Coming to America – Day 2

June 20th

Our mission today was to travel to Cheswick, PA to find Deer Creek Cemetery and the graves of our Grandfather George and Uncle Felix.  We had breakfast at the hotel and set off with an overcast sky.  The scenery was beautiful, so green and so different from the Los Angeles area!  We found the very old cemetery and set out looking for the graves.  Gary had looked up the information, and we knew which sections they were in, or so we thought.  We all got a lot of steps in as we went back and forth, row after row looking at gravestones.

deer creek cemetery.

I personally find old cemeteries very interesting and can wander for hours looking at the headstones and wondering who these people were, what their lives were like, etc.  A lot of the people buried here were born in the mid- to late 1800s.

Kyle and Clark found George Despot’s headstone (1888-1941), and we gathered around.  He died of black lung from working in the coal mines.  It was emotional for Gary and I, remembering our mother had told us and knowing that she had been here when he was buried.

It started lightly raining as we looked for Felix’s grave.  Back and forth, up and down we went in the grass.  We couldn’t find the grave, but our shoes sure got wet!  We finally went to the office, and the groundskeeper looked it up right away, so we followed him in his vehicle to the correct section.  We found Felix’s headstone (1916-1947), who died of a burst appendix, and that of this daughter Judith.  We thought of the stories our mother had told us of her big brother.

Our mother had a younger brother who also came to America; his name was Albert, or Uncle Al as we all called him.  He joined the Navy and ended up settling in San Pedro, CA to work as a fisherman.  After our mother’s dad and brother Felix passed away, she moved out to Long Beach, CA to be near her brother Al.  Our next stop was in memory of him.  We climbed into the van and headed to Oakmont Country Club where Uncle Al had worked as a caddie when he was a kid.  Gary fondly remembers Uncle Al telling stories of working at Oakmont.  A little history for those who don’t follow golf:  the course at Oakmont Country Club, designed in 1903, is one of the most difficult in North America.  It has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the United States.  We arrived at the guard shack and explained that we just wanted to go to the pro shop and pick up a few souvenirs because Uncle Al had worked here many, many years ago.  The gentleman gave us the once over (being sure we were properly dressed because golf courses can have dress codes) and said we could go in.  What we could see of the golf course was absolutely beautiful as well as the buildings.  We picked up some gifts to take back home and set off.

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Coming to America – Day 1

Hello, my name is Aunt Cindy, and I am Kelsey’s aunt from California.  I am honored and a little scared to be a guest writer on her blog.  I recently flew to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles to meet up with my brother Gary (Kelsey’s dad and a former guest blogger) and my nephews Kyle and Clark for what I have named the “Coming to America” tour.

Our mother Goldie Despot came to America from the then Yugoslavia (now Croatia).  Her father Grgo (George) and Uncle Stipan (Steve) had arrived in America and were working in coal mines outside of Pittsburgh.  George sent for his children one-by-one; my mom Goldie was 11 and traveled by herself on a ship to New York.  She stayed on Ellis Island for several days and was then put on a train to Pittsburgh where her father was to pick her up.  My mother lived at different times with her father in Harmarville and uncle and aunt in Brownsville.  She grew up in these areas, went to school, and learned to speak English without an accent.  She eventually moved to California, married, and had my brothers and me.

My mother took us three kids on a train to Pittsburgh in 1965.  We all have memories of that great adventure.  My mother kept in contact with a few of her friends and cousins in Brownsville, but since she passed in 2001, no one has been in contact with them.  Gary decided he wanted to go back and visit and found a few relatives, so the new adventure began.

Wednesday, June 19th – Arrived in Pittsburgh

Gary and Kelsey drove to Pittsburgh from Atlanta and picked Kyle, Clark, and I up at the airport.  Here are a few photos of Gary and Kelsey’s driving adventure.

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We left the airport in the rented minivan and, thanks to the Neuwirths (friends of the Alabama Andrich family), we were ready to video this awesome sight as we came out of the tunnel into Pittsburgh.

After we checked into our hotel, the Springhill Suites Pittsburgh North Shore, we enjoyed tasty appetizers of crackers with three different flavors of easy cheese and whiskey shots in the boys’ room.

We set out to find something to eat and walked in the light rain to Mullen’s.  We ordered beers and other things to drink.  I spotted a Black and Tan on the menu.  I love a Black and Tan and this one was made with Yuengling Beer, which we on the west coast cannot get.  It was delicious!  Looking at the menu, the Pittsburgh Wrap caught my eye.  The menu said it was the #1 best seller, and I have to agree!  I loved it.  Grilled steak tossed with cheese sauce, coleslaw, and French fries.  My plan was to share it, but only a small portion went to Kelsey for a taste – I ate everything!  I never had French fries on a sandwich but have to say these French fries were not the usual boring fires.  I don’t know what they did, but they were delicious.

Kelsey went with the pierogis (which are filled dumplings of Central and Eastern European origin, made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling and cooked in boiling water or pan-fried).  Kelsey and I were both looking forward to these, as they are not common in Atlanta or the South Bay area of Los Angeles.  Unfortunately, they were pretty firm without enough butter and, ultimately, very disappointing.  Clark had the chicken wings and enjoyed them very much.

After dinner we were all pretty worn out, so we walked back in the rain to our hotel for a good night’s rest.

montana – day 4

hello, kelseyv.com blog followers!  phillip back here as a guest blogger with my dear wife, fellow companion, and my “amazingly uncommon” gal.  i am here to wrap things up from our big sky, montana trip and discuss the events and festivities we did during our last day on the slopes.  or, should i say off the slopes?  😊

kelsey and i decided, by nature of our bodies being sore and to save a penny or two on lift tickets, to take things a slope and a step back and enjoy our final day resting and relaxing (R&R’ing) around the resort.  we started off by sleeping in the cabin and ate the remaining breakfast that was prepared by some of our new friends that we met through kelsey’s work colleague, ben atkinson.  we ate scrambled eggs, toasted bagels with peanut butter, and one of our most important breakfast staples: bacon!  since the group still had loads of groceries in the cabin, they decided to exhaust the remaining breakfast items, including the massive box of bacon, so there was a lot to go around even after they left the cabin to go hit the slopes and snowmobiles for the day.  of course, being the meat aficionado i am, i was thoroughly impressed and excited to bring home the bacon by consuming roughly 8 slices!  i would probably guess that about half of those slices were consumed behind kelsey’s back, but hey, a man’s got to eat protein to keep energy and momentum for the relaxing day we were about to face together.

shortly after we ate our lovely breakfast, we sat down at the dining room table with our new friend, Ash.  Ash was studying on her laptop and catching up on personal emails while kelsey and i were reviewing our gopro footage we took during days 2 and 3.  everyone else either went to hit the slopes or took their day on a snowmobile excursion at yellowstone national park.

for kelsey and me, we decided to hit up one of big sky’s restaurants, the cabin bar & grill, and try out one of their popular entrée items, the elk/bison burger.  it was recommended from Jeanie, one of the employees from big sky’s ski and rental shop.  kelsey ordered her burger with blue cheese, and i ordered mine with swiss, and we both had fries, of course!  we must say that the burger was not as good as we expected it to be.  i think i enjoyed it more than kelsey; i thought it tasted like a pretty standard burger, but kelsey’s reaction was that the burger seemed to taste bland and dry.  we did, however, enjoy the beautiful scenery on the restaurant’s 2nd floor since it looked out at big sky’s iconic heated 8-seater chairlift, the ramcharger 8.

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after lunchtime, we went back to the cabin and relaxed for the remainder of the day.  everyone who went skiing came back around dinner time, so we all decided to go down to another big sky restaurant, M.R. Hummers.  those who went to yellowstone came back much later around 9pm or so.  kelsey and i went to Hummers to meet with Mohit, a friend and old coworker of kelsey’s.  he happened to be skiing at big sky for the week, and kelsey and mohit found out that same day that they were within walking distance from some of the most beautiful and biggest skiing that i’ve ever seen.  kelsey and i split a Hummers cheese waffle fries that were loaded with bacon, queso bravo, and scallions.  they were incredibly good, and i think that kelsey enjoyed them, too.

after catching up with mohit and team (yes, i say “and team” a lot since i work in HR), we walked back to the cabin with our crew and played werewolf again all throughout the night (puns intended here; werewolves could be howling during the night).  some folks had to leave the cabin around 3am since they had flights around six or so.  we went to bed and departed on a snowy “drive and fly” back to the warmer climate of atlanta a few hours later.

overall, the big sky trip was a “big” hit for us.  we enjoyed catching up with ben and some of his closest friends from work, school, and other walks of his life.  the crew was friendly, and the weather was perfect.  we’ll be back to big sky to ski down some more greens and possibly some blue slopes once we continue to become masters of the ski wedge.  😊

montana – day 1

a few months ago my friend and former coworker ben texted me, asking, “do you and phillip ski?”  i replied that phillip did when he was younger and living in michigan but that i never had.  that didn’t stress ben, who promptly invited us to join him and some friends on a ski trip to big sky, montana.  i approached phillip about the opportunity, not certain what he’d think, but the minute i explained it to him, he didn’t hesitate and said, “absolutely!”  pleasantly surprised by his quick decision, i told ben to count us in, and that is how we found ourselves on an early delta flight westward.

with no direct flights to montana (or at least to where we needed to be), our first leg of the trip was a smooth two hour flight up to minneapolis.  phillip slept and i did a little reading and writing and in no time we were deplaning for a brief layover.  if you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the minneapolis-st. paul airport, i’d highly recommend it.  the airport was clean and spacious and fitted with nice shops and eateries everywhere.  even though we weren’t there for long, it was all-in-all a pleasant stop to make.

soon enough we were boarding our next plane, which took us to bozeman, montana, one stop closer to our final destination.  the airport definitely had the lodge vibe going for it, and everyone we encountered was just as nice as could be.  we didn’t have much time to mosey around, though, because the caravan of folks coming from butte was outside and ready for us.  we grabbed our suitcase from baggage claim, hustled into the cold, waved down our friends, and loaded on up.  phillip and i piled into an suv and met steve and fernando, friends and current coworkers of ben’s.

before making the drive down to big sky, we stopped for a little grocery shopping at the local albertson’s.  our digs for the weekend would be a big cabin right next to the resort, so we stocked up on breakfast food and coffee and snacks and, of course, some adult beverages.  it wouldn’t be much of a ski trip without a little fireside drinking, now would it?  oh, and i should mention the chips.  all the chips were ours!

three buggies later, we packed the cars a little fuller still and stopped for a quick bite at good ‘ole burger king.  over french fries and nuggets and whoppers the size of your head, more introductions were made and we met ashima and chris and james.  once all bellies were full and satisfied, we hit the road to big sky.  the drive wasn’t too long and was pleasant as the montana landscape revealed itself to us mile by mile.  i’ve never been surrounded by this kind of scenery and was quite taken with the mountain skyline and sturdy evergeens blanketed with soft white snow.  it was definitely quite a sight.

the views only became better as we pulled off of moose ridge road and into the driveway of our rental cabin.  ben did an excellent job finding this spot for us, and we all dropped our bags inside as we explored the main living space with its well-equipped kitchen, cozy leather furniture, and humongous wall of windows.  i mean, this shot isn’t too shabby, is it?

you’re so gorgeous.

we all picked our rooms and then took the cars into the resort to get all geared up by the kind folks at lone mountain sports.  employees steve and shelby assisted us in getting the right size boots, skis, poles, and helmets for our skiing experience, and before you know it, we were at least totally looking the part.  if you look good, you feel good, right?  i’m gonna go with yes.  🙂

with a long day of travel behind us all and our equipment all ready to go for the next day, the only thing left to do on day one was relax back at the cabin.  eventually curtis and kara arrived, and we cracked open beers, poured the wine, put on our bathings suits, and got the party started in the hot tub, complete with music and jets and light effects!  if this was any indication of how the rest of the trip would be, a great weekend was surely in store.

the wedding chronicles | decision #18

THE HONEYMOON

Hello!  Phillip Davis here.  By now I am sure that everyone knows who I am:  Kelsey’s fiance, “other half,” photographer for our NRW (New Restaurant Wednesday) excursions, vacation planner aficionado, and finally significant other.  It’s great to finally guest blog on her website, and for that reason I am honored to begin my blogging quest with wedding decision number 18, the honeymoon!

This decision came to me as a surprise because I did not know where to begin.  I have envisioned lots of different places and ideas that could all be very unique to our traveling experiences thus far.  For instance, we could travel abroad and visit new countries over in Europe and make it a week-long excursion by “Euro” hopping around.  We could keep things simple and do a domestic road trip around the Atlantic coastline with food and drink stops along the way.  Or, we could make it a nice getaway to a Caribbean island and relax on the beach.  It was very difficult and challenging to decide because my dialogue with Kelsey for the past year has been something like, “So, honey, where would you like to go for our honeymoon?”  She’d respond, “Oh, it doesn’t matter…as long as we are together.”  This made the decision more difficult in my mind because I would have hoped she could have envisioned the ideal spot for us to land for a week or two.

With the help from our AAA agent Renee, we decided to give her a visit during one of our vacation days away from work and grab some suggestions from her.  Now Renee came highly recommended by our siblings Kyle and Kari since they used her to plan their two-week European excursion a couple of months ago.  The family mentioned to us that “prices were good, “she was the best agent at AAA”, and “you won’t be disappointed.”  Seeing that family is almost always right about these kind of decisions and ideas, Kelsey and I gave her a try.

When we arrived at the AAA office, the entire staff was very friendly and welcomed us inside.  Renee, who was diligently typing away at her computer and finishing a phone call with a prior client, smiled at us and said, “You must be Kelsey and Phillip; please grab a seat.”  Immediately Kelsey and I sat at the two seats at her desk and introduced ourselves.  Renee’s first question to us was “So, where do you envision going for your honeymoon?”  Kelsey began by responding, “Anywhere that is adult-friendly and has no kiddos around.”  I nodded my head in agreement but wasn’t quite sure what to say after, so I let the ladies continue in conversation.  Shortly thereafter Renee grabbed a large AAA destination handbook that literally looked like the Bible for vacationers!  She flipped through the pages and came across some highly recommended resorts in the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia, Turks and Caicos, and the Cayman Islands.  Notice the pattern?  I may have mentioned to Renee that a Caribbean resort wouldn’t be such a bad idea, so she went on to peruse the typical spots that most adults had traveled to.  Now I was excited and wanted to see which resorts would be nice for a relaxing time.

Of the countless options we saw in the book, Renee did in fact recommend a few resorts in the Dominican Republic (specifically the Punta Cana area) that would suit us perfectly.  The options were adults only, all-inclusive, provided easy beach access, and included amenities and activities to do.  Shortly after hearing the details of these resorts, Kelsey and I decided to leave the office and think about it together.

I did some more research on my own accord while Kelsey was traveling for work and came to a final decision that would be ideal for our needs.  I decided on the perfect resort in the Dominican Republic that would an ideal spot for our first week as newlyweds.  Besides, I wanted to ensure that Kelsey gets a massage or two while there and that we can go on a snorkeling excursion, which by the way is included in the resort package!  To me it’s a win-win situation and I am sure that Kelsey will enjoy it, and that is all that matters to me.

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 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!

june’s ohio adventure

for those of you who know me well, you’re probably wondering to yourself, “who is this june?  is she a long-lost high school friend?  is she a college acquaintance she’s reconnected with nowadays?  is she a new coworker she’s kindly befriend?”  well, i hate that this isn’t more exciting, but june is what i named my lovely rental car for the week!  ladies and gentlemen, i introduce to you june, the 2016 grey chrysler pacifica!  isn’t she a beaut?!

the name hit me like a ton of bricks as i was weaving around winding suburb roads and channeling my inner mom, specifically my inner barbara billingsley.  i mean, it really is quite empowering, navigating this sturdy, speedy, and functional vehicle around town.  i felt like i could rule the world!  anyway, june and i became besties last week in ohio while i was up there for work and some personal traveling.  and, in an effort to spice things up on my solo trip, i decided to blog about all our adventures.  our first stop?  dayton.

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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!