Category Archives: Travelling

Bone Church: Sedlec Ossuary outside of Prague

Sedlec Ossuary, or Bone Church, is usually on those “creepy places to visit” lists, so naturally I had to see it. It’s located in Kutná Hora, about an hour outside of Prague, in the Czech Republic, and quite easy to get to by train.

The bones of over 40,000 people, mostly plague victims, were used to decorate this chapel by a half-blind monk in the 16th century. It’s not the only “bone church” in the world, but it’s probably one of the better known.

bonechurch

There are direct trains every hour or two which take about an hour to get there, and the ticket is really cheap. If two people travel together on the same ticket, it’s cheaper than two separate tickets. We paid 355 Czech koruna for a roundtrip ticket for 2 people, which is about $16 USD.

boneshield

You can buy train tickets online and print them at the České dráhy website. I didn’t see any machines at the station so if you’re anti-social, be prepared to wait in line and actually talk to people. When you arrive in Kutná Hora, take a right when leaving the train station and then follow the road around to the left. Once you get past the tobacco factory and church on the left, cross the road and follow the signs for Kostnice.

angelbones

If you arrive at the same time as a tour group, it can get quite crowded since the chapel itself is actually somewhat small. A few tour groups were on the same train as us, but we managed to get to the ossuary before them. Avoid arriving around noon on a Saturday…

lotsofbones

For our 4 day trip to the Czech Republic, we spent the rest of the time in Prague. The city is quite beautiful, especially the Jewish Quarter. I would advise staying away on weekends in the summer though. Unfortunately we were there Friday through Monday in July and it was so incredibly crowded everywhere that walking down the street was difficult at times.

We stayed at Salvator Superior Apartments, which is within walking distance to all the major sites. The castle is quite a hike on the other side of the river, but still manageable. (We did it in 90 degree weather!) The Mucha Museum has a nice gift shop if you’re looking for souvenirs or gifts that are not typical tourist stuff that you’ll find everywhere else in Prague.

Czech language realia and photo albums to come! (Once I finish thesis revisions…)

Learning German from Trashcans in Vienna, Austria

My European trip began in Vienna since I was working at the New Zealand & Pacific Studies conference at the beginning of July. Michelle then joined me afterwards and we stayed in Vienna for another 5 days. I hadn’t been to Vienna since 1999, so it was nice to refresh my memory of how great this city is. We stayed at Stanys Hotel & Apartments close to Westbahnhof since we arrived by train from Munich and would be doing a day trip to Budapest with an early morning start. (Note that Westbahnhof will no longer serve trains as of December 2015. All trains will be rerouted to Hauptbahnhof instead.)

Wandering around Vienna, I was most struck by how many people were smoking everywhere and how even restaurants did not have smoking bans indoors. It had been such a long time since I was in a place that had smoking and non-smoking sections and it was not pleasant. I heard on the news that a smoking ban will come into effect in 2018, but I can’t imagine it will be strictly enforced since Austria is unfortunately the smoking capital of Europe. 🙁

The other thing that I noticed was the trashcans with witty sayings on them (in German, obviously) encouraging people to take care of their waste and not litter. Apparently they have been around since 2009, and the sayings were decided by an internet vote. In any case, they are quite helpful and entertaining when learning German. Can you understand what they mean?

Austrian trash can  Austrian trash can

Austrian trash can  Austrian trash can

The last one should be relatively easy since it includes the name of the city and an English word…

Here are some hints:

füttern – to feed

Beifall – cheers, applause, acclaim

Abfall – waste

die Uhr – the clock

geöffnet – open

bleibt – remains, stays

My First Trip on Amtrak Trains in America

Although I have been on numerous trains in Europe, as well as a few in Australia and New Zealand, I had never been on a train in the US until a few weeks ago. All trains from Michigan go to Chicago first and there is no passenger service to or through Ontario which is quite inconvenient, and I never actually traveled much in the US before I left for France. I had already planned to visit my niece and nephew in Virginia upon returning from Australia, and I decided to try the overnight Capitol Limited train to DC and the Northeast Regional train to Newport News. It would take nearly 24 hours and cost $230 per person for the one-way trip (slightly less than the cost of a roundtrip plane ticket), but I wanted to experience American train travel. My mother was accompanying me to Virginia to spoil her grandchildren so we shared the sleeping accommodation on the overnight train.

The most important thing you should know about Amtrak is that trains are very often late since commercial trains have priority over passenger trains on the railways in the US. Do not book two trains that are within 2 hours of each other because you could very well be arriving 2 hours late. We were supposed to arrive in DC at 1:05pm and we had to book the 5pm train to Newport News because the system would not allow me to choose the 2:30pm train. Of course, I could have booked two separate tickets, but it was a good thing I didn’t since we didn’t even get off the first train until 2:45pm…

If you are not getting on the train at a major station, be prepared to board the train really late or really early. I could have taken a train from Flint to Chicago and boarded the Capitol Limited there, but that would have added another 18 hours to my trip (seriously!), so I decided to drive 2.5 hours down to Toledo, where the train was scheduled to depart at 11:49pm. Getting on the train in Cleveland? It departs at 1:54am.

Since you can print your ticket when you buy it online, there is no actual check-in process at the station, unless you are taking a train that has baggage check and you actually want to do it. Amtrak’s luggage allowance include two regular (not carry-on) size suitcases weighing 50 lbs. that you take on the train with you, plus two additional 50 lb. suitcases as checked luggage. If you have even more luggage, you only have to pay $20 for each additional suitcase (up to 2 more).

I booked a regular bedroom for the journey to DC, which includes a private toilet/shower in the room as well as free meals. Up to three people can be in one bedroom since the bottom bed is a double bed, but I don’t know if I’d recommend it considering how little space is left in the room after the beds are down. (This is also why you should leave your luggage on the rack downstairs and just take a backpack or small carry-on suitcase upstairs.) I even had trouble standing in front of the sink and I am very small! Soap, shampoo, towels, linen, and bottled water are provided – though you might want another blanket for the bed. The shower is in the same tiny room as the toilet so it will get soaked, but there is a rack at the top for towels and the toilet paper has a long cover over it. Roomettes are a cheaper option which do not include a shower, but may or may not include a toilet depending on if you’re on a Superliner or Viewliner train.

Amtrak train bedroom

Seats that convert to beds in bedroom on Superliner train to DC

Light sleepers beware – most of the rooms have a door leading to the next room so you can definitely hear noises from your neighbors. I could hear snoring next door so I had to move my pillows to the other end of the bed, underneath the air vent, to block out the noise. However, there are plenty of other noises to keep you awake anyway – the train can be quite bumpy, and the whistle blows often, plus other trains passing by make a lot of noise. I actually did not sleep very much at all – perhaps only an hour or two in the early morning. If you are on the top bunk, there is a safety strap to prevent you from falling off.

The sleeper car attendant was incredibly nice. He even checked on us in the morning to see if we wanted breakfast since we didn’t get up for it. Normally the Capitol Limited to DC doesn’t include lunch, but since we were arriving late, those of us in the sleeper cars were offered hamburgers/hot dogs. You are told where to sit in the dining car, so you will most likely end up next to strangers. The cafe car is open as well if you prefer to snacks or smaller meals.

Passengers with sleeper tickets should have access to Acela lounges at departure and arrival stations (if available), but I didn’t actually check out the lounge in DC. Union Station has free wifi, and plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you busy while waiting for your next train.

Amtrak bedroom third seat

Third seat in bedroom is across from seats that convert to beds, with storage space above

On the Northeast Regional to Newport News, we were in business class, but I do not think it is worth the extra money. The seat configuration is 2 x 2, so there is still the same amount of people as in economy. You are supposed to get free newspapers and drinks, but no one came through the car to offer them to us (so you have to go to the cafe car on your own). The seats did not seem any larger or more comfortable than those in economy class either. Luckily, there is free wifi on this particular train, which helps to pass the time. The bathrooms are large enough, and there is a free water fountain in each car.

There are no assigned seats in either business or economy class, so boarding is a free-for-all. Not all doors open so you have to find the Amtrak employees in order to get off the train. Sometimes they walk through and announce the stop and tell you to follow them to a particular door. They often help with luggage, especially for business class passengers.

Yes, Amtrak takes forever to get you across America – but it’s more environmentally friendly, and best of all, it’s the opposite experience of flying. You do not need to arrive 2-3 hours ahead of time just to wait in line to get through security where TSA doesn’t allow you to bring enough shampoo for your trip. It is quite cheap to bring tons of luggage, and the food is surprisingly good.

I wish the US had more passenger railways and better connections between cities, especially between Michigan and Canada. Currently, Amtrak stops in Port Huron, and if you want to continue to Toronto, for example, you need to take a taxi across the border to get to the Sarnia train station where you can board a Via Rail train. It’s quite ridiculous. I highly doubt the US will ever have extensive train travel like Europe since state governments do not want to spend money on it, and American car culture is so pervasive that it will be hard to change. I enjoyed my time on Amtrak trains, but I don’t know if I’ll be doing another sleeper train since I am such a light sleeper. For shorter trips, it is definitely a cheaper and less stressful option than flying, as long as you live near an Amtrak station.

TL;DR – Your train will most likely be late. No assigned seats. Free wifi sometimes. Don’t expect to sleep much on overnight trains. Lots of luggage allowance. NO LIQUID BAN IS AWESOME.

Can we talk about how awesome Darwin is?

My birthday present to myself in May was one last trip in Australia. I used my Qantas points to get a free flight to Darwin and booked a day tour to Kakadu National Park to see Aboriginal rock art at Nourlangie and crocodiles in Yellow Water Billabong.

Darwin itself is a nice tropical destination and most of the attractions are walkable. Be sure to visit in the dry season though (May to September are probably best). The temperature was perfect for me and I am always cold!

A photo posted by Jennifer Wagner (@ielanguages) on

Eavesdropping on foreign tourists and guessing which language they are speaking is always fun when travelling. Coming across multilingual signs is an added bonus.

 

A photo posted by Jennifer Wagner (@ielanguages) on

The day trip to Kakadu was very long and expensive, but worth it. We saw quite a few crocs at Yellow Water.

A photo posted by Jennifer Wagner (@ielanguages) on

We ended the trip at Mindil Beach for the beautiful sunset.

 

A photo posted by Jennifer Wagner (@ielanguages) on

We stayed at The Cav near the bus depot and information centre, and used Darwin Airport Shuttle for transfers to/from the airport. You can see a few more photos on Instagram and I’ve uploaded a video of a crocodile and the Mindil Beach sunset to YouTube.

The next time I come back to Australia, I will definitely visit Darwin again!

Back to North America Soon… But Probably Not Forever

It doesn’t seem like it’s been nearly 4 years since I left France for Australia, but it has. And now it’s time to say goodbye to Australia, unfortunately. My student visa expires soon and I haven’t been able to find a permanent job (most likely because I do not yet have my PhD “in hand” as almost every job listing specifies). Even though Australia now has a Post-Study Work Visa for recent graduates, I am not eligible since I started my program before November 2011 and there is no alternative option for me. I am slightly bitter about how unfair immigration laws really are and being forced to leave a place I love, but I will continue to apply for jobs in Australia with the hope of returning someday. I am also looking for jobs in North America and Europe, so if you hear of any French or applied linguistics lecturer positions, please let me know.

I’ll be back in Michigan and Virginia for a short time in June to see family, and then I’m off to Europe for a few weeks for the New Zealand Studies Association conference and my annual trip with Michelle. We’ll be exploring Eastern Europe and Iceland, and then I’ll be heading to France and Benelux to visit friends and family. When I return to the US in August, I’ll be able to work full-time on the website since I won’t have a job so expect more authentic language videos and realia to be uploaded then.

If anyone in the Adelaide area needs furniture or household items, I’m selling almost everything I own on Gumtree and Ebay. (I’ll be adding my desktop computer and car soon.) I’ll also be donating some things, such as books and kitchen items, to Salvos if you like free stuff.

I leave Australia June 14, but don’t worry, Charlie is definitely coming to the US with me. He actually arrives before I do! Jetpets will be taking care of him along the way, and he even gets to spend the night in both Sydney and Los Angeles on his way to Detroit.

My handsome little man

My handsome little man, and soon to be world traveler!

Oslo, Bergen and fjords in Norway

Part 3 of Vacation 2014: Norway

I’m not going to lie: Norway is really as expensive as everyone says it is. The exchange rate may be a tiny better than for the Swedish krone, yet you still end up spending more money. A single adult ticket on the public transportation system costs 30 NOK. That’s about $5. For one ride. And that’s only if you buy the ticket in advance. It’s 50 NOK if you buy a ticket from the driver. Those crappy sandwiches you find at gas stations? 59 NOK, or almost $10. Twenty minute train ride from central station to Gardermoen airport? 170 NOK ($30). Joker and Kiwi are the names of supermarkets where you can find somewhat cheaper food, and if you like salmon, you are in luck. It’s probably the one type of food that is actually cheaper in Norway than anywhere else.

There are free things to do in Oslo, however. We spent a lot of time wandering around Vigeland Sculpture Park and walking on (yes, on) the Opera house. City Hall, the Royal Palace, and Parliament are all in the city centre so it’s easy to take photos (check out the carvings at City Hall!) There are also many museums related to ships and the sea, but they are all located on the Bygdøy peninsula. You can take the number 30 bus to get there or a ferry from City Hall (also costs 30 NOK if ticket is bought in advance, but it’s not part of the Ruter public transportation system so the day/weekly pass won’t work). These museums all cost around 80 or 90 NOK each, so if museums are your thing, you’ll probably want the Oslo Pass.

IMG_3969

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Opera House

Opera House

Fortunately for me, the conference I was working and presenting at was being held in both the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Norwegian Maritime Museum so I got in for free. The people who work at these museums are the nicest people in the world so please visit them! The Fram Museum is also quite popular (every tour bus stops there), and the Viking Ship Museum and the Norwegian Folk Museum with a 14th century stave church are also nearby.

IMG_4673

Kon-Tiki Museum

Instead of taking the direct train from Oslo to Bergen, we decided to do the one-day Oslo to Bergen Norway in a Nutshell route and book our own tickets. There are five different legs to this journey and it takes all day, so if you have a lot of luggage, it may be best to take the direct train to Bergen and do some day trips instead. I didn’t have enough time for that, so I had to drag my overweight suitcase with me the entire day. The first leg is the train from Oslo to Myrdal, where we had a 15 minute stop at Finse, which is the highest point along the rail line and yes, there was snow in June. Silly Norway, snow is for winter!

Along railway between Oslo and Bergen

Along railway between Oslo and Bergen

The second leg is the train from Myrdal to Flåm. It is very touristy and expensive. (The 4.5 hour journey to Myrdal costs less than the one hour ride to Flåm: 249 and 300 NOK.) It stops for a few minutes at a waterfall and music starts playing and a woman dances around. It’s odd. The good thing about it being a tourist train is that if you arrive late in Myrdal, they will wait for you.

I warned you it was weird...

I warned you it was weird…

Third leg: When we arrived in Flåm, we had two hours for lunch before hopping on the two hour ferry to Gudvangen (295 NOK). There is a luggage storage shed, but the cheapest price is 40 NOK (for one day; there are no hourly rates). The ferry was very crowded! There were definitely not enough places to sit inside so most people had to stay outside, where there are plenty of chairs. You leave your luggage on the lower deck where cars would normally go, so at least you don’t have to drag it around with you.

Fjord time!

Fjord time!

Fourth leg: Arriving in Gudvangen, you have to hop on a one hour bus to get to the train station in Voss (they make sure there are enough buses for everyone on the ferry) for 97 NOK and you can buy the ticket on the bus (cash only). Finally, the fifth leg is the 2 hour train to Bergen, which costs 189 NOK – you can buy the ticket from the machine since the counters will be closed by the time you arrive.

So fourteen hours later and 1130 NOK poorer, we made it to Bergen. Cute adorable Bergen. We did the guided walking tour of the Bryggens and Hanseatic Museums and took the funicular up for a nice view of Bergen. We also wandered a bit around the park near the Rosencrantz Tower. If you’ve gone on day trips outside of Bergen and still need to buy souvenirs when you get back, don’t worry – some tourist shops stay open until 10pm. I recommend staying at the Hotel Grand Terminus. It is literally across the street from the train station (take the exit for taxis) and breakfast is included. Great if you’re hopping on the 8am train back to Oslo like I was.

Adorable Bergen

Adorable Bergen

If you’re going to the main airport in Oslo, the train is probably the easiest option. You can buy your ticket as well as check in for your flight plus print your luggage tag for certain airlines at the central train station. Keep your train ticket though, as you will need to scan it to get through the gate at the airport. Even though this train was specifically made for the journey to the airport and there are lots of luggage racks, there are also steps to get on the train leading up to the racks so it’s a bit inconvenient if you have heavy luggage. (Seriously, why do airport trains have to make it so difficult to get luggage on the train? Most people going to and from airports have luggage! I just don’t get it.)

The view from the train was great

Such pretty nature – reminded me of New Zealand

Some advice about Norwegian trains:

1. There is free wifi but you must already have an account at NSB.no in order to use it. Make sure to sign up for an account before you get on the train because even though you can sign up as a new user while on the train, the system will only send you an SMS containing your password if you have a Norwegian mobile number. Otherwise, you’ll have to find someone on the train with a phone or laptop who will let you check your email for the password.

2. There is no first class on Norwegian trains but there is Komfort Class which is essentially the same thing. However, this class is not marked very well at all (the seats look the same as all of the others) and it’s usually half of the first carriage rather than its own carriage. There are no big 1s and 2s like on practically all other trains outside of Norway. It cost 90 NOK extra to sit in Komfort and the main difference is that you get free coffee/tea. There are no signs on the drink machine though, so make sure you don’t use it if you haven’t paid for Komfort class. A few tourists on our train used it thinking that everyone got free drinks (there’s free wifi for everyone so why not free drinks?), but later found out they had to pay for them.

Norwegian realia to come!

Celebrating Midsummer in Sweden

Part 2 of Vacation 2014: Sweden

We had one day in Stockholm and two full days in Göteborg / Gothenburg where we celebrated Midsommar / Midsummer on June 20. Yes, I did dance around the maypole with my Swedish friend.

Ready to dance!

Ready to dance!

Stockholm can be done in one day, but I wish we had more time there. From the ferry, we went straight to the central train station by metro – just make sure to follow the signs while you are still on the metro platforms as there are no signs telling you where to go once you get back up to street level. There are plenty of luggage lockers to store your stuff (machines only take coins or chip cards though, sorry Americans). We bought an SL Access 24 hour card for an astounding 115 SEK (plus 20 SEK for the card) and headed to the old town and Royal Palace. We also hopped on the ferry to Djurgården.

Colourful Stockholm

Colourful Stockholm

The train from Stockholm to Gothenburg was very nice, and express so it didn’t stop at all between the two cities. Since I booked three months in advance, it was nearly the same price to buy first class tickets as it was for second class tickets. In first class, you get free coffee/tea, snacks and wifi. You can also print your tickets so there’s no need to pick them up at the train station.

Gothenburg Opera House

Gothenburg Opera House

Gothenburg is Sweden’s second largest city, but many people say it has a different vibe compared to Stockholm. We bought the Gothenburg City Card for 355 SEK and went to Universeum, Liseberg, and hopped on the cute little tourist train the next morning before the card expired. I recommend staying at the Clarion Collection Hotel Odin near the train station since they provide free buffet breakfast AND dinner. Considering how expensive everything is in Sweden, this a great deal, and the food is quite good.

Feskekôrka (Fiskkyrkan, or Fish Church - actually a market)

Feskekôrka (Fiskkyrkan, or Fish Church – actually a market)

After Gothenburg, we headed off to Norway. The train from Gothenburg to Oslo is an NSB rather than SJ train, so you can’t print tickets or even pick them up at the station in Gothenburg. You just print out your ticket confirmation and they’ll come around to give you your ticket (which is actually a receipt). This train is a slower regional train so there are many stops, but you still have footrests and plugs at every seat, and a drinks/snacks cart that comes through the carriage every hour or so since there is no dining carriage.

Still to come… Swedish realia and Part 3: Norway!

Finno-Ugric Fun: Finland and Estonia

Part 1: Finno-Ugric Fun in Finland and Estonia

Vacation 2014 began and ended with conference presentations in Paris and Oslo, so naturally I also had to travel to countries I had never been to before in Europe. I decided to start in Finland before heading over to Sweden and Norway, with a day trip to Estonia. My housemate in Australia was attending the same conference in Paris so she travelled with me for a week, and I was able to meet up with a few other former English assistants that I hadn’t seen in a few (too many) years. It was so good to see them again!

Although it is currently summer in the northern hemisphere, I was quite cold in Helsinki and Tallinn. The temperatures weren’t actually that cold – it was usually around 15 C, sometimes 18 C – but coming from 30 C in France, it was a tiny bit of a shock to the system. We had 11 C and sleet one day in Helsinki, and lots of wind in Tallinn. Good thing I brought my coat. Nearly 24 hours of sunlight was fun, except when your accommodation doesn’t have blackout curtains. I found it a bit hard to sleep since I’m used to total darkness, and when it’s still light outside at 11pm you don’t feel as tired as you should anyway.

Helsinki railway station

Muscley men on Central Railway Station in Helsinki (unfortunately under construction right now)

I felt a bit lost with signs and menus in Finnish and Estonian as I haven’t really studied any Finno-Ugric languages in detail yet. However, most things were also translated into Swedish (an official language of Finland), German, English and sometimes Russian (especially on the ferries). Multilingual signs always make my day.

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Finnish, Swedish, German and English

The Tallink ferry between Helsinki and Tallinn only takes two hours so it is a great day trip. Except for maybe the Sibelius monument in Helsinki, most of the famous sites are within walking distance in both cities and Suomenlinna fortress is a short ferry ride from Helsinki. The old town of Tallinn is also a short 10 or 15 minute walk from the ferry terminal.

Suomenlinna Fortress

Suomenlinna Fortress

Old town of Tallinn

Old town of Tallinn

In Tallinn, we had lunch at Olde Hansa, a medieval restaurant that is a total tourist trap. I still don’t actually know what I ate besides the chicken, but it was so good! We also climbed up the tower of the town hall and St. Olav’s church for great views of the old town. I bought an adorable handmade wool cardigan for my nephew and we had the best hot chocolate at Jerntorgith cafe before hopping back on the ferry to return to Helsinki.

I never take photos of food, so you can believe me when I say this meal was amazing

I never take photos of food, but this meal was amazing

We also took the overnight Tallink ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm and it is more like a cruise than just a ferry. The main difference is that you take your luggage on board with you. There were plenty of shops and restaurants, activities for kids, a spa, a casino – everything but a pool, really. We left Helsinki at 5pm and arrived in Stockholm at 9:30am the next morning. You can book a place in the buffet restaurant for both dinner (you’ll be assigned a table) and breakfast (you can sit anywhere). Or, you can always make reservations at the restaurants or even just grab a snack at the cafés. Bonus: Both of these ferries have free wifi! And of course, both Finland and Estonia use the euro so you don’t have to change currency.

Finnish and Estonian realia will be added to the site soon. Up next: Sweden!

If you’re wondering why the blog hasn’t been updated in a while – everything has been a little crazy for me this year. I took over a French class halfway through the semester and needed to prepare for two conferences in Europe when I found out I had to move just before leaving. It was extremely stressful! Luckily we’re on break now between the two semesters and I’ve settled into my new place, but I still haven’t managed to get an internet connection.

Mundolingua: Museum of Languages and Linguistics in Paris

I was recently in Paris to present at a conference and I was finally able to check out Mundolingua, a museum of languages and linguistics that opened last year. It’s on Rue Servandoni in the 6th, just south of Saint Sulpice.

Mundolingua

Mundolingua

 

The first fun/nerdy thing to play with is this interactive IPA chart. Press the button and hear how the consonants are pronounced.

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Push all the buttons!

 

There are plenty of videos to watch and activities to do to learn about the world’s languages and the various topics that encompass linguistics.

Sexy syntax

Sexy syntax

 

You can also just hang out in the back and read language books, or play language games downstairs. Check out the Scrabble rug (available online here)! They’ve made tiles for English, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic so far.

Will someone please buy me this rug?

Will someone please buy me this rug?

 

They even have a small cinema room where you can watch DVDs. The toilet is multilingual too.

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Peepee place

Mundolingua costs 7€ for adults and it’s open 7 days a week.

New Zealand and the Cook Islands

I went to New Zealand last month to present at an applied linguistics conference, and decided to stay for another two weeks to travel around both the North and South islands and also head up to the Cook Islands. I had a feeling that I was going to love New Zealand, and I was right, of course. These pictures do not do this country justice. It is incredibly beautiful!

Just look at that water. Just look at  how perfect it is!

Just look at that water. Just look at it!

The conference was at Victoria University in Wellington and yes, it rained almost the entire time. However, I suppose that is perfect conference weather… I had been warned about Wellington’s windy wet weather, though it wasn’t quite as cold as I had feared. I had a lost luggage crisis the first day of the conference (and so didn’t attend sessions until the second day) and presented at the end of the third and final day when the sun decided to come out. That was also the day that Michelle arrived to start our annual vacation / holiday.

After our presentations, when the weather was finally nice

After our presentations, when the weather was finally nice

Highlight of a rainy day in Wellington: playing with the language barrel at Te Papa Museum.

Highlight of a rainy day in Wellington: playing with the language barrel at Te Papa Museum.

We took the ferry and train to Christchurch, then another train to the west coast. I highly recommend them, especially since they are such scenic journeys and there is a viewing carriage on each train so it’s much easier to take pictures.

blue

So. Blue.

Such pretty colors

Such pretty colors and contrasts

Then it was rental car time. Driving around the South Island is so much fun! We stopped at Fox Glacier before heading to Queenstown, Te Anau and Milford Sound.

Mount Cook from Lake Matheson

Mount Cook from Lake Matheson

Fox Glacier with itty bitty people walking on it

Fox Glacier with itty bitty people walking on it

Queenstown from above

Queenstown from above

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

We flew up to Auckland from Queenstown on Air New Zealand which of course has a Middle Earth-themed safety video. We did the silent boat tour of the Waitomo Glowworm caves and headed over to Rotorua (it really does smell like rotten eggs!) and Matamata to visit Hobbiton.

Nice fake tree

Nice fake tree

No hobbits to be found

No hobbits to be found

Pretty green hills and lots of sheep

Pretty green hills and lots of sheep

I hadn’t really heard much about the Cook Islands before since the South Pacific tends to get summarized by “Tahiti and Fiji” (neither of which I have been to yet). But since they are in free association with New Zealand, they use the NZ dollar and not having to exchange money makes traveling just a tiny bit easier. Plus, Cook Islands Maori is very similar to the variety of Maori used in New Zealand, so it was a fun and nerdy Polynesian language adventure for me.

Cook Islands Maori

Cook Islands Maori

Muri Lagoon on Rarotonga

Muri Lagoon on Rarotonga, a.k.a. paradise

I’m already planning my next trip to New Zealand. Bay of Islands, Lake Taupo, Abel Tasman National Park and Dunedin are on my list so far! As luck would have it, there is a conference I am planning on attending in Dunedin next year…  See you in 2014, New Zealand!

New Zealand, you are so cool and pretty and perfect. Never change;

New Zealand, you are so cool and pretty and perfect. Never change.