Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Trip Number Two: Auckland, New Zealand to New Jersey

Itinerary: Toronto (YYZ) – Los Angeles (LAX) – Auckland – Los Angeles (LAX)– New York (JFK) – New Jersey – Newark (EWR) – Toronto (YYZ)

           I won’t forget that phone call any time soon.  When the boss said “Have you ever been to New Zealand?”,  I nearly shit myself.  It was exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for when I took this job.  The very next evening, I was on my way.  The flight was overbooked from YYZ to LAX so they upgraded me to First Class.  That’s right, bitches, I flew first class.  It was something I had always wanted to do but was fairly certain (up until about two weeks ago) that I never would.  The boss called to check on my before boarding and I told him about the upgrade.  He thought it was hilarious and encouraged me to have a glass of wine or two and enjoy myself, provided I not show up to assess the patient in New Zealand while ‘plastered’.  I thought that was fair.  I was seriously spoiled, though, because from LA to New Zealand I was stuffed back into coach (where I belong), in a middle seat no less.  So I popped some Gravol and disappeared for a few hours and before I knew it, I had landed in gorgeous, warm and lovely-smelling Auckland. 

Auckland, through the trees

            I went and met my patient, a curmudgeonly but sweet old man, and made our arrangements for the next evening.  From there, I headed over to the swankest hotel I’ve ever seen in all my life.  I shit you not, there was a chandelier over the tea room (yes, tea room) that was bigger than my entire apartment.  It’s not a big apartment, but that’s one giant chandelier.  It turns out, the same hotel was home to the biggest wedding ever held in New Zealand.  It made the national news.  I wasn’t terribly interested in that, though.  I wanted to see Auckland.  After a shower and quick rest, I was off.  It took about ten minutes for me to realize that the sun down there was evil and I was going to burn, so I made sure I found shade periodically.  I walked down the main street to the water.  I was surprised to find the the city felt nearly abandoned.  I later discovered that most Aucklandites (Aucklandians? Aucklanders?) take three or four weeks of holidays and piss off to the South Island to sit on the beach over Christmas.  Lucky bastards.  It suited me fine, though.  The few New Zealanders I did come across sounded too much like Bret and Jermaine for me to be comfortable.  That’s probably a little racist, but Flight of the Chonchords is really the only other time I had been exposed to the accent, so I couldn’t really help myself.
 I found a little sushi shop tucked away on an adorably cobbled side-street.  It was the kind of place where the chef (a lady sushi chef, I should add, which I found impressive) yelled “Moshi Moshi” at everyone that walked in, and the patrons sit at a bar while the sushi whizzes around in front of you on a tiny conveyor belt.  Needless to say, I was a little bit in heaven.  I figured desert was necessary and so I found the restaurant that claimed to have the best view of the water (it certainly wasn’t a terrible one) and settled in for a slice of pie.  My waiter seemed to be Irish and he asked about my accent and what I was doing in Auckland.  When I told him, he said I was mental (we know) but that it was very cool (I agree).  He suggested a trip over to Devonport Island as a quick but enjoyable touristy thing to do with my one and only night in the city.  I walked around some more.  I found this insane, giant, kitschy record store that I wanted to just give a big hug to.  I went to a market that seemed to be full of the stuff you find at Chinese convenience stores as opposed to anything genuinely New Zealand-ish.  I did, however, discover that I love Maori art.  I found some honey for Nat.  I became tired from sushi and pie (and a million hours of travelling) so I went back to the hotel to regroup.
The hotel had a shuttle to take me back downtown and I found the ferry easily enough.  I couldn’t help but feel like I was in downtown Toronto and heading over to Ward’s Island.  The whole thing had a very similar vibe.  It was a short trip over to Devonport and I fell immediately in love with the place.  I dipped my toes into the warm pacific ocean.  I wandered around the artsy cottages, book stores and antique shops.  At the suggestion of the helpful Irish waiter, I found the road to Mount Victoria and began the steep and sweaty climb to the top of an inactive volcano where I was rewarded with the most incredible view of the island, of Auckland and of the pacific ocean.  It was glorious.  I made a video for Luke’s class, since they’re studying island in geography.  I took some pictures for myself and just sat and basked in the sunshine for a while.  I had one of those moments where I thought to myself: “How the hell do you end up in places like this?”.  Life was good.

The view from Mount Victoria

When I climbed back down from Mount Victoria, I figured I had earned a decent meal.  There were plenty of cute restaurants on the main street and I decided on an Italian place for some carbs and wine to counteract all the exercise I had just gotten.  Filled with garlic and slightly buzzed, I made my way back across to Auckland and walked to where the last shuttle of the day would take me back to my hotel.  At the interection before the shuttle stop, there was this adorable bicycle taxi driver chatting with people and eating an apple.  I remember it going something like this:
Driver: Anyone fancy a ride?  You can see from my apple that I’m strong and healthy.
Tourist: Thanks, I’d prefer to walk.
Driver: Yeah, walking’s good, isn’t it?  I prefer walking myself but, you know, I’ve got this job.  I’d say ‘anyone fancy a walk?’ but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t pay me to walk with you a few blocks.  That’s just a bad business model.  What about you, girl who’s giggling at me while I eat me apple? (Referring to me, obviously).  Fancy a ride anywhere?
Me:  (Giggling some more).
I don’t know why, but I found him hilarious.  Sat there on his bike, chomping away at the apple.  I should have said yes.  But, of course, my shuttle had just arrived and it was time for some serious sleep in my swank hotel.

As you can see, I was a little tired by this point

The next morning, I was too tired to wander back into the city and I only had a few hours to kill, so I relented to the advertising all over the hotel and went to their lunch buffet.  I don’t think I’m exaggertating when I saw that this was, at least, a life-altering experience.  It turns out that it wasn’t one kitchen, but eight of them.  An American grill that you could select a cut of meat as if from a butcher’s counter and then have it cooked the way you’d like.  An Australian one that did the same with the freshest fish I’d ever seen in my life, along with mussels, oysters and things I didn’t even recognize.  There was a salad bar, a french baked-goods and cheeses section, an Indian kiosk with two giant tandoori ovens and fresh-baked naan bread with mango lassis.  There was a desert bar with a chocolate fucking fountain!  And, of course, another sushi chef, who made me toro sashimi, for which I was so very grateful.
After brunch,  I picked up my patient and we headed back to the States.  Let me tell you, if I thought First Class on my flight from Toronto to LA was something to behold, then Air New Zealand’s Business Class was from another planet.  I had a bed.  A BED!  The food was incredible.  The staff even more so.  It was like something out of a fancy dream.  I was mildly disappointed with United’s First Class trip to JFK after that.  Hanging out in the First Class lounges at the airport is also far superior to the shitty, crowded seats next to the gates, as well.  I could get used to this sort of thing.
To summarize, a few things I will remember about Auckland: 

  • It really does sound like a Flight of the Conchords episode.
  • The fish is extraodinary.
  • The crosswalks sound like lasers.
  • Flying coach is for losers.

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