“Tasty Cheese”, Communing with Nature, & Kiwi Death Steaks.

8 05 2010

ALL RIGHT. It’s about time we get this show on the road, isn’t it? I’ve finally got 12 hours worth of internet purchased, & a comfy couch upon which I can begin my blogging ventures. I’m really hoping it won’t take 12 hours though.

I had a busy last few days in Melbourne before departing for New Zealand! Friday night we went out for Mongolian BBQ and spent a couple hours chatting it up with Luke’s friends at a pub downtown. I ended up getting in a fairly heated debate about euthanasia, religion, abortion, & other such controversial topics with a dentist. Pretty typical night really. Toward the end of the night I got into a heavy discussion with a woman who was discerning her calling/career as a children’s book illustrator. She was a few drinks deep, was really taking my advice to heart, & things ultimately got a bit emotional haha. Classic. Long story short, Paquita decided she was meant to be an illustrator, and we shared a long embrace.

I don’t think I could have ever anticipated all the bizarre & interesting experiences and interactions I’ve had over the last month. I thought I was going on a nice long relaxing vacation…boy was I wrong. 🙂 But in all seriousness, it’s been pretty amazing.

Anyway, Saturday was a busy busy day. It was the Maytime Fair at Xavier College- the culmination of the volunteer work that I had been doing over the previous few weeks. It was a really fantastic event, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect day weather-wise. There were hordes of people strolling around eating dutch pancakes & fairy floss (aka cotton candy), browsing all the various stalls (e.g. stamps, books, plants, etc). I got to see a few of the individuals that I worked with, & see how well things came together. Shortly afterwards, L & I caught a cab out to Williamstown where we met Renae & Frith at Hobson’s Bay. About twelve of us took a fishing boat out & spent the afternoon in glorious amounts of wind and sun, unsuccessfully catching any fish. My dad always says that if you were to catch fish every time, it’d be called “catching” and not “fishing.” I had an absurd amount of bites on my line, but my bait would get stolen nearly every time. I have a feeling the crabs may have been to blame. That’s what she said. Renae caught a starfish, and I saw dozens of giant freaking jellyfish swim by, but that was about all the interaction we shared with aquatic creatures. Regardless, it was a gorgeous sight; the gleaming white sails of the boats coursing to and from the bay, the autumn Aussie sun glinting off the choppy waves, & beautiful Melbourne slowly sinking off into the distance. I got some really great  pictures. I’m so looking forward to putting them all up. My camera will be running out of memory very soon I’m sure.

Saturday night I decided to cook dinner for Renae, Frith, Renae’s friend Beth, & L. Ran out to the supermarket, and had the HARDEST time finding everything. I also learned that Australian supermarkets have a very weak selection of cheeses. There were two kinds of cheese pretty much; “tasty” cheese and cheddar cheese. I have no idea what tasty cheese is like, but I don’t trust a food that’s only descriptor is “tasty.” For instance, I wouldn’t trust “tasty” meat. Or “tasty” soup. I want to know what kind of freaking meat or soup it is. Mayhaps the supermarket I went to just so happens to have the poorest cheese selection in town, but I was a little flustered that they didn’t have jack cheese, manchego, different kinds of cheddar, mozzarella, anything. Oh well. I looked like a scared little child as I wandered the aisles, trying to navigate the foreign grocery lands. It took me about an hour longer than it should have, but I made it out successfully, only forgetting chips and jalapenos. And by chips here, I mean the real kind, not the french fry kind. (Although I have gotten a bit in the habit of referring to fries as chips and trash cans as rubbish bins. I’m proud of myself. I still can’t win though. I’ll say to Luke, “Hey where’s the rubbish bin?” and he’ll reply “Oh, you mean the trash can?” Jerk.

I don’t do a ton of cooking generally, & I was eager to impress, so the pressure was on. I decided on Mexican, & if there’s one thing they don’t have in Melbourne it’s Mexican food. I have been legitimately dying for Chipotle, or Chevy’s, or something involving beans, cheese, & tortillas. Ergo I made a crap ton of guacamole, pico di gallo, & sauteed chicken and onion quesadillas. I was proud of the end result, and there was plenty of food for everyone, so I was able to breathe a sigh of relief & stuff my face full of Mexican like I had been longing to for so long. Thank the good Lord for Mexican. I mean really. I would be a bajillionaire if I brought a proper Mexican restaurant to Melbourne. Heck, if chicken parmigiana is such a big hit here, they wouldn’t even know what was about to hit them, even if it was a giant burrito. Words like ‘fajita’ and ‘quesadilla’ and ‘burrito’ aren’t particularly common here. It just blows my mind.

ANYWAY I’m boring you with all these irrelevant details. I need to get to the good stuff. Sunday L & I attended the Collingwood v. Carlton Footy game at the MCG- the local sporting arena which seats 100,000! I got goosebumps as we walked in and I saw what a massive and incredible venue it was. Game-goers began trickling in slowly, and after saving a couple seats for ourselves, we walked around for a bit. I purchased a Magpies scarf and was sporting the Collingwood colors, so L was pretty proud/excited about that. I’ve never really been a sports fan apart from UNC basketball, so this was all very new to me. I was fairly skeptical about whether or not I’d actually get excited or remotely interested in the game, but did my best to hype myself up for it beforehand. As it turns out, I really enjoy watching footy, haha. It definitely doesn’t hurt that the majority of the players are major hotties, but that’s neither hither nor thither.

but ladies, in case you did want to have a gander…

Things got tense in the 2nd & 3rd quarter, but Collingwood pulled through for a solid win against Carlton in what one might refer to as “a good old-fashioned pants-down thrashing.” As the crowd sang the Collingwood cheer following the win, I was taken back to the games at UVa & the Good Old Song. Nostalgia & a longing for home swept over me, but it was a really beautiful moment to witness. I had a wonderful time, although wearing the Magpie scarf outside of the game is an open invitation for humorous but snide remarks, so I’ve learned it might be best to save it for game days. 🙂

Sunday evening consisted of a brief drink with a friend of L’s from high school at a tennis-themed bar- astro-turf, waiters decked out in Fred Perry, & everything plastered in pink & green, it was a fun sight to behold. Afterwards consisted of a lovely Mass at Newman, & frantic washing of laundry and packing. I stayed up far too late and got far too little sleep before our early morning flight, but I survived. Monday morning we departed for Christchurch, New Zealand! It was a bit of a last minute trip, but everything seemed to come together nicely. I caught up on zzz’s on the flight, & we touched down several hours later in chilly kiwiland. After getting the luggage to the hotel, I went to the concierge & requested a room for the night. “It will be about $399 for tonight” she said. “Ah well, I’ll have to go do some research and perhaps I’ll come back” I replied. “How much are you looking to spend, ma’am?” The query caught me off guard. “Um, I was thinking more along the lines of $200, actually…” “We can do that. Yep, $200’s fine” Min said. A strange hotel it was. I don’t know that I’ve ever haggled for a hotel room before. We spent the afternoon and evening strolling the quaint streets of Christchurch, exploring the Anglican Cathedral next door, & had an amazing dinner at a local steakhouse. Then after a delicious nap & shower, as well as a late night trip to McD’s, we sat on the steps of the Cathedral feeding french fries to the seagulls & testing their bravery. It was surprisingly entertaining and hilarious to see them compete, but I may have only thought it so because of my absurd lack of sleep as of late. I had an amazing night of rest (at last) & we departed the following morning for Kaikoura on the Northeast side of the South Island.

We made a pitstop in Hanmer Springs about halfway up the coast, where there are a series of natural hot springs. After taking a short but exhausting hike up to the lookout and experiencing a breathtaking panoramic view, we made our way to the springs. The pools varied in temperature and in mineral content, and you could choose which suited you most. The sulphur pools were the warmest at about 41 degrees C, but unfortunately smelled pretty rough. The sulphur also caused a reaction with my sterling silver jewelry, leaving it tarnished, which came as an unpleasant surprise. The stars were glimmering vividly against the black backdrop of sky, & the crisp mountain air refreshed and cooled amid the rising steam. It was an ideal way to unwind and relax after all the travel and craziness of the past few days! Shortly thereafter we made the drive to Kaikoura (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaikoura) and ended the evening by watching Into the Wild, which seemed fairly appropriate given this absurd trek across New Zealand that I’m doing. One of the characters in the film describes herself as a “rubbertramp,” a wanderer that travels by car. I’ve been feeling a bit like a rubbertramp the last few days. It’s certainly an exhilarating feeling, but an exhausting one nonetheless!

The following day was a quick brekkie in town, a thermal jacket purchase (thank God!), and a beyond majestic hike beginning at the seal colony, around the peninsula, and back along the white stoned coastline. The breathtaking beauty was almost too much. As I made it to the crest of the final hill, I was greeted by a panorama of tropical mountains, azure ocean, and a blanched rocky coastline. I was legitimately moved to tears. The awesomeness of creation is just too much for me to handle sometimes. I’m just so amazed by the exquisite detail & perfection of it all- the ultimate living breathing artwork of creation. On the walk back- a whole colony’s worth of seals warming themselves on the coastal rocks. As I gingerly edged toward them, a handful sat up on their fins & let out a couple menacing growls, enough for me to slow my roll, ha! I found several florescent blue & orange starfish in a few tidal pools along my walk back which was a real treat as well. 🙂 I mean, I don’t want to say that I’m following in the ways of St. Francis or anything, communing with nature and whatnot, but if you wanted some kind of analogy, that’s probably the best one I could come up with…

The evening was a drive up to Picton along the Northern coast- the closest we’d get to the North Island & Wellington. I was a bit disappointed not to be able to see “Windy Wellington,” but it just means that I’ll have to come back to the North Island at a later time and date! The drive was tedious and windy, right through the mountains. There were countless roads that would weave back and forth perilously, and each time we’d come around a corner, I was frightened for my life. Encounters with other cars are few and far between, but when there is one, it’s flippingg terrifying and out of nowhere. We were driving through what felt like the absolute middle of nowhere mountains in the pitch black. If we had run out of gas or had a flat tired, it would have been GAME OVER. Fortunately we made it safely North with enough time to stop for a meal and continue West. We had dinner at a  local pub, recommended by a taxi driver whom I was sure was a legitimate serial killer. We were about to enter a restaurant when he called out from his taxi “$8 steaks at the Crow’s Nest Pub on the edge of town!” After a bit of deliberation, we decided to cautiously venture there for the cheap eats. Whilst in transit, we made a wrong turn somewhere, and wound up on Gravesend Drive, adjacent to the local cemetery. Just across from the cemetery was Tombstone Backpackers whose door was in the SHAPE OF A FREAKING COFFIN. WHAT. WHO DOES THAT. At this point I was beginning to get really creeped out. THEN as we turn back off of Gravesend Drive and toward the main strip, a van that had been sitting along the road in darkness turns on its lights and begins to follow us. Is this NOT the stuff of bad horror flicks? A couple young tourists are cruising around cozytown, New Zealand, and take up nice mr. taxi driver’s offer of a cheap steak “on the edge of town” and are found dead shortly thereafter. These were the thoughts flooding my nervous little head.

Cue Grae’s FREAKOUT.

I panicked, cursed, & prayed that God let me enjoy my cheap steak.

After a series of random turns at a nervous speed, we eventually saw the van go a different direction at a roundabout. Turns out we weren’t being followed by a kiwi axe murderer after all! That was a great big relief.

The second wave of relief came when we oh-so-casually happened to STUMBLE upon the, you guessed it, freaking Crow’s Nest Pub after our series of ridiculous and frenzied turns. On the door- the food and beverage specials of the evening. Inside- an inviting fire & dozens of well meaning locals out for a brew-dog. We had a good laugh about it, my heart stopped palpitating finally, & yes, I finally got to chow down on my delicious $8 steak. I wonder if I should have haggled for that as well…

come on, kiwis. we all know you’re too damn cute to actually be dangerous axe-wielding killers. let’s be real. you can’t even fly. i mean, come on.

Next step was the drive to Greymouth along the West Coast on Thursday night. I’ll pick up from there the next time around, because my little eyes are weary & my body is crying out for bed. I’m currently in Wanaka, along the Southwest side of the Island, but I’ll fill in the between parts in the next entry for sure. And I will do my best to get another entry up asap. I’m thinking of you all, you’re in my prayers. The homesickness has remained with me, but comes more in waves now, which is a bit of a relief. Although I am really getting excited to return home & hear all about the goings on of Washington, DC & wherever else you crazies are!

love to you all, my faraway friends,





One response

10 05 2010

Looking forward to more photos to come! Glad you guys are having such a great adventure. Let me know when you guys are heading back – I have a recipe I’m going to make for you that I think you’re going to like!!

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