Pole Dancing, Craft Beer, Good Times in Boise, Idaho

I am going to crave those scones from the little coffee shop in Ellensburg. They were the most delicious scones I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. Then again, most coffee and baked goods would be comforting after hauling across a snow-covered pass with all-season tires for almost an hour, hoping 18-wheelers don’t bash into you coming down the other side. No, actually, the scones really were that good.

It was difficult to choose, but the cinnamon peach ones were calling to me, and I grabbed a whole grain apple scone for good measure as well. They were good company as I drove through a thick haze up another pass and down into the Yakima valley, where a good portion of our local fruits and vegetables are farmed. Not too much more will be growing in this frost.

I was hoping to get my car to Utah before snow fell, but I can’t complain!

Once day broke and I entered the Snoqualmie area, less than 40 minutes into my drive, most of my view for the rest of the day was white, either in the form of snow-dusted foliage or dense fog.

After several more snowy mountain passes, and miles of pure white road, I emerged into the farming valleys of Idaho and rolled into Boise.

Downtown Boise and the Capitol Building. The brand new Whole Foods, the first in Idaho, opens the day after I leave, of course.

I passed through a few blocks of downtown, saw the capitol building in the distance, and met up with my couch surfing host, Andrew, in a neighborhood nearby. I told him how much I loved Boise already. Nothing is really that far, and everything in the greater downtown area is easily bikable. After one more pass through downtown I would come to realize it’s about the size of Reno with the feel of Portland.

After a stress-free ten minute drive I was clear on the other side of the city (compared to the one hour or more it would take to do that in Seattle) and at Ophidia Studio. Aerial Yoga, Poi (fire dancing), and Belly Dance are just a few classes that compliment pole training at Ophidia. I met the owner, Allison Holley, at the Pole Convention in LA this past summer, and decided to stop by for a visit.

The main room features hanging aerial yoga silks and a wooden floor, a classic fitness or yoga studio look. The back room is where all the pole magic happens! A small raised stage surrounded by mirrors features a pole in the middle. Another six or seven spinning poles adorn the rest of the room. Each pole can be set to spin or static and reaches, honestly, much higher than I have been used to climbing in the last few months!

Our first class at 6pm focused on a few spins, holds, and tricks. At 7pm we donned our high heals (she has a few pairs of loaner shoes for students) and learned a simple but sexy routine. At the end of each class Allison dims the lights and lets us rock out for a song or two. No matter how hard you work on new moves or gracefulness, pole is meant to be fun!

Ophidia Studio’s Sexy Pole Room!

I joined Julie, my other couch surfing host, for a post-pole recovery meal of beer and poutine at Bitter Creek. I’m in Idaho. I have to eat the potatoes. Julie told me about a nearby burger and fries joint that features several different kinds of potatoes and yams, that you can have cut into any shape.

“You can get purple curly fries if you want,” she told me. I may have to do just that, after a bit of sleep.

November 28: Otra Vez

Things to remember: It’s not a rubbish bin, it’s a trash can; it’s not a chemist, it’s a drug store; look left when crossing the road. Ok, it’s spelled Center – I’m definitely in America.

Yesterday was perfect, but today I must have woken up on the wrong side of the air bed. Perhaps it’s my alternate reality Monday, or just Monday. As I type this, the Giants are losing. Definitely not my day. Continue reading

28 November: Flying in Style

There is never a good time to leave New Zealand. It just becomes an inevitability. The ski season is lively and fun, the rugby in the Spring time brought the world together, and the summer provides warmth and daylight for tramping, camping and exploring the world-famous landscape of the islands. I was just getting used to extended daylight hours, the conveniences of the city, and most importantly, the company of good friends in Auckland.

I couldn’t have asked for a better last day, a relaxing Sunday afternoon watching hockey with Brian and laying in the sunshine reading my book and watching my clothes dry. Even knowing that I had a posh comfy seat and complimentary champagne could not entice me to leave.

When the time did come to head to the airport Monday afternoon I was surprised by the extra room I had in my suitcase. Warm weather travel certainly beats hauling around ski gear! In the Duty Free shop I purchased a 1L bottle of 42 Below Feijoa vodka to add to my New Zealand vodka collection back home and continued to the Koru Club Lounge upstairs.

Air New Zealand’s business class lounge has a complimentary buffet as well as wine, beer, spirits and non alcoholic beverages for self-serve. The friendly staff was also available to make espresso drinks and provide assistance. They clearly knew I was coming because they had hockey on TV and a spinach, corn and tomato salad on their dinner buffet.

I was struggling to stay clear of eating too much dessert, but the mini pavlovas were my weakness! I followed up with a mochaccino before heading to my gate.

I got settled into my seat in what I call anti-social class and the flight attendant showed me how the seat rest and table worked. The man in the seat across from me offered to take a photo so I suppose it’s not entirely anti social though you don’t have someone right next to you.

I read up on some Kiwi news, drank some champagne and sparkling wine (to tell the truth I enjoyed the NZ sparkling wine more than the champagne) and committed myself quite enthusiastically to watching four and a half hours of parts one and two of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. My stipulation for watching the films was that I intended to watch them both sequentially, and this was the perfect opportunity!

I enjoyed my second round of dinner, though I was a bit confused by the diabetic meal I had requested. The entree was a smoked salmon, and in my meal they served prawns; I’m not certain how much more sugar salmon contains, but the prawns were certainly tasty. I selected the lamb as my main dish, and was disappointed when the flight attendant brought my special meal out. As tempting as the spinach looked, I asked if the meat was chicken or pork, and as I don’t eat white meat, requested the lamb dish instead. I think she may have been a bit irritated by that, but it was my last chance to have a nicely prepared medium rare lamb steak and I wasn’t about to give that up!

Quite overfull from the variety of food and drink in my stomach I experimented with laying my bed down, and at first found it a bit confusing the way the seat folds forward, like I was sitting in the back of an SUV. They provide quite nice bedding, and the seat does lie fully flat, parallel to the floor, something I do prefer to the beds on the Qantas flights which sit at a bit of an angle.

I enjoyed the movies, taking an intermission to change my clothes and brush my teeth, and fell asleep over the Pacific Islands.

Retro Day at Alpine Health and Fitness

Today is Retro Day at Alpine Health and Fitness, inside of the Queenstown Events Centre in Frankton. The gym featured free entry to all facilities and a range of fitness classes from spin class at 9pm to retro aerobics, stretching and Zumba at 1pm. Free passes were awarded for best-dressed.

I made it to the gym after the fitness classes had ended, so I didn’t see many retro outfits unfortunately! I normally swim laps every day and spend time in their hot pool and today I decided to check out the gym. The facilities are clean and spacious and they have a variety of equipment. Continue reading

Milford Sound – The Final Frontier… for now

As much as I would love to hop on a few random flights and travel through Australia, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Russia, and the rest of the world… Milford Sound and Te Anau are the farthest points in my journey this year. In my five months on the South Island last year I didn’t make it to the fiordlands, and this year I was determined to get there.

As we drove through forests and past mountains dappled in fog I realized that we were effectively in a chilly rain forest! Rain and cloud are common in the fiordlands, and allow the waterfalls to run in full force! Snow still falls frequently on the tops of the mountains, as it would in the high elevations in Utah in Spring time. Patches of dirt-covered snow litter the wet granite as we drive through the mountains and underneath the tunnel. This area must have more waterfalls per square mile than anywhere in the world!

Feels like a cool rain forest

There are several suggested stops along the route from Te Anau to Milford Sound, such as Mirror Lakes, Knobs Flat and the Chasm just on the north side of the tunnel. We were also able to explore a scenic lookout point that is inaccessible to buses, another bonus to exploring the fiordlands by car. Although the journey is only 110km, it is recommended to allow at least two hours for the drive, plus time for stops, and even after two and a half hours our cruise time was drawing close. I exchanged our voucher for boarding passes and shortly afterwards we were aboard our craft and underway!

Kayakers brave the rain and cold for an exhilarating experience

Just before leaving Te Anau we picked up venison pies at the Miles Better Pie shop and to be perfectly honest, it was the best pie I have ever had in my life! The venison was a tender medium rare and the pastry dough was delicious and flakey despite being wrapped in foil and out of the heater for several hours. The unique flavor of the venison wasn’t masked by too much gravy or salt. Perfect pie and incredible view on a spacious cruise ship on Milford Sound – what a day!

We sail by a cave as we near the Tasman Sea

We opted for the Real Journeys “Nature cruise” instead of the “Scenic cruise,” the difference being that our time on the water was a full 2 hours and 15 minutes, and the captain gives commentary about the history, scenery and wildlife of the area. We were fortunate to see two separate groups of fur seals, a penguin swimming, and two other penguins having some sort of dispute on the rocks!

Fur Seals on the Rocks

Just around the corner from Harrison Cove we were able to see the contrast between the snowy mountain peaks and the cascading waterfalls and greenery of the lower rock formations.

Harrison Cove

Another exciting feature of the cruises is they bring you as close as safely possible to the huge waterfalls!

Getting a bit close to the Falls!

The sun did not break through the clouds during our voyage, but the wet ambiance gave the area a certain mystique.

A bit of sun breaks through the clouds after our cruise

As we made our way back to Te Anau I had to stop and gaze into the sun-lit fields of sheep and newborn lambs.

The lambs greet us as we pass into the sunlight near Te Anau

I highly recommend visiting Milford Sound and the fiordlands. Unless you are really strapped for time I would advise against the popular one day fly/cruise/fly or coach/cruise/coach options. The flights in and out of Milford are amazing, and the coaches are spacious and stop several times along the way, but like most of New Zealand the best way to explore everything is to take your time and drive. The fiords and waterfalls are so amazing it’s a shame to spend only a few hours seeing them. Staying overnight is the best way to explore the glow worm caves, day hikes, kayaking, scenic flights, the road to Milford, and scenic cruises. The weather can be drastically different from day to day and creates a unique feel for the landscape. Photos will never do this area justice – you need to feel the water on your hands and mist in your face (and venison in your mouth) to really understand the true fiordland experience!

Te Anau & Glow Worm Caves

Ed, my new traveling companion, and I set out for Te Anau on Tuesday morning from Queenstown. The drive took us south through Jack’s Point, along the south leg of Lake Wakatipu towards Kingston, and regions of the Southlands that I had yet to explore.

Herding Sheep and Little Lambs

Our drive took us through the scenic valleys and farmlands that the South Island is famous for. Much like the countryside just outside of Dunedin, the landscape is similar to upstate New York and Vermont. Any similarities (other than the possibility that the two areas are currently the same temperature!) vanish as we reach the fiordland.

Shores of Te Anau

Famous for its regional venison, we decided to indulge in local fare. Although restaurant meats are farmed and not hunted, the meat was prepared to a delicious medium rare and is of supurb quality. We dined at The Ranch in Te Anau.

Venison Steak at The Ranch

Just before 7pm we made our way to the waterfront and boarded our ship. We booked our tour of the Glow Worm caves through Real Journeys, the only company that provides tours of the caves. The scenic cruise northward on Lake Te Anau is approximately 45 minutes and the captain explains the nature of the fiordlands.

Inlet near South Fiord, the longest in the region

The misty air fills our faces as we watch the low hanging clouds float past the forested hills and mountains. In the distance above sheer cliffs jagged rocks are dusted with snow and give an eerie appearance through the fog. We arrive on the shores on the opposite side of Lake Te Anau as the town and admire its pristine shores. The lake water is actually some of the purest in the world; no filtration is necessary and the captain comments that bottled water purchased in town is a waste of money!

Arrival Outside the Caves

To protect the glow worms, no photography is allowed inside the caves. The tour focuses mostly on the worms themselves and in several areas you can see them quite close up. They secrete a mucus that dangles from the ceiling, much like a spider’s web, to catch bugs. The hungrier the glow worm, the brighter the little dot on its bum will light up to attract the food!

As we climb farther into the cave, past raging waterfalls and carved features, we sit as a group on a small gondola. The lights fade and we float along the water underneath what looks like a star-lit sky. The clusters of glow worms actually look like constellations! We sit in awe of their glow and sail past several areas where the glow worms are happily anticipating a feast!

Guided Glow Worm Cave Tour

The rock formations within the caves are quite young and rapid water swirls and pushes its way downward towards the lake. The cave itself is still being formed. The walking portion of the cave tour is much shorter than what I am used to, having been to Howe Caverns and the caves in Margaret River. The caves have actually been explored much farther back, and our guide told us it would take us four days, and a lot of waterproof gear to get there!

When we return to the visitor centre from the caves we are treated to complimentary tea and coffee and a video explaining the nature of the glow worms. At dusk we return to Te Anau via sailing vessel and rest up for our trip to Milford Sound.

Free Trials and Day Passes great for Travelers

As I was walking through Auckland’s CBD on Sunday night I noticed the Scene One building just around the corner from the Countdown supermarket. Their sign out front advertises a full gym with lap pool on the 4th floor. Being on the look out for lap swim locations, I decided to check them out online the next day.
Lifestyle Fitness has three locations, and much to my benefit, is featuring a two week free trial membership. I signed up online, printed out my voucher, and brought it up to the gym.
I was quite disappointed that the lap pool consisted of just one lane, comfortable perhaps for two people to swim, but difficult to work around if there are children or other people who aren’t swimming laps. Fortunately when I went to swim today around 2:30pm the pool was empty.
The gym is clean and a great location for working professionals in the CBD, but quite expensive. I normally go to a gym to swim laps, use free weights or take classes, and Lifestyle Fitness doesn’t have free weights or fitness classes. As an all around fitness facility it doesn’t serve my purposes, but I can’t complain about being able to go for a quick swim in the morning for free.
There is an Olympic Swimming Pool over in Newmarket, but that would require a $1.80 bus ride there and back, or a very extensive walk through the city. I am still exploring dance and yoga studios, and places to exercise.
In addition to free trials and free classes around town, Couch Surfers and visitors can certainly make good use of day passes at gyms, and 10 punch concession cards when staying in one location for a few days or weeks at a time. Always keep on the look out for deals and advertisements!

Catching Up in Queenstown

I spent a few days in Queenstown catching up with friends and doing what I love best – dancing!

Reavers Lodge, Hamilton Rd, Queenstown

A huge thank-you to Paula and Graham who welcomed me back to Queenstown. I enjoyed the company of their lovely family and a yummy pumpkin lasagna! They also referred me to the Reavers Lodge, where I stayed for three nights.

A lovely Dorm Room with Ensuite

Reavers Lodge is a newly renovated hostel on the North end of Queenstown just up Hamilton Rd. Todd, the owner, set me up with a beautiful 4-bed dorm with ensuite and fridge.

The hostel has a hot tub in the courtyard, a clean kitchen and common area, and views of the town. It’s also a quick 10 minute walk (or 5 minute jog if I’m running late!) to the Pole Studio, Fresh Choice (the supermarket open til midnight) and Mediterranean Market, a gourmet supermarket. The lodge is also only 10 minutes from Shotover St in the other direction.

View of Queenstown Hill

Back of The Remarkables Ski Field in the Distance

I was delighted to get in a refreshing lap swim on Wednesday morning, and dance classes on Wednesday night, Thursday morning, and Friday night. Queenstown is a place where I can’t walk around for very long without seeing a friend! I serendipitously found Gretchen and Nate at Dux de Lux on Wednesday night, and Sam and Ruth at the ANZ bank of all places!

Wish I Were Up in the Sky...

I met up with Sandy and her new Queenstown friends for drinks and dancing all night at Tardis and Debajo and enjoyed an afternoon of sun bathing by the lake! Queenstown welcomed me back with 20C afternoons and bright sunny skies!

I looked into mountain bike trails, and am keen to buy a used bike when I return at the end of October!

Ann, Claudia and Sarah (and Al of course) were the only co-workers left up at Good Group when I went to the office to visit! When I walked past the bars I didn’t even recognize anyone! Yikes! Time to make new friends when I spend the month of November!

Well-deserved Ferg Burger after Dancing at Debajo until 4am!

Two new additions to town are Gasoline Alley, a bar by the wharf which features pole dance performances by students from the studio on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, and the Ferg Bakery, for your late night pie fix! The venison and portabello is quite tasty – yum yum yum!

Tofu burger with Avocado, Chipotle Chili sauce and Lemon Yogurt - Yum!

I decided to try the Holier Than Thou (Tofu) burger with the toppings from the Bun Laden (Falafel) Fergburger, after a night of dancing to drum and bass and house music! I haven’t had the chance to dance to music like this since… last time I was in Queenstown. I love it here!

I also managed to catch the Australia vs USA game at the Cowboy Bar, a bar which had opened just weeks before I left Queenstown last year. Can’t beat $3 draft beer, a saddle for a bar stool, and a bunch of rowdy Americans and Aussies!

I’m excited to return for the month of November! See you then, Queenstown!

Best Lap Swim in the World


Swam laps today at my favorite place in the world to do so, the Alpine Aquatic Centre in Queenstown, New Zealand. Eight lanes in a 25m lap pool, fun pool with lazy river, and hot pool are available for day use for $8. Relatively empty during weekdays, adding to the relaxing ambiance of snow-capped mountain views. Changing rooms are modest – you can’t adjust the temperature in the shower – but women’s changing room has a hair dryer. Fitness classes and a full gym are available at $16 per casual visit.