Note: I'll be handwriting blog entries from my easter break trip to New Zealand and posting them gradually, as I get computer/internet access. enjoy!
NEW EXCELSIOR BACKPACKERS HOSTEL, CHRISTCHURCH
April 11, 9:51pm
After weeks of worrying and planning and copious amounts of time on the internet booking/researching . . . I'm finally in New Zealand! The last few weeks have been fairly stressful, with tons of uni work (and plenty of events at college to distract me from it), and I'm excited to get away for a bit. I did unfortunately have to bring some schoolwork, but there are lots of long bus rides/drives ahead so at least I won't be bored.
This morning my alarm went of at 4:45 am . . . ugh. After a quick shower and some last-minute packing, I trotted out the front gate at Trinity to catch the very first tram down Royal Parade/Elizabeth Street, munching on some apples and cheese and a muesli bar (=granola bar for all you statesiders). Two trams and a shuttle bus got me to Tullamarine airport with plenty of time to catch my 8:40am Jetstar flight to Christchurch. I checked no bags, travelling light with only my backpack half-full of schoolwork and a duffel bag full of essential clothes. I slept for the entire 2.5 hour flight, waking up as the plane broke through the clouds to reveal breathtaking panoramas of towering snowy crags, with smooth green patchwork plains rolling out like a carpet at their feet.
I got through customs without a hitch, withdrew some local currency, and boarded the public bus to the city center. $7 got me the 12km from the airport to Cathedral Square, at the center of Christchurch. From there it was only a brief and pleasant stroll to the New Excelsior Backpackers, three blocks away. The staff was friendly and full of banter as they checked me in and sent me to my 12-person dorm-style room, where I dropped my bags and headed to the supermarket. $25 got me all the food I'd need for the next two and a half days, including some hot cross buns for Easter tomorrow :)
And so, finding myself alone in a strange city once again, I grabbed the trusty Lonely Planet and set off on my own two feet, having only the faintest idea where I might be going. Picking up some falafel on my way back to Cathedral Square turned out to be a great idea . . . it was delicious and by this time (5pm) I was starving (although I was almost mobbed by hungry seagulls whilst eating it). Took a turn down Worcester street and made a mental note of the location of my bus pickup for tomorrow morning, conveniently located just outside cathedral square. Further exploration took me across the picturesque Avon River and past Oxford Terrace, a lovely strip apparently noted for its restaurants. Every twenty meters or so, there would be another building that looked like a church, but was in fact a shop or a gallery of some sort. I guess they don't call it Christchurch for nothing.
Christchurch strikes me as a very quiet, sleepy little town. As I walked about in the early evening, everything was closing down and the streets were quickly becoming deserted. Every seemingly interesting place was shut tight, and I was beginning to give up hope that I'd do anything that evening other than schoolwork at the hostel. Finally, I saw a tiny corner of a stained-glass window through some casually thrown-open doors . . . I'd stumbled upon Christchurch's Arts Centre, which was not the single modern-looking building I had imagined but a series of academic-gothic buildings, towers, and courtyards: extraordinarily reminiscent of Princeton, leaving me slightly nostalgic for home. Although most of the shops and exhibits had closed, I was more than content simply to walk around the vaulted archways and cloisters. There was, however, one artisan still peddling her beautiful handmade jewelry in one small room, a barely noticeable open door leading off the north courtyard. After I complimented her work, she struck up a conversation which turned out to be fascinating. I talked to this 50-something woman, a complete stranger, at length about my travels, my studies, and my career plans; from there the conversation turned to her daughter (a chemical engineer), her business, other study-abroad students she'd met, and even things she'd learned from the geneology of herself she'd recently paid someone to do. She asked my name and my heritage, and after noting my dark eyes, dark hair, and skin tone, assured me that if I traced back far enough I was likely to find something Middle Eastern. Because, after all, "you never know about these things."
From there I stopped for coffee at a small theater specialising in newly written plays, and then went to see a movie at a small cinema in the Arts Centre. The film, a slightly-better-than-mediocre indie flick entitled "Before the Rains," was set in 1930s Kerala (a place in South India that's near and dear to my heart-- shout out to my infy friends!). It featured what seemed to be a washed-up, one-dimensional love story of a forbidden affair between a married British planter and his married Indian serving girl. However, it redeemed itself slightly as it quickly devolved into a psychological mindgame of violence, tradgedy, and cover-ups. Wouldn't see it again, but it was worth thirteen bucks.
I quickly covered the sevenish blocks back to the hostel, where I intended to make myself some dinner. However, as soon as I got to the kitchen, another guy at the hostel flagged me down and started a conversation. Mark, from south England, had been here for six months and was looking to move here permanently, trying to find a job in "scaffolding." We talked about the world and how big it was, and he told stories of his time in Australia and Southeast Asia. We both agreed that travelling on a shoestring budget-- hostelling, backpacking, and budgeting your way around-- was really what made the experience of travel so compelling.
Since it's now about 11:00pm, I should think about heading for bed-- I have a 7am bus to catch! However, it's definitely been an interesting day. Whale watching in Kaikoura tomorrow; I can't wait!