Thursday, 27 March 2014

Pee Break

We knew there would be many luxuries we would give up in place of seeing the world, when we set out on this adventure.  Using the washroom was not one of them!  Ridding one’s body of waste is merely a necessity, and should NOT be considered a luxury, right?  Perhaps using a clean washroom could be considered a luxury, but a plain old rest stop – no way!  I certainly didn’t expect to have to pay for this regular occurrence… paying to pee!  How does one determine how much it will cost to pee?  Do they give discounts for little bodies with less pee?  What about if it is not pee…. do you pay double?  Perhaps the fee is determined by the number of toilet tissue squares used.  One ponders such things while seated upon the ‘pay as you go’ throne.

To many Europeans, paying to use a washroom is a common expense, but for Canadians, we had never heard of such a thing!  Our first experience with pay toilets was in Iceland, next to a glacier.  What a business; there weren’t many options in the middle of nowhere surrounded by ice and rock… so we reluctantly scrounged in our pockets for the correct change to feed the machine, and use the facilities. To our surprise, out popped a ticket.  Not only did we have to pay to pee, we got a ticket as if it was a Broadway performance or something!  During our travels we have had to pay anywhere from 20 pence (20 p to pee) to 1.50 euros – about 2 dollars Canadian.  With four of us travelling together, trips to the loo could really rack up.  Quite frankly, I hadn’t even considered them in our daily budget and had to add a whole new column to the Excel spreadsheet. 

The most expensive toilets were found in Venice, take note of the 'Toilet Guard'!
In Canada, you hear moms across the country, at every rest stop saying “I know you don’t think you have to go to the bathroom, but I want you to try anyway: it is a long drive.” In Europe, you pee with a purpose! You are not going into the WC ‘just to try’. So, as we continued to travel, giving our bladders a workout became part of our daily routines.  We are now close to ‘camel’ rankings on our water rention!
Yep, that is us!
Those of you that know Mark, know he is quite a bargain shopper and wants value for his buck.  I was flabergasted to hear him return to the car, a little quicker than expected at one rest stop stating, ‘it is too expensive, I’ll just wait for the next one”.  We were comparatively shopping for washrooms now, as if it was a major investment.  He was thrilled in Germany, when we had to fork over 70 euro cents to use the facilities and in return received a coupon for cash off any purchase in the convenience store.  Now that is value. We spent five minutes searching for something to buy that would not exceed the face value of the coupon.  Do you feel my pain here people?

As we moved from country to country, we got to know the best places to use the facilities.  Washrooms along the motorways were the most expensive.  They were usually well maintained, clean and outfitted with a security guard. You got what you paid for there.  Ensuring you pay your fees to use the washroom is big business, these security-guarded toilets were often equipped with automatic toilet seat cleaners.  Again something new for us. Maybe that was why we were given the tickets; for the toilet seat cleaning show! I must admit, it was quite entertaining. 

McDonalds restaurants were a little cheaper and occasionally free, but did not compare in cleanliness. Apparently everyone was hoping for a “free pee” there.  We figured they would be a sure bet, but quickly opted to use them for their Internet services, and not their water closets.  Train stations, subways and doing your business in a little cubby on the street in Amsterdam were options we avoided, but sometimes “when nature calls” you have got to go.

Mark’s favourite bank of toilets was located in Montmarte, Paris. A pair of hipster dudes were manning the organic composting toilets (using the word demonstration just didn’t quite sit right for this description J). We were sent into the wooden outhouses with a pot of woodchips to sprinkle into the hole afterwards.  Thanks to this surpisingly pleasant experience, Mark picked up a pamphlet and I could see a composting toilet in my near future! I made the comment to Mark that most people associate Paris with love and romance and that he was at great risk of ruining Paris for me. The hipster dudes only requested a smile and a thanks on our departure, and I must admit a small part of me thought it was great to “pee for the trees”.

Composting Toilets in France!
Zip lining  ninety metres up in the treetops of South Africa certainly provided the most unique, (most desperate), pee break of the trip so far.  Did I mention I was afraid of heights? Yeah, well the higher we went the more stressed I got, and the more desperate I became… to go!  As I did the pee pee dance in my harness amongst the chameleons, Ally’s friend Lauren told me that I needed to strengthen my ‘splinter’, I’m pretty sure she meant sphincter. At any rate, I was thankful to repel to the ground midway through our treetop experience.  Unfortunately my relief was short lived as I discovered that I had to pull myself back up to the platform to continue our adventure.  If that didn’t strengthen my sphincter and every other part of my body, I don’t know what will!

Information on our African pee break experiences requires a warning of Parental Guidance Advised.  In the effort to maintain our family rating on this blog, our experiences there have been ‘bleeped’ out!  We are still trying to ‘bleep’ them out of our memories as well!

Australia and New Zealand were a lot like home, except occasionally the toilet was situated in a tiny little room all by itself.  This I don’t really understand…so you do your business in the toilet ‘closet’, then you have to open the door and walk around the corner to the next room to wash your hands. This was fairly common, hmmmm, mind you it was a step up from the dunny out the back or the long drop toilets though.  So I figured it best not to complain or ask questions as to reasoning for this design.

Loved the New Zealand toilet…everything was electronic!
Our travels will continue and I know this will not be the last of our water closet experiences, but I’m fairly confident I won’t be writing about some of our future locations – did I mention we are headed to Asia next?  Yikes!  Perhaps I SHOULD add washrooms to my list of luxuries while travelling.  At least here, we have toilets, seats and tissue.  I’m fairly confident the future will not be so ‘luxurious’. Until then, I think I will add ‘splinter’ exercises to my workout routine, in preparation for the next pee pee dance.

We now understand why this sign, posted in Gent, Belgium, "No Wild Peeing" was necessary!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Mitchells head to Hollywood

We have stayed in a variety of accommodations on our world tour, but our stay in Glenorchy at the Funky Bunker, won the award for being the quirkiest yet.  Not to mention the career opportunities it has opened up in Hollywood for us, yeah that’s right, I said Hollywood, baby!  Just think, one day when we are rich and famous… you will all be able to say, “Hey, I knew those guys when they were teachers, travelling the world with their daughters!”    

It all started when we stayed at the Funky Bunker for a couple of nights in Glenorchy.  The building was created as an ammunitions bunker for the mountaineering movie, Vertical Limit.  How cool is that!  The bunker housed the nitro glycerin required to blast through an avalanche to rescue climbers who had fallen into a crevice, climbing K2.  In actual fact, the movie was filmed on Mount Earnslaw, the mountain we could see from the front deck.  We were practically movie stars, standing in the very spot the nitro glycerin had been! I had goose bumps just thinking about our future film prospects!  I was sure we would be getting a call from Hollywood any day.

Dinner in the Funky bunker.
Enjoying a fire in the front end loader!
The mountain where Vertical Limit was filmed, you could see it in the background of the photo above as well!
Hamish, was the fellow that built the bunker, and has worked on the sets of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Avatar, all of which were filmed in New Zealand.  Again, very cool! When Hamish was not working on movie sets he could be found living off grid in the Funky Bunker.  Can you believe it, we were actually staying in the bunker where a man lived that worked on major Hollywood movies.  I told you we would be famous!  We even signed our name on the chalkboard wall next to the film credits!  Ok, we didn’t get to actually meet him, but we were practically family, staying in his previous home, let’s be honest here folks!  The Bunker has made its way around New Zealand, appearing in the movie Mount Cook, dangling below a helicopter, and arriving at its final resting place in Glenorchy by the same means.

We signed right under the window in the empty space, but I didn't
take a picture after we signed, I was too busy practicing my lines!
We spent three days in Glenorchy perfecting our acting skills, waiting for our big break.  Mark’s stunt work continued to improve as he had everyone believing he impaled himself on the metal plate securing the front door of the bunker. The makeup work on the bruise was spectacular! The smoke affects were even better, when we burnt the toast and frantically had to open the emergency hatch to clear the air.  We gave the smoke affect another go with burnt popcorn and found it even more convincing than the previous attempt, we were on fire! In the movie, the bunker blows up, but luckily for us they had a stunt double for that scene. We felt indestructible in the funky bunker!

The 1940's trailer that Mark and I stayed in.
 Mark’s physical humour was guaranteed to be award winning.  When he stubbed his toe on the block of wood holding the door closed to the 1940’s caravan parked beside the bunker, he had everyone in hysterics as he hopped around the room.  When he went to lift up the steaming kettle from the propane powered element, you could see the pain in his eyes.  Mark was definitely ‘hot’.  Hollywood was going to want him. He even tried his hand at cinematography, and was up at the crack of dawn capturing the view.  He then woke the rest of us up for our morning runs, we had to keep our Hollywood bodies tip top, you know. 

Meg on our morning run.
Glenorchy, the gateway to the outdoors, amazing!

We felt like hippies in our new digs, unemployed and living off the land, it was quite the change from the presidential suite in Wanaka! We even had a long drop toilet with a million dollar view, to allow us to get right into character!  As we studied our lines, we were visited by our mouse friend, who would cheer us along in his search of food.  We were set, and had just about as much money in our pockets as a new budding actor does when they start out in this biz!  When Hollywood didn’t call, we started to doubt our abilities; perhaps we had made a mistake leaving our jobs and routines for Hollywood.  Many new actors don’t make it, but how could we possibly be them?  We had done everything right.  We’ll give it a couple of more days in New Zealand before we head to Australia, surely our big break will come.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Unfinished Business

We have been in New Zealand for almost three weeks now and I am committed to finishing this post today!  I have made many attempts at a post, but none of them have made the cut to a finished product.  My editor is quite picky, very hard to please and difficult to nail down for feedback and direction.  He is often too busy snapping off selfie photos of breathtaking backdrops, planning routes, comparatively pricing attractions and confirming bookings. Today, he is wearing his editor cap and has gently reminded me of my responsibilities on our tour.  Although I have written a great deal about New Zealand, nothing has appeared on the blog and the readers anxiously await.  (Jeesh... the pressures of being a full-time traveller with a writing job on the side for friends and family.  It is really tough!)

Now, the reason for such a hiatus in posts about New Zealand is not because it isn't worthy of writing about.  New Zealand is quite the opposite actually.  Every time I started a post, we would see something new that I wanted to tell you about.  The cities were exciting, the lakes serene and the landscapes absolutely breathtaking.  As we travelled, the views just kept getting better and what I thought was stunning yesterday and worthy of sharing today, would only be topped by something else new and beautiful.  And so my yesterdays became todays and my tomorrows quickly followed with nothing ever getting finished!

I started a post about our time in Auckland, where we met and stayed with relatives on Mark's side of the family.  Valerie is a retired university librarian and Dan is a 'working on cutting back, preparing for semi-retirement' plant scientist.  Their home was beautiful and perched on the side of a volcano overlooking the city.  The views were stunning and their gardens, bountiful.  Dining on fresh fruits and vegetables, picked straight from the vine, was a treat.  They even had an avocado tree!  We toured the area visiting a Gannet colony, and took in the Chinese Lantern festival.  We were even treated to a fireworks display from the front balcony.  We couldn't have asked for more. What could be better than this, really?  Everything was beautiful and then tomorrow came.

Valerie and Dan showing us the sites!

A Gannet Colony, so neat but oh so smelly!

The girls in the garden.

The view from Valerie and Dan's balcony - the fireworks were set off from the tower, it was amazing!

From Auckland we headed south to Rotorua where we spent a week on Lake Rotoiti.  There, we met Geraldine and Mike, two retired pharmacists who had turned their cottage property into a full time home and it certainly wasn't hard to see why.  The lake was crystal clear and had hot spring rivers leading into it.  I started to write a post about how we filled our days with morning runs, mid-day paddles and evening swims, but instead of finishing my writing, I chose to finish another novel instead. We were sad to leave our oasis, which reminded us so much of home, but we did manage to climb a mountain and check out a kiwi orchard.  Still, so much of New Zealand awaited, and we headed further south to explore some more.  Again, another post was abandoned as the days just kept getting better and the views more stunning. 

Kiwi…welcome to New Zealand!

One of our hikes….beautiful!

Fun on the water.
From Lake Rotoiti we ventured to Napier and Hastings, where we were reminded of how small the world is.  Our hosts, Mike and Kay, were enjoying their retirement, spending most of their time travelling or planning their next trip.  Like us, they travel on a budget, so many hours were spent sharing stories. Their son-in-law grew up in Owen Sound and attended the rival high-school to mine.  It turned out they had travelled to my hometown several times, what a small world!  We took in the Art Deco capital of the world and I thought of how Barb and Hilary would absolutely love this place!  We ventured to the top of Mount Te Mata that was lined in mountain bike trails, Adam and his gang would have a heyday here.  Mark even ran into Keith, a Scottish garment supplier for McCallum bagpipes, who noticed the McCallum t-shirt he was wearing. The world was proving to be very small and the two exchanged goods to remember the unusual meeting of the Mitchell and Mackie Clans.  The people continued to wow us, the views continued to stun us, and still nothing appeared on the blog.

Mike and us at the top of Mount Te Mata.

Art Deco capital.

Another selfie!

It's a small world after all…. 
Just when we thought things couldn't get better, we headed for Wellington.  We stayed with friends, Stephen and Caroline.  They had nicely moved in to a beautiful new home on the water.  We explored Wellington and hiked out to the lighthouse.  Again the views were spectacular.  There was so much more to write about again today and yesterday's post was abandoned yet again.

The view from the front deck.

A little photo shoot on the way to the lighthouse!

Silly business at the Te Papa Museum.
Lake Wanaka is where I write to you from now, and I couldn't image a prettier place, yet everyone keeps saying, wait until Milford Sound!  As I mentioned earlier, my editor is on my case, so I must finish this post, before tomorrow!  So Milford Sound will have to wait.  Our days have consisted of running, hiking, and mountain biking.  Everyone here, is outside enjoying the fresh air, which is far cooler than typical temperatures.  I don't dare  complain though, as many of you at home are living through record lows.  We have just returned from a four hour mountain bike trip and I am proud to report that I was the only one to stay on my bike the whole time.  Mark, Meg and Ally are eating Arnica pellets and nursing their wounds.  We will all be hitting the hot tub soon.  Another one of our luxury weeks as a result of exchanging our Florida timeshare unit for resorts around the world.  There is a television above the jacuzzi tub in our ensuite, if you can believe it. I told you our days just keep getting better.  I really can't imagine anything topping this.  Yet, as days come and go there is always another tomorrow, and it promises to be something to write about.

Roughing it again!

The most photographed tree in New Zealand!

Told you it just gets better and better!

…and better!

I'm not sitting on the bench because my behind hurt too much!