Saturday, January 30, 2016

Postcards from Waiheke

On our second day in New Zealand, we decided to head out into one of the closer islands from Auckland to join a half-day bus tour in the morning, and then do our own improvised walking tour in the afternoon. This island we visited called Waiheke reminds me so much of the pear pie that I would always buy at Marché (the Swiss bakery/restaurant that has branches here in Singapore). I did not know before until then that it's the name of an island in New Zealand! Such an interesting coincidence.

This is a view of Palm Beach

at Onetangi Beach -- the last stop of the morning bus tour

A map of Waiheke at the Bus Stop

The bus tour took us to several sites of interest. The tour guide was all the time talking about bits of history and interesting facts about the island. He mentioned that most of the island locals are movie stars and rich people. That water is a little bit hard to get in the island and that there were roads on the map that are not real passable roads because they are too steep to be paved. A lot of the houses look dangerously perched on the side of steep cliffs, I noticed.

The first stop offers a view of the bay overlooking Auckland. And then, there was a stop at the top of the hill overlooking Palm Beach. We did not descend into this beach, though. Instead, we headed over to another one called, Onetangi Beach, which was the last stop of the morning bus tour. From there we decided to ask the bus driver to drop us off close to a nearby vineyard restaurant instead of back at the Ferry Station.

hot midday walk towards the vineyard restaurant... and a helicopter came out of nowhere.

Te Motu vineyards

lovely flower

semi-lunch with a bottle of rosé

There were three vineyard restaurants where the bus driver dropped us off. The walk to the restaurant was quite scenic, but extremely hot for lack of shady trees in the area.

We decided to go to Te Motu Vineyard Restaurant. Here at last we found some tall pine trees along the road to give us a bit of shade. We found out that most of the restaurants including the one we have chosen were fully-booked. So we found ourselves having apéro instead of lunch at the restaurant's fragrant herb garden, where they usually conduct their wine tasting.

It was quite a pleasant semi-lunch. We had the whole garden to ourselves. The staff were very friendly and chatty. The food and the wine were good. After the semi-lunch, we decided to head out to another beach area closer to the city center.

Oneroa Beach

picking sea shells

black baby mussels on the shore

one last glance at the beach

I tried to take a little bit of nap under the shade of the trees upon arriving at Oneroa Beach, while my daughter went with my mother-in-law to the playground. I didn't have much success with the nap because I always get surrounded by annoying people everywhere I go, for some reason. And this time, they were not just annoying, but also loud... a combination that almost always go together, I notice.

Nevertheless, it was quite a wonderful afternoon, surrounded by the sights and smell and sounds of the sea. I realized I really missed the beach so much. It's too bad I couldn't bathe in it. The water is still too cold for somebody like me who is used to warm tropical beaches.

Waiheke City Center

Before heading out back to the ferry, we walked a bit around the city center  for some souvenirs, where lots of shops sell colorful summer outfits. I found most of them a tad too expensive, though, so I only bought a few small stuff.

Thanks for reading and have a marvelous weekend! :)

Up next: Rotorua

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Walk in the Shire, Middle Earth

From Auckland, we set out early morning on our third day in New Zealand to the Hobbiton Lord of the Rings Movie Set tour. We took the South Motorway, the big highway, so the view was not very scenic at all. I was a tiny bit disappointed. But we went inside the small towns on the way back to Auckland from Rotorua, and the roads were definitely a lot more scenic, albeit, longer than usual. I noted that we did not pay any toll fees at all.

I booked the tickets online, more than a month in advance. There are three pick-up sites for the tour, one in Rotorua, where we are actually heading after the tour, one in Hamilton and another one in MataMata itself, where the movie set is located. I chose the MataMata site since it's the shortest drive from Auckland, and also offered the cheapest tickets because of the proximity to the Shire.

This is the i-Site, at the MataMata city center 
The i-Site is located at Broadway Street, which is right at the city center, conveniently littered with restaurants and bars and lots of parking lots. There is also a souvenir shop inside the i-Site. I bought a few more postcards to send to myself and my relatives because they have such beautiful postcards and stamps. And they conveniently have a post box outside of the shop.

Waiting for our bus to bring us to the Shire
We arrived at the i-Site just in time for lunch. Our tour did not start until 3:30 PM. I think we arrived at around 1PM. Plenty of time for lunch and browsing the shops.

Lunching at the MataMata City Center at a nice and friendly place called Redoubt Bar and Eatery
They also have free WIFI

We found a cozy little restaurant, called Redoubt Bar and Eatery, with friendly staff and chatty owner. Hubby had a nice time chatting about rugby while we waited for our lunch, which took quite some time to arrive. They also have free WIFI, which is very convenient for Instagram addicts like myself. I had a light lunch of scallops and watermelon salad. It was very fresh and palatable.

The Map of the Shire
The bus arrived right on time. We were first in the queue. I wanted to sit right in front of the bus so I could see everything. And I did. The bus driver was very chatty and very funny. Before coming to NZ, I thought I would have trouble understanding people because of the accent, but surprisingly, I didn't. He was talking about how the Hobbiton movie site was built, how the director, Peter Jackson (I didn't know that he's Kiwi) discovered the Shire, etc. He also imparted lots of interesting trivia about the film.

It was about half an hours' drive to the movie set. The road to the Shire was interesting -- hilly and picturesque. I can see why it was chosen for a movie set. There were some areas that reminded me so much of Tuscany, except that there were no vineyards or sunflowers. And most of the shrubbery and trees in the areas were uprooted from somewhere else, apparently.

This is where the tour starts! :)

The very first Hobbit House on the path... picture-frenzy ensued

All excited to take a selfie after the paparazzi crowd decided to move along
It was a really hot and sunny afternoon, and most of the Shire is not shady. I wished I had brought or bought a hat. Thankfully, I brought some water with me. There was also a bit of climbing and slippery slopes. I wished I wore more sensible shoes. And thankfully, it was not raining.

Our tour guide was really friendly, but he seemed a bit tired. Unfortunately, I was too distracted with the picture-taking that I did not really listen much to what he was saying during the trip. And there were too many people with us. It took a lot of effort and time to not incude them in the pics.

Hello from Frodo's House! :)

Bilbo Baggins' House is at the topmost area of the Shire. That huge tree on top of it is fake, would you believe?
According to the guide, each leaf was painstakingly glued onto the branches.

The little one having a wonderful time playing with all the set props

The last part of the tour was at the Green Dragon pub. Inside, we all got a free drink. The beer was quite refreshing. They also serve non-alcoholic drinks for kids. And they apparently have some Hobbit costumes that you can borrow, I think I heard the tour guide saying.

I did manage to hear and see for myself that all of the Hobbit Houses are empty inside, except for some boring shelves. It's because the insides of the houses were shot at the studio in Welllington, which really makes sense, if you think about it. Also, it's worth noting that only Bilbo and Frodo's houses have big doors where big people fit in. All the other houses have small doors where only children fit in.

Crossing the bridge to Green Dragon... I had to make a mad dash for this picture before everybody else followed suit.
I'm such a professional and competitive camwhore.

Inside the Green Dragon -- this is a carving detail at the top of a small stall that serves some snacks

Inside the Green Dragon, after waiting for most people to leave

Beautiful window -- every inch of every detail is well-thought out to perfection

Right outside the Green Dragon, in front of the lake

The last bit of our tour, just before heading to the car park to take the bus to bring us back to the i-Site
The afternoon walk at the Shire was truly magical. I wished there were less people though. It was often very difficult to take pictures without the people hovering in the background. All in all, it was a time well-spent and thoroughly enjoyed, especially by the lovely little one. I think, like most theme parks, I wouldn't really have enjoyed it so much, if I weren't with a kid. Everything is always more colorful and more enjoyable being seen through the eyes of a child. And I am thankful for the most fortunate experience of having one.

Have a good weekend, everyone! :)

Up next: Waiheke

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ted Talks SPAM

I've had my fair share of the spamming and scamming lot on emails and phones. And the very rare times that I've responded (semi-violently) to them was when I was on a terribly bad mood or caught in the midst of  an inopportune time. But what I really, really would most like to do is to annoy the annoying. But lately, I haven't got the energy or the precious time for that.

The last phone scamming thing I've experienced was quite recent. It was a phone call on the office landline coming from the Philippines (where else?). It caught me by surprise because I never give out our office land line to anyone. I myself don't even know the phone numbers, and wouldn't know about it unless necessary. And since there are only very few of us in the office, it was the Head of Services that answered the phone. The scamming people didn't know my full first name and my middle name. So I told them it was not me they were looking for. They were claiming I have some unsettled accounts with some bank in the Philippines. I hung up on them immediately, but they had the gall to call again! It was really embarrassing for me to keep getting the phone from the big guy in the office and for everyone to hear me trying to tell the person on the other end over and over that it was not me they were looking for. I was mortified and infuriated. 

I'm guessing they got my office phone no from LinkedIn since it's the only place I mention where I work. And from there, they got it from the company web site. I ranted about it on facebook and several friends confirmed to me that it's really a LinkedIn scam, and that most of the targeted accounts look pretty in the profile pic... so I guess I should be flattered, at least. Of course, I immediately made my profile picture to be only visible to  first-level contacts from then on and I've removed several contacts who might be pretending to be legit job placement agencies.

This video from TED is quite hilarious, though:

I really love British sense of humor. I wish I can have some of it. But it doesn't quite work when you don't have the accent. This made me laugh a lot today.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Boxing Day and New Year in Auckland

During the holiday season, we decided to take a trip down south. We visited the North Island of New Zealand and roamed in and around Auckland and Rotorua. We arrived on the 26th of December and we were blessed with warm sunny weather. Thankfully, it is summer in December in the Southern Hemisphere because I am not so much of a sweater weather person and I don't buy into that White Christmas crap because I have already experienced how much of a bitch the cold and bitter white winter can get.

The view of Auckland from our boat on the way to Waiheke Island
Our hotel was just right at the top of Queen Street. It's a famous street with all the shops and restaurants. Right at the bottom of Queen Street, you'll find the pier, where you can book all sorts of island trips.

Boxing Day Shopping Day

Queen Street -- a mix of old and new architecture

It was a perfect day for walking. We found ourselves walking right down Queen Street and browsing the shops and most everything was on sale. It was Boxing Day, apparently.

All Christmasy in the malls

Visited an All Blacks shop but I didn't find anything interesting or wearable

We stopped by the ferry terminals at the pier to purchase some tickets for a day trip to Waiheke Island the next day. I initially wanted to go to Tiritiri Island but it was a bit faraway and most of the walking trips are not very suitable for children. We decided to go to Waiheke instead since it's the closest island from Auckland and the walks are more relaxing.

My daughter loves walking and touring

Crossing the viaduct

The pier -- where the ferry terminals are, and a sprinkling of bars and restaurants and ice cream shops

We decided to have dinner at one of the nice restaurants at Wynward Quarter, close to the Viaduct. It was nice to sit down and people watch. There were a lot of people speaking french, mostly from New Caledonia. There was a guard at the airport who spoke to me in French and asked if I'm from New Caledonia because I got so dark from all the walking we did during our stay. It's always difficult for foreign people to guess where I come from.

at a restaurant/bar called North Park close to the Wynward Quarter -- a glass of my favorite (variation of) bellini and a bottle of locally-produced rosé to share, aptly called "Middle-Earth"

Although we only spent half a day in Auckland upon arriving in New Zealand, we also spent New Year's Eve dinner back in the city, at a nice restaurant called Matterhorn, after returning from Rotorua.

It was my first time to celebrate New Year's Eve outside of my country of residence. And I realized, it's not only this fact that made this New Year celebration special and different. It's also because we celebrated New Year way ahead of everybody else I know because of the time zone. It was a bit weird.

one of the appetizers at Matterhorn Restaurant

They had a special New Year's Eve dinner menu, which was a bit pricey
The low lighting in the restaurant and the crappy iPhone camera results in food pics that look like this

The Sky Tower lit up in changing colors at night, taken with crappy iPhone
I wanted to watch the fire works from one of the hotel rooms facing the Sky Tower. But none of the rooms were available. We got the opposite side because my daughter's baby cot will not fit the other rooms. I managed to see the fireworks from down below our building, though. It was not such a cold night. I would've ventured to walk by myself closer to the Sky Tower but there were a lot of nasty looking people in the streets. It's better to be safe and stay close to the hotel.

The first day of the New Year was a bit rainy in Auckland. We thought it best to just spend the day inside the museum. And it was not such a bad idea because I totally enjoyed the Haka Performance. For those not in the know, The Haka is an ancient Maori war dance. It is used to scare off enemies during war. That's explains the weird facial contortions that they make while doing the dance. I'm guessing that's how your face will look like once they're done with you.

I find the Haka really fascinating ever since I first saw the All Blacks doing it during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. And I've been a fan since then. It was too bad that we were seated a bit far away from the stage. It would've been even nicer to see it live up close. My husband said he had goose bumps watching it. Meanwhile, my daughter was laughing out loudly the whole time.

More of my NZ trip next time! :)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Best of 2015

According to Instagram, here are my best nine photos from the previous year...

first row: best loved pair of shoes from Steve Madden, Airbus A350 simulator experience, visiting Bilbo Baggins' hobbit hole at Hobbiton Lord of the Rings Movie Set in New Zealand (will post about this soon!)
second row: an evil bunny ice floe on Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland, a picture representing my first time to try aerial yoga, a throwback pic of my beloved and long-missed autumn at the Japanese Garden in Toulouse
third row: trying out new wide angle lens on night time view from our balcony, throwback pic at Piazza di Spagna, the fittest i have been this year after 2 mos of xtendbarre + yoga + wall climb

...nine best, meaning the "nine most liked" photos of the year. I admit that, like most people, I tend to get carried away and get overwhelmed with the social media "likes" from time to time. But I try to remind myself that I'm doing Facebook mostly to keep in touch with friends, especially those who live far away. Making people jealous is just second priority (insert wicked evil laugh here). And the "likes", I really usually do not care about. A 1000 likes do not equate to being a 1000 times less lonely. Most of the time, it's quite the contrary, actually. Especially since, you will only get a lot of likes if you give a lot of likes also. It's not really because your picture deserves it or that these "likers" really like you. I'd always prefer good old-fashioned personal meet-ups any time or a personal private message if bodily presence is constrained by distance. Non-virtual relationships are seemingly becoming more and more of a rarity these days.

I like Instagram because i treat it like a pin board of all the good things happening in my life, whose essence, I would like to somehow freeze and capture in frames that I can look back on gloomy days to cheer me up. But the truth is, my most loved memories from last year cannot be captured in just a few photos. There were so many of them. For this, I am truly grateful and feeling "blessed" as the overused hashtag goes...

Happy new year, everyone! More photos and more adventures await!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015

the last few Christmases have been really wonderful, especially with the coming of my precious daughter. for quite some time, the thrill and excitement of the holidays have really waned for me over the years. but through my daughter's eyes, i am experiencing Christmas again as i have experienced it during the wonder years.

my dining table centerpiece pour Le Réveillon (Christmas Eve) -- candles and candle holder from Crate and Barrel, some christmas décors from La France, courtesy of my mother-in-law

it's also a great bonus for all the moon lovers out there that the full moon appears on Christmas this year, not since 1977, coincidentally my birth year.

may you all have a wonderful holiday season with your family and loved ones.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A350 Flight Simulator Session at SIA Training Center

I just came back fresh from the Singapore Airlines Training Center to experience how it is to fly the newest Airbus plane, the A350. They actually had an Open House a few months ago, in celebration of SG50. But we were back in Europe for the summer holiday at the time. Luckily, hubby has a friend who is an ex-pilot who now works for SIA conducting the Trainings for the A350. And he invited us to try it out today, along with a couple of hubby's colleagues.

some items on display at the lobby -- old flight attendant uniform in the 50's

these are the Singapore Airlines First Class amenity kit contents. i think that Salvatore Ferragamo pochette is really nice. :)

Cute Boarding Pass invites to Oktoberfest Event

The Training Center was huge and impressive, and conveniently located right next to Changi Airport. It's not just a Training Center, they also have a Sports Club with a football field. Tonight, they're even holding a private Oktoberfest.

This is how the simulator looked from outside

On the way to the flight simulator, we passed by the server rooms and other Flight Simulators of different plane models that are in the same area as the A350 Simulator was.

Inside the simulator, there were the pilot seats and three passenger seats -- just enough seats for all five of us (with hubby's other colleagues) in the session. There were so many buttons on the console, I was itching to press all of them just to see what will happen. :D I was actually quite nervous before entering the simulator when the pilot explained what to do in cases of emergency power shut down or system malfunction. yikes!

those pink transparent mirror thingies display information controls, so the pilots do not need to remove their focus on where they are headed while controlling the plane's movements

all those graphs and buttons! whenever i see so many buttons like this, i get an overwhelming urge to press all of them to see what happens... curious lang! :D

The view from outside, which is supposed to be Hong Kong, looks so realistic

The view from the cockpit was so realistic. And when the plane takes off, turns, lands or experiences turbulence you can really feel it. I was not so good with the shift knob, there were two tiny circles on the pink glass panels in front of me that I have to merge together by controlling the shift knob so as to position the plane correctly. As always, my hand-eye coordination is terrible, terrible, terrible. If I were piloting in real life, we could've crashed twice already. :D Good thing, there was auto-pilot mode. And at least, I managed to land the plane safely despite the instructor simulating nasty turbulent zero-visibility weather.

that's me piloting in action with the overcast zero visibility simulation -- i wanted to scream, "MEGA THRUSTERS ARE GO!" LOL! anybody who finds this line familiar? 80's kids?

look ma, flying the plane with no hands! :D

hubby's turn! so serious, lah!

I got a little bit motion sick the first time we took off while sitting on the passenger seat. Although, I did not feel so sick when I was on the pilot seat! We only stayed inside the simulator for one and a half hours, with all four of us taking turns to man the plane. I couldn't imagine staying in the simulator for FOUR straight hours, which is the normal amount of time spent in training, according to our pilot instructor. Now, I'm really sure, I'm not cut out to be a pilot but it was quite an experience to try! The simulator was fantastic, it really felt like I was inside the plane (I still feel a bit jetlagged at the time of this writing), and that at some point, I was really in charge of it. :)