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Travelogue: New Zealand

A trip without a single Kiwi sighting, but we got magnets!

After a pathetic year and a half delay, I am here to talk about the beautiful New Zealand honeymoon that I took with my honey. Before the sh*t hit the fan, we managed to have the most wonderful holiday together at a breathtaking destination and it was essentially a travel adventure together after the wedding madness. Hopefully, whenever things open up, you’d be able to visit one of the most stunning places on Earth and experience it yourselves.

We were going to NZ in the peak of the tourist season and hence, I had made the bookings a few months in advance. We tried hiring a travel consultant to design our itinerary but the price knocked me off my feet. I sorted out our itinerary in half that amount and some change to spare. Yep, I am an expert itinerary maker by now! I can’t forget how I had to completely re-pack a day before our flights to India, because I had packed assuming that it’s summer time in NZ. But just out of curiosity, when we checked the weather, we saw a lot of stormy clouds and rainfall in Queenstown. So out came all the cute rompers and shorts, and in went leggings and long skirts.

We decided to fly out of New Delhi, travel across New Zealand and catch our direct flight back to LA. Our stopover to NZ was in China, and we spent a blissfully unaware 4 hours wandering at the airport. We were already sick(no thanks to Delhi December pollution) so no reason to suspect anything! They did take our temperatures a few times ,but who knows! We had sent sent our excess baggage back with friends, because NZ local flights are insanely strict about weight limits. Yes, they check 3 times and we had to wear 3 outfits and stuff our pockets to the oblivion each time. We had wanted to see both North and south Islands and hence we divided our trip into those parts. Our itinerary was Auckland-Queenstown-surrounding areas-Auckland and I had planned it so that we do some fun and touristy activity and then relax for a day or two. Both of us are also super into AirB&Bs and enjoy actually spending time and unwinding. So it was a go-go-go and a break sort of a situation. I will expand on our shenanigans further, location wise.

Auckland: We landed in Auckland on a sunny afternoon and reached our hotel close to the airport. We were going to spend the next day and half in Auckland, do touristy stuff, and leave for Queenstown. The touristy stuff included a tour to LOTR’s Hobbiton movie set and Waitomo glowworm caves. The tour was going to start bright and early, so we spent the evening lazing around, and pounding on the ‘honeymoon special’ cheesecake. I was all set on using the ‘newly wed couple’ card everywhere. And boy, did it get me desserts!

Hobbiton was very fun! I have to admit that I have watched only 2 LOTR movies and so has Mr. PB, but it was all very exciting nevertheless! The lush pastures of the Shire, the mighty trees, the little houses are adorable and beautifully preserved. Our tour guide was really fun and enjoyed regaling us with stories. We enjoyed some mulled wine and pints, and moved onto the the next part of the tour. The Waitomo glowworm caves are something that I could never imagine! We took a boat ride and had to try and keep our mouths shut for the fear of worm excretes falling in! It was visually stunning but we have no photographs! You aren’t allowed because the camera can scare the worms. While sailing through the limestone grotto, you have to be completely quiet since the worms get stressed by sound and stop glowing. It takes them a massive amount of energy to turn ‘on’ again. There is a part of the cave called Cathedral that has phenomenal acoustic quality and a number of musicians have performed there. It was a day well spent! The next day, our flight was in the afternoon, so we could laze around, and chill. Mr. PB got a haircut too, which I think is the weirdest thing to do on a holiday.

Queenstown: Imagine lush plains and field with a gazillion sheep on one side, and a massive lake on the other. Yep, that’s Queenstown. As soon as we landed, I was in love with the place! It was everything green and just so beautiful! Our AirB&B was right by the lake and the view was to die for! The living room and bedroom had floor to ceiling glass panes that made us wake up to serenity each morning. We had adventures planned for our stay in Queenstown. The city is famous for bungy jumping, canyon swinging, and other activities that involve falling off from great heights. And we did all that! What an exhilarating experience! The swoosh in the tummy while falling down is just something else. I absolutely recommend it! We had a great time walking around amidst the greenery and grabbing bites here and there. Heck, this girl even went running by the lake and it literally, never happens! We also visited a local lavender fam which made my pose-like-an-actress dreams come true.

Fiordland: I had come across a ton of images while researching the beauty of NZ and the Milford sound fjords were in a lot of them. There is a U shaped valley, carved out by the Glaciers, 100,000 year sin the making, in the southern side of NZ. The valley is dotted with spectacular waterfalls! There are many more falls even on the way, and it’s a day long trip with plenty of stunning stops. You know the fields that you see in the movies with swaying long grass? Yep, here! Also, this was the only tour open on Christmas Day and it worked out beautifully.

Fox Glacier: After a few fun-filled days in Queenstown, we picked up our rental car and headed to Franz Glacier, which was 4-5 hours away. The travel had the most beautiful, lush fern laden sights and I could not help wonder if a T-Rex would suddenly emerge! It rained, it sunned, and rained again. When we reached, we decided to walk around and what a great idea it turned out to be! We went to check out a small trail called Minnehaha walk by our hotel, and ended up walking with a little French family with two young boys, who were looking for glow-worms! It was so exciting to peek into the dense, fern speckled trees and spot the glow-worms inside the hollow trunks. The kids were fearless and one gave me a sea shell that he had kept from a beach! ❤ This turned out to be one of the best highlights of the trip. The next morning arrived bright and early and we checked in for our helicopter ride and hike on top of a freakin’ glacier! Fox Glacier is a reminder of the might of the Earth as well as a grim nod to climate change. You can tell where the retreat and shrinkage has taken place and it all leaves you in a humble awe. We turned out to be quite lucky, as 80% of rides had been cancelled in the last 6 months because of the fickle weather. Also, once you get there, things can change really quickly, and the previous week, a tourist group had to stay in tents for 9 hours. They store everything at the heli landing site and have a very limited number of people that they take. This hike had me loaded with goosbumps throughout, and the beauty, beyond words. Thankfully, the sun was out for most of the time and we didnt have to wear our heavy jackets as much. We walked with our snow shoes on, and absolutely had to follow the guide. The guides have to come up with new trails everyday because of the ever changing conditions and safety of the ice. One wrong step, and sh*t can go south. But, dang, what stunning sights! Our last stop in Southern Island, was one for the memories. I may cautiously call it life-altering, because I have been inspired to be way more environmentally conscious than I was before. The glaciers tell a story, and the recent chapters are pretty emotional.

Auckland: This was the last leg of the trip, and I daresay, made me wish that I had skipped the city. The city is marvelous, no doubt, but is almost shut down between Christmas and January 5th. Very few restaurants were open, and the crowd was very touristy. We took the ferry on New Years’s Eve to go see a neighboring Island and spent the afternoon at a winery. We welcomed the 2020 with mellow fanfare on the terrace of our hotel, underneath the fireworks. It was a little underwhelming, and I wonder if the weird funny feeling in my tummy was an indication. Ah well!

We said goodbye to NZ on the 1st with a full heart and buckets of memories. New Zealand was phenomenal and we couldn’t be happier that we chose this country to begin our new phase of life. A small part of me was left behind in Queenstown, and it’s living it up in the rolling grass on the shores of the brightest, bluest lake ever!

I am posting some pictures, but they don’t do any justice, like none at all! Not just because the place is too beautiful, but also because my photography skills are non-existent. Ah well!

  1. If you are taking domestic flights in NZ, make sure you pack according to the weight restrictions and buy extra weight allowances well in advance for discounts. They are a nightmare when it comes to strictness!
  2. BOOK EVERYTHING 6 months before, as soon as you book your flights. Use free cancellations later. But the activities get filled out very quickly. December is the busiest time.
  3. It is southern Hemisphere for summer’s on in December, but it still gets cold and rainy. A rainjacket is a must. Queenstown rain can be heavy, so umbrellas are not that useful.
  4. The food was underwhelming for me as a vegetarian, but expect a lot of lamb!
  5. The wineries of NZ are famous for white wines, so drink up!
  6. Southern Island is better in my opinion if you like the nature. Northern Island has more big city vibes.

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The great, grand city: Ciudad de Mexico!

I have traveled to Mexico a fair few times now, mostly for good food, and dog shelter work with the rescue organization. A few months ago, our HR/company owner at work traveled to CDMX and came back talking amazing things about the city! I was intrigued, and got an email somehow the same day about freshly dropped prices. Was it a sign of the heavens above? I do not know. Did I act on it? Heck, yes!

Also, this marked the first international(well, we arent counting 5-6 hours spent in Rosarito and Ensenada) together. We were a ball of mush and quite cutesy together, and how gross! It’s cute to travel together on flights and be my grumpy self during early morning flights. I am pretty adorable like that.

We bought some insanely cheap round trip tickets from Tijuana, MX to CDMX and purchased bridge crossing tickets as well. If you dont know about it, CBX is a service that connects San Diego with Tijuana airport and you get to clear border security, immigration and all that jazz right away! It’s a pretty nifty deal and extremely convenient! Make sure you give it enough time in case there are lines. We did not find any crowds! Easy-peasy!

We landed in CDMX on Friday late at night due to flight delays, and so obviously, we did not explore the city at all. Our AirBnB was a private room in a guy’s house who works as a digital artist. The house was old, charming and beautifully done with a rustic appeal. The best part? It was in one of the best locations of the city for a walkable, fun, food and mezcal scene, with all places of touristical importance a short uber ride away!

We woke up nice and late on Saturday morning with a lot of coaxing from the boy about it being late at 10.15 am, without him actually getting up though. We got dressed, and headed out to check out Chapultepec Castle and the park. We had, had a nice brunch at Panderia Rosetta and the climb up the hill to get to the castle, took care of the calories, or so I wish to think. The castle is known to be the only one in this side of the world where aristocracy actually lived. I really wish I could tell you more about the place, but alas, all the information was in Spanish. Our spattering language skills were not enough to overcome the impatience. We looked at the architecture, paintings, displays, admired them and moved on. The castle is a beautiful sight though, and worth spending time at. While meandering through the park, we spotted Parque de Gandhi on the map and decided to check that out. We felt like we were on our own personal Dandi March because of the amount that we walked just to locate that statue and the park. We did find it, it was nice, albeit it was missing the glasses. But before the evasive statue was found, we bumped into such a fun circuit training area of the park called, you can guess it, Gandhi Circuit.

We walked a bit more around the Polanco area, exploring the posh area and finally discovered the expensive joys of e-scooters. We had some yummy gelato at what looked like an upscale place, and headed back to Condensa to enjoy the rest of our evening. We missed out on the Frida Kahlo museum during this trip because of crazy traffic in that area. We made up for it by tasting some smoothest mezcal at the 11th best bar in the world. Licoreria Limantour was phenomenal and the unexpected rains late in the evening added some noir charm to the evening. The server we had, went an extra mile to get us drunk on some complimentary taster shot and some particularly delicious drinks. We ended the night with a sugar rush at El Moro with churros and chocolate sauce. It is one of the must-do things in CDMX, but I can pass on it in the future as churros are not in my top 5.

The second day also arrived bright and late and we were totally in a relaxation mode. We explored the park next to our AirBnB that had a Sunday flea market. A big chunk of it was for dogs! They had a walk-in trailer clinic, some exercise areas, adoption posts and a lot of stalls for dogs and humans. There was a ball pit for dogs where an exuberant huskie was scaring all the terriers away! We bought some fresh fruit, yummy mango-tajin flavored popcorn and fresh coconut water. We visited the museo de anthropologico after a sumptious brunch at Bisquette Obregon with a staff that went out of the way to please us. The museum is quite stunning with a lot of information and this time in English as well. The displays are spectacular and arranged zone and age wise. The museum talks about the history of north-central-south America and the culture since thousands of years ago. The Spanish invasion was a turning point in history and we all are aware of what it did to the indigenous population. It also talks about the origin of man and that was my favorite part indeed. We explored Insurgentes that evening and had dinner at the most outstanding pizza place ever! We had a pizza with huitlacoche which is a sort of corn smut or fungi that infects corn. As disgusting as it sounds, it is delicious and is a delicacy, bringing more revenue to the farmers than healthy corn itself! Go figure! We scootered around a bit more and had some more mezcal at a dive bar, but a splitting headache made us head back home and call it a night.

The final day in CDMX was reserved for Teotihuacan pyramids. I dropped the ball here and did not book a tour on time. We ubered to the pyramids which is an hour or so on the freeway and paid around USD$40 plus some toll. When we got there, the guides seemed rather expensive and I started feeling the pinch of disappointment on my failed planning. But we started to talk to people about their tour and guides and while I was buying a hat to protect myself from the heat, the boy ended up talking to a guide and his group and he asked us to simply join him! He told us not to worry about any payments because what he did was for the love of his city! Oh my heart! We had a great time around the ruins and learning about the history of the pyramids. We learned about the Gods and how nature was such an important part of the culture. We also learnt more about the brutality of European invasion. But nothing was more intriguing than learning about the ‘ballgame’! Seriously, look that up! The winner of the game used to be sacrificed to the Gods! Real motivational! The highlight of the trip was climbing the gazillion steps to the top of the Temple of the Moon and then the Temple of the Sun. That was my workout of the month. After the tour we shopped around at the local tiendas and spent more than we normally would have. But thank you, exchange rate! We didn’t quite bargain a lot because it just felt wrong to us, to see the shacks and the people actually working hard in that heat. Were we gullible? Yes. Were we upset about it? Nope. We found out about buses at the last moment that were insanely cost-effective, and rode back to the city for chump change practically.

The last evening of the trip was spent at an upscale, classy restaurant called Azul Historico and the dinner was divine! We had some of the most creative meals and the boy even tried ant eggs! The service was phenomenal and the place was stunning! I had a soup made out of 18 flowers, and enchilada with hibiscus flowers. Wut?! Mango was the flavor of the month and my Mango Manguita was exceptional! That was pretty much it for us and the only space we had for dessert, barely accommodated the chocolate we got with the check.

Mexico City, you were stunning! We had a fabulous time and we hope in our hearts to see you again. But for now, onto the next trip!

Tips:

  1. We have been learning Spanish, and we had a bunch of trouble with things getting lost in translation, but it was fun! Not everyone can speak in English here. An app called ‘Spanishdict’ is a real life-saver! Some restaurants do have English menus though.
  2. Try all the local foods, but keep common sense in mind by asking for freshly cut fruits and keeping an eye out on hygiene. But don’t be that person who goes ‘ewwww’.
  3. CDMX deserves 3-4 days to soak in all the culture! Stay in the central part of town as per budget since that makes traveling easier. Condesa, Roma, are some of the best spots with a lot of walkable places around. The cafes and restaurants are exceptional here!
  4. Take Ubers and avoid cabs! E-scooters and bikes are in abundance here, but the costs somehow add up more than shared ubers.
  5. Chapultepec Park should be divided in to multiple days because each attraction takes up a few hours atleast.
  6. The city is mostly closed on Mondays, including the attractions, except the Teotihuacan Pyramids.
  7. You can book tours or AirBnB experience to go to the pyramids. There are buses running every 20 minutes to and from the pyramids that take about an hour to complete a one-way journey. The buses are fast and comfortable enough, and insanely cheap. You will find guides at the door, but bargaining is a must. You can even chat up a group or couple and share a guide.
  8. Hats and sunscreen are a MUST at Teotihuacan. There are zero trees and no shade. You will want to climb everything and the sun beats down on you. Stay hydrated!
  9. Tips are not manadatory in restaurants, but they do ask if you would like to tip/propina. I find it awkward to say no, and hence I succumbed each time.
  10. If you are vegan/vegetarian, CDMX is very cosmopolitan, and you will get a lot of good food choices. Go nuts!

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Travelogue : Weekend-ing at Baltimore-Washinton DC

I had a tryst with a different part of America over the last weekend.

I was over to visit my bestie AH over at Baltimore who is in US for 3 weeks on some training session through his work. It was a trip that I had to take because I am going to miss his wedding in January which is such a bummer. All in all, it turned out great because I even got to meet my very special friends! Murat, his wife and his brand new baby girl Damla! He isn’t big on Facebook but he was scrolling through the feed to read about what was going on in Ankara. He came across my picture and he noticed it was tagged in Maryland. He asked Becca if he was seeing it right. He texted me right away and we made plans within the next 15 min and AH and I drove off to Murat’s about an hour outside Baltimore. I was under the impression that he was far away! Haha! They are my buddies who got married in Turkey in September! Boy, Murat did a great job timingwise. 😛 We were teasing him about his, ahem, strong swimmers. Baby Damla is beyond cute. She is a sweetheart and she wouldn’t stop staring at me with her big gray eyes and smiling with her tongue poking out! It was a great drive with lush greens on both sides of the road and it was a great evening with friends.

In Baltimore, the location of AH’s hotel was at the harbor and it was so picture perfect with graffiti, cobbled streets, street-side cafes. I have heard a lot about the issues plaguing Baltimore currently and how it can be a rough neighborhood, and from what people told me, the downtown is a much nicer area. I did not go to the highly recommended Aquarium because I have been to Sea World 3 times and I am perhaps done with fishes for a loooooong time.

 

We took a day trip to Washington DC and saw most of the iconic buildings and monuments. We spent a lot of time at the Smithsonian and I cannot recommend enough the Air and Space museum and Natural History museum. Please do not miss the Smithsonian! Here are some pictures.

Travel tip:

  1. Perhaps the most important tip would be to factor in atleast $15 parking charges a day into your budget. We did a lot of car moving here and there and saved some dough. It’s a horrible situation with very expensive parking rates in both Baltimore and Washington DC. In hindsight, do check ZipCar availabilities around your place of stay.
  2. Wear your best walking shoes possible.

 


This trip was a particularly special one. We had always wanted to take some sort of vacation together since college days. But with me here and the boys and girls in India, it was obviously very hard. The boys do go on way more trips than my girl friends though and I feel jealous that I miss all those. Moo and I managed to travel together to Turkey, meet up in US and all that, and that ways, we are quite satisfied. With AH, we had never thought that we’ll meet up in America like this! I would have loved to have him come home and see California but financially it wasn’t possible for him and so I flew out to meet him. It was worthwhile also because of meeting Murat and ticking off DC from my list.

I cant help it, but this trip was also bittersweet. He was visibly upset when I left and he said this. ‘PB things are going to change now’. His words could not have been truer, however much in denial I am. Things are changing and they will continue to change. I am trying to hold on to those days but they are like sand between my fingers. The more I forcefully hold on, the more they escape.

Maybe I just need to let go. Everything.