Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Drive Around the Eastern Ward

We had no plans this day other than having dinner with my grad school friends again. Sally's son recommended we drive up and see the wind turbine at the top of the Brooklyn neighborhood and Sally recommended we take the car out and drive along the seawall, so we did both.

The road up to the wind turbine wound tightly and narrowly and we had to pull over and stop frequently to allow traffic to pass us. The views were spectacular, and it was neat to see a wind turbine so close up. We even figured out how to take panoramic photos (finally).

A wind turbine up close

A panorama from above

Blue skies and green hills

Wellington is geographically small and it took just a few minutes to reach the waterfront from the wind turbine. The road curved around the east side of the landmass and we stopped intermittently to take pictures.

Taking selfies on a fishing dock while actual fishermen wonder what the hell we are doing.

The Seatoun Express ferry

Sadly, we never saw any wild penguins.

 Finally found the source of the loud insect noise I had been hearing: a cicada!

We eventually made our way to Scorching Bay and decided to eat lunch at the Scorch-o-Rama. As we entered the restaurant, two hefty men sitting at a table near the door offered us samples of rice pudding. It was good rice pudding, so we resolved to stop and buy some on the way out. At Scorch-o-Rama we had decent sandwiches and fries and were served by a handsome waiter who looked like Sean Bean. As we exited the restaurant, we bought two containers of rice pudding for a snack later.

Mem at Scorch-o-Rama

Mem tests the water temperature

This is what it looks like when your phone takes a picture just as you drop it in the sand. Notice the rice pudding in my hand.

We drove all the way around the northern point until we reached Miramar, where we had visited Weta Workshop the day before. We stopped for petrol in Kilbirnie and then cut back across the land, a short half mile, until we were on the beach road again. We made a couple more photo stops along the way and then returned home.

The Wellington sign, with the last few letters blowing away in the wind.

Rocky beach panorama

A beach sculpture at right with Taputeranga Island (part of a marine reserve) in the distance.

Mem explores

Back at the house in Brooklyn we found Sally, who promptly made us tea (a New Zealand custom that I really enjoyed). We were scheduled to have dinner with my friends Shanna and Alex again so Sally offered to drive us downtown to meet them. She shuttled us down to Cuba Street, a pedestrian strip with a bohemian feel that reminded me of Capitol Hill in Seattle. Restaurants whose cuisines represented a multitude of nationalities lined the street, many offering ample vegetarian or vegan options. Colorful characters making peculiar fashion statements (or maybe I'm just a square) wandered around amusing themselves in the various establishments. We met our friends at Olive, a bistro serving haute versions of run-of-the-mill cuisine. It was nice to catch up some more and play with baby Lilah, who wrestled me for my fascinating necklace. Shanna also re-inspired me to consider doing a PhD, since she was nearly done with hers at that point.

Alex and Lilah

Aunty Marie has the coolest necklaces.

Reading a bedtime book while Lilah keeps tabs on my necklace.

Old friends reunited (plus a new friend)!

After dinner, Mem and I walked up and down Cuba Street and eventually found ourselves back at the Victoria Street bus stop we had used a couple days before. We waited for the next 7 bus, which we knew would only take us as far as the bottom of Hell Hill (actually innocuously named Sugarloaf Hill), but it was better than sitting there another half hour to wait for door-to-door service.

I don't know, but she's probably up to no good.*

We walked up the hill and, as we were about to turn into Sally's driveway, realized we had not yet been out to see the nearby Brooklyn War Memorial. We followed a paved path leading between two of the neighboring houses and walked along the grassy hill a few short minutes until we reached the memorial. It was perched upon the cliff's edge, rising several meters into the sky and bearing the names of 48 fallen soldiers from Brooklyn. Atop was the statue of an unnamed soldier with his hat in his hand.

The view from the Brooklyn War Memorial

The memorial

The inscription

A pink sunset

We returned home, discussing our interest in history, and entered the house to find Sally watching Defiance, a World War II movie. We finished it with her and then turned in. We would depart early the next morning for our drive north to Rotorua.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Stopping to Smell the Flowers

The day began with a steep downhill walk on the killer hill we had conquered the day before. At the bottom we caught Bus No. 7 into Wellington.

Mem waits for the bus

We got off downtown near the Wellington Cable Car, paid our fare there, and got on. It was already almost full so we had to stand for the short trip up the steep hill. Everyone around us was speaking French and I tried to eavesdrop just to see how good my language skills had held up since moving away from Paris. After a few moments the cable car jolted forward and up the hill. The incline wasn't particularly amazing (nothing like the Peak Tram in Hong Kong) and you could see very little from inside the car. Every once in a while the vegetation would part and you'd catch a quick glimpse of Wellington spread forth below. 

Mem does social media on the cable car

At the top we took a quick spin around the Cable Car Museum and then started our journey through the Wellington Botanic Garden. Large spindly trees rose impossibly high into the blue sky, shading our path. We happened upon a rainbow colored patch of hydrangeas and a fragrant garden that filled my nostrils with joy and the urge to sneeze.

Seats engineered for steep ascents and descents

On top of the world

Just look at this big, beautiful bastard!

The hydrangea spectrum

Multicolored flowers growing on a single plant

What even is this?

The garden path descended onto busy Glenmore Street below and then led to the brightly colored Lady Norwood Rose Garden and an impressive green house called the Begonia House, adjacent to the bustling Picnic Cafe. We sat and had food and drink, watching the sparrows busily hunt patron's leftovers while docile ducks roamed below the tables, trying to catch a dropped morsel or two.

A storybook staircase

Spindly branches

Mem stops to smell the roses.

At the Picnic Cafe

A souvenir for Charlie

Inside the Begonia House

After lunch we continued along the path that meandered through Bolton Street Cemetery, which dates back to 1840. We weaved in and out of the rows of headstones, marveling at the decrepitude of some of them and reading the dates of death. Joggers and business people on their lunch breaks roamed the grounds, and one man even jumped rope next to a patch of graves.

Graves on a hillside

Leaning headstones

A bilingual headstone

Soon the graveyard gave way to another busy street and I whipped out my phone to orient us in the direction of The Beehive, the tall round building housing the executive wing of New Zealand's parliament. Once we found it, we ascended the steps, tagging along behind a professional looking group of young people. We assumed they were some kind of law school group. They formed a line at the public entrance where signs pointed to tours so we decided to head in with them. We hadn't planned on this, but we were here now, so why not?

We went through a security scan and then found the tour information desk. It was free to take the tour, and we could even sit in the public gallery afterward to watch the members of parliament debate. We were the only two Americans among a twenty-five person group of mostly Brits, a couple Canadians, and a couple Germans. Some Mongolian MPs were supposed to join the tour as well, but they never showed and I was disappointed by that. The tour was a fascinating look into New Zealand governance and commonwealth governance in general. The buildings were gorgeous, several sections decorated in Victorian gothic style.

Afterward, we were allowed into the public gallery to watch the debate. As I had seen in videos of UK parliament proceedings, there was much shouting, mocking, heckling, and groaning (here is one of my favorite examples). All those who spoke were articulate and convincing, as far as I could tell. We only stayed for about 20 minutes and then went out onto the street. We had one more stop for the day.

The Beehive from below

Becoming one with my surroundings

Bowen House behind the Wellington Cenotaph (a war memorial)

Mem at the foot of Richard Seddon's statue, with Parliament House and the Parliamentary Library in the background.

We walked along the busy Lamdon Quay, looking for our bus stop and then waited about 15 minutes for it to arrive. It drove in a U shape, south, east, and then north, until we reached the quiet suburb of Miramar on the opposite side of Evans Bay from downtown Wellington. Here we would visit the Weta Workshop, the studio where many props and special effects were crafted for well-known movies like The Lord of the Rings film series and Avatar. The tour took about an hour and we got to handle a few props and costume pieces, like a gun from District 9 and chainmail worn by the orcs in Middle-earth. Additionally, we got to watch an artist insert real hair, piece by piece, into the head of one of the giant Gallipoli sculptures we had seen at the Te Papa museum the day before.

Mem and Gollum

Arthur the Worm (left) and friend from Peter Jackson's puppetry masterpiece Meet the Feebles

We took a two-bus journey back to Brooklyn and got off a couple stops early, knowing we would have to walk up the hill for doing so. But we were hungry. We went to Burger Wisconsin, a local chain, for some bleu cheese burgers and onion rings. I was tired of and thus had sworn off French fries, known as "chips" in New Zealand (pronounced "chups", and often served with "fush"). Afterward we headed up the hill for the AirBnB and I complained the whole way. When we got home we noticed that Sally's car was gone, but we could hear the TV playing inside. We opened the door and were greeted by Sally's 20-something year-old son who was cooking himself dinner. We all watched some TV together and then watched The Big Short.

Bedtime rolled around and Coco the cat friskily ran down the hall and into our room. She slept on the bed with us all night and even slept in long after we got up.