Christchurch, New Zealand

There is always something reassuring about the sound of the aircraft wheels coming down and then feeling the gentle jolt of rubber hitting tarmac. As I peered out the window I couldn’t help but smile as I took in the lush green paddocks dotted with big woolly sheep which lined the runway and the irony of it all. I suddenly found myself wondering if I would actually recognise my hosts and would they recognise me? After all  I had only met Philip and Linda once before when they came to Brisbane about six months earlier and we’d caught up for dinner.

Pushing my concerns aside I disembarked my flight and once again I made my way through customs with no delays.  Walking out into the open arrivals lounge my earlier concerns returned as my eyes darted around the room scanning for a familiar face. It didn’t take long before we made eye contact and shared a big smile as I felt my muscles relax.  Philip and Linda stood to greet me, and then as we embraced they admitted that they shared the same concerns. We laughed at ourselves and made our way to the car.

Linda informed me that Angus had clued onto my visit so the surprise was not going to be quite what we had hoped. Angus was most likely the kind of kid sleuth that found the Christmas presents before they arrived under the tree on Christmas morning.  I wasn’t too worried that my visit was no longer a surprise as I was just happy to be there with them and share in their life for a few days.

Angus was still at work so we went for a drive around Christchurch where I could see firsthand the damage caused by the tragic earthquakes earlier this year. In some places you would never know the sheer devastation that took place and in other areas your heart ached as you drank in the enormity of what Mother Nature was capable of.

They took me up to a lovely little look out café which sold overpriced food and drinks however more than made up for it with the panoramic views of the city. Having not eaten anything other than some crackers all day, my first holiday food was a huge slice of moist carrot cake with lashings of cream cheese icing, Yum! As I gorged myself we caught up on what life had brought them since Angus’s operations and what the plans were for the weekend ahead.

It wasn’t long before it was time to go and pick Angus up from work. A well dressed and impatient Angus was standing on the side of the road talking on the phone as we approached. He was excited to see me but not surprised. After a big hug and a quick hello we were back on the road again, this time heading back to the farm which was over an hour away.

Angus’s parents own a beautiful property where over three thousand sheep and about three hundred cattle call home.  With this being my first visit to New Zealand other than in transit I was mesmerized by the picturesque landscapes that were whizzing by my window. It was lambing season so the road was boarded by beautiful rolling green pastures peppered with mummy sheep and their cute as a button lambs.

By the time we arrived home I was starting to feel the weariness wash over me despite having slept for several hours on the flight. Angus’s older Sister Phillipa and her two gorgeous little girls were already there and had dinner cooked and ready to eat. For the first time I experienced roast mutton and vegies. Having only recently acquired the taste for lamb I have to say I quite enjoyed my meal despite the stronger flavour and smell of the mutton, although I did have some extra mint sauce to be sure. Not long after dinner it was off for a nice hot shower and bed, which after such a long day I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.

Until next time,

Janie xo

Departure Day

Departure Day After months of meticulous planning, positive thinking and bubbling excitement the day finally arrived to set off on my big adventure Thursday 6th October. Now I have travelled overseas on numerous occasions and I have always had wonderful experiences however I never usually get excited until I actually arrive. This was definitely not the case with this trip, I felt like a 5 year old child filled with wonder and optimism.

The alarm sounded loudly in my ear as I turned to see 4am flashing in my face signalling that I had only 2 snoozes before I had to roll out of bed. I don’t know about you but I’m a snoozer, I love nothing more than to set my alarm 45 minutes early. I like the staged approach to waking up, it’s a bit like giving a child warning that they have 15 minutes to say their goodbyes and its home time. It helps me to mentally prepare to say goodbye to my dreams and their characters until we meet again.

I digress, so as I hit the snooze button I realised I was no longer dreaming but busily working out how much I still had to do in my head. Once again like every holiday I’ve taken, I found myself still in the office late the night before making sure everything was just right. Having crawled into bed after midnight I didn’t exactly have the best night’s sleep but surprisingly it didn’t bother me because my inner 5 year old was jumping around as if Santa was coming.

I was staying with some friends who had very graciously offered to take me to the airport and with all good intentions we set off. We got away about twenty minutes later than planned and decided to take a short cut, the kind of short cut you’ve not taken for a long time and ends up being the long way after all. So after several road works and traffic jams I could see the time ticking away steadily and I have to admit my faith was wavering a little especially when I realised that the ticket said three hours before departure and not two hours! My heart started racing and all my good work looked set to slide away.

I quickly gave myself a mental slap and calmed myself down by visualising myself sitting in a first class seat being served champagne and nibbles. I must mention here that part of my experiment was to visualise being upgraded at least once on my trip. Sadly, I have to report that this apparently was not within my power on this trip. I have however not lost my dream that one day I will get an upgrade to business or first class. I called my trusty best friend and travel agent Laura to find out what my chances were of missing my flight due to my complacency. Once the lecture was over about being so irresponsible she finally assured me that I should be ok.

With my mind a little more at ease I went back to my champagne and nibbles in my head. I did arrive in time for my flights and plenty of time to sit and relax at my gate before departure. I pretty much went straight through all check points without delay which became a fairly common theme for the rest of my trip.

I’ve always felt a bit like a naughty child in a classroom if I don’t pay some attention to the safety messages and demonstration and always keep alert and focused until this part of the flight is over and then all bets are off. I know some people are really bad travellers and find it very difficult to sleep on flights however I am not one of them. It is not unusual for me to be asleep before we even get off of the runway. Once I actually closed my eyes for a second and then next thing I heard was “Prepare the cabin for landing” What? I missed breakfast? My flight from Brisbane to New Zealand was no exception, only waking to go to the toilet half an hour before landing and then went back to snoozing until we started to descend.

Until next time,

Janie xo 

Planning Chicago

So in a nut shell so far I had a pretty good skeleton of an itinerary and was very excited about discovering what adventures and experiences would create the rest of the body. There was still a little bit of planning required for the little stops in between the three star attractions of the trip. Laura used her extensive personal travel experience and sorted out my accommodation in Miami and Los Angeles at the Crown International. These three nights would be the fanciest comfort I would experience in my five weeks of travel. Can I just say that I would highly recommend these hotels to anyone. Their service and facilities were exceptional for the price; however the nicest hotel of the two was by far Los Angeles.

After splurging on these hotels and conscious of my budget, I decided that I would look for some kind of alternative to a hotel when staying in Chicago. After some research I discovered a brilliant website www.airbnb.com and here I found all kinds of accommodation in pretty much every corner of the globe. This site is where people can advertise a room for rent by the night usually in their own home. These can range from sleeping on someone’s couch for $10 a night or a hotel room for $375 a night, something for every budget.

I found a lovely double room sharing a two bedroom apartment with a young aspiring artist and I suspect entrepreneur in the making. The room looked very cute and comfortable; it was close to the train line and apparently located in the 20th precinct of Chicago, supposedly the safest. It also backed onto the very trendy and lively Clark Street. The room was only $55 per night so I was more than happy to risk the potential of a little discomfort for that price so I booked it. I would highly recommend this site to anyone working on a budget and wanting to get a more personal glimpse into the lives of the locals.

Next was what to do when I got to Chicago. I decided not to book any tours until I arrived there but to be aware of what the times and locations were. One tour in particular was definitely on my list and that was the architecture river tour. This is a 90 minute boat cruise which was supposed to be excellent and only $35 (http://www.architecture.org). One of my associates at work had talked highly about it and strongly recommended that I do it. There were a few other tours I was interested in as well but didn’t know what to expect when I got there so I just made a few mental notes.

Chicago is also renowned for its live Broadway shows and entertainment, so of course I looked into this only to discover that there wasn’t anything I wanted to see on those dates. Unperturbed I then turned to the Arts which again Chicago is renowned for. I discovered that they had The Art Institute of Chicago Museum (http://www.artic.edu) for just $18 per person this was also set to be a sure favourite on my to do list in Chicago.

Finally I felt pretty confident that I had covered more than enough to ensure a smooth and easy journey over the course of my five weeks away. There really is something very special about knowing everything is in order and going to work out just fine.

Until Next time,

Janie xo

Planning the Trip

Dear Readers,

My greatest apologies, this post was supposed to be the one for Friday and Friday’s post for today… I hope this will not cause too much confusion.

Enjoy!

The one thing I had decided long ago was that I wanted to go to the Caribbean for a few weeks of my holiday. Earlier circumstances had shifted my attention in this direction of the world and I was keen to check it out. In late 2010, I met with some old family friends Michael and Michelle whom I hadn’t seen since I was a ten year old. When we met it was just like no time had really passed (I’m sure Facebook helped with that a little:). They brought along their beautiful daughter Sarah who was only 6 months old when I’d seen her last and her now fiancé Myles. I clicked with them instantly and we had a lovely afternoon catching up on the last twenty years.

As the afternoon moved on I told them about my dream of going on a big overseas holiday as a kind of present to myself for my thirtieth birthday. They had half joked that I should seriously consider going to Costa Rica as their son and his family lived there and they might just be visiting then. I had considered several options for my holiday before remembering their offer. I got in touch with them only to discover that it was again perfect timing as they would not only be there but Sarah and Myles were also going to be there on vacation. So it was decided that I would spend part of my holiday in Costa Rica.

Throughout this whole process there was one friend I desperately wanted to visit however it just didn’t look like it would work out financially or practically. Despite the hurdles, I continued to think about how wonderful it would be to go and see her. Kelly was my ex-boyfriend’s house mate and as soon as we met we knew we would be lifelong friends. Kelly is originally from South Africa and after travelling the world for some years she decided to go back to study in Australia.

Just before we met, she had been living in the States with her Mum and Dad. Whilst living there she met Bobby and fell in love. It wasn’t long before he asked her to marry him and she excitedly accepted. After six long months apart, Kelly finished her studies and headed back to Cleveland, Ohio to get married.

We have kept in constant contact and she has been an amazing support to me often playing the role of Editor for my work. I missed my friend terribly as all of our conversations over the last two years had been in the form of email and Facebook. One day I decided to do another review of my finances and costs for flights only to discover that I was actually going to have more money than I thought. So I checked out some of my options and low and behold I could afford to fly to Cleveland to visit my friend. So I emailed her straight away and told her I was coming to stay for a few days and finally meet her precious little bundle Ella Mae. Kelly was as excited as I was and again it turned out the timing couldn’t have been better planned as it was her last week of maternity leave.

As I ticked another item on my wish list my mind went back to Chicago, the only city in the States that for some reason I really wanted to visit. Maybe it was because one of my idols Oprah was from there or maybe it was just a connection I couldn’t explain. I knew nothing about the city however wanted to go and see it anyway. Suddenly I noticed people talking about it and how great it was and all the things you could do there. So I investigated a little further and discovered that I could afford a few days to explore Chicago as well.

Until Next time,

Janie

It All Comes Together

With my best friend Laura being a world class travel agent and only a few weeks left before my departure I made the trek down to the Gold Coast to finally secure my flights. Funny thing is that when I was supposed to book my flights, Laura was too busy to process them so we decided to wait until she returned from two weeks overseas. I was admittedly a little stressed at first knowing how expensive flights become when you leave it to the last minute to book. However, I decided to let go of the stress and instead focus only on the image of myself getting a really good deal on flights instead of paying top dollar.

As it would happen America’s economy took a backward step during these two weeks, losing their AAA rating and effectively meaning that my flights dropped in price by almost a thousand dollars, Yay for me!!! (Sorry, as sad as this was for the States it was very economical for me…) With so much working in my favour I was getting more and more excited and found it easier and easier to stay positive and not let the little things worry me. I was finally able to breath and just believe that this was going to be the best holiday ever and that I wouldn’t have any problems along the way.

So late into the night I found myself most days busily researching all of the options available to me in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and most importantly Costa Rica. The more I read about Costa Rica the more excited I became and decided that I really wanted to write about my travels. I didn’t want to write the typical travel blog, I wanted to capture something a little more special than just the touristy stuff.  I wanted to write about the culture, the people I met, the lives that they live, their beliefs, their attitudes, their trials and tribulations and how my personal journey has been affected by these encounters.

I was going to be spending effectively seventeen days in Costa Rica so I decided to spend five or so days with my friends and travel on my own for the remainder. When I mentioned my plans and ideas for tours to my friend Michelle, she promptly told me to hold off on booking anything until I heard back from her. The following day I received an email telling me that a very good friend of her sons was a personal guide. So for a daily rate plus fuel he would be my guide picking me up from the airport and taking me on a ten day road trip around Costa Rica before taking me to meet with them in Hermosa Heights.

So effectively for the same money I had budgeted for the five or six tours and transport I could have my own personal tour guide, translator, negotiator and travel companion for the first ten days.  Of course I jumped at the opportunity as I trusted my friends’ recommendation without question. It had only been a week earlier that I had been telling some friends that I just wished that I had someone to show me around that could speak Spanish and show me the real Costa Rica not just the tourist stuff.

Well it would seem that the universe had heard my request and again delivered All I knew about my guide was that his name was Roy; he was a Tico (Costa Rican male), spoke fluent English, had long dreadlocks, was covered in tattoos, liked spear fishing and was a long trusted friend of my friends. With all of this in place I simply worked out my dates for travelling and staying with my friends and left the remainder of my trip blank until I arrived in San Jose. I don’t think it even occurred to me that we might not get along and then have to spend ten days together. I guess I just trusted that I had been asking for this so surely we would get along, wouldn’t we?

Note: When you are booking overseas travel it really is worth your while to visit a good travel agent, someone you get along with and feel comfortable doing business. They are experts in what they do and know exactly how to find and get you the best prices and deals on flights, seats, accommodation and tours  that you can’t always access online. However, when it comes to domestic flights within a country or within Australia you are much better off buying these online as agents do not get any special deals on these flights. They pay exactly what you pay.

Until next time,

Janie xo