orlando – days 2 & 3

i know you’ve been on the edge of your seat to hear about the rest of our time in orlando, so here we go!

our saturday proved to be just as fun as our friday, and it all began at the winter garden farmers market.  we have these sorts of things in atlanta but never seem to make the time to go, which means we enjoyed ourselves even more.

things at the market were already pretty lively by the time we arrived, which made for excellent people watching.  there were couples of all ages, families with little ones, ladies with big sun hats and bigger bags full of fresh produce and fragrant baguettes.  it was a feast for the senses, indeed!

since we had forgone breakfast at the house, we were definitely in the mood for a little snack.  considering the heat of the already sweltering florida morning, lisa led us straight to enzo’s acai bar.  the line wasn’t long, the people were friendly, and the service was fast.  i don’t remember exactly what we had, but i do remember the cool sorbet, crunchy granola, and sweet fruit in every bite.  the perfect start to the morning!  as we munched, we moseyed from booth to booth, admiring the quality and beauty of the local craftsmen.  if we’d had any extra space in our suitcase, i’m certain i would have come home with a bundle of treasures, but i’m betting phillip is grateful that wasn’t the case.  🙂

one stand we stopped by caught lisa’s eye as she turned the corner:  the allisons’ apiaries honey stand.  lisa admitted to us that she was on a big honey kick these days and just could not resist.  the gentleman who assisted us was quite welcoming and helpful and generous with samples.  we tasted wild flower honey, blackberry honey, honey whose names i cannot recall, and they were all so scrumptious.  lisa’s honey infatuation was so darling that phillip and i insisted we treat her to some as a thank-you for hosting us that weekend.  at first she couldn’t accept but then quickly warmed up to the idea and picked out a couple jars and even a beeswax gator candle.  i’d say they were worth every penny.

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orlando – day 1

last weekend phillip and i took a barely hour-long flight south to visit our friends kyle and lisa in orlando, fl.  they’ve been there for a couple of years now and our trip was long overdue, so with some handy delta skymiles and some pto, off we were!

friday started out with a bit of sleeping in, some bagels, large mugs of coffee, and a little catching up.  i’ve known kyle and lisa since our days at uga, and it’s always fun to reminisce on what was but even better to hear about adult life and what’s going on these days.  i personally think some of the best friendships are the ones where you can fall right back into conversation, no matter how much time has passed, and that is much of how our weekend went.

kyle (a middle school band teacher) had to work that day, so after lisa, phillip, and i freshened up, we made our way to the happiest place on earth and started out at magic kingdom.  neither phillip or i have been to disney world since we were kids, so it was as though we were seeing everything for the first time.  and, if i am being honest, i almost had more fun all weekend watching phillip because it was like he was a carefree kid again, and it made me smile from ear to ear.  🙂

we swiped our passes, took a few steps, and were in the middle of it all with everyone else right there on main street.  the bright blue skies and puffy white clouds made for quite an entrance, as did google photos for making a good picture even better.

we even were lucky enough to be greeted by an energetic, fabulous character parade!

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but you know what put it all over the top?  the fact that the whole park was decorated for the fall season.  i about died from a cuteness overload when i saw this autumn-themed mickey.

now, lisa had us all set with some fast passes at some quintessential attractions, and we started things off with the classic pirates of the caribbean ride.  with the hot florida sun beating down on us, it was a great idea to be inside the cool attraction, watching as jack sparrow snuck from one scene to the next.  and, because we’re all kids at heart, we got our yo-ho on as well.  aarh, matey!

next up was, yes, it’s a small world after all.  i’d imagine it’s law that you can’t go to magic kingdom without riding this ride, and i mean it when i say it was just as charming (and repetitive, lol) as i recall.

now, our next stop was the haunted mansion, and i myself have zero recollection of this ride at all.  phillip and lisa were a bit aghast, but i’m guessing that when we went as a family, mom and dad probably thought it would be too spooky for us kids, and i wouldn’t have a hard time believing it at all.  regardless, all that matters is that we rode it this time when we were there, and i actually thought it was quite wonderful!  i loved all the animations and special effects and was giggling beside lisa throughout the entire ride.  honestly, as we exited the mansion i couldn’t stop telling everyone how thoroughly i enjoyed it.  the day we have kids who are ready for the haunted mansion experience, you better believe i’ll be dragging them through myself!

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The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 5

Over the past two to three years, I have broadened my horizons when it comes to wine.  Before then, I avoided the wine list mainly because there was a beer on the drink menu I wanted to try or because I knew nothing about wine.  My wife Kari would give me a couple sips of whatever she was drinking while we were out and about, so I came to know what I liked.  If I want a white, it’s Pinot Grigio, but if it’s a red, give me a Malbec.  When I learned New Zealand was known for Sauvignon Blanc and that there were a few wineries just a 45-minute drive from Christchurch, I decided to check out the local scene.

My Internet searching brought me to Waipara Hills and its iconic stone building set among the picturesque Waipara Valley vineyards.  I knew they offered samplings, so I approached the bar, eager to dive in with Dennis, the lucky (or unlucky) employee to take me in.  When he asked me what I was interested in trying, I replied, “What do you recommend?”  He came back with, “What do you usually drink?”  I answered, “If I want a white, it’s Pinot Grigio, but if it’s a red, give me a Malbec.”  Period, end of statement, no more to be said, but Dennis was looking at me, waiting to list off more wines.  Reading the expression on his face, I let him know I usually stay in my lane with wine, so I will literally try just about anything.

As such, Dennis started me off with a Sauvignon Blanc that had a very intense fruit/sugar taste, which was way more than I had bargained for.  I asked Dennis to turn it down in that respect for the next round, which he did with Gewurztraminer.  Now, I couldn’t pronounce the name if my life depended on it, but I came to learn rose petals, lychee, cinnamon, and ginger are characters commonly found in the New Zealand version.  This particular batch was stored in an oak barrel, and it was a wine I very much enjoyed.  From there Dennis poured a Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner, which were good in their own right.  At that point, I decided to end my wine tasting journey and asked Dennis for a glass of the Gewurztraminer and a cheese plate. I took a seat on the patio, took in the view, and did pretty much nothing for the next hour.

When Kari was in town the following week, we went to Terrace Edge Vineyard, which was just on the other side of the road from Waipara Hills.  Terrace Edge is a much smaller operation but was equally enjoyable and has an awesome slogan:  “A dramatic landscape captured in liquid form”.  Who wouldn’t want to try a wine from a place like that!  Jill the owner told us about all the different wines as we sampled them and how her family bought the vineyard on a whim in 1999.  Her son even studied viticulture in college and now runs the day-to-day operations in the vineyard!  In going to both wineries, the excitement Dennis and Jill had for their craft was obvious, and that’s one thing I noticed about New Zealanders during my time here:  They are very proud and passionate about being from New Zealand and sharing whatever it is they love (wine, glacier hiking, etc…) with visitors.

The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Kiwi Kari and the Glacier

When you think of New Zealand, what first comes to your mind?  Probably something like rugby, kiwis, or, for most people, The Lord of the Rings.  Wait, it’s not glaciers?!  SHOCKING!

Since I have returned from my (all-too-brief) trek to visit Kyle in New Zealand, this has been part of the overwhelming remarks I have heard:  “I didn’t know there were so many mountains!”  “I didn’t know it got that cold there!”  “I definitely didn’t know there were glaciers!”  Up until a few months ago, when spending time in this small island nation became a potential reality, I had no idea either.  Located on the Pacific Rim, these islands were formed by ancient tectonic and volcanic activity, and, yes, that includes the gorgeous snow-capped mountain range known as the Southern Alps.

When I decided to make the 28-hour trip to Christchurch, Kyle told me about this cool activity he had seen information on – a glacier hike.  Knowing I would probably never get the opportunity to do it again, I said, “Sounds awesome!  Let’s do it!”  So, over the weekend I was in town, we packed up the rental car and drove the 4 hours to Aoraki/Mount Cook – the highest peak in New Zealand.

Following a brief safety presentation and donning our winter hiking gear, we boarded the helicopter with our experienced guide Graza and a bunch of Chinese tourists.  The flight from the teeny-tiny airport to the glacier was about 15 minutes.  Along the way we had a bird’s eye view of the Alps, Tasman Lake, and our destination the Tasman Glacier.  As the largest glacier in New Zealand, it was sight to behold!  I have never seen a glacier in real life, so I was in awe anyway, but this thing was a massive representation of what Mother Nature is capable of creating.

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The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 4

With my work trip coming to an end soon, I’m very much looking forward to getting back to Atlanta.  My family, my house, my bed, chicken tenders, etc…However, I will miss some things about New Zealand.  The traffic (or lack thereof), the pineapple lumps, and the coffee.  “But Kyle, isn’t the coffee in New Zealand the same as in the States?”  Well, yes and no.

In New Zealand, they don’t have the concept of drip coffee like we do in the States, as everything is espresso based.  When I ordered a coffee for the first time, the server asked if I meant a “long black.”  I said “Sure!”, having no idea what a long black was.  Well, after a little research on YouTube, I figured out what a long black is.  Check out this video so that if you ever find yourself in New Zealand you’ll know what a long black is right away!

viva las vegas!

this time last sunday, kiley, kari, and i were recovering from a fun couple of days out in fabulous las vegas!  besides being in desperate need of a girls’ weekend away, we also were in town to see the legendary britney spears in concert!  before we get to that, though, there are plenty of other things to share first.

after getting a good night’s sleep on thursday at kiley’s parents’ house (thanks, mr. and mrs. a!), we woke up and grabbed an energizing breakfast at craft kitchen before taking a smooth ride out east to our first tourist spot the hoover dam.  our trusty transportation for the weekend?  kiley’s dad’s souped up jeep wrangler.  how bada** do we look in this?!

a short 45-minute drive later we arrived in clark county, nv and joined the other masses of international and local visitors as we explored this american wonder.  unfortunately the dam tour was closed that day, but we had plenty of other seeing to do as we followed the roadway and sidewalks to get incredible views of lake mead, the colorado river, and the intake towers, flow gates, and spillways.

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if you ever find yourself in the area, i highly recommend making the trek to the dam.  there’s plenty of parking, plenty of fascinating information, and plenty of good photo ops to fill a few hours of your day.

something else that’s cool?  you can stand in two states at once – neat!

upon hiking back up to the car and chugging some water, we drove ourselves about an hour the other direction to check out an art installation off interstate 15 called the seven magic mountains.  designed by internationally renowned swiss artist ugo rondinone, this public installation is designed to represent the creative human presence in the desert with bursts of “form and color.”  pretty cool, right?

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one of the most fun things about visiting seven magic mountains was people-watching all the visitors who were trying to get the perfect filter-worthy photo for their social media posts.  not wanting to miss out on the entertainment, i snapped an inspiring shoot of kari against these brightly colored boulders.

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and kiley got in on the fun, too, with a model walk of her very own!

we were now in a pinch to get washed up and ready for the concert, so we hit the old dusty and headed back home.

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The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 3

One of if not the most important activities I plan for when traveling is eating!  What is <insert name of destination> best known for?  Where do the locals go?  Most of the time you can find those places via a quick online search, but sometimes you find them just by looking around and keeping your eyes open.  I’ve found a couple places like that in Christchurch, so here are my recommendations for future travelers!

First things first, breakfast, the most important meal of the day.  Unfortunately it’s not a meal I usually have while traveling for work because I’m so focused on getting to the client site.  A quick run to the local ‘bucks is usually all I have time for.  However, since this trip has me staying over weekends, I have ample opportunity to enjoy breakfast, and I found a good spot to do so at Tap N Grind.  While busy, it didn’t have the hustle and bustle, get-out-of-my-way-I-just-want-my-coffee feel to it.  Much more relaxed and casual.  My desire for my Waffle House Peachtree Road Race waffle must have been sending me subliminal messages, as I spotted the waffle and bacon and decided that was the dish for me.  As you can see, it looked awesome and it also tasted awesome.  The waffle was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  The citrus mascarpone acted like butter to make the waffle soft but not soggy.  The caramelized banana gave it that little something extra and the variety of nuts a little crunch.  It was so good that I made a point to tell the waitress, who sheepishly said, “We just assume everything in America is better than what we have here.”  I told her she was dead wrong on this; it was hands down the best waffle I have ever had, and even in the top three as far as breakfast dishes go!  When I went back the next week, I had the same waitress and she smiled and asked if I would be having the waffle again, which, of course, I did!

For dinner, I recommend you check out O.G.B. (aka Old Government Building), as it hosted various government departments from 1913 to the 1980s.  After being vacant for some time, the building was threatened to be demolished but eventually made it to a real estate developer.  Today, the bar and Heritage Hotel call this place home.  They have a traditional restaurant space with the bar being in a separate area.  Eating in the bar is the way to go with a speakeasy feel consisting of a wood bar, dark colored walls, and the staff being dressed in 1920s and 1930s attire.  I had the beef rib burger, but just to be clear, we would call this a sandwich in the States.  In New Zealand they call a burger anything where protein (beef, lamb, chicken, etc…) is served between two pieces of bread.  The protein doesn’t even necessarily have to be formed into the traditional patty shape.  To flip it the other way, what we call a pulled pork sandwich, a Kiwi would call a pork burger.  Enough on semantics and onto the food!

The “burger” was cooked very well and had this molasses-like sauce that put it over the top.  It was paired with potato wedges and a house-made ketchup that tasted much more tomato based than American ketchup and, to be honest, tasted better than American ketchup.  The final reason you should go to O.G.B.?  Well, any place that uses a sousaphone as part of its decor is well worth the trip!

The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 2

It’s time for the sequel, and let’s hope it’s better than the original!  With two weeks in the books, I’ve been able to explore Christchurch and the surrounding area.  First, a quick history lesson before we delve into my adventures.

Christchurch is actually the oldest established city in New Zealand, being founded in 1856.  The best parallel I can draw for a city in the States is where I was raised – Birmingham, AL!  Is Christchurch as glamorous as being on-site in Dallas or Chicago?  Unfortunately not, but I can easily see it being a great place to raise a family.  The next biggest highlight after being the oldest city is one of tragedy, I hate to say.  In 2010 and 2012, the city suffered a devastating series of earthquakes.  Some of the older buildings just were not equipped to handle that kind of natural disaster and have been demolished.

Such is the case for the first landmark I visited, the Christchurch Cathedral.  You’ll have to Google the cathedral to see it in its heyday, but you can tell how beautiful it was by what is left.  I can picture the Gothic Revival architecture and stained-glass windows even in its present state.  Right next to the cathedral is the Citizens’ War Memorial, which didn’t incur near the level of damage as the cathedral but is blockaded due to it being so close to the cathedral.  Each year hundreds come to this Memorial to celebrate and honor the Anzac Day service (New Zealand’s Memorial Day).

Switching gears to something more uplifting, I took a hike along Taylor’s Mistake, a beach and bay about 30 minutes southeast of Christchurch proper.  As you’ll see in the pictures, this hike was no mistake, but how in the world did it get that name?  That name comes from the master of a vessel running into the beach area during the night, thinking he was somewhere else.

Aside from the great views and four legged friends I ran into, the hills above the beach were fortified with two machine gun posts to guard a coastal defense battery.  The machine gun posts were built in response to a perceived threat of invasion by the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the gun pits are still there today!

The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 1

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first international blog post in the history of kelseyv.com!  I’m Kyle, Kelsey’s older brother, and I’ll be chronicling my experience here in New Zealand over the next six weeks.  While it is common for me to travel for my job, it has exclusively been in the U.S.  However, there is a client in New Zealand, specifically Christchurch, that needs my very particular set of skills.  After talking it over with my wife Kari, we decided I should take this short-term assignment.

While I had traveled outside the U.S. before, it was for my honeymoon in Jamaica, where they want more people to come to the country.  As a result, they have very relaxed rules on getting into Jamaica.  I learned rather quickly that not all international travel is so easy.  Kari and I got to the airport on Thursday and hopped in line to check one of my bags.  Once at the counter, I told the Delta employee I had a connecting flight in Australia before heading to my final destination of Christchurch.  She then asked if I had an electronic visa, and I immediately responded, “An electronic what?!”  Apparently to even step foot in an Australian airport you must have electronic travel authority (ETA).  Kari and I quickly jumped online and applied for one.  10 minutes and $50 later, I was cleared.  Phew!

We then got back in line to check my bag.  Once at the counter, I told the Delta employee I wanted to check the bag all the way through to Christchurch – I surely didn’t want to have to worry about grabbing it in LA or Australia and go through security again!  That request somehow didn’t quite seem to make sense to the Delta employee, and we were getting more and more nervous.  If we couldn’t get through this process quickly, I might not make the flight!  Luckily, a more senior employee helped me out, and I am happy to report my bag made it all the way to Christchurch.

The flights from Atlanta to Christchurch were long and uneventful, my favorite type of flight.  I thought I’d be in a reading mood, but that ended up not being the case at all.  So, I watched The Lego Batman Movie and Trainwreck.  While it was not as awesome as The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie was still pretty good.  The unique plot, one-liners, and multiple references to previous Batman movies, cartoons, and comics made it an easy watch.  On the other hand, Trainwreck was just that, a train wreck.  I’ve enjoyed Amy Schumer the stand-up comic but personally ran hot and cold with her TV show.  I just wasn’t buying her at all in this movie and can’t really tell you why.  She just didn’t do it for me.  I honestly thought Bill Hader blew her out of the water, and Colin Quinn being in the movie was a delightful surprise.  However, at the end of the day was it worth killing two hours on a 14-hour plane ride?  Yes.  Would it have been worth a Redbox rental?  Not so much.

So, that’s it for now, readers.  I did get to Christchurch safely and in one piece, and as the weeks pass, I hope to blog about a variety of things.  The town of Christchurch, the food I eat, the things I do, the little differences between New Zealand and the States, just to name a few.  If anyone out there has any recommendations on anything, please send them my way!

santa barbara & sara’s wedding

I’m back and better than ever!  It’s Kelsey’s dad with a blog about our recent trip to Santa Barbara for my niece’s wedding.  None of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

FRIDAY

Unlike the trip that Kelsey and I made out to San Pedro for my brother’s birthday a couple years ago, we left plenty early to drive to Hartsfield airport.  While on the way, I serenaded Kelsey and Phillip with a few powerful renditions of “Phillip The Man”.  Fantastic if I do say so myself.  Anyway.  We got to the airport and parked in extended parking row 63 (in tribute to 1963, the year that John F. Kennedy was shot).  Kelsey, Phillip, Kyle, Kari, and I all flew out together – a train wreck just waiting to happen.  We got to the gate and I began to chat it up with a lady sitting near us.  The lady loved my Chinese proverb “Humor is the passport to success.”  What can I say?  The flight itself was long and bumpy, but four and a half hours later we landed at LAX.  Victoria and Clark picked us up and we were on our way to Santa Barbara.

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Clark did a terrific job driving and also helped put together a specially requested “SoCal” playlist, a playlist only with songs about California or songs by artists from California.  We hit massive traffic going up Highway 1/PCH.  But eventually the traffic broke loose and we stopped at Neptune’s Net.  Neptune’s Net is a classic beach-front dive and we enjoyed their food and beer.  Some would say the highlight of Neptune’s Net were the two seagulls who were “doing the wild thing.”  Some would say this “doing the wild thing” was disgusting.  Anyway, just nature.

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We finally got to Santa Barbara where, guilty as charged, it was sunny and 72.  We found our hotel, The Inn at East Beach.  Only stay there if you DO NOT want air conditioning and DO NOT want an elevator.  Otherwise, it was okay.  Lucky for us that the Swedish girls’ volleyball team was staying there also.  😉

We rested and then were on our way to Dargan’s for a reception-type activity for those who were from out of town for Sara and Christian’s wedding.  Needless to say, the “Alabama Rednecks” traveled the furthest.  Anyway, Dargan’s was a huge hit.  All the Rednecks wore Hawaiian shirts, and I thought they looked great.

OMG.  While leaving Dargan’s, Victoria mentioned she was hungry.  Great idea and, even better, there is an In-N-Out in Santa Barbara!!!  Clark did another terrific job driving and got us there safely.  I ordered a double-double, animal-style for both the burger and the fries.  Heaven!!!

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