Archive for March, 2010

Introduction to Auckland

March 22nd, 2010 No comments


Our first order of business was to get some cash. An ATM did the trick nicely. Money in hand, we next sought out the best route into the city. We stopped by the information booth, and a jovial old man helped us figure out the cheapest option in to the city.

We caught the Air Bus a few minutes later. A group of Canadians returning from a trip to Australia were in the bus with us, and we had a fun time talking with them about their travels. They recommended Milford Sound, which I’ve been hearing a lot about lately. It’s definitely going on my list of possible things to do.

As we rode in, we watched the sun rise over Auckland. I realized that it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a sunrise.

The bus was able to drop us off very close to our hostel, and we made it to the address without any problems at all. We didn’t expect to be able to check in, but we planned to drop off our bags in the luggage room so we wouldn’t have to carry them. Our luck was in, however, and we were able to check in immediately, which was a godsend. It was incredibly nice to get in, take a shower, and drop off for a quick nap. We felt so much more relaxed afterward.

A little better rested, Dore and I headed out of the hostel to check out the city around 9:45. The weather in Auckland was really nice — cool and comfortable. Good walking weather. And walk we did. First, down to the harbor, where we saw a bit of the Louis Vuitton Cup sailing race (on a jumbotron, anyway). Then on to Victoria Park Market (which is pretty lame — or “tacky” as a local runner accurately assessed it). Then, on the runner’s advice, we headed up towards Ponsonby Street. By this time we had walked by at least fifty restaurants, and we were completely starving. It was a tad early for lunch, but we didn’t care. Dore found a Belgian restaurant that was on our path, and we made a beeline for it.

The Ponsonby Belgian restaurant was great. We each got a large beer, and Dore got a huge pot of local New Zealand green-lipped mussels. I got a Flemish beef stew. Both of them were fantastic, but Dore’s mussels definitely took the cake. They were enormous, and really flavorful. We both ate until we were completely stuffed.

Waddling slightly, we made our way back to the hostel for a much needed break. All in all we estimated that we walked about five and a half miles, most of it hilly.

Back at the hostel, we crashed for a couple of hours, wrote a few emails, and generally tried to come to grips with how long the day seemed to be. Starting your day at 2 am will do that to you.

Finally, around 7 pm, we got up the energy to go out for dinner. We decided to head back toward the harbor to some restaurants that looked good there. We were not disappointed. After checking out several menus, Dore and I settled on the Fox Bar and Grill (or Fox something anyway). We were especially eyeballing the lamb salad and Greek salad.

Both dishes were amazingly well done. My highest compliments to the chef! The lamb was cooked perfectly medium rare, and not over spiced — just a bit of salt and pepper, I believe. There was a tangy mint sauce on the side that worked very well with the meat. The dish also came with perfectly cooked fresh green beans, potatoes, and a simple salad with a drizzle of olive oil. Altogether it was just great ingredients prepared simply but precisely — the sign of a very competent chef.

The Greek salad, although simpler to put together, was equally well executed. Unlike so many of its brethren, this Greek salad actually paid attention to its namesake, and kept the focus where it should be: tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, olives, and oil and vinegar. It also included a bit of microgreens, but they were tastefully balanced to enhance the dish as opposed to taking away from it.

Can you tell that Dore and I are foodies?

Well fed, we walked back up the hill to our hostel, dropped into bed, and went down for a very well-deserved night’s rest

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Why You Should Pack Clean Undies in Your Carry-On

March 22nd, 2010 No comments


Our flight made it to Auckland on time at 5:15 am local time. Yup. Five in the morning. Dore and I were glad to be off the plane, and actually in pretty good shape, considering. We were pretty tired, but not completely exhausted. We made our way out of the international arrivals area and headed to customs. Before we made it there, however, we ran into yet another high-end duty-free mall. What is it with these places? And why is duty-free synonymous the world ’round with “get your cheap booze here!”? The world may never know.

The passport check line was not too long, and we made it through with no trouble. I used my New Zealand passport for the very first time, which was actually somewhat anticlimactic: Dore got a stamp in her passport, while I got none. I forgot that the stamps are visas. Card-carrying members don’t need no stinking visas.

Next, we arrived at the baggage retrieval, where we ran into a brief scare. We waited and waited, but our bags didn’t come. No worries, we thought. There are plenty of people here that don’t have their bags yet, and there are lots of bags on the carousel. We watched and waited patiently, sure that our bags would be out in a jiffy.

Our hopes started to wane a bit as the number of bags and people dwindled. Finally, there was only a solitary, shriveled little pink bag making its forlorn rounds on the carousel. It think it’s owner may have abandoned it out of shame. We watched as it made its way around the circuit. “Maybe this time someone will claim me,” it seemed to say, winding round. It disappeared behind the rubber sheets at the end of the line. A minute later it appeared again, bulging out from the mysterious back room. “Maybe this time….”

They stopped the carousel a few laps later. I don’t know if anyone ever claimed the little pink bag.

Dore and I tiredly, but resolutely, walked over to the baggage assistance line. There were about fifty people in front of us. This looked to be a long morning.

But then hope returned: a voice on the loudspeaker announced our possible salvation:

“For the passengers of Air New Zealand flight 7 we wish to inform you that the extra baggage for your flight has arrived and will be coming out of carousel one shortly. We apologize for the delay and wish you a good day.”


Spirits cautiously lifted, Dore and I — and the rest of the line — moved over to the carousel. As promised, it started a minute later, and lo and behold our bags came through. We were, to put it lightly, quite relieved. High fives were definitely in order.

Backpacks procured, we headed out through the final customs and bio-security checkpoint, and officially into New Zealand.

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The Plan

March 22nd, 2010 No comments

Note: This is the first of a series of posts covering Dore’s and my trip to New Zealand.  We’re super excited to be here, and hope to share some of our adventures with anyone that cares to read. 🙂  If you want to be notified of new posts, I suggest using the RSS feed (see the link to the right) and an RSS reader like Google Reader.

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The plan was to go to work, spend most of the day working, and leave comfortably early for the airport to catch our flight. It didn’t quite work out that way. Around midmorning I got a call from United. Your flight is delayed by thirty minutes. Okay, fine. I can deal with that. It would be nice to have a reason, but whatever. We already had some extra time in San Fransisco because of an earlier scheduling conflict that had us booked on an earlier flight.

Then I got another call. The flight is delayed by 45 minutes now. Hmm… this is getting a bit close, but we can still make it. I went back to work, starting to get a bit worried.

A little later I get the call. The flight is delayed for an hour and a half. Crap. Now we’re never going to make the connection. I called United.

Our options were these: take a flight to San Jose and figure out how to make the 44 miles to the San Fransisco airport, or drive down and fly from LAX. The San Jose route was possibly safer, but Dore and I already had a long layover in LA on our return trip. If we drove down we’d be able to pick up our car on the return trip and skip the layover on the way back. Sure, we’ll have to drive two hours after a long plane flight, but whatever, right?

So that’s how, at one o’clock, we found ourselves dashing out of the house, yelling instructions and reminders back and forth, desperately hoping that we had managed to remember everything.

“Did you get the Mochi to the cat hotel?”

“Did you pack the camera?”

“What about lunch?”

We ran out, threw the bags in the car, and were on our way.

The drive looked like it would be good, but we knew that we were cutting it close. “Let’s see… the flight leaves at four, so we need to be at the airport by three, latest. How long does that give us?”

“We’ve got to be at the car park by three, or we’re in real trouble.”

We hit the traffic about thirty miles out. As the car ground to a halt, we watched helplessly as the GPS ticked down the minutes, updating our estimated arrival time in painfully accurate steps. Two thirty dropped to two forty. Two fifty. Two fifty-five.

Finally we pulled off of the freeway, raced around a few surface streets in L.A., and made it to the parking lot. Dore started unloading bags from the car as I ran inside and got the paperwork started. A few clipped answers later I tossed the key across the counter and ran out to grab my bags. We raced to the shuttle (which, luckily was waiting at the entrance) and crossed our fingers that we had made it in time.

We arrived at the airport at 3:05 pm, exactly one hour before our plane was to depart. Now we were on familiar ground, and there was no force in the world that could stop — or speed up — our progress. We dropped off the bags, got through security, and went as quickly as possible to our gate.

We made it with six minutes to spare. A high-five was definitely in order.

The flight to San Fransisco was, I’m happy to report, fast and uneventful. Did you know you can make it between the cities in only 45 minutes? Damn, technology is great sometimes.

On the ground in San Fransisco, Dore and I took a few minutes to leisurely stroll through the terminal, reconnoitering our meal options. We weren’t particularly hungry, but it’s always best to eat something before a flight. You never know what you’ll get once you’re in the air. We finally settled on the Gordon Biersch cafe, where we both got clam chowder (it was San Fransisco, after all) and a well-needed drink. We took a minute to make a quick video outlining our adventures and called our credit card companies to let them know we were on the road.

After dinner, we strolled over to the international terminal, which, as it turns out, is where they hide all the nice stores. Seriously, all of the boutique labels were there — Gucci, Chanel, Coach, Swarovski, the whole gang. It reminded me a lot of the surprising, and somewhat disconcerting, high-end mall they have in the Heathrow airport. Although I didn’t see any $5000 jars of caviar here.

Appetites sated, we headed down to our gate, where we only had to wait a few relaxing minutes before heading down the jetbridge and out onto the plane. New Zealand, here we come.

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