Sunday, May 19: My fifth catch up with Laura and Tim in 3 days! Coffee and chocolate rose marble cake.
What a beautiful part of the country!
It’s unusual flying into Queenstown for the first time. Growing up I constantly saw images of our epic landscapes; snow capped mountains with streams running between them and not a person in sight. Exposure to these images increased in the years following New Zealand’s transformation into Middle Earth. But now, making the sharp right turn toward Queenstown’s airport, those images are very real and present.
So real I heard that pilots flying into Queenstown have to be good enough to ignore warnings coming from the safety systems telling them they’re going to crash into a mountain. (Nervous collar pull.)
I always expected that these sorts of landscapes could only be accessed with a lot of money, a helicopter ride, or a two day trek in the snow. Not the mere act of standing on solid ground with Lake Wakatipu on one side and Queenstown’s low profile city centre on the other side.
A large number of Queenstown’s population is transient, travelers there for a few months, a few weeks, a few days. It’s easy to become a local, just stay put for a couple of years. I wonder if everyone is so nice because they know they’ll be gone soon…or you’ll be gone soon.
We ate some incredible food in our four days. The coffee wasn’t half bad either.
If you can afford it then Amisfield Winery is well worth the visit. We loved Kappa for more affordable Japanese food. I was impressed with the coffee I tried at Vudu in Queenstown, Espresso Love & Cafe Mondo in Arrowtown, and Kai Whakapai in Wanaka.
All of the rumours about Fergburger (and Fergbaker) are true: huge cheap delicious burgers and fast friendly service. And if you’re a sweet tooth like me go try some of the many fudge varieties at one of the Remarkable Sweet Shops.
In the end it all comes back to the view. Wander around the gardens at the lake (try not to get hit by frisbees on the frolf course), take a trip up the Skyline gondola, and if you’re as lucky as I am get your friends to take you over the Crown Range and eventually on to Cromwell for a classic Southland Cheese Roll next to Lake Dunstan.
Amisfield Winery: We tasted some wines at their cellar door and then sat in the sun to share a charcuterie board with wild rabbit rillette & apricots, dried venison sausage, chicken liver mousse with pistachio crust, pickled vegetables, and sourdough; huge slices of pork belly with barley and blood orange; and a spiced kumara tart with caramel walnuts and vanilla ice cream for dessert. I loved the noble sauvignon blanc so much I had to bring a bottle home with me.
We got out just in time to cross the road and catch the bus into Arrowtown.
Our first night in town was a bit cold, but still fine enough to eat our burgers down by the lake. For the most part though we were totally over prepared, the sun shone and we found ourselves having to strip off coats and thermal layers.
Wednesday, May 1: I almost wanted to cry on my walk to work: I tried to take some photos and my lens wouldn’t focus, even on manual. I gave it a few frustrated taps and turns and kept trying as I walked – this is the photo of success.
Thursday, May 2: We tried Caliente for lunch as a celebration/mini send off for a friend moving to Melbourne. We avoided the breakfast menu on advice that we’d been given & ordered flautas & enchiladas. They were excellent.
Sunday, May 5: Breakfast at Finc. I’m really happy that more cafes are serving coffee over ice these days. Plain black coffee over ice, none of this whipped cream and chocolate fish business. This was the Ethiopian Wote Konga filter from Coffee Supreme; damn tasty.
Saturday, April 27: Kate was out of town when we watched all 12 hours of The Hour in one day so Laura invited us over to watch it again/for the first time. We were easier on ourselves this time and only watched 4 episodes. Laura made this amazing golden syrup cake, I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
On Wednesday night New Zealand MPs voted 77-44 in favour of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill.
It’s been a long, nerve-wracking nine months since Louisa Wall’s bill was drawn from the ballot. A long wait since that first support march in August 2012. But it’s here, it’s done, and I couldn’t be more proud of how far this country has come.
While I’m overjoyed that we have elected politicians that have been supportive of these changes their whole lives I also think it’s worth mentioning those that changed their previous nos to ayes. It takes some courage to actually listen to the debate put in front of you and realise you were wrong.
Thursday, April 11: After being given the all clear from the doctor doing my colposcopy (yay!) the nurse said “go treat yo self“. So I did; pancakes and bacon at Thunderbird.
Friday, April 12: I have a weird aversion to spending money at bars. I usually refuse to buy one drink for the price of a bottle of wine bought at the supermarket. Trying to get over that I tagged along to a few bars as Brendan and Tim sampled a few of the Hopstock offerings. Despite the awful decor they have some pretty great beers and cheap wine.
13 days, 13 nights, three cities, and a bout of dysentery.
Tokyo is big. BIG big.
I was expecting a big, highly populated city but it really took me by surprise. I’ve been to other big places, Hanoi, Bangkok, but Japan being what it is I kinda mistranslated “excellent public transport” to “fast and easy to get anywhere.”
You can go lots of places, it’s true, and the trains will arrive on time, they’ll be heated and clean, and they’ll have announcements in English; but there’s a lot of distance to cover and train changes to coordinate.
The size was hard for me to adjust to and it meant I didn’t enjoy my time in Tokyo as much as I’d hoped. We stayed at a cute, very clean place called Nui Hostel in Kuramae. Unfortunately the excellent cheap digs came with a price we didn’t factor in – an extra subway ride just to get to the main train line. I definitely recommend first time visitors, and those not good at navigating, stay on the JR Yamanote loop line.
Spending so much time on trains was a really good way of observing Japanese culture though. Everyone learns to get comfortable so close to strangers and you’ll find many people napping with briefcases on their laps. The trains were where I saw the most interesting clothes and accessories, and where I sat next to a guy casually reading anime porn. They were where we learned how to pronounce Tokyo and Kyoto place names correctly.
As a Gaijin in a foreign country not knowing any of the language I found it pretty hard to find good Japanese food (completely my own fault). Going to restaurants we’d researched were missions in their own right which we didn’t have the time or energy for; we’d often end up eating at the (excellent) convenience stores, or an American themed family restaurant. It was a real treat when we got to meet our Wellington friend Mika for dinner, she read a whole menu to us and acted as translator.
Despite our terrible language skills we found everyone to be very accommodating and eager to use any English they knew. Most people were really friendly and welcoming, with the occasional scowl from an elderly person, and a pointed finger from a child wondering what’s up with the two pale girls and how did that one end up with pink hair?
We spent six nights in Tokyo before catching the shinkansen to Kyoto, which is much closer to my pace of living.
I took A LOT of photos. Rather than trying to use the awful WordPress galleries I’ll post a few of my favourites and leave you with links to explore more of them on Flickr. Enjoy. (See all of my Tokyo photos here.)
We (I) got a bit lost getting here, but a nice man saw us staring at our map and walked with us a few blocks to point us in the right direction. Well worth the visit because it’s free! If you’re not familiar with the area try to get off the subway at Tocho-mae Station on the Oedo Subway Line. (See more sights of Tokyo)
Inokashira park was a beautiful surprise on our walk to The Ghibli Museum. Full of autumn leaves, dogs wearing coats, little black ducks, fountains, …and swan boats. I’m sure there’s some kind of terrifying swan boat king horror movie in the making here. (See all photos of Inokashira Park and the Ghibli Museum)
The Ghibli Museum was more than we could have hoped for. We squealed and exclaimed about all the small details. I hadn’t been a Studio Ghibli fan for long, animation really isn’t my jam, but the museum really solidified my love.
There are no photos allowed inside which meant no one standing in the way taking selfies. I got to take it all in without my camera glued to my face. (See all photos of Inokashira Park and the Ghibli Museum)
We got a litte lost trying to find this place (you have to go through a holistic health store on one side) but it was well worth it. Just vegetarian whole foods made delicious.
This was my first visit to a Disney park, and wow. Wow. DisneySea is next door to Tokyo’s Disneyland. It’s designed for an older crowd, which definitely appealed to me as I kinda really don’t enjoy children.
DisneySea has seven ports with different rides and landscapes, and it’s just so cool. Everything looks amazing so even when you’re not on the rides there’s lots to discover. The day we went wasn’t too crowded but there was still quite a long wait for the rides. We managed to go on everything we wanted to and we stayed for the christmas shows…which really weren’t as cool as I was expecting. I read “floating christmas trees” and somehow equated that with trees floating in the air rather than in the big lagoon.
The best rides are always the most terrifying ones, so if you get to DisneySea then make sure you ride the Tower of Terror. (See all photos of DisneySea)
The aforementioned cute digs, Nui Hostel. Everyone working there was super nice, and the place was decorated beautifully. The hostel lobby doubles as a cafe/bar, tree trunks hold up huge wooden bar tops, and exposed concrete walls are decorated with dried flowers and planter boxes. (See all photos of Nui Hostel)
Kate and I love cats so we obviously had to check out a cat cafe in Tokyo. Kate had heard about Neko Jalala in Akihabara so we went there one night to have a play. Unfortunately all the cats were tired and grumpy by the time we got there. Grumpy cats unite! (See all photos of Neko Jalala cat cafe)
At Meiji Shrine we were treated to a procession of beautifully clothed people. We’re still not sure what they were doing but I’ve deduced that it was probably a wedding party entering the shrine to be married.
Elsewhere in the grounds a few children in colourful traditional clothes ran about being cute. (See all photos of Meiji Shrine)
Hmmm food & feet theme this week!
Monday, April 8: Last month I cut out alcohol and sweet snacks to be healthier & try break a sugar adiction…and when the month was over I immediately fell back in to old habits. Trying where I can though: tomato and anchovies on Freya’s. Man I love anchovies.