Friday, February 27, 2009

Saturday. Feb 14th. New Zealand.

Date: Saturday, February 14th
Time: 4:00 pm New Zealand
Location: Kitchen table at my sister’s house

It’s been a long time! I arrived in New Zealand—was it only yesterday?—around 5:30 am local time. We ran around doing errands, exploring downtown … but more about that later. Right now, my sister is at the Auckland airport. She leaves tonight for New York, where she’ll stay for a week. She’s going there for the launch of her new book on nuclear nonproliferation. (If you’re like me, you’ll probably be like, “uh, what’s that?!?”) You can get your copy, too, at Norms: Why States Choose Nuclear Restraint.

My son Matthew has been busy playing with his niece for the last 30 minutes. Since they’re playing so well, I thought I’d take a moment to catch you up on the long flight over to New Zealand, my first impressions, our brief tour of downtown Auckland and then some interesting factoids you might find interesting.

The Flight
Despite all my travel gizmos—travel pillow, travel blanket, eye mask, ear plugs—I still wasn’t able to sleep well in an upright position. So I was awake at least once an hour, tossing and turning and trying to re-adjust the gizmos in some way that would help me catch some zzz’s. But it wasn’t happening.

Before light out, the Air New Zealand crew served dinner. We chose chicken with a portabella mushroom sauce with mashed potatoes and a roll and butter, a small bean salad and raspberry cheesecake. Yum! It was piping hot where needed, cold where needed, and mighty good eating! They also serve wine and beer along with juice and soda, and plenty of coffee and tea afterwards. They also make at least three trips offering various wine refills –so I took advantage and enjoyed two glasses of New Zealand wine.

During the meal, I also watched The Bucket List – or at least some of it. Each seat on an Air New Zealand long haul flight has an entertainment center on the back, so we had tons of entertainment options—games, movies, TV shows, documentaries and music. However, something was wrong with my earphone jack so I could only hear out of the left side—unless I held the cord in a particular way and applied just the right pressure to make the connection. So much of the movie was spent with me hearing nothing or snippets as I tried to get a good connection.

The coolest part of the Air New Zealand entertainment center is the flight map. With this map, you can see where you are at any time and get information on air speed, altitude, time to destination, along with maps that show the various islands, the equator and the International Date Line! I really enjoyed watching this, especially as we got nearer to Auckland!

One memorable moment was somewhere around 2:00 am. We had been experiencing some pretty rough turbulence—scary at times, actually. When I removed my eye mask, I noticed strange flashes of light outside. I looked out, past the sleeping fellow who had he window seat, and could see that we were flying right about a thick layer of white clouds. And off a little ways, I saw lots and lots of lightening lighting up the sky! We were flying ABOVE the storm! It was so awesome I wanted to share it with someone … Matthew stirred at the moment and I tried to wake him up, but he wouldn’t budge. By the way, he slept much better than I was able to!

Around 3:00 am, the crew came to life and someone spoke over the speaker system, in that charming New Zealand accent, “Good morning passengers. The crew will soon be serving breakfast.” We had a choice of fruit salad or omelet—Matthew and I chose the omelet. Along with it: potatoes, a sausage link, yogurt, small fruit salad, blueberry muffin and orange juice. Again—YUM! It was a hearty breakfast, plenty to fill even me. Coffee also flowed freely—a good thing considering I was feeling extremely beat.

One other note about the flight: the seats on the Air New Zealand Pacific Economy are rather narrow; we flew on the 747. I was surprised when I first sat down because my hips touched the sides of the seat. And I’m not even a super wide person. I actually had more hip room on the US Airways Airbus A321 that took us to Los Angeles.

First Impressions
As soon as we got near the door of the plane, I could smell New Zealand—warm and salty! That makes plenty of sense, considering Auckland is on a tiny sliver of land between the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. By the time we cleared customs and met with my sister, the sun had just started rising. Outside, the skies were overcast, the air moist. But everything was so very lush and green! It’s beautiful! We drove to my sister’s home, a strange ride, this being my first experience driving on the left side of the road! It’s not always as weird as I thought, although something strange happens when you have cross in front of traffic to make a right!

My sister and her husband needed to go into town to do a few things. Despite my desperate desire to sleep, since I only caught snippets of it during the overnight flight, I decided we’d go with them. So we went to the University of Auckland where my sister works, right in downtown. There are lots of beautiful old buildings converted into classrooms and offices and many tree-lined streets—but it’s also very cosmopolitan, with tall, glassy buildings and the Skytower, which offers the highest viewing post in the Southern Hemisphere. Downtown Auckland is also hilly and very, VERY busy—jammed with pedestrians, shoppers, pretty people, students, tourists, and tons of shops and restaurants to cater to them.

Before I could join the shopping throngs, I first needed some New Zealand money. Very strange indeed, trying to use new money. New Zealand’s paper money is colorful, with purples and blues and greens and oranges now filling my wallet. They don’t use $1 paper bills, just $5, $10, $20, $50. But they do use $1 and $2 coins, which really messes me up! So if, for example, I’m expecting $3.xx in change and they had me only coins, I’m like, “Hey … something’s wrong … where are the dollars?” And I don’t know what’s a $2 coin and what’s a $1 coin, so I just smile and put the “change” (which really isn’t change!) in my pocket and hope for the best! Same holds true when paying for things, because my wallet is just a jumble of colors to me and I have no idea which color to reach for. So I just grab one that will cover it and move on with it! It’s also different in that we in the States tend to disregard our “change” … but here, with $1 and $2 coins, a pile of coins quickly adds up to something worthwhile!

With piles of new experiences to share, I thought I’d just try to list them out without too much commentary. Otherwise, this would go on and on forever!

•Coriolis Effect – if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, fill up your sink then pull the plug. Notice which way the water goes down—counterclockwise. Here, in the Southern Hemisphere, the water flows down the drain clockwise! It’s true … I observed this myself. I can’t really explain why … something to do with the rotation of the Earth … you can look up the Coriolis Effect if you want to know more 

•Almost every toilet I have encountered here has two buttons. So when using the toilet (they’re not bathrooms or restrooms here, they’re toilets … and the signs say it as well: “Ladies Toilet”), I pushed both buttons at once to flush. Later I learned that one button is for a small flush (when you go number one), the other is for a big flush (number two). Oops! I wasted lots of water my first two days here!

•Mail delivery! We were cruising along in the car when my brother-in-law pointed out a guy on a bike. “That’s our mailman,” he said. Apparently mail delivery people in Auckland ride bikes, which is why you can’t use your mailbox for outgoing mail. Instead, you need to find a box or take it to a post office.

•Language – I’ve never been to England, but I suppose these differences in language I noticed are the same there (although I could be wrong, having never been): you don’t rent a movie, you HIRE a movie; you don’t take the elevator, you take the lift; you don’t get food “to go,” you get it “to takeaway.”

No worries, right Mate?

No comments: