30 October 2016

Day 2 Plan - See what we can see

A fine little playground at the local shopping centre 
Pah! We're not worried. (Hold Zach's hand tighter!)
We had nothing specific planned for this day as we expected a little tiredness from the changing time zones. So after a sleep-in we left around 9:30am and started more Pokemon Go based exploring. The children wanted to find some parks and play at the beach.
We found an lightly held Pokemon Gym nearby so we stopped and added ourselves to it and explored the area, stopping in to an open Subway to get some cookies. We hadn't realised it but this day was a public holiday in New Zealand so traffic was relatively light and many commercial places were closed. This didn't worry us as we weren't there to shop, but to explore and see what life was like in Auckland.
But I want to get wet!
Interestingly, other than being very hilly with lots of nearby coastline and tricky to pronounce place names for the visitor, Auckland was very similar to Australia. They drive on the correct side of the road, people are friendly and prices and retail experiences are very similar. It took a little coming back to earth again when we interacted with the locals as our accent was close enough to be not considered unusual. For the last two weeks in the US every time we spoke we received smiles and curious looks because our voices gave us away as being "not from round here". Now we were just another family doing some exploring.
Aagh! The waves splashed me!
By lunchtime we had arrived at a beach so we all hopped out and went for a walk. There was to be no going into the water as we had not brought any swimming gear or towels but we did discover a neat little walkway along the base of the cliffs linking one beach to another. As the tide was slowly coming in, the waves occasionally crashed onto the walkway spraying water into the air. It was a fun little walk with plenty of Pokemons to catch and sights to see. Add to this the chance of getting sprayed with water and this was better than many rides and amusements.
By mid afternoon the previous day's travels were catching up with us so we made our way back to the hotel, stopping in at the local shopping centre.
There was a playground here too so we stopped while we visited the supermarket to purchase breakfast and other supplies and see if we could detect many differences in groceries. We noticed a few differences but the range and options were similar to home which made it all very comforting.
We bought some fish and chips from one of the local take away stores. In Auckland Fish and Chips are available everywhere, but they are often sold at the same place as Chinese and other noodle options. Like Australia, these are mostly independent stores run by families, not part of chains. The food was excellent.
Earlier in the day I called the Hobbiton Movie Set to confirm our booking and arranged to be part of the 10am tour. We then checked how long it would take and realised it was 2.25 hours away. Aargh. When booking the hotel we missed that it was located 30 minutes North of Auckland airport and Hobbiton was over 90 minutes South of the Airport. The main reason we visited Auckland was to see Hobbiton so this was a bit of an oversight. So early to bed and we set out to leave at 7am next day.

26 October 2016

Day 1 Plan - survive the long trip until night time

Climb! Climb! Stay awake!
The trick to getting over jet lag as quick as possible is to stay awake until it is night time in the place you land. We arrived in Auckland at 8:30 am. This meant a long day after a long night with little sleep or "power" naps.
We made it to the hotel and were told the room wouldn't be ready until 2:00pm. So this meant doing a little exploring.
Turing to our Pokemon Go adventure touring map we made some left and right turns and found ourselves at a great playground. Perfect. When you look in search engines or Maps for "Playgrounds Nearby" this one didn't appear.
We sent the children onto all the climbing equipment, then went for a walk along the edge of the cliffs. There were great views of the water!
This place was Kennedy Park in Castor Bay. There were a collection of old WWII gun emplacements with plaques explaining the history of each spot. The photo of the children overlooking the bay is what observers at one of the gun emplacements would have seen - but with the trees trimmed back I suspect.
We finally made it back to the hotel just before 2pm and they let us in. The bags were plonked in the rooms and we had a shower and change of clothes. Now the hard part was staying awake for the evening Mass.
We initially tried to make the 4:30 pm Mass in the Auckland Cathedral but forgot one little thing. We were in a Minivan whose height was about 1.95m. City car parks had height restrictions from 1.8m to 2.0m. So we did a quick lookup and found the local church had Mass at 5pm so off we went, back near the hotel.
Mass was good but Zach fell asleep almost as soon as we sat down. The other children impressively remained awake.
Lots of beachs and cliffs in and around Auckland.
I initially held Zach but quickly passed him over to Peter. Hooray for younger stronger arms and backs.
Zach remained asleep, dead to the world, even through the various sitting, standing and walking times during Mass, moving into and out of the car, plonking onto his bed and tucking him in. The children even tried putting a chip into his mouth. No reaction.
Next morning he awoke with the rest of us and announced, "I couldn't sleep last night because you snored."

Playing with my Inner Photographer

A hole filled with water is more fun with your brother.
I enjoy playing with my SLR camera and seeing if I can capture great memories in an aesthetically pleasing way. Here are some of the moments I captured over the last few days.
The children are pretty good at putting up with my directions and requests they sit here or run there. I don't overdo it as I don't want to be one of "those" type of photographers.
Most of my photos are taken at the moment which I find produces many of the best shots.
Clare putting up with my requests.

Romeo! Wherefore art my Romeo! Down here love.

Peter putting up with my directions

Mum! Look at this hole!

Pokemon Go Tour of Auckland

This is a Magikarp. You can catch these.
We had only one plan when we decided to visit Auckland - to visit Hobbiton. This was set for Tuesday so Monday and Wednesday were set aside for exploring. How does one explore a new place if you have no desire to spend lots of money at tourist type places and the children are more interested in playgrounds and more simple experiences?
As we all are playing Pokemon Go we decided to use the Pokemon Go maps to decide which way to go. The only way to move ahead in the game is to actually visit places. Different creatures (Pokemons) appear in physical places so sitting around will not help you. Also, you will typically find water based creatures near rivers, beaches and lakes, ground based ones in the country and so on.
The next few posts will show some of the interesting places we discovered using the game based directions we followed.
In case you haven't seen Pokemon Go, the maps are based on Google Maps but with no street or place names. All the paths - whether roads or foot paths - look similar although having varying widths.
This is NOT a Magikarp. It is a dead fish.
One thing the children did find in a shallow inlet next to the beach was a dead fish.
"Look Dad! Look! Come here, see what I found."
So I rushed over and saw the dead fish floating in the water.
"It's a dead fish," I cleverly commented.
"Yeah," they said, "Cool!"
You see, sometimes you can not always tell what will capture the children's imagination.

23 October 2016

Hello New Zealand

So this must be the Lord of the Rings place
We have made it to New Zealand. Yay!
In looking back, the hardest part of the journey was the drive to Atlanta. The I-575/I-75/I-85 route is the most straight forward and we took it in the middle of the day outside of the morning and afternoon peak hours yet it was still very busy in parts. It can be quite confusing as the road changes from 2 to 4 to 7 then back to 3 lanes, keeping us on the ball to be in the correct lane to get to where we were going.
At one point a car in the lane beside us failed to stop in time and pushed the car in front of them into the one in front of him. A 3 car minor crash (more of a fender bender) in the middle lane when the road was 7 or 8 lanes wide. We were sorry for them but very glad we were in front of it and not delayed. I could see the traffic confusion already beginning in my rear view mirror.
Then it was time to check in and go through security and customs and more. Just follow the line and prompts, show the passports many many times within feet of the last time they were shown and eventually we get to board. Every flight was over subscribed so on board luggage space was tight.
Exactly the question we asked.
The best part? When we landed in LA we asked about our bags and where the next gate was, expecting it to be miles away across multiple terminals. "It's right there," pointed the gate attendant and smiled at our shocked faces. We came in at Gate 48A and left from Gate 48B. I am still amazed.
After boarding at 11:30pm on Friday LA time, a 13 hour flight meant we arrived in new Zealand at 8:30am Sunday morning, NZ Time. Saturday was wiped out by the International Date Line.

The end of a great return

That shouldn't be too hard a climb
To complete our trip we decided to go for another trip near Murphy North Carolina to visit the Wagonmaster Adventure Ranch. Unfortunately it was more of a ghost town than an adventure as they were closed after their Spring - Summer - Fall season. On the way back we noticed the Field of the Woods Bible Park entry. I remember looking at this in the Murphy Visitor Centre information so stopped and went back to have a look.
I was wrong - 350 steps wrong. This is the view from the top.
This is basically a bible themed area with a massive ten commandments made in stone/concrete on a very steep hill. The centre has a long series of steps leading to the top tempting visitors to have a "little" climb. So we did.
You can see the photo of children sitting in front of the open book at the top of the stairs. The staff at the gift shop later confirmed there were over 350 steps to the top. Since they were first installed I suspect the ground has shifted as very few of the stairs are the same height or level and some of the hand rails are worn and fallen away. Although this would probably not be considered "work safe" it was worth the climb to the top.
Our wobbly legs whole we wandered through the gift shop were confirmed by the health app on the iPhone saying we had climbed 16 floors.
The children provide scale to the top photo
It certainly felt like it.
Initially we were concerned we missed the Fall changing of the leaves when we saw the lovely green woods and mountains. Yet in two short weeks the whole area was transforming into brilliant yellow, orange and red. The bottom photo shows our final view from the cabin. Compare it to the first view to see the difference.
Compare this to our first view two weeks ago.
So now we begin our journey home with a detour via Auckland, New Zealand. Packing, cleaning, planning followed by rushing, waiting, sitting, queueing, waiting, sitting and more fun.
But it was all worth it.

21 October 2016

Memories of a great butcher

The Butcher in a barn
Not long after we started living in the US a butcher shop - called a Meat Market here - started a short distance away. Coming from a butcher's family we quickly started purchasing our meat from Dan, the butcher who had the time to help us with our weird Australian meat requests.
The cuts of meat are different here so it took a while of mutual discussion working out what we liked from this new selection of cuts. One big difference is we wanted our steaks cut a lot thinner than the standard US inch and thicker cuts.
We popped in to see Dan last week and purchased some meat. He remembered us from so long ago and when we ordered some steaks asked us, "You like your steaks cut thinner don't you?"
Dan and his wife posing for those Australians.
We have had a delightful selection of meats this week to share with our friends. The T Bone and other steaks, Bratwursts and Ground Beef (called Mince in Australia) were all delicious.
It is amazing how the intervening 12 years disappeared so quickly when our favourite places still exist and the people remember us.

20 October 2016

Being a local international tourist

On special - 3 of our Cabbage Patch Kids
We have explored a little further afield over the last few days. Yesterday was to The Cabbage Patch "Hospital" in Cleveland, GA and then Helen, GA, the town that transformed itself into an Austrian Alps themed town.
The Cabbage Patch Hospital is basically a huge themed store with all employees dressed as hospital staff, nurses and doctors pretending that Cabbage Patch Dolls were real and grew from a cabbage patch. The displays were very impressive and it was worth a trip. You could purchase not only dolls, but a wide selection of clothing and accessories, most of which would suit any 18 inch doll. The girls enjoyed the visit very much.
Our next stop was Helen a little way up the road. This town decided to set themselves up as something more than just a nice town in the North Georgia Mountains and decided to upgrade to an Austrian Alpine themed town. This turned out quite successful with lots of craft, food and tourist based businesses.
The streets were well maintained with lots of flowering plants making the place quite pretty. Butterflies were fluttering about everywhere.
Pretty butterflies
We were able to watch the glass-blowers in action creating fine works of art from stems of plain glass. The Fudge and candy store tempted us in with a great scent and we could look in through the window to the small work area where they created their chocolate treats. The sign on the window said "Please don't lick the glass." I can understand the temptation - it all looked very good.
The day's treat was ice cream where we all had the chance to select one or two flavours. Then we had to finish the ice cream in the street as no store allowed food inside (quite reasonably). We also had to visit the public restrooms as Zach tested the efficiency of ice cream styled skin and face conditioner. No photo, but just imagine a brown sticky covering over his face, hands and arms.
After dessert, we went to the back of the parking lot which backed onto the river which trickles through the town and we had our lunch.
BYO Lunch on the river bank
We planned well by bringing the bread, boiled eggs, ham, tomato and lettuce and mayonnaise. It was a delightful way to relax, eating a delightful lunch watching the water trickle along the rocky river bed under the shade of mature trees on a beautiful sunny day.
Today we popped in to Murphy, North Carolina to see what there was to see. The ladies at the Murphy Visitor Centre were very helpful and passed on many pamphlets and directed us to a number of interesting places.
We noticed one interesting object on the sidewalk - A red flag disposal box. It was like a repurposed postal box but specifically designed for people who wished to dispose of their worn or damaged American flags properly. This shows a great respect for the American Flag and we were impressed at this obvious service to the organisation's patriotism. Much as we ensure objects which we venerate and which represent holy or worthy things should be disposed of appropriately, this simple mechanism allows the honourable American Flag to be disposed of in the correct manner.
Practical respect for the Flag.
Once more we can recommend any visitor to the US to visit places off the more common tourist trails, especially in the North Georgia and surrounding areas. We have always had extremely helpful and friendly encounters with locals, both in retail settings and just in public places like parks and on the street. To any of our US friends reading this you can be proud of all your fellow citizens. Thanks for the hospitality.

18 October 2016

It's called Fall for a reason

Almost there. Oh the wind blew more. Sigh.
We have timed our trip to North Georgia very well. It is Autumn, which means the leaves are rapidly changing colour. When we arrived, the trees were all green and we sadly thought we would miss the changing of the leaves.
Wrong. The season is called Fall here for a reason. Almost as we watch, the leaves are changing colour and every time a small wind blows, there is a rain of leaves slowly clattering through the branches to a leaf filled ground.
We have discussed leaves before here and here.
To make it safer for us to drive up the driveway Martin, with help from Rose and myself, swept away the bulk of the leaves. Naturally, as we clear a patch more leaves slowly drift down behind us, but the bulk are now cleared making it safer to drive in.
So what does one do with a pile of freshly swept leaves?
One could jump in the pile, throw them in the air or kick them around. But this is a photo opportunity, just like it was with Clare and Ariel when Clare was little in Georgia.
The photos here took a lot of tries. It seemed all a great idea until a few stray acorns and hickory nuts joined the nice soft leaves and bonked the children on the head and shoulders.
It's all fun until the nuts fall.
Of course we laughed.
Once the first bucket was emptied we looked at the photos and they weren't good enough.
"Again!" I declared and so we gave it a second go.
Much better.
Once we had used half the bin full of leaves I yelled out, "Dump the rest!" and the children were covered with a ton of leaves.
Fun in the Fall.
The final dump of leaves

A day off, loitering around the cabin

Well that should scare the neighbours
One of the best ideas we had for this trip was hiring a cabin in the mountains. For the number of people in our group and the convenience of having a fully furnished house and kitchen, the price was great value.
We have room to lounge about, invite friends over, cook our own breakfast and dinner, freeze and refrigerate a variety of foods and go exploring and bring home what we have found.
When we had friends over to share a lovely roast beef dinner (and Tim Tam Slams for dessert) and they thoughtfully brought some large carving pumpkins and a pumpkin carving kit.
Now that is an experience we would not have been able to perform at your typical hotel!
Nice Bamboo. What are you going to do with it?
Today we are having a day at home, allowing us to recharge our batteries and just rest (and write blog posts). The boys decided to go for a wander and check out a bamboo patch they had seen on the way in. A short while later we saw them return with a couple of bamboo poles on their shoulders.
"What are you going to do with those?" I asked.
"I dunno," replied Peter, "I'll think of something."
They are out back doing that thinking (with the sounds of cutting and hacking) at the moment while I write this.
We had a home made breakfast of bacon and eggs, some had fresh made pancakes and others some cereal.
Around us the trees are changing colour almost as we watch. The children are spotting squirrels and Clare saw a Bluebird this morning.
We have mastered the art of every faucet using a different combination of twists, pulls and turns to work.
Carving Pumpkins. Try this at a hotel.
The light and power mysteries have been unravelled after the electricians appear to have pondered how to make each light and power switch with a slightly different placement and pairing. This is all part of the adventure of staying in a new place.

Punkin Chunkin Festival in Brasstown NC

The Hurlers of Pumpkins arrayed in glory
On Saturday we attended the 8th Annual Punkin Chunkin Festival in Brasstown North Carolina. We had seen a small sign near a bank in Blairsville and thought that might be fun. We figured it would be a typical festival with crafts and foods.
Imagine our delight when we realised this festival also included a variety of machines competing to throw a pumpkin as far as possible into the fields!
While perusing the craft and food stalls before the flinging began we overheard the excellent fellow on the microphone interview various visitors and demonstrators as well as promote the activities that were occurring.
At one point he announced he had a visitor from South Africa which he was sure was the visitor who had travelled the furthest. "Not so fast," we thought and wandered over to the flinging machines area to have a look, as that was where he was based.

Martin scales the inflated mountain
 As we were chatting with the various groups responsible for each of the machines specially designed for chucking pumpkins as far as possible I could sense he was edging closer to us.
"Do I detect an accent here?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied, "Australian."
"Excellent," he said as he came closer with his microphone.
"Where are y'all from?" he asked.
"We're visiting from Australia," I answered.
"You definitely get the longest travel award today! What brings you here? Have you been here before?"
"We used to work here about 12 years ago and my daughter was born here," I answered pointed at Rose, "We have been to Possum Drop before, which was fun."
He then explained to the listeners what a fine event the Possum Drop New Year's Eve event was and then turned to Rose.
"What do you think of America?"
"Well," answered Rose, "You all talk funny."
The MC stopped, about to burst out laughing but controlled himself and continued, "Well, I guess we do."
It was a fun interview.

Blue Tongued Cotton Candy girls
We tried Cotton Candy (which we call fairy floss), bought a really tasty home made Pumpkin roll cake and perused the craft stalls until the time came for the Punkin Chunkin to begin.
Many of these machines of pumpkin destruction have been built, maintained and upgraded over many years. There are even national championships held too!
After the first round of firing we left to prepare for friends to visit at our cabin. This was a great day.

Of interest is sun strength. The day was excellent with some patchy clouds and temperatures of 80+F (27C) and the sun shining strongly. We were concerned we would go bright red with sunburn as we would have on a similar day at home. But all we had was a slight red shade and no sun burn. In Australia everyone is encouraged to wear a hat. All school children have to wear a hat when they play outside and sunscreen is close to a necessity during Summer. At an event like the festival we would have seen 80% to 90% of participants wearing hats with brims with the rest either caps or rarely no head covering at all.
At the festival here maybe 10% to 20% had a cap or similar with the majority wearing no head covering at all.
It was an interesting comparison.

Been there. Got the T-shirt.

How to do a Tim Tam Slam

Look! They're in the US.
A special treat we have been sharing with our American friends are the Australian biscuit (cookie) Tim Tam. This is a milk chocolate covered cream filled malt cookie sandwich. It is great on its own but its special qualities of real milk chocolate and meltiness make it perfect for a special activity.
The Tim Tam Slam.
The basic steps are to have a delightful hot drink of coffee, hot chocolate or tea in front of you. Then take a small bite out of opposite corners of the Tim Tam. Then, using the Tim Tam as a straw, suck up your drink through the Tim Tam "straw".
A gooey, sticky, chocolatey mess. Yum!
This process quickly melts the chocolatey cream filling as well as the chocolate on the outside.  Quickly, before the biscuit (cookie) falls apart, you shove the slowly disintegrating taste sensation into your mouth.
And a little messy as you lick your fingers so as not to waste any of the chocolate.

Now normally this would be a rare treat in the US as Tim Tams are uniquely Australian. You can imagine the excitement when we discovered that Tim Tams are now available in Walmart Supercenters!
Drink the coffee through the Tim Tam Straw

Father and Son teams are OK too.
We transported across the planet a special cooler bag with eight packets of Tim Tams to share with our friends. These were carefully carried through customs and scanning at each airport and stored in safe places on the airplanes. These 8 packets of goodness were unveiled with ceremony as we shared them with our friends.

Next time we'll just get them from Walmart.
Go to Aisle A.19. Don't walk.

16 October 2016

There's something for everyone - Part 2

A store and a hunting museum
A contrast to the American Girls store was Cabela's. This is an extremely large hunting, fishing, camping, outdoors store which is famous for their range and their store displays of a wide range of stuffed animals. This store even had a huge aquarium filled with a variety of local fish.
We all enjoyed quite a long time at this store with Peter getting "snake" boots for his walking trips, Clare found some engraved cowgirl boots on special and the others found various other items they "needed".
The staff were very helpful and interested to hear our accents, once more revealing our lack of local-ness.

A mountain of stuffed animals

A deer fighting attacking wolves

I like this hat

There's something for everyone - Part 1

Two very excited girls
We braved driving in the outskirts of Atlanta a couple of days ago primarily for some Australian Bread and goodies, but also for some special shops. Clare has been making very good clothes for her 18 inch dolls for some time and was very excited we were going to the home of the American Girl dolls and stores.
I had no choice but to visit the American Girl store in Northpoint Mall, a huge mall/shopping mega complex. Clare and Rose have been saving their money from working in our store for some time so they could purchase all the special clothes and accessories for their dolls. While the girls all had a good look around the store, Peter, Zach and I went for a wander and browsed in the other stores in the mall.
By the time we returned the girls had a rather large bag full of goodies waiting for me to do my job - paying for it. I would transfer the money from their accounts in due course but now I had to get the store to accept my cards which were failing because they were Australian. Finally one of my cards worked and the girls were happily looking through their prizes.
Two less than excited boys

14 October 2016

Meeks Park is a treasure

And that means you!
Meeks Park is the main recreation park maintained and developed by Union County. It has sports fields (mainly baseball), playgrounds, walks, bridges and more.
The park is a credit to Union County. We enjoyed a picnic lunch there today, followed by a walk along the creek, listening to the leaves dropping and caught sight of a squirrel sprinting from tree to tree. We have already tested out the playground a number of times and met some old friends there who normally aren't there at that time of day. Our meeting was obviously meant to be.
The sign on the baseball field fence was interesting.
Does this mean that the Union County Recreation Department staff actively look for anyone who may be tolerant and tells them in no uncertain terms, "Stop being tolerant!"? Perhaps I'm reading the sign wrong?

Enjoying the cool walk by the creek.
The Sorghum Festival was held in the large open area of Meeks Park and will be replayed again this weekend. This park is a great resource we have truly appreciated.

Treasure Trove of historic games

"Wow! These are so old."
The children have discovered a box of old Super Nintendo games in our cabin which belong to the Super Nintendo system connected to an old small TV.
"Look at these Dad! They're so old!"
I remember these when I was a child so I suppose it does make it old-ish, but I wish they did not place so much emphasis on the "old" part.
So as part of a lazy start to the day the children were enjoying some classic (now that sounds better than old) games including:

  • Super Mario World
  • Super Punch Out
  • F-Zero
  • Kawasaki Super Bike
  • Chuck Rock
  • and quite a few others.

Their vote for the best one? Super Mario World.