November 28: Otra Vez

Things to remember: It’s not a rubbish bin, it’s a trash can; it’s not a chemist, it’s a drug store; look left when crossing the road. Ok, it’s spelled Center – I’m definitely in America.

Yesterday was perfect, but today I must have woken up on the wrong side of the air bed. Perhaps it’s my alternate reality Monday, or just Monday. As I type this, the Giants are losing. Definitely not my day. Continue reading

28 November: Flying in Style

There is never a good time to leave New Zealand. It just becomes an inevitability. The ski season is lively and fun, the rugby in the Spring time brought the world together, and the summer provides warmth and daylight for tramping, camping and exploring the world-famous landscape of the islands. I was just getting used to extended daylight hours, the conveniences of the city, and most importantly, the company of good friends in Auckland.

I couldn’t have asked for a better last day, a relaxing Sunday afternoon watching hockey with Brian and laying in the sunshine reading my book and watching my clothes dry. Even knowing that I had a posh comfy seat and complimentary champagne could not entice me to leave.

When the time did come to head to the airport Monday afternoon I was surprised by the extra room I had in my suitcase. Warm weather travel certainly beats hauling around ski gear! In the Duty Free shop I purchased a 1L bottle of 42 Below Feijoa vodka to add to my New Zealand vodka collection back home and continued to the Koru Club Lounge upstairs.

Air New Zealand’s business class lounge has a complimentary buffet as well as wine, beer, spirits and non alcoholic beverages for self-serve. The friendly staff was also available to make espresso drinks and provide assistance. They clearly knew I was coming because they had hockey on TV and a spinach, corn and tomato salad on their dinner buffet.

I was struggling to stay clear of eating too much dessert, but the mini pavlovas were my weakness! I followed up with a mochaccino before heading to my gate.

I got settled into my seat in what I call anti-social class and the flight attendant showed me how the seat rest and table worked. The man in the seat across from me offered to take a photo so I suppose it’s not entirely anti social though you don’t have someone right next to you.

I read up on some Kiwi news, drank some champagne and sparkling wine (to tell the truth I enjoyed the NZ sparkling wine more than the champagne) and committed myself quite enthusiastically to watching four and a half hours of parts one and two of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. My stipulation for watching the films was that I intended to watch them both sequentially, and this was the perfect opportunity!

I enjoyed my second round of dinner, though I was a bit confused by the diabetic meal I had requested. The entree was a smoked salmon, and in my meal they served prawns; I’m not certain how much more sugar salmon contains, but the prawns were certainly tasty. I selected the lamb as my main dish, and was disappointed when the flight attendant brought my special meal out. As tempting as the spinach looked, I asked if the meat was chicken or pork, and as I don’t eat white meat, requested the lamb dish instead. I think she may have been a bit irritated by that, but it was my last chance to have a nicely prepared medium rare lamb steak and I wasn’t about to give that up!

Quite overfull from the variety of food and drink in my stomach I experimented with laying my bed down, and at first found it a bit confusing the way the seat folds forward, like I was sitting in the back of an SUV. They provide quite nice bedding, and the seat does lie fully flat, parallel to the floor, something I do prefer to the beds on the Qantas flights which sit at a bit of an angle.

I enjoyed the movies, taking an intermission to change my clothes and brush my teeth, and fell asleep over the Pacific Islands.

Damned, Hell Pizza is Still Favorite Pizza

I’m from New York. I should know a thing or two about pizza. Then again, in NY pizza is a thin white crust, doughy around the outside, a bit of tomato sauce, and as much cheese as you can physically fit on top of it, so much that if you’re not careful the hot cheese will dribble down to your shoes. That’s why we fold it in half to eat it, not to mention the fact that the slice is huge, and sometimes covered in pepperoni.

Carefully crafted Chicago style pizza is a delicacy for me. Gino’s East in downtown Chicago makes a fantastic pizza. It takes an hour to prepare, and the crust is crisp and flakey around the edges, and has a full flavor, a bit like a pastry. The dough is thick, which is why the long baking time, and the cheese and toppings are melted together throughout the top of the pie, almost like a bread-based quiche.

California style pizza makes use of the state’s abundance of fruits and vegetables. The pizza has a very thin crust, and the focus is on the toppings. Tomato sauce isn’t necessarily the base. It could be BBQ sauce, a white alfredo sauce, or any kind of creamy sauce that will hold the toppings together. Like Westernized sushi rolls, the creativity is in mixing different ingredients to create a unique taste. Of course there are the classics; the margarita, the hawaiian, meat- and veggie-lovers, but there are also tasty combinations involving seaweed, Thai chicken, or anything else you can throw on there!

Hell’s Pizza in New Zealand is similar to the California style, mixing up combinations of at least 5-6 ingredients per pizza. The Damned is my favorite selection, with fresh avocado, pineapple, mushrooms, big chunks of cashews, toasty camembert cheese, and I generally substitute the onions for crushed garlic. The seafood pizza, The Underworld, with mussels, calamari and prawns is another favorite of mine. I haven’t been disappointed with any of the pizzas I’ve gotten at the Queenstown location. They use a wholemeal crust, baked to a crispy perfection and the ingredients are fresh and tasty.

Unfortunately I didn’t have as good of an experience at the Auckland Quay St location. The pizza itself was barely edible, highly greasy and the ingredients had no flavor whatsoever. Apparently the quality of the pizza varies widely amongst Hell’s locations all over New Zealand. If you’re in Queenstown, I highly recommend trying a snack sized pizza; $10 for 6 small slices is the perfect size for lunch, a late night snack, or a light eater. They also have a tasty selection of sides, like kumara chips – yum!

Hell PIzza in Queenstown is located next to Joe’s Garage, in the same laneway as Cowboy Bar and Barmuda, and just around the corner from Night ‘N Day.

New Zealand All Blacks Win the Rugby World Cup 2011!!

The All Blacks head to Eden Park to win the cup!

The night the country had been waiting for, a well-deserved victory for New Zealand rugby players and fans alike! I was fortunate to arrive at the hotel in time to see the team bus and the motorcade of motorcycles and security heading out to Eden Park.

The France supporters take refuge at the French restaurant on the corner!

A met up with friends at Glen’s apartment on K Rd and worked my way through throngs of rugby fans making their way to Eden Park for the final game of the Rugby World Cup 2011.

Fans making their way down K Rd towards Eden Park, flooding both sides of the street

I headed down Queen St and through Aotea Square, where the tiny band of Occupy Queen St protesters were stationed. The postered area seemed quiet, as I’m sure most of the activists were more interested in the rugby.

Occupy Queen St... after the Rugby

The entirety of lower Queen St was closed off in anticipation of the festivities. The New Zealand flag flew proudly between the buildings in Auckland’s CBD as hundreds of decorated and face-painted fans hooted and hollered in support of their team and their country!

New Zealand's Flag Reins over Queen St

The entire city felt like a massive all night party. I can’t imagine mardi gras being larger than an event like this! The excitement and unity of the people of this nation, the ex-patriots, the visitors and tourists is why I came to New Zealand during the world cup.

One huge party in the streets of Auckland!

The match was nerve-wrackingly close! It was anyone’s game until the whistle was blown. We all believed the All Blacks would win, but at this moment it was for certain. New Zealand beat France 8-7.

Joining the biggest party of my life!

We won we won we won!!! Go New Zealand!!!

Bronze Final @ Eden Park

On Friday 21st October I ceremoniously made my way with Donna and Ken to my first live rugby match at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Although Australia and Wales were competing for 3rd place in the World Cup and not for advancement in the tournament it was still an exciting match, and exciting for me to see a live match against two top teams!

Bus to Eden Park

I would have liked to walk to Eden Park from Quay St along the Fan Trail but given my medical condition it wouldn’t have been advisable!I met up with Donna and Ken and we took one of the free buses up to the stadium. Bus after bus heading up to the stadium was filled with excited fans. ________ ___________ ______________________ ____________________ ________________

The crowd enjoying the night outside of Eden Park Stadium!

________ _________ ___________ _________ ___________
Sports fans made their way towards the stadium, stopping to listen to live music and performances along the way. Most people were dressed up with face paint, team jerseys and national flags.

Ken, Donna, Anna

Making my way up the make-shift staircase to my D section seats!

_____________ _______________ ______________ ____________ My friends and I sat on almost complete opposite sides of the stadium and I made my way around the perimeter to the N entrance, up the steps and to my nosebleed seats at the top of the stadium!

I'm at a Rugby World Cup 2011 game!!!

The great thing about the D section seats is they are at the far end of the field and have a spectacular view with no obstructions. My ticket cost me $97 plus a booking fee, but well worth it to be part of the action!

The players take the field!

_____________ ___________________________ In the Bronze Final the two teams that lose the semi final games compete for third place in the World Cup. Most rugby fans, especially kiwis, felt that the All Blacks’ win over Australia had decided the fate of the tournament, but it’s not over yet!

National Anthems of Australia and Wales

_____________ _______________ ___________________________ The match commenced after the singing of the National Anthems of Australia and Wales. Since I have many Australian friends and only two Welsh friends I had intended to cheer for Australia but when I arrived at the stadium I ended up going for Wales!

Where the magic happens: Eden Park in Auckland!

_____________ _______________ _____________ _______________ ___________________________ The fans were cheering and animated, but the it felt so silent without the constant commentary on the television! Without breaks in play the stadium is unable to play music to amp up the crowd unless a player gets injured and they need to stop the clock. If it’s a minor injury play will continue while medics treat the player.

An exciting Game!

_____________ _______________ ___________________________ Despite the lack of cheerleaders, half time shows, or any frills that American sports normally have, the fans did a pretty good wave, which made it around Eden Park at least twice! Most people around my seat were cheering for Wales. Kiwis tend to be supporters of the underdog, or any team going up against Australia!

The Wallabies Accept their Bronze Medals

_____________ _______________ _______________ ___________________________ The action was a bit quiet during the second half but became more thrilling at the final minutes when Wales scored a try at the last moment. Regardless, Australia had won the game!

Returning to Britomart Train Station

We took the train back to Britomart Station. Both tracks were used for traffic going to the CBD, and still there were enormous lines!

North Shore Tour & Taste of New Zealand Food Festival

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This afternoon I met Sam, a couch surfer and Auckland local who lives on the North Shore. Though it was pouring rain in the city the clouds quickly passed. As we crossed the Harbour Bridge and entered the rural fields of North Auckland the rain let up. A world of farmland, cows and bright green landscape surrounded me. I felt a bit more at ease, and liberated from my urban fortress!

Our first stop was Snow Planet, an indoor ski field. I took photos left and right; there in the middle of no where on a hill was a boxy white structure housing a wonderful man-made slope with a magic carpet, two poma lifts, a terrain park and all the usual alpine lodge amenities such as rentals, a ski shop and of course a pub with a toasty fireplace!

Our second stop was the little Bohemian village of Puhoi. We drove past the Bohemian museum, the library, the kayak rental, and parked at the Puhoi hotel and pub. A true locals pub, every inch of wall and ceiling was decorated with memorebelia – mostly various paper currency and old ID cards. We enjoyed a round of Bohemian Draught, a light lager style beer, as the sun came out overhead. Puhoi is also known for its regional cheeses and Feijoa sparkling wine.

Before taking me to meet the bus back to Auckland Sam showed me where the hot pools are (a commercial pool with waterslides and such) and some of the beautiful coastline. I love the little nook and cranny beaches along the suburbs. It reminds me of the freedom and serenity of local San Diego beaches.

We had intended to arrive in time to catch the 3:45pm ferry from the peninsula, but were running a bit late. I had to transfer to a different bus in Silverdale, and the ride took me about an hour and cost ten dollars. The trip was well worth it though not as scenic as the ferry would have been. As luck would have it, Hobson St was closed when the bus arrived back to the city and the closest stop to home was right at the corner of Victoria Park.

On my way back on the bus Glen had invited me to join him, Josh and Tom at the Taste of New Zealand Food Festival in Victoria Park, and seeing as how I arrived right outside the park at 5:18pm, I saw it as a sign that I should check it out!

The admission price of $30 was a bit steep, but there were far more samples than I had even imagined at such an event! I began at the cupcake stand, conveniently located right at the entrance, and worked my way around to yoghurt, flavored nuts and spices, Lemoncello, and around the corner to Moa beer.

My next destination was the Whiskey tent where they had a Scotch tasting presentation. The Ardmore and Highland Park were my favorites, the latter having a sweet bourbon style taste. We also had Famous Grouse, which wasn’t quite as smooth, and Laphroaig, which apparently is an acquired taste and supposedly has hints of ocean and salt water.

I met up with Glen, Josh and Tom and we delved into the bulk of the samples; hummus and dips, lamb, beef, chili sauces, sausages, sweets, kumara vodka, Stolen rum, cheeses and wines from countless vineyards. It took us the full four hours to explore everything, including the display of modern kitchen appliances and layouts, as well as a kiosk with Singapore Airlines’ business class seats.

Unlimited tastings were included in the entry fee, but there is also the option to purchase crowns, the unit of currency when purchasing cocktails, glasses of wine and beer, and specialty dishes made up by chefs from various local restaurants. I decided to forego the paid tastings and filled up on a wide variety of other foods! The soft cheeses and tender beef and lamb and spicy sausages were by far my favorites! I was impressed with the novelty of kumara vodka, though the taste was not as appealing. Glen decided to buy a pizza-maker, a round sandwich-maker-like appliance which makes pizzas in just 5 minutes so hopefully we will be around at his place for a pizza party in the near future! Personally the only purchase I made at the food and beverage festival was a $2 bottle of sparkling artesian water. It may have been Tom’s comment about the sad looks on the vendors’ faces from their lack of popularity, surrounded by such tasty samples, but the cool, fresh water was a fine finish to the evening.

The quality of food and beverage, as well as the music and ambiance, well justifies the $30 price tag. Everything was so delicious – not to mention the free-flowing spirits and wine – I would consider going again! The evening sessions of the Taste of New Zealand food festival are from 5:30-9:30pm Wednesday 19 October until Saturday 22 October. If you are in Auckland I highly recommend it!

Weekend of the Semi Finals

Last night in Auckland the French team beat Wales 9-8 and tonight the All Blacks face Australia, a long-time rival. Both kiwis and aussies are fired up for the match, which starts at 9pm tonight. Right now I am enjoying a green tea in the lobby of the hotel where the All Blacks are having dinner and are about to head to Eden Park.

The sun is shining and the city is a surge of excitement. Along Queen St and the Wharf it seems to be a competition of who can make the most noise today! The energy this weekend has been building since Friday. Yesterday just after noon I joined the team from Dance Pro Studios for their flash mob by the viaduct.

On Friday Brian and I took a trip to Waiheke Island for some wine tasting and some of the Wallabies were on our morning ferry. As we exited the dock a group of them asked me to take some photos with their friends. If I had been a bit faster on the ball I should have asked them if they needed a photographer for the day! Life is never boring here!

Casual Thursday in Auckland

I always love swimming laps, especially in the same pool as the All Blacks. Just a casual Thursday evening… not a bad consolation for not being able to go on vacation this week. The car broke down, my leg broke down, and there was an oil spill off the coast of our destination earlier this week… but staying in Auckland has never been more fun.

Tonight I made Indian-spice lentil soup with fresh coriander and veggies. Last night it was veggie quinoa with white fish. I can feel my body healing and regulating nicely after a week of home-cooked meals. The street vendor Indian food at the festival on Sunday was delightful and exotic but eating out has taken its toll on my body.

Today began with an onslaught of rain which began to clear after my morning stretches. What do overly athletic people do in the rain? We go shopping at sporting goods stores. Kathmandu on Queen St is having a huge sale, 50% off on most biking and hiking items, and I was tempted to purchase biking gloves and some very comfortable hiking shoes, but decided against it until my body is well enough to use them! I decided on a fold-up backpack, a plastic drink bottle with a cute New Zealand logo to replace my Sundance nalgene bottle that was lost at the airport, and a small quick-dry towel that was on clearance for only $3. I’m also tempted to hook myself up with a sleeping bag for $100 and a self-inflating pad for $50, giving me a whole sleeping setup for $150NZD!

My culinary life has taken a turn for the better, especially after exploring the Asian supermarket across the street, which has a supply of Indian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and other specialty food staples, frozen goods, spices, drinks and treats. I also tried what I now call the “All Black Special” for my afternoon tea. Since the team is unable to drink alcohol they spend their time in the hotel lobby enjoying green tea with honey and milk. If it’s good enough for world-class athletes it’s good enough for me, especially as a tea-lover!

Scenic Cycle through Mission Bay in Auckland

This sunny afternoon I took advantage of Auckland Transport’s bike hire located on Quay St by Britomart Train station and by the Viaduct. For $10 a day or $5 for four hours you can rent a good quality mountain bike and helmet. A sturdy cable lock is just $2 extra.

I began my ride on Quay St, which is closed off for the World Cup Quarter Finals festivities this weekend. After about a kilometer of riding the bike and pedestrian path falls away from the bustle of the city and winds its way around the bay.

The ride is a pleasant scenic cruise around to various beaches and marinas. The underwater aquarium is just before the bend in the road in the photo above.

I stopped before I reached the aquarium to use the drinking fountain (not very common in New Zealand!), walk across the sand, and test the temperature of the water. To my surprise it wasn’t particularly chilly.

Much warmer than Lake Wakatipu at this time of year! I rode to Mission Bay, a stretch of gorgeous beach, a park for children to play, and a strip of restaurants and cafes across the street.

I rode as far as the cliffs of Ladies’ Bay before turning around to head back. My round trip journey was about 20km.