This morning Dad and I toured the city. Our local guide was excellent. Her name was Charlotte, and she hailed from Brooklyn… Brooklyn, NZ that is, which is on one of the hills surrounding Wellington. Her hair was short and kind of spiky on top, getting longer towards the back. The joked that she’d worn her hair like that since 1980 because the wind was so strong in Wellington it wasn’t worth owning a brush!
She was delightful however, quick with a self-deprecating joke, and was an absolute fountain of knowledge. She started by taking on us on a quick coach ride through the city, pointing out landmarks, like the Embassy (Movie) Theatre, where all of Peter Jackson’s films world premiere.
Then she drove us up to the top of Mount Victoria. We had to climb a few steps from the parking lot to the absolute top, but the view was totally worth it! There was a 360 degree view of Wellington. The city lived up to its nickname of ‘Windy Wellington’ and it was quite breezy at the top, but Dad and I both had fun taking panorama pictures and video. The rest of the group didn’t last long because it was quite chilly, so we headed out quickly.
Renee and Andy had some interesting times in the parking lot while we were up taking photos because they found a clearly abandoned car (a red sports car… some brand that started with ‘M’) they suspected was stolen, so Andy called it in. I never found out the end of that story…
Anyway, after Mt. Victoria we drove back down to the city. Charlotte pointed out the window and across the bay, near the airport, a giant sign has been erected a la Hollywood that says ‘ALL BLACKS’ on a hill side. Obviously that is referencing the New Zealand rugby team, supporting them in the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
Charlotte was excited to see the sign, because it was only about 48 hours old and it was the first time she’d seen it. She told us the saga of how the sign came to be. Apparently Wellington’s other nickname (post-Peter Jackson anyway) is ‘Welliwood’ and that’s what the sign was supposed to say. But half the city thought that was copy-cating Hollywood, and was beneath them. A big fight broke out over the issue. Finally a Facebook campaign started which sparked a write-in contest. Finally they settled on All Blacks.
We got off the coach near the city center near parliament (Wellington is the capital of NZ). The security is much less obvious than around the White House (There was one security guard). Dad commented on this, I told him it was because the rest of the world wasn’t pissed off at New Zealand.
There are three very interesting buildings right next to each other. The oldest one is now the legal library, and is pale yellow with a red roof, in a vaguely victorian style but with some greek and/or roman columns. The next building over is stately grey marble and granite… but it doesn’t look finished, it seems to be missing a wing (and it is, more on that later). The last building is circular, grey, and nicknamed ‘the Beehive.’ It also has a story.
So, the story on the unfinished middle building: It actually begins before it’s construction. In the early 1910s they decided they needed more room, so they started planning to build this new extension. But, when WWI broke out they didn’t have the money to transport the building materials (Italian marble and such) from Europe. The New Zealander’s had never considered their local building materials to be viable for a building like that, but left with no choice they had to resort to local granite and marble (I think it’s beautiful). The right-end turned out quite nice… but they never got around to finishing the left half due to money problems.
The way the Beehive came into being also had a funny story. Apparently one evening the Prime Minister was having dinner and drinks with an architect friend. After dinner they polished off an entire bottle of scotch. The Prime Minister leaned over to his friend and started lamenting how embarrassing it was that the building wasn’t finished, and oh, what were they going to do? The architect then turned over his cocktail napkin and drew a picture of the Beehive. A few years later it came into being.
As a result, the courtyard these buildings line has a quirky feeling to it, with all the different architecture styles. Charlotte said she liked it that way, because New Zealand and Kiwis were quirky. I liked it too.
After that we hopped back on the coach and drove to the base of an old-fashioned cable car. They only took the victorian era cars off the line a few years ago. Now they’re Swiss. A few University students were in our car because there is a stop for Victoria University of Wellington on the line.
The ride up the hill only took 10 minutes or so. At the time I severely underestimated the distance we’d climbed (I had to do it on foot later in the day… more on that later).
At the top was the requisite gift shop (with one of the original cars on display) and cafe. A leg of the botanical gardens was also there. We went to the botanical gardens, but we got back in the coach to do it because we went to the rose(less) garden and the Begonia House.
There was a small Peace Garden off to the side of the rose garden. I never could figure out where the flame was, but given how many wars are occurring in various parts of the world maybe it couldn’t show its face. The water was quite pretty, not because it was crystal clear or anything like that, quite the contrary actually. There was green scum everywhere, but it was in the most beautiful patterns. Yes folks, I saw beautiful algae.
The Begonia House was… well, it was full of flowers. They were pretty. For flowers.
I guess appreciation for flowers hasn’t kicked in yet.
I got a kick out of them proudly displaying a living sample of Bromeliaceae Tillandsia usneoides. Or, for you fellow non-flower lovers, Spanish moss. That’s a weed where I come from…
Next up was a beer tasting at Mac’s Brewery. They gave us two samples. One was a pale yellow Pilsner with lots of hops in it. The other one was more red in color and was called Sassy Red, and was described as a bitter. It was Charlotte’s favorite beer, and was produced locally. Out of those two the Sassy Red was definitely better, and almost everyone in our group agreed.
Dad bought a glass of stout but had them pour it into three taster glasses (I thought the tasters were kind of large). He gave one to me and one to the lady across from me, who had mentioned she liked darker beers.
Dad definitely liked the stout the best. I didn’t like it as well as the Left Hand stout he had at The Girl and the Goat earlier this summer. I was on the fence whether I liked the Sassy Red or the stout better. The stout had more guts, but I thought it was too bitter.
After that, we walked a short distance to the famous Te Papa museum. The museum is famous because it has won all kinds of awards for interactive excellence and engaging visitors. They figured out that the best way to engage children and keep them from just madly mashing buttons is to have the informational spiels spoken by children.
Our group was broken in half and we each got a tour guide to take us around the museum. Our guide’s name was ‘T’, short for Terry. He was very knowledgable and liked showing off his museum.
I didn’t end up staying that long at the museum however, because (drum roll please) the amazing wonderful fabulous Laura Shultz met me in the New Zealand Wildlife exhibit.
We pealed off from the group and I got to see a student’s eye view of the city. We walked along the harbour (or bay? never really figured out which was the more appropriate term). She caught me up on some of her adventures. She showed me where she volunteered at WOW, which is currently doing a wearable fashion project. It’s apparently quite spectacular.
We found an ENORMOUS slide by the water, shaped like a lighthouse. We of course had to climb it and slide down. Neither of us had had lunch, so she decided we should go to Cozy Cake Shop. We accidentally missed it though, so we actually ended up going to Midnight Espresso on Cuba Street (coincidentally, this was right across the street from the French restaurant Dad went to for lunch).
Midnight Espresso was very cool and trendy. We both had Chai tea lattes and excellent pear/chocolate chip muffins. We got the lattes to go and kept walking towards her flat because she had class in the afternoon.
It was so nice to get to see her! I’m so lucky that she had time to spend the afternoon with me because otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten to see her till December! The rest of Northwestern won’t get to see her till January, which is a long time to be Laura-less.
Laura lives in a flat, which is a stand-alone house with four bedrooms. The flat is up the hill from the University. And the University is a long way up. A long way. (Remember how I said I underestimated it?).
There is a hill that Laura affectionately calls ‘the hill of death’ that must be climbed to get to the University and her flat. The hill deserves its name. It is nearly vertical. The tour had been feeding me far too well, and getting up the hill probably burned off the calories from my muffin, but man were my calves burning!
Poor laura has to climb it every time she want’s groceries…
I wheezed my way up, following Laura (who now has calves of steel) to her flat. Non of her roommates were home, but I got to see her room, the living room, and kitchen. It seems like a great place to live, and actually the interior reminded me a little of Chapin… similar carpet, high ceilings, white walls… same vibe. And Laura is lucky enough to be in one of the only housing options on campus that has unlimited wifi. At all other locations you have to buy a plan, which limits the number of megabytes you can use per month. I would not do well on that system. At all.
Laura is also blessed to have a friend studying computer science, who set her computer up so that Firefox routes itself through a server in Ohio, tricking the network into thinking she’s in the states, so all of her American websites (like Net-flicks and Hulu still work). I’m not going to steal her thunder by telling any of the amazing stories she told me, but I will say I got to hear all about her travels over New Zealand, and you should all look forward to hearing them too!
Laura usually has biodiversity and New Zealand lit in the afternoons, but she was actually skipping them to attend a special seminar as part of a leadership program on campus. On her walk over she gave me a quick tour through the university buildings. The route she takes to get to class is hysterical, because basically she walks into the 1st floor of a building on one end of the university and ends up on the 4th or 5th floor of a building on the other end of campus without changing elevation. Yes, Wellington is hilly.
On the way Laura showed me the tuatara (lizard-like things and the only four-legged creatures native to New Zealand). They are endangered, but the University has a pair I assume they’re trying to breed.
Laura also showed me where the student union and library were. I had two hours to amuse myself while she was in her seminar. She recommended a book from her New Zealand lit class called Bone People. I started trying to find it in the university bookstore (which was really nice, with an attached cafe) but they didn’t have it. So I went over to the library. I was really proud of myself because I figured out how their filing system worked (it’s not the Dewey decimal system), but then I couldn’t find the books… I walked all over the library (which in Wellington means up and down all the staircases) and all I could ever find were the periodicals.
It was okay though because I had a New Zealand travel guide in my phone that I’d never gotten a chance to peruse. So I read all about Wellington (Charlotte and/or Laura had already told me everything) and about Queenstown and Milford Sound where we’re going tomorrow.
I met Laura at the appointed spot and time, having never gotten lost. Score!
Laura picked a strategic spot to meet, because it was outside the classroom where her friends, Christina and Katherine, were getting out of class. They were both really nice! Christina’s mom was in town for their mid-semester break, and she was taking the girls out for dinner. Laura was going so I tagged along, but I did not expect Christina’s mom to buy my dinner since I was only a visitor, but she insisted. She was a very nice lady from San Diego, California.
We went to a restaurant with a great name and even better food. It was called Abra-kebab-ra. The most similar thing we have to it in Evanston is Pomegranate but this was 10x better.
I had a great time chilling with Laura’s friends, hearing about their classes, travels, and experiences in New Zealand. Laura and I ended up going back to Midnight Espresso with Christina and her mom and I got another tasty Chai latte. They just make them better here. The good news is Laura now knows how to do it and will show me once she’s back in the states!
I was fading a bit due to my early morning and Laura was also tired because she’d gotten up early as well to finish a paper, so it was a relatively early night. Laura was really sweet and walked me most of the way back to my hotel, since I didn’t exactly know where I was going.
It was a wonderful day, hanging out with one of my best friends! And the fact that it was halfway around the world from our home made it even better!