Tuesday, June 27, 2017

We had family visiting from out of town last week as they made their way south to visit a daughter. On Friday we took them on a drive through Forest Park on the way to visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. I always forget how gorgeous the cathedral is until I walk back inside it again. As it happened, our timing was perfect to catch the noon Mass, so our relatives were thrilled at the experience. From there we had lunch in the Central West End, and on such a beautiful day we were able to eat outside which is a rare treat in St. Louis in the summer.

Cathedral Basilica St. Louis
Busch Stadium
Friday night we took them to see the baseball game. It was a great game on a cool night until about the 7th inning when the Cards blew their lead. After that I was just happy the game didn't remain tied as I didn't want to sit through extra innings. I believe that baseball, and babies, should have 7 as the magic number - innings or months of pregnancy.

The relatives took off around noon on Saturday, and we got some work done around the house. Sunday Jim went for a motorcycle ride, and I went to my happy place - the Missouri Botanical Garden. With low humidity and temperatures in the 70's, it could not have been a nicer morning at the garden. As I've said before, we are incredibly blessed to have such a phenomenal institution in our city.
Missouri Botanical Garden

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Busy Times!

Last weekend was quite busy, beginning on Thursday night with the Garden of Glass exhibit at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The weather was perfect that evening, with temperatures in the low 70's and a comfortable humidity level. Artist Craig Mitchell Smith created the 24+ glass pieces, nearly all of which are located inside the Climatron. That is a somewhat small space, so I was curious to see how crowded it would be. As it turned out, it really wasn't too bad as they are somewhat controlling the numbers by issuing timed tickets. Ours were for 7:00, which is the earliest you can get in. I think the time slot kept some of the crowds away as there were people waiting in line outside the Climatron when we next walked by around 8:30.

Garden of Glass
The benefit of going early, besides fewer people, is that you still get some sunlight coming into the Climatron. It makes it easier to take photos for sure, since they don't allow tripods inside. The downside is that you don't get to see how the glass looks with full interior lighting on it. I'll take the smaller crowds any day. After we were done inside we had time to walk around the garden a bit, which was nice because it normally isn't open in the evenings. While we enjoyed the exhibit, we both felt that it falls way short of the magnificence of the Chihuly Glass in the Garden back in 2006.

Friday night I attended the world premiere of the movie "I Love You Both" with a girlfriend. It was held at the Tivoli Theatre, which I don't think I have been in since Jim and I saw "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" back when audience members were still allowed to not only dress up, but also go on stage, throw rice and toilet paper, use squirt guns in the theater, and flick their Bics. This new movie was written, directed and starred in by a brother and sister who graduated from a local high school. They recruited their mom to be in the movie as well because "we couldn't find anyone as funny as her." I love that! They stuck around after the show to answer questions, and it was interesting to get an inside look at the process of securing money, filming, and producing a movie on a shoestring.

As far as the movie itself goes, I thought the characters needed a little more development, and that the film drug a little bit. The premise is that one man falls for two people (in this case twins, played by the brother-sister duo) who both are interested in him as well. The problem is that he wasn't around them long enough to fall in love with one, much less both, of them.

Saturday I played in a pickleball round robin that lasted from 12-6. It was outside in a local park, and the temperature reached into the 90's that day. Luckily, there was low humidity and a breeze, so in the shade it wasn't too bad. After that I hurried home to shower and head off to a high school graduation party. Jim was in Kansas City so he wasn't able to attend.

Kirkwood Round Robin
Sunday morning I met a photographer friend in University City to see the Mannequins on the Loop. Different artists compete to win a prize for best dressed mannequin. The materials have to be a recycled product. Such creativity!

Mannequins on the Loop
Then finally I had lunch with a friend who had also been away on a vacation, though hers was to Ireland, a favorite place of mine. We wanted to catch up on our trips. She also wanted to bring me up to date on her new book, which is currently at the publishing company. All of the photos in the book are mine. I can't wait to see it - and read it. Busy weekend, but very rewarding in so many areas.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Epic Vacation Wrap Up

Our return to St. Louis from Auckland went quite smoothly. The flying time from Auckland to Los Angeles was only 12 hours and 25 minutes, which seemed short compared to the 15 and a half hours we flew to get from Los Angeles to Sydney. It was a more difficult flight for me in that we left Auckland at 1:00 in the afternoon, so I wasn't a bit sleepy. The time was passed by watching movies. I will say that flying Business Class on those two long flights was the bees knees, though. It will be hard to fly in coach on overseas trips in the future. Here we are leaving Auckland, still smiling after 30 days of 24/7 togetherness.

American Airlines Business Class
Many people have asked me which country I liked better - Australia or New Zealand? It's a hard call, because the people were so very nice in both countries. But I would say Australia for the wildlife - it's hard to beat seeing kangaroos, parrots and cockatoos out of the windows of your house. New Zealand takes the win for scenery, however. I can't remember a drive where every single turn brought exclamations of, "Wow, look at that!"

Over 3,500 photographs have been downloaded onto my computer, and it is taking a while to sort through them, throwing out the ones that are bad and doing a little correction on the ones that need it. But what a fun way to relive the trip. I can't believe how much we saw, all the things that we did, and the wonderful people we met on this journey. I summarize the adventure by saying that I had really high expectations for this vacation, and they were all exceeded. You can't beat that.

two thumbs up!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rangitoto Island

We bid farewell to Kathy and Paul this morning as they flew to Sydney today in preparation for their flight from Sydney to Los Angeles and then Minneapolis tomorrow morning. After they left, we walked down to the harbour to see all the sailboats. Auckland is known as the "City of Sails" due to its abundance of sailing vessels. It has hosted the America's Cup a couple of times, in fact.

A little after noon we took a ferry to Rangitoto Island. The island was formed by a volcanic eruption around 600 years ago, and now rises 850 feet over the Hauraki Gulf. It is a public reserve managed by the Department of Conservation. There are no permanent residents on Rangitoto, but in the early 20th century a small community lived in baches (simple holiday houses). A few remain today.

We hiked up the path to the summit lookout, which was about an hour's walk uphill. It was challenging due to the incline and the loose rocks. The lady at the ferry terminal told me my walking shoes would be okay, but she lied. I should have gone back to the apartment for my hiking boots which have more support as well as better insulation from the rocks.

The views from the top were great, and we enjoyed the many birds we found on the island. The fact that so much plant material sprouted out of lava is amazing to me. A few things were still blooming despite the fact that it is fall here.

Once back in Auckland we went back to the harbour as there is an industrial area that has been redeveloped into walking paths, shops, restaurants and playgrounds. It was very interesting to check out. By then our feet were killing us, so we came back to the apartment to eat dinner and do laundry. We head for home tomorrow!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Coromandel Peninsula

We rented a car today and drove south and then east to the Coromandel Peninsula. The drive through the Coromandel Forest Park was filled with steep, windy roads. The scenery was quite different than what we had seen in Auckland. We saw Hot Water Beach, where the water was cold. But supposedly if you dig a whole in the sand where the hot springs are located within two hours of low tide, the water that fills the whole can heat to 140-147 degrees! We also visited Hahei Beach and Cooks Beach before beginning the long drive back to Auckland.

Before returning the rental car, we stopped for our last dinner together at Di Mare Cafe & Restaurant where we had an excellent meal. Corbins leave in the morning to fly to Sydney, where they will catch their flight home to Minneapolis on Wednesday. We will have one last day in Auckland before leaving for home from here, also on Wednesday.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday in Auckland

We had a quick breakfast in our apartment before making our way over to the Sky Tower this morning. Located in the central business district of Auckland, it stands at 222 meters tall (728 feet). We took an elevator to the viewing room on the 51st floor. It offers 360 degree panoramic views of the city. If you so desire, you can bungee jump off a higher floor. We opted not to do that activity. It was great that we arrived fairly early in the morning as it was not too crowded.

From there we walked down to the wharf and caught a ferry to Devenport, a peninsula located about a 10 minute boat trip from downtown. There is an old Victorian town there, as well as many places to eat and shop. But the best part was walking up a very steep hill to the Bunker, which was used during WWII. The bunker itself was pretty interesting, but the views from the top were of the hill were spectacular. Later the guys wanted to stop for a beer before taking the ferry back, and we shared a table with a young couple from southern France who are working in the Auckland area for a year. It was fun to talk to them and hear about their adventures. Tomorrow we are renting a car to explore more of the North Island outside of the Auckland area.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday in Auckland

Since it was our first full day in Auckland, we decided to walk down to the wharf area and visit and Information Center. The lady provided us with information about the Hop On Hop Off buses, which we decided to do so that we could get an overview of the area. Also rain was in the forecast, so it seemed prudent to have a form of transportation should the rain occur.

Before we got our bus tickets we stopped at an ice cream place as we saw that they had bakery goods for sale as well. I tried a cronut, which I had read about in the states but never had a chance to purchase. It is a combination of croissant and a donut. It looked delicious, but in reality it was a little tough. I definitely wouldn't run back for another.

We picked up the bus at Princes Wharf, which is at the entrance to Viaduct Harbour. This waterfront harbour was developed to host the America`s Cup regattas in 2000 and 2003.

The first stop on the bus was Bastion Point which offers views of Waitemata Harbour and back to the Auckland city skyline. A statue of Michael Joseph Savage, New Zealand's Prime Minister from 1930-1940, towers over the formal gardens. By the time we walked down to Mission Bay, the wind picked up and a storm blew in. We spend the rest of our time waiting out the rain under the protection of the restroom!

The next spot we got off the bus was the Auckland Museum, where we learned a bit of military history. We grabbed lunch here before heading to the Wintergardens. We very much enjoyed the floral displays there.

Last stop for us was at Parcell Village, a grouping of 1860 era buildings that were saved from destruction in the 1960s by a man named Thomas Leslie Harvey. He restored them and turned them into shops and restaurants. After that we walked back to our apartment to rest up and dry out. Tomorrow's forecast is much better.