Thursday, September 27, 2007

Aspen House, Auckland, NZ

So. Auckland. Right.

It’s big. Big enough that it’s really not so good for the walking dedicated (okay, fine, bus-phobic) like me. I’ve managed to wander around the same stuff for the past four days, and I’ve come to some conclusion about this section of central Auckland.

It’s not a particularly attractive city. It doesn’t have charming European architecture, instead leaning more towards industrial. What with the close proximity there’s a big Asian community here, so there’s all the Chinese/Japanese/Thai/I Can’t Read That Language So I Have No Idea What It Is food you could possibly want. My favorite so far is this:

Mmm, flesh AND fruity!

Which I can only assume is some kind of combination meat market/greengrocer.

Friends of my grandparents picked me up and took me to what I’m pretty sure is Mt. Eden, the tallest extinct volcano “in the area,” as Lonely Planet so helpfully puts it.


(All that grass is on the inside of the volcano. Apparently you’re not allowed to walk into the cone, but there IS a path in case you do).


I went up the Sky Tower (which, I learned is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere! Weighs as much as 6000 elephants!) and, for the low, low price of $15 got to see 360º views of a rainy Auckland.

They have this thing called the “Sky Jump” which tethers you between two cables that run from the top of the tower down to the bottom, and allows you to fall (“controlled fall,” I’m sure) all the way down. How completely delightful. There’s also a sign in the observation deck that lets you know how long until the next person jumps, which is a little uncomfortable (“Jumper in 30 seconds!”)

Jumping from the Sky Tower

There are glass – well, probably not glass, but some clear-but-dirty something or other – so you can look STRAIGHT down to the street.

God I hate heights

They promise that the glass section is just as strong as the concrete, but I’m pretty sure that’s a Big Fat Lie.

Really, really hate heights

I was pretty queasy the whole time I was up there.

Then, yesterday, after being distracted all morning by neat shops, I went to the zoo. You’ll be relieved to know that visitors to the Auckland Zoo are just as charming and delightful as visitors in the states (“See if you can pet the otter, honey!” “Here, why don’t you sit on the wall with your legs dangling in the animal pen! What a clever idea!” “Here, hippo, have some popcorn!” ).

They have a kiwi, which, being nocturnal, is kept in a completely dark room – so dark that my eyes didn’t adjust the whole time I was in there – and its pen is lit by a red light so you can really just see an outline. It was still cute. Kiwis are cute. They’re round and fuzzy and they toddle along, wobbling back and forth. Cute.

Click on this picture to browse through all my zoo pictures (as soon as I get them all uploaded, which may be a while. Check back often!

Or, if you prefer, in slideshow form.

Oh! And I was asked about the food! I haven’t had much of an appetite, and all my breakfasts have been at the hotel (corn flakes, toast), but I had Thai food (massamun curry) which was fine, and I ate at a pub (chicken and mushroom penne – though it wasn’t penne as I know it – in a pesto-and-cream sauce) and it was fine. I’ve also had more than one bag of “Grain Waves” chips, which are just like Sun Chips. But crunchier. And I had a toasted ham, cheese, and pineapple sandwich.

So, in conclusion, the food thus far as been unmemorable.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Esquires Coffee Shop, Auckland, New Zealand

I'm having trouble writing about my trip without boring the hell out of myself, so here! Have some pictures!





Sunday, September 23, 2007

Aspen House, Auckland, New Zealand

It’s my first day in a new country, the farthest from home I’ve ever been, and I’ve spent the majority in bed, watching West Wing. I’m fine with this. The exorbitantly expensive cab that I took from the airport (note to self: it’s best to check for cheaper transportation options BEFORE one has left in a taxi) dropped me at the hotel just before 6am local time (2pm yesterday EST), and check-in wasn’t until 2pm. That left me 8 (OMG 8) hours before I could get into my room.

Since my phone works here (cingular connects with vodaphone – I just love technology) I rang my folks from the scruffy lounge area where they have a perpetually burning low, wide gas fireplace (hi people, it’s not that cold, kthx). With 7.5 hours to go I bought an hour’s worth of internet (at $7NZD -- $5.39USD) and checked email.

And still 7 more hours.

Breakfast was served at 7am, so I had some cold cereal and toast. 6.75 hours left. I took a walk. It being hideously early on a Sunday there wasn’t much open. Wandered with a really awful map down to Queen street (one of the big streets on the map), back up a hill, and back into the lounge with the stupid fireplace. 6 hours, fifteen minutes.

I asked the woman at the desk (who, while courteous, didn’t exude much enthusiasm) if there was any – any – way I could get into my room early. She said she’d let the cleaning person know – she’s usually fast – to clean my room first. With much singing of praises I went back into the stupid lounge with its stupid chairs.

An hour later (spent skimming my guidebook and debating whether it was a good idea to sleep on the awful, awful chair given the likelihood of drooling all over myself) I returned to the desk to check on my room status. I didn’t mean to be pushy; I was just so tired. Oh!, she said, they just started cleaning. But they know to get my room first. Okay.

Half an hour later I got to my teeny room, which, while worn, was clean, and – oh who CARES it had a BED thank you JESUS. I stripped down, I untucked the top sheet, I shuffled two of the flattest pillows I’ve ever seen –

And couldn’t sleep. Touché, New Zealand.

Thus it was that I decided that all I’m doing today is getting dinner and going to bed early. Everything else can be figured out later.

Notes on the shower: The water took so long to heat up that while waiting with my hand in the stream I wasn’t sure if it was getting warmer or if my hand was going numb. Why do you suppose the shower floor is a foot off the ground? Also, with the “hot/warm/cold/off” handle being centered around the shower nozzle, wouldn’t that really screw over short people? Final note: the handle moves way more quickly from “hot” to “cold” than it does from “cold” to “off,” so move out of the way before trying to shut off the damn water.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

San José, California, USA

"The flight today will be three hours and four fun-filled minutes."

I fell asleep at 12:30am (or thereabouts) and woke up at 4:26am (four minutes before my alarm was set to go off, also known as "before god early"). I was dreaming about arriving in New Zealand. In it dad was dropping me off -- we'd flown down together, and now he was driving me me to my hotel. He kissed me goodbye and I went in. It didn't look as good as the website, of course, and it turned out the price for 3 nights was $400 -- well above what was agreed. The clerk offered to get me acquainted, by which she meant handing me a menu of things happening at the hotel, including acting classes and an amateur production of "Clue" which may or may not have been starring Tim Curry (which wouldn't really make it amateur).


"If Houston wasn't in your travel plans, it is now."

I was seated behind a really... interesting family on the first flight. We have Young Grandma (YG), Young Mom (YM), Granddaughter (G), and Granddad (GD). YG and G showed up first, and G was plied with blankets, toys, and various other kid-er-phernalia. Then YM (I say young because she looked somewhere between 18-22) showed up, and they all sat down. Things were okay until just before the doors closed when YG half stood and started waving a piece of paper at the flight attendants. YM checked on something, then they sat down again. When the doors closed there was a panic -- something about GD, and is he on the plane? And he's in the gate! Can't they just open the door? YM started bawling and YG started praying fiercely. When he did get in, YG cheered.

G thought I was the most hilarious thing ever and spent most of the flight standing on her seat and looking/laughing/sitting down and occasionally handing me things (including drawings, a sticker from a banana, a dirty napkin, and a compass -- the kind you draw circles with)(it wasn't pointy like the compasses of my day). It was really charming for a while, and got really irritating around hour 2.

"We'll be through one more time to pick up any unneeded items: cash, unused credit cards, jewelry..."

Remember when I flew to Scotland on Continental and the food was okay? After taking a chance on what turned out to be the worst chicken nuggets, fries, and diet coke the world has ever experienced (Dear fast food industries: chicken nuggets shouldn't be soft), I was confident about throwing 97% of it away, since, as experience proved, the food on this flight would be halfway decent.

Y'all, how the hungry have fallen! Let's look, shall we?


Iceburg lettuce on the left. Natch. Peppercorn dressing (ick). And on the right? Can you read that?


"Crispy Pizza Crust Topped with Beef Steak, Green Peppers, Ranch Dressing, Mozzarella, Provolone, and Romano Cheese."

First of all, it wasn't crispy, and second, there is no one, anyone, ever, who could make that taste good. I'm pretty sure it was a dare, because I can't imagine anyone, boardroom or no, thought that was a good idea.

All the flights went well, though, and I managed to get my bag AND find the shuttle for the hotel. It was all going well until I opened the door to my hotel room -- okay, actually, I didn't much like the hotel, but whatever whatever -- I opened the door, and the bed was rumpled, there was a coffee mug on the sink, there were towels on the floor, and I wasn't totally convinced that the pile of blankets didn't contain a person, so I closed the door all fast, and booked it back to the counter. They were aghast and all got fixed.

Holy hell, y'all, I've been up since 1:30am here-time and it's 9:14pm now and I don't know how many hours or minutes or whatever it's been, but I am some kind of TIRED. I went to dinner with my aunt and cousin. We had Thai. It was good. Here, have a picture. I'm going to bed.


"Please keep your seatbelt fastened as we're taxiing. We've never had a passenger reach the gate before the plane and we'd like to keep it that way."1

1 All quotes courtesy of one of the flight attendants this morning.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Philadelphia, PA, USA

Usually at this point I’m feeling mildly frantic, wishing the trip would just happen so I could stop thinking about it. I don’t feel that way this time. I don’t feel much of anything, in fact. Instead of racing around with a delightfully crazed look in my eye I’m playing solitaire, knitting, reading (not about NZ), and occasionally glancing at the pile of electronics, yarn, and books strewn over my bed. Also, I’ve done laundry.

This trip doesn’t feel real (I checked my plane tickets – it is). Maybe all the short trips I’ve taken lately have disguised the reality that I’ll be gone 3 months. Or maybe it’s because I’m going to California first, so it doesn’t seem like I'm actually going yet.

Either way it’s an interesting departure from the major dose of adrenaline I’m usually feeling now.

(Is it wrong that after feeling the cool fall air I’m a little disappointed to be heading into spring weather?)

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