Sunday, August 17, 2008

Back in the USA - West Coast edition

So after the longest August 8th on record (18 hours in NZ, 12 hours over the Pacific and 14 hours in LA), we arrived at my sister Sarah's house to the cheers of three amazing, smiley nieces (and their sign, at left). Despite the red eyes and crippling jet lag, we were immediately invigorated by the girls. Once my brother-in-law Mark got home from work, the 7 of us ate and laughed well past the young girls' bedtime.

We spent the next three days in a complete haze--waking up early for morning baby duty, napping, and eating some of our long-forgotten favorite American foods (mmmmm In-N-Out Burger). My littlest niece, Ariella, just started on solid foods, so at the right you'll see Deanna feeding her some mushed up carrots. Another new skill she developed while we were gone is crawling. Her sisters call her "speed turtle" (after a kids song) and her favorite toy was an empty water bottle.

We gave the girls their presents, Ao Dai dresses from Vietnam (Ariella has one too, but it's just a little big on her), so enjoy that picture below.

One day we went to see a marimba band play for free at The Farmers' Market at the Grove. Watching the girls dance the afternoon was priceless beyond words, so here are some pictures and a video.

And to round out the musical highlights of the trip, here's a video of Dalia jamming on the harmonica while Sarah and Aliza play the blues on the piano:

All in all, it was an amazing few days. We were very sorry to say goodbye, but New York is calling. We're in New Jersey right now with Deanna's parents (after 3 days in Maryland with mine) and are almost adjusted to this time zone. Stay tuned for a photo gallery from New Zealand and another blog with a trip wrap up. I have my cell phone again (same number), so feel free to call and chat anytime.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Last day abroad!

Here we are, checked out of our hostel in Auckland, waiting to head to the airport. This mood is quite representative of our trip--a man (and woman) without a country, homeless and happy. We're pretty excited to fly back to the states and see our friends and family. But "excited" isn't really the word to describe our feelings for having our own closets, bathroom and kitchen again... But before I get all sentimental and start recapping the trip, here's one more blog about our time on North Island, NZ.

After our 2-week road trip on South Island, we flew north to Wellington. It was a pretty rough day: start of the job search, cold and rainy, and a plane ride so bumpy that I almost cried. But all was alleviated when we found ourselves eating dinner at Sweet Mama's, a fantastic restaurant modelled on the food at New Orlean's JazzFest. I ate the second best crawfish monica of my life. And the po'boy was pretty great too. After dinner we caught up with Nico, our tour guide from Chile's lake district, and his girlfriend Kristen. Always great to see friends on different continents!

We spent a great day in the Te Papa museum, which houses exhibits on all aspects of New Zealand--from Maori culture to geology of the islands. At the right you'll see a Maere, a traditional Maori meeting house. We also caught some of the Wellington International Film Festival--make sure you go see Young @ Heart, a fantastic rockumentary about a group of people in their 80s and 90s singing contemporary rock songs.

The next day we rented another car and drove up to Rotorua to soak in some hot springs and absorb more Maori culture. We took in a show at Te Puia cultural center, which houses the Pohutu Geyser (picture below), the biggest one in the southern hemisphere. At the left is a guy doing the Haka, traditional warrior dance (to try to scare the enemy off the battlefield before the fight even starts). Also pictured below are women dancing with poi, which were used by men for battle training and women for rhythmic drumming. Here we also got to see the rare Kiwi bird, which was a lot bigger than we imagined. Unfortunately we couldn't take a picture of it as they're nocturnal and camera flashes blind them.

Next, we went to the Waitomo glow worm caves. The cave system is dug 130 feet below by underground rivers. A weird moth / maggott insect lives on the walls of these caves and their excrement glows in the dark. The bioluminecense creates an amazing effect that makes you feel like you're outside looking at thousands of stars in the sky. Unfortunately, the glow worm pictures didn't really come out. Below left is a shot of the glow worm larvae, which look like little strands of fishing line hanging down from the caves.

In two hours we board our flight to LA. 4 days there with my nieces, then we'll fly to the East Coast to see our families in Maryland and New Jersey. We'll be back in NYC by the end of the month, but stay tuned for some more blog posts with videos and a trip wrap up. See you soon!