Monday, May 15, 2017

2016 In Review

Wow. 2016 was a good year for the Squire family.  We were blessed beyond what we deserved.

Inspired by a good friend's annual video I made on of our one that includes 1 second from every day of our 2016 (well, nearly every day, but I won't tell you what days I cheated on).

Now, although it is May 2017, here's to a excellent 2017 for all of us!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Squires Down Under - AKL-->SYD-->LAX

Day 12 - Aukland to Sydney to Los Angeles to Disneyland - November 23, 2017

Today was literally the longest day of our lives.  Remember Sunday that went missing 10 days ago? Well we got those hours back today.

4:30 AM Auckland, New Zealand; 5th hour of the day: We got up early to catch our 7 AM flight to Sydney.  We paid extra to stay in the hotel right at the airport so that we could turn our rental car in the night before and just get up and go.

Breakfast on the plane.

8:30 AM Sydney, Australia; 11th hour of they day: We arrived in Sydney and we had to collect our bags and go through passport control and customs before re-checking our bags, going back through customs and security and boarding our flight to Los Angeles.

11:30 AM Sydney, Australia; 14th hour of the day: We depart from Sydney and make our way across the Pacific and the International Date Line.  On the plane, we ate, we watched movies and only slept a little bit on the long flight from Sydney to Los Angeles.

(Side note: the kids meals were way better than the adult meals on these flights).

6:00 AM Los Angeles, California; 27th hour of the day: Our plane actually landed about a 1/2 hour before 6:00 AM, but they couldn't let us off until US border patrol opened at 6:00 AM.  Even with being on one of the first flights to arrive we had a long wait.  It was the day before Thanksgiving and their computers for express entry were down, so everything was being done by hand.

8:00 AM Los Angeles, California; 29th hour of the day: Playing cards on the floor of the Avis Rental Car center.

9:00 AM Anaheim, California; 30th hour of the day: We didn't have any set plans for today, we wanted to see how we were all feeling before we committed to anything. We felt pretty good, so I was thinking Disneyland, but when we got close to Knott's Berry Farm that sounded fun too.

We decided on Knott's Berry Farm, but when we got there we found out that they wouldn't open until 11:00 AM.  We decided to just continue on to Disneyland.

Riding the tram to the park.

Sleeping Beauty's castle looks smaller every time I visit.  Maybe I'm just getting bigger.

Lyla's first time on Splash Mountain. Look at those screaming girls.

I love this picture of me and Lyla.

One with the whole crowd.

Small world.

Yeah, it was crowded.  It was expensive.  I'm not entirely sure why we were there.

Minnie's House.

Mickey Mouse's house.

Obligatory sword in the stone photos.

6:00 PM, Disneyland, USA; 38th hour of the day. We were done. Time to leave.

8:00 PM, Embassy Suites @ LAX; 40th hour of the day. Everybody crashed pretty quickly.  I don't remember driving back to the hotel from Disneyland, but somehow we made it.

Today was a long day.

Tomorrow -- Thanksgiving!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Squires Down Under - LAX to SLC

Day 13 - Los Angeles to Salt Lake City - November 24, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving! Time to come home.

The best perk of staying at an Embassy Suites is usually the breakfast.  It's always nice to get back to real American food.

This girl loves her pancakes.

An apple a day...

However, the best perk at this Embassy Suites may have been Winnie, The Robot Butler.  We would call down to the front desk and request something from their little convenience shop and they would put it in Winnie and send her off to our room.  This Embassy Suites still had the large atrium, so we could watch the robot enter the elevator, come to our floor and make her way over to our room where our doorbell would ring and she would deliver our treat.

If you had asked the girls what their favorite part of the trip was when we first arrived home, chances are that they would have said Winnie the Robot, but I'm not sure if that was due to the recentness of their encounter with Winnie, or if it really was the highlight...

We arrived to Salt Lake City early the afternoon on Thanksgiving.  After that we made our way to eat our turkey dinner with family.  It was also really nice to have a couple of days off work before having to go back to the madness!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Squires Down Under - New Zealand Day 4

Day 11 - Rotorua to Auckland - November 22, 2017

It's typically around a 3 hour drive from Rotorua to Auckland.  Our drive was quite a bit longer because we made some detours to a couple of things that we wanted to see.

A couple of hours from Rotorua are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.  There are two areas of the cave. The first area was a large cavernous cave that we walked around in and looked at the different stalactites and stalagmites.

After that we boarded a boat with the rest of our group and rode in the dark to the area of the cave with the glowworms.  It was stunning.  Everything was silent and perfectly dark, except for the sparkle of the glowworm stars on the cave ceiling above.

These pictures are at the exit of the cave.

Our tour guide guided the boat by pulling the boat through the water on ropes above, so there wasn't even the noise from oars or sloshing water.

The exit to the cave.  The white circle to the left of Ada's head is the head of the tour guide on the boat that was behind ours.

I don't have a camera that was capable of taking photos inside the cave, so here is a processed photo of the glowworms that I found online.  It was a really cool place.

Back on our trek to Auckland we swung by the beautiful Hamilton Temple.

We rested a bit before continuing our journey.

Auckland, like Sydney, has a Sky Tower right in the city.  Another fantastically lovely city.

Lying down on the glass floor.

Aukland's Harbor Bridge.

This might be the last time that they've hugged each other.

We forget that Christmas is near here in the Southern Hemisphere.  They're just gearing up for summer!

We ate at a decent Mexican restaurant (I love that we can find Mexican food all over), but the girl taking our order was not a native New Zealander and did not speak very good English.  Somehow we ended up with a bunch of adult quesadillas and I just didn't want to deal with it, so I ate them...

Tomorrow will literally be the longest day of our lives.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Squires Down Under - New Zealand Day 3

Day 10 - Rotorua - November 21, 2017

Rotorua is a cool place. New Zealand is a cool place.

We started the day by visiting the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.  There are hot springs and thermal pools all over this area of New Zealand.

Wai-O-Tapu has the Lady Knox Geyser.  The geyser erupts every day at 10:00 AM.  They drop biodegradable soap into the geyser, then after a couple of minutes it erupts.  The soap reduces the surface tension of the water and causes the water pressure to change enough for the geyser to erupt.

Lady Knox Geyser.

Next we went for a short hike through the geothermal area.  This was not a whole lot different from what we saw in Yellowstone in October, except the temperatures were much more pleasant.

Boiling mud pool.

The Champagne Pool.

Don't ask me why Alison isn't sitting by the girls.  She must be mad at them.

Snack time.

Alison took Lyla and Kate back to the entry lodge, while Ada and I continued on to a longer loop.  You can see the wooden path down between the two pools.  That was our next stop.

The photos don't do the actual colors of the waters any justice. They were so unique and vivid.

Back to the steamy Champagne Pool.  You can see it bubbling and gurgling.

Colorful sulfur pools.

It cost about $90 to fill up our car. Yikes.

So many areas reminded me of Windows XP.  Minus the sheep of course.  There are 10 sheep for every person in New Zealand.

We're now on the Hobbiton Tour Bus.  I can't tell you how happy these pictures of us on the bus make me.  You can see that Kate is sitting on my lap, and Lyla is sitting on Alison's lap below.

When we arrived to Hobbiton and went to pick up our tickets that I had purchased on-line.  They were completely sold out for the day, and they recommend buying them early, which I had done.  However, I bought them on my phone and I did not see that I needed to get tickets for Lyla and Kate, who were young enough to be free.

The girl at the ticket desk was really helpful and spent 15-20 minutes just trying to find out if there was any way to get us all on the bus.  She returned and let us know that only 3 of us could go.  The parking lot is a mile or two from the actual movie set and the only way to get there is on a bus with limited seating.

I was planning to stay back with Lyla, but after some prayers in our hearts we thought that we should at least try to get on the bus, and convince them to let Lyla and Kate sit on our laps (they weren't willing to do that earlier).  When it came time to load the bus I handed our tickets to the guy taking them.  He took my 3 tickets, then looked at the 5 of us with a funny expression as we walked by, but he didn't say anything.  I felt like a guy in Star Wars doing the 'these are not the people you're looking for' hand wave while using the force to reset his mind.  I couldn't believe that we got on without any problems. We are watched over and taken care of on our travels. #seriouslysoblessed.

We had watched The Lord of the Rings films with the girls before we left on our trip to New Zealand (and before VidAngel was unfortunately shut down).  They were really excited to see the hobbit houses, as were we!

When visiting Hobbiton you're in a tour group.  Our tour guide was from the UK, and he gives you all sorts of details about Hobbiton, selecting the site, the features, building the movie set, etc.

Gandalf rides down this little path when entering Hobbiton. After The Lord of the Rings were filmed the set was dismantled and removed.  When the landowner was approached about using Hobbiton to film the Hobbit, he conceded on the condition that the structures were built to be permanent.

Peter Jackson had been scouring the country for filming sites, and if you check a map with the filming sites shown, you'll see that they filmed all across the whole country.  In his initial plans, he had 14 sites that they would use for the Hobbiton sequences.

That is, until this site was discovered by some of his people in a helicopter.  It had everything that he was looking for.  Big tree (on the left), hilly green area, small pond, and lots of other features that I can't recall.

That still didn't stop Peter Jackson from bringing in some large fake trees where the leaves were painstakingly glued on one by one.  When he arrived and took a close look at the leaves there was something that he didn't like about them and he made them re-create and replace every single leaf, one by one.

Another story from the filming was that there was a smaller pond closer to where most of the hobbit holes were (different from the larger pond by The Green Dragon Inn).  Every morning when they would arrive to film there was croaking from an army of frogs.  Every single day that they were there he would have people gather up the whole chorus of frogs and relocate them to ponds further and further away, but every single night they (or their buddies, who knows) would show up again.

This is the only hobbit hole that you can enter.  It goes back about 5', into the dirt, but that's all it is.  Just dirt.  Our tour guide warned us beforehand that if we wanted to preserve the magic in our minds of the fully-furnished Hobbit holes, then we probably shouldn't look inside.

Of course we brought our latex.  Of course we got a grand reaction out of people, especially because we had to wait in line to get photos in front of the hobbit hole.

Finally, Bilbo's house. No Admittance.

No Bilbo or Frodo or Gandalf. But we were always on the lookout.


What a perfect place for a birthday party.  If I make it to my eleventy-first birthday, then I'm having it here!

This is looking back towards Bilbo's house by the big crowd up the hill.

Samwise Gamgee's house.

“There's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.” Spoken by a wise Hobbit.

Now we knew we were on the right track.  Green Dragon here we come!

Ada was sure to bring the ale cart.

The mill on the banks of the stream.

The Green Dragon Inn.

For the drinking folk they had a free glass of Sackville Cider or a couple of different ales.  For those of us with weak stomachs, they had a non-alcoholic ginger beer.  We didn't really like it.  The ginger was really strong.


One last view of the Shire.  This tour was better than we expected.  It was fantastic and definitely a bucket list place if you're a fan of the movies.

While we were waiting to go back and catch our bus we saw our tour guide out in a small rowboat.  A man from our group had his hat blown off his head into the water. Whether the rowboat was just a prop or not we'll never know, but it was seaworthy enough to catch the hat.

We returned to Rotorua (about 45-50 minute drive) where we had tickets to the Mitai Village and Maori traditional dinner and show.  We learned a lot about the Maori people and had our dinner cooked underground with the coals just like they've done for hundreds of years.

There was a cold water spring near the site.  The spring water was excellent!

There was a boat show along the river downstream from the spring.

Followed by the traditional Haka.  By this time we were starving.  We did not expect the shows to go on and on before dinner.  It was cool, but we were hungry.

As for the food, it was just ok.

After dinner, for those who could stay, they could go see the kiwi birds at the Rainbow Springs Nature Park, or go on a glow worm walk.  As we had already seen the kiwis, we waited until it was our turn to go see the glow worms.

They're practically impossible to get pictures of, but against the banks of the river where the boat show and spring was there are thousands of little bugs that light up at night when you're quiet and there are no other distracting lights.  If you stand very still and focus on the walls of the paths along the water it looked like you were staring into the night sky.

Bonus video. No explanation needed.

The glowworms are only found in a few locations in New Zealand.  Tomorrow we'll visit one more spot on our way to Auckland.