I’m still trying to figure WordPress out, especially when it comes to captioning photos or laying out a post with the photos and text together, not with the former as a separate “gallery.” If anyone knows how to do captions/layout in WordPress, holla. Otherwise you’ll just have to figure out which photo is which on your own! I suggest you read the post and then check out the gallery so it all, hopefully, makes sense.
Bits n bobs from my trip to and first jet-lagged day on Kiwi soil:
– At the San Francisco Airport, in the women’s room of the International Terminal, you have no choice but to dry your hands in the Dyson Airblade. It looks like a sleek gray plastic half-opened binder. You’re supposed to stick your hands inside and let Dyson do the rest.
Normally, I am reluctant to put my hands in any tight space that’s part of a machine with the word “blade” in its name. I obeyed, however, and after a sound like jet engines flying low and the alarming sensation of being flayed from the wrists down, I found my hands dry as the Sahara and still, fortunately, intact. Dyson sucks again.
– After years (yes, years) of dreading the flight to New Zealand, it turned out to be one of the most pleasant plane rides I’ve ever had. Great food, delicious and free wine, roomy seats and onboard entertainment that extended beyond the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of programming choices on my personal tv. (And yes, I was flying economy).
After offering to refill the water bottle of the woman seated near me, the flight attendant quipped “vodka or gin?” Giving the flight overview, the captain added he expected a smooth flight “except that there are always a few niggles over the middle of the Pacific.” Coming back on the PA to announce breakfast service, he added “We’ve begun making our final descent into Auckland, which means all the bars aboard are closed.” Kiwi humor… love it.
The featured entertainment onboard was “Star Trek,” by the way. I watched it* over a delicious vegetarian breakfast of veggies in tomato sauce.
*Ok, full disclosure… I watched the good bits, where Karl Urban gets all Bonesy and Eric Bana gets all psycho-nutty. Is that so wrong?
As for the rest of the flight, the niggles never bothered me. After a fine dinner of vegetarian ravioli over pureeed veg and a glass of sauvignon blanc, I was out like an extinct volcano for the next ten hours. I can no longer say “Me? I never sleep on planes!”
Arriving at Auckland International in dank, predawn chill, I had the excitement of being labeled a “biosecurity risk.”
The customs agents were very polite about it, but asked that I show them the soles of my hiking boots and then took my tent “to the lab” for inspection. Ten minutes later they returned it neatly folded, noted I kept my gear “rather clean” and apologized profusely for the wait (a measly ten minutes!). My most pleasant interaction with airport security ever (and, er, I have a long history in that area, from being mistaken for an IRA sympathizer in Scotland to being accused of trying to smuggle carjeta* in from Mexico). Note to all you TSA thugs who never miss a chance to assert your “power” in American airports by acting like a flabby, bitter version of the Terminator: courtesy and professionalism cost you nothing. Try it sometime.
*Dude, it’s just caramelized goat milk. Really.
I had no problem finding the Airport Express bus where, for the princely sum of about US$8 (with Youth Hostel Association discount) I was whisked into Auckland proper, some 45 minutes away, in cushy luxury. I walked up a hill to my hotel and found they had moved a few reservations around so that I could check right in, even though it was not yet 0700.
I am staying at Aspen House, in central Auckland, and highly recommend it to anyone visiting. I can’t vouch for the rooms with shared facilities – they gave me a sweet deal for a week in an en-suite single – but I have zero complaints about the place. Friendly, helpful people who put my SIM card into my New Zealand mobile for me (more on that in a bit) and answered my endless questions, a clean, tidy room with an amazingly comfortable bed and a decent continental breakfast where the staff looks the other way when one packs a peanut butter* and jelly sandwich for lunch from the breakfast offerings.
*New Zealand peanut butter is weird. It’s much paler, almost gray, and gritty. Not chunky. Just… gritty.
(Photo of hotel room)
Here’s a shot of my funky-cool IKEA-chic hotel room. You can’t tell from the photo, but it was spacious enough that I could do my morning Pilates without banging into walls or furniture. I totally heart Aspen House.
As for my mobile phone, yes, I got one. The day I arrived in New Zealand, I learned two things, in this order:
– New Zealand has the highest rates for cell phones in the world due to a stranglehold on the industry by two companies, Vodafone and Telecom.
– The day I arrived… yes, peeps, the very day I arrived… a third company launched with rates for less than half the price of the big two. Oh, happy day.
So I got a 2degrees phone and now officially have a New Zealand number. It’s the only phone I have, too. I don’t know why, but that amuses the heck out of me… almost as much as listening to my automated voicemail assistant, who speaks in a lovely New Zealand accent. Sometimes, late at night, I listen to it and pretend it’s Karl Urban telling me I have deleted the last message in my inbox. Sigh.
After checking in to Aspen House on Tuesday morning, after the sun rose, I set off on foot uphill (it seems everything in Auckland is uphill) to the Auckland Museum, located in one of several lush and tranquil city parks. I forked over a little extra (I had a coupon!) for the Maori cultural performance, mostly because I wanted to see a haka* and figured I’d rather give my money to the museum than to some touristy operation.
*the haka is the traditional Maori way of getting fired up for battle. If you’ve seen a Kiwi rugby game or if, ahem, you have watched every bit of the “extras” section of the extended DVDs of Lord of the Rings, you’ll know what I mean. Much chanting, foot stomping, thigh slapping and general psyching-out of the opponent.
(Rather dim photo of Maori woman)
The haka itself was cool to see in person, though the only photo that came out was of one of the women doing a traditional dance with four pom-pom-on-a-string-like objects. It was interesting, though I’m also glad I didn’t pay four times the price at some tourist trap.
The museum itself had a lot of interesting stuff, including harrowing exhibits on the Boer War and World War I, a giant stuffed moa (two stories tall!) and… dramatic orchestral swell please… the axe.
(Photo of The Axe)
They set aside a whole room to display the axe Sir Edmund Hillary used to carve steps in the ice on his final approach to the summit of Everest. Hey, don’t get me wrong… I think it’s awesome and I’m glad it was a beekeeper from New Zealand and not some obnoxious American hotshot who planted the flag, but the mood lighting and hushed reverence was kinda, well, a bit overdone.
And coming from the Land of the Overdone (three words: Michael Jackson’s memorial), I know about these things.
Fighting off jetlag, I spent the rest of day one meandering around the city, mostly on foot but sometimes on The Link bus which, for NZ$1.60 (about one American buck), will take you in a relaxed loop around pretty much everything of interest in central Auckland.
Speaking of which, here are a couple more shots:
Downtown Auckland, a mix of Edwardian glam and modern glitz.
A cool public art installation in Western Park called “Tip,” recreating facades of late 19th and early 20th century buildings that once stood in Auckland, off the fashionably bohemian Ponsonby Road where I had a pumpkin, feta and courgette (zucchini) tart the size of a hockey puck and, sadly, with about as much flavor.
(Vulcan Lane photo!)
Something for Julie, Ev, Matt and all the other Trekkers I know… as well as, I suppose, fans of Roman mythology. Vulcan Lane (yes, it really exists… and is a block from my hotel) is just about a block long and full of pubs. I’ll let you know when I find Romulan Alley.