Category Archives: Basic

New Zealand trip (Part II)

Auckland is often called “the City of Sails” due to its large harbor and the amount of sailboats that can be seen on the water.

Here are suggestions of things to do while in Auckland trust me there are plenty options (these are things that I personally enjoyed):

Go to the top of the Sky Tower and take in the view. It stands 328 meters tall and 360 panoramic views are just incredible. We had dinner for a birthday occasion at Orbit – the dining room that rotates once every hour.

https://www.skycityauckland.co.nz/restaurants/orbit/

If you are more adventurous and looking for adrenaline rush you can book SkyJump – fall 192 meters straight down or do SkyWalk   on the edge of the Tower’s pergola!

https://www.skycityauckland.co.nz/sky-tower/

Take a thrilling Jet Boat Ride on Auckland’s harbor, be prepared to get wet:

https://www.aucklandjetboattours.co.nz/

Explore the Viaduct Harbor and do some yacht watching. There are some great shops, museums, bars and eateries along the boardwalk to sit back, relax and soak up the sun. Viaduct is a perfect place to dine whether you are looking for fresh seafood or just want to enjoy barbecue. I loved the rooftop spot that served pizza and had on site brewery http://www.drrudis.co.nz/  views were absolutely breathtaking.

Climb a volcano. I highly recommend catching a ferry over to Rangitoto Island and make a day of it. Rangitoto is a famous Auckland landmark and it’s only a short ferry ride from the city. It is great hike to the summit where you can look into the forested crater and views over the Auckland city skyline are amazing.

Things you need to know before visiting the Island:

– The boat to Rangitoto Island leaves from the Auckland Harbour and has a few sailings a day only.

– Make sure you remember when the last ferry returns and be there on time because there are no places to stay on the island.

– Pack your lunch and plenty water, there are no stores on the island and it gets pretty hot while hiking so pack lots of water.

You can book your tickets through this website: https://www.fullers.co.nz/destinations/rangitoto-island/

Mount Eden

250,000 years ago small basaltic volcanoes erupted across the Auckland Isthmus and it created the Volcano of Mount Eden. Catch a bus to Mt Eden village and hike to the top where you to check out the crater and 360 degree views of Auckland city.

Parnell

Walk the New Zealand’s first suburb right next to the downtown – Parnell.  Parnell is not only filled with many cute restaurants, bars, shops, art galleries but it’s surrounded with the beautifully restored Victorian buildings. You can also enjoy a rose garden, there is a small beach at Judge’s Bay, and you can visit St. Stephen’s Chapel that overlooks the harbor.

Mission Bay

It’s an Auckland’s must! Nice white sand harbor beach and a beautiful park perfect for sunbathing! There are so many restaurants in the area with water views.

Here are the suggestions for a truly unique day trip out of Auckland:

Waiheke Island

A trip to Auckland can’t be complete without seeing Waiheke Island. Waiheke Island is a popular day or weekend trip from the city and the ferry is only about 40 min ride. I found my perfect match it has everything that I love – turquoise waters,  world known vineyards with one of the best quality produced wines in the country, trails along the stunning coastline, white sand beaches, restaurants with the views to die for and so much more!

Here are just few of the wineries that we visited:

https://www.manowar.co.nz/

https://www.batchwinery.com/waiheke-food-thomass-bach.html

https://www.nzwine.com/en/winery/te-whau-vineyard

Rotorua

Rotorua located near the center of New Zealand’s north island and is best known for its  geothermal activity. It is also known as a center of Maori culture. Make sure you book a visit to one of the Maori villages and enjoy traditional hangi dinner (earth oven) and haka performance.

Piha

Make your way out to one of the wild, west coast black sand beach – Piha. A laid-back seaside village located about 40 km from the city of Auckland. It’s very popular surfing location amongst local kiwis. Bring a picnic and enjoy the scenery or take surfing class.

Auckland is a pretty awesome city that has unique landscape, amazing beaches, great hiking options, fine dinning, laid back culture and so much more! There were so many more day trips that we took and places we visited this country has so much to offer! I could probably write separate blog about New Zealand coffee!!! It’s truly a coffee paradise! No matter how many times you visit New Zealand it’s always leaves you hungry for more!

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NZ Adventure With My Sister (Part I)

Winter of 2017 – I had one of the most memorable vacations ever! I surprised my little sister by posting a video on her Facebook wall revealing that I bought a ticket to come visit her in New Zealand. Needles to say there was lots of planning involved right after, though my sister kept some of it as a surprise for me.

I highly recommend for anyone who flies to New Zealand to buy tickets through Air New Zealand https://www.airnewzealand.com/home? – best airlines I have ever flown on. Normally you will catch a little over 5 hours flight from Dulles International Airport to LAX and then you are on a direct flight to Auckland, New Zealand for about 13 hours. So obviously for such a long flight you want to feel as comfortable as you possibly can and Air New Zealand can provide that comfort.

During my flight I felt a little achy but didn’t pay to much attention because I just thought it was from being on a plane for so long. By the time I landed in Auckland I really felt sick – my back was achy, I felt hot and my chest was burning. I was so mad at myself after all that planning and preparing and excitement of finally have that girls vacation I got sick. The guilt feeling of ruining our plans was enormous. Thankfully I was able to catch some sleep the first day and my sister made sure to heavily medicate me every few hours with some herbal NZ drugs … I had no choice but kick that cold’s butt. The very next morning after my arrival I was surprised with a trip to South Island of New Zeland! We were catching a flight early in the morning flying to Queenstown.

I am going to break my New Zeland vacation in two parts (two separate blogs) as that’s how our vacation went down. First part of our 2 week vacation we spent in the South Island of New Zealand – we stayed in the most dreamy cute apartment overlooking the magical Lake Wakatipu.

I compare Queenstown to a heart of New Zealand where scenic landscape and thrilling sense of constant adventure collide in one. Queenstown is just magnificent, I think I took the most beautiful photos I have ever taken from the plane window while landing. Queenstown is a perfect base town in South Island for exploring surrounding vineyards, historic mining towns and also locations with the most adventurous sports activities in the world.

I can write so much about beauty of this place but instead I will put my suggestions of things to do while visiting Queenstown.

You absolutely have to take the Gondola ride to Bob’s Peak – enjoy the town’s most breathtaking views. Once you on the top there are two luge tracks and it’s so much fun to ride it, sort of like bobsled. We were racing each other downhill through tunnels and dippers while enjoying great views. You can purchase your tickets in advance but you don’t have to (we didn’t and the line wasn’t bad) https://www.skyline.co.nz/en

Visit vineyards in Gibbston Valley. Next time when I plan to visit I would love to explore this area by bike. I loved meeting winemakers and enjoyed tastings. The views from every angle is just amazing. We visited Chard Farm Vineyard and I loved their Pinot Gris, the outside reminded me Tuscany style building and grounds were so pretty. The drive to the vineyard was an experience itself – we were driving up the hill on a narrow gravel road and you could see Kawarau bungy bridge when you look down. http://www.chardfarm.co.nz/

Grab wine at Perky’s Bar https://www.facebook.com/perkysqueenstown/ its the only floating bar in NZ. We had great wine there before dinner and watched the sunset on the front of the boat. I really loved the rooftop outdoor garden area and interior was lovely. You can bring your own food just buy drinks inside of the boat.

Shotover Jet – this was also part of a surprise from my sister. Get ready for a Big Red Jet Boat shooting 55+miles/hr through tight canyons and so close to the rocks and add 360 spins to this, also prepare to get wet! This ride was absolutely crazy and thrilling but such an amazing experience. I was in awe from the driver’s skills.

Iconic Kawarau bridge bungy jump – as I mentioned before Queenstown is a home to a range of adventurous activities. The first world’s and the most popular and famous bungy jumps are Kawarau Bridge Bungy. My sister tried really hard to convince me to jump and I think she may have promised me lots of things that were super appealing but I just didn’t have guts to do it. So instead I surprised her with tickets to do side by side zip line. I highly recommend to do this – it was super fun. The girls that worked there were pretty funny and played a joke on us by pushing us backwards right after we finished with the ride (we honestly didn’t expect it and it added up so much more thrill to it) https://www.bungy.co.nz/queenstown/kawarau-bungy-centre/kawarau-zipride/

Visit Arrowtown which is situated on the banks of Arrow River. This town was established during the gold rush of the 1860s. Take a tour around the grounds and visit vibrant center filled with little shops, bars and restaurants. This town is only 20 minutes away from Queenstown. We enjoyed a French cuisine, restaurant, that has a nice outdoor seating area and pretty delicious food http://www.bonjour-arrowtown.com/

Milford Sound (I should probably write a separate blog about this place) – it was another surprise. The night before our trip the only information I received was to get ready for a boat ride. We left super early and drove for a little over 4 hours through some amazingly spectacular countryside. The ride itself felt like a unique journey as we were approaching into the heart of Fiordland National Park. Before we reached Milford Sound, we drove through Homer Tunnel which was opened in 1954 and consists of two very narrow lanes – be prepared to drive in complete darkness.

Finally we arrived to the settlements of Milford Sound. Once we parked our car and walked outside my sister received a surprise on her own – as I didn’t know what she meant by “be ready for a boat ride” I wore my ankle boots with heels (in my head we were taking lunch boat with entertainment). I remember stares from each direction when I walked inside of the departure wharf where the boat tours were starting their journey. Everyone around me wore hiking boots and waterproof clothing, huge backpacks – at the least my sister wore tennis shoes and warm jacket … how did I not pay attention???

We boarded our boat and began our tour into Milford Sound… I am going to just leave photos here

Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls

Stirling Falls

Four Sisters

Humboldt Falls

You can spot some New Zealand fur seals enjoying the sun

Kea bird is the only truly alpine parrot in the world and you can only find them in the South Island of NZ

Lake Fergus – small lake between Lake Te Ana’s and Milford Sound

Enjoy walking/hiking tracks within the Fiordland National Park. This area has a reputation as the Walking Capital of the World.

Milford Sounds is a must when you visit South Island of New Zealand it’s truly the eighth wonder of the world

The next location that we visited was magnificent Crown Range, Wanaka. It’s only 50 minutes drive but there are so many stops you would want to make. It’s pretty steep windy roads so pay attention while driving. Make time to stop at the summit for some awesome photos.

We made stop in a beautiful Alpine village, New Zealand’s most iconic and oldest hotels – Cardrona Hotel. There is a very cozy restaurant inside of the hotel where you will enjoy outdoor garden, open fire and plenty areas with games for the kids. We truly enjoyed our brunch.

Lake Wanaka is a beautiful destination it set against the alpine backdrop of Mount Aspiring National Park. Make sure to take photo with the most Instagram famous tree.. partially submerged willow tree standing alone in Lake Wanaka

https://www.google.com/search?q=lake+wanaka+tree&client=safari&hl=en-us&prmd=imsvn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjq0MPLl5jbAhXFt1kKHex2CR4Q_AUIESgB&biw=414&bih=622

Downtown is pretty cute and its filled with restaurants, bars and shops. Grab coffee or wine to relax and enjoy the amazing scenery. We only spent one day at this beautiful place but there so much to do from hiking, biking to wine tasting you can find activities for any type of traveler.

On the way back to Queenstown you should definitely make few pit stops (there are plenty wineries and farmers markets).

I am definitely planning to come back to South Island, there is just too much to see there!!! Want to give special shout out to my sister and my brother in law who organized such a beautiful trip, I am so lucky to have the most amazing family!

One day trip from London to Paris

Last summer I spent 10 days in UK with my teenage son, one of the things we did is took a train to Paris for one day. Here is our itinerary that day:

I always wanted to take a train through the Channel Tunnel – it was on my never ending bucket list…hehe. Make sure you book your train tickets ahead of time because when you purchase them in advance they are a lot cheaper. I purchased our tickets through https://www.eurostar.com I think there is a train that goes to Paris every hour. The distance from London to Paris is about 215 miles and the ride is a little over 2 hours. You will be departing from St. Pancras International to Paris du Nord. If you booked your tickets in advance find one of the ticket kiosk inside the train station and enter your reservation code – your ticket will be printed. Remember that you have to get through customs as UK is not a part of EU so get to the train station at least one hour prior to your departing time. Do not worry if you have extra time left after going through customs and border patrol there are coffee shops inside. Just remember – trains there leave exactly on time.

We truly enjoyed our smooth ride, seats were comfortable and we purchased coffee and fresh croissants in one of the buffet bar that is available to anyone regardless of class.

When we arrived to Paris we went through another border patrol where we received pretty cute stamps inside of our passports. We caught a cab and drove straight to Eiffel Tower, we decided not to go inside and climb to the top as our time was limited in Paris and you have to allocate at least 2 hours for this tour. We walked around Eiffel Tower and grabbed early lunch in the nearby restaurant.

As soon as we finished our meal it was time for our Segway tour, which I booked ahead of time through https://www.fattiretours.com/paris We really like this company as we have used them previously. Christian was thrilled about Segway tour.. what teenager doesn’t like a motorized two wheeled vehicle? We had to take 15 minutes training session before we took off with the small group of people to go sightseeing. We had amazing time, the tour itself is about 2 hours and it takes you around Eiffel Tower, Ecole Militaire (Military Acedemy that was established in 1750), Napoleon’s Tomb, you will pass the Alma tunnel, Princess Diane memorial at the crash site next to River Seine and will make your way through Alexander III Bridge. Christian had a million questions about Military Academy and questioned if the actual remains of Napoleon do really lie beneath of Le Dome des Invalides.

As soon as we finished with the Segway tour we caught another taxi that took us to my favorite place on Earth – Norte Dame de Paris.

There are a lot of things you can do around the Norte Dame of Paris. We walked around the monument and visited the Jean XXIII garden. Around the cathedral you will find small cute restaurants and shops. Grab a glass of wine at one of the oldest restaurants in Paris which opened in 1594 – “Au Vieux Paris”.

Since my son is a huge crepes lover we stopped by one of the coffee shops that sold them and while he was indulging that French covered in chocolate crepe I was sipping on my French wine (win win on my list).

The cathedral is one of the most important sights in Paris and it attracts tons of visitors from around the world. It’s free to go inside of Cathedral just prepare for long lines but they go surprisingly quick. During this particular trip we didn’t have time to visit the top but I have done it in the past and highly recommend to do this. You should arrive 30 minutes before the opening which is 10 am because the line is very long and it goes pretty slow. But the view from the top is definitely worth it – you will have 360 degrees of incredible views of Paris. You will see famous gargoyles and grotesques – we actually wished it was rainy but it wasn’t. From what I’ve heard the cathedral looks magical when all the water from the rain comes out of the gargoyles mouths.

It’s always makes me sad to leave stunning Norte Dame of Paris but I was very excited to meet up with my Richmond friends who happened to be on vacation at the same time in Paris. We took a cab and met them at their apartment. While Christian charged his phone and took one hour power nap we drank some French wine and enjoyed people watching off of the little alley. Time in Paris flew by and we had to say our “see you later”.

We grabbed a cab and off we went to the train station, as I mentioned above make sure you give yourself a good hour to go through boarder patrol and luggage check. After-all it’s better to be earlier than missing your train. Also remember there is one hour difference in time (Paris one hour ahead of London). So our train was departing close to 9:00 pm but we arrived in London around 10:00 pm which wasn’t too bad.

Of course you don’t get to see everything in one day trip but it surely gives you a taste of Paris. As for me any opportunity I get to visit Paris I would take it even if its only for a short period of time.