EDIT: Since time of writing, I went back to work, then the bastards blew things up, then a jittery few days of arrests and searches in various familiar and not-so-familiar parts of Brussels, then Easter.
We arrived back in Brussels on a Thursday at around 7 am, which is a pretty tough time when you're trying to deal with jet lag. This time round, we only stopped for a few hours in Bangkok, a 28 hour 10 minute trip (not counting airport transfers, waiting around etc.) I found the trip to NZ fairly hard, even with the stopover, so I wasn't looking forward to this one. In the end, it wasn't so bad.
From Auckland to Bangkok, the plane was fairy full, and I had a window seat, with Jules in the middle and some dude on the aisle. I was sending probably fairly unsubtle "move" vibes to the guy shortly before and after take-off, to no effect. In the immediate vicinity, I could see at least five rows with only one person in them, so it seemed pretty unfair that we were three in our row.
Shortly after the meal service, the guy on the aisle fell asleep and I needed water and was panicking that we would be trapped in the row like that for the whole flight. After quite a long period of whispered argument as to who was going to wake the guy up, he briefly stirred awake to the sight of us both staring at him and we asked to get out. When I came back from the loo, I asked him if he would prefer taking the window seat. He said it was up to me, so I told him I wasn't going to sleep and didn't want to keep disturbing him if he was going to sleep the whole way. He graciously took the window seat, and then spent the vast majority of the flight awake, so I felt pretty guilty for making him swap (he only got up once one time when we got up as well, whereas I got up like half a dozen times, so it probably was the best arrangement). Much as I like looking out the window and leaning on the window frame (even more crucial on long flights), I think I'll always go aisle from now on. I was seriously feeling panicked by the prospect of being stuck in my seat.
In Bangkok, we were quickly through a bag check and into the airside shopping, where I got an hour-long foot and neck massage (more of a leg and back massage really, not that that's a bad thing). We had already been awake for nearly 24 hours at this stage, so I managed to drift off at one point during the massage, even though most of it was quite painful. Definitely a good way to spend the stopover though, I had started getting some neck and back pain already on the first flight, so I came out of the massage feeling pretty refreshed.
On the second leg, the plane was even more full and we were three in a row again. Thankfully though, the guy next to us spotted a free exit row seat and disappeared, so we got to stretch out a bit. I took a sleeping pill which enabled me to doze on and off for a lot of the flight, so it wasn't too bad. Time just seems to crawl on these long flights, though. I'd look at the time - 5.27 am, look again what felt like 10 minutes later and it would only be 5.30, and you'd just feel like time was standing still.
Here in Brussels, it was cold but sunny. I was very grateful that the apartment was clean and tidy and there were fresh sheets on the bed and the house sitter apparently didn't steal any of our stuff. We had to take the poor cat to the vet for a urinary tract infection, possibly caused by stress :( but at least we had the time to take care of that and he's hopefully fine now (waiting for lab results).
After five weeks off, it's going to be an adjustment going back to work on Monday! We're currently waking up very early (4.30 am yesterday, 5.30 today), so that part at least shouldn't be a problem, but that's obviously balanced out by being tired in the afternoon. At least this first week is a short one followed by a four-day weekend for Easter.
Anyway, back to the last little part of our NZ trip. We drove from Napier to Otorohanga via Taupo for lunch and a stop at the Huka Falls. I didn't remember how impressive they are. They're not a big, high waterfall, but the sheer volume of water passing through is pretty awesome - 220,000 litres per second.
|Turbulent river leading to the falls (The Waikato)|
|The Huka Falls|
We then visited the Otorohanga kiwi house. This was a bit more in line with timid kiwis hiding in the darkness. One actually was down by the front of the glass, but spend most of the time just sitting there sleeping. This is, until the keeper came in to feed it. She explained that she would have to put on rubber wading books and protective pants, because the kiwi was quite territorial and aggressive, and had even injured one of her colleagues. You sort of hear this and think "yeah right", because I've never seen or heard of kiwis being anything but cute and passive. But as soon as she approached the pen, the kiwi became agitated and went from sleeping in the corner to running back and forth the spot where she was climbing over the fence. And then it totally went for her. It was hanging off her crotch by its beak, clawing at her legs, sticking its beak in the turn-ups of her pants, etc. I couldn't find any videos online, so you'll just have to imagine the sight of a mad, fat kiwi hanging off a girl's crotch. Quite amusing.
|Jules and a parakeet (kakariki)|
|I forget what this is, some species of native duck I suppose. A little cutie anyway|
|A cheeky kea|
The caves are another place I'd been before, but only remembered vaguely. The walk through the caves was nice enough, but the boat trip with the glowworms was average. I say average to mean really a blend of good and bad. The good was the glowworms themselves, they were really pretty and it is a cool feeling to be gliding through the pitch black in silence (apart from a noisy kid) looking up at them. It really does feel like you're looking up at stars in the sky.
The bad is that they make out like you're really voyaging through a glowworm universe or something, when in reality they just turn the boat around a few times in a relatively small space. Photos aren't allowed until the very end, which is allegedly for "safety", but I don't really see how it's safer encouraging people to take a few panicked snaps at the cave entrance. Presumably if you can't take your own photos it's easier to sell you the photoshopped snap of you in front of a glowworm background that they make up. Everyone taking photos all the time would detract from the overall experience, but since you're essentially just going around in circles, it would be better to have the first few turns photo-free and then let people take one on the last circuit. We probably should have taken the rainy-day opportunity to go to the much less famous glowworm caves in Te Anau, instead of what we did do, which was just sitting in the van.
|My hurried glowworm snap|
|Outside the cave|