Seven Sisters road. This proved elusive and after asking three separate locals we finally located the store, right behind the bus stop where we got off. I put my temporary blindness down to the dazzling effect of the new stadium and the ever present London drizzle.

    Once I finished browsing the limited selection at the temporary club shop we headed for Oxford Circus, via bus and tube. Jean couldn't believe how busy this area was on a rainy Sunday, but London is a powerful magnet for tourists.

    Finally tired of battling hordes of tourists and the damp we rode the trains back to Gatwick, had a feed and packed our bags ready for a mid-morning departure tomorrow. Turkey is calling. Gobble gobble.

    Click the link to join my video tour of Disneys Wilderness Lodge.
    https://youtu.be/6skDU5fHnRY
    Read more

  • Day23

    Hakuna matata

    October 13 in the United States

    Whether by accident or design our last Disney Park of this Orlando visit turned out to be our favourite. Animal Kingdom has a relaxed feel that makes it seem less like a theme park and more like a botanic gardens, that just happens to encompass death defying thrill rides. That's a one-two punch that you just can't beat, calming yet terrifying.

    Once again we managed to drag our weary bodies out of bed and catch the Disney bus to be at the park just before rope drop. Overnight, as I was awake, I cooked up the fiendish plan of trying to head for the most popular ride in the park, Avatar - Flight of Passage. This is the most recent and most sought after ride in any of the Florida Disney parks. Wait times of over two and a half hours are common. I wouldn't even wait that long for a date with Salma Hayek, so luckily I had pre-booked a Fastpass two months ago. But I thought if I could race to the ride just as the park opened I might beat the horde and be on the ride within half an hour or so, freeing me up to ride something else later. Good plan, poor execution.

    I foolishly arrived at the park just before rope drop, but 3000 other people arrived before that and all decided to stand in a line just where the Avatar standby queue was. Foiled! Everyone racing for the Avatar ride did have the positive side-effect of freeing up lots of other rides in the park, which meant we didn't have to use a Fastpass to ride Expedition Everest. This is a full on, high speed rollercoaster which climbs to a great height, naturally, then flies down backwards before switching tracks and hurtling down and around the mountains to a sudden stop at the bottom. I thoroughly enjoyed it and giggled like a madman the whole time. Someone else had their eyes closed for large portions of this ride.

    After Expedition Everest we had a couple of hours until our next Fastpass, so explored the park admiring the impressive wildlife on display, including primates, crocodiles, hippos, tigers and gorillas. This was a real highlight and added to my enjoyment of the park, as the animals looked well cared for and in natural roomy enclosures.

    Our second Fastpass was for Kilimanjaro Safaris, which takes you in an off road truck through the safari park sections of Animal Kingdom. It was like being on safari in Africa, without having to suffer the inoculations or the risk of email scams. Seeing elephants, lions and giraffes roaming the savannah, or sleeping on it, as many of them were in the Orlando heat, sure works up a hunger. What a stroke of luck that I had made a reservation for lunch at the Rainforest Cafe inside Animal Kingdom.

    An hour and a half and 27,000 calories later we stumbled out of the cafe in a food induced coma and meandered around the different lands until our Fastpass time for the Avatar ride ticked by. Now I love the Avatar movie and people have raved about this new ride, so I was jonesing to get on it. I was however a little nervous, as it is a motion ride, and a very intense one at that. I have a history of motion sickness and it's these rides that cause it, so I had a full on sweat going as we queued for this treat. It didn't help that the ride had been put on hold earlier in the day because a rider had vomited mid-ride. Mounting my banshee and putting on the 3D glasses I was saying a little prayer to whatever deity would listen. None of them were picking up though as about a minute into the experience, which was astonishing from what I saw to that point, my brain realised that the vision it was processing was not exactly matching the motion it was feeling and was ready to push the abort button. In these situations my go to strategy is to close my eyes until my brain cooperates. I did this off and on throughout the ride, so saw about half of it. Jean was cackling away the whole ride having a whale of a time and she informs me that the bits I missed were spectacular. I felt so much better hearing that. I did manage to see and feel the last minute or so of the ride in a continuous chunk and I'm glad I gave it a whirl, despite what my stomach was telling me.

    Wobbling off the Avatar ride we exited the park and made a quick stop at the hotel to bring our core temperatures down from nuclear meltdown before one last dash for deliciousness at the Cheesecake Factory. Pasta Napolitano and Hershey's Chocolate Bar cheescake wrapping their cholesterol choking fingers around our hearts we finished off our last full day in Orlando with one more trip to the outlet malls.

    Tomorrow it is hasta la vista Florida and hello again chilly London. Time to ditch the shorts and hold on to your money.

    Click the link below to view video of the safari
    https://youtu.be/tIdHPwjoBqM
    Read more

  • Day22

    Yeah, but it's a wet heat

    October 12 in the United States

    Moist, that is the word which best sums up the prevailing meteorological conditions here in Central Florida. It is hot and wet. While we've been here the daily high hasn't dipped below 31, and with the added humidity it has contributed to widespread moistness. Normally moist is good, with cakes especially, but in this situation it is a challenge. Luckily I'm all about challenge, so despite the moistness we forge ahead.

    Thursday began with the power breakfast of 7-Eleven danish and minute maid lemonade, the nutritional choice of all world class athletes. Fueled and mentally braced we caught the Disney bus to Hollywood Studios. This park is the closest Orlando equivalent to California Adventure in Anaheim, even sharing a few of the same rides. I had pre-booked my Fastpass rides two months ago and was keen to get to the park for rope drop, so we could fit in a ride on the Tower of Terror, well at least I could, someone else doesn't like the drops, before the queues became too long. Unfortunately fate kicked that plan in the nuts as both Tower of Terror and Rock'n'Roller coaster, my first Fastpass selection, were both temporarily closed due to technical issues.

    Finding my happy place and staying calm in the relentless heat I quickly formulated plan B, head for Star Tours, because only the Force could save me now. In a mere ten minutes we were belted into out Galactic shuttle and skimming across the surface of Tatooine. Saved again by Star Wars.

    Emerging from the blissfully cool AC we roamed the park hunting for further rides with short lines and managed to watch the Muppets 3D before pausing for a hydration break and some trail mix. At this point we decided to take another look at Tower of Terror and Rock'n'Roller coaster, just in case. As we neared the end of the street on which both rides sit a Disney cast member was repeating the message that Rock'n'Roller coaster was still closed, while Tower of Terror was open to Fastpass holders only. Luckily for us we overheard two other cast members saying that Rock'n'Roller coaster had just opened. Armed with this nugget of info we bolted for the ride entrance, well swam through the moist air, and took our place in the Fastpass queue. Quicker than you can say 'Steve Tyler needs to cut back on the plastic surgery', we were lowering the ride restraint and hurtling through the streets of LA to the pounding tunes of Aerosmith. Rock'n'Roller coaster was worth the wait. It was flat out, with high acceleration, corkscrews, loops and inversions.

    Wobbling out of the ride and gradually regaining equilibrium we charted a course for the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, a live stunt show. Our Fastpass was a booking for the 1.15pm show, but in the spirit of Indy I thought let's take a gamble and try the standby entrance for the 12pm show. Fortune favours the brave, and the hot and sticky fortunately, and we were soon seated and enjoying the mock punches and real explosions of this movie classic. By this point our moistometers had reached saturation point, literally, so we made for the park exit and caught the Disney bus back to the hotel then onwards to Disney Springs. This is Disney's destination themed shopping mall, akin to Downtown Disney in Anaheim, but larger and more spread out, like all of Disney World. Lots of exclusive, classy brands such as Fendi, Chopard, Superdry, Tag Heuer etc. which are frankly well above my pay grade.

    Window shopping complete we decided to refuel at the Rainforest Cafe, a dining fave for both of us. By this point two tired little Disney fans were ready for the respite of the Wilderness Lodge, so we caught one last Disney bus back to the hotel and crashed.

    Tomorrow is our last Disney Parks day, Animal Kingdom and the world of Pandora awaits.
    Read more

Never miss updates of Europa 50 with our app:

FindPenguins for iOS FindPenguins for Android