A Travellerspoint blog

Learn to Fly

Auckland and the North Island, New Zealand

overcast 50 °F

We arrived in Auckland around 1 AM on Monday morning and made our way down the desolate highway to the Rendezvous Hotel in the center of the city. The purpose of this stop of the trip was to cross of one of my bucket list items: bungy jumping (I'm spelling it the New Zealand way). As always, there's a story for WHY I decided to do this. I may not always have a good reason, and less often a logical one, but there's always a reason.

When I was about 10 years old, my mom and I were at Knott's Berry Farm, a theme park in Southern California. At the time, I was timid, rode the safe rides, and took no chances. That day she wanted to take me on the Wacky Soap Box Racers. I was terrified. I cried and actually hit my mom in the legs with my tiny fists repeatedly, begging through my sobs for us not to go. She kept reassuring me that it would be fine, and I continued my protests all the way to the front of the line. I begrudgingly took my spot on what I was sure would be a death trap and resumed my self-inflicted pity party.

As the ride went through the first ups and downs, the sobs miraculously began to turn into laughs.

"What's this?" I thought, "I'm having fun!"

As the car rolled into the station, I quickly changed my facial expression from elation to anger in a lame attempt to guilt my mother, despite the fun time I had had. Ever the terrible actor, my mother asked, "was it fun?" I mustered a week nod of my head. What I had lost in pride, I had made up in courage. From then on, I was hooked on adrenaline-inducing thrills.

Looking back on this ride, it was incredibly tame. Just to show you how much of a coward I was, I have even included a link from a video someone else took in 1994: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCARcjduziY. My mother saw my fear, saw an opportunity to help me overcome that fear, and despite my protests, did exactly that. That, ladies and gentlemen, is good parenting.

As I progressed in life, I slowly upped the ante. I graduated from tame roller coasters to dangle feet roller coasters (Top Gun is still an all-time favorite). At 12, I rode my first roller coaster where you completely lay down, a ride then called Stealth (now called Nighthawk). I had progressed a lot in just a few short years. At 14, I tried rappelling for the first time. At 19, I took the big leap and jumped tandem out of an airplane. I remember that day well, together with my girlfriend-at-the-time Lindsay and good friend, Stephanie Tinseth (now Wyman), I had broken my ultimate fear barrier of heights.

The last 11 years have sought to best those experiences. I have gone horseback riding in Swaziland, shark cage diving in South Africa, raced super cars in Las Vegas, and gone zip-ling in both Thailand and Costa Rica. Finally, in the country the sport was invented, it was time to go bungy jumping. What's more, I would jump off the Auckland bridge.

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An entrance to the city of Auckland

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Welcome to Auckland

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The man for which the city is named

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Hey! Can we write this off as a work expense?

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The Maritime Museum

Although Danielle never planned to go bungy jumping, she had planned to watch me make this questionable life decision. Unfortunately, 11 dives in 3.5 days had wiped her out, and her immune system had been attacked my a cold. Her voice definitely exhibited this, and we decided it would be best if she stay in the room and rest up.

The bus for the jump picked me up at the harbor, and I was soon united with my three fellow bungys (bungy-ers? bung-adeers?). We walked out onto the underside of the bridge and slowly made our way on stairs up to the belly of the beast. The two bungy workers had a great sense of humor and stated that there would be loud music as we would go. I asked if I could make a song request for something in the metal genre, or some similar type of music. With their sense of humor, I got to jump to Justin Timberlake's "Summer Love." Lucky for them, that's my jam.

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The bus to the Auckland Bridge bungy site

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Smiling through the terror

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One giant leap

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Wait, zoom out

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Hmmmm, that looks like a body double

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But he is wearing that ugly yellow shirt

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Nope, that looks totally fake, green screen

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Bring me back up.....please? anyone there?

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Our group, post-bungy

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Another bucket list item crossed off. Thank you, Marsha!

The experience does not have the inner peace that sky diving brings, but it was still an amazing ride. I jumped 131 feet in what seemed like three seconds. The adrenaline boost was instant, and it's definitely something I would do again. I collected my photos and video evidence to further document my insane condition and inserted myself into the bus for the statistically-much-more-dangerous car ride back to the hotel. I will leave it to my colleague, Dr. Rob Weiss, to please verify this statistical claim.

Once I got back to the hotel, I went to check on Danielle. She had been able to sleep for most of the day, and she was feeling good enough to go to the hotel restaurant to get soup. We made it about 45 minutes before she needed to lie down again, and with her once again out of commission, I decided to venture to Auckland's focal point, the Sky Tower.

The Sky Tower is nestled in the middle of Auckland and rises to 1,076 feet over the city floor. There are multiple observation decks, and the views are definitely spectacular. Although Auckland is a nice city, these were really my only two planned excursions because of time constraints. We had one day in Auckland, and although I'm sad Danielle couldn't join me, I had a good time in my day in the city.

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A view from the 60th floor of the Auckland Sky Tower

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The city below

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The Sky Tower illuminated in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

The next day we went on a 12 hour tour from Auckland to the Waitomo Caves and the set of the Lord of the Rings. Our first stop was the caves, a place famous for glow worms that occupy the ceiling of the cave. The tour was about 45 minutes and showed a few stalactites and stalactmites, talked about the discovery, and then had a short trip on a boat down the river. Pictures weren't permitted because light scares the worms from glowing, and the tour was not that engrossing. The blue glow was cool to see on the ceiling, but it lost its luster pretty quick (no pun intended). Danielle liked it, but I thought it wasn't that special. Although that didn't exactly pique my interest, the next stop on our unexpected journey definitely did!

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The boat to Waitomo Caves

Directing The Lord of the Rings movies was a lifelong dream of director and producer, Peter Jackson. An avid fan of the books, Peter Jackson had very strict criteria for the site for Hobbiton, the home of the protagonists, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. He told his location scouts that there needed to be a large tree by a pond and rolling hills to depict Hobbiton, just like the books. The location scouts eventually came across a farm near Matamata, New Zealand, which was used for raising sheep.

When the owner was approached about possible filming, he said that they could use his land for a movie and he would charge them what he would charge any neighbor to use his land for grazing. After signing a non-disclosure agreement, he was told that they planned on filming The Lord of the Rings. His reply is now famous, "Lord of the what?" His wife kicked him under the table, and said politely, "just sign the contract."

When the first movie came out, the famous mountain range in Matamata was shown in the movie for a total of three seconds. The locals instantly recognized it, and they started calling around trying to find out where it was. They quickly traced it to his farm and slowly the locals started to come by asking to take a look at the set.

The problem was that the farmer had one condition for filming: restore the farm the way the film crew found it. Therefore, the first Hobbiton was all just exteriors and nothing permanent was erected. Despite this, people from all over kept driving by month after month, wanting to see where it was filmed.

When Peter Jackson came back to do the Hobbit movies, the farmer again stipulated one condition for filming. Peter's response was, "I know, I know, return it to the way we found it." Unexpectedly, the farmer this time requested just the opposite.

Too many people had been coming by and he wanted them to build a permanent Hobbiton there so everyone could enjoy it. The studio and Tolkien family eventually gave the go ahead, and the structures you see in the Hobbit are the permanent ones now found on the farm. While the exteriors are intricate, the inside of the homes were filmed in Wellington. Therefore, only the facades exist and you could only go into one hobbit house. However, there was also a full replica of the Green Dragon pub which had a fireplace, bar and restaurant. This part of the day's trip was truly a treat, and we smiled practically the whole time as we explored the set.

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Entering the rolling hills (aka the Shire) that surround Hobbiton

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The locals

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We get to go here?!?

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Entering the set

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This way!

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Beautifully built

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Well kept

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Amazing detail

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A view of the village

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I've obviously never had a hard day's work

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The camera subtracts three feet

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The party tree with the pond down below

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The house of Bilbo Baggins

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The tree above the Baggins residence

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A big thank you to Ilan Slovin, Danielle Chandler, Rhodri Dierst-Davies, Jeremy Bailey, Ben Trevias, Cody Smith, Angela Mofid, Jesse Rugge, and Tori Boegh for funding the Hobbiton excursion on honeyfund!

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The Green Dragon Pub

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Enjoying ginger beer at the Green Dragon Pub

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Sitting by a nice fire

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Enjoying a nice snack courtesy of Ernie Cardenas, thank you!

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Best picture of the trip

After we got back to windy Auckland, we ducked into a restaurant called Depot located just under the sky tower. We had fish sliders, brisket tacos, delicious slaw, and lamb ribs. Between Kory's restaurant, Chaco Bar, and this place, we have definitely been spoiled for food on this trip so far!

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Fish Sliders

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Brisket Tacos

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Thank you to Jennifer and Rolando for dinner at one of Auckland's tastiest restaurants!

It's an early start on our way to the South Island tomorrow, but there will be more to come in a few days.

Posted by mbeymer 02:19 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A Reel Dive

Sydney and The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

sunny 85 °F

It's been a year and a half since our last adventure, but Danielle and I are back on the road! After what turned out to be a very successful wedding (she said yes) and a fun time (someone actually wrote in our guestbook, "I normally hate weddings, but I liked this one"), we took off on a red eye flight to Sydney. When we arrived at the ticket counter, the attendant astutely spotted Danielle's new "Mrs." shirt and upgraded us to the exit row. Extra leg room for a 10 hour flight? Yes, please!

We slept the whole flight and arrived in Sydney well-rested, 18 hours ahead in time (the future!), and ready to explore. We stayed at the Four Seasons which we found out was only a five minute walk to the Sydney Opera House, and the front desk attendant upgraded our room to have a view of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbor. The hotel even sent us a bottle of champagne later that evening which was very sweet and definitely ensured we would be back. The weather was wet the first day, but we did fit in a quick tour of the Opera House before we met friends for dinner. Although we didn't have tickets to see an actual performance, we were lucky enough to walk into the main concert hall right as the orchestra started rehearsing Beethoven's "The Last Mass." We enjoyed about five minutes of the rehearsal and then were quickly escorted out by our guide. I'm sure this story will evolve over the years as "we had front row seats to see the Sydney Philharmonic play one of Beethoven's greatest pieces." That will be the version when we're old and forgetful, but suffice it to say that we got to see the full acoustic power of the space in what was a magical surprise.

The structure itself is definitely a masterpiece, but it was once considered a huge waste of money. The original budget was 7 million dollars over a period of 3 years, that's how the politicians originally sold it to their constituents. The architect envisioned a building that would blend in with the harbor, thus the reason the buildings look like giant sailboats. However, the project took a lot longer than the original estimate because the shape of the structure was unprecedented. The architect eventually had an epiphany where he figured out that if he took a sphere, cut it in half, and cut it into sections, he could create his iconic image. Workers began casting huge continuous pieces of concrete, and tiles were created to display the whites of the sails. The tiles ended up being four different colors because they realized that all white tiles would create too much glare. The actual timeline ended up being 16 years at a cost 102 million dollars when everything was finished in the late 1960s.

The original architect quit about halfway through the project because of public pressure, and he returned back to his home country of Denmark. He never returned to see his creation completed, but his son has signed on as the architect in modernizing the structure to the present day. He left one set of plans, and the Australian architects who took over used this as their blueprint to finish the masterpiece. The structure is definitely an amazing one, but Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall is still my favorite structure of all time. The first day didn't have great pictures because the structure was washed out by the clouds, but the pictures definitely improved once the weather lifted.

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The view from our hotel room

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Selfie in Sydney

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Thank you, Dad, for the Opera House Tour tickets!

After the tour, we took a taxi over to the Darlinghurst neighborhood and met my friend Kory and his wife, Kazue, and their children for dinner. For those of you who have followed my blogs since the beginning, I met Kory during my first solo international trip (and second ever blog post) while exploring the rain forest in Northern Argentina. We were staying at the same hostel, and we struck up a conversation randomly while he was waiting for his bus to the next stop on his journey. We talked about everything from "Into the Wild" to how AFI's new album didn't live up to their previous brilliance to our general philosophies on life.

It's rare to meet someone with whom conversation isn't forced, it just flows naturally. I admired his renaissance spirit and his passion for coffee. Although I have never loved the drink myself, he remarked, "you've never had a cup of coffee that I've made." We talked for five hours that day, and as he ran to catch his bus, I promised that I would visit the Clipper Cafe and he would make me the best cappacino I had ever had. Six years, I had arrived in Sydney to fulfill that promise.

While it's rare to have a conversation for five hours without missing a beat, it's rarer still to meat up five years later and resume conversation like it had only been a week since you've seen one another. I'm by no means an expert on anything, especially friendships, but I would define that as a quality of true friendship.

Danielle and I sat down in his new coffee shop, and he made me and my new wife a delicious cup of coffee. Although he has only been open for one year, his coffee shop has already accumulated some of the top accolades in Australia. I expressed how proud I was of his accomplishment, and he could see that genuine pride. We meandered up the street to a place called "Chaco Bar" for dinner. The exterior was modest but it was amazingly decorated and had exquisite food.

Kory knew the owner, and we were given the royal treatment with delicious red snapper, pork belly, and chicken heart skewers. It felt like a family reunion and a king's feast, rolled into one. After Danielle yawned a few times, we bid our goodbyes with the promise that I would return in the morning for breakfast.

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Crafting the masterpiece

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The finished work of art

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Danielle enjoying a cup

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Kory's oldest, Hugo, playing with foam

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Reunited friends, a little older and wiser

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Kory consulting the expert

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Raising that boy right :)

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A delicious plate of red snapper

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Amazing chicken skewers

The rain lifted the next day and Kory prepared a breakfast feast that included delicious salmon, decorated beautifully with rho eggs, and amazing pancakes topped with pineapple and a delectable butterscotch syrup. He also bought me a gift bag of Australia's unique treats including Tim Tam cookies, Milo (Australia's version of chocolate milk), and veggemite. I could write a whole post on veggemite, but suffice it to say that it's a condiment that should be considered a symbol of national pride and used in moderation. I thanked him profusely, and instead of a goodbye, I merely said that I would see him soon. I have a feeling it will be less than five years, and I think we'll pick up right where we left off, whether it's in LA, Sydney, or a coffee field in Ethiopia.

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Incredible pancakes, the best breakfast I've ever had

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Delicious salmon, beautifully prepared

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Bringing home Australia, thank you, Kory!

I awoke Danielle and we went for a walk in the botanical gardens next to the Harbor with a Banmi in hand. We decided to head over to the Sydney Zoo while we waited for our flight later that night. We had not planned on going, but we are definitely glad we did. We were able to walk in a pen that had kangaroos jumping around, emus prancing, and wallabees cautiously eyeing the visitors. The kangaroos got really close and afforded great shots. We were also able to pay extra and pose with a koala. The koala was definitely cute, and we got a few good shots right next to her. I was happy they didn't let people touch her (I'm generally against touching wild animals since I don't want them to touch me), but we are never actually able to go INTO the animal pens in the United States. After the zoo, we enjoyed a beautiful ferry ride back to the harbor (definitely a must if you visit) and got some picturesque shots of both the harbor and skyline.

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The Sydney Harbor Bridge

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The Bridge with the Opera House

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Sydney skyline

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Statue in the botanical garden

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Another angle of the Opera House

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Curious kangaroo

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Wise wallaby

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Cuddly koala

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The Opera House from the ferry on the way back from the zoo

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Getting artistic

We arrived in Cairns on a late flight and were whisked away to our hotel in the City Center. We explored the city briefly, but in our fatigue, we gave up and got the safety blanket meal of home - McDonald's. I meekly justified it by getting something called a McFeast, not sold in the US, but believe you me, it was no Samurai burger. The city of Cairns was unremarkable, but the main purpose is as a launching point for the Great Barrier Reef. The next day, we set out for that very adventure and one of my long-time bucket list items.

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A neat bar at the Sydney airport

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Nicely designed skylight

The transfer arrived early that morning, and we were shuttled to the small section of the Cairns Airport. No fancy metal detectors or ticket counters, just a small scale to ensure your bags did not outweigh the plane's limits. The plane was packed - eight people. Like Costa Rica, I was able to talk to the pilot if I wanted to. I decided against it, age has taught me concentration is paramount in operating heavy machinery.

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What's the in-flight movie?

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I put a ring on it

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A view from the plane

Our flight landed on Lizard Island in the middle of the great barrier reef, and we boarded small zodiacs to our main vessel. The Spirit of Freedom took us on an unforgettable four day voyage to numerous dive spots across the great barrier reef. We saw reef sharks, lion fish, a sea turtle, potato cod, and yes, even clown fish. I had 13 dives before the trip, and I finished the trip with 25 dives. I went from very low self-confidence in SCUBA gear to doing barrel rolls on my swims back to the boat. Once I finally was able to relax and enjoy, I saw amazing things and had a great time. My partner also helped calm me down a lot and made sure I didn't sink like a rock. Our GoPros took great pictures and videos, but they were often washed out. Professional dive cameras can cost a LOT, but they gave us pictures taken throughout the whole trip for only $30. Well worth the price as you'll see the difference between our pictures and their pictures.

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Welcome to the jungle

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Our chariot awaits

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The staging area

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Dive time!

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The reef in the background

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The Aussie flag flying at the bow

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Shark Feed!

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Sharks anticipating

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Feeding

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The giant Potato Cod

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Went to Australia, found Nemo

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Lionfish

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Poor unfortunate soul

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Go on and kiss the girl

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We declare this reef, JONESLAND! Thank you to the Jones family for the diving gift!!!
A big thanks also goes out to Andre Watson, Kimbrie Gobbi, Eric and Stephanie Arm, Eric Win, Stephanie Lin, and John and Bri DiCesare!

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The beautiful coral reef

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More coral, washed out by blue

The crew of the boat was even more amazing. Each dive had an option for a guide, the meals served were all fantastic (everything from lamb to pizza to great steak), the rooms were spacious for a boat, and there was plenty of motion sickness medication and high SPF sunscreen on hand for all passengers. The four days flew by, and it's the most organized excursion I have had to date on my travels. For those of you looking to have an amazing dive experience, I highly recommend this boat and cannot say enough good things about the dive spots, professionalism of the crew, or the amenities.

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Terry, our amazing chef

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Rens, our dive leader, describing the Osprey Reef dive sites

All good things must come to an end, and we were dropped off at 6:30 AM on Monday back to the airport. Our flight today will take us all the way to Auckland, and it will take about 9 hours with our layover in Brisbane. Between catching up with old friends and seeing one of the world's most iconic natural wonders, it's been an amazing seven days so far. The next week will include bungee jumping in Auckland, glow worms in the Waitomo Caves, and trekking on New Zealand's South Island. There's more to come, I hope you'll join us.

P.S. - I want to thank everyone who contributed so generously to our honeyfund for the wedding. We could NOT have done this trip without you!

Posted by mbeymer 07:33 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Our Wedding

In sunny San Diego, California

sunny 96 °F

Although it's been over six months since our wedding day, it still seems like a surreal experience. As usual, in order to talk about this special day, we need to go back in time a bit.

Although Danielle is from Camarillo and I am from Sacramento, San Diego has always had a special place in our hearts. When we had our very first conversation over the phone, Danielle was heading down to San Diego to see her friend Nikki who lived there at the time.

After we had talked for about five minutes, she said, "Can I call you back? I don't want to get a ticket."

"Sure, no problem." I curtly responded.

For a guy, this is usually the signal that your first five minutes have gone poorly. I have received responses like this in the past, "everything from my sister needs a ride" to "there is a fire in a Bangladesh garment factory and I am the only one who knows how to appropriately extinguish a given type of rayon." Whatever the exuse, they needed to go. I appreciated her non-elaborate excuse and hung up the phone, albeit a bit disappointed.

Five minutes later, I was shocked to see that she was calling again. Was this, I thought, an actual concern? We ended up talking for an hour, and that was the first of many conversations in what would lead to this day.

San Diego was a special place for me before we met as well, two of my best friends live there, I lived there for three years, and I visit about once a month to get away from the chaos of Los Angeles. During our first months dating, I took her jet skiing for the very first time in the San Diego harbor, we went to the lighthouse in Point Loma, and we celebrated our first anniversary in America's finest city. I even proposed at that same restaurant that we celebrated our anniversary just over a year later during a ruse that worked quite well (See "The Proposal" blog post for those details).

Fast forward to October 2015, and my bride-to-be and I were on our way back down to San Diego for our wedding. We picked San Diego because of our special memories there and the fact that my best man pretty much had a 20 mile limit to where he would attend. All joking aside, we fell in love with a venue not too far away from his place, Ventura County was expensive and Los Angeles was just too stressful. And so we were back in our beachside paradise for what would be the best day of my life.

We rented a house a half a mile from the venue located in Point Loma, a neighborhood of San Diego that overlooks the ocean on one side and the bay on the other side. The house was big enough to fit our bridal party and on the day of the wedding quickly turned into an assembly line. Uncle Billy, maestro extraordinaire of the wedding, arrived with his team early to assemble the flower bouquets and the stylist arrived some thereafter to primp and prepare the bridal party. After taking a quick shower after an early morning hike, I was kindly instructed to disappear.

Jesse, Brent, and I ran around doing last minute errands, taking our time as to avoid the chaos of the headquarters of the military operation. We drove around getting money for tips, getting the ring cleaned, and other odds and ends with the AC on full-blast as the temperature had climbed to an unseasonably warm 96 degree high (for my international friends, that's about 36 degrees). There were a few hiccups here and there (like the guy with the alcohol arriving to the venue with no one to greet him), but overall getting hitched went off without a hitch.

We arrived at the venue and quickly began addressing the needs of Billy and his wonderful partner, Todd. Attach bouquets to vases, check. Arrange seating cards, check. Make sure there is food for everyone including the vendors, check. By the time I knew it, it was time to change and get downstairs for the ceremony to start.

We walked down the aisle, exchanged our vows through tears, both expressed our dislike for the other's baseball team yet acceptance of the person, and then we had a wonderful evening full of laughter, dancing, and wonderful food. Unlike my travels, most of you were there, so I will let the pictures (and videos) speak for themselves.

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Sunrise from my hike the Morning of the Wedding

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At the top of Mount Soledad

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The Mother of the Bride with her beautiful Daughter

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The Flowers put together by Todd, Billy, Natalie, and their crew

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Ed had a painting commissioned of this very picture that now hangs in our home, we absolutely love it

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Dinner provided by the Abbey Catering

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Cupcakes by BabyCakes in San Diego

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Our very own videographer, Dr. Cohen

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Joe-Anne and her Brother

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Me and Mom

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Andre and Ang

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Trent and Nikki

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The Best Man, Ed, and the Maid of Honor, Wendy

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Bianca and Cast

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"Go Dodgers," He whispers

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My grandfather the officiant

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We took the altar from the Game of Thrones set

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Beautiful runner made by Billy

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The man of the evening, the wonderful and talented, Billy Davis

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My dear Uncle Jim

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My two great friends (I hope they're next after Nikki and Brent)

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My mom teaching me how to dance

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Fin

The Ceremony

The best cover of the best song of all time, what a way to end a great night

A huge thank you to everyone for coming out as well as Brent and Brit Stanley for photography, Aubree from Huxley Salon for hair and make-up, The Abbey for catering, BabyCakes for the cupcakes and cake, Adam Cohen for videography, Bill and Todd for the amazing wedding planning, the Thursday Club for the beautiful venue, BevMo for the booze, Grandpa for officiating, and my dear friend Ben for feeding a starving groom during picture time. Thanks most of all to our parents and bridal/groom party for financially and emotionally supporting us throughout the whole planning process. We had a truly amazing day, and for those who could come, we felt so lucky for having you spend this wonderful day with us!

Posted by mbeymer 16:13 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Brazil Comes to America

Rock in Rio in Las Vegas

semi-overcast 75 °F

Many of you who know me know that I'm a bit of a music junkie. I went to my first concert in 2000 to see the Black Eyed Peas, Lit (Remember them?), and No Doubt perform at what-was-then the Sleep Train Amphitheater in Marysville, California. The mother of one of my very best friends, Trent Mason, had gotten tickets and asked if I wanted to tag along. At that point, I had very limited exposure to music and pretty much listened to whatever Carson Daly told me to listen to on TRL. I was 14 - I had no clue at that point what I liked and what I didn't like. When I got back from that No Doubt show, I was not only hooked on No Doubt, I was hooked on live music. Since that time, I have seen No Doubt live for every subsequent album that they released and consistently listened to their music in the 15 years since.

In 2003, my friends, Manny, Christy, and Drew wanted to go to a concert called "Summer Sanitarium" in San Francisco. Manny and Christy had not been together very long (they are now married and have a beautiful boy), and Christy's parents said that she could only go if I came along. I was oddly viewed as the "responsible" friend. We all know that I was undeserving of such a label, but with nine concerts under my belt and thirsty for more, I signed on. We made the drive to San Francisco from Sacramento with Drew at the wheel and Metallica's "...And Justice for All" blaring from the radio speakers.

A friend had shown me the Metallica's S+M concert VHS (yeah, I'm old) , and I remember the first time I ever got chills down my spine to a song was listening Kurt Hammett's solo for "Nothing Else Matters" on said VHS. Impressed with the music, I had picked up a copy of the Black album at Tower Records (yet another reference that dates me). However, at this point, I was still a relative newbie to the Metallica catalog.

We got to Summer Sanitarium, and the concert was nothing short of epic. Mudvayne started off the performance and I remember the mosh pit opening like a huge chasm during an earthquake when they played their hit, "Dig." Sacramento's native Deftones screamed through an amazing set, followed by then-start-up band Linkin Park ripping through their album, "Meteora." Limp Bizkit came out and gave an intense performance and then we stood in awe as Metallica took the stage.

I had never seen a band so incredible, so amazing live, I was awestruck the whole time. Even though I knew very few songs of theirs, I found myself screaming the chorus at the end of each song, having just learned the words through the first two iterations. James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett played a stirring rendition of "Of Wolf and Man" as they stared out to the full moon that loomed over the stadium. I walked out of the stadium completely exhausted but with the full knowledge that Metallica was now my favorite band, and I would learn every song they ever played. 12 years later, I have all their albums, have been to four additional concerts across California and Arizona, and they are still, by far, my favorite band.

Since seeing No Doubt for my first concert in 2000, I have been to over 80 live shows from San Francisco to Mozambique. I've seen everything from Afro-Cuban music to Dubstep to Heavy Metal to Pop. I can't overstate my love for music and my passion for live music. Because of this, many of my bucket list items are actually concerts: Wacken in Germany, Rock AM Ring in Germany, Rock in Rio in Brazil, and Tomorrowland in Belgium. Rock in Rio is one of the most amazing festivals in the world with headliners like the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, Iron Maiden, and Metallica. In 2013, it sold out 200,000 tickets in less than 4 hours. It had started in Brazil but had editions in Spain and Portugal. In 2015, I learned it was coming to the United States.

I knew immediately that I was going to buy tickets without even seeing the headliners. This is one of the premier concerts in the world, and I had a chance to cross it off my bucket list in the US. When they announced the line-up, I was blown away by the headliners: No Doubt on Friday and Metallica on Saturday. Here they were, my first live band and my favorite live band, sharing a stage. Two completely different acts (Metallica fans don't typically identify as No Doubt fans), it cosmically felt that the concert was made just for me. I bought the two tickets for Danielle and I, booked our flights, and anxiously awaited the second weekend in May. Rock in Rio would be my 86th live show.

I also convinced one of my best friends, Andre, to purchase his ticket to the festival. Him and I have had numerous adventures together before (see http://mattbeymer0.travellerspoint.com/ for a taste of one said adventure), and I thought this would be the perfect chapter for us to write next. His girlfriend, Kimbrie, a new friend to Danielle and I, also decided that she was down for the concert. Thus we embarked on what would be the coolest double date ever.

We met up with Andre and took the monorail over to the new MGM Resorts Village by the Circus Circus casino. Rock and Rio would be the first concert held at the newly created concert grounds, and everything went incredibly smoothly from getting there to navigating different parts of the venue.

Day 1 was filled with great performances from Gary Clark Jr., The Pretty Reckless, Mana, and No Doubt. In my mind, Mana stole the show. Their 30 years of live music experience really came through, and Danielle liked the set other than getting a water bottle thrown at her head.

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Andre and I picked up where we finished our last journey...sort of

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The view from our room

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Danielle having a bit of NY pizza before Day 1 kicks off

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The entrance

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I have no idea what this thing is, but it was amazing

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Beautiful weather for Day 1

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Wasn't this guy in the new Mad Max movie?

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Gary Clark Jr. ripping it on the guitar

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The to-be-wed couple hanging out at the Gary Clark Jr. set

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I hope they're hearing this music in space, so amazing

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Mana

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Mana playing "Como Quisiera"

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The main stage bathed in light

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No Doubt goes acoustic

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And then ramps it back up

On Day 2, Kimbrie arrived in Las Vegas to join us for the last half of the festival. I decided to take a "shortcut" and got the group lost on the way over there, but we ended up making it to see Of Mice and Men open Day 2. I have their album "Restoring Force," which I highly recommend for metal heads out there, but I had never seen them live. They reminded me of an early version of Atreyu. Amazing energy, great live sound, and awesome audience interaction. They were an awesome band to start the day with.

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Of Mice and Men opening up Day 2

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The new Atreyu

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Got my colors on

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The concert had oddly eclectic food

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Look at this beautiful couple!

Later on in the day, we check out Coheed and Cambria which sounded okay, but we all seemed to be generally bored. After they were finished, we saw Sepultura and Steve Vai which Danielle really got into. It was amazing to see Steve Vai live, easily one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Check out this great cover of Highway to Hell with 2Cellos if you want to hear what he sounds like: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfGggAGITwg. After that set, we rushed over to enjoy Rise Against. I have seen Rise Against four times previously over the years, and they never disappoint. Tim McIlrath, the lead singer of Rise Against, always has amazing energy and puts on a wonderful show.

Right after his set, Tim ran over and did a duet with Chino Moreno on the Deftones hit "Passenger" which was so cool to see for a fan like me who loves Deftones AND Rise Against. I was sad that Al Davis (Danielle's dad and Deftones fan) wasn't there to see it.

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Rise Against

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The concert grounds with the Stratosphere in the background

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Chino Moreno of the Deftones and Tim McIlrath of Rise Against singing "Passenger" from the album, White Pony

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I just thought this one was pretty

After the Deftones, Kimbrie, Andre, and Danielle were looking at me like a kid in a candy store because I really wanted to run up to the front to see Linkin Park and Metallica. Many people understandably like their personal space at concerts, but I am someone who wants to be up front for the bands I love. As a younger person, I disdained the idea of "seats," but I know that option has been a more frequent selection as I've gotten older. But for Linkin Park and Metallica, I wanted, NEEDED, to be up in the front.

They assured me I wasn't ditching them and they would be fine, so I ran off like a little kid who is just entering a theme park for the first time. Linkin Park's set was the most amazing I've seen from the group, and Chester even had a duet with the lead singer from Of Mice and Men which was really cool to see.

After Linkin Park played for a little over an hour, Metallica took the stage. They played the usual hits like "Master of Puppets" and "Enter Sandman," but they also played less well-known tracks like "King Nothing" and "Disposable Heroes." They also performed their covers of "Turn the Page" and "Whiskey in the Jar" I sang at the top of my lungs for every track (actually knowing the words this time!). Although I've seen them six times at this point, they have never failed to impress me.

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The Ecstasy of Gold

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I got close

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Well, not that close, the camera had great zoom

If you haven't had a taste of their live performance, check out my crappy recording of "Sad but True"

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Kirk shredding on guitar

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Rob on bass and backing vocals

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The sixth time = Just as amazing as the first

As I ran to meet my three companions after the show, they laughed as I walked towards them because I apparently had a really excited look on my face. There's a unique joy that concerts bring to my life, and I have been extremely lucky to see some amazing acts over the years. Just five days after we got back, my long-time friend Karina and I went to see Muse play a small club of 500 people in Los Angeles which was quite possibly one of the best shows I've ever seen. I have been incredibly lucky, and I hope Danielle and I can do this until we're old and frail. Maybe we'll just move from the pit to the seats, but time will tell. :)

Posted by mbeymer 18:33 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Proposal...

...And the diversion three months in the making

65 °F

Danielle is one smart person. Her intelligence is one of the things I absolutely love about her, but as with any quality, it can have its pluses and minuses. The pluses are obvious including ease in learning new things, excelling at work and solving complicated problems. The minuses come in the form of TV shows, movies and anything I try to do to surprise her.

What do I mean by that? I was REALLY excited to show her "The Usual Suspects," but she figured out who Kaiser Sosay was in a matter of less than 40 minutes into the movie (I didn't figure it out until the end of the movie!). While we watch shows, she guesses the plot twist and 80% of the time guesses it right. She's so good at this that we now have a rule of "no predicting the ending" in place for any dramatic TV shows. With surprises, she's quick to detect any changes in my tone of voice, mood or even things out of place around the house. Therefore, if I wanted to genuinely surprise her with a proposal, I had to move very slowly and carefully.

It all started in September when I decided to surprise her and her dad with tickets to the Chargers/Broncos game for her dad's birthday. Her dad, Al, is a big Broncos fan and Danielle is a Chargers fan, so I thought it would be a fun father-daughter event for them to go to in San Diego. I used to live in San Diego, so I originally thought I would go down there with them, drop them off at the game, hang out with friends and then pick them up at the end and head back. After I gave Al the tickets, I thought it would act as the perfect diversion for the proposal. But as I said before, I had to tread very carefully.

Danielle had training for her job in October that was out of town, and I decided to ask Al and her mom, Keri, to dinner while she was away. I asked for their blessing, and they lovingly gave me their acceptance. I talked about the tickets and told them that the game would actually serve as the diversion for that evening's proposal. Al and Keri loved the idea, agreed to keep it a secret, and we were ready to go.

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Danielle and Al ready for the game

On top of the game diversion, I made sure to wear regular clothes and pack a bag of nice clothes that I could change into for the occasion. Once we dropped them off at the game, Keri and I got to work arranging everything with the restaurant and buying a blue sapphire orchid for the table centerpiece. I also ensured that our friends would still be able to make it to the restaurant before the game was over. Once all that was ready to go, we took a relaxing walk around La Jolla to calm my nerves.

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My favorite Thai restaurant in the US - Spice and Rice in La Jolla, California

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A Blue Sapphire orchid to match the ring

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Calming-my-nerves-view #1

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Calming-my-nerves-view #2

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Mom with her pups at the cove

I talked to her best friends, Wendy and Nikki, and told them what the plan would be a few weeks before the event. Nikki couldn't make it because she was in Northern California, but Wendy made the THREE HOUR drive down to San Diego from Camarillo to surprise her friend. My friends Ed and Andre who live in San Diego also made it out to witness the big proposal.

Keri picked them up from the stadium when the game was over saying I was hanging out with my friend Ed in La Jolla and they would meet up with us for dinner. Keri's diversion gave me time to assemble Wendy, Ed and Andre all in one place.

When she walked in with her parents to meet me for dinner after the game, you can visibly see her face become very confused when she walks in and sees Wendy. By the time she saw me, I was down on one knee asking the question. There was a lot of muffled crying from both of us, hugs and a "yes" somewhere in there.

The proposal

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Keri, Al and Ed

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Wendy and Andre

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The happy couple

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Enjoying the feast

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A lovely turnip garnish

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Wendy's beautiful engagement present to Danielle

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Posing with the boys

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She said yes

The evening went wonderfully, and we had dinner for two hours afterwards, trading stories and passing plates. I couldn't have imagined it any better, and I can't wait for this next chapter in our lives. Chances are the next chapter will come from Greece or Italy, but more to come on that front. For now, we've got ourselves a wedding to plan!

Posted by mbeymer 20:31 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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