Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Travelog: Windy Wellington

A weekend getaway to Wellington, New Zealand was the perfect way to beat the winter blues (even if it was even colder there than Sydney).  Since R had work meetings scheduled in the beginning of the week, we took advantage of the weekend to explore before it was down to business.  
After a late night landing, we awoke to a very wet, windy, and quiet city.  The umbrella lasted about ten minutes before I realized why I was the only one carrying one amidst the rain..crazy winds! We sought shelter at The Crab Shack where they served warm clam chowder and fresh fish burgers on the dock amongst the cutest decor.  
My favorite rainy day travel activity? Museum hopping!  We were impressed by Te Papa, the national museum and art gallery of New Zealand.  We were pleasantly surprised to find an Andy Warhol exhibit on display.  Too bad I couldn't take any pictures while inside, but it was interesting to see his early sketches and learn about his troubled life, ideas on fame, and influences on pop culture.  
Some other things we saw…the world's largest squid on display, a cow made from corned beef tins, holographic projections of pacific islanders, a section dedicated to the queen, and a giant interactive floor map of New Zealand. Random, I know.
Luckily, the afternoon cleared up as we walked along the harbor and explored the quirky neighborhoods.  The authentic Italian pizza and pasta kept us warm for dinner and we couldn't resist the crepe stand on the walk home.  I will never turn down a nutella crepe...ever.
Sunday brought lots of sunshine…and everyone who had been hiding indoors the day before.  THIS is what we expected Wellington to be like.  Locals, families, and tourists alike all buzzing at the markets for live music, fresh produce, and seafood.  The fishermen docked their boat to display their morning catches, take orders, and filet your fish on the spot…now that is service that R and I are definitely not used to seeing!  
If the crowds weren't gathered around the markets, they were being active and running along the pier or hiking up one of the many scenic trails.  We joined in the adventure for a scenic hike to the top of Mt. Victoria lookout.  Plenty of pine cones and err "road blocks" along the way (from high winds knocking the trees down!).  They don't call it "Windy Wellington" for nothin'!
Instagram highlights from the top!  What a view.  
Our 360 degree view was a cool spot to watch the drastic changes in weather, but the wind got the best of us.  
Winds up to 100 mph, y'all! Apparently the top of Mt. Victoria is the windiest point on Earth besides Antarctica (which has winds up to 200 mph).  We both lost our footing a couple of times and had to hold onto whatever we could find!  You can imagine what most of our pictures look like at this point…lots of hair, squinted eyes, and shaky lens.  And don't even ask about flight turbulence on the descent in...
After feeling like we had been in a wind tunnel, we stopped at Mac's Brewbar to unwind over their selection of local brews.  Earlier that morning, we followed the hipsters to a cajun-inspired brunch and tacky decor at Sweet Mother's Kitchen.  
After a full day of hiking, we took a ride on the classic cable car up to the botanical gardens. Confession…after walking around the gardens for 5 minutes, we both gave each other the "I'm over this" look and ran back on to catch the car going back down without hesitation.  Pretty scenery overload! We got it checked off the list, though (I'm all about crossing things off).
Speaking of lists, I accomplished a new experience…explore a new city ALONE for a day.  This may seem insignificant to some, but when I thought about it, I had never gone sightseeing in another country by myself (besides Sydney).  As much as I missed Ronnie while he was in work meetings, I found a great sense of inner peace and independence walking along without an agenda in this vibrant, coastal town.  
Many people ask why I chose not to work as a nurse while living abroad.  One of the reasons is not only so that I can travel with R without limitations, but I was also in pursuit of finding myself and taking a step back from a stressful time in my life.  Not every day do I feel like I am taking full advantage of growing my character and making the best use of my time.  On the days that I do, though, I am reminded that Ronnie and I are where we should be and I feel lucky to be supported in my decisions.
While I was up at the crack of dawn to fly back to Sydney, R had to board this small propeller plane to a town with volcanic activity, hot springs, and waterfalls.  If you had to pick a place to settle, Wellington has got it all.  The laid back capital city of NZ is a quaint town full of cafes and culture, has breathtaking views as the city is situated around water and mountains, and is occupied by friendly and active people.  It is also where they shot all of the Lord of the Rings series' for any fans out there.  

Another one for the books.  We are excited for our return to New Zealand on our anniversary trip to the South Island in October, especially Queenstown.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Heavenly Day

Blessings.  What comes to mind when you hear this word?  Prayer, worship, good wishes, and love are all terms I think of.  Three years ago, the phrase took on a whole new personal meaning in the form of a "blessing ceremony".  A day that will forever be the most "real" day of my life.  
I haven't shared this sacred day with many, but as I woke up to an email from my mother-in-law reminding me with the slideshow of pictures and reminiscing of that day, a flood of emotions came back to me and I wanted to express myself.  About two weeks before my mother passed, it was obvious that she wasn't going to walk me down the aisle in October. 
 I remember so clearly laying in bed with my sister trying to face the harsh reality of what was to come, but also wishing we could find a way for our mom to be a part of the wedding….and then the brainstorming for a pre-wedding ceremony in our backyard began.  After very emotional calls to our preacher and photographer, Stacy Cross (who dropped everything from out of town to be there), we were overwhelmed by their immense support and encouragement that we knew this was the right thing to do.  
Three days later, I was helping my extremely frail mother into the purple gown she had purchased six months prior with all intentions to walk me down the aisle in as the proud mother of the bride.  Without any planning from my part, family friends pulled together to lend me a gorgeously detailed white dress (that was a family acquaintance's daughter's prom dress) and Ronnie a tux, while the Scherwin family brought the pretty flowers, cake, toasting flutes, etc.  The chandelier that my mother picked out to swing above the trees during our wedding ceremony was hung in our backyard. Our preacher brought the candles that the mothers would light in unity and we said our vows before God and our immediate family that sunny afternoon.  
Patty Griffin said it best in a verse from her song, "Heavenly Day" (which our photographer so perfectly picked as the picture slideshow song):

Oh heavenly day, all the clouds blew away…
Tomorrow may rain with sorrow
Here's a little time we can borrow
Forget all our troubles in these moments so few
All we've got right now, the only thing that
All we really have to do
Is have ourselves a heavenly day
Lay here and watch the trees sway
Oh, can't see no other way, no way, no way
Heavenly day, heavenly day, heavenly day...
 This charm was gifted by our preacher and his family for my sister and I to give to my mother to hold as she walked me down the aisle (which was later carried as my sister walked me down the aisle at our wedding ceremony).  As much as I loved the wedding planning process and spending time putting detailed personal touches on our October reception, THIS day was the real deal.  Strip all of the materialism away, and there you have it…unconditional love, unfailing family, and binding promises. 
Right after the most spiritual moment of us all coming together in a circle of prayer, I specifically remember Ronnie telling me, "Now THIS is what every wedding should be about".  Amen!  I praise God that my mother was able to witness us saying our vows, to give me away to the love of my life, and to pray over our marriage (and that we all had the strength to get through that day).  As my father-in-law told me, this day reminds us how precious life is.  Precious, indeed.

Blessing ceremony photos courtesy of Stacy Cross Photography
Timing couldn't have been any better on an invitation to see the Sydney Symphony's rendition of Verdi's Requiem at The Opera House.  Anne is a regular symphony goer, so not only did she show me the ropes as her date, but we had the best seats in the house!  First of all, the concert hall is so grand and breathtaking with the massive organ and cathedral-like ceilings.  Oddly enough, the requiem is sung in Roman Catholic churches, at funeral services, and on the anniversaries of deaths of particular people and is known as the solemn mass for the dead.  It was such a moving piece and really spoke to me. 
 When I realized the next morning that it was the three year anniversary of our blessing ceremony, I immediately told Anne about the irony and beauty of it all.  That afternoon, she surprised me with a champagne toast and biscuits while I showed her the pictures from that intimate day. She will never realize how much that small gesture cheered me up and touched me.  Speaking of blessings!
Catching up on last week…
A precious Independence Day e-card from Anne (Teddy included).
Just the usual late night chats with Teddy and his auntie, looking confused at the screen.
Random tree hanging from a crane on my walk home…save the trees!
Loved this "selfie" of these Austinites together…they're trying to make us jealous.  We are so happy that my sister and R's brother are both in Austin now and can't wait to visit everyone together! 
Burger joint and impromptu air hockey game before catching a movie…the usual.  Haven't found a burger place that is up to our Texas standards yet, though.  O, and we learned from experience that when you order a strawberry milkshake, you literally get milk with strawberry flavoring.  A "thick shake" in Aussie terms is our version of a milkshake, so don't make the same mistake.  
With the constant cold and rain, Anne bought Teddy a rain coat ha.  Spoiled. 
I am so proud of my sister for moving into her own apartment and hosting her first guests in her perfectly decorated place!  The bachelor watching tradition continues. 
Evening "walks" with Teddy are the best.
Like the tourists we are, whale watching has been on our list for awhile now.  We heard that July was the best time of year to catch the humpback whales migrating north where they give birth and mate in the Coral Sea.  The boat took us about an hour out past the gap where the searching began...
Bad luck for us, we hit rocky seas and a storm wall rolling past us.  Can you tell that R is pleased?  The positive in all of it was that we saw plenty of rainbows in our path.  R said it best, "If we were on a rainbow watching cruise, we would have hit the jackpot!"
Instead, we did our best to catch a breeching whale.  We saw a few pods and a mother and her calf along their journey, but not too much activity out of the water.  R called me the whale paparazzi because I was waiting for that picture perfect moment, but that never happened.  Maybe next time!  It was still an adventurous way to spend a Sunday morning in stormy Sydney.

Travelog: Wellington, New Zealand comin' at ya next from last weekend!