2017 Blogging Recap: Running Away From My Problems

A year ago — well, a year and one month, to be exact — I told myself that enough was enough. I had been flirting with the idea of starting a blog for years now, but the technical side to things really threw me off. I’m not a complete numpty when it comes to technology, but words such as RSS and permalink could have been part of a foreign language for all I was concerned.

In the end, it was a trip to Southeast Asia in late 2016 that really pushed me to throw the Ginger Passports together. I saw it as an ideal opportunity to generate content and launch my brand. Gritting my teeth, I went the budget route and signed up to wordpress.com (I would later swap over to the more professional wordpress.org), recruited a talented friend to speak code — and here we are: thirteen months later with a blog I couldn’t be more proud of.

2017 was one hell of a year. I mean that in both the best and worst possible sense of that word, but for the purposes of positivity, I am going to focus on the best.

2017 began with a bang – quite literally. I spent my favourite New Years Eve yet in a high rise in the Auckland, curled up with a bottle of Shiraz and watching King Kong (adrenaline-pinching, amiright?). When the clock struck midnight, I ran out to the balcony and watched fireworks cartwheel over the luminescent city.

I began the year how I intended to finish it: with a map in one hand and a suitcase in the other. For the first week of January, we road tripped across the North Island of New Zealand. Beginning in Auckland, we zig-zagged our way down south, making pit stops in iconic places such as Hobbiton. We concluded the journey in Wellington, where we filled several action-packed days making the most of the capital’s cultural scene.

Trying to be all creative and such at Hobbiton in Mata Mata

Stumbling across a painted piano on the waterfront… just your average Wellington shenanigans

Feeling nosy? Get your business all up in my travel vlog of the North Island road trip 🎬

February was a milestone month for me in that it was the first time I published a piece of work on an independent platform.

I had been a follower of the feminist travel blog – Travelettes – for some time by this point, and was eager to try my hand at submitting a guest post. Not expecting much, I wrote an article on navigating the turbulent landscape of homesickness, and voila! How to Get Comfortable with Traveling was published a few weeks later.

This was also a time that I began to realise the value of my home. Foreshadowings of change in the coming months were beginning to creep into my life, and I began to feel a need to explore and appreciate my own city before the opportunity escaped me.

On the hottest day of the summer, I launched my beach review series at Saint Kilda Beach in Dunedin. On what was likely the windiest day, I made the trek up to Lover’s Leap to take in the jaw-dropping views of the Otago Peninsula.

Totally not posing at Saint Kilda Beach

Channeling my inner Tolkien at Lover’s Leap

If you ask me what my favourite part of New Zealand is, my answer will irrevocably by Central Otago.

For some reason or another, I decided in March that a Central Otago escape was in order. Drawn by the temptation of vineyards and gourmet cheese, I packed my bags and left the coast behind.

Quite by chance, my trip synchronised with a spontaneous roadie of my friend Becky (check out this interview with her), and one Saturday morning, we decided to go on an adventure up the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown (the tourist capital of New Zealand). A bottle of mulled wine later, and we decided that skinny dipping in glacial lakes seemed like a good idea.

Becky being the badass that she is

The stunning Lake Dunstan in Cromwell

Central Otago is the most beautiful place on Earth, and no one can convince me otherwise

(Let’s just pretend I didn’t just skip two months, okay?)

If anyone ever tells you that running away from your problems never solves anything…. well, they’re wrong.

Okay, so that’s probably not the best advice to be giving you. But in this particular case, it worked wonders.

Midway through 2017, I was not a happy chappy. As special as my home country of New Zealand was to me, I just wasn’t prepared to invest in a short-term future there. I was nearing the last semester of my degree, and needed to be thinking about what I was going to do once I walked out of that exam room for the final time. During June, I really worked myself into a state over this, and — against the wishes and logic of nearly everyone I knew — I resolved that unhappiness by buying a one-way ticket to Spain. You could say I was quite literally running — flying? — away from my problems.

I landed in Madrid a week later and I never looked back. I fell in love with Spain in the same way you might fall in love with someone who saves your life. The language, the culture, the people… I was starving for change, and took everything in my stride.

Palacio de Cibales in Madrid

As chance had it, I arrived in the Spanish capital the same weekend of World Pride, and had the unmissable opportunity to march down Puerta del Sol with three million other supporters. 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of the first LGBTIQ pride parade in Spain, so it was a particularly special event indeed.

There’s nothing like a bit of ELO

After falling for Madrid, I bought a train ticket south to the Mediterranean paradise of Andalusia. I delighted in tastes of Málaga, Granada and Seville before bidding a short adiós to Spain and flying to the City of Love.

Just east of Málaga… those beautiful moments before I was reduced to a sun-burnt lobster

As I wrote on the blog, Paris is… well, Paris. And as Anne Rice said, “Paris was a universe whole and entire unto herself, hollowed and fashioned by history… as vast and indestructible as nature itself”. One of us definitely nailed it.

To me, Paris was always one of those places where the idea surmounted the reality. To elaborate, I never actually thought I would make it there. Not in any macabre way or anything – it was just that Paris always seemed so far away and distant, as though belonging to someone else’s dream. To stand in her very midst was a surreal experience.

Because nothing screams Paris like the same photo taken by every tourist ever

I didn’t think it possible to consider any part of France to prevail over Paris, but that was before I stumbled upon Nice. Nice – the Mediterranean heel of France – drew me for reasons I cannot fathom. Perhaps it was the landscape reminiscent of Andalusia, or the local culture that made it so effortless to feel not on holiday, but at home. All I knew was that when I left – with my pockets full of truffle oil and lavender sweets – I almost felt homesick for a place I barely knew.

A local food tour with the French Way

August was punctuated with one last nod to Spain; I flew to the Catalan capital of Barcelona to immerse myself in Gaudí’s dreamscapes for a couple of weeks.

Blown away by Gaudí’s Park Güell

If you had asked me at the beginning of the year where 2017 would take me, I would not have said Egypt. Not because it didn’t intrigue me – quite the opposite – but because it existed in a completely different world that was incompatible with all safe intentions of the independent, female traveler. And yet – much to the joys of my mother and father – I found myself spontaneously stepping off the plane at Cairo airport in the early days of September.

Cairo was all I wanted it to be and more. I ticked the touristic activities off my bucket list – think Pyramids and Citadel – but I also had the opportunity to explore a more authentic side to things such as markets. Staying with locals certainly didn’t hurt, either. I was also treated to some classic street harassment, which was neither appreciated nor altogether surprising. If travel has taught me one thing, it’s that you can’t pick and choose the positive aspects of a culture.

Making friends in the desert

Taking in views from the Citadel

After over three months of living out of a suitcase, I eventually made it to my final destination: the United Kingdom. There, I began my final semester as an undergraduate on exchange in England.

It was relaxing to be able to focus on my studies for a wee while without another trip looming on the horizon. As invigorating as I find travel, it does mean sacrificing the little things. Like routine. And gym memberships. And a proper bed.

It is now mid-December, and I have itchy feet again. My restlessness has me trawling through budget flight search engines, keeping an eye out for deals. My camera has sunk into the depths of my wardrobe, and the Ginger Passports feels naked without fresh content three times a week.

The last two and a half months haven’t produced the same content as when I first left New Zealand, but I’ve still managed to be productive; just last week, I had a second piece published on the Travelettes called Barcelona vs. Madrid: Which Spanish City Is For You?

I’m not choosing to think of 2018 as the beginning of something new. I’ve learnt that seeing starts and ends to things isn’t always healthy, and can pre-empt failure if intended plans don’t exactly take shape. Rather, January 1st will just be another day. I won’t set goals for the next twelve months, nor will I foster expectation. My blog – and myself – will grow at our own pace, and enjoy what life has to offer on this side of the world 🌍

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The Beach Review #2: Nice

If you’re a long time reader of the Ginger Passports, then you might remember a wee blog post I published several months back where I reviewed Saint Kilda Beach in Dunedin, New Zealand. As the first edition of my beach review series, Saint Kilda scored 6.5 stars out of a possible 10, exceeding expectations in isolation and sand, but falling short in temperature.

A week in Nice in August offered the opportunity to dip my toes in the waters of the Mediterranean. The French Riviera is famous for it’s luxury and iconography, and I could hardly wait to embrace the coast after a month of meandering down central France.

For those perhaps unacquainted with my system of rating, here’s how it goes… I take a beach and evaluate it according to seven attributes: water, sand, temperature, wildlife, beauty, recreation and congestion. Each beach has the potential to earn 10 stars (★) and are stacked up against one another at the end of the post.

#2
Beach: Nice
Location: Nice, French Riviera, France

Water

Whilst the Mediterranean may not be like dipping your toes in a warm bath, it’s not far from it. I’m a complete wuss when it comes to the cold, so the fact that I was able to submerge myself after taking a few steps speaks volumes.

The water gets deep very, very quickly. This is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. There’s no jagged reefs or coral to cut yourself on, so it makes for a carefree swim. There are also no waves – but more on that later!

Sand

Yeah… that’s some misleading heading there. Unfortunately, you won’t find any sand in Nice (you’ll have to head westward past Antibes for that), but rather smooth pebbles by the name of ‘galets’. While these pebbles aren’t sharp, they’re not exactly nice to walk on either. I would make the regular dash from the towel to the shore grimacing in pain and searing heat, cursing my decision not to bring sandals.

Temperature

The biggest drawback to Saint Kilda is that it’s freakin’ freezing. I’m not just talking about the water, either – the south of New Zealand in general is a pretty chilly place to be.

Nice is hot but not uncomfortably hot. In fact, I would go as far to say that it is perfect beach weather. I visited during August, a month that on average scores between 24-27°C during the daytime. I was relieved to escape the 40°C highs of southern Spain whilst still being able to break out the bikini and sunscreen (because, y’know, I’m ginger).

Wildlife

When I came to write this part of the review, I had to actually open up another internet browser to search the answer. Even then, Google failed me. I never saw a single sea or land creature during my time lolling on the beach in Nice (save for perhaps a few nosy gulls). While there have been past sightings of sharks off the coast of the French Riviera, there isn’t really anything notable or iconic that I can discuss here.

Beauty

Strolling down the French Riviera is like strolling down the canvas of a painting. The colours, the texture, the music… everything titillates the senses. It may not be the natural landscape itself that draws the eye, but rather the mix of people and culture, blending together like wet paint on a palette.

Recreation

The adrenalised parasailing scene draws fun-seekers of all walks of life, but that – and the odd jet ski here and there – is about as lively as it gets. As a keen surfer, I was disappointed to learn that Nice has very little to offer in terms of waves. Nevertheless, myself and my budget were satisfied with floating in the water for hours on end.

Nice Beach runs alongside Promenade des Anglais, a coastal highway offering delightful (albeit overpriced) cafés and the sort of souvenir shops that you can’t help but check out every time even though they’re all the same. Although there is much to eat on offer here, Cours Saleya Market is a mere 50m stroll away. Here, you will find fresh fruit, local produce and savoury specialities of the Côte d’Azur. If all else fails, you can always count on people to be doing the rounds on the beach selling everything from chilled beer to carved watermelon 🍉

Congestion

Holy f*ck.

If you’re someone who values their personal space, then Nice is not for you. Be prepared to be sandwiched like sardines between holidaymakers, struggling to find just one square meter of free space to lay out your towel. People will assemble umbrellas right in your face. They will walk straight over you to get to the water. They might even strip right next to you (hey, it’s Europe). I distinctly remember waking up from a sun-soaked slumber to an eyeful of an old woman’s naked breasts.

The Verdict

7.1/10

★★★★★★★

I had imagined the beach at Nice to fulfil my wildest Mediterranean dreams: kilometres of white sand, gorgeous cerulean waters and a landscape like something out of a vintage postcard. I guess you could say I had high expectations.

The good news is that the reality of Nice wasn’t that different to my imagination. The ocean, heat and landscape all ticked the boxes, and even the severe lack of wildlife and lush sand didn’t dull my enjoyment. If I had to choose just one aspect of Nice that really impacted negatively upon my experience, it would have to be the pure congestion of bodies.

But hey – I suppose you can’t have everything.

The Rankings

  1. Nice 🇫🇷 France
    (7.5 stars)
    ★★★★★★★
  2. Saint Kilda 🇳🇿 New Zealand
    (6.5 stars)
    ★★★★★★

If you weren’t aware of the excessive links to my previous post in the Beach Review series, then here it is again: Saint Kilda. Or, if Nice has tickled your fancy, then you might like to read about a scrumptious food tour I embarked on in the unforgettable city (featuring a delicious recipe!).

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Flying Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific… Worth It?

If you’re anything like me and regard flying with a special abhorrence, then there’s a decent chance you have considered paying that little bit extra to buy a ticket in either Premium Economy or Business Class to try and make the long haul just that little bit more bearable.

I’m kidding. It’s not a ‘little bit extra’. On average, upgrading from Economy to Premium Economy costs at least an additional NZD$1500. Do you know what you could buy with that? Another Economy ticket.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to fly Premium Economy from New Zealand to Spain with Cathay Pacific. I wasn’t looking forward to the thirty hour journey in the slightest, but knowing I didn’t have to budget for a return ticket — and considerable family generosity — motivated me to splurge on a deal I had found.

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

After making my way to New Zealand’s largest international airport, my trip saw me flying from Auckland to Hong Kong, and then Hong Kong to Madrid. Both of these were long-haul flights, and to say I was mildly excited would have been a severe exaggeration. Nevertheless, I was curious to see what forking out for a Premium Economy ticket would add to the travel experience.

For the flight to Hong Kong, I was seated front right in the Premium Economy cabin. For those unacquainted with the layout of airplanes, this meant that I was next to the window with nobody in front of me. This last piece of information is vital; being at the foremost part of the cabin ensured that I had all the legroom I could ever want. The journey felt spacious and light, and I emerged from those first twelve hours feeling optimistic from such luxury, and giddy from the complimentary champagne I had indulged in over the course of the flight. Premium Economy had certainly ticked the box for me.

However, the fight to Madrid did not run as smoothly. A series of unfortunate events foreshadowed the success of the following journey: the flight was delayed due to a busy runway, the plane had to return to the terminal due to a passenger experiencing a medical emergency, and an air hostess refused to give me water during take off despite my choking on a sleeping pill (🖕). None of these had anything to do with being in Premium Economy per se (nor were they all the fault of the airline), but they still didn’t make for an ideal start.

Photograph courtesy of Traveller

Once we were finally in the air, I adjusted to my new quarters. Unlike the last flight, I was now positioned smack bang in the middle of the Premium Economy cabin with passengers in front, behind and to the sides of me. Whilst the dimensions for Premium Economy are somewhat more generous than Economy, I wouldn’t exactly say they’re worth the extra thousands. As someone quite tall, I still experienced the cramped claustrophobia from severe lack of legroom.

I also wasn’t expecting the sheer quantity of children in these upgraded classes. I estimated that roughly 60% of those flying in Premium Economy and Business Class were under the age of ten. I don’t note this because they impacted on my experience at all – they were really well-behaved and I was impressed by their self-control over the hours – but I was nonetheless taken aback by how much it must have cost to pay such money for passengers who likely wouldn’t have appreciated the advantages of Premium or Business class. (If you’re interested in the controversy of whether young children should be admitted to these cabins, you might like to read this arguably contentious debate. I’d be eager to hear your thoughts.)

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

There was one incident that particularly stuck out for me during the flight from Hong Kong to Madrid. Around three quarters of the way in, I was seized by a sudden need to go to the bathroom. I had been asleep for most of the previous journey, and had not emptied my bladder since arriving in Hong Kong Airport. Disorientated from the sleeping pills, I staggered to my feet and stumbled towards the Premium Economy toilets, only to discover that they were out of order. Great.

Busting, I made towards the Economy cubicles at the very back of the plane. It didn’t take very long for me to realise that a line of probably eight to ten people had formed a queue per loo. Furthermore, the breakfast trolleys were right behind them and lethargically making their way up the plane at a snail’s pace. I worked out that it would take probably forty-five minutes for the trolley to pass before I could even join the queue. Exasperated, I marched to the front of the plane and asked if I could please use the Business Class toilets seeing as they were the only feasible option left.

The Cathay Pacific air hostess physically blocked my path. I communicated that I was in a lot of discomfort and would likely wet myself if I didn’t pee soon, but she just flashed her teeth and explained in a patronising manner that those toilets were reserved for Business Class only. Infuriated, I recounted how the Premium Economy toilets were not functioning and that I couldn’t access the Economy toilets until a) the breakfast trolley had crawled its way up the plane and b) the enormous queue had died down. I also pointed out that there was both Business Class toilets were unoccupied and that a majority of the passengers were fast asleep. The air hostess just motioned aggressively for me to leave the cabin. Fuming, I retreated to the very back of the plane to stand in burning pain for first the breakfast trolley to pass, and then to queue for the cubicles.

I waited over an hour.

Photograph courtesy of South China Morning Post

That was pretty shitty service, Cathay Pacific. I understand that if you pay more for a Premium Economy ticket, then you should be entitled to more privileges than those in Economy. Likewise, I understand that if you pay more for a Business class ticket, then you should be entitled to more privileges than those in Premium Economy. But those standards should only apply when basic services are functioning normally. When the Premium Economy toilets failed, those passengers should have been permitted use of the Business Class facilities when Economy wasn’t readily available, not penalised for something that wasn’t their fault. If the Economy toilets had also broken down, would the airline have made everybody who wasn’t in Business Class wait for the entirety of the long-haul flight before landing in Madrid to access a bathroom? I was rightly pissed at the rules — and the apathy of the air hostess at my physical discomfort — and that incident unfortunately tainted my experience for that second flight.

It would be wrong to deny there aren’t any perks to flying Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific. You have the chance to board first, you have a greater luggage allowance, you receive a complimentary amenity kit and your cabin has its own bathroom (hahahaha). Plus, the vegetarian meals I received extended beyond mere vegetables (I’m looking at you, Singapore Airlines). But all it takes is one negative episode to contaminate the whole experience.

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

So… was it worth it?

Yes and no.

I know, I know. That’s not the answer you just trudged through this entire article to read. But I experienced two very different flights in Premium Economy, and thus experienced two very different reactions.

If I had the money, I would very happily cough up the extra to fly Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific again if I could ensure I had a front row seat. As I wrote above during my flight from Auckland to Hong Kong, that seat made a world of difference.

However, if I knew in advance that I would be situated in the middle of the cabin, then perhaps I might have wanted to rethink that ticket. Sure, there are perks to flying Premium, but they’re not worth the extra thousands.

At the end of the day, the time is going to pass anyway. Whether you’re in Economy class or Premium Economy class, it’s twelve hours of your life that will eventually be over whether or not you’re sipping champagne.

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

P.S. I have only ever flown Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific. This review applies only to that airline. Perhaps the Premium Economy experience contrasts with other airlines. I’ve heard Air New Zealand is well worth the money… am I biased? Probably.

Writing this article got me thinking about how airline seating reflects class inequality. Something tells me I’ll be writing an article on that in the near future.

Furthermore, if you have a trip on the horizon, check out my No-Bullsh*t Guide to Surviving a 12-Hour Flight! Or if you want to read more of my uninvited opinions, maybe Why I Hate the Word ‘Wanderlust’ will be your cup of tea.

 

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The Beach Review #1: Saint Kilda

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Something you may not know about me is that I have a bizarre obsession with rating things. Books, films, you name it. So when I was trying to devise an innovative way to blog about beaches I visit, the logical answer was to start a segment where I would review different ones around the world and see how they stack up against one another.

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After much deliberation, I formulated a system for rating them. Each beach has the potential for 10 stars (★) and is assessed on many different aspects.

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#1

Beach: Saint Kilda

Location: Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand

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Water

Whilst the water is not crystal clear, the sandy bottom does compensate. There’s nothing worse than when you’re in the water and scared to put your feet down for fear of cutting yourself on jagged rocks or coral.

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Due to the Otago coastline’s dangerous rips, there are often lifeguards on patrol who indicate the safest areas. So as long as you use your head, this isn’t something you need to worry about.

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Sand

The sand is a gorgeous palette of white and gold. It’s velvety and fine with a delicate sprinkling of shells down the northern end. You won’t find any complaints from me here.

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Temperature

I’m not going to sugarcoat it; the water is freezing. This is the biggest drawback to the beach. While (arguably crazy) people do break out the bikinis, you won’t see me in anything less than a double-layered winter wetsuit.

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Regarding the weather, Dunedin isn’t exactly a go-to summer destination. The average temperature in the warmer months is 20°C, and even that’s generous. You’re more likely to encounter 15°C with wretched winds. Nevertheless, slap that sunscreen on; a Kiwi sunburn is no laughing matter.

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Wildlife

One of the attractions of Otago is its vast array of wildlife. Our coastline hosts little blue penguins, fur seals, and just up the peninsula, you’ll find one of the world’s largest albatross colonies on Taiaroa Head.

Saint Kilda is but a playground for these incredible animals. Whilst it’s not as popular as the surrounding shores, it’s not unheard of to spot dolphins and whales frolicking in the waves. It also has history with a certain sea lion.

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Facilities

This is a tricky one to comment on. Saint Kilda is the northern end of the beach, whilst the southern morphs into Saint Clair. Whilst Saint Clair has a lavish scope of restaurants, shops and salt water pool, Saint Kilda is somewhat more remote. In saying that, it’s a mere fifteen minute drive from the hub of Dunedin.

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Recreation

As an avid surfer myself, I would recommend Saint Kilda without a beat. New Zealand beaches are famous for it’s surf breaks, and Saint Kilda is no exception. The waves are great for beginners and experts alike, with a fluctuating tide and long stretches to avoid swimmers.

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Saint Kilda is also popular for swimmers. The choppy breakers make for superb body surfing, although make sure you keep within the flags. As I mentioned above, the rips are not a matter to be taken lightly.

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Congestion

As Saint Kilda spans approximately three kilometres, it’s quite easy to find an isolated stretch of beach without any company.

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What with Dunedin’s measly population, this isn’t the sort of place where you have to weave through throngs of people to find a square meter of sand. If that’s not a plus, then I don’t know what is.

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The Verdict

6.5/10

★★★★★★

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