This trip has been four months chock full of dreamy, surprising and delightful, but I may have found the trump card here in northern Italy.
There’s this travel secret called Help Exchange [[there are others too, WWOOF & Work Away included]]. Why it’s such a secret, I have no idea, cause it’d have been about the coolest way to spend a college summer or 4 that I could think of. [[Get ON it, Joey, Phillip, Jess & Catie!]]. Truly, it might be the greatest thing invented since wine.
In a nutshell, travelers can apply to go volunteer with hosts from around the world who need any range of help–from feeding baby goats on a farm in Australia to working on a yacht in the Med, to sous-cheffing it up at an organic cooking school in Turkey. In exchange, hosts offer a range of comforts, mostly including lodging and food. It’s pretty much a win-win, no matter how you slice it, though I suppose the richness of the experience largely depends on the host / help match.
But with a little bit of luck finally on my side, I hit the HelpX gold mine of all gold mines on my FIRST try.
Yall, I live on a vineyard. THIS vineyard:
For at least the next few weeks. I live and work and play and eat and drink on a vineyard with the loveliest Italian couple and their incredible amount of pups. Twenty years ago, Paolo and Marisa bought this little chunk of land nestled in the northern Italian Alps looking out over the Valtellina Wine Valley. They built a gorgeous home, expanded the vineyard and created a total haven up here in nature. A haven which they now graciously share with me.
From my new favorite coffee / wine perch, depending on the time of day, I have an unobstructed view of their sloping vineyard, the valley and river down below, the snow-capped peaks, almost Switzerland and absolutely heaven.
It’s perfect timing too, cause the last few weeks have been filled with an unquenchable need to be productive. I know, that sounds crazy… ‘just relax and enjoy the dream you’re living right now,’ they say. For the most part I have, don’t get me wrong. But after four months of relative ‘downtime,’ it was time to entertain my Type-A for a bit.
And here, I find my balance.
I unpacked my suitcase for the first time. I have a room and bathroom to myself, thanks to my generous host family. I get to put my hands to work while I let my mind wander. I have ELEVEN gigantic and gorgeous playmates [[oh, as if Paolo and Marissa aren’t busy enough tending to 4000 bottles of annual wine-worth-of-vineyard AND working full-time, they’re also European champion Bernese Mountain Dog breeders…real life?!]].
I get to be in a kitchen again [[oh, how travel makes me miss this novelty]]. But I don’t get [[nor want]] to be the boss chef, cause Paolo may as well have his own cooking show too. Then we sit together, with that heavenly view, a heaping plate of authentic local cuisine, a glass of red harvested from the grapes not 10 yards away from our table [[10 yards, but 4 years prior]], and they entertain my incessant questions about wine making.
Around the table, I’ve learned all about the year-round labor of love that producing my favorite good requires. And in June, it’s vine-perfecting-time here at the estate, so I spend my ‘help’ time surrounded by baby grapes, with Michael Buble blaring, the sun tingling my skin, all the while making the vines do what they’re supposed to do and scolding the unruly.
What a life metaphor, huh? Unruly as things feel at time, with a little focused TLC, all things grow straighter, stronger and more fruitful.
Raising my coffee cup / wine glass to THAT, from my vineyard home in Italia today, friends.
Ben keeps yelling at me for not keepin a minute-by-minute recap of our travels. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to mean we haven’t done anything blog-worthy…In fact, quite the opposite. Sometimes, the travel smiles pile up so high I don’t even know where to start. But for the sake of appeasing the diva, here we go…A special guest edition of the top ten things about our last ten days in paradise—written by Anne, smartass inserts by Ben:
First off, I would like to say that I have not been yelling at Anne for the above mentioned paragraph. I was promised a guest blog and was never given the opportunity until now. That is all.
1. Monkey business: As mentioned in postcard love, we found this authentic Greek shack out on the beach on Koh Lanta one morning. I ate slowly, savoring each bite of my gyro and was not-so-secretly stoked to package up the leftovers I intentionally saved for our afternoon at the beach.
Is it just me or does Anne describe everything with so much detail that it doesn’t seem real? I have never described food and/or eating like that. Food is simply nutrition that my body needs; therefore I eat it as quickly as possible without ever tasting it.
We motorbiked to the southern tip of the island, leftovers in hand, climbed some rocky cliffs to snap some of the coolest pictures to date and wandered back down to the secluded strip of white powder to set up shop for the afternoon. We walked the beach, took a break to swing, floated in the gentle waves, soaked rays…
…all of the usual beach things until I thought ‘ok. It’s finally time. It’s been an appropriate distance since breakfast. I’m goin in for the gyro.’ Apparently this jerk of a monkey was in perfect concerto with me and beat me to the punches. Homeboy sat there with a gnarly cleft-lip-intensified-growl and chowed down on my precious leftovers. You know what, I can’t even write about this anymore…#TooSoon
I was dozing off and heard what could only be described as machine-gun thunder (the monkey rapidly swinging his arms at the plastic to-go bag as if he wasn’t smart enough to use his opposable thumb and simply untie the bow-knot that Anne tied. Shortly after the ‘Garth Brooks Thunder Rolling’ I heard what I swore was a 10-year old girl crying… Little did I know, it was coming from Anne as if a tear was literally about to roll down her cheek.
2. The beach: Yes, we’re in the midst of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s honestly a honeymooner’s dream. But we also saw THE beach….You know, Leo’s beach [[insert Dad-bod jokes here]]. We ‘balled out’ for an afternoon in Koh Phi Phi and hired a private long boat. First stop after a dreamy tear through that sparkly deep blue: Maya Beach. Yes. It is as beautiful as it looks on the big screen. No, we did not get shot at by doping farmers. No, we didn’t even want to pay the 200 Baht to touch shore on the Hollywood-famed sand. But we did find a perfect [[and free of charge]] side spot to adore it all from. Leo wasn’t there in all his cushy glory, but I’d say that glorious day was fit for any celeb.
I honestly don’t know where Anne gets these descriptions from?! All I know is we, like everyone else, got on a loud long-tail boat (not ballin) and rode to this gorgeous bay filled with speedboats and other long-tails. Sure, if there wasn’t a million other tourist in the water and on THE beach is would have been the closest thing to heaven. However, it was the opposite. Hundreds of people who couldn’t swim and had to wear lifejackets as well as trash on the beach (so much for that 200 baht each person pays to keep the beaches clean). I realized when we rode elephants that Anne is either captivated by the simplest things or I am a pessimist.
3. Sunsets: Before I got my phone stolen in Cambo, I’d estimate about 65% of my photo library were sunsets. I just love em. You know the best kind? The kind over water. Our favorite sunset-gawking-perch was from atop the Banana Bar in Koh Phi Phi. I mean can you really think of anything better than an unobstructed view straight up to heaven, with those pinks and oranges streaked across God’s canvas, all the while waves rolling in between the huge limestone book ends, Bob Marley crooning and a spiked watermelon juice in hand? Yeah. I think not. That’s about as good as it gets.
Yea, both the Banana Bar and sunsets were pretty amazing. Did Anne and I just agree on something?!
4. Cool dinners: Thanks to Lucia and Breezy, Thai food is my favorite. Thanks to me, Ben now thinks ‘it’s not bad’ [[omg, drop the cool-dude-exterior and rave about something, for once, dangit Ben! It’s awesome. Just admit it]]. So we’re in Thailand and that’s all I eat. Curry on curry on curry. But the places we pick to enjoy said dishes is one of my favorite bits about this trip. My absolute favorite? Time of Lime. A fixed six course menu is sometimes the way to go. Gets you outside your instinctual order. A cozy little lantern lit spot right on the beach. A view of the sunset that faded into the green glow of nighttime squid fishing boat lights. A cool glass of rose. A lemongrass margarita. Thai chicken soup. Cashew chicken. Massaman curry. Fish cakes. Barbequed prawns. Chocolate mousse. Yup. Pure decadence. And worth every single one of the $18-ish spent. The flavors, the view, the music, the light green glow…it was perhaps the definition of ‘cool.’
Don’t get me wrong, Thai food isn’t that bad! But I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy. And did I mention I eat my food so fast that I don’t even taste it? That’s right. Pad thai, Massaman curry, all of it just goes down the pipe into the belly to feed this machine we call our body. The green lights casted off of the squid fishing boats is captivating. But Anne’s obsession with going night squid fishing is borderline crazy. We drove around on a 100 degree day on a moped looking for boats at the pier to ask if they would take us… Anne was driving at the time too (insert female driving joke here)
5. R&R from R&R: I know. I know. R&R? On vacation? I see the irony. But sometimes, when your travel buddy turns 27 in Thailand, you have to trade in the $10 digs and just go all out and find the sweetest 4-star-resort you can afford and go there and be on the beach and get massages and shower outside on the private patio and just ya know, ‘treat yoself.’ A treat it was. Former hotel snob for the birthday win. At least I thought so. Ben’s still all: ‘it’s not bad.’
There is something that I would like to discuss on this point – Anne’s inability to surprise me. First, she told me about a nice hotel she booked for my birthday; she wouldn’t tell me the price. Therefore, Inspector Gadget (me) dug around. Hmm, what would Anne use to book the hotel? How about hotels.com… Simply searched the hotels name, found the total price, divided by two, and had what each of our shares was. Anne forgets that I’m basically James Bond (with the jaw line of Channing Tatum). I knew something was up one day when she took a plate full of bread from the buffet back to the room to “feed the ducks”.. Yea. Ok. I found a spot on the beach and Anne came out 20 minutes later with a mountain of PB&Js. While I probably didn’t act as enthusiastic as she wished, it was a nice gesture. She needs to realize I’m a guy. No emotions shown and don’t get giddy over small things. Maybe her BFFFL Kara would have jumped up and hugged her, but not me. I have a masculine reputation to uphold.
6. Parrot fish: Mom made me stow a receipt in my wallet about 5 years ago with a rundown on my medical history. It’s still there—“Do not scuba dive. Your lung capacity sucks, thanks to 6 months of poison” or something to that effect… But Ben put his PADI cert to use to do some pretty sweet underwater exploring. From the surface and a snorkel mask, I did get to soak up some of my fave parrot fish, though. There! Take that, chemotherapy.
Diving in Thailand is way better than the only other place I’ve gone – Beaver Lake, Arkansas. I have done 8 dives, 1 of which is a night dive! My favorite dive was a ship on the sea floor about 25 meters down. This ship had a lot of history, but was purposely put in the ocean to serve as an artificial reef for divers and researchers. It’s hard to explain the rush in skydiving and the serenity in scubadiving. Water covers more of our Earth than land. It’s an amazing experience to witness a whole nother society free of vehicles, cell phones, and over-paid athletes/celebrities. The simplicity of marine life and Thai life go hand-in-hand. It’s about food and shelter. Your life gets put into perspective when the guy you’re renting a moped from sleeps behind his store on a wooden platform with a blanket covering him and piece of wood to protect him from the rain. No A/C. No kitchen. No bathroom. Just a piece of damn wood… That just got deep.
7. Fisherman pants: While shopping is neither of our favorite pastimes, we have folded on a few occasions for local gems and / or local knock-offs. We’re now the proud owners of cheap iphone accessories, matching ‘Same same, but different’ tanks and the infamous fisherman pants. Ben bought said pants for a yoga sesh that didn’t happen, but they’ve been a source of much entertainment…from the YouTube videos that taught him to properly tie the 5 foot circumference waist band to the time they dyed all of his white shirts pink in the wash…I hope he struts those pants at home and laughs all over again.
Best. Purchase. Ever. These things weren’t the easiest to tie at first, but they’ve become one of the most comfortable things I’ve worn this entire trip. Anne wanted some after wearing them on the elephant. She’s actually jealous that she doesn’t have a pair!
8. Google it: Did Nepal’s earthquakes send aftershocks that shook Phi Phi with a quake and tidal wave warning just days before we arrived? Is the ‘kup’ or ‘kah’ [[aka masculine or feminine]] pronoun clasped to the end of a word based on the speaker or recipient? Do we need a visa for Malaysia? How many islands ARE there off the coast of Thailand? Oh my gosh, we ask so many questions every day but the answer is always the same ‘it’s worth a Google.’ The problem is, half the time we don’t have internet, so our Google backlog is significant at present. We should really start writing down our q’s, Ben. Side note: please answer in the comments below if you have intel on any of the above.
The only answer I have for the above is that you do not need a visa for Malaysia, they pretty much give you 90 days upon arrival. Other than that, I think you shorted us. I have roughly 10 more questions that we never Googled. I love learning new things every day, but this trip I’ve been drinking from a fire hose. Too much information, too little a time.
9. Princess massages: Ben slips and calls me a ‘princess’ sometimes [[not in a nice way, either]] and it pisses me off. I’m a lot of things, but ‘princess’ I am not. Howeeevvverrrrr, I do love me a massage once in a while. Thai massage? Even better. It’s basically half massage, half someone conducting yoga with your body without you having to try. I love it. Ben’s a little baby trapped in a rigid man’s body and cannot deal. He still goes with me though and opts for the much more ‘princess’ a la carte.
A) Princess is an understatement when it comes to adjectives for Anne. She is a typical American girl. Hairdryer, hand sanitizer, and hates bugs. Plus, she’s almost too nice! When girls use the words ‘doll’ or ‘love’ after every sentence when talking to another female traveler, I don’t know if its fake or a secret code girls use. I cant stand being called a doll or love, but maybe girls take it differently? And FYI – Thai massages are like paying for a 60-minute torture session. I had a 90 pound Thai woman beat me up and I paid her for it! No thanks!
The fire show was awesome the first time we saw it. I could see Anne’s eyes glazed over and I don’t think I saw her blink once. But once was cool enough for me. The second time we stumbled upon a fire show it was around several dozen inebriated college-aged kids. I hadn’t been drinking (we all know the sober guy feeling = the worst) so I was ready to bounce after 2 minutes. Anne, however, could have stayed all night watching kerosene lit objects twirl in the air. No one likes a Debby downer, but I am used to the single life where I do what I want and don’t worry about affecting anyone else. Signs that a serious relationship is definitely not in my near future!
So yes, we’ve been busy stackin up travel smiles off the west coast of Thailand. Happy, Ben?!
Maybe it was the unbeatable sunset view atop a Bob-Marley-vibed bar looking out over the Andaman Sea earlier that evening…Maybe it was that Ben and I’d shared a few buckets of margaritas and a pile of pretty-dang-good-for-Thailand Mexican-food…
Maybe it was that we’ve been island hopping for a week now and the slow pace of Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi life were finally soaking in…
Whatever it was, Sunday night, I was in absolute awe.
We capped off our first night in Phi Phi with a glass of wine [[a Mai Tai for the stud]] and picked a seat on the beach. When the first local took the stage, dipped his gear in lighter fluid and then grazed it through the flame, my jaw hit the sand. And I didn’t bother to pick it up for the next hour…
These small, albeit chiseled, guys danced with fire on a stage on a beach on an island in the middle of nowhere. They flung flaming poi and batons through the air faster than I could comprehend. The dark of the night mixed with the light of the fire [[and ok, fine, the encouragement from a glass of red]] just had me hooked. The danger and unknown of it all was absolutely, utterly beautiful.
Most of the time, it was a precise art…an obvious culmination of years of practice, maybe even gifted to them through their lineage. Most of the time it was perfection. But some of the times, they’d mis-judge a toss and drop a flaming poi in the sand. They’d just smile, sink to the stage and pump out a few push-ups, get up, wipe the sand from their hands and get on with it…picking right back up to the beat of the music, as if they never missed the chorus. It just looked like growth and grace.
And it made me wanna dance with fire…
So then of course, all of my sentimental cheesy starts oozing together with the wine and the awe and then all of the metaphors start screaming at me…I AM playing with fire… kind of…
I mean I left home and my career and all of my comforts to come gallivant around the world for an undefined amount of time, for arguably fluffy, but important reasons. To my former ‘type-A’ self, that’s pretty fire-dancing-esque…
I could run out of money in Europe and have to figure out how to get home…
My bags could fall off the roof of the speed boat this afternoon and I’d be left with only the clothes on my back…
I could get food poisoning from the meat that sits out at the markets for hours on end, and have to stumble through a medical conversation with a foreign physician…
Honestly, anything could happen.
But it seems worth it. Dancing with fire is therapeutic and invigorating and inspiring.
Those boys didn’t mean to get all metaphorical on me. And certainly Ben didn’t know my jaw on the sand meant all these crazy things were running through my mind, but something clicked on that beach for me…
I love seeing people dare to be different… dare to live a little outside the box…dare to do what makes them happy…dare to make people smile… dare to try a little harder at the risk of failing…dare to forgive your dropped balls and do it all over again…
Find your fire, people…and then go on and dance. I dare you.
If there was one person in the world I could have had with us in Chiang Mai this week, it’d be the girl with the elephant tattoo on the back of her neck…
I always think of my little Lucia when I see elephants. She loves the things. Like LOVES them, loves them. Almost as much as I love her. So if you account for sleeping time, Loosh was on my mind for approximately 70 hours this week. Everywhere I turned, an elephant shirt, an elephant necklace, an elephant satchel. Four days of colorful elephant everything.
Then yesterday, there was a real elephant. Three big elephants and one baby elephant, to be exact. And if anyone could have smiled harder than I did, it would have been Lucia.
I struggled at first, as I’m sure Lucia would have, to wrap my head around the ethics of the whole thing…is this animal cruelty? Are the elephants treated nicely? Is this just a glorified zoo? If I visit a park or sanctuary, do I want to ride one as well? If so, which one?
Hours upon hours of research turned up a particular gem—Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai—and from what I could tell, it was a total haven for these big beauties. Their mahouts revered them. There were no chains, no hooks, no pens, no riding rickshaws. Just elephants and their human friends living harmoniously in the dense bush about 2 hours outside of Chiang Mai. If Lucia could have seen the way the people and elephants alike smiled, I think she would have approved too.
First you hop in the back of a 4 wheel drive with the A-team [[hello fellow Americans!]], windows down, Paw, our guide, singing lead to every Bob Marley, Maroon 5 and Shakira song from the last decade. Drive for two hours through the northern Thai switchbacks, with a coffee bubble tea in hand, and swoon over Paw’s incessant giggle.
When you arrive at the humble park, the small family of elephants will greet you like an old friend. You’ll be overwhelmed and slightly timid at first, but as the gentle beings sway back and forth and bat their pretty brown eyes at you, it all just melts… And you start to realize that this day is going to leave an elephant sized stamp on your life’s memory book.
You’ll learn about the village’s tradition of raising elephants. And the sad truths about some of the more circus-like attractions closer to the city [[#CountryGirlForLife]].
You’ll get buddied up with an elephant like our 37-year-old Campot and you’ll become her new bestie with a little banana-lovin.
Then, oh my gosh, Lucia, you get.to.bathe.the.elephants… Not like you grab a hose and spray them down in some superficial line-up…but you walk them down to the river and they lay down in the warm water for a good scrub. It is probably the coolest thing you’ll ever do…
Until the babe squirts water on you and you feel like you’re in some Nat-Geo-Jungle-Book medley of a dream…then THAT’S the coolest
The trek through the winding, tree-draped river and alongside the rice paddies and up steep jungle banks is only made more amazing by the fact that a multi-ton beast is gliding along underneath your groin-straining-straddle.
Lunch is served in a hut. We aren’t convinced that it wasn’t KFC Original Recipe tied up in banana leaves. But when the baby comes to clear the dishes, you don’t give a flying crap about the authenticity of lunch.
with a view like this…
and a new friend like this…
and a weird friend like this…
…nobody cares what the lunch recipe was, cause the whole thing was the perfect recipe for a perfect smile-inducing kind of day.
One that I so desperately wish I could have shared with little Lucia baby.
If you know me at all, you know that two of my very favorite things to do are suggesting vacas and inviting people to visit me. Genuine as these suggestions always are, I’ve learned the hard way to not believe an RSVP till I see it. I guess years of Army-brat-hood instilled a tiny bit of cynicism in me…cause not everyone is gonna come visit you. And certainly, not everyone is gonna drop everything to do a massive vaca. Sometimes it’s just easier to not get your hopes up…
But yall, last week, these little suggestive worlds collided when an Arkansan proved me wrong on both accords.
I think our convo went something like this:
Ben: ‘Hey! I get out of the Army in April, where are you gonna be?’
Anne: ‘Probably hanging out in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand! Wanna join?’
Ben: ‘Yup. I’ll do it.’
Anne: [[thinking, but not saying… ‘yeah RIGHT’]]
He did it. Ben Trouble, as he’s formally called in my world, proved me wrong and met me in Saigon last week. So far, we’ve spent some days doing a lot and some days doing absolutely nothing but lie on the beach with a spiked watermelon juice in hand. All of those days have made me laugh though…
We both seem to be a bit directionally challenged in Vietnam. Whether it was trying to find the Cho Ben Thanh Market in Saigon during our first hour of travel, attempting to motorbike to the most movie-esque beach ever in Phu Quoc, or just hunting down a mini-mart, Vietnamese road signs have bested us so far. Luckily, Ben didn’t get lost in the Cu Chi Tunnels though. About 100 degrees hot, 1 meter tall and far too few inches wide, my claustrophobic butt was NOT climbing down into those tunnels, but I was still sweatin bullets hoping Ben made it out alive and didn’t get lost in the labyrinth of a Vietcong underground fighting city. He made it out, albeit sweaty and cramped. And we haven’t lost each other or our bags yet, so losing track of time and destinations is actually just a funny and welcomed part of the adventure.
Ben gets hit on by more men in Vietnam than I do. Yes you read that right. The Vietnamese men loooove them some Ben Trouble. Maybe it’s the twang. Probably the broad stance. Definitely the beard. Men are falling all over this little Arkansan and it makes me giggle every.single.time. The other night, while in transit between the Mekong Delta and a little piece of paradise off the southern tip of Vietnam, we found ourselves at a local restaurant for a delicious Hot Pot dinner. As the ONLY westerners in this packed joint, we felt a little circus-like to say the least. After all eyes on us for the evening, we got up to wait for a taxi when a small group of slightly inebriated locals walked up to get a closer look. They all just shook Ben’s hand and say ‘you so handsome’ and then they shook my hand and say ‘oh, congratulations!’ It is probably the definition of hilarious.
Then there are just the moments on moments on moments that prove, without a shadow of a doubt that we are indeed NOT in Arkansas anymore. Culture shock is always a funny thing. But its kind of funnier with Ben. From the Vietnam American War Museum in Saigon [[which is a humbling and horrific dose of recent history]], to the floating markets in the Mekong Delta; from the motorbike traffic insanity, to our new water buffalo friend on Unicorn Island; from a honeybee farm, rice noodle-making compounds and coconut candy making factory, to the live ocean creatures that they season, splice and dice right in front of you at the night markets for dinner, we’ve shoved a WHOLE lot of culture into a mere 7 days. Some of it could easily overwhelm, unless you soak it up and laugh it off instead. Case in point: our new friend and host in Phu Quoc pointed us to the ocean-facing Pagoda up the road and shooed us off for a visit. I hopped on the back of the bike and we tore off. About three minutes into the trek, Ben turns to me and yells ‘what the hell is a Pagoda?!’
So perfect. We definitely don’t know what we’re doing over here half of the time. But ALL of the time, we’re soaking it up and laughing.
That’s it. It’s official. I’m in love with New Zealand. Five years since my last trip to the South Island and I can still confidently report that it is truly one of my favorite little pockets of land in the entire world. It’s just stunning. And it feels so, so good.
In these moments of pure awe, I keep asking myself ‘who, do you wish was here right now?’ Sometimes it makes me think deep, like who appreciates beautiful architecture, or who might need a laugh at this good people watching perch?….but sometimes it’s easy. This was an easy one. Landed in Christchurch, stepped off the plane and into our little Getz rental car and headed south. Easy. Done. Jori, I wish you were here.
Jori loves beautiful more than anyone I know. She hikes and bikes and loves to be outside. This girl does PNW life right. And that’s how I know we should go in on a vacation home in Queenstown together. One day, Jori. One day.
New Zealand is home to some of the best hiking, biking and outside-doing on the planet. We zoomed our little Getz to Dunedin and then Milford Sound…that’s where the ‘feels good’ set in. The last hour of our drive to the lodge took us through winding turns that felt like a PNW pass met the Swiss Alps…all close enough to the windshield it seemed touchable.
Milford Sound…Kara got it right…it’s magical. Maybe that’s why I thought of Jori so much…never have I seen such magically majestic things work together so seamlessly and impressively to create an even more magically majestic thing….beautiful mountains crash straight into the beautiful Tasman Sea. It’s even more beautiful to do the Fjordlands by boat on a morning cruise with a hot cuppa’ in hand. What a powerful way to start a day…
We used all that housed up power to hike up Key Summit, just a bit out of Milford Sound. And that was magical too…
Jori, you would love Queenstown. I L O V E Queenstown. It’s like Chelan meets German ski town, on steroids. It’s this quaint little adventure-junky-packed town situated right on top of a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains. The shops are full of famous New Zealand merino sweaters, the Ferg Burger lane is full to the brim with salivating travelers and paragliders hang in the sky taking in the sweet, pure air and ‘sweet as’ view. Seriously, can you imagine a more perfect place?
One afternoon in Queenstown, Kara and I hired bikes, stuffed a bottle of wine and two leftover coffee cups in our bags and headed to the lake-front trail. We rode with no agenda. We stopped to sip wine and sit on a dock and talk about God and life and our awe of this place. If Jori were there, I imagine we would have taken a few more Insta-worthy pics and reminisce on PNW weekends. An agenda-less afternoon well spent.
Jori, you would have loved wine day. We loved wine day even more after a slight morning hiccup. We pulled in to AJ Hacketts bungey jumping [[throwback to when Kristen and I jumped off that infamous bridge, the home to the first commercial bungy site in the world]] for a coffee and an adrenaline-stoked-people-watching-sesh. Lil Getz locked us out of the car though, which annoyed the living daylights out of me [[$150 call-out for a car jacker is near enough to cardiac arrest an umemployed backpacker]], but it resulted in one of the funniest sights I’ve ever seen. Yall, we saunter back to the car, even more ready for a 10am Pinot Noir than when we arrived, to see half a dozen people have gathered around Getz. It seems that our locked-out episode was more entertaining than the line of people jumping off bridges in the background. Locals and tourists alike had every inch of window space covered, peering into the windows to help guide the effort. I was hot to trot, but found myself giggling over how entertaining it turned out to be. An unplanned lesson in civility, kindness and making lemonade, in hindsight.
Back to wine day. It was utterly perfect. Stunning estates, beautiful Pinot Noirs and Sauv Blancs. We planned to hit half a dozen on our way to Wanaka but that’s the beautiful thing about this type of traveling…we didn’t achieve such plan when three forty-something-San Fran-Iron Man-guys distracted us for the rest of the afternoon. We sat out at an old converted church turned cellar door with a view of the mountains and a paddock full of sheep swapping stories with these guys-turned friends. A few bottles of Rose and cheese platters later and the whole afternoon disappeared. We couldn’t have planned it better.
Yep, Jori, you would have loved every minute. I wish we were a threesome for this week, except for the night we had to sleep in the Getz [[you wouldn’t have fit]] and except for the time we had to put on every piece of clothing we owned to get even CLOSE to our 7kg / pp weight limit for our flight back to Sydney. At 4am, it was an exhausted giggle fest trying to work out what we could shove into what pocket and how many layers we could possibly put on…Yeah that mess is for the birds and I don’t know that they would have allowed even one more tiny giggling, desperate American gal on the plane without emptying our wallets for the umpteenth time.
Other than that, you were fondly thought of and sorely missed, sweet-as-girl!
Good luck getting that song out of your head…I hummed it silently for the duration of our all-too-short stay in Melbourne…but really, what a refreshing few days in a city that I’ve never been to, but that strangely felt familiar. Perhaps it wasn’t because of the city itself [[they still drive on the opposite side of the road, have adorable accents and cafes too cute for words]], but more because of how we spent our time in said city.
Katie, ‘Amazing Katie,’ as the American cousins have formally dubbed her, and her equally amazing mate, Gary, truly made us feel right at home. We read and cooked and worked out in a real gym [[!!!]] and did laundry and talked about our dreams and guilty pleasures and had friends over and did Tuesday night at a food truck and a local watering hole and explored the city by foot….
and….we did wine country…and it was amazing too.
The thing about wine country is that it really doesn’t matter where in the world you are, as long as your palate and mind are open to new grape varietals, the people you’ve trekked with were well chosen, the sun is shining and there’s cheese to be paired.
Yarra Valley is one of the great wine regions of Australia, where Chardonnays [[still not my fave..not even in Chardonnay land]] and Pinot Noirs take the cake, so you know it was dang near top of Kara’s and my list of things to do while in Melbourne. What better way to recoup from a great road trip, than indulging in a few tastings, afterall?
Indulge we did and at home we felt. Cheers to amazing people, amazing reds and a home away from home.
I feel like every soul in the world must love the feeling of a full tank of gas, windows down, sunglasses on and shoes off, favorite tunes blaring as you cruise toward the beach. Every soul that I’d want to know, anyway. It’s just one of those feelings that screams freedom. Yall know how I feel about freedom.
We picked up our cross-over on the south side of Melbourne on a Friday morning and took off on what I’d soon realize was one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring drives of my life. The Great Ocean Road’s name is as appropriate as they come.
Not two hours outside of this sprawling metropolis we turned right [[but kept to the left side of the double lines]] and just kept driving.
At every bend in the road was another ‘holy *#^%, look at that view’…
Another sleepy beach town with organic cafes and sleek surf shops…
Another hair-pin-turned jaunt through the rain forest; another canopy of gum trees that send eucalyptus aroma swirling through the car; another scenic overlook that you can’t pass up, cause it very well may be better than the last…
Another surfer’s paradise where you could sit and watch the salty blondes paddle out and hitch a wave on repeat…
Another traffic jam of Asian tourist pulled over on the side of the road, cameras out to capture a momma and baby Koala hangin out in the tree across the road [[ok fine, that only happened once, but it was pretty cool]]…
Another flock of cockatoos that make their living by stealing food from unsuspecting tourists [[that only happened once too, but it was no doubt, a highlight of my trip..I’m still giggling…Unsuspecting tourist, Kara, is not..she says the cockatoo bites hard]].
We just spent an entire day with our jaws in our laps as we leisurely made our way toward the grand finale.
After a quick hostel workout and a cribbage match over our Thai dinner, we woke up ready to hit the open ocean road again. Destination: The 12 Apostles.
Because a picture’s worth a thousand words, this:
Two days, 1 tank of gas and a whole lot of pretty later, we made it back to our Melbourne pad feelin pretty free and pretty great.