July 24, 2010

New Zealand’s South Island: Queenstown and Milford Sound

Filed under: General,Places — Cory @ 12:00 pm

(I wrote most of this back in March while we were traveling in NZ.)

We arrived in Queenstown and parked the Britz (this is how we refered to the RV) at the Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park “Creeksyde”, which turned out to be a really nice place with good facilities. The parking spots were a little small, but I was able to maneuver the RV into place. We got settled and then walked a few minutes over into town. Queenstown was bustling on this summertime Saturday night. After walking around for a bit we discovered a little yakitori restaurant called Daruma Japanese Sake Bar (which doesn’t appear to have a website), and it turned out to be excellent. After dinner Jason spotted a skydive company, and suggested that we should do it. My response: absolutely not.

While we were out we found Internet access at a Starbucks and decided to see if there was a camper park at Milford Sound. As it turns out there is only one, the Milford Lodge. We decided to reserve a spot for the next night. This was the most advanced planning that we did for pretty much the entire trip.

The next morning we packed up the Britz and set out for Milford Sound. Milford Sound is considered to be the #1 attraction in New Zealand, so we figured we had to see it. We had heard about people flying there, and taking boats, but we decided that since we already had an RV that we might as well drive there. The drive out there takes about 3.5-4 hours because you have to drive out of the way to get to Milford Sound. The drive is beautiful though, and you end up passing through some really gorgeous mountains. The winds along the way were out of control, and it was tough just keeping the RV on the road. We stopped several times to take pictures, including one place beside this giant snow cave.

We finally arrived at Milford Sound around 5pm on Sunday evening (March 14). We checked into the camper park (which was now full and had zero vacancy, good thing we pre-booked!), and walked down to the Sound. On the way we stopped by the Milford Helicopters office and asked about getting a tour over the fiords. The guy there told that there were no more flights that day, but to come back in the morning. We arrived at the Sound just in time for sunset, and it was just as beautiful as it is on all of the post cards. We spent some time on the Sound, took a bunch of pictures and chilled for a while, then walked up to the only restaurant near the sound, the Blue Duck.

On the walk back to the Britz we decided that this place was way too awesome to only spend one night and day, so we walked back into the camper park office and booked a second night. We went to sleep relatively early so that we could get up early to see the sun rise down at the Sound. The next morning we headed down there, caught the sunrise, and got some great pictures. It was a Monday morning and at this point there was no one there except us. It was awesome.

After seeing the sunrise and hanging out in the Sound for about an hour we decided to walk back to the RV campsite and get some breakfast. Along the way we stopped by Milford Helicopters again and asked about a tour. We met Snowsie, one of the helicopter pilots, and he told us that they only make trips with three or more people, so unless we wanted to cover the cost of a third person that we’d have to wait until someone else showed up and wanted a tour. It was about 9am at this point, so he told us to check back at noon and if anyone showed up that he’s schedule us with them. We started walking back to the camper park, and about 5 minutes down the road an old truck rushes up next to us and it’s Snowsie. He tells us that a guy just rode up on his motorcycle and wanted a helicopter tour, and wanted to know if we were ready for the tour. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity and rode back down to the helicopter site with him. Perfect!

The helicopter tour ended up being one of the highlights of the entire trip. We briefly landed on top of one of the fiords and were able to get a few pictures. Jason stepped over to the edge of the drop-off, but I have a tiny fear of heights so I stayed away. All total the trip lasted about 30 minutes. Here’s a video I put together using footage Jason shot during the flight.

Milford Sound Helicopter Tour from Cory Wright on Vimeo.

Afterwards we walked back to the camper for lunch and then walked around trying to find somewhere to rent kayaks. We finally gave up and decided to take one of the boat tours through the Sound and out towards the Tasman Sea. It was nice too, but after the helicopter tour nothing else really could compare.

We had dinner again at the Blue Duck and then went back out on to the Sound to hang out until sunset. It was incredibly relaxing to sit out on the Sound and pluck on my ukulele. Jason took the opportunity to get some really nice photographs of the Sound.

The next morning we got up, had some breakfast at the lodge, then packed up and headed back to Queenstown. Several times along the 4 hour drive back Jason brought up skydiving. I never gave him much of a serious response, because it wasn’t a serious question for me. But I had plenty of time to think it over on the drive back, and I eventually convinced myself that I could do it if I didn’t think about it.

When we got back to Queenstown I told Jason that I’d go sky diving with him. We walked into town and over to the skydiving shop, and as soon as I walked in and saw the pictures on the walls of people jumping out of planes I immediately reneged. No way. Jason sort of laughed and suggested we forget about it for the time being and grab dinner, after all, the shop would still be open for another 3-4 hours. We found dinner at Hell Pizza and then wandered over to Starbucks for a little Internet time.

While at Starbucks I spent some time thinking about skydiving and why it terrified me so much. I have a horrible fear of heights and I feel sick at my stomach whenever I stand near an edge and look over, even inside a tall building. (the glass might pop out?) I tried to figure out what part of this experience caused me to feel ill. Eventually I realized that what I’m really afraid of is falling, not heights. Looking out of a window on an airplane doesn’t bother me at all, probably because there is no chance I’ll fall out. Once I understood this I decided that skydiving shouldn’t be trouble because I would be intentionally falling in a controlled way.

I knew Jason was waiting on my decision so I told him to go ahead and go back to the skydive shop and book two dives for the following morning. I also told him that I didn’t want to talk or even think about the dive any more until it was time to show up for it the next morning. I didn’t want to talk myself out of it again.

That night I barely slept at all, despite keeping my mind busy with other things. Anything except jumping out of airplanes. We got up at 6am the next morning, moved the Britz out to the street, and walked into town to be at the the skydive shop by 7am. We were scheduled to dive at 8:30, but we had to watch some training materials and go over the basics first. Finally we loaded up in a van and headed outside of town to where their airstrip is located.

I got selected to be in the first group of 3 to go up, and got split from Jason in the process, which annoyed me since I was already a bit on edge. I protested at first, but then they told me that if they didn’t split us then they’d have to split a father and his young daughter, or a split a pair of special needs teenagers. It bugged me, but not so much that I wanted to be a jerk about it. So, I was the first person loaded into the first airplane of the day, with the two teenagers filing in after me.

It took 5 or 10 minutes for us to get up to 12,000 feet, and the whole time I kept my mind busy by looking out the window at the beautiful mountains. Occasionally the photographers would ask us to pose for the camera, but other than that I remained focused on looking out the window. The other two guys were so excited, but in the video you can see that I clearly am not.

Skydiving near Queenstown, New Zealand from Cory Wright on Vimeo.

Finally we reached 12,000 feet and people started jumping out of the plane, in reverse order. Finally it was my turn and I slid to the door, put my legs over the rail on the edge of the plane, and temporarily drifted into some other world. There is about 10 second gap in my memory at this point. When I came to I was tipping over out of an airplane, and then suddenly things were really fun. It wasn’t scary at all, but rather pure joy, and I remember for a split second thinking how sad it was that this would only last for 45 seconds.

After falling for 45 seconds and 7000 feet the master diver opened our parachute just as we entered the clouds. As we drifted back to the ground for the next 5 minutes I remembered that I had expected the parachute descent to be the best part, but now it seemed so boring compared to what had just happened.

Once back to the ground I went out to watch for Jason (he was on the next plane after me), and then we waited for a bit until the shuttle took us back to town.

We got back, took one final picture of us with the Britz, and then drove it to the Queenstown airport to drop it off and catch our flight to Cairns, Australia. We had seen everything we hoped to see in New Zealand (and more, really), and driven the Britz over 1500 miles in 10 days. Success!

• • •

May 30, 2010

New Zealand’s Sound Island: Murchison, Franz Josef Glacier, Blue Pools

Filed under: General,Places — Cory @ 12:42 pm

(I wrote most of this back in March while we were traveling in NZ.)

After arriving in Picton via the ferry to the South Island we drove 2.5 hours through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever witnessed. We were told by several Kiwi’s on the North Island that “there are no people down there” on the South Island, and they seem to be right. There was a period of about 45 minutes while we were driving that we only saw two cars pass us, and not a single house or person along the way.

We finally arrived at Murchison and parked the RV at the Kiwi Holiday Park, which was really nice. After getting settled in we walked down the street to grab a lamb chop and beer for dinner.

The next morning we headed out to Franz Josef Glacier, where we had a 2:15pm helicopter hike scheduled with the Franz Josef Glacier Guides. We got to the Franz Josef Top 10 Holiday Park around noon, cleaned up, and went to the office to wait to be picked up for the hike. A lady finally showed up and told us that all hikes that day had been canceled due to the weather. We asked her to reschedule us for a heli-hike the next day. Everything was booked completely full except for the 2:15pm hike, so we took that.

We now had our first bit of downtime on the trip, so we took advantage of it to do laundry, clean up, and rest a little bit. (this is also when I finally had a chance to write the previous blog post). We found Internet access in the strangest place, “The Red Bus – Cyber CafĂ©”. It’s quite literally an old red bus, lined with computers that was run by this cross of a redneck and hippie. Jason said the bus smelled, but I didn’t notice anything. When we were paying him afterwards he mentioned that he kept his Internet fast by using Linux to cache everything. I couldn’t believe what I just heard, considering it looked like this guy barely knew was a computer was. (He mentions using Linux on the bottom of this page). The whole thing was a little strange, but he was a nice guy, and hey, we finally had Internet access.

The next day we were up early and waiting to see how the hikes were going. One by one, each of the scheduled heli-hikes for the day were canceled due to weather. We walked over to the guide’s office every hour or so to check in and they kept saying that it didn’t look good. Even at 2pm they said they weren’t sure. Finally, at 2:10 they told everyone that the weather had just improved enough on the glacier and that the 2:15 trip was on. As you can imagine, we were very excited about this.

After we geared up, got our boots and crampons, and were briefed on entering and exiting a helicopter, we headed over to the landing pad. Neither of us had ever been on a helicopter before, so this was pretty exciting, in addition to the glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier is one of three glaciers in the world that lead down to a rain forest, so once we were in the air we were able to look down on all of this. Our guide was named Bruce, and he was a rather chill guy who had relocated from the UK on a whim. Since we were the first trip to go out in 2 days and the glacier shifts and moves on a daily basis, Bruce jumped out in front of us to find paths to us take through the glacier. Often he would use his pickaxe to cut steps into the side of slopes to allow people to climb them. We found a cave that went deep under the glacier (25-30 feet) and we went through that as well. There were little streams of water flowing everywhere through the glacier, all with intensely blue water. The weather ended up being perfect while we were up there. After hiking up and down the glacier for three hours the helicopter returned to take us back down to the town.

Within minutes of landing and getting out of the helicopter we were back in the RV and on our way to Haast Beach. We got there just before sunset and stayed at the Haast Beach Holiday Park, which is quite remote. Jason didn’t have a cell phone signal for a couple hours on each side of it. After waking up here on Saturday morning we headed down to Haast Pass to check out the Blue Pools. There were a couple of really neat wooden walking bridges (including a swing one), and the water really is incredibly blue there. After the pools we continued on to Queenstown, stopping only for gas (and a smoothie) in Wanaka.

Pictures are available in my “New Zealand – Australia” gallery. We took a ton of photos, so I’ve just uploaded a few of the more interesting ones. Some of these are Jason’s photos too.

Driving 3-5 hours every day can get pretty boring, and you run out of things to talk about. On the trip from Haast Beach to Queenstown Jason came up with the idea of filming us while we were driving. Yes, this is how bored we were. After he set up the tripod and had everything configured we started filming and played funny music. It was hard to keep from laughing while the camera was rolling. :)

Here’s the full playlist of our driving videos. Other funny ones are Country A Go-Go and the dry-run practice take.

• • •

Delayed Gratification Blogging

Filed under: General — Cory @ 10:26 am

I’ve gotten really behind on blogging.

While Jason and I we were traveling in New Zealand and Australia we had a bit of a difficult time finding any WiFi, and forget about it being free. Also, unlike our previous Europe trip where there were 3-4 hours of train rides between cities, in New Zealand I was driving 3-5 hours a day and there just wasn’t as much time to write. Anyway, enough excuses.

The posts are coming today, although at this point these posts are mostly for my own archival purposes.

• • •

March 11, 2010

New Zealand: The North Island

Filed under: Places — Cory @ 7:08 pm

Auckland

After a 6 hour flight on Thursday, March 4th from New York to Los Angeles, a 3 hour layover in LAX, and a 14 hour flight from L.A. to Auckland, Jason and I finally arrived in New Zealand on Saturday morning to begin our trip.

After making our way through customs we found and hired a “super shuttle” to take us to our hotel. The super shuttles wait until they have a fun van of passengers and then leave for the city and drop the passengers off at their destinations one by one. Imagine our driver as what would happen if the Dukes of Hazzard decided to become taxi drivers in New York. We were in the back of the van, and were the second to last to be dropped off, so when we finally arrived at the Auckland City Hotel Hobson we were on the verge of blowing groceries. Oh well, it didn’t last long, and at least we were now on our own.

By now it is Saturday afternoon, March 6th. While walking around downtown Auckland we stop by Kiwi Country Fried Chicken and Fish, which was not what it sounds like. In fact, it was the best Chinese food I’ve eaten – I had the spicy prawn noodles. After eating we walked down to the piers in the Auckland harbor and checked out the sailboats for a while, and then found a little coffee shop with wifi so we could briefly catch up. Afterwards we took a little break and went back to the hotel to figure out what to do next. (If you remember anything about our last trip, you’ll know that Jason and I don’t make plans. We just wander around and wing it as we go. This works out well for us as we often find things along the way that send us in entirely different directions.)

For dinner Jason found this incredible little authentic Italian restaurant called Covo. We got foccacia bread and caprese for appetizers and then split a large pizza for our main meal. Fantastic stuff. After dinner we walked around the city a bit more before heading up to the top of the Auckland Sky Tower. This is the space needle looking thing that rises above everything else in the Auckland skyline, and there are incredible views from up there. Jason was able to get some nice photos with his slightly-more-expensive-than-a-canon-powershot camera.

The next day, Sunday, we picked up our RV, a Britz Explorer. This whole process was amazingly simple, which sort of became obvious later in the trip when you realize that about 5-10% of all cars on the roads are rental camper vans. The camper was very clean and in great shape when we picked it up. They have you watch a quick 5 minute DVD on how to use all of the electrical and water hookups. After picking up the RV and making a quick stop for groceries, we were on the road!

Tauranga

On Saturday night we were still trying to figure out where we were going to go with the RV once we picked it up. I’m not sure when, but at some point we thought it might be cool to drive east to the coast and stay at Tauranga. We had found what looked to be a pretty cool campsite there, so off we went.

We drove 3 hours southeast to the coastal town of Tauranga. I spent most of the time trying to wrap my brain around driving on the left side of the road. Once you are going it’s fine, but making turns is insanely confusing, especially right-hand turns. It took 3-4 days for me to get comfortable, and even still it seems about once a day Jason reminds me that I’m turning into the wrong lane.

It was around 7pm on Sunday, March 7th when we arrived at the Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park. This a camper park situated right at the base of the Mount Mauao Reserve (it’s a little mountain), and on the Pacific Ocean. The views from here were really amazing. We wandered around for a bit and then stopped in at Cafe Turkish Delight for dinner. After dinner we found some paths that lead us to the top of a small hill overlooking the ocean, and from up there we noticed that we could walk out to Moturiki Island. On our way down we ran into some guys from Switzerland, Phil and Fabian, and they invited us to join them for a beer at the Mount Mellick Irish Pub, so of course we did. We hung out with them for about 3 hours and chatted about New Zealand (Phil has lived in NZ for the past 4 years), and about travel in general. When Fabian learned we lived in Texas he shouted out “Chuck Norris!”. Yes, that’s right, the Swiss love “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

We’ve been waking up around 6am every morning and so we were able to catch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean, which was pretty cool. We then headed to the Side Track Cafe for breakfast, which is right on the ocean. After breakfast we cleaned the RV, packed up, and left the camper park. We stopped for lunch at the Gusto Cafe.

Orakei Korako

We left Tauranga around 1pm on our way to Taupo. Along the way we kept seeing these towers of steam everywhere. Curiosity finally killed the cat and we decided to track one of these things down. After driving 30-45 minutes into farming country we ended up at the Orakei Korako cave and thermal park. The thermal activity is fascinating, both visually and audibly. There were bubbling pits of mud, colorful streams of hot water, and a very big cave. Jason got a pretty good video of all of it that I’m sure he’ll post somewhere later.

Taupo and Lake Taupo

After our thermal park detour concluded we continued on down to Taupo. We arrived there around 5pm, drove around a bit, found the harbour, and decided to park for the night at the Absolute Lakeview Motel, which is on the lake and within walking distance of most of the towns restaurants and shops. After getting settled in we walked over to Dixie Brown’s for dinner (because they have free wifi! :) )

The next morning we were up at 6am to meet Fish Lake Taupo Charters and Grant Lister. Grant is almost the stereotypical fishing captain. Salty, foul-mouthed, and funny as can be, we really enjoyed our day with him. We had a great day on Lake Taupo, and even caught some trout! It is illegal to sell trout here so that the lake isn’t commercially exploited, but you are allowed to take anything you catch to a restaurant and they’ll prepare it for you. We kept three of the trout we caught and hauled them with us down to Wellington where we filleted them and grilled them up ourselves. We thought this was pretty awesome, heh.

Wellington

We woke up at 6am, fished from 8am to 2pm, then drove non-stop for five hours to Wellington. I was pretty tired by the time we got to Wellington. But that was ok, the scenery along the drive was absolutely gorgeous, I’ve never seen anything like it. Once we arrived in Wellington we got slightly lost. Getting lost in a foreign country, driving on the wrong side of the road, in an RV can be a bit frustrating. Eventually we found and stayed at the Top 10 Wellington Holiday Park in Lower Hutt on the other side of the Wellington Harbour, which turned out to be a quite nice place.

Once we parked and plugged in we pulled the three big trout out of the fridge, found a picnic table, and started some really amateur trout filleting work. After the butchering was done some fellow campers loaned us some salt and pepper so we could give the fish a little seasoning, and then Jason cooked it up. To my surprise, it was delicious!

The next morning, Wednesday, we were up at 6am again and drove over to Wellington to explore for the morning. Wellington seems like a really cool town, and reminded me a lot of San Francisco. We parked the RV on the street (almost taking out a stop sign), and wandered down Cuba Street and around the Te Aro district. I can see why Debb and Matt chose Wellington. :)

We had scheduled a 1pm ride on the ferry to haul us and the RV over to the south island on the
Bluebridge Ferry from Wellington to Picton on the Santa Regina. The ride took about 3.5 hours and was some of the most beautiful water and coastline I’ve ever seen. On the ferry ride across Jason some how ended up in a conversation with a professional illusionist and a 50 year old death metal musician. It was mental!

There’s not much Internet available down here, and when we do find it it’s not free, so we aren’t doing much blogging or posting of photos. That situation may improve once we get to Australia next week. The photos that we are able to upload are available in my gallery.

• • •

October 26, 2009

Touring Collings Guitars

Filed under: Music,Places — Cory @ 9:49 am

For a few years now I’ve dreamed of owning a Collings mandolin. I first learned about Collings Guitars shortly after I bought my Taylor, about 5 years ago. If Taylor is the Lexus of guitars then Collings is the Rolls Royce (the comparison in relative price differences holds up too).

I recently discovered the Redbone Guitar Boutique in San Antonio, pretty much by accident. I walked in and talked with Scott Stephens for a while and learned that they carried Collings (as well as G&L!). Scott told me that he personally drives up to the Collings facility outside of Austin to pick up each instrument, so that they never have to be shipped. After I left I started thinking about how neat it would be to custom order a Collings mandolin and be able to personally pick up my instrument from the people who made it. I spent a few more days thinking about whether I wanted to make the financial commitment and once I had I went back to Scott and ordered a Collings MT-O mandolin.

A couple days later Scott called back to tell me that he was arranging a private tour of the Collings facility for Redbone customers, and wanted to know if I was interested. Although Collings normally offers public tours on two Fridays per month, but I had never made time for it. This time I wasn’t going to miss it.

Not including Scott there were only three of us on the tour, which was really nice. Our tour lasted about two hours and we were able to see the entire process from raw wood to finished instruments. I’ve never seen a company so focused on producing perfect products. Everything they do is calculated, yet each instrument is a unique work of art. Every detail is considered, even down to shaving off six thousandths of an inch of finish where the bridge meets the top.

The other thing that struck me while I was there was how honest Collings is as a company. Never once was I told not to take a picture of something, and I even asked (my pictures are here). They are proud of the entire process and welcome you to see it. In order to produce a product of such high quality they have to stay honest. Even home grown innovations such as the machines that Bill Collings built himself are explained to visitors. Most businesses protect their trade secrets and proprietary processes for competitive advantages, but Collings doesn’t need to since the instruments speak for themselves. Even prototypes are destroyed so that no instrument with the Collings name on it goes out without being 100% perfect.

They also aren’t willing to sacrifice quality for quantity. Only about 1500 guitars are produced here per year, and about 500 mandolins, and 500 electric guitars. That comes out to about 7 guitars per day, 3 mandolins, and 3 electrics. And before you think “that sounds like a lot”, consider that is with nearly 70 people working full time – for 13 instruments per day. I think it is awesome that artists produce instruments for other artists.

I would certainly recommend this tour to anyone who lives in South Texas. Even if you aren’t a musician, the tour is fascinating because of the craftsmanship and level of attention to detail they give to every aspect of their work. And at the end a beautiful guitar or mandolin is the result. I can’t wait to pick up mine. :)

• • •

October 24, 2009

Visiting Amsterdam for the Big Three-O

Filed under: Events,Friends,Places — Cory @ 4:30 pm

This past summer as my thirtieth birthday began to creep up on me I decided that I wanted to have something fun to look forward when the day finally arrived. I decided that I wanted to celebrate the occasion in Amsterdam.

Prior to this trip I had only spent one day in Amsterdam, when Jason and I visited there in June of 2006. I remembered that the city was beautiful and the people there were very nice.

By way of VRBO I found this great place to stay in the heart of the city called the Amnesia Apartment. It’s a standard Amsterdam style house – tall and thin. The Amnesia is five stories with a room per floor and a jacuzzi on the top floor. There is a tiny, tiny staircase in the back of the building that goes from the kitchen in the basement to the 4th floor bedroom.

Tate and I arrived on Monday morning, October 12th, and Sandy arrived the next day. Once she joined us we starting seeing the sights and eating at some great restaurants. Tate created a Google map of the places we visited during our stay. Here’s a rundown:

Restaurants

  • Sama Sebo – This is incredibly good Indonesian food. The guy who picked us up from the airport was half Indonesian and recommended that we eat here. Here’s a picture of us with the spread.
  • Japanese Pancake World – This is where we ate dinner on the night of my birthday. It came highly recommended from a friend of a friend who lives in Amsterdam. He was right, this place is amazing! Pictures here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
  • d’Vijff Vlieghen – This was a more upper scale Dutch restaurant that Sandy had heard about. Evidently Franklin Roosevelt, Walt Disney, Elvis Presley and many other notable people have eaten here (and they can now add us to the list as well). The food and service were both fantastic. Pictures here, here, here, and here.
  • Belgisch Restaurant Lieve – On our final night we ate at this Belgian restaurant near our apartment and it was incredible as well. Tate and I ordered beer pairings with each course. I still think Belgian food is my favorite of all. Pictures here, here, here, and here.

Attractions

Other stuff we did or saw while we were there:

The trip worked out even better than I could have planned it. The weather was wonderful for almost the entire week we were there, and the apartment turned out to be exactly what we wanted and in an excellent location. Amsterdam is such an incredible place. Everyone is so friendly, the city is beautiful, and it’s very easy to get around and communicate with people. All the pictures from the trip are available in my gallery.

Great friends, great place, great time!

• • •

July 16, 2009

New York Nearest Subway Augmented Reality iPhone App

Filed under: Technology — Cory @ 9:12 pm

Today I discovered an iPhone app that I can’t wait to get my hands on: New York Nearest Subway by acrossair.

This is one of those “augmented reality” apps that have been getting attention lately. The idea is to overlay information onto a 3D view of your surroundings. The new iPhone 3Gs makes this possible, and acrossair has taken advantage of it to produce something really useful – locating nearby subways. Watch the video below to see how it works.

Currently they are waiting for approval from Apple to get it into the AppStore. I’d love to see it in there before Saturday morning, since I’m heading to NYC this weekend and I can’t wait to try it out.

• • •

June 29, 2009

The Gift of Flight

Filed under: Events,General — Cory @ 12:00 pm

This weekend Sandy and I celebrated our third year together. Over those three years she’s managed to surprise me with some really cool gifts, but this weekend in NYC I think she topped everything she’s done so far.

Around 3:30 on Saturday afternoon she took me to Penn Station, bought two round trip train tickets to the Ronkonkoma train station on Long Island, and hopped on a train with me. I had no idea where we were going or what we were going to be doing. An hour and twenty minutes later we arrived at the Ronkonkoma train station and someone came to pick us up. You know when you put a dog in a car and the dog doesn’t know where its going (to the vet? to the park?) the dog is all wound up and hyperactive? Yea, that’s what I was like. Suddenly I see a Southwest jet so I figure we are at the Islip airport. Then the car we were in pulled into a little driveway, and that’s when I saw the sign for the Heritage Flight Academy. It was like when the dog realizes he isn’t going to the vet, but to the park!

I guess I’d mentioned to her a few times over the past three years that I might one day like to take flying lessons. She found the Heritage Flight Academy flight school out at Long Island Macarthur Airport, and they have a special intro course where they let you fly the airplane.

We met the instructor, who was a really cool guy, and then he showed us a map of the area where we would be flying. Specifically, we were flying from Macarthur Airport over Fire Island, over the Atlantic Ocean, and then back inland. He also showed us two big thunderstorms that had formed to the north and that were heading towards us. After chatting about this stuff for about 5 minutes we headed out to the airplane that we would be flying, a Cessna 172.

After checking the plane over we finally hopped in and started taxiing out to the runway. On our way we had to wait for a Southwest Airlines jet to land, which I thought was pretty funny since we were going to take off on the same runway. I asked if there were any flocks of geese nearby, and he told me that there were not, but that the prop on the Cessna would chop them up if we hit one. Sweet!

As we moved into place the instructor went over a few last things and communicated with the tower, and then we revved up the engine and took off down the runway. The instructor told me to pull back, I did, and to my surprise the plane lifted off the ground in what seemed like 5 seconds! Sandy was recording everything from the back seat with my camera, so here’s what it looked like from back there:

After we leveled off it got really fun and I was able to look down and see what was below. Here’s another video Sandy took from the air:

We flew around for 30-40 minutes before it was finally time to return to the airport. Of course, the instructor handled the landing for us which was awesome because I didn’t want to have any part of that. It was smooth as could be, contrary to the way it looks in the video.

All the videos Sandy took are in this YouTube playlist. There are videos of taxiing to the runway, taking off, in flight 1, in flight 2, in flight 3, in flight 4, and landing. All the pictures from the day are in my gallery.

This was such an awesome surprise! The only problem now is that I think I’m hooked. :)

• • •

November 20, 2008

$6.69 Trillion

Filed under: General — Cory @ 12:48 am

The S&P 500 has dropped 48% in the last 13 months. That is $6.69 trillion in value, gone.

• • •

October 26, 2008

Eloquent Surfer

Filed under: General — Cory @ 11:01 pm

Monica posted this to Twitter and it has to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Whapow!

• • •
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