Posts Tagged With: southern hemisphere

Bucket, Bucket Bucket

So the Year of Rahul has got me thinking I should finally put my bucket list down on paper. I’ve been very very lucky to have had the opportunity to do so many things during my almost 40 years on this rock, and with hopefully at least another 40 more to go I look forward to the challenge of crossing some of these off the list. By no means is this list complete, but it’s a good start in the process.

• The Great Wall of China
• See Terra cotta warriors
• Visit all 7 continents (Antarctica and Africa) are all that’s left
• See the DMZ in Korea
• Visit Vietnam
• Visit Thailand
• See the Oscars live
• Hold an Oscar
• Go to the Super Bowl
• Go to a Rose Bowl game
• Go on safari in Africa
• Go whale watching in Alaska
• Play an event at the World Series of Poker
• Transit the Panama Canal
• Fly around the world in one trip
• Go to The Vatican
• Visit St. Petersburg
• Ride a gondola in Venice
• Visit the Sistine Chapel
• Go to the Sundance Film Festival
• Go to the Cannes Film Festival
• Drive a Ferrari
• See the Amalfi coast
• See the Pyramids
• Visit the Forbidden City
• Watch a taping of a TV show live
• Go to the Opening or closing Olympics ceremony
• Go to a World Series game
• Go to the Baseball all-star game
• Visit Fenway Park and Wrigley Field
• Go to Cowboys stadium
• Go to Mardi Gras
• See a no hitter live item accomplished July 2, 2013 SF vs. Cincinnati
• See Mount Rushmore
• Meet a former or current President of the United States – any will do
• Be at Times Square for New Year’s
• Go to Patagonia
• The Galapagos
• Go to Oktoberfest in Munich
• See Tibet
• See the Berlin Wall
• Visit Dubai
• Visit all 50 states (four to go)
• Cruise around the world
• Visit the Guggenheim Museum(s) in LA and Spain
• Visit la Sagrada Familia, Spain
• Eat at the French Laundry
• Eat at La Bernadin
• Eat a Philly Cheesesteak at Genos
• Go to Unos in Chicago
• Take my family to India
• Visit Quebec City
• Visit Pisa
• Visit Giza

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Categories: Airlines, Art, movie, Ordinary Life, Random, Review, The wish list, Travel, Trip Report, Uncategorized, Wandering the city | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting Chilly in Chile

My bucket list includes hitting all seven continents, to date I have been to four. Asia on many occasions as early in my life as 1974 and as recently as March of this year. Europe in 2000 and as recently as 2009 with a trip coming up this September too. Australia last year and also this past March, and of course North America, I was born and still call it my home. So all that’s left is South America, Africa and Antarctica.

Well that is until a few months ago when I went to Santiago Chile for a quick 12 hour trip. Ok I’m sure many of you just ready the last sentence and then reread it and then read it again. Yes I said 12 hours in Santiago. I can go round and round with you about if that’s really considered a visit or a trip, and sure I could not see much more than the Central Business District, but I saw enough to know that the family and I MUST make a visit to Chile again and points beyond there.
Sure 12 hours is not much more than a night’s sleep, and yes I am certifiably crazy and I think my wife thinks I am too, but hey sometimes you just need to do what you need to do. First off there was a great airfare deal on American Airlines to Santiago from New York in Business Class to boot. I had an expiring coupon that I needed to use so I had a way to get to NYC on the cheap. Couple that with the deal and all I had to do was pack a bag, with a few warm clothes, since its winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I could leave on a red eye from SFO and be home two nights later after 12 hours in SCL (airport code for Santiago Chile).
After a few amazing flights on a combo of United to NYC and then American Airlines to SCL I was there. In downloading my pictures I realized I failed in taking any pictures of the inside of the planes. What I can say is that it sure can be great to get a really comfortable plane. I was lucky to fly the internationally configured United 757-200 to New York’s JFK, it had a lie flat bed and a 15” TV with movies and shows on demand. I managed to watch a movie or two and even get a few winks of sleep too. It’s not that hard to sleep on a plane when you’re comfortable that’s for sure. The balance of the trip was actually all on the same plane an AA 767-200 international two class plane. The funny part I think about that was that the flight was four segments JFK to Miami to SCL and return. They were all different flight numbers and there was not indicator except that the Miami SCL return would be on the same plane. Go figure. Again very very nice comfortable flight, with all entertainment provided on Galaxy 10.1 tabs. It was pretty cool. Anyhow enough about the flights since I don’t have any pictures. Flying in comfort made the LONG but fun journey worth it. I would never have done this kind of trip if I was sitting in the back. I know that makes me sound like a snob, but hey when it’s cheap or you can use free coupons to upgrade, why not.

On my way to Chile

On my way to Chile

Chile bound

Chile bound

Those are mountains not clowds

Those are mountains not clowds

Fountain near Plaza De Armas

Fountain near Plaza De Armas

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My cat Jack made his way to SCL

My cat Jack made his way to SCL

Artwork by the river

Artwork by the river

Open air market

Open air market

Three bucks for 2.2 pounds what a deal

Three bucks for 2.2 pounds what a deal

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A church door

A church door

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Plaza De Armas subway stop

Plaza De Armas subway stop

Building on plaza

Building on plaza

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The Plaza

The Plaza

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Well let’s get to the good part Santiago. As soon as we started out descent into SCL I knew I needed to come back. This picture out the window of the plane doesn’t do it justice, the “clouds” in the distance were not “clouds” they were mountains. All I could see in the distance were these amazing snowcapped mountains on descent and it was beautiful. Santiago sits at 1700 feet in the heart of the Andes Mountains, so all you see around the city are a bowl of mountains. The second part that made me fall in love was the European Old World charm with a Latin flair that city had. The buildings, streets and feel of the city made me think of Spain, France or Germany. It was way cool.
I spent 6 hours just wandering the Plaza de Armas area and the Cerro Santa Lucia a large hill in central SCL that had sweeping 360 degree views of the city and environs. Besides that I spent a lot of time sitting and people watching too, not a bad way to spend the day for sure. Before you know it though it was time to head back to the airport and get back to the family.
Surly 12 hours is barley a cup of coffee, but hey that’s all the time I had and I got to knock one more continent off the list and also another item off the buck list. Now I just need to get back there and take the family so we can all enjoy it.

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The had that has been to four continents

The had that has been to four continents

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Walking up to the top of Cerro Santa Lucia

Walking up to the top of Cerro Santa Lucia

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The view from Cerro Santa Lucia  230 feet above the city floor

The view from Cerro Santa Lucia 230 feet above the city floor

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Categories: Airlines, American Airlines, Food, Photography, Review, Travel, Trip Report, United Airlines, Wandering the city | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sometimes the journey home is half the fun

Well for my devoted blog readers you might be wondering how the heck I made it back from Australia and New Zealand back in March. Did I swim, walk, take the slow boat from China? No I flew. I know you’ve all been waiting patiently for my trip report (or at lest I hope my one devoted reader is). Well I had a pretty decent trip home, I did in fact take the long road home, but when is that unusual for me, right. My itinerary was as follows Sydney to Bangkok on Thai Airways (my first time) then All Nippon Airways from Bangkok to Tokyo Narita connecting to American Airlines to Los Angeles. As many will say the distance between to points is a straight line, but in my case that’s just not so true.

I left Sydney late in the afternoon, on one of the two 747’s that fly from and to Sydney and Bangkok on Thai every day. On this sector and the one to Japan I had used miles to score a first class seat, I was truly giddy as a school girl because I had never flown Thai let alone in first and was looking forward to the hopefully amazing experience. In a nutshell, I was not disappointed in a cabin of ten maximum passengers and four crew members you knew you were in for a treat. Even though the cabin was full, it never felt crowded and I always felt attended to when I needed anything. In fact upon arrival on the plane, I was greeted by name, taken to my seat and then all four attendants came by to introduce themselves. Even at disembarkation, they all went by each passenger, and said thank you and bowed. As I’ve found so frequently thought out Southeast Asia so many people are so friendly even on an airplane.

Below you’ll find pictures of my seat, the awesome pajamas and the even cooler Tumi amenity kit. As well as my food. Overall the seat, food and entertainment were great. I had enough time to rest, watch a few movies and just enjoy the beautiful journey home. In my almost 40 years on this planet I’ve been lucky enough to fly in first class a few times (thanks to airmiles). Although Thai didn’t unseat Singapore Airlines as my number one, they were a close second, and if I have the opportunity to fly them again, I will jump at the chance.

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If all of the food and the amazing seat and legroom we just not enough, upon landing in Thailand I had the opportunity to partake in a quick Thai Massage. Thai offers this very pretty cool free perk for all Business and First class guests regardless of whether you arrive or depart in one of these two classes. The only difference is a 1/2 hour vs. 1 hour. In my case I did get the hour option, but due to a short connection and a long wait I only was able to get a 20 or so minute neck and shoulder massage. I know why am I complaining, a FREE massage in Thailand how cool is that? Needless to say this was a very very good massage. Many thanks Thai Airways, I hope to have the opportunity to try this again.

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On my way out of Thailand I got to fly ANA one of two National carriers out of Japan. I had flown them before also in business like this flight but that was back in 2007. Although a very nice flight, after the heals of my Thai experience, it was just ho hum. I know that’s not a fair assessment, since if I had this seat and this crew on any US carrier I would be in hog heaven. The part that was so amazing about this flight was the meal I had, it was the perfect Japanese style sushi box, expertly prepared and incredibly tasty. I can’t believe how good the food was for 35,000 feet in the air.

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Stay tuned for the next installment on how I got home.

Categories: Airlines, Airport, ANA, Food, Photography, Review, Thai Airways, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Fiji or bust

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This crazy moth landed on my luggage cart and hung out for over an hour.

Hanger on

Hanger on

What would you do if you had a spare weekend in Auckland and didn’t have anything to do. How about Fiji. When I was on my last work trip to Auckland and Sydney, I had a weekend to kill, I’d spent enough time in Auckland and the other cities on the south island I wanted to go to would take too much time to get there before having to get to Sydney for work on Monday. I started looking at options North of New Zealand, and again there were lots of places to go, but when I started looking at flight options Fiji just kept coming up. It’s always been on the bucket list, but to go there without the wife could be a bad idea. Thankfully being it was the “Year of Rahul” and all, my wife acquiesced.
There were a few flight options to Fiji from Sydney, but only two were non-stop. One of those was on Air Pacific Limited (soon to rebrand to Fiji Airways), and because they are a partner of American Airlines, I could even use points to fly. Score. The tickets were running about $650 roundtrip and I frankly didn’t want to spend that much money so miles it is. Plus this gave me a chance to fly an airline I had not flown before and that’s always fun to do.
Once I got to the airport in Auckland, I was able to hit up a lounge and not have to sit with all the unwashed masses. Ha ha. Thank you again Amex Platinum Card, the card that just keeps on giving. It’s got many great features, but free lounge access to some 3000 lounges is my top one through Priority Pass and the American Airlines, Delta, and United networks. So that being said off I went to the Emperor Lounge it had free Wi-Fi, food, drinks and bit of peace and quiet. Since it was a contract lounge I’m not sure what airlines used it, but it was quite. For the three hours I was there, I saw the two employees working there and three more guests that’s it. That’s my kind of lounge, peace and quiet and lots of space. Below you’ll find a few shots of the lounge; even though it didn’t have any windows it was light and bright, had clean modern furniture and was pretty spacious. I’ve been in a few lounges where you’re lucky to find a spot to sit let alone clean and comfortable.

My ticket

My ticket

The lounge

The lounge

The lounge

The lounge

The lounge

The lounge

it continues

it continues

The spread

The spread

The bar at the lounge

The bar at the lounge

As I mentioned earlier I had an opportunity to fly Air Pacific Limited. They are a small airline with 11 planes (the majority are 737’s). They fly mostly in and around Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and a few flights a week to Hong Kong, LA and Honolulu. They are in the process of changing their name to Fiji Air and have just received their first new airplane an Airbus A 330 with one to come in a few months. With the rebranding, they will also get rid of their older 747’s which will allow them to continue their aim of becoming a more profitable airline, and expand their route network. That being said, I found this flight to be pretty decent. It was not an airline full of frills, but the staff was friendly, the food or snack in this case was decent, and the drinks were plentiful.
The 737 was configured with two classes, eight seat s in Tabu (business) and 112 in Pacific Voyager (coach) configuration. I was booked in coach, and on a three hour flight that was just fine, although at check in I inquired about an upgrade to business, which could be had for $250. But when the agent told me that coach was very empty and she would block the other two seats in my row I stayed put, who needs business class when you can fly coach anyhow.
As you can see from the pics below, the cabin was in fact empty. I had a row to myself as promised, although not much legroom, I had plenty of space to spread out into and that was fine with me. They offered a light snack of cold pasta and biscuits plus drinks. And it seemed like others got as many drinks as they wanted, one was enough for me. They had overhead entertainment which consisted of a movie and a few sort films, I don’t remember what the movie was but I liked it. Before you knew it we were on descent to Nadi, Fiji and off to my hotel.

Fiji here I come

Fiji here I come

our 737

our 737

a whole row to myself

a whole row to myself

My seat

My seat

Ouch no legroom

Ouch no legroom

Very empty cabin

Very empty cabin

My seat

My seat

Auckland surroundings

Auckland surroundings

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Auckland

Auckland

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The meal box

The meal box

My in flight meal

My in flight meal

Once I got to Fiji, and cleared international customs, it was off to collect my bags and get to my hotel. By 7:30 PM I had my luggage and was in a cab to my hotel. For future reference be sure to get local currency before leaving the airport, the cabs only take cash and don’t take credit cards. I had to have him stop at an ATM at a bank I was familiar with so I could get cash. Probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but I had all my valuables in my backpack which I took to the ATM, just in case. Anyhow there was no drama, and I arrived at the Sheraton Denaru Island Fiji in about ½ an hour. The unmetered cab was $40 Fijian about $20 US, one other thing I don’t think exists here are cab meters. So you should negotiate before getting in, I had done so and had also verified on Trip Advisor from other reviewers as to what the general charge should be. I got to the hotel close to 8:30 PM the bell staff took my bags and directed me to check in, where I waited in line. There was only one person in front of me and I was fine waiting but before I could blink a bellman came over to me and said he would take me to my room. Whoa wait a second, I didn’t even tell anyone my name say what. Anyhow the bellman grabbed my stuff we hopped in a buggy and off we went. I felt like some uber VIP that the hotel knew was coming and it was awesome. Once I got to my room, the bellman showed me around, dropped off my bags and I was set.
Wow what a great room, I had booked the cheapest room, a king size garden view standard room, and what I got was and Ocean view king room. Score!! As you can see from the pictures the room was pretty spacious. It had a large TV and sitting area with table as well as a work desk. Plus the hotel was kind enough to hook me up with a bottle of champagne, a logo coffee cup and a couple bottles of Fiji water, is there any other kind of water in Fiji. It was a nice touch to get a bottle of champagne, unfortunately since I was solo, that just meant more for me. Three cheers to Starwood, for these nice amenities as a Platinum guest, you done good.
The bathroom was also nicely laid out. A large soaking tub and large rain shower, as well as a beautiful sink area. Again, Starwood did a nice job designing the bathroom, and providing a well-designed and inspired bathroom.

A gift from the hotel, and yes it makes the coffee taste better.

A gift from the hotel, and yes it makes the coffee taste better.

The room cont.

The room cont.

The room

The room

The closet

The closet

What other water should they serve

What other water should they serve

Thank you Sheraton for the nice gift.

Thank you Sheraton for the nice gift.

Work desk and a little bubbly

Work desk and a little bubbly

TV and sitting area

TV and sitting area

My bed

My bed

Rain shower

Rain shower

Rain shower

Rain shower

Vanity

Vanity

Bathtub

Bathtub

Wedding chapel (the view from my room)

Wedding chapel (the view from my room)

The view from my hotel

The view from my hotel

The hotel grounds were nicely kept and manicured. There was lots of room to roam and a large pool to hang out in with a bar close by that served drinks to patrons in the pool, so there was no need to get out. But if you wanted to go get your drink yourself it was only 5 feet from the pool. There was plenty of benches and tables in the pool too and alcoves to hang out in.
There were three or four restaurants plus the pool bar. They also had an ice cream stand and café. I only ate at the breakfast spot, and I don’t remember the name of it. Frankly it was ok, there was a lot to choose from, eggs any way, fruit and juices, breads as well as Asian breakfast items too choose. I’m really not much of a buffet guy, so even though it was nice, I was not that into it. If you get the meal for free I’d take it otherwise I’d pass. There are also several bars, late night music and nightly entertainment, so if you’re looking for that you don’t have to stray too far. Oh yeah one other nifty feature flags at the loungers so you could just raise it when you wanted another drink or food. I love being lazy when thirsty. And I must give one last prop to the Sunset, just amazing. I just wish I had my bride with me to enjoy it with, besides I may not look so odd if I was with someone, at a holiday resort. I think I was the only person not there with a group, family or couple. As a work traveler this is something I’m use too.
Would I stay here again, maybe? The Westin, which is next door, looked nicer and a bit more upscale. Don’t get me wrong this was a nice hotel and I did like it, they have done a good job keeping it maintained, but from my brief visit to the Westin for an amazing spa treatment and the look of the grounds I’d probably stay there next time. The only other gripe was the water, it was not nice. It just looked gross and not to inviting. Most people were swimming in the pools, not the ocean. In fact again based on Trip Advisor, all the hotels at Denaru have the same issue; it apparently is the area that’s not so great. But if you go offshore even 10 minutes it’s a different story. So that being said I’d find someplace a bit further from civilization, so I can get more white beaches and blue water, as evidence of some of the shots I took, 3 minutes after takeoff. If I was here for more than 2 nights, I would have taken an excursion to uncharted waters just to see what the outskirts of Nadi are like.

Hotel grounds

Hotel grounds

Hotel Beach and grounds

Hotel Beach and grounds

Main pool

Main pool

Lazy River main pool

Lazy River main pool

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The Pool

The Pool

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The Westin Entrance

The Westin Entrance

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Around the spa

Around the spa

around the spa

around the spa

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Spa

Spa

So my return was again on Air Pacific Limited but this time to Sydney. I was lucky to fly one of their soon to be retired 747’s so I was excited for that. This is still my favorite plane of all time. It reminds me of all the trips I took as a kid flying Pan-Am and then Singapore Air in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when that mystique of the upper deck and visions of flying something other than coach ran through my head. When the seat map showed stairs and a cabin upstairs that I was not allowed to investigate. This plane is still the workhorse of the long haul and freight industry, but as economies continue to grow the 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus a380 are making their inroads. I imagine this airframe will be around for a few more decades, but the glory years of 747 air travel will slowly go away. I could go on and on, but I won’t.
Anyhow Air Pacific again does a two class configuration with business downstairs in the nose of the plane and the rest of the plane in coach, including the upper deck. When I booked my flight I was not able to assign a seat upstairs, it’s only available for their frequent fliers or on day of for anyone else. I guess it may give them an opportunity to not have to use it if the flight is light. I’m not actually sure how light the flight was booked, but upstairs there were many rows with one person or just two, but not three. It again made for a bit of extra space and comfort on this four hour flight.
I’m not sure if it’s because these are former Singapore planes, or because these planes do the long-haul flights for Air Pacific, but all seats had in seat video monitors so I could choose what I wanted to watch. This makes for a pretty enjoyable trip. In this case it was Pitch Perfect, this is not an Oscar winner by any stretch, but it has good music and is just funny. The show choirs take themselves so seriously at times that you just have to laugh. Plus it has a couple of funny actresses with a good script, so you’re in for a good treat. In any event I find it to be one of those movies when stuck on an airplane I’ll watch again and again, to date I think I’ve seen it four times, never at the movies just on planes. As for food, we had a breakfast burrito, fruit and crackers, again it was pretty good food, and I appreciated it.
The return flight was again uneventful but good. I can’t say I’d go out of my way to fly AP, but I would definitely not avoid them, and would for sure take them instead of Jetstar, Tiger or some of the other low budget carriers in the southern hemisphere.

soon to be retired 747

soon to be retired 747

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Hi all

Hi all

Empty cabin again

Empty cabin again

Ouch

Ouch

Good Bye Fiji

Good Bye Fiji

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Ahh Fiji

Ahh Fiji

The rest of the meal

The rest of the meal

Breakfast burrito

Breakfast burrito

When in Fiji

When in Fiji

What’s in your wallet

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All in all this was a good trip, but yet too short. Next time I come here there are a few rules I must follow.
1- Bring the wife
2- Stay at the Westin or Sheraton or offshore
3- Visit offshore beaches
4- Have a good time

Categories: Air Pacific Limited, Airport, Hotels, Lounges, Photography, Review, Starwood Hotels, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My week in Auckland

This was my second time visiting Auckland, but this time I was here for work, so although I had a little free time in the evenings, I didn’t have as much time to explore the city as I did the last time. I find this city to be pretty easy to navigate but the traffic to be worse than most anything I’ve experienced in the US. For a country with more sheep then people and a size smaller then California with only 4 million inhabitants, I don’t get how there can be so much traffic. On my last night there it took me two hours to travel 14 KM (about 9 miles), of which almost one hour was to travel 1 KM. I was tempted to ditch my car, but that would not have been a good idea since it was a rental.
I stayed in the CBD, because it seemed like the best option for entertainment and food choices in the early to late evenings. I’m sure there are other possibly better options, but with only four nights here, and being most familiar with this area it made sense to me. Plus being alone it seemed to offer the most in the way of entertainment and food choices.
I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Auckland, which is on Albert Street, about ½ a block from the Mega Casino complex of Sky City and one block from Queen Street, the main drag in my opinion. I found the hotel to be pretty good, the rooms were clean and spacious, with a mall on the first four floors of the building, plus the central location made for easy access to most of the CBD. If I had to stay in town again I’d gladly stay here although the Hilton Auckland (another very nice hotel) is my favorite, but in this case way out of my budget.

The Crowne Plaza offered a spacious room with a comfortable bed and good pillows (a must in my opinion), decent TV selection and good internet speed, but not free. This was a super bummer; they charged $12 for 2 hours and 100 MB or $29 for 1000 MB per day. Ouch, again I get that companies can really stick the traveler when it comes to internet, but man for something you only pay for in US hotels occasionally, this is ridiculous, let alone making it a maximum MB per day to boot. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves in regards to the room, there’s really not much else to say.
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I had a couple of solid meals here to and some pretty fabulous ice cream too. It wasn’t Gelataria Messina in Sydney, but it would have to do, and my belly sure didn’t complain about it. As for other food I had along the way, well let’s just say I travelled 8000 miles and the first meal I had was New York Pizza, and YES it was good. I had it the last time I was here and was dreaming about it on my trip down. Sure it’s not exactly NY Pizza, but its damn sure close.
I also had some really great ice cream at Giappo, on Queen Street. They tout all organic and as much local ingredients as they can get their hands on, and it was just delicious. I also went to The Grill by Sean Connolly at Sky City and had a really great piece of meat. It was a rump steak with red wine Jus and a side of potato gratin. Needless to say I polished off the whole thing, I do love my steak but don’t eat them too often, and this one sure didn’t disappoint. If I’m ever in town again I’ll be sure to hit up the Grill again, but next time make a reservation, for sure. The only thing I was not in love with was the Wedge salad with Blue Cheese and capers. The odd part was the olive oil dressing that was just a little too greasy, but hey blue cheese makes anything taste good.
Lastly Fish and chips at the O’Hagans at the Viaduct. Again a solid meal, and an even better glass of Guinness. MMMM. The fish was something local, sorry can’t remember what it was, but I liked it.

Sal's

Sal’s

Burrito in Auckland, no thanks

Burrito in Auckland, no thanks

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Giappo Gelato, 100% organic ingrediants

Giappo Gelato, 100% organic ingrediants

Star City

Star City

My goodness, my Guinness

My goodness, my Guinness

Fish and chips

Fish and chips

Blue cheese salad with capers, it was interesting

Blue cheese salad with capers, it was interesting

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Gratan

Gratan

Rump steak w/ red wine Jus. Just amazing

Rump steak w/ red wine Jus. Just amazing

Categories: Food, Hotels, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Review, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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