Nightborn Travel

Seeking Vistas Secret and Acclaimed

View of Auckland from One Tree Hill

Budget Traveler’s Guide to Auckland

View of Auckland from One Tree Hill

Auckland has a lot to offer – and many of its great attractions cost little to no money to see. This humble guide will help you explore the city without breaking the bank.

First things first, though. If you weren’t thinking about renting a car in New Zealand, I urge you to reconsider. There are so many places to explore and driving will give you the most freedom. If you haven’t driven on the left side of the road before from the right side of a car, I promise you, it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Just drive carefully (and more slowly, if you must) and follow ALL road signs/rules. Roundabouts and one-way bridges are kind of a doozy, but you’ll figure it out – you’re smart people.

If you’re looking for an affordable and reliable rental place, I can’t recommend GO rentals at the Auckland Airport enough (I swear, I’m not a plant, I just had a really good experience). They’re conveniently located just about five minutes from the international departure terminal, they have long hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to accommodate almost any pick-up or drop-off time and they have a shuttle to get you to and from the airport terminals. Plus, they’re just NICE. And if you’re driving in an unfamiliar country, you don’t want a crap car. Don’t forget to ask them about their GO Play discount card- it comes with a map of attractions around NZ that you can get discounted prices on.

Once you’ve gotten all settled, here are my recommendations of places to go:

Cornwall Park/One Tree Hill Domain

In the heart of Auckland, Cornwall Park has it all – you can drive through it, jog or walk. You can marvel at all the precious sheep just wandering around without a care in the world (don’t try and approach them though, they are not a fan).

Basically, the most adorable sheep.

Basically, the most adorable sheep.

And if you make it to the top of One Tree Hill, you can see some great city views, as well as the obelisk put in place to honor the Maori people

This One Tree Hill is NOT the American TV drama series – so if you were hoping to see Chad Michael Murray, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But not really, because this One Tree Hill and surrounding Cornwall park is SO much cooler (sorry, Chad).

Mission Bay

If you’re a beach person (like I am), then you’ll definitely want to take a trip to Mission Bay. Like most beaches, it will get crowded as the day goes on and the temperature rises, so if you want peace and quiet, I would go in the morning.

Here you can stroll along and enjoy the beach views, go for a swim and have a fish-and-chips picnic on the sand or the park grass. Once you’re done having fun in the sun (maybe, depending on the time of year – we went at the end of spring/vert beginning of summer, so weather was cloudier and cooler), you can head into the City Centre. It’s only about a 15-minute drive, depending on traffic.

Central Business District/City Centre

I like checking out the downtown areas of each city I visit, so for me, visiting the City Centre was worth that alone. But it’s also a good place to go for food and shopping – both luxury, local and tourist gift shops are all located here. It’s also close to the University of Auckland if you’re curious about that, and it’s an easy way to hop on a boat tour or ferry and get to Viaduct Harbour.

Viaduct Harbour

The harbour is right smack dab in the middle of the City Centre. With a bunch of bars/restaurants to choose from right on the waterfront, it’s an excellent place to wind down your day. Ferries seem to come in and out of here, if you’re interested in a ferry trip. Plus, there’s a park down way for kids and apparently a summer movie series shown here, as well. It’s also home to the New Zealand Maritime Museum – free entry for Auckland residents and about $10-$20 for visitors.

Botanical Gardens

Let it be known that I love gardens – so naturally, we ended up going to THREE botanical gardens here in Auckland.

The Auckland Botanic Gardens is just under 15 minutes away from the Auckland Airport and admission is completely free. The crazy thing is not only how beautiful the gardens are, but they span over 150 acres of land. If you go, prepare to get a little lost inside – which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Eden Garden is a much smaller, but equally gorgeous botanical garden located on the side of Mt. Eden and just a stone’s throw away from the City Centre (about a 7-minute drive). For only $6-$10 (children 12 and under get free admission), you can wander around these stunning blooms to your heart’s content. You may see some goofy-looking chickens also mucking about. And if you’re feeling ambitious, one of the trails in the garden leads you further up the mountain to a great city view.

If I had to pick a favorite, I think it would be the Domain Wintergardens. I had never seen or been in Victorian-style greenhouse gardens before, and honestly, I couldn’t get enough. The flowers inside are ridiculously pretty and enhanced by the pool/fountains set in the middle of the two greenhouses, surrounded by statues. It almost made me want to pop on a corset and bustle and sit down for high tea – ALMOST. Wintergardens also is free to see, just outside of the City Centre and across from the  Auckland War Memorial Museum.

So really, this barely scratches the surface of things to see in Auckland, but it’s a quick round-up of some of my favorites! And I know traveling isn’t cheap, so I hope this guide helps you jump-start your planning and save some dough, so you can treat yo’self in other ways. New Zealand is worth it!

With Much Aroha (Love),
Katie

Phoenix Chai Tea at 32 Shea

Phoenix Chai Tea Adventures

I am building a guide for Phoenix chai tea for anyone else who might be as enchanted by this tea as me (or anyone looking to experience Phoenix coffee shops and cafes).

The first coffee shop to be highlighted here is 32 Shea, a neighborhood favorite, with tasty chai, lots of food options, and a zen atmosphere.

The Tea!

phoenix chai tea

Food and chai tea out on the patio (c) ABR 2017

Reviewer(s): Aireona (the sugar-lover)

Brand: Maya Chai (Sweet version)

Flavor: Maya Chai is a Tucson company that has stolen the hearts of several of my chai tea-loving friends, and for good reason. They have two different varieties, sweet and spicy (Devi), and both strike a very nice balance between both of these flavors (as far as American tastes go, we love our sugar). For me, it is the afternote of this tea that is really special, and speaks to the artistry of its creators. While it maintains the sweet flavor that American chai has come to exemplify, the final notes of either Maya chai is reminiscent of more traditional, spicy teas. It is this perfect, subtle blend of spices that makes Maya so special, and for those of you that haven’t tried it (I have no idea how prevalent it is outside of Arizona), it is worth seeking out when you are looking for Phoenix chai tea.

The Locale

Location: 10626 N. 32nd St. 85028, Phoenix AZ

WIFI: Password Protected

Atmosphere: I love 32 Shea’s atmosphere. The building itself is quite small, and the inside has a warm feel with a wood-surfaced bar, and seating along some large windows. The patio outside, with its Buddha statue, vibrant greenery, and babbling fountain, is a very relaxing place. There are big shade trees along the fence that creates this little, private area, and umbrellas around the tables. It really feels like its own little world, although it is quite hot out here in the middle of summer.

Phoenix chai tea

Staff: The staff at 32 Shea are amazing. They are very welcoming, and don’t mind helping you navigate the menu. I have also gotten some really good recommendations for food from them. Overall, they are friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about the menu.

Pros: This coffee shop has a lovely building, and they are a special part of the community. Their menu will have something for you from breakfast to lunch and dinner. They even serve cocktails later in the day. 32 Shea has great staff and they have one of the best chai tea brands out there.

Cons: So far, I have just found their food to be ok. I am never blown away by how good it is, but it is never bad either. There is limited space and it can be hot during the summer.

phoenix cofee shop

Want to see the rest of the guide? Check out Your Guide to Phoenix: Chai Tea Adventures.

Where to Hike in Southern Arizona: Coronado National Memorial and Tumacacori Mission

If you’re wondering about what to see and/or where to hike in Southern Arizona, I have two off-the-beaten-path destinations for you. These are Coronado National Memorial and Tumacacori National Historic Park. Taking a weekend Southern Arizona trip to see these will take you through Sierra Vista, and small town AZ. It will also introduce you to some beautiful Southern AZ trails and the unique history of the South West.

We have a weekend itinerary for you guys at the end of the post. If you need more ideas for what to see in Arizona, check out our Guide to Arizona.

Coronado National Memorial

coronado hiking

Grasses and rolling hills of southern Arizona (c) ABR 2017

This National Park Unit is just south of Sierra Vista, right on the border between the US and Mexico. It is home to the rolling hills and mountains of grasslands and forests that I love in southern Arizona. As the name suggests, this beautiful spot on the southern edge of the United States had been preserved due to its historic significance, particularly, the entry of the Coronado expedition into the US.

coronado hiking

Coronado and his men didn’t have a luxury of trails when they passed through (c) ABR 2017

If you remember the story, Coronado, his soldiers, employees, and slaves, were on an epic journey in search of the famed Seven Golden Cities. All they knew was that these treasure troves were across a desert to the north, and thus, they travel north! And more north… and more… north… all the way up from Mexico to what is now Kansas. Sadly, as you might guess (or know), they did not find any cities of gold, but they did start the movement of Spanish colonization up into the Southwest.

coronado hiking

An imposing but beautiful landscape (c) ABR 2017

It’s easy to imagine the awe and trepidation that the people in Coronado’s expedition would have as they worked their way up into unknown lands when visiting the national memorial. And the park does a great job of educating you on aspects of Spanish exploration that you likely didn’t know. For instance, they had people counting their steps every day, just so that they knew how far they had gone. (Any one hiring for a step counter these days?).

Coronado hiking

(c) ABR 2017

If you aren’t interested in the history, no fear, Coronado National Memorial has plenty of Southern Arizona hiking and a very cool little cave that you can explore. One of the trails goes up to the highpoint of the Huachuca Mountains (Miller Peak), another will take you down to a memorial on the border, and you have an option to hike the length of the park, and through the low grasslands too.

cornado hiking

A passage through Coronado Cave (c) ABR 2017

For the cave, all you need to explore is a good pair of shoes, a trusty headlamp (plus a back up light source), and some caution (it’s a bit of a steep climb in if you aren’t used to hiking). It won’t be fascinating to the cavers among you, but for the rest of us, it’s a great place to organically explore the subterranean world.

Entrance Fee: Free
Suggested Trails: Coronado Cave Trail, Coronado Peak Trail, Yaqui Ridge Trail
Hours from Phoenix: ~3.5 hours
Visitor Center Address:
4101 W Montezuma Canyon Rd, Hereford, AZ 85615

Tumacacori National Historic Park

visit tumacacori

The mission (c) ABR 2017

A few hours from Sierra Vista, to the west, is the Tumacacori Mission where you can learn about Arizona’s mission past, and hike the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. This Southern Arizona hike commemorates another Spanish exploration party and is a great area to see some desert riparian, or river, ecosystems.

national historic trail

The river along the Juan Bautista de Anza trail (c) ABR 2017

After Coronado led the way up north from modern-day Mexico, it wasn’t long until other Europeans began exploring Arizona. One of these early colonists was Father Kino, a Jesuit priest, who established the Tumacacori mission in 1691 with the help of the local Tohono O’odham people, who built the sanctum that still remains to this day.

visit tumacacori

The interior of the mission (c) ABR 2017

Missions are a mainstay of southwestern US history, and they are inextricably tied to the subjugation of native peoples like those of the O’odham. At face value, they were a way for Spain to hold the northern frontier, and for Jesuits and Catholics to convert Native American people to European religions. However, many missions were also places where native peoples were forced to work, hunted down when they tried to leave, and it was also a system used to dismantle indigenous cultures.

visit tumacacori

We should not forget what happened here (c) ABR 2017

As with many tragedies, places of contemplation, about the wrongs of the past, are key to understanding the kinds of futures that we want to live in. For me, Tumacacori is one such place.

visit Tumacacori

We all love a good door (c) ABR 2017

The mission is beautiful, although the NPS modus operandi of maintenance not reconstruction is apparent here. You can see the brick-work under the stucco. But there is still faded paint in the nave, and the inspiration of European cathedrals is obvious in the design and architecture. When I went, there was a flowered cross where the priest would have preached, looking out on beautiful wooden doors. There were flowers in the old graveyard too.

visit tumacacori

(c) ABR 2017

It’s a peaceful place now, the perfect spot to remember, and continue the journey that the Spanish made up through United States. If you want to know about the history of the US, this is definitely a place that you should visit, because the story of the missions is not one that we should forget.

Entrance Fee: Free
Suggested Trails: Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Trail
Hours from Phoenix: ~2.5 hours
Visitor Center Address:
1891 I-19 Frontage Rd, Tumacacori, AZ 85640

History and nature are inextricably linked, and if you hike in southern Arizona, you won’t be disappointed in the stories that you create and discover.

Suggested Weekend Itinerary

Friday Night: Drive to Sierra Vista (~3 hours)
I highly recommend getting dinner at La Casita Mexican ; the food is great and their mango/chili margarita is delicious.

Saturday: Explore Coronado National Memorial.
Drive towards Tumacacori (~2 hrs from Coronado), and consider staying in one of the smaller towns in between, like Patagonia.

Sunday: Explore Tumacacori.
Drive back to Phoenix (~2.5 hrs), and consider stopping at Tubac on the way home for lunch and art.

hiking southern arizona

Disclaimer

Please visit the park visitor centers to ask questions and learn more about safety and the difficulty of the trails. Rangers will help you find the perfect path for you!

Nightborn Travel covers some off-the-beaten path locations, sometimes focuses on solo travel, and often includes outdoor exploration such as hiking. So, please be aware of the following (adapted from HikeArizona.com): Hiking, traveling and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends. It is your responsibility to travel and explore responsibly and take care of your own safety.

Phoenix Chai Tea Adventures: Calibration Post for Starbucks (Tazo)

chai tea phoenix starbucks

An Introduction to the Series and Example: Starbucks

I LOVE chai tea, and while I was in Europe this summer, I really started to enjoy trying different cafes and their take on this delicious sugar/caffeine boost. When I came home, I decided to start exploring all the different options that my home town has to offer, and I wanted to build a guide for anyone else who might be as enchanted by this tea as me.

To get us started, I want to make a calibration post (forgive the scientist in me!) using a standard coffee shop that we all know (and love?), Starbucks. This post will cue you into my chai tea tastes, so that you know how your own preferences for flavor compare, and walk you through how these little guides will work.

The Tea!

chai tea phoenix starbucks

Reviewer(s): Aireona (the sugar-lover)

Brand: Tazo Tea

Flavor: On a scale of sweet to spicy, Tazo’s take on chai tea makes an effort to balance traditional flavors with American preferences for sugar, but it is definitely leaning on the sugary side. Based on past conversations with people, I would even go so far as to say that those of you who really love traditional chai probably dislike Tazo’s version (or consider it to be in its own category altogether, like… Taco Bell is to Mexican food). Since I am a sugar lover myself, I find Starbuck’s chai tea to be a good comfort chai when I am on the go and I want to know just want I am getting into. I would describe it as being light and sugary with a slight hint of spice, but mostly sweet and milky.

The Locale

chai tea phoenix starbucks

Location: EVERYWHERE

WIFI: Free

Atmosphere: Starbucks is pretty standard, and has what I would consider to be the corporate distillation of coffee shop decor. With plenty of dark colors, most Starbuck’s have a professional feel, but most of their character comes from all the marketing that is carefully arranged in all directions. It’s actually not my favorite place to work, since it is just insanely busy in the morning, but once again, it’s a great place to go when you are still getting the lay of the land and need somewhere familiar and safe to charge up on caffeine.

Staff: The staff at Starbucks are like the rest of the chain in my opinion, professional and pleasant. Their product is pretty reliable, their baristas know their stuff, and you are almost always guaranteed a warm smile, if nothing overly friendly (perfect for us introverts out there).

Pros: If you need chai tea and are lost in a strange city, there’s likely to be a Starbucks within walking distance in all directions. You know what you will get in terms of taste and the coffee shop feel. Starbucks is also known to treat its staff well which earns it a plus from me, even if it is a giant corporation.

Cons: Starbucks won’t offer you a unique expression of the local coffee shop scene or local culture, and it often competes with smaller cafes.

Want to see the rest of the guide? Check out Your Guide to Phoenix: Chai Tea Adventures.

Nightborn’s Essential International Travel Checklist

My latest trip to New Zealand really challenged me to use all my travel-planning skills and know-how that I’ve acquired through my own (sometimes haphazard) experiences and advice from more-seasoned travelers. I thought I’d do you a favor, dear readers, and compile a checklist for you here to help tick off the boxes when you’re planning your next great adventure.

1) Save yourself a lot of trouble and look up any specific travel requirements for the country(ies) that you’ll be visiting.

  • Agriculture/Souvenirs- Many countries are very strict about what you can bring in and what you can bring back.
  • Visas – Do you need to apply for a visa to travel here? No joke – some countries require a visa just to pass customs and enter the country to collect your baggage for a connecting flight.
  • International Driver’s License – Pretty self-explanatory. Check if you’ll need one to drive in your destination.
  • Passport – DON’T FORGET IT. Also, make sure you’ve given yourself enough time, in case it needs to be renewed.

2) Put some thought into where you’re going to stay.

This is really at the traveler’s discretion and depends on what you have planned for your trip.

  • Affordability – Hostels are often the cheapest, and are a good choice if you don’t plan to spend much time in your room and don’t mind communal spaces.
  • Experience – I really can’t recommend AirBnB enough. You can find some really neat spaces for a excellent prices if you do your research ahead of time. If it’s your first time AirBnBing (or really, every time), you should check the reviews that people have left about the location and its host(s) and make sure that you review the amenities included, house rules/guest requirements and refund/date change policy.
  • Location – It’s a given that if your accommodation is in a city center/downtown, it’s going to be pricier. I find that being 10-15 minutes out puts you close enough to most attractions, without paying the same prices. But once again, it’s traveler’s choice – just think about how much walking/driving/using public transportation you want to do.

Speaking of which…

3) Know how you’re going to get around.

Planning ahead will help you get to places safely, on time and also use the most affordable mode of transportation. Is there:

  • Reliable public transportation – Do they have buses, train, light rail, etc. and are they safe/clean/easy to use? Remember that with public transportation you’ll either need to carry a good amount of cash with you or purchase a transportation pass.
  • Rental cars – When renting, consider more than just getting the cheapest car. Is it automatic or manual? Does it have USB/other outlets to charge your devices if you really need to? How old/reliable is it? The last thing you want to do is be driving in a strange place and break down.
  • Planes – I know people don’t always want to hop on another airplane after they’ve taken that big international flight, but sometimes domestic flights are cheaper than driving, and they’ll definitely save you the time.
  • UBER/Lyft/Taxis – Useful option when it’s not feasible or unneeded to to use the other options above. Just always use your discretion and be safe – know where you’re leaving from and where you need to go.
  • Good old-fashioned walking – If areas are walkable, always an enjoyable way to see your destination. Wear those comfy shoes and be prepared for weather.

4) Know your mobile device options before you leave.

Traveling to another country no longer means being completely cut off from communications (which can be both a great and terrible thing). Here are a few things to consider:

  • What your carrier already offers –  Do you have free/unlimited texting? How much do calls cost? Do you have data usage without an extra charge for roaming?
  • Purchasing an international data plan – find out if you can and if it’s worth it.
  • Mobile hotspot – if you already use your phone as a hotspot, this is a good and secure substitute for wifi, plus you won’t need to rely on another device for internet. Check the rates out with your carrier.
  • PocWifi – It’s a basically what it sounds like – a pocket wifi device you can carry with you for internet access. We were able to rent one at the Auckland airport for a pretty affordable rate, with unlimited data usage. Like any wifi device, connection got fiddly at some points (especially in high mountain areas or on the outskirts of town) but we were always able to connect and it was life-saver when it came to connecting to the internet to use our phones to navigate.

5) Annnnd most importantly, be flexible!

Weather, flight changes/delays/etc., and other unforeseen challenges will pop up when traveling. And yes, it is a bummer when your day doesn’t go as planned, but you’ve come all this way, so try to make the most of it. It’s not a bad idea to do research some ideas for what to do on these off-days, and, you can always ask locals for their advice.

Travel well,
Katie

Nature in the Netherlands: Three National Parks That You Have to See

When you think of Netherlands’ nature, what do you envision?

Netherlands Nature

Tulips, windmills, canals, and rolling fields of agriculture? I did not imagine National Parks and wild spaces. But if you have followed this blog for any amount of time, you will know that I almost always try to visit national parks in the countries that I travel to. The Netherlands was no exception.

netherlands nature

Loonse en Drunense Duinen (c) ABR 2017

There are 20 national parks throughout Holland, and I would be surprised if you didn’t enjoy visiting any one of them, but here are my three favorites.

netherlands national parks

De Hoge Veluwe

netherlands nature

Biking in the park (c) ABR 2017

 

If you only have time to visit one national park in the Netherlands, this one should be it, because it exemplifies Netherlands’ nature. It has just about everything you could want to do in a day. De Hoge Veluwe has it all, from hiking and biking, to art and natural history museums! We went early on a cold, foggy morning. After paying for our tickets, we picked up some free bikes at the entrance. For there we went to De Hoge Veluwe art museum, which has the second largest collection of Van Gogh in the country. I found this to be a relaxing place to enjoy the art, because this museum lacked the crowds of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum.

netherlands van gogh

Van Gogh in the park (c) ABR 2017

In the middle of De Hoge Veluwe is another museum where you can go underground, and learn about the history and ecology of the park. The museum is also right next to a little cafeteria that has really delicious food. Once we had our fill of museums, we spent a few hours pedaling around. The trails here are very nice and paved, and there was a whole suite of different landscape types that we got to enjoy while exploring.

netherlands nature

(c) ABR 2017

When we were exhausted from biking and exploring all day, we stopped by a food truck for some ice cream, and when we finally got back to our car we were shocked to see that all the bikes were out for the day and the parking lot was full. Due to this, if you visit on the weekend, be sure to get in early so you don’t have any issue parking and getting a bike.

 

netherlands nature

(c) ABR 2017

De Loonse en Drunense Duiden

netherlands nature

(c) ABR 2017

This little park is a great place to take a relaxing walk through a flatland forest, but the center of the park is where the real surprise is. We took a stroll through the trees and found ourselves in the middle of little sea of sand dunes. Even when I didn’t know a thing about the Netherlands, I never would have associated anything desert-ish with the country. The dunes here are even more special, due to the beautiful forest that surrounds the sand. In the shadow of the trees, small green plants and flowers carpet the sides of the dunes.

 

Weerribben-Wieden

netherlands nature

Boating through the park (c) ABR 2017

If you are planning on visiting the “little Venice” of the Netherlands, Giethoorn, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to make some time to stop by Weerribben. The best way to see the park is to rent a boat in Giethoorn. Just be sure to get a map from your rental company, and give yourself enough time to see the park.

netherlands nature

Bird’s eye view! (c) ABR 2017

Despite being in the middle of a developed European country, Weerribben has the magic that made me feel like I was on an adventure in the wild. There is beautiful, calming water and a seemingly endless expanse of green in all directions. Cows graze along the shore, and people tend verdant fields. And there is a little tower that we climbed up to get a bird’s eye view of all this. Finally, we ended our beautiful journey by coming back to Giethoorn and floating through the village.

netherlands nature

(c) ABR 2017

So, if you are planning a trip to Holland, be sure to break up your cultural experience with a little bit of Netherlands’ nature in some of the country’s beautiful national parks.

 

A Short Guide to Food in Japan

Eating while in other countries can be daunting for some people, so I put together a quick guide to food in Japan with picky eaters in mind. Learn about the most common traditional foods that you will find, as well as more familiar foods.

Traditional Japanese Foods

Here are some of the most common kinds of traditional Japanese foods that you will run into while visiting.

Tempura udon (c) ABR 2017

We ate udon EVERY DAY in Japan, and I learned to crave this salty dish after hiking. It is the best way to re-hydrate and get some energy after being outside. Udon comes with a few different things, but most common is shrimp, thin cuts of meat, and various kinds of veggies.

Ramen from the 5th Station on Mt Fuji (c) ABR 2017

Ramen is a thinner noodle than udon, and is common as well, as is soba, which is made from buckwheat! That colorful object in the picture above is naruto, which is made from cured fish.

Poke (c) ABR 2017

As a sushi lover, eating poke and sushi is #1 on my list of things to eat in Japan. However, you should be aware that the laws in Japan concerning raw fish are a bit different than in the US. In order to keep the fish as fresh as possible, most Japanese restaurants do not flash freeze their fish, while in the US fish must be flash frozen first if it will be eaten raw.

Katsu (c) ABR 2017

Katsu is breaded meat, most often pork, although that is steak up above. It is served with rice, and miso soup, and often sauce as well, because it can be a little dry otherwise.

(c) ABR 2017

While many restaurants have similar menus, if you keep your eyes peeled, you will find an endless array of foods in different places around the country.

Foreign Foods

For those picky eaters among you, or people looking for a little reminder of home, the cities have a nice array of foreign foods.

Italian pasta (c) ABR 2017

Italian food is really common, because Japan has a love for noodles!

Dumplings (c) ABR 2017

Japanese takes on Chinese dishes are also pretty easy to come by in the city.

Naan and curry (c) ABR 2017

Indian food was also something that we ran into more than once. They always made the naans HUGE.

Denny’s breakfast in Tokyo (c) ABR 2017

Of course, American food makes its appearance! Our style of breakfast is not the norm in Japan, so it was nice to eat some as a treat once in a while. Their style of scrambled eggs was a little runny, but I had to love the little breakfast salad. XD

Steak (c) ABR 2017

More American classics, which the Japanese chefs plated in a nice, minimalistic style (while maintaining the homey, American look).

Lunch from DisneySea (c) ABR 2017

DisneySea has food choices from around the world (including Latin America as seen above), but all have a Japanese spin that makes them pretty interesting to try.

Desserts

Japan does desserts VERY well, so I will provide the following pictures without comment. Enjoy and do your best to not run out for a sugar fix.

Banana and strawberry crepe with lots of whipped cream (c) ABR 2017

Tea time and cream puffs in Kyoto (c) ABR 2017

Cheese cake (c) ABR 2017

I don’t know what this was, but it was delish (c) ABR 2017

A treat for hiking a mountain (c) ABR 2017

Of course, CUTE desserts too! (c) ABR 2017

If you’d like to know more about where we’ve been in Japan and how to DIY your own exploration of this beautiful country, check out Nightborn Travel’s Guide to Japan.

Brown’s Peak: Summiting the Phoenix Skyline

(c) ABR 2016

Four Peaks is a mountain that you can see from Phoenix, you might be able to glimpse it from the plane on the way into Sky Harbor, and if you keep your eyes out for local beers, you will also notice that there is an Arizona brewery named after these peaks. If you aren’t familiar, on a clear day, look out to the east of the city and just search for a mountain with… well, you guessed, four peaks.

(c) ABR 2016

As you might imagine, besides making for a characteristic skyline, Four Peaks also has its share of hiking trails, and one of the most popular is Brown’s Peak. If you have access to a four-wheel drive vehicle, and are an EXPERIENCED and CAREFUL hiker, this might be a great day adventure for you (remember, your safety traveling and in nature are your responsibility).

Why am I being so cautious about this hike? Let me tell you!

While the journey up Brown’s Peak is rife with lovely views, and a day’s worth of adventures, it is not easy to access and the end of the trail at the summit is dangerous.

The nice part of the road (c) ABR 2016

About 45 min out of Phoenix on the 87 you will turn right onto 4 Peaks Rd, which is dirt. It is nice enough (most of the time) to get down it with just a vehicle that has high clearance, but it is definitely not a road I would chance my car on. It also takes a few hours to make it to the trailhead from the highway, and this is why summiting Brown’s Peak is a day-trip despite being so close to the city.

(c) ABR 2016

From the trailhead, you will follow a pretty tame trail through the Tonto Forest up to a saddle where you will be able to see Brown’s, as well as Roosevelt Lake and Phoenix on either side. If you are not an experienced scrambler or climber, this is where I would suggest that you turn around.

Looking down at the saddle (c) ABR 2016

The trail takes a fairly straight path up from the saddle, and it doesn’t take long for the dirt path to turn into a steep crack in the stone of the mountain, which is layered with loose rock. So, in climbing up you will need to cling to the rock, while minding the stones under your feet and those that might be flying down the mountain at you, if there are hikers ahead. At the top, you will be rewarded with 360 degrees of amazing Sonoran desert beauty and a quiet, but likely windy spot on top of a fairly challenging peak.

Cliffs and flying rocks are par for the course on the way up to the summit. (c) ABR 2016

Please exercise extreme caution climbing down (as you did up), and avoid disturbing the rocks as much as possible. Climbing Brown’s Peak is not advised in the winter, as snow and ice will make the steep trail even more dangerous than it already is.

View from the summit (c) ABR 2016

See HikeArizona’s description for further detail: https://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=18

Little Notes on Culture and History in the Netherlands

Dutch people are known for being forward, and practical. Only 39% of the country claims to be religious, which is one of the lowest in Europe, and they were one of the first European nations to legalize gay marriage, weed, and prostitution.

So, what is the deal with Amsterdam?

(c) ABR 2017

I’ve read plenty of blog posts that claim that Amsterdam is a chalk full of stoners and clouds of weed smoke, but that was not my experience. The central part of the city was the only place that I smelled the pungent plants, and we had more encounters with run of the mill drunk people, rather than stoners. In any case, it is the tourists that frequent the cafés that provide weed most, rather than the locals. So, yes, while weed and prostitution are legal in the city, it is really the bikes, canals, and brick buildings that characterize Amsterdam.

How is driving in the Netherlands?

(c) Wikimedia Commons

Overall, very similar to the United States. There is one major difference that I noticed while traversing the roads of this lovely European country, however, and that is in regards to the left or fast lane. In the Netherlands this is a passing lane in the true sense, particularly in the case of highways. If you sit in the fast lane without need, aka going too slow, you may get a ticket and you will definitely get tailgated. This is rude in the US (and illegal in some states), but you really can’t get away with in the Netherlands. Be polite and get over when you are done passing.

The Van Gogh Trail (c) ABR 2017

The other thing that you should be aware of is the fact that many Dutch drivers will change lanes with only a very small amount of room between vehicles. So, be ready to be cut-off and just get used to it. So many people do it that I don’t think you should even bother to consider it rude, but definitely drive defensively. Leave enough room between you and the people in front of you, just in case someone decides to pop into your lane suddenly.

Why do Dutch people love windmills so much!?

A tiny windmill (c) ABR 2017

Back in the day windmills helped the Netherlands become a world power by assisting them in ship building, and by allowing them to produce goods that were used around the world (in particular, paper). Windmills became so common throughout the Dutch countryside that people used the position of the sails to communicate with one another. In fact, this form of communication was utilized for warnings about Nazi movements in WWII. Newer forms of power eventually led to the disappearance of many windmills, but as we all know, wind power is making a come back as a renewable form of energy. Thus, they are a new symbol of hope for the Netherlands and the world.

What is Tulip Mania?

(c) Pexels

There are three souvenir staples in Holland- windmills, clogs, and tulips. Of the three, I think tulips will most likely color any trip you take to the Netherlands the most. Some of you lucky fiends will get to visit during Tulip season and see these flowers in their glory, but even if you are like me and miss it, there will be no lack of tulip bulbs and wooden baubles in the shape of the flowers. So, what is the deal with tulips and the Netherlands? Well, these beautiful flowers have an interesting history in Holland, as they created what some consider to be the first economic bubble that we have recorded accounts of. Basically, when these flowers were introduced to the Netherlands during the “Dutch Golden Age,” they became extremely popular and even more expensive. This funny “bubble” of worth and expense popped when the price and market for the flowers collapsed in 1637. Luckily, unlike the economic bubble that most of us have lived through, Tulip Mania had little to no effect on the overall well-being of the Netherlands at that time. Despite the popping of the Tulip bubble, the Netherlands is still in love with this beautiful flower, and this gives us the opportunity to see the country’s beautiful countryside carpeted with brilliant colors the likes of which only seem possible in fantasy worlds like Oz.

5 Things I’ve Learned from Getting Stuck at Airports

I’ve gotten stuck waiting at a LOT of airports, so naturally I’ve picked up a few things that have made it a little easier for me when faced with traveling inconveniences.

1) Travel delays are less of an ‘if’ and more of a ‘when’, so try to plan accordingly.

These days, it feels like a delay at some airport is almost inevitable, if even for a short amount of time. Unfortunately, sometimes even the slightest delay can throw everything off schedule. I know it’s not always possible, but for big events (usually weddings), it’s a good idea to give yourself a couple days leeway before the occasion to account for any hiccups.

For example, I was traveling from the U.S. to Manila for a cousin’s wedding. All of my connecting flights went smoothly, until the very last one at the Narita Airpot. I was supposed to board at six, which turned to seven, eight and nine and when we finally boarded the plane, they herded us back off because by the time we would arrive in the early a.m., there would be no crew to welcome us. Oh, and the next available flight? Not until 1 p.m. the next day.  I lost nearly an entire day, making me extremely glad the wedding was later in the week.

2) Travel as light as you can…

Good advice for when:
a) Your gate suddenly changes after your last flight delay made you late, and you have to haul your butt across three airport concourses to make it to you connection in time.
b) You’re traveling solo and need to drag your bags everywhere with you. There’s nothing like trying to cram yourself into an airport bathroom with a bunch of luggage.
c) Your connecting flight, for whatever reason, doesn’t transfer your bags with you and you have to go through the whole rigmarole of baggage claim and check-in AGAIN.

3) … But, bring back-up essentials in your carry-on.

This has come through for me AT LEAST twice. I mentioned my sweet stay at the Narita Airport up above – after spending more than 12 hours at the same airport gate, I’m SO glad I had clothes to change into and toiletries to refresh myself. The second time, having learned from Narita, I was flying to Manila again with maybe two or three days worth of extra clothing in my backpack. It served me well after my having to switch flights – I arrived fine, but my baggage took three days to find me, having flown on my ORIGINAL connecting flight.

Things to Keep Handy:
– Extra clothing (especially undies)
– Toothbrush/toothpaste (just remember to keep that tube small enough size for TSA approval)
– Face wipes (good for make-up removal/other face gunk and generally TSA-approved)
– Small stick of deodorant
– Portable phone charger/power bank (in case you’re faced with full or broken outlets)

4) Learn about the airport beforehand, especially if you have multiple connections.

It’s just a great idea to know the layout of the airport(s) you’re traveling to you’re not surprised by what you’ll find when you arrive. If you have the time, then you’ll know where you want to eat, shop and relax. If you don’t have time, then you can move around with ease and book it to your next destination. It also helps to know some other miscellaneous details like if the airport has wi-fi (and is it free?), what currency the airport will accept if you’re traveling to another country (Narita actually accepted USD, which was pretty convenient) and if they have places to stay inside the airport should you need a rest (Narita actually had hotel rooms available – but when I was delayed we were asked to remain by the gate – booooooo).

5) Don’t panic.

If delays happen, if you get stuck in an airport like I did, try your very best not to freak out, take a deep breath and then figure out your next steps.

When I ended up chillin’ like a villain in Narita I:
a) Used the wi-fi to use my messaging apps to see of my family members was online so I could get in contact with them and let them know what’s up and not to worry.
b) Didn’t get mad or berate the staff for a weather delay they couldn’t control, but stuck around, listened to what updates they had and did what they asked of us.
c) Made the best of it. I got to try consommé-flavored Pringles (which I didn’t even know existed) and learned how to make a curry MRE (which actually tasted pretty dang good), I talked to an extremely nice missionary couple that ended up watching out for me while I got some nap time in (still using my carry-on as pillow so I would know if anybody was trying to mess with it) and explored the Narita Airport while purchasing enough green tea Kit-Kats to keep me happy.

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Mmmmm. Soup.

Really, my hope for every flight and for you is that you don’t get stuck with your buns warming an uncomfortable airport gate seat for hours. However, if you do, remember my advice and perhaps it’ll make things a bit more bearable.

Bisous,
Katie

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