Thursday, 28 June 2018

2018 Mid Year update

Amy had a brilliant idea recently. She suggested that me, Sepha, Amy and Cesca send email updates as well as our little whatsapp conversations, and whilst I originally groaned at the idea, I loved receiving their emails, written in their unique styles, and getting something a little more in depth than a few snippets here and there.  For me, I found it very cathartic writing everything down - I could be more personal than I am on the blog, and the act of writing it down made me feel better.

I have been pretty down the last few weeks.  America was awesome, but I felt sadness at returning to New Zealand and my job - I really enjoyed being parented by Aric's folks, it made me miss my own and my friends, I've been feeling a little out of place in New Zealand recently.  Friendship groups have been changing, living with a boyfriend can be slightly isolating after living in shared houses with friends for 12 years, I hate my job and the stress of not knowing where Aric's next posting will be and if I will get residency has been taking its toll on our relationship and my general happiness. I have been putting on weight all winter (and Summer too if I am honest) as I am much less active than I was last year, and I came home and cried after my first pilates session after our holiday because I was the fattest and ugliest girl in the class.

So I wrote my friends a life update, went to the gym 3 times this week, received my residency (wahoo!) and Aric just got told his new posting will be in Beirut.  I feel so much happier. I feel more normal and me again. Before I felt sad all the time and like there was no hope.  It's hard to get yourself out of that hole. And I am pretty bad at hiding my emotions so I come across like I am in a bad mood and like I am angry with everyone when really it's just my insecurities and my brain being silly. I think also the winter has something to do with it.  I barely have bad moods in the summer but I feel pretty low in the winter.

I really enjoyed America.  Los Angeles was pretty terrible - a beige concrete jungle filled with cars, but we stayed with his cousin and her husband, baby daughter and toddler son and dog.  They were so lovely to us, lending us their cars and not letting us pay for anything.  We went for a big family dinner with his Aunt and Uncle and cousins, and I met his great Aunt and Uncle, who took us for a spin in his 1960s truck.  We went to a Dodgers baseball game which was quite the experience - all you can eat hotdogs and fireworks on the field afterwards.   We drove down to San Diego where me and Aric fought over the fact he bought 3 baseball caps when he already has 50 back home, and I got mad at America because a guy was skateboarding on the pier and got told off by a tannoy system. (I think I was slightly jetlagged this day hence all the anger).  We bought lots of clothes (when I say we, read Aric), ate lots of Mexican food and drank lots of beer (again, Aric).

The next 2 weeks were spent in DC, New York, Baltimore and the Shenandoah Valley.  We had a few days in DC to chill with his parents, I met his beloved dogs (and realised I don't want a dog of my own, at least not now) and we went to the DC zoo where I waved at an Orangutan and he waved back, and we spent 30 minutes watching a baby Orangutan playing.  We had a fight in a hipster cafe because I was tired and had constant stomach cramps and felt super grumpy.  We then drove to Brooklyn where we had an awesome afternoon strolling around in the sunshine, stopping off at bars Aric was randomly selecting off google maps, including one that had heaps of arcade games in it (conveniently called 'Barcade'), finishing up in a late night diner for blueberry pie.  We stayed in an airbnb where our room had no windows, it was stifling hot, Aric slept on an airmattress and there was an indoor cat who had the smelliest piss alive. We went to Manhattan where it rained and the cloud was down low so we couldn't see the tops of any buildings (like my last time here, argh!!).  Aric's friend works at the Met and gave us free tickets and a mini tour which was awesome.  We shopped (Nordstrom Rack is amazing) and walked along the Chelsea Highline.  We wandered round Central Park in the rain, which sounds romantic but the reality isn't.

The following morning we woke very early and there was a tremendous rain storm, so we decided to call it a day and left for Baltimore, which we reached by 10am.  Here we strolled around the inner harbour area, bought tickets to explore a submarine where I forgot I was claustrophobic, and an old slave hunting ship.  This was brilliant and I highly recommend if you ever find yourself in Baltimore.   We went into the Barnes and Noble, located in an old powerstation, an amazing bookstore with games, books, stationery and gifts.   We ate Chick-fil-A at the waterfront and drove home.

Back in DC, I spent Saturday with his mum, getting a massage and having lunch and shopping, whilst Aric hung out with 2 of his best friends who were in town.  On Sunday his parents opened up their home to friends and neighbours, who all came to welcome Aric home.  It was really lovely meeting all these people from all walks of life, who knew Aric or his parents from work or home or church or hobbies.  I was a bit terrified meeting all these new people but I enjoyed myself, though I did hide in the bedroom a few times for a breather.

We then headed down to a log cabin in the Shenendoah National Park that his parents had kindly rented for 2 days. It was AMAZING - 4 bedrooms, ensuite bathrooms, huge living area, a dedicated games room with table football, pool and ice maker in the built in bar, a lake with kayaks, a golf cart, a hot tub.  All 6 of us (that's 4 humans and 2 dogs) had a whale of a time, taking walks and reading books on the deck overlooking the lake.  It was extremely relaxing and exactly the downtime we needed after our non stop schedule and socialising.

Our final few days were spent exploring Mount Vernon - George Washington's home, which I found incredibly interesting, surprising myself.  In school we learned nothing of America's history or the war between Britain and America in 1775 or 1812.  The museum at Mount Vernon is excellent - interactive and very educational.  The house itself has been restored to its former glory as when George Washington lived there, and is stunning.

America this time round was different to my previous trip. I guess this time I was much less of a tourist, travelling with a local. I found everyone to be friendly, though Aric's neighbourhood did creep me out a bit in the beginning - everyone knows each other's business, they all bake for each other, they drop by for coffee - it was like in the movies except in real life and it made me suspicious.  I spent the first few days in LA worried we were going to get shot and being baffled by the fact that when cars indicate they don't have an orange blinker, and that you can turn on red.  I really enjoyed the company of Aric's parents and being parented and looked after.  I was sad to leave and look forward to returning.

Right, now I am off to do Beirut research...

Friday, 2 March 2018

Microblog 4 - Samoa

Samoa was a wee bit stressful from the beginning. A cyclone hit on Friday night just after Aric had arrived.  I got a phone call from him on Saturday morning,

me: "hey babe, how are you, enjoying Samoa?"
Aric: "didn't you see the news? There was a big cyclone and we got hit and I had to be emergency evacuated at 3 in the morning because the hotel had flooded"
me: "oh, that wasn't what I was expecting you to say!"

He was fine but a bit shaken, an emergency night time wade through a neck high river in PJs will do that to you!  Luckily there were no reported deaths and the weekend stayed fairly dry but stormy, allowing the flood waters to recede and the Samoans to get back on their feet.

It was a bit up in the air as to whether I would be going out there, however Air NZ hadn't cancelled the flight and my insurance would only cover me if they did, so I went anyways, preferring to spend my time in a cyclone hit country with my boyfriend than be at work.   But it was fine - I was very impressed when I arrived. Apart from a few downed trees in the forests, and the odd fale roof on the ground, the Samoans had been very industrious and cleaned up very quickly, you could barely tell a cyclone had whizzed by a few days earlier.

I wouldn't recommend Samoa in rainy season - 1) cyclones, but 2) the humidity is unbearable!!! Everything was hot and sticky.  Even if you got into the pool or the sea, it was bathwater temperature - not gunna lie, I did struggle a bit!!!

Aric had to work Thursday and Friday so on the first day I went into Apia, the main town, and wandered round.  There isn't too much to see and the heat was making me feel a bit ill, as well as the constant cat calling i was subject to.  I haven't been cat called in a very long time and it did shake me up a bit which surprised me, but it also made me appreciate New Zealand that little bit more as I haven't been cat called in my entire 2 years there.  I met Aric for lunch after wandering round for 2 hours, then headed back to the hotel to melt into the pool with my book.  We were staying in a really fancy hotel courtesy of his work, so I sat in a shady spot in the pool and chilled out for a few hours until he got back.

That evening we'd been invited for dinner at his colleague's house, so we got in a cab and drove up the hill where we were greeted by his colleague and his wife, and an amazing food spread.  They were really nice and his wife was Japanese and had cooked some delicious food which I couldn't stop talking about the next day.

The following day I decided to be ridiculously lazy and had a pool day.  I think I did a little kayak in the bay next to the hotel but apart from that I sat down on a sun lounger and didn't move until Aric came back from work. That evening I had one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life....

We went to a cultural show dinner, and I got picked out to do a dance competition with the performers. I tried to refuse but they (and Aric) were quite I had to do it.  I am pretty sure I was as red as a beetroot and I hated every second but I had to smile the entire time so as not to look grumpy. We had to learn some dance moved in front of everyone (anyone who knows me knows I am TERRIBLE at dancing) and then compete with other members of the audience.   My dance partner was jumping and doing all sorts in front of me whilst I stood there awkwardly swaying my hips as I was too embarrassed to do anything else, wishing the ground would swallow me up.  Cringe. 

We got a taxi home and all the taxi drivers are super chatty and friendly, but they all want your business to drive you round the island seeing the sights.  Our driver offered his services but we politely declined, saying we'd hired a car tomorrow.  We asked him if he recommended any spots on the island and he replied 'no' and didn't talk to us the rest of the trip home.

The following day we picked up our car, a little Rav 4 - as we pulled into the car rental place there was a smashed up Rav 4 on the forecourt, luckily not ours! But it did make us change our mind about buying car insurance.

We drove to Piula Cave pools, a nice refreshing freshwater pool next to the sea.  You pay $5WST each to get in, we stayed for about 20 minutes as we had lots to go and see.   Outside of the pools there was a BBQ so we treated ourselves to a very cheap and yummy lunch.

We then headed to Te Sua trench which I was most excited by - a huge hole in the ground filled with sea water.  You have to climb down this rickety old ladder to get to the bottom - not going to lie I was a bit scared, however looking at photos from a couple of years ago it looks like they've made lots of improvements to the ladder!! We swam about in the watering hole for an hour or so - the waves wash in and out but you don't notice it until suddenly the water all seems to start draining from the hole and you flow out with it, but you can't see where the water is coming from or going to - it's a bit of a weird experience.  We did take some photos on the GoPro but they didn't come out very well at all sadly.

We carried on driving and stopped off at some pretty waterfalls, then went to head to a beach on the south but the road was blocked with a huge landslide from the cyclone, so we headed back and checked into our hotel. 

I got pretty drunk and then felt ill because it was so hot. Not a good idea.

The following day we kayaked at the hotel for a bit then headed out to the Giant Clam Observatory - a lot of things shut down on Sundays in Samoa as it's a day of rest, but our hotel assured us this would be open.  Spoiler alert - it wasn't. As we'd driven an hour to get there, we weren't to be defeated and ended up at a resort nearby where we could swim and eat food.  No giant clams though unfortunately. Did see an awesome blue starfish, luminous blue fish and a black and white sea snake though. OH OH OH and they also had a tiny tiny kitten who fit in the palm of my hand and made me happy for the rest of the day.

Monday was our last day, so we checked out of the hotel and drove to Apia, stopping at Robert Louis Stevenson's house on the way back - the gardens are beautiful.  There is a summit walk you can do there but the cyclone has blown trees into the path.   We wandered about Apia for a bit, Aric bought another island print shirt, then we headed for a resort near the airport  - turns out we were the only ones there so we swam and played scrabble and ate chips until it was time to get on the plane and fly home.

All in all it was a nice break but I was almost glad to get back to New Zealand to get away from the humidity!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Microblog 3 - Jan 18

Have been crazy busy since being back home. Happily reunited with my love, we have been busy with lots of social and not so social activities.  I introduced Aric to silo cinema (an outdoor cinema in Auckland where they project onto an old silo). We watched ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ which was very good but I was tired from the flight still and fell asleep half way through.  The following day we hosted a games night at Aric’s with some of his colleagues  which was a lot of fun.  Games are such good ice breakers. Then on Sunday we bought some plants in an attempt to be more green fingered, went to a photography exhibition in the museum, had a picnic in the park with Amy, Colin and Sam and then went to the Cakes and Ladders board game cafĂ© to play a game called Carcasonne which was fun.

Following Thursday was Franzi’s birthday so we did this thing called ‘Taste of Colour’ which was so much fun – a) because I haven’t seen my friends for over a month and b) because it was a painting class.  We painted the Eiffel Tower which was very hard and amusing watching people’s concentrating faces as they painted (or tried at least!) straight lines.  Seeing as 8 of us who went all live in houses together we now have 2 houses filled with paintings of the Eiffel Tower haha. 

The next weekend was a public holiday so Aric and I went away camping up to Doutbless Bay, an area neither of us had been to before. It was nice but I think there’s just as nice beaches only an hour away from Auckland so you don’t need to travel so far.  Northland I find a bit dull to be honest compared to the rest of New Zealand – it’s not as pretty or as many things to do. We went up to Cape Reinga which was awesome, and tried to kayak but the onshore wind was too much and it didn’t make it pleasant so we gave up. We stopped off at Matapouri 'mermaid pools' which have been on my bucket list for AGES and I am happy we finally made it there. It's essentially this huge rock pool on the side of a cliff and it's beautiful - a pretty climb and descent to it too. 

Then this weekend we had ANOTHER long weekend with Waitangi Day on the Tuesday, so I booked Monday off.  Aric’s parents were in town, so I got to meet the ‘finlaws’ who are bloody awesome. We went for a brilliant dinner on Thursday eve at Woodpecker Hill in Parnell which is very good food, then Friday Aric did a BBQ at his house with some of his friends, Saturday we went to Tawharanui and Matakana markets, and Sunday we drove down to Mt Maunganui where Aric had hired a bach (holiday home) for us and his parents.  I have had a large dose of them but I have enjoyed every minute – they’re so easy to get along with and very funny.

Aric has now gone to Samoa so I have a weekend without him finally (haha I joke – I already miss him) so taking his parents to the airport tomorrow morning, hopefully going on a hike tomorrow if the weather isn’t terrible and going to have a life admin Sunday. Then I join Aric in Samoa on Wednesday – I am very excited!! This will be the first time I have left NZ in over 2 years for as holiday (I don’t count the UK as a holiday). However I looked at the weather and it currently says thunderstorms and 100% chance of rain every day. Boo.