Friday, February 27, 2009

Final Thoughts on our Trip to New Zealand

Date: Friday, February 27, 2009
Time: 11:30 am Hendersonville, NC
Location: In my recliner

We returned from our New Zealand adventure this past Monday and made it back to Hendersonville on Tuesday. We left New Zealand at 7:15 pm Monday, and arrived in Charlotte at 8:30 pm on Monday. Let me tell you--it was the longest hour and fifteen minutes I've EVER had! Since we didn’t have Internet access at my sister’s, and since our days were always filled with something to do, I didn’t have time to write daily journals. But I’ll catch you up on a few notable happenings here.

The Black Sand Beaches at Piha
Despite his having just been hired for a teaching position (applied Friday, interviewed Tuesday, hired Wednesday, started work Thursday!), my brother-in-law made time to drive us out to the famous beach at Piha, a surfers’ haven. When I first caught a glimpse of the breaking surf of the Tasman Sea over the mountains, I was spellbound, captivated, in love! And even more so as we drew closer. The beach was uncrowded on this particular day, with just few surfers braving the waves and just a few sunbathers catching the rays. A fine mist filled the air, making for a salty-sweet sensation from head to toe. The black sand was hot—burning hot! On our way back to the car, I had to stop and put my socks on as I was not able to carry the baby back over the burning sand. It was peaceful there, quiet. A place I could imagine retiring to, with Australia just 1,000 miles to the west. I haven’t been to many destinations in my life, but Piha is the loveliest I’ve ever seen with mountains and cliffs and lush greenness alongside a pounding surf. I long to return, to spend many relaxing hours with my feet in the Tasman, my skin under lotion and the high Piha sun.

The Skytower
The Skytower in Auckland is billed as offering the highest viewing point in the Southern Hemisphere. It truly is grand. We walked from the University of Auckland, a good 20-30 minute hike. The elevator ride to the top is brisk, climbing x feet in under a minute. We purchased the “complete” viewing experience, where for around $25 U.S. my son and I could access three viewing levels—the uppermost level, the café level and the main level. From the uppermost level, if your timing is right, you can watch bungy jumpers plummet their way toward earth from the main level. From the café level, you can enjoy coffee, beer, soup , sandwiches and snacks perched high above the city with glass windows all around.

And from the main level, you can—if you dare—stand on a section of glass floor as thick as very thick concrete and look straight down to the ground below. I wasn’t brave enough to do this; even looking from a distance made my legs feel weak. Oh—and the elevator is also equipped with a glass floor, so you can watch as you move up, up, up and down, down, down. Again, I didn’t look. On the bottom floor of the Skytower is a large gift shop with many treasures and good prices. So if you’re itching to shop, try to hold off until you get to the Skytower so you can see what’s available there.

The Eats
Did I mention that we ate lamburgers? How about “hot dogs” that turned out to be corn dogs filled with greasy, mushy mutton? My brother-in-law also treated us to venison burgers—my first time ever eating deer. It was not horrible, but I wouldn’t choose it on a menu given standard alternatives. We also tried (and loved!) hokey pokey, New Zealand’s national ice cream, and lollie cake, another NZ specialty. Interestingly, eggs in New Zealand are not kept refrigerated. If you need eggs, look for them on the shelves, not in the dairy section. And paper products in this environmentally conscious county are very hard to come by. Paper plates are very limited and VERY expensive, so get used to eating on napkins or on regular plates. Fast food places give you one napkin if you’re lucky. Coke products are expensive as well. And if you like half and half—you’ll have to wait until you return home to have it. We used real cream in our coffee; my first time opening it I was like, “What is wrong with this?” when I saw the thickened clumps at the top of the bottle. My brother-in-law assured me it was normal so I drank it, even though it sort of turned my stomach each time I poured.

The Flights Home; Back to Rudeness
For $75 NZ, we were able to purchase a “comfort seat” on our Air New Zealand flight home. This gave us the third seat in our row, so we would have more room to spread out during the flight. I thought it would be great—perhaps I could even get some sleep! But it still was not to be, as the arm rests between the seats do not go all the way up! So for me to use the extra seat to sleep, I had to put my legs under the armrest—not comfortable at all. Perhaps Air New Zealand should take a lesson from US Airways—the armrests on their seats go all the way up.

When we arrived back at LAX, I quickly found myself overwhelmed with American rudeness. Did I mention that the people in NZ seemed, in general, to be a pleasant and friendly lot? After we passed through customs and found our baggage, we took them to the US Airways counter for check-in. The lady there was most unfriendly. With nary a smile, she seemed as though it pained her to wait on us, as if we were an inconvenience to be borne. She told me to take my bags to such and such a place for check in—way down at “that wall of people,” she said. So down to the wall of people we went. The line went outside so we, too, dragged our luggage outside. But we didn’t see how we could get to the back of the line without going down the curb and into the street, which wouldn’t have worked with our luggage cart. So I raised my voice through the crowded line to ask an airport security guard who was directing the line, “Excuse me, how do I get to the back of this line?” A lady standing there in the line invited me to but in front of her, but she didn’t look happy about it. So I told the security guard, “Never mind, this lady said I can get in here.” He said, “No, you need to check your bags first.” I said that the gal at the US Airways counter told me to come here, to this wall of people. Then the lady who offered to let us cut in front of her said, “No, you need to go back to the US Airways counter and check them there.” The security guard gruffly agreed, pointing me back the other way. I was frustrated as the lady told me to come to this wall of people.

But we huffed back to the far-off US Airway counter, me thinking that I must have misunderstood. In the meantime, Matthew suddenly starts crying … I thought because I was gruff with him telling him to “hurry up, come on.” Then he pointed to his sandaled foot, where I noticed his sock was red with blood. Seems he rolled the bag over his foot and crunched his toenail. I asked if we needed to find medical help right away or if he could wait till we got rid of the bags. He said he could wait.
Thank goodness. So up to the US Airways Xray counter we went. The man told us to put our bags under the tape. Luckily, he came to look at them and said, “Wait a minute, are you going to Charlotte? You need to take your bags down there,” he said, pointing back to that wall of people. So I explained how we already went down there and were sent back here … and then he said that there was another not-very-visible Xray check-in place right BEFORE the wall of people. We found it and on to security we went.

The security people were unfriendly as well, as we placed our things in the bins BEFORE removing the bins from the pile. A guard gruffly told us to remove our things—and then stood there impatiently waiting to add more empty bins to the pile while we tried to quickly remove our items, take out single bins and place the items in the single bins instead. And it just felt like we had too much stuff – shoes, laptop, laptop case, two backpacks, rolling carryon, purse, camera, blackberry, vests -- that’s a lot of stuff to take on and off in a short period of time. And we were in the lane for first time travelers and those with children.

I breathed easier once we made it though security though, knowing it would be the last time I’d have to do this for this trip. So we found our gate, grabbed some lunch, and sat down to wait. While waiting, Matthew realized that he didn’t have his Nintendo case—and with it, four of his Nintendo games. He apparently left them on the Air NZ plane. I didn’t know what to do … there was no way I could get back through security and to and from the other terminal in time for our flight to Charlotte. So I approached the US Airways desk to ask for help. The rude woman there said nothing to me, she just stared and frowned as if to say, “What do YOU want?” I said, “I’m not sure if you can help me or if perhaps you can point me to someone who can … but …” and then I explained the situation. She quickly said, “I can’t do anything for you.” I said, “Can you at least get me the phone number for the Air NZ desk so I can call them?” She said, “I don’t even think I have that number …” But then she looked on a piece of paper and said, “Call this number.” So I did. And, after five minutes trying hard to understand a very thick accent, I learned I was speaking to Air Japan. That’s when I decided to call my husband, who reminded me that the games were replaceable if we didn’t get them back … and who called Air NZ and spoke to their lost and found department.

As of this writing, we still don’t have the games. I doubt we’ll ever see them again.

I miss my sister and brother-in-law and especially my cute little niece who, I hear, continues to call for “Matt, Matt, Nae, Nae!” yet Matt and Nae don’t answer. I miss the New Zealand greenery and weather and friendly, smiling faces. I miss walking around the University, where I felt a part of something much bigger than myself. But most of all, I miss the adventure, the travel, the newness! And that’s why I’m already planning my next adventure—this time, over the summer, perhaps we’ll take the kids out West to explore the Pacific Coast or the Grand Canyon, or maybe to Banff and Calgary and the Canadian Rockies.

And of course another trip to New Zealand is also in the plan—hopefully sooner rather than later!

Saturday. Feb 14th. New Zealand.

Date: Saturday, February 14th
Time: 4:00 pm New Zealand
Location: Kitchen table at my sister’s house

It’s been a long time! I arrived in New Zealand—was it only yesterday?—around 5:30 am local time. We ran around doing errands, exploring downtown … but more about that later. Right now, my sister is at the Auckland airport. She leaves tonight for New York, where she’ll stay for a week. She’s going there for the launch of her new book on nuclear nonproliferation. (If you’re like me, you’ll probably be like, “uh, what’s that?!?”) You can get your copy, too, at Norms: Why States Choose Nuclear Restraint.

My son Matthew has been busy playing with his niece for the last 30 minutes. Since they’re playing so well, I thought I’d take a moment to catch you up on the long flight over to New Zealand, my first impressions, our brief tour of downtown Auckland and then some interesting factoids you might find interesting.

The Flight
Despite all my travel gizmos—travel pillow, travel blanket, eye mask, ear plugs—I still wasn’t able to sleep well in an upright position. So I was awake at least once an hour, tossing and turning and trying to re-adjust the gizmos in some way that would help me catch some zzz’s. But it wasn’t happening.

Before light out, the Air New Zealand crew served dinner. We chose chicken with a portabella mushroom sauce with mashed potatoes and a roll and butter, a small bean salad and raspberry cheesecake. Yum! It was piping hot where needed, cold where needed, and mighty good eating! They also serve wine and beer along with juice and soda, and plenty of coffee and tea afterwards. They also make at least three trips offering various wine refills –so I took advantage and enjoyed two glasses of New Zealand wine.

During the meal, I also watched The Bucket List – or at least some of it. Each seat on an Air New Zealand long haul flight has an entertainment center on the back, so we had tons of entertainment options—games, movies, TV shows, documentaries and music. However, something was wrong with my earphone jack so I could only hear out of the left side—unless I held the cord in a particular way and applied just the right pressure to make the connection. So much of the movie was spent with me hearing nothing or snippets as I tried to get a good connection.

The coolest part of the Air New Zealand entertainment center is the flight map. With this map, you can see where you are at any time and get information on air speed, altitude, time to destination, along with maps that show the various islands, the equator and the International Date Line! I really enjoyed watching this, especially as we got nearer to Auckland!

One memorable moment was somewhere around 2:00 am. We had been experiencing some pretty rough turbulence—scary at times, actually. When I removed my eye mask, I noticed strange flashes of light outside. I looked out, past the sleeping fellow who had he window seat, and could see that we were flying right about a thick layer of white clouds. And off a little ways, I saw lots and lots of lightening lighting up the sky! We were flying ABOVE the storm! It was so awesome I wanted to share it with someone … Matthew stirred at the moment and I tried to wake him up, but he wouldn’t budge. By the way, he slept much better than I was able to!

Around 3:00 am, the crew came to life and someone spoke over the speaker system, in that charming New Zealand accent, “Good morning passengers. The crew will soon be serving breakfast.” We had a choice of fruit salad or omelet—Matthew and I chose the omelet. Along with it: potatoes, a sausage link, yogurt, small fruit salad, blueberry muffin and orange juice. Again—YUM! It was a hearty breakfast, plenty to fill even me. Coffee also flowed freely—a good thing considering I was feeling extremely beat.

One other note about the flight: the seats on the Air New Zealand Pacific Economy are rather narrow; we flew on the 747. I was surprised when I first sat down because my hips touched the sides of the seat. And I’m not even a super wide person. I actually had more hip room on the US Airways Airbus A321 that took us to Los Angeles.

First Impressions
As soon as we got near the door of the plane, I could smell New Zealand—warm and salty! That makes plenty of sense, considering Auckland is on a tiny sliver of land between the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. By the time we cleared customs and met with my sister, the sun had just started rising. Outside, the skies were overcast, the air moist. But everything was so very lush and green! It’s beautiful! We drove to my sister’s home, a strange ride, this being my first experience driving on the left side of the road! It’s not always as weird as I thought, although something strange happens when you have cross in front of traffic to make a right!

My sister and her husband needed to go into town to do a few things. Despite my desperate desire to sleep, since I only caught snippets of it during the overnight flight, I decided we’d go with them. So we went to the University of Auckland where my sister works, right in downtown. There are lots of beautiful old buildings converted into classrooms and offices and many tree-lined streets—but it’s also very cosmopolitan, with tall, glassy buildings and the Skytower, which offers the highest viewing post in the Southern Hemisphere. Downtown Auckland is also hilly and very, VERY busy—jammed with pedestrians, shoppers, pretty people, students, tourists, and tons of shops and restaurants to cater to them.

Before I could join the shopping throngs, I first needed some New Zealand money. Very strange indeed, trying to use new money. New Zealand’s paper money is colorful, with purples and blues and greens and oranges now filling my wallet. They don’t use $1 paper bills, just $5, $10, $20, $50. But they do use $1 and $2 coins, which really messes me up! So if, for example, I’m expecting $3.xx in change and they had me only coins, I’m like, “Hey … something’s wrong … where are the dollars?” And I don’t know what’s a $2 coin and what’s a $1 coin, so I just smile and put the “change” (which really isn’t change!) in my pocket and hope for the best! Same holds true when paying for things, because my wallet is just a jumble of colors to me and I have no idea which color to reach for. So I just grab one that will cover it and move on with it! It’s also different in that we in the States tend to disregard our “change” … but here, with $1 and $2 coins, a pile of coins quickly adds up to something worthwhile!

With piles of new experiences to share, I thought I’d just try to list them out without too much commentary. Otherwise, this would go on and on forever!

•Coriolis Effect – if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, fill up your sink then pull the plug. Notice which way the water goes down—counterclockwise. Here, in the Southern Hemisphere, the water flows down the drain clockwise! It’s true … I observed this myself. I can’t really explain why … something to do with the rotation of the Earth … you can look up the Coriolis Effect if you want to know more 

•Almost every toilet I have encountered here has two buttons. So when using the toilet (they’re not bathrooms or restrooms here, they’re toilets … and the signs say it as well: “Ladies Toilet”), I pushed both buttons at once to flush. Later I learned that one button is for a small flush (when you go number one), the other is for a big flush (number two). Oops! I wasted lots of water my first two days here!

•Mail delivery! We were cruising along in the car when my brother-in-law pointed out a guy on a bike. “That’s our mailman,” he said. Apparently mail delivery people in Auckland ride bikes, which is why you can’t use your mailbox for outgoing mail. Instead, you need to find a box or take it to a post office.

•Language – I’ve never been to England, but I suppose these differences in language I noticed are the same there (although I could be wrong, having never been): you don’t rent a movie, you HIRE a movie; you don’t take the elevator, you take the lift; you don’t get food “to go,” you get it “to takeaway.”

No worries, right Mate?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

From Air New Zealand

From Air New Zealand, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

I believe this card was in the children's pack given as we boarded our Air New Zealand flight.

Skytower, Auckland

Skytower, Auckland, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Beautiful Auckland

Skytower, Auckland

Skytower, Auckland, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

A must-see tourist destination -- the highest viewing spot in the Southern Hemisphere!

Maori Haka

Maori Haka, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

"The Haka (a traditional dance) is seen here being performed with the 'Taiaha' a traditional Maori weapon." We didn't get to see a full cultural performance like this. But, one day, while we were walking to my sister's office, we saw a group of students performing a Maori Haka although without the costume. Very cool!

One Tree Hill, Auckland

One Tree Hill, Auckland, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

We visited One Tree Hill during our visit to Auckland -- and it looked just like this! "One Tree Hill is a renowned geographic feature of Auckland and can be seen from most parts of the city." There used to be a lone tree standing here--it was cut down by a Maori protester and this statute was erected in its place.

City of Sails

City of Sails, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Auckland is beautiful ... and the skies are just this clear and blue when the sun is shining!

New Zealand

New Zealand, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Map showing New Zealand and its location in the world.

Auckland Airport

Auckland Airport, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Lovely Airport, City of Sails

From the Auckland Zoo

From the Auckland Zoo, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

We didn't visit the zoo but I loved this set of four art cards found in the mall. On the back: "Of course it's on recycled paper"

Auckland Zoo

Auckland Zoo, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Another Zoo card

The World with New Zealand on Top

I love this card as well ... notice how small Australia is? :)

Aotearoa, Rush Hour

Aotearoa, Rush Hour, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

It is said that there are 4.18 million people living in New Zealand--and 40.1 million sheep, or 10 sheep for every person. We saw sheep "out and about" during our stay in New Zealand as well! This photo, my favorite of all my postcards, shows sheep on the move outside the Vulcan Hotel in Central Otago. Oh--and Aotearoa is the Maori word for New Zealand!

Brown Kiwi

Brown Kiwi, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

"This unique, flightless bird is so readily identified with New Zealand that it has virtually superseded the fern leaf as the country's emblem. However, being strictly nocturnal, it is seldom seen in the flesh except in parks and zoos. " While at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, we saw a live kiwi and learned that there are 17 of them in captivity in the United States.

Auckland Harbour, New Zealand

Auckland Harbour, New Zealand, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Boaters' paradise here! "Yachts and launches at their moorings in Auckland's Westhaven Marina, with the Skytower beyond."

Naturally New Zealand

Naturally New Zealand, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

"Fertile pastures, snow-clad mountains, native forest, magnificent seascapes--all combine to make New Zealand a land of great natural beauty." Amen to that!

This is New Zealand

This is New Zealand, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

A lovely map card for my collection!

My favorite map card

My favorite map card, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Love this wooden map card! We stayed in Auckland, on the North Island.

Karorareka Beach, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

by Thomas Gardiner, circa 1830, Watercolor on paper

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

By Sara Hughes, 2005. Vinyl, painted precast concrete.

Rimu wood, paua shell, ivory and feathers

Another piece from the Museum of New Zealand--beautiful!

Tiki in corian with paua shell

You see this hei tiki in many materials in the tourist shops. This is a photo of a "real" one from the Museum.

Carved nephrite

Carved nephrite, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

I saw many pieces representing various Maori symbols while in New Zealand; next trip I will buy a piece like this.

Whole ivory, paua shell

Whole ivory, paua shell, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Piece on display at the Museum of New Zealand

Months in Maori

Months in Maori, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Calendar with months in the Maori language

Los Angeles

Los Angeles, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

I'm not sure about those mountains like that ... but it sure was pretty seeing LA from the air!


LAX, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

We didn't visit this restaurant as I heard the prices are outrageous. And while we were there, this structure was covered with scaffolding.


California, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Beautiful Pacific Coast ... we're talking about taking the kids out West to explore this area soon! I actually bought this card at the LA airport in hopes of mailing it to my kids, but I couldn't find a mailbox anywhere.

The Big Apple

The Big Apple, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

Also from Maria

Times Square, New York

Times Square, New York, originally uploaded by CarolinaRen.

From my sister Maria when she came from New Zealand for the launch of her book!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Waiting for Air New Zealand

Dateline: Wednesday, 5:15 pm PST

Location: Terminal 2, Gate 25, Los Angeles International Airport

Sitting on the floor by a really LOOSE, jiggy plug, charging my laptop and the DS powerpack

We board in 1.5 hours and depart in 2.25, over the Pacific to Auckland, New Zealand!

First let me say that this little bit of LA I see is gorgeous. The sky is blue-blue-blue, the kind of blue I thought only existed in the North Carolina mountains. Against this blue are green, green, green palms. Tall palms. Not the kind you see in Florida. And the air is crisp and fresh--it helped that it was cool outside, only 55 degrees when we landed.

I've always wondered if the air "smells" different in different places. I know the air around my home in North Carolina does not smell like the air around my home in Florida--the latter being worse by far. And while others have told me that the air in other places really doesn't "smell" any different, I have to disagree. The air here SMELLS clean and a little bit ocean-y. It's crisp and fresh. It's a mix of Florida AND North Carolina! If earthquakes weren't in the equation, I might want to move here.

At the very least, I'd like to bring the kids out here to explore the coast. They'd love the plane ride ... up, up, up ... seeing the clouds and the Grand Canyon (on the right side of the plane!) ... seeing the Rocky Mountains ... down, down, down ... seeing Los Angeles. They'd love it ... and so would I!

Here are a few key observations so far.

1. Airport food is EXPENSIVE.

$11 for a hamburger?
$5 for an orange juice?

Man, we should have eaten at McDonalds :)

2. You can't bring drinks in past security. I bought a few water bottles in Charlotte and had to toss them, unopened, to get to the gate here at LAX.

3. Find another way to kill germs besides washing hands. My hands are raw and red and hurting. And it doesn't help that I have to carry this awful laptop bag. Note to self--sell laptop bag on ebay upon return.

4. You don't have to find an "official" source to buy Internet access ... just sign in to whatever unsecured network you find. Chances are, it's a network that allows you to buy access. I thought I had to buy access "somewhere" but couldn't figure out where (no help desks that I could see). In desperation, I tried to connect and wound up at a T-mobile hotspot page where I could buy a pass! So I wasted lots of time doing nothing when I could have been connected. Bummer, but lesson learned.

5. I LOVE traveling! It's not just about the destination, although that's pretty wild, too! I love the journey just as much. The airports ... the people ... the ride ... eating out ... the expectation ... the newness of everything!

I think I was born to travel. I hope this is the first of many far-flung journeys. And, hopefully, with my husband and ALL of the kids, too!

I'll write my next blog on the Air NZ flight but I won't be able to post it until after I arrive. I'll also post photos when I can.

Stay tuned!

The Happy Laptop Traveler :)

Happy Travels!

February 11, 2009
Wednesday 10:15 EST
Somewhere in the air over Nashville, TN

We’re on our way! After not much sleep last night at La Quinta Inn in Charlotte (five hours), we caught a shuttle to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. I would have preferred to stay at Hyatt Place; we stayed a night at the Hyatt Place in Charlotte before our Amtrak trip to Washington, D.C. It’s a beautiful hotel – artsy and techy, very cozy, very clean. But Hyatt Place wanted in excess of $120 a night – and I couldn’t see paying that at all.

Research led me to La Quinta, which had pretty good reviews, with many people saying they’d stay again or recommend La Quinta to family and friends. The room cost $60 for the night, with free airport shuttle service and free continental breakfast with hot waffles. The hotel was clean, the room was clean, the people were friendly. So we enjoyed our stay and would stay again.

Airport security did not go as smoothly as I hoped, even though we arrived plenty early and didn’t have to wait in line. What went wrong? I’m not sure. I just feel like we had too much stuff. Take off the jacket. Take off the Baggallini document pouch. Take out the 3-1-1 bag with our toiletries for the flight to New Zealand. Take off the shoes. Oh—and please take your laptop out of your new “TSA approved easy checkpoint laptop bag.” That was a bummer, too.

So we get through ok, but then it’s a hassle having to get “dressed” again and repack stuff. Matthew isn’t wearing slip on shoes either, so that added to the hassle.

In the airport, I find myself already wishing that I had brought rolling carry-on luggage as Matthew complained that his back hurt before we even reached our gate! His backpack is not overstuffed, but it weighted in at nine pounds. So that’s probably pretty heavy for him. Mine feels heavy, too—and it’s awkward to wear because I have to take it on and off so much when sitting down and getting up. I looked for one of those folding metal carts in the airport shop by our gate, but they didn’t have one. I’ll look at LAX—if they’re affordable, I’ll probably get one to pull our backpacks—and my laptop case—around.

Speaking of the laptop case, you might remember that I purchased a new one for this trip—a Skooba laptop skin, supposedly TSA approved. But that’s not really why I bought it. I bought it so my laptop could count as a “personal item” on the Air New Zealand flight as I’m also carrying the backpack.

BUT—I don’t like the Skooba bag at all. The handles are not comfortable for carrying a laptop for long periods. My hands were hurting just from carrying it in Charlotte. So hopefully I’ll find a folding carrier to help me cart all this stuff around in LA.

The flight has been perfect so far! We’re cruising t 35,000 feet and the ride is
smooth. I feared feeling claustrophobic but they’ve got air blasting through the cabin so I really feel pretty good! The food cart is coming by now … water at $2 a bottle. I loaded up at the airport, buying two bagel sandwiches, water, soda, pretzels and a treat :) It cost an arm and a leg, but I expected the food to be costly.

Oh—one other thing. I booked an aisle seat for me (and a middle seat for Matthew) because of the potential for claustrophobia. But that’s not a concern at all. So once we’re in LA and I’m hooked up to a network again I’ll try to get us new seats—with a window for Matthew--for the way home. He doesn’t seem to notice though—he’s busy playing with his Nintendo DS!

As for me, I’m going to close up the laptop … put my tray up and my seat back (if the people behind me aren’t eating) … and try to read or snooze. If that doesn’t work, I’ll listen to some tunes instead :)

I’ll check back again soon.

Happy travels!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Verizon Wireless Conspiracy

If one person screws up, it's a mistake. If two separate people, on two separate occasions, screw up, it's a conspiracy. Right?

You tell me me: is it a lie, or is it a conspiracy, or is it just untrained people?

If you've been reading this blog, you probably already know that just days ago I purchased a new Blackberry Storm from Verizon. I had been wanting one for a very long time. And when I recently learned that I could upgrade to a Blackberry Storm with Verizon Internet and e-mail access for another $30 a month, I was sold. I had thought it would cost much more than that.

While I was purchasing online at the Verizon Web site, a Verizon representative connected with me via LiveChat. So I was able to ask questions as they arose--very cool. One of the questions that occured to me while purchasing: "I'll be traveling to New Zealand next week. Will it cost me extra to call my family in the states from New Zealand if I have this phone?" The Verizon representative said, "No, it's a global phone so there are no extra charges."

I told my husband this; he scoffed. So I asked the Verizon rep again: "My husband is certain that per-minute charges will apply if I call my family from New Zealand or if they call me." The Verizon LiveChat agent said he would check. Soon, he typed, "No, no extra charges for any calls made between Verizon phones."

WOW! My youngest daughter, who has been very unhappy that I'm leaving, would be thrilled to know that now, with my new phone and Verizon wireless service, she could call me anytime and I could call her. I wouldn't be locked in to having to connect over a landline. Plus--I'd have Web and e-mail access all the time! Sweet!

After I closed the deal, hubby was still concerned. So I asked him to call Verizon on the phone to triple check. He did. The Verizon representative he spoke with ALSO said the same thing -- no charges for calls between our two Verizon phones, even if I'm in New Zealand. My husband was shocked, but we were very pleased. This really cemented my decision to get this phone at this time. I made the right choice, or so it seemed.

When the phone arrived, I was looking through Verizon's "Global Support" paperwork, which tells you the steps you need to take before traveling and what to do when you're overseas. One of the steps said to make sure we have an appropropriate Verizon "global calling plan." It said, "Dial *611 to confirm your plan." So, I figured, it's a free call ... let me just follow these steps to the "T."

And guess what?!? This Verizon representative tells me, sorry, it will cost me $1.99 A MINUTE to make or receive calls while in New Zealand!

I replied, "I've been duped." The Verizon rep had nothing to say.

Then I told my daughter the news, and the tears began to flow. She had been feeling a bit better about the trip knowing that she could call me whenever she wanted--as long as it wasn't in the wee hours New Zealand time.

So now I wonder if I'll even be able to access the Internet and my e-mail for free.

I won't get any real answers until Monday. The last Verizon representative recommended I call the Verizon Global Sales team to see what they could do for me. Buyer beware: just because you hear the same "facts" from Verizon representatives THREE TIMES, it still may not be true.

Tick tock, tick tock...

The countdown clock is ticking to Wednesday, the day my son and I leave for Auckland, New Zealand!

All gear and new stuff has arrived:

1. Eagle Creek travel pillows from (purple for me, slate blue for my son)

2. Coolmax travel blanket from (one boring color but roomy!)

3. Baggallini ticket organizer/wallet from (black so as not to stand out)

4. Panasonic portable waterpik from (can't live without my waterpik!)

5. Skooba skin laptop sleeve from CSN Stores (in the lovely shade of plum you see here)

6. Blackberry Storm from Verizon (love the phone, but ticked at Verizon, a story for another post)

Not to mention various other goods and sundries that I either bought or already had: books for reading on the plane, earphones for my Creative Zen mp3 player, sleep mask, earplugs, mini-toiletries to use before disembarking in New Zealand so as not to offend (toothpaste, deodorant, toothbrush, wipes, etc.). All of this stuff plus my camera will go into a carry-on backpack. I will also carry on my laptop in its very thin sleeve—the thin sleeve means it counts as a “small personal item” in lieu of my purse. I’ll actually pack my traveling purse in a checked bag. For the trip, I’ll carry my passport, license, boarding passes and money goods close to my chest, under my vest, in my new super thin Baggallini travel wallet.

We actually leave Tuesday, after the kids get out of school. After we pick them up, we’ll all drive over to Charlotte (two hours away) where I’ve reserved a hotel room for the night. Then, after a family dinner, hubby and kids will drop me and Matthew off at the hotel. We’ll catch a free hotel shuttle to the airport in the morning in plenty of time for our 9:45 am flight to Los Angeles.

We’ll arrive in LA around 3:30 EST, 12:30 PST. And we’ll have to hang out at the airport until 10:30 pm EST, 7:30 pm PST, when our Air New Zealand flight takes wing over the Pacific! If we’re able to check our bags in LA shortly after we arrive, then we may venture out of the airport—maybe head over to the famed “In-n-Out Burger” nearby. Maybe we’ll get a hotel room for the day. Or, maybe we’ll just hang out at the airport. My son has his Nintendo DS. I have my Blackberry and laptop.

Anyway, I think I’m more nervous now than excited. The HUGENESS of this trip is starting to hit me. I’ll miss my husband and kids terribly. But … I’m going DOWN UNDER! Auckland, New Zealand! Where it’s summertime! I’ll touch my toes in the Tasman Sea and experience the roaring surf of a black sand beach … and try mutton and fall in love with the accent … and see what their commercials are like … and their newspaper ads … and their radio stations … and their people and culture and land! How exciting! I hope this is just the first of many, many adventures!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Blackberry Storm ... and one week until takeoff!

Well folks, after drooling over smart phones with Web and e-mail capability for a while, I finally bit the bullet and got myself a Blackberry Storm. It will arrive tomorrow--I can't wait!

What can I do with this new gadget? Plenty!

  • Check my e-mail from anywhere, with the unlimited Web / e-mail plan from Verizon
  • Access the Web from anywhere
  • Review and (mildly) edit Microsoft documents from anywhere
  • Shoot photos and videos
  • Talk on the phone
  • Listen to music
  • MORE!
The phone itself cost $99 with a two-year contract. And the unlimited Web and e-mail access adds just $30 a month to my existing Verizon cell phone plan.

And even better, I can use this phone to access the Web and Internet while I'm in New Zealand for no extra charge. I can also talk to my husband and anyone else on the Verizon network -- no extra charge! This is excellent, as it means I am not tethered to a physical location to be able to speak to my family while I'm away.

Speaking of away, in one week from today at about this time I will be arriving at Los Angeles International Airport to await the evening flight to New Zealand.

Our passports arrived on Monday. New gadgets and travel gear are en-route. So we're all set!

And speaking of travel gear, I'd like to give a SHOUTOUT to for their unheard-of customer service. I ordered two travel pillows from them on Sunday based on a statement on their site that said "Most orders shipped within 24 hours." I also paid priority mail fees just to be sure. Then today, Wednesday, I get a notice that says my order just shipped.

Will it get here in time?!?

So I headed over to and engaged one of their people through the LiveChat system. And guess what? They offered to ship me two more pillows, with 3-day UPS shipping--ON THEM--and also send me a label so I could send the first order back when they get here. Now how awesome is that??? They didn't have to do this as their site clearly says, "MOST orders ship within 24 hours," not that ALL orders ship. So they could have said, "Sorry Charlie. Hope you get them on time" and left it like that. I somewhat expected it.

So I was pleasantly and happily surprised by their offer! And I will tell everyone I know about the good folks at!

Stay tuned for more updates, including reviews of the travel gear and accessories I purchased. I'll tell you what worked and what didn't ... what I loved and what I hated. Hopefully it's all good news, otherwise I've wasted my money! :)