Sunday, January 27, 2013

Casablanca (Part I) - A "Somewhere Sunday" Post

Introducing "Somewhere Sunday" a new weekly series featuring locations we've had the good fortune to visit before and between house sitting adventures.  We hope you'll join us each Sunday for the journey!  We begin our series with a trip to the exotic locale of Morocco.

Entry doors of the Mosque Hussan II in Casablanca, Morocco
Doors of the Grand Mosquee Hassan II 
Shot of the Mosque Hassan II from the front square
The minaret is topped by a laser that shines
its light toward Mecca. 

This week's "Somewhere Sunday" takes us to Casablanca, Morocco to visit The Mosque Hassan II, the 7th largest mosque in the world.  Because it is so large, we'll work our way around the exterior of the mosque this week and return next Sunday for a tour of the interior.

King Hussan II wanted to build the 2nd largest mosque in the world to honor King Mohammed V but he had to settle for a mere seventh.  But the mosque does have the tallest minaret in the world.  At 690 feet, photographs just can't capture its towering presence. The mosque took 17 years to build with 35,000 people working an estimated 50 million hours. Designed by French architect Michel Pinseau it is a masterpiece of blended architectural styles featuring Moroccan, Islamic and Moorish design. The exterior of the mosque is faced in bronze, granite, titanium and intricate tile mosaics. One of King Hassan II's requirements for the structure was that it must be constructed half on land and half over the Atlantic ocean. Today, you can view the sea bed through the mosque's glass floor!  

Details of decorative elements on the top of the Mosque Hassan II, Casablanca, Morocco

Tile Mosaic Mosque Hassan II Casablanca, Morocco

Details of tile mosaic at Mosque Hassan II, Casablanca, Morocco

close up of titanium architectural elements on Mosque Hassan II, Casablanca, Morocco

close up tile mosaic details at the Mosque Hassan II, Casablanca Morocco

Thursday, January 24, 2013

BaaaaBaaaa New Zealand

We left Abel Tasman National Park and the city of Nelson under sunny skies.  Our plan was to drive to the west coast of the island and then travel south, exploring for a few days, until we reached Queenstown - our final destination in New Zealand.

About two hours into the trip the weather changed.  Clouds, wind and rain stayed with us for the next two days and 600K of coastal roads.  We'd hoped our overnight stay at a beach front cottage in Hokitika would allow us some time to spot nesting blue penguins.  No luck - the weather was so nasty even the penguins stayed off the beach!

Traveling up into the mountains from the coast to Queenstown was exhilarating, if a bit unnerving at times.  The narrow road had many single lane bridges, blind curves, and mud slides from the recent rains.  Frequently, traffic was brought to a standstill while crews cleared and stabilized the roads.  

Queenstown is located on Lake Wanaka and known as the Adventure Capital of New Zealand.  Jet boating, sky diving, river rafting, hang gliding, swinging across canyons on ropes, zip lines, sail name it and they do it!  Bungy jumping got its start here and we stopped to watch one courageously crazy person after another make the leap.

Lake Wanaka stretches for about 90K with Queenstown near its northern end.

The highlight of our trip to the South Island came when we took a day long trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound.  New Zealand has many quaint villages, but for us the country is all about its natural beauty so it seemed only fitting that our last day would be spent in one of its most spectacular locations.  Here are a few shots from the trip.

Of course, we couldn't leave New Zealand without posting at least one adorable sheep shot....baaaabaaaa New Zealand!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Abel Tasman

Our "three hour tour" with Wilson's was more successful than Gilligans.
Their boat pulled right up to the beach to drop us off and pick us up.

Abel Tasman National Park is named for the Dutch explorer of the same name who was the first European to visit New Zealand. The year was 1642 and Tasman thought he was near Argentina at the southern tip of South America.  Unfortunately for Tasman and his crew, he landed at an agricultural site of importance to the Maori.  Fighting and bloodshed followed leading Tasman to name the area Murders' Bay.  Three hundred years after Tasman's discovery, the area became a National Park and Murders' Bay is now known by the much more welcoming and marketable name of Golden Bay.

The appropriately named Fan Tail bird.
As popular as the park is, it has a  feeling of remoteness - probably because it's not easy to get to.  Travel is either by boat or on foot to most areas as roads and vehicle access are limited. We booked a boat trip leaving from Kaiteriteri and traveling as far north as Totaranui (almost, but not quite, the park's entire coastline).  After our tour we were dropped off at the old Tonga Quarry site beach, about midway down the park.  We "tramped" on our own for a few hours, imagining what it would have been like to be explorers on a great adventure. 

Split Apple Rock and Tonga Quarry Beach

A few dolphins, including a Mom and baby, skimmed along the water next to our boat.

Ferns cover much of the park, surrounding the trails above and below...

with their patterns repeated in shadows at our feet.

One of the attractions for seaman to the area was the availability of fresh water.

Maybe being  castaways for a day or two wouldn't be so bad!

If ever you find yourself in the vacinity, we highly recommend taking one of the boat tours offered by Wilsons Abel Tasman

Monday, January 14, 2013

Crossing the Cook Strait to South Island, NZ

Arriving in Picton on the South Island of New Zealand

The day we left Auckland we took a short but bumpy flight to Wellington at the southern tip of the North Island. This was the start of our journey to the South Island of New Zealand. Everyone we'd met said that it would be very different from the north, more rugged and beautiful, or as one Kiwi put it "less tidy."

From Wellington our intention was to take the ferry across the Cook Strait to the town of Picton on the Marlborough Sound.   We could have flown across, but being on the water appeals to both of us so we'd reserved a spot for the three hour ferry ride.  The day of departure we checked the weather and were dismayed to see a 60 knot wind and two plus meter swell prediction.  We called the ferry line and were told "no worries mate, we don't worry until the swells reach 5-7 meters" (that's about 15-21 feet!).  Sucking it up, we boarded the ferry and hoped for the best.  It did rain, the wind did howl, and the ferry did list to one side as the wind pushed against it...but other than that, it was a fairly smooth crossing!  

We love the slogan for the Makana Chocolate Factory
The rain continued for two days, squelching our plan for some good walks around Picton.  Taking the advice of our hotel owner, we drove toward Blenheim in the heart of the Marlborough wine region.  Often, she said, the weather was better because the mountains between the coast and Blenheim afforded it some protection.  And, she said, if not you can always drink wine and taste chocolate! How could we go wrong? 

Visitors can sample whatever is being made at the time - in our case it was
Macadamia nut brittle in milk chocolate.  

An Asian inspired salmon dish served with
udon noodles and fresh greens.
After visiting the Makana factory we stopped at a few "cellar doors" for tasting.  We'd always heard that Marlborough had the best Sauvignon Blanc and we did our best to see if that was in fact true - it was!  They are beautiful wines. However, the star of the day was our lunch at the Rock Ferry winery bistro. Truly the best meal we've had in NZ!

Rain...what rain....?

The Saint Clair winery staff gave us a primer on "Sauv Blanc"

What we refer to as having a tasting room is called a "Cellar Door" in NZ.

Wildflowers grow in between the rows of perfectly groomed  grapevines

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Expat Hub

Interested in living the expat lifestyle?  Our blog guest post is from The Expat Hub, a new resource for those considering the expatriate lifestyle.

The Expat Hub

The aim of the Expat Hub is to make your new life abroad that little bit easier.  Moving abroad is exciting and often extremely hectic often being the start of a life changing adventure, a way of developing new relationships or the chance to start a new chapter.

At the same time though, whether you're moving hundreds of miles from home or thousands, becoming an expat can be a scary experience.  Leaving behind family and friends is difficult enough but there can also be language barriers to overcome, new rules and regulations to navigate and new cultures to appreciate.  Such huge transitions can seem overwhelming, and that's where we come in.

If you've already moved abroad, if you're in the process of moving abroad or if you're only thinking about it, the Expat Hub is here for you.  For expatriates looking for advice, support and information, we aim to be the number one online stop.

Our extensive country guides provide you with all the essential information you'll need on your new home, from the build up to the big move, to your arrival and beyond.  We'll explain the ins and outs of diverse topics including Visa's, Education, Moving and Money - and try to clear away confusion.  The newly launched Expat Hub forum is quickly building up to become a diverse and useful resources for expats to connect with one another and share advice and tips.

We also provide subscribers our newsletter, blog, and using social media platforms we'll keep you up to date with the latest Expat news.

This article was provided by The Expat Hub the number one stop for expatriates looking for advice, support and information.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Farewell Walk in Howick

As we prepare to leave the village of Howick for our next destination (NZ's South Island) we thought we'd take a last walk about town.  The village is small so it won't take long if you'd like to come along. 

Cockle Bay

Eastern Beach view from the park we go to every day with the dogs.

Each time we leave the house we're sitting, we are treated to coastal views that are nothing short of breathtaking. A simple trip to the market provides us jaw dropping scenery and an opportunity to appreciate the awesome natural beauty of Cockle Bay.  Enjoy!   

These are the views we see driving to and from the village.

Cockle Bay's shoreline

At low tide the sand makes beautiful patterns.

Another view of Eastern Beach