After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Wellington - October & November 2012

Looking back over October and November has been quite a feat so I shall endeavour not to bore you all rigid with long descriptions! First up, my birthday. A very indulgent weekend, beginning with an after work meal at La Boca Loca in Miramar. Due to Weta workshop being in Miramar there are some very good eateries around, and we had had our eye on this Mexican joint for a while. We were blown away by the fresh flavours and also enjoyed some proper Tequila, which completely changed our minds about it only being something you consume a the end of a very boozy night. The night after we went to see 'An Angel at My Table', part of the 'Festival of Madness on Film', a slightly dated but nonetheless classic Kiwi film based on the autobiography of Janet Frame. Janet Frame is a celebrated Kiwi author who won her first literary award the day before she had been due to have a lobotomy to deal with her ongoing mental health issues. Right up my street! My birthday present from Liam (who was working that day) was an afternoon spent at 'Craft Beer College' tasting beers on a 'course' entitled Pathway to Hoppiness. Needless to say it was a very merry afternoon tasting all kinds of hoppy beers from around the world. We rounded off the weekend with fish and chips from Martin Bosleys, a Wellington institution of beautiful food, toning itself down of a Sunday arvo so plebs like us can afford to eat there, watching the sunset over the harbour. Gorgeous.

I jumped at the chance of seeing the National Theatre Live at the cinema again, and this time it was Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Having read the book I was intrigued as to whether they would be able to pull it off, but it was another mind-blowing production! We also watched Looper, The Angel's Share, and Argo, all of which I would recommend, particularly Argo for it's edge-of-your-seat depiction of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. At the theatre we watched Tigers of Wrath, a commentary on growing up and selling out which depicted a group of socialist students visiting communist China in the 70s. I attended a play reading of Mike and Virginia by Kathryn Burnnet and Nick Ward, a satirical romantic comedy, which was deservedly well attended. I also went along to Janet and John by Ken Duncum, based on the friendship on Janet Frame (the subject of the previously mentioned film 'An Angel at My Table') and John Money, a sexologist made famous by his royal stuffing up of the John/Joan case. The playwright gave a brief introduction and for some reason told us the ending, which seemed unnecessary, and I'm not entirely sure you would have 'got it' had you had no prior knowledge of who Janet and John were. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it. We were part of the studio audience at the filming of Fix TV (Episode 3), which was very entertaining. It was a fun experience to see the workings of a studio television show, and it is hosted by our favourite local muso Adam Page.

Onto the most important bit, the beer! We managed to get to a few beery events; The ones to write home about were the Pacific Beer Expo (lots of yummy beers from Australia, NZ and America) and the Emersons Annual Beer Options (basically a fun pub quiz, where beer was the subject as well as the beverage in your hand). Eventually Liam will hopefully write about these events on his other blog. We also a couple of events at one of our favourite bars in town, the Malthouse for the Old World IPA Challenge and Epic tap takeover. The Old World IPA challenge showcased English style IPAs rather than the hop-tastic modern American style favoured in New Zealand. Honestly, it seemed a little hit and miss to us, some a bit too sweet (as is the Kiwi way with a lot of things) and some chilled and carbonated to an inch of their lives, which doesn't always work with subtler beers.

I was obviously in learning mode and attended classes in Maori, ukelele, cheese-making, and zombie biology(!).  The Maori class was quite interesting but not particularly to my learning style (think 'bloke with a guitar', but I'm definitely more of a visual learner), and the ukelele class made me realise I'm terrible at strumming. I learned to make ricotta, paneer, cream cheese and feta at a lovely community class. I've already showed off my ricotta and cream cheese making skills at home and Santa even got me some little bits and pieces of equipment needed for the others, so hopefully we'll be off to a very cheesy new year! The zombie biology class was quirky and interesting, with the basic premise being that zombies do exist (and they had exhibits on hand tied up who were at times pretty scary!). They examined what might cause zombification, such as disease, genetic mutations, poison etc, and showed real life examples of others species which act like zombies when afflicted by parasites. Cool stuff!

We spent a night away in Martinborough, a wine region north of Wellington celebrated for it's peppery Pinot Noirs. We hired a car for a couple of days and enjoyed the hair-raising drive over the Rimutaka Mountain range, which makes Snake Pass between Manchester and Sheffield look like child's play.  Martinborough itself is very small and relaxed but has some nice delis and cafes and a nice atmosphere about the place. After enjoying coffee and cake in a cute cafe featuring some comedy letters from their chicken suppliers on the wall (endorsing their commitment to serving hygienically prepared fried chicken), we took in a few of the wineries. We had intended on walking but the changeable weather had put us off. We were glad it had as it appeared most of the wineries were actually shut, so it would have been a frustrating walk! We had tasters from Schubert Wines and Te Kairanga Wines, which were both very nice and we were served by very knowedgable and friendly hosts. The former was tiny but very pricey, so it was interesting to try the kind of wines we wouldn't normally buy. Afterwards we had a proper sit-down drink at Margrain Vineyard, overlooking the vines and the twee dutch-style houses in the distance. We stayed in a teeny cabin on a campsite and greatly enjoyed the feeling of 'getting away' that we've found difficult to do from Wellington thus far (on account of not having a car and there not actually being all that much anywhere near Wellington that you can get to on public transport).

Halloween saw us getting frocked up as a Geisha and Jesus (I'll let you guess who was what) for our friend Sarah's party, where we drank 'til the small hours before walking home and getting odd looks from workmen (it took a while for us to realise I still had my geisha makeup on!). Guy Fawkes night saw an impressive firework display on the water front, which we watched while eating homemade treacle toffee and marvelling at the spectacular fireworks, all the while watching the planes come in to land as normal just around the bay, must have been an amazing view from up there!

November, of course, was the premiere of The Hobbit. Finishing work early to head down to the two block long red carpet down Courtenay Place was very exciting, and we managed to catch a glimpse of Peter Jackson, Martin Freeman, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood and a whole host of other people we didn't recognise make their entrance. We had managed to bag spots out of the front of previously mentioned bar The Malthouse, and stood sipping pints of Yeastie Boys 'Golden Perch', a specially brewed golden ale (the beers namesake is apparently what the dwarves drink in the books), perfect for the spectacularly sunny afternoon. We are looking forward to watching the film itself, despite hearing from a colleague who was at premiere that the new high frame 3D version was extremely visually overwhelming and nausea inducing!

I also went to see a friend's work at the Massey University Exposure Exhibition. She has just finished a Textile Design degree and was displaying her final pieces. She had produced 3 dance outfits, all designed to make different sounds as the wearer moved their body. Very cool stuff indeed, check out her website here. The rest of the time was spent doing the usual; meeting up with friends, Liam getting out and about on his bike, book club, yoga and choir. We hiked to the south coast through the town belt (only a couple of hours from where we live) and were rewarded with some pretty sweet views over the city and out to sea, and finally paid a visit to the pretty seaside suburb of Island Bay.

In other news, we have moved into a new house. It's a teeny studio in the downstairs of a hillside house, overlooking the woodland of the town belt and, if you crane your neck and squint through the trees, the south coast. We are chuffed to bits with it and have settled in nicely, and even befriended the cat that lives upstairs.

Work-wise, I have transferred to a night position at a different house (same company) which I am thrilled about as it means I have way more free-time in the day, and no more early starts! I have also (finally!) applied for the Clinical Psychology PHD course I am hoping to do next year, so that's a weight of my mind. And Christmas, of course, was fabulous, but you'll have to wait for the next installment to read about it ;-)

Well, check us out, publishing not too long after the event!  Hope you have enjoyed getting (almost) bang up-to-date with our goings on!

Love to you all, we misssss yoooooooou xx

Wellington - August & September 2012

August and September marked the end of what felt like a long winter for us. We had seen out the end of an English winter, only to fly out at the beginning of spring in Europe to greet the end of autumn in New Zealand.  Although winter here was very mild compared to home (don't think it ever got close to zero, and only occasional early-morning frost), not having Christmas to break it up meant it seemed to drag on a bit (in hindsight this could have more to do with the random nature of the weather here - pretty hard to define seasons as its so changeable!).  However, the end of September brought a string of glorious days and made us very excited for the spring and summer months ahead (although while editing this on a windy, foggy "summer" evening, maybe our hopes of wall-to-wall sunshine may have been little naive!)

One of the best things about being a Support Worker is that I get to play tourist at places that we probably wouldn't have gotten around to.  I took (a more adequate verb might be 'dragged') the guys along to the Colonial Cottage Museum. It is apparently Wellington's oldest standing cottage, built by William Wallis in 1858.  It still has the original furniture, including an 1875 three-wheeled pram, designed to avoid the road tax that all 4 wheeled vehicles had to pay. Walking through the front door really felt like stepping back in time.  We also visited Wellington Zoo; cute, hilly, green and not far from the town centre. The highlight was undoubtedly a baby chimpanzee doing roly-polies round the enclosure. We managed two visits to Carter Observatory, a dinky observatory with fascinating planetarium shows. One of my clients became very heated about alien existence and tried to persuade the observatory attendant that they should go to parliament to tell John Key what they had found. Liam and I revisited the Museum of City and Sea to check out a temporary knitting exhibition and I contributed to what Liam described as 'the longest and crappiest scarf in the world'.  We attended the Academy of Fine Arts 'World Press Exhibition', an amazing round up of the years best press photography, which is something each year that I mean to catch and never seem to get round to.  'Athfield Architects' at the City Gallery featured the designs and models of Ian Athfield, a celebrated Wellingtonian architect with a very distinctive style featuring lots of levels, curves and pipes, so we can now happily spot his designs all across the city, albeit many of them not exactly being our style!

August is festival time in Wellington, and we had a fab time throughout the Wellington on a Plate festival, and volunteering at Beervana, you can read Liam's related blog post about these here.  As part of the New Zealand International Film Festival we went to see 'Our Newspaper', a documentary about a small Russian village who got so sick of the state run daily newspaper that they started to publish their own.  Beautiful shots of remote snowy Ulyanovsk, and it's at times hilariously frank elderly residents, meant that we were yearning once more to head back to Russia!  

Music-wise, we checked out The Troubles as recommended by a friend from work, who turned out to be very entertaining, and musically very accomplished, playing all kinds of jazzy and Eastern European influenced styles. On the evening of our wedding anniversary we went to watch Wellington Sea Shanty Society, a comedy duo doing both familiar and unfamiliar sea shanties. We enjoyed drinking beer and rum and harmonising to 'What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor'. Of course the musical highlight of the month was Wellington Community Choir's (possible biased statement - I am in said choir) concert at the Wellington Opera House!  We had a couple of very enjoyable informal concerts and it was lovely to be accompanied by a professional pianist, double bass and mandolin as well as our usual ukulele group.  I dragged Liam and a couple of friends along, who all thoroughly enjoyed it, or at least, they claimed they did ;-)

My friend Helen from book club hosted a cheese and wine night. Inspired by a cheese and beer tasting at Beervana we took along a Tuatara Hefe wheat beer paired with a lovely goat chevre. I had popped by Regional (our local offie, or bottle shop/liquor store as they might say here) to pick up some beers that afternoon and they were hosting an Emerson's tasting of their new I.P.A, Bird Dog.  The brewer assured me that the right cheese for Bird Dog was a vintage Cheddar, which was the 2nd beer and cheese match we took to the party. Hopefully we did our bit for the cheese and beer enlightenment movement (way more versatile and varied than wine!) We had an awesome night meeting new people and playing Cranium, before bidding an early goodbye as I had work at 7:45 then next morning and the clocks were going forward that night. Way to go daylight savings!

A now regular monthly Saturday afternoon treat for me is attending play readings at Circa Theatre. For $5 there is a performed play reading for which the actors have only had the script for a couple of days.  I'm not entirely sure of the purpose of the readings; whether they are the initially rehearsals for plays that are definitely going to be shown or whether they are simply 'testing the waters' as to whether they would work at Circa.  Whichever way, they are an absolute bargain and a great way of seeing a bit of new theatre.  It seemed bizarre to me that I must have brought the average audience age down at both readings by around 20 years, where are all the theatrical young people of Wellington?!  I saw 'Rogues and Vagabonds' by Elspeth Sandys and 'Jerusalem' by Jez Butterworth Apparently Circa couldn't possibly produce 'Jerusalem, as it's scale would make it economically impossible, so this was simply a teaser of what Wellingtonians are missing out on compared to the West End or Broadway. We also enjoyed going to see two 'proper' performances as it were, 'The Year of Magical Thinking' by Joan Didion, and 'Clybourne Park' by Bruce Norris. 'The Year of Magical Thinking' was an adaptation of Joan's memoir discussing the year she lost her husband and only child within a couple of months of each other.  It was quite a powerful one woman show.  However, the narrator actually managed to gain little sympathy for herself, and we felt she wasn't particularly likeable.  Given the subject matter, quite a feat!  'Clybourne Park', on the other hand, was a commentary on history repeating itself, with Act One being set in 1959 and Act Two in present day, both set in the same house in a US African-American neighbourhood.  Hilariously funny and despairingly depressing at the same time, a very apt play for so many issues at the moment.  We also finally got round to seeing 'Moonrise Kingdom' at the cinema, a Wes Anderson movie, a cute film about a young boy and girl on an island just off New England in to 1960's, who fall in love and run away together. Not schmaltzy, not too cutesy, just a brave and uplifting film about the difficulties of adolescence and dysfunctional families.

Yet again I must assure you that we didn't spend all our time indoors! After enjoying our day trip to Zealandia so much (discussed in the last post), we took a night tour of the sanctuary.  It took around 2.5 hours and we were lucky enough to visit on a dry, clear night. We were issued with red torches that wouldn't put off the wildlife and headed for a tour around the sanctuary. The highlights were a path strewn either side with millions of glow worms, walking through the forest at sunset and listening to the evening bird calls, and getting to see... a Kiwi!  Our guide had told us they were creatures of habit and that at 21:20 the previous night one had been spotted in a particular location.  So at 21:15 we headed for that particular spot and 5 minutes later, lo and behold, a bumbling ball of fur comes hopping along the path!  It was a seriously cute bird and we were able to watch it searching for grubs for around 10 minutes.  Apparently most New Zealanders have never seen a Kiwi in the wild so we felt very honoured.  

We took advantage of some sunny days to do more exploration of the Town Belt, the wooded hill right behind our house that stretches from one coast to the other.  We found a cool rope swing and enjoyed some magnificent views of the city.  We also took the ferry over to Matiu/Somes Island, slap-bang in the middle of the harbour. Matiu/Somes is a scientific and historic reserve, a mammalian-predator free island, with very few visitors on the day we visited.  At various times over the last century it has been used as an animal and human quarantine station, a prison for enemy nationals in the second world war, and has impressive anti aircraft gun emplacement - which have never actually been used. We enjoyed hiking around, spotting various birds, insects and skinks, and picnicked overlooking Wellington. The quarantine station is open to the public to wander around, it feels very creepy and retro and could do well as the set for an 70s zombie movie.  We then hopped back on the ferry to Days Bay for a well earned coffee and a wander along the coastline.  

In other news, we attended a Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson) inspired Sour Beer Tasting Session at Regional, which Liam will (might) write more about in a dedicated beer blog.  I have been going to Bikram Yoga which, after initially feeling like I was going to faint / throw up (not helped by the stench of sweaty feet emitting from the studio carpet), I am now really enjoying! 

That's all from me for now folks!  Happy spring!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Wellington - June & July 2012

View over Evans Bay from Mt Victoria
We came to the inevitable conclusion that if we wanted to get 'proper' jobs and be able to save a bit of money rather than living day-to-day, a move to the city was in order.  So with heavy hearts we bid a fond farewell to Akaroa and headed back into Christchurch for an overnight stop before our trip up to the North Island.  We stayed at Jailhouse Hostel, a large and quirky hostel converted from, you guessed it, an old jail.  A little cold, a little odd, but pretty cool all the same.  We then caught the fabulous Coastal Pacific train first thing in the morning, enjoying an on-board breakfast and watching the countryside roll by from the open viewing carriage at the back of the train.  We just had time for a coffee in the blazing sunshine on the lovely foreshore of Picton before catching the ferry to across the Cook Strait.  The trip took around 4 hours and started with the ferry sailing through the Tory Channel of the Marlborough and Queen Charlotte Sounds, framed by lush rolling hills.  We used the BlueBridge ferry service (a few dollars cheaper than the more touristy Inter-Islander service) and were treated to a birds eye view of cattle being transported on the lower deck, quite an eye opener and made us (again!) vow to only eat small quantities of locally sourced meat.  By the time we reached Wellington harbour it was dark and drizzly, a bit of a damp 'Welcome to the North Island!' to say the least.

The first few weeks consisted mainly of job interviews, flitting between various hostels, and looking for somewhere longer-term to stay.  Happily, we managed to get jobs within a week or two of arriving; I got a job as a Community Support Worker with adults with severe and enduring mental health problems, and after a few induction shifts at some of the other houses was settled into working at a house in Maupuia, a house up on a hillside with great views over the water.  Liam secured a an out-of-hours position at the Open Polytechnic on the IT Helpdesk.

For the first few weeks we moved between WorldWide, Base and Wellywood backpackers' hostels, making the most of various deals and trying and find a hostel that suited us (ie. wasn't full of 18 year old gap yahs).  Luckily within a few weeks we found a room in a house-share in Mt Victoria.  The guy who lived in one of the rooms was moving out for 4 months to start off his new career in the Police, at a training college further north.  A rather lovely villa-style house, hammock in the garden, large kitchen, fully-furnished room, 10 minutes walk from the centre of town, views over the city from the balcony and friendly flatmates; of course we decided immediately that we wanted it!  We got moved in at the beginning of July (and when I say we, I mean Liam hiked our backpacks up the hill, I was very conveniently at work!) and stuck out the winter in this lovely spot.

In terms of our free time, we enjoyed wandering around the very accessible city centre and exploring our new home town.  Wellington apparently has more food and drink outlets per capita than New York, so needless to say we sampled lots of beer, coffee and culinary delights.  We checked out the colossal giant squid at Te Papa - New Zealand's brilliant National Museum, learned about the city's Maritime history at the Museum of City and Sea, and the Cable Car Museum.  The cable car transports you from the city centre up to the top of the Botanical Gardens in Kelburn, and is a fun yet practical way of getting up the very steep hill.  The Museum also featured a video about Wellington residents who own their own personal cable car in order to access their houses as the landscape is just so damn hilly.  We checked out a few galleries, the highlight probably being an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  'All Woman' was a photograph exhibition of Kiwi Women, from the famous to the unknown, the extraordinary to the plain ordinary, and included a good chunk of fascinating information about each woman featured.

Living in the city means we are treated to lots of live music and theatre, two things we most keenly miss when not available.  It seemed rude to be in Wellington and turn down the opportunity of seeing Flight of the Conchords live, and so had a hilarious evening watching them perform to a 'home crowd'.  A few days before we had seen Jemaine at one of our favourite eateries, and had then nearly hyperventilated when our flatmate informed us he lives diagonally opposite to us (cue plenty of spying from the balcony - and disappointingly only seeing him once).  Wellington seems to be resident to a lot of extremely talented musicians; including Adam Page, an Australian baritone saxophonist who we enjoyed seeing perform at one of our favourite bars in Wellington, Hashigo Zake, as well as perform as part of the Richter City Rebels, a New Orleans style 'second line' band.  They certainly knew how to get the party started, and further inflamed our desire to experience New Orleans (after recently watching the brilliant TV series, Treme)  A further musical highlight of the winter months was a trip to Bodega to check out Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.  They are eight brothers from Chicago, all playing various brass instruments along with drummer.  They play a bombastic mix of jazz and hip-hop, building up layers of groovy brass with occasional vocals.  A fantastic live band, and a brilliant mix of sheer musicianship and rocking party band.  

My first theatrical experience was at Circa Theatre as I went along to see All My Sons one night while Liam was working.  I have always been a huge Miller fan (predictable I know, but the man was a genius), and this production was fabulous, with strong actors and a beautiful set.  Despite being one of the main theatres in Wellington, Circa is still small enough to feel pretty intimate, making the ending seem even more shocking.  We also went to see a production at Bats Theatre called Standstill, by Anders Falsti-Jenson, featuring three actors playing a variety of characters whilst walking on treadmills for an hour.  A clever and quirky commentary on the rat race that is life.  Another time at Bats theatre but this time in the tiny bar area, we also had the pleasure of seeing a few scenes of Puppet Fiction.  Seriously... scenes from Pulp Fiction performed by puppets!  Snortingly hilarious, and well suited to the informal atmosphere.  July also gave us our first experience of National Theatre Live, which my parents had been imploring us to go to for probably over a year.  Anyway, odd timings and astronomical pricing had meant we never quite got round to it in Australia, so we were really excited to have booked tickets to see replays of both Frankenstein and One Man Two Guvnors.  They were both absolutely astounding, fantastic pieces of theatre.  Frankenstein especially was perhaps one of the best things I have ever seen, and I don't make claims like that lightly.  The two productions was flawless and so well executed.  And of course there is something quite incredible about being able to watch a British theatre production on the other side of the planet.  If you haven't caught any yet, you have to!  We also found out that cinemas over here are lovely; comfy, quirky, individual and often independent; quite a different experience to the vast majority of cinemas back home.  

Believe it or not we didn't spend all of our time indoors, and did manage a trip out to Zealandia.  Zealandia is a 225 hectare valley a stone's throw away from the city centre (in fact, just about walkable from the city centre, although the cable car is a far more pleasant way to make your way up the hill to Kelburn) where they are dedicated to recreating the landscape as it would have been before the first human settlers arrived 700 years ago.  Before the arrival of humans, the land was completely devoid of mammalian life (apart from bats), and was a thriving paradise for numerous unique species of birds and reptiles.  In order to attempt to recreate this environment, a huge Jurrasic Park style fence (well not quite, it's not electrified) has been erected surrounding the entire area, and the park has been (as far as possible) purged of mammals, with ongoing efforts to catch the ones that do get in.  Bags are checked on the way in for small rodents, cats, possums, monkeys(!) and other sneaky stowaways.  The day that we visited was fairly drizzly but if anything this added to the atmosphere; it is a fairly large site so it often feels pretty isolated while wandering round the native bushland, listening to the bird song and keeping an eye out for Weta and Kaka.  The landscape has been so vastly altered by the arrival of humans that the project is being carried out on an impressively epic scale and time-frame; they aim to have achieved their goal of a pre-human habitat in 500 years time!  Many native birds were actually on the verge of extinction and Zealandia has played a vital part in the halt of their decline, and it has had the knock-on effect of re-introducing some rare birdlife to the wider Wellington area. A very interesting place indeed!

We quickly settled into life in Wellington, and enjoyed watching the Olympic coverage with our sporty flatmates and had a ping-pong table erected for the occasion.  One of my colleagues hosted an International Food Night (in reflection of the cultural diversity of the employees; Chilean, Polish, Indian, Irish, American, French, Chinese, Indonesian, Samoan and of course Kiwi and British!) which was great fun.  We took along Cornish Pasties (pronounced 'PAY-sties' here weirdly enough, as in "you're looking a bit pasty!") and a Bakewell Tart which went down a treat.  My favourite dish of the night was an Indian curry made with semolina.  Sounds gross but was honestly very tasty!  There was also some good Sushi and South American cheese pastries.  I joined Wellington Community Choir and a book club.  Our first book to review was The Kite Runner, handy seeing as I'd read it before, and it was a great opportunity for meeting new people.

As you can see, we've been keeping ourselves busy, and are getting ourselves into a routine as well as still enjoying exploring and experiencing our temporary home town.  The clocks have now gone forward and summer is finally showing it's face on occasion. Hopefully we'll get a bit more up-to-date on the blog in the comings weeks!