Posts Tagged Auckland

Airline Rankings Around the World

We ended up flying on 8 different airlines during our 30/40 World Tour, since we booked our flights individually.  Below is our ranking of airlines from best to worst.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive study; it’s merely our impressions from the economy flights we experienced during the summer of 2011.

View over New Zealand

View from our flight over New Zealand

  1. Air Emirates (Mauritius to Dubai; Dubai to Munich)
  2. Air New Zealand (Auckland to Nouméa)
  3. American Airlines (DC to LA)
  4. United Airlines (Madrid to DC)
  5. Qantas Airways (Nouméa to Sydney)
  6. Air Mauritius (Melbourne to Mauritius)
  7. Air Pacific (LA to Fiji; Fiji to Auckland)
  8. Air Berlin (Munich to Barcelona)

To learn the price of each of these flights (ranging from $137 to $946 per person), see the previous post on the cost of our trip.  But price did not directly correlate with a positive experience on an airline.

Air Emirates

Air Emirates flight attendants

The signature red hat and sweeping scarf of the Air Emirates flight attendants

We were so impressed with our Air Emirates flights.  The uniform of the flight attendants with the red hat and sweeping white scarf is quite striking and exotic.  When we first boarded, I wondered about the practicality of such an outfit.  But after we were airborne, the hats came off.

The Air Emirates food was delicious.  I’m sure you’re laughing about delicious airplane food, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps it’s because I haven’t eaten hot food on an airplane in years!

The personalized entertainment screens for each seat were the best of all of our flights.  The screens were the biggest of any airline and provided on-demand entertainment options including movies and games.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand was another of our favorite airlines.  Their economy seats were beautifully passenger centric.  The back of each seat had a drink pouch that fit my water bottle perfectly.  It’s so easy and obvious, but I’ve never seen it on another airline.  I usually have to stuff my bottle into the magazine compartment, which forces the whole pocket wide open and takes up far more space in already cramped quarters.

We also loved the personal entertainment screens for each seat, and both watched Cedar Rapids at our own pace.  I started my movie slightly earlier than Mr. HalfFull, so I was pre-laughing at all the funny parts.  Finally, he asked me to pause so that he could catch up and we could laugh together!

I think it’s wonderful when airlines let you play and pause your own movie.  You can sleep when you like, use the restroom whenever, and still catch the full movie.  It’s so nice to be in control!

American, United & Qantas

I don’t really have any strong feelings one way or the other about American Airlines, United Airlines, or Qantas Airways.  I’m also not married to that specific order.  All the flights were fine; nothing stood out to me positively or negatively, so they are all nestled in the middle of my list.

Air Mauritius

Air Mauritius only issues paper tickets.  Enough said!

Air Pacific

Air Pacific

Our Air Pacific flight landed early in the morning in Nadi, Fiji

Air Pacific ranks toward the bottom of the list because of their carry-on policy.  We specifically purchased our bags to be compliant with carry-on size restrictions.  But we had no idea that Air Pacific also has a weight restriction for carry-on bags.

I’ve never had my carry-on bag put on a scale.  But our bags turned out to be too heavy, and we were forced to check them.  I think this may have been because it was a double-decker plane which required more attention to avoid being top-heavy.

I don’t particularly mind checking my bags if I don’t get charged an extra fee.  But the problem was that we had packed with the intention of carrying our bags, meaning that we had our rain jackets rolled on the outside and other items clipped to the outside of the bags.  It’s stressful to repack a bag at the ticket counter with a line of people staring me down for being ill-prepared, especially when I thought I was perfectly prepared!

The other problem with Air Pacific is that they don’t have a regular counter in the LAX airport, so we couldn’t check in when we arrived from Washington, DC.  We we returned to the airport hours later, the line was frustratingly long and we didn’t get the seats we wanted.

Air Berlin

AirBerlin plane

Air Berlin was our least favorite airline of the 30/40 World Tour

Our original plan was to travel via train through Europe on a Eurail pass.  But for our specific plans, it wasn’t cost-effective or a good use of our time.  So we decided to book a budget flight from Germany to Spain.  It was our worst flight of the trip.

It included our only airport layover and our only flight delay.  Double whammy!  Plus, the children on the flight were unbearable and my sandwich was inedible.

In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time.  Perhaps our recent awesome flights on Air Emirates skewed our judgement.

 

  • What’s your favorite airline?
  • Have you had a delicious airplane meal?
  • Do you know of another airline that still only uses paper tickets?
  • Have you had a carry-on bag weighed?

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Motorbikes Around the World

I started riding motorcycles in 2006, back when Mr. HalfFull and I were single neighbors.  He would often see me practicing in the parking lot, and thought that my motorcycle phase wouldn’t last long.

Boy was he wrong.

Old Rag

Ms. HalfEmpty rides her Ninja with Old Rag Mountain in the distance and Mr. HalfFull’s antique BMW on the side of the road during their honeymoon

Just Married on Skyline Drive

Mr. HalfFull shows off his “Just Married” helmet along Skyline Drive

He joined me with his own motorcycle license in 2009.  We even spent our honeymoon riding throughout the curvy mountain roads and fall foliage of Virginia on our red motorcycles with red helmets.

Basically, I created a monster.  Mr. HalfFull had no interest in motorcycles until he saw me riding, and now he’s completely addicted.

In fact, he’s on his 3rd motorcycle in as many years.  His first 2 motorcycles were red, and we matched nicely.  But he just got a new orange one this summer.  What a show off! =)

While we were on our 30/40 World Tour, we did not ride motorcycles.  But Mr. HalfFull would often ogle over them and snap photos as we traveled around the world.

Mr. HalfFull thought it was super cool that the postal workers in New Zealand use motorcycles to deliver the mail in both rural and urban areas.

NZ Postal Worker

NZ Postal Worker between Napier and Taupo

Postal Motorcycle in Auckland

Ms. HalfEmpty with a postal motorcycle on the sidewalk in downtown Auckland

Police Moto in Sydney

Motorcycle policeman in Sydney on a sport bike — not your typical American police moto!

Honda Cafe Racer in Manly

While spending the day at Manly beach (near Sydney, Australia), Mr. HalfFull was mesmerized by this Honda café racer waiting at a stop light.

Motorcycle at the beach in Mauritius

People drove their motorcycles right up to the edge of the beach in Mauritius

Motos @ Palau de la Musica Catalana

Motorcycles and mopeds were a common site in Barcelona, as seen here outside the Palau de la Musica Catalana.

Moto in Madrid

After visiting the Egyptian Temple in Madrid, Mr. HalfFull spotted this beauty walking back to the subway.  He spent a great deal of time walking around it and telling me about the features.

I enjoy riding as long as the roads are interesting and the ride isn’t too long.  I also appreciate beautiful motorcycles, but I don’t really care about the specs or customizing my own bike.  Mr. HalfFull and I are just different breeds…in more ways than one!

  • What activity did someone take up after watching you?
  • Have you ever inadvertently created a monster?
  • What catches your eye and demands photos when you travel?

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Coffee Around the World

Mr. HalfFull got his photo op around the world. Now it’s time for mine.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know I drink coffee.  In fact, when I ventured around the world on the 30/40 World Tour:  Quest for Passion, I found that my passions are coffee and napping.  I learned this through various opportunities to enjoy them and be deprived of them.  Undoubtedly, coffee and napping are essential to my life.  Deep, I know.

Let’s take a photo tour of my coffee encounters around the world…

Capitol Grounds lattes

I was armed with a latte from Capitol Grounds on my very first flight out of Washington, DC.

Fiji, our first country on the 30/40 World Tour, was not coffee aficionado friendly.  At our first coffee stop, they tried to tell me that Coke was just like coffee!

Ms. HalfEmpty eats breakfast

Much of my time in Fiji was spent on primitive islands with instant coffee.  Quelle horreur!

I didn’t get real coffee until our final night in Fiji when we checked into Sofitel and I had an amazing cappuccino.

My coffee experience in New Zealand was the complete opposite of Fiji. New Zealand has the most coffee roasters per capita of any country in the world.  They take their coffee culture very seriously; even gas stations have espresso machines with baristas, and no one serves drip coffee.

Coffee @ Mecca Stonehouse

My first full day in New Zealand included a latte (and internet time) at Mecca Stonehouse in Mission Bay outside Auckland.

Blogging in Paihia

I seem to always have coffee while on the netbook, including here at Paihia wharf.

Volcanic Latte

We learned that coffee drinks come from volcanoes at the museum in New Plymouth.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

I even had a coffee in hand outside the Te Papa Museum in Wellington.

Circa Theater

Later that same day when we went to see a show at Circa Theater, just across from the museum, I had another coffee.  Zoom to see me drinking it.

New Zealand was perhaps the best coffee country on the 30/40 World Tour, but the French-speaking countries like New Caledonia weren’t bad either.

Café Malongo in Nouméa

While waiting in line at Café Malongo in Nouméa, I considered my espresso order.

Change in Nouméa

After using bills to buy coffee, we count our change in Nouméa.

Coffee at Le Surf Hotel

Once again enjoying coffee with a side of internet at our hotel in New Caledonia.

Coffee School

When we reached Sydney, Australia, I considered joining coffee school, but decided I didn’t have enough time.

Australian Parliament

I brought a cup of joe with me to the Australian Parliament Building in Canberra.  They wouldn’t let me bring it inside, but I had no problem devouring it quickly!

Phamish in St. Kilda

The coffee drink and coffee netbook seemed to pair well at a restaurant called Phamish in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

Heidelberg Train Station

After visiting our new Australian friends in Heidelberg (another suburb of Melbourne), I waited for the train with coffee in hand.

Latte Art in Melbourne

Loving the latte art at a café in Melbourne before our flight to Mauritius.

Turkish Coffee in Dubai

Enjoying turkish coffee in Dubai with Sir Expat

Coffee in German Biergarten

Coffee in a German biergarten on Lake Starnberg with my cousins. Yes, I know you usually drink beer in a biergarten, but we had done plenty of that the night before!  Don’t I look just like a beermaid, but with coffee and less cleavage?

Coffee @ Marianplatz

Any time of day is a good time for coffee — even late night at Marianplatz in Munich.

Lunch @ Barcelo Sants

A cappuccino complemented my 3rd course of lunch nicely at our hotel in Barcelona, Spain.

  • Do you try to limit your coffee intake?
  • What things/actions are essential to your life?
  • Do you have any coffee location recommendations for me?

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Stalking a Star

When I first rode into Auckland, I saw a giant window depicting Les Mills programs on the wall of a building. Had I found my mothership?

For the uninitiated, Les Mills is a Kiwi who started a fitness empire. It originated with physical gyms in Auckland, but the group exercise classes have spread all over the world. It includes classes like BODYPUMP™BODYSTEP™BODYCOMBAT™BODYATTACK™BODYJAM™, and BODYFLOW®, among others. That’s a lot of body! I think they ran out of body names, so they started naming classes things like RPM™ and SH’BAM™.

Back home in the US, I am a certified BODYFLOW® instructor. Each quarter, instructors receive a DVD with the latest release of the program, which includes new music and choreography. Those DVDs are actually filmed in Auckland, so perhaps I could stalk meet the BODYFLOW® stars during my 30/40 World Tour!

There was so much to do and plan while in Auckland, that stalking wasn’t at the top of my priority list. But I knew we would be returning to Auckland for our flight, so I would have a second chance later.

Les Mills Britomart

Ms. HalfEmpty gets her BODYFLOW® on with the wall outside the new Les Mills Britomart gym in Auckland, NZ

While back in Auckland at the end of my three weeks in New Zealand, I realized that I had not completed my stalking. I returned to the giant wall of Les Mills characters and went inside only to learn that there are multiple locations in Auckland. This was the newest location, not the original location where they film the DVDs and where my stars teach.

But I was in luck because Dr. Dave from the DVDs was teaching that night (my last night in New Zealand). Unfortunately, the class was at the same time as the play we planned to attend. Bummer!

So there was no way I could take Dr. Dave’s class and use my play tickets. But I could still stalk him after class!

After the play, Mr. HalfFull and I darted over to the gym to observe the tail end of Dr. Dave’s class. Watching people during relaxation and meditation is way more creepy and akin to stalking than meeting! So my plan was working out nicely.

Dr. Dave Bows Down

Dr. Dave bows down to Ms. HalfEmpty

At the conclusion of the BODYFLOW® class, I finally spoke to Dr. Dave. He let me wear his microphone and stand on the very high stage. Dave even bowed down to me! How ridiculous is that??? He was super gracious and even informed me that they don’t use the word “jade,” Kiwis prefer “green stone” (even if it’s more white than green).

Les Mills Auckland Studio

A trainer shows Ms. HalfEmpty the upstairs studio where the DVDs are filmed

Before leaving the gym, I also got to see the studio where they film all the DVDs. It was huge!

What a neat half full experience to conclude my Kiwi adventure.

  • Do you enjoy group fitness classes?
  • Have you tried to meet someone famous to you while traveling?
  • Have you visited a place in person that you had previously only seen on video?

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Drama on the 30/40 World Tour

As you may have guessed from our initial stumble, we’ve experienced our fair share of drama on the 30/40 World Tour.  Everyone seems to need a little personal drama to spice things up — some more than others. I prefer my dishes on the mild side, while Mr. HalfFull breaks a sweat every now and then.  You would think that being together 24/7 during weeks of travel would generate some spicy drama, but don’t worry Mom, Mr. HalfFull and I still like each other! This post is actually about professional drama…of the Kiwi theater variety. I love live theater.  For years, I’ve ushered at Woolly Mammoth, and have even recruited Mr. HalfFull and other friends to join me.  Since I enjoy great stories, the rush of emotion, and visual elements of light and movement, it seemed natural to seek out theater performances during my Quest for Passion.  While traveling in New Zealand, we were able to attend four plays in Auckland, New Plymouth, Wellington, and again in Auckland the night before our flight to New Caledonia.

The Brothers Size

The Brothers Size @ Herald Theater, clearly in violation of hip-hop hugging etiquette

Our first day in Auckland CBD, we secured tickets to the closing night performance of The Brothers Size.  We didn’t know much about the play, but the review sounded promising, not to mention that it was the only theater performance that evening in the theater district (our only evening in Auckland before hitting the road in our rental car the following day). Apparently, we had traveled halfway around the world to see a play by an American playwright about African Americans! The cast consisted of three chiseled and tattooed Maori men attempting gangsta accents.  The first few minutes of the play, we had no idea what they were saying.  (Weeks later, we spoke with a Kiwi guy at the same box office who also saw the play and couldn’t understand the accents either.  So that made us feel a bit better.)  We also found their fully embracing hugs to be a far cry from a hip-hop hug in the US.  Even the typically open-minded Mr. HalfFull found himself squirming a bit.

The audience seemed to love the play, closing the night with a standing ovation.  I thought it was a bit long for a play with no intermission (or “interval” as the Kiwis say).  However, I found the movement and lighting compelling.  The Maori actors had amazing kinesthetic awareness — none of the choreography seemed forced or unnatural.  I love when stage movement flows! The venue was basically a black box theater with tiered seating on two sides of a square stage sunk in the middle.  I found it to be an interesting setup, more akin to theater-in-the-round.  But it means that neither side of patrons had the best view all the time — in half empty terms, everyone had the worst seat!  It also meant there was basically no set nor backstage.  The actors not in the scene merely stood off to the side in a static pose.  This play also employed a technique of narrating a line of the story and then acting it out, which seemed redundant and stunted the already challenged verbal flow.

Kapiti Ice Cream Bar

New Zealand ice cream bars are delicious, and the Kapiti Original (vanilla with chocolate shell) wins Mr. HalFull’s official best taste award hands down!

As is typical when visiting a new culture, Mr. HalfFull and I were keenly aware of the people around us, and did a lot of people watching.  We noticed quite a number of classy patrons savoring ice cream bars in the theater before the show.  As an ice cream aficionado, Mr. HalfFull was obsessed with this trend and watched with fascination and envy as elderly men artfully consumed dessert on a stick.  Food is allowed in NZ theaters (a departure from the norm for us), and Mr. HalfFull knew he wanted to be fully immersed in this new found ice cream culture next time! New Zealand takes its dairy very seriously, not just ice cream.  Each accommodation issued us a bottle of milk upon check-in.  It took me a week to figure out that I could ask for trim milk, which is 1 or 2%, and that 0% skim milk does not exist.  Don’t get me started on NZ butter…rich, creamy, delicious.  Ms. Butter would approve; too bad Customs confiscated her Christmas present!

Michael Galvin

Michael Galvin plays a religious zealot in his play, Station to Station

Our next theater experience was in New Plymouth, a small hip seaside town with culture — lovely restaurants, an art gallery, a museum, and theater.  There we witnessed a weird play called Station to Station, which refers to the stations of the cross as reinterpreted for the journey of the characters in the play.  Once again, this play told another story inspired by an American; this time, it was a religious right-wing preacher who recruited Kiwis to help him blow up symbolically important Muslim sites in Jerusalem. As with the first play, we didn’t know a great deal about the play or actors beforehand. Of course, this time Mr. HalfFull was armed with an ice cream bar.  He sat next to an elderly lady who was also enjoying her ice cream and began to chat.  She informed us that the star and writer of the play was a famous soap opera star on Shortland Street, which airs weeknights at 7 PM in New Zealand.  She went on to inform Mr. HalfFull that she was fully prepared to run away with the hot Maori doctor from the show!  We knew we had some TV watching to do, but later discovered it was nothing like my favorite show, Grey’s Anatomy.  It was fun to see a theater actor on TV every now and then, but Shortland Street was not my half empty cup of tea.

Antonia Prebble

Antonia Prebble turned on the lads @ Theatre Royal

The young female lead of the play received cat calls from a drunken lad in the audience.  During the Q&A session after the show, of course he was furiously pumping his hand and proceeded to ask, “Do you find me or my mate more attractive?”  In reply, she asked him if he was the one who yelled at her during the show.  He proudly said yes, only to have her tear into him about how he was rude and ruined the performance for the people around him, declining to answer his question. After the flames subsided, I asked the second question of the night.  Firstly, I identified myself as an American, which got a good laugh from the audience.  My question to the playwright was about the content of the play and how my understanding of the situation in Jerusalem did not mesh with his plot.  It didn’t seem like he was particularly interested in these nuances, but stated that his play was based on an article he read in the UK Guardian and internet research.  At that point, a Kiwi patron shouted, “Well, if it’s on the internet, it must be true,” generating a nice chuckle amongst the crowd.  We also got into a conversation about the people in the US who believed that the world was supposed to end on May 21, 2011.  I mentioned a Washington Post article about the fundamentalist Christians who had quit their jobs and were marching on the National Mall to warn their fellow humans about the approach of the Rapture.  It’s safe to say that the world (well, at least Fiji and New Zealand, so far) thinks Americans are all crazy!  Nice work, Tea Party.

Circa Theater

Ms. HalfEmpty enjoys a trim flat white outside Circa Theater

Our third evening of theater occurred in New Zealand’s brilliant capital city of Wellington.  We saw Meet the Churchills at Circa Theater — a story about Sir Winston Churchill and his dysfunctional immediate family.  (Bonus:  I left feeling much better about my own family life.)  Like our first theater experience in Auckland, this venue also had the audience in L-shaped stadium seating around a sunken stage.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this play finally had a real set.  Granted, the whole play took place in one room, rendering the set design much easier.  It added a great deal of temporal relevance and brought the characters alive in the space.

Meet the Churchills

No, we weren’t celebrating Mr. HalfFull’s birthday in NZ, this was just a crotchety old British dude on a real set.

As an usher at Woolly Mammoth, I usually get to view the empty set (or if I’m lucky an actor’s warmup too), which generally sparks awe, wonder, and excitement for the impending performance.   I enjoy staged readings, but they’re not full productions, which to me necessitates set design.  It seems logical that ticket price might correlate with the presence of a set, but this was not the case in New Zealand.

On the Upside-Down of the World

Great costume, but the metal ladders were not reminiscent of New Zealand’s lush landscape

At the end of our three week journey in New Zealand we returned to Auckland, where we had one final theater experience (and NZ ice cream bar) before bidding farewell to this lovely country.  Shockingly, after three failed attempts, we finally saw a play written by a Kiwi about New Zealand (not the US or the UK) — On the Upside-Down of the World, a one-woman show about the wife of the first chief justice of New Zealand.  It was wonderful to finally see some New Zealand history on stage and learn more about the Maoris.  This show had a set consisting of many metal ladders at various angles across a sand-covered stage.  It was visually interesting, especially with the lighting, but again left a lot to the imagination, as this set represented many things (but never ladders) throughout the show.

Theater in Auckland

Ms. HalfEmpty fist bumps Sir Dove-Myer Robinson outside Town Hall Theater

This theater experience had an unexpected connection to a previous show.  Once again, Mr. HalfFull had a fortuitous seat.  The woman who sat next to him was wearing a stylish twenties era blue hat that I loved.  She arrived with another couple and the three were chatting as we waited for the show to begin.  I commented to Mr. HalfFull about her hat and how she looked just like the young actress from the play in New Plymouth.  He agreed, but doubted it was her.  While reading our programs, we overheard her conversation and realized that she was telling the story of the drunk lad cat calling her at the show in New Plymouth.  Unbelievably, Mr. HalfFull was indeed sitting next to Antonia Prebble!  We chimed in to say that we attended the performance and agreed that the guy was out of line.  I also mentioned that I was the American who asked the question, and she remembered me.  What a small world!

  • Do you enjoy live theater?
  • How important is hug etiquette in modern society (especially for men)?
  • Do you prefer an elaborate set or one that leaves more to the imagination?
  • What food-related cultural habits have you observed at events?
  • How did you react to the portrayal of your countrymen while abroad?
  • Have you experienced a full-circle travel event?

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