I had spent most of my time in Europe in the UK, or the British Isles if you include Ireland. I wanted to spend a week somewhere on the mainland. Some of my family said I should visit Greece, others said I should visit Italy, all agreed I should go somewhere where the weather is warmer. I checked the future weather report for both Greece and Italy and they both were reporting the same type of weather. I tried to ask around to see if I could get a tie breaker. I even asked twitter. No one could tell me Italy or Greece. I flipped a coin. Seriously. And it landed on Italy. After I returned from Ireland, I booked my trip plane to Italy. I booked the rest of my t.rip while in Edinbraugh. It gave me something to look forward to. I was enjoying my time in Scotland, but it was nice to think that in a weeks time I would be enjoying Italy at its 16 degrees celsius sunshine. Plus all the delicious pasta and wine I would be consuming. As I was flying over Europe, I realized Italy’s primary language wasn’t English. This would be my first time in a country by myself where the primary language wasn’t English. No Wilma the translator with me this time. Navagating the airport was fine, the signs were in both Italian and English. And I know a little bit of Spanish, which has some similarities to Italian, so I was making do. I booked my train ticket, and was on my way to Rome. On the train it dawned on me I forgot to research what kind of plugs Italy uses. I did have a universal plug, which I was pretty sure would work. The English plug on it was loose, but I had aquired a few replacements. I googled the Italian plug, which happens to be an European plug, and I had a converter for it. Crisis adverted. I made it to Rome, and located where my accomidation was, and started walking. Just outside the train station Rome is covered in graffiti, litter, and smells a bit of poo. There are a lot of people hanging about, and I felt a little more self aware walking the streets. Walking around Rome was definitely a bit diffierent compared to Scotland. I kept a better eye on my small backpack, my rather large suitcaste and my surroundings. It was hard not to look like a tourist. Not only did I have all my luggage, but I was boosting long blonde hair and pale skin. I made it to my room and got settled in. The staff was great, very friendly. They told me a few places I could go for some pizza and gelato. I was only staying in Rome one night because I was headed to Florence the following morning. My train to Florence wasn’t until one, so I figured I had time to do one thing in Rome in the morning, and I choose the Colosseum. I speed walked down there, took a few pictures and speed walked back. The sun was out and shinning. I had a long sleeve on but no jacket. As I was speed walking back, I could feel the sweat dripping down my back. I hadn’t sweat with such little clothing on since Africa. I grabbed my luggage and went back to the train station. I could not find the train to Florence on the digital screen. I asked one of the ticket masters and he told me to sit tight for a bit, the train would show up soon. It was about 10 til my train was to leave and I still didn’t see it on the screen. I decided my train must continue on to one of spots listed on the digital board. I matched the train number to the train going to Venice. I had less then 10 minutes to get to the other side of the train station. I made it thanks goodness. I arrived in Florence and once again lugged my suitcase around the cobblestone to my next accomidation. After settling in, I decided to go see David. Not my David haha. Michelangelo’s. I went into the Galleria dell’ Accademia and saw the religious paintings, the various sculptures, and when I turned the corner the mighty David. He stands at about 20 feet tall and is gorgeous. You could spend a good amount of time just staring at his magnificence. I walked a bit more around Florence. I was staying near The Church of Santa Maria or The Duomo which is basically the center of town. Florence doesn’t have the graffitti like Rome. Its a bit cleaner, and more uniform. All the churches have the same marble design, and the roofs are a red tile. It really is a beautiful city. I checked out the market, which is basically a bunch of carts full of stuff for sale. Now that I have packed my bag for home I’m glad that I didn’t buy anything. I was really looking at the purses and the scarves. I walked back to my room when I met a Canadian girl staying at the same place as I. We chatted a bit and decided to go get a drink and some food after checking in. She is from Canada but has been living in Slovenia for the past few years. We walked around Florence for a bit more until decided we were absolutely shattered and it was time to retire for the night. I was running my mud run in less then two weeks time, and decided I should do a bit more running. I woke up early and ran up to Michelangelo Piazza. From there you can see the see the whole city and the view is beautiful. I had moments of sunshine and some overcast. There is a replica statue of David in the piazza. It was about 8:30am when I made it up there, there were a few tour buses up, but I’ve heard that usually the place is crawling with them. So I made do with the light number of visitors. I had heard of the view from Santa Miniato was just as good, so I ran up there. It was a spectacular view as well, a bit different, but still brillant. I don’t know if I could pick one over the other because they boosted different things. I decided to run back to my room and came across a lovely running path. One I would use again if I was staying longer. I made my way back through town and to my room. There is a giant river that runs though Florence. I spent most time on the Duomo side, but it was nice to get on the other side and cross the Ponte Vecchio which is the most popular bridge in Florence. I had a few churches on my adgenda as well as a few plazzas. My favorite was the outside sculpture muesum. There you saw Donatello’s take on David along with a few other famous statues. I stayed there until the rain came. And when the rain came it fell hard. I rushed inside a church, but I was already soaked. The rain let up a bit and I decided to grab some lunch. One of the server’s at the resturaunt was getting off their shift soon and volunteered to show me a bit around Florence. It is amazing the amount of history the locals retain about their city. I don’t think I could tell you any history about Gridley, and not much more about California. I decided to go on one final walk for my daily gelato which I consumed in the outside sculptor museum. It wasn’t raining, and a lovely evening out in Florence. I had one final full day in Florence. I spent it climbing 900 steps. I climbed both the Duomo and the Bell Tower. I visited the Santa Croce which holds the tombs of Michelangelo, Galelio and Machiavelli to name a few. The rain came again and I was drenched. I made my way back to my room to change for dinner. I was meeting one of Mckenna’s Navy friends who lives in Pisa (about 1 hour from Florence). We ordered a variety of dishes and everything was absolutely delicious. The raviolis were to die for, and I am pretty sure I ate veal. Reason I think is beause the meat was really red, like it looked to be cooked rare, but it didn’t bleed like a regular medium rare steak would. It was also really tender. It’s only a guess that I had veal. Whatever it was, it tasted delicious. After dinner, we walked around a bit and I got another history lesson. Florence has a lot of high end shopping and we laughed at the high priced hideous items for sale in the window. It had been another long day, so Johnny and I said our goodbyes and I went back to my room. My plan for tomorrow was to sleep in as late as possible.
Wanaka. My last new spot in New Zealand. It is another mountain town by a lake. But smaller than Queenstown. It has a few ski resorts nearby and is a bit drier than the west. Wanaka also had a few pine trees. If this doens’t sound familiar. It reminded me of Reno-Tahoe again. I booked my canyoning tour for the following day. It was supposed to a bit cooler and maybe even rain. I would save the long day hike for my second day in Wanaka. I have decided that going for a run is an easy and efficient way to view a new place. You move at a quicker pace than walking, and can see spots you wouldn’t see driving. I took a path along the lake and it was gorgeous. My friend I had met in Rotorua was also in Wanaka, so we made dinner plans for the following day. The mountains in NZ aren’t really that high in elevation, but they look so dramatic because the towns are close to sea level, so the climbs up are always intense. I can’t remember exactly where I was, but one bus driver told me if they put in a pipe from the lake to the ocean the town would flood. The mountains are 1000 meters or 600 meters tall (which isn’t really that tall compared to some mountains in the States) but the town is basically sea level. Some are below sea level. Where in Tahoe or Denver the towns are already at a higher elevation. This is my theory on why the mountains in NZ look so dramatic. I was pretty pumped for canyoning. I went to check in and the guide was hilarious. He guessed I was from California. I don’t know if that was a lucky guess, or if California natives have a certain vibe. In our small group it was two couples and me and then the guide. Everyone in the group was really rad. We were going to be canyoning in Hasst Pass, so I made the drive up like going to the west coast for the 3rd time. Good thing it is such a pretty drive. I had been once before in Costa Rica, so I was excited to see how they were different. For one this water was freezing! In Costa Rica you wore your own clothes. Here we had thermals and a wet suit and some special shoes and gloves. And you needed it all. The 2nd difference was the group was a lot smaller. We had about 4 guides and 30 people or something in CR. We made the hike up and did our first practice abseil. Abseil is what they call repelling. In total we only abseiled twice. Once for practice and then once down a 12 meter waterfall. The other ways we would get through the canyon was by walking, jumping and sliding. The slides were wicked. You go down a natural rock slide and then it just ends and you fall into the pool of freezing water. It was also beautiful. I didn’t bring my camera, but I did buy the photos. I can’t wait to look at them. Some of the jumps were smaller and easy. But I will admit I am a bit afraid of heights, so when the first 6 meter jump came about it took me a moment. The guide started to count for me, but I can’t do that. I have to jump on my own terms. I would look over the edge and think oh heck no and step back. I know the longer I stare at it the harder it gets. So my method, is I say I’ll jump on the count of three (mind you this is my third time counting to three), in reality I count to three but I finally jumped at two. I think it catches myself off guard and I am able to overcome my fear. The day was awesome, but cold. Some times you would have to slide and hit in a certain spot, or jump in a certain spot. Our guide didn’t abseil once. Not even off the 12 meter waterfall. He jumped or slid everything. But hey that is his job. So the girl I met in Hokitika, that had been living in Wanaka, said she had some friends who were canyoining guides. Turns out my guide was one of them. Small world. The other hard jump was about the same height as the other, but you had to jump out because the rock went out a bit at the bottom. That was trippy because boy I wouldn’t want to break my legs on those rocks. I still have too many adventures ahead of me. We all made it successfully out of the canyon and stopped to have some well deserved lunch. At this time we were all hoping for a hot shower and some warm tea. We had been freezing all day. I got back into Wanaka just in time for dinner with my friend. I decided to explore around Wanaka a bit before calling it a night. Turns out the best way to window shop is to go when the stores are closed which isn’t hard to do in NZ. The next day I was going to hike Roy’s Peak. Another hike that had been recommended to me by a few people. The trail head is about a 10 or 15 minute drive out of town. I was now a hitchhiking expert. This was going to be easy. I did walk along the lake a bit to see the sites and the Wanaka tree. The tree is a sole random willow tree about 3 or 4 meters from shore in the lake. And everyone flocks there to take pictures. Then I decided to keep walking and stick out my thumb again. This time I walked for about 15 minutes before getting picked up. It was a French guy who was driving around looking for different trail heads. He dropped me off at the trail head and I was on my way. The hike was steep. Boy was it steep. And some of it went through a sheep farm. So lots of poop on the trail. The baby lambs were worth it though. I met a Hungarian who I ended up walking with. His sister lives in Auckalnd, but she was still working, so he was going on a South Island tour on his own. And then he would do a North Island tour with his sister. We made it to the first picturesque peak and then made the journey to the summit. It was a climb, but completely worth it. One thing I thought was cool was while we were at the summit another boy came up and he was from Colorado. And then a girl came up and she was from Texas. Why is that cool? Because you never out number the Europeans like that! Its always Europeans everywhere and one American, and here we had three Americans and one European. Its the small things haha. We walked back down and then decided to get some well deserved ice cream in town. I ran into some people from my hostel I had met at breakfast. We chated and one of the boys was like hey I saw you hitchhiking. It always funny when this happens because the response it always “Why didn’t you pick me up?” He was with a guide, so I got it. I made some dinner and went to bed. I had one day left in Wanaka. Did I mention how sore I was becoming? Between Canyoning and the hike I was feeling like an old woman. But I had one more day in Wanaka and one more hike. I went up Mt Iron which also has a nice view and then went to puzzle world. Puzzle world was cool, they have an illusion room and then a real life outdoor maze. I totally felt like a character from maze runner. It was getting hot and my feet hurt. I just wanted to chill by the lake while I waited for my bus, and that is exactly what I did. Wanaka was awesome. I loved it. I could of stayed longer, but I already had everything booked. Its okay though, I was headed back to Queenstown for my final days in New Zealand. Life is good.
Aoraki/ Mount Cook National Park
I have spent the last two days in the Mount Cook National park. The day I arrived it poured. Luckily the wifi was decent enough I could watch UP. I also tried to plan out my last three weeks here and see if I could do a great walk. I grew tired of researching and trying to make everything work. The ones I wanted are booked full. My fault for not thinking of it sooner. Luckily where I live there are tons of places to go backpacking. It’s more primitive back home. We don’t have fancy huts you sleep in, at least that I’m aware of. I’ll save that adventure for back home. In New Zealand, I will enjoy my day walks. Since everyone makes a big deal about doing a great walk or staying in a hut, I am wondering if in their home countries they can go camping or stay in the great outdoors? I don’t know, but that might be something I ask. After a chilly wet night in Mt Cook, I awoke and the sun was shining. It was perfect, for I was going glacier kayaking. I took in the beauty that surrounded me. The view from my room was breathtaking. The view from the village was just incredible. I met my guide and group mates for the kayaking tour. It was two couples and then myself and one other lady. The lady I was going to be teamed up with was leaving her baby and husband behind. During my travels around New Zealand, I have observed a few thing. I would say about 90% of the people traveling are either solo like me or in a couple. There have been a few spots (Rotorua and Mt Cook primarily) where the Asians flock. I’m not sure why they are drawn to such places, but it is overwhelming the amount you see. I have met a few groups of friends together, but it is rare. Mt Cook was probably a little more of a couple type of place, but I still met some nice people. It has been refreshing to see all the cute couples, both married and not, go about their adventures around New Zealand. I think a couple who goes on adventures together is a happy couple and more likely to stay one. It does make me a bit nostalgic, but I’ll survive. From what I have heard about Queenstown, I don’t think I will feel left out not being in a couple. Sounds like its a bit of a party town. Anyway, so I met up with my guide to go kayaking. After we drove for about 10 mins, we did a 15 min hike to lake, and then spent some time cleaning out the kayaks that had been filled up with water. We were given our gear and the safety talk. We wear this skirt type of thing that closes off the hole we sit in in the kayak, and that protects us from getting wet. I was very thankful for that because the water was ice cold. In fact, the water is so cold nothing can live in it. The lake is surrounded by ice. You could see gaps between the lake and the shore wall and basically it was ice melting. There were also a few icebergs floating in the lake which was awesome to see. Since none of us wanted to end up like the Titanic, the guide would check out the berg, and any part of it underwater, before we got close to it. The view was epic. We were given our warning for in case ice chunks started to break off, and the waves it would produce, but luckily that did not happen. We kayaked our way back to shore and made our way back to the village. The day was still young and the sun was still shining, so I decided to take the Hooker Valley hike. It was a long but easy walk. You crossed three swing bridges. Each time going over a roaring glacier river. We saw a few different lakes, and the backdrop the entire time was the snow covered southern alps. Mount Cook became closer and closer and you reached the end of the hike. It’s a fairly well-traveled hike, but I don’t think as crowded as the Tongariro. The final destination is Hooker lake which overlooks Mt Cook. Mt Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. It stands over 3700 meters tall. Which actually I have come to learn isn’t really that tall. Most of the mountains in Colorado are 4000 meters tall. I swiftly made my way back to the lodge because I wanted to use the sauna before it closed. I spent about a solid 1/2 hour in the sauna, and it felt so good. I had one more half day in Mt Cook before the bus would take me to Queenstown. I decided to do a track near the village which is pretty much all stairs for about 45 mins. I passed a Japanese couple and an older gentleman on my way up. Once again the view was well sweet as (kiwi term). I took what silly photos I could and then took in a moment to enjoy my surroundings. I saw both the old man and the Japanese couple up top. They asked me to jump in their picture. That’s not the first time. There have been a few people I have met briefly that wanted me in their picture. But then again I have done the same. It’s all good. I made my way back to my accommodation to fix up a quick lunch before the bus came. It may not seem like I did a whole lot, but that is because I spent most of my time staring at the mountains and their majestic beauty. Similar to what I did in Tekapo and the flowers. I did get to watch Fellowship of the Ring while I waited out the rain. And I don’t think I can watch LOTR normal anymore because I now get too giddy knowing I’ve been there. The Shire! Mordor! The Misty Mountains! The Hobbiton Woods! Too much fun.