Burlington, Vermont- Part 1

An Afternoon Marred by Expectation

Why Burlington?  I hadn’t an inkling as to why I chose this place.  Maybe passing references to the Burlington Coat Factory in my youth had long ago etched a subconscious interest in this obscure Vermont town.  A place so far North that they have coat factories does seem radically different than the year-round Gulf Coast sauna that I grew up in.

Never mind this post-rationalizing drivel, I got in my car to fall back in love with adventure.  To fall back in love with writing.  For the last 6 weeks, I’ve immersed myself in the highs and lows of teaching.  Writing and traveling have fallen by the wayside.  An experimental jaunt 4 hours North seemed a fitting cure.

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Burlington, Why Not?

I envisioned being blown away by the tranquil water of Lake Champlain and enthralled by the flurry of activity in the hippie mecca that spawned the likes of Phish and Ben & Jerry’s.  The problem with it all is that I came with the idea that this experience would somehow eclipse my prior travel experiences.  I was staring straight through the muddled lens of prior knowledge.

There’s a scene in Wall Street 2, where a financial professional asks a senior colleague what amount of salary would prompt him to finally exit the rat race.  The executive replied, “It’s simple, more.”  Even on a spontaneous road trip, this spirit of wanting more for the sake of more predominated my thoughts.

Oblivious to the dazzling yellow and orange leaves of a New England fall, I stared at Lake Champlain.  The fiery sun glistened off the cool, easy waves and I couldn’t help but compare it to Auckland, New Zealand’s peaceful harbor.  I stared down the vibrant Church Street marketplace and immediately noticed the absence of the cobble-stone pavement of Portland, Maine that I had enjoyed a month earlier.

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How could I have missed this the first time?

Ri-Ra an Irish Pub

 Our vow is recorded,

our banner unfurled,

in the name of Vermont,

we defy all the world.

Without a damn clue what the practical meaning of the green scarf above the bar meant, I settled into a tight spot next to a 30-something man wearing a greasy backwards Michigan hat.  My first impression was that this was a washed-up frat boy clinging to a past life through desperate support of his alma mater.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  After a few Traveler’s (a pumpkin ale that I would highly recommend), conversation turned to careers and life choices.  Mike was visiting friends while on furlough, a temporary government shut-down casualty.  It just so happened that Mike was a highly motivated trade advisor to the Obama administration.

This relative level of prestige briefly impressed me but what left a deeper impression was how he got there.  Mike, like myself, spent years in his twenties having bits and pieces of his soul sucked up by the professional services world, albeit in the more glamorous mergers and acquisitions area.  One day, Mike sent his resume to a friend working in Washington, D.C.  The next day Mike’s friend went for a brisk jog along the Potomac River with a close friend who worked for the Democratic Party.  By the following day, Mike’s resume was on the top of a stack of close to 1,000 resumes.  Mike got the job.  Mike loves his job.  When opportunity comes knocking, open the door.

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The sun never sets on a day of travel without learning something new

 

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More Auckland–Gourmet breakfast, Davonport, and Mt. Eden

Because we couldn’t get enough of the neighborhood, Brad and I walked back to Ponsonby for breakfast and coffee.  The weather has picked up considerably and now feels more like spring.  We had a spectacular gourmet meal, eggs benedict with salmon for myself and cream cheese filled pancakes for Brad.

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My favorite neighborhood in Auckland

That afternoon we took a ferry to Davonport, a small, scenic peninsula near Auckland.  The island was filled with unique cafes and shops.  There was a perfect hill to climb and take scenic shots of the bay.  The most relaxing afternoon I’ve had in awhile.

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Contemplating my next meal

After arriving back at the hotel, we decided to take the city bus out to Mt. Eden.  Mt. Eden was a moderate hike up a volcanic mountain that offered surreal views of the city and the massive volcanic crater at the top.  After taking it all in, we took a walk around the surrounding neighborhood.  This neighborhood was once again characterized by lively small businesses, restaurants, and bars.  A nice contrast to the “big box” stores and sprawling parking lots of Texas.  We ate dinner in the area and went back to the hotel (where we crashed at 8 and 830 pm, respectively)…Not sure if we’ll ever fully adjust to the time change.

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Mt. Eden

Afternoon Tour- Waheke Island

This afternoon, we hopped on a ferry to tour a wet and windy Waheke Island.  Waheke Island is normally a paradise similar to Hawaii.  Due to the reverse Southern Hemisphere weather, we were greeted with a cold and rainy day.  We kept trying to spin it as a one of a kind experience to be at a beautiful place in such unfortunate weather.  Despite this, we braved the wet and cold and made a tumultuous twenty minute walk to a very nice lunch at a small café.  We enjoyed watching the storm unfold over fish and chips.

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I whip my hair back and forth, my hair back and forth

Over lunch, the storm had picked up considerably forcing us to ditch the foot travel and use the Island’s public buses.  We headed towards the beach, where the wind was howling and rain was pouring steadily.  Great opportunity for photos illustrating nature’s fury.  We took another bus from there until we got back to the ferry.  Arriving at the ferry station in downtown Auckland was a very interesting experience.  There was a large line of professionally dressed people lining up for the ferry back to Waheke Island.  Commuting back and forth via a 35 minute ferry seems to be a decent existence when compared to the hellish commute some experience in Houston or Dallas.

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A parting gift from the day

For the evening, we decided on exploring Ponsonby.  We took a cheap cab ride to Ponsonby Road and walked until we found a charming bar/restaurant.  We were ecstatic to hear that pizzas were on special for $7.  This was a huge coup for volume eaters like us.  We promptly ordered a pitcher of beer in celebration of the cost savings.  Interesting enough, our waitress was a girl from Seattle who quit medical school to move to New Zealand on a whim.  It was inspiring to hear about someone who refused to say no to their fantasy.

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Down on Main Street

What better way to tour Auckland than a morning run?

Today we woke up at sunrise for a long run and tour of the city.  We set out with our sights on running across the Harbor Bridge (a task I was initially dubious of).  We easily made it to the Harbor Bridge but, unfortunately, were not able to cross it on foot.  We proceeded to run along the coast with stunning views of St. Mary’s Bay as a backdrop.  The overcast winter weather gave it the feel of an Earnest Hemingway novel.  We ran through the nearby upper middle-class neighborhood and both noted striking similarities between Northern California and these neighborhoods.  We ended up stumbling upon the beautiful suburb of Ponsonby decorated with neighborhood bakeries, cafes, and bars.  Reminded us of the West U/Rice Village neighborhood of Houston.  Definitely a place we plan on exploring later.

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A particularly eccentric piece of street art

We then snaked our way across an urban highway bridge with stunning views of the skyline.  Finally, we made our way through the modern Auckland University campus. The campus seamlessly blended into the surrounding city.  Urban campuses like this seem to exemplify the learning philosophy of a university.  Many academics view learning as a life-long process that should blend effortlessly into our everyday life and communities.

New Zealand- Arrival

The first day in Auckland flew by.  We had a cab ride with an amicable Fijian, learning along the way that New Zealand has a significant number of immigrants from Fiji.  Additionally, he shared with us that New Zealanders often vacation in Fiji.  It’s less than a three hour plane flight between the two islands.

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The unescapable Sky Tower

The rest of the day was spent walking from sight to sight in a jet-lagged trance.  My favorite portion was the revamped Harbor area (per Wikipedia, it was revitalized for the 2011 Rugby World Cup).  One can only imagine the debauchery that took place.  From here, we snapped some great photos of the harbor and cityscape.  After that, we headed to the hotel for a much needed nap and clean up session.  It reminds me of the Peter Griffin quote, “I haven’t brushed my teeth in three days aaaand nobody’s noticed.”

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A dreary day at the harbor

Once we finished properly applying deodorant, we walked over to the Sky Tower to check out the views from the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere.  There were people bungee-jumping from the top deck, totally insane.  Nope, not for me.  We actually saw an eight year old girl doing it, how emasculating!  Almost as emasculating as writing a travel journal.

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Panoramic view of Auckland

We finished off the day with an overpriced Italian dinner on the Harbor.  Our collective exhaustion created an ideal environment for a classic mid 20’s existential funk-cleansing conversation.  We finished our pizza and trudged our way back to the hotel for some of the most rewarding sleep I’ve had in a long time.

New Zealand Trip Continued

6/17/2012 4:30 AM (NZ Time)

I successfully boarded the flight to New Zealand after a tumultuous connecting flight.  The flight from Houston to LA touched down at 8:45 PM and I needed to board the 10:30 PM flight to Auckland.  Seemed like a realistic task…After the typical jostling and waiting characterizing the de-boarding process, I finally escaped the congested, claustrophobic aircraft around 9 pm.  I exited the security area and made the poor choice of hopping on an inefficient bus shuttle headed for the international terminal.  After crawling at a speed close to a slow walk and a few panicked phone calls/texts with my older brother/travel partner, I made it to the security checkpoint at 10 pm.  Yes, you read that right, 10 pm.  The bus ride, over which we traveled a little more than half a mile, took an hour!  Luckily, I was able to quickly slide through security and barely make the flight.  Houston Bush Intercontinental>LAX.

The plane flight was long, but not uncomfortable.  It’s rare to be free to think about, watch, read, or listen to anything you want.  Thousands of feet above the vast Pacific Ocean is about as close to untouchable as one can get.  This is solely in the metaphorical sense, as you’re never less than a few inches away from the next passenger.  The near cuddling with a complete stranger juxtaposed by the complete mental separation is a unique experience.  Thoughts are completely one’s own and other passengers’ thoughts are inaccessible.  Comforting.  Makes you wonder if people move to large cities in order to replicate this crowded solitude…Flight attendant says it’s time for our final descent into Auckland—excited.