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!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Christmas in Wellington - December 2012

Another year, another Christmas down-under! The festivities seemed fairly low key over here, even compared to Australia. Most people seemed to be waiting until the week before to put decorations up and do their shopping, so it didn't really begin to feel Christmassy until about the 22nd. Of course the light nights and the non-wintry weather will always feel a bit weird for us around Christmas, although we have to point out that the climate here is a world away from that of Western Australia, it might not be cold but the weather while nice some of the time remains as unpredictable as ever - only a couple of days before Christmas we had some freak low-cloud which blanketed the city for a whole day.

Before Christmas we enjoyed a couple of cinema visits, to see Skyfall (probably my favourite ever Bond film, an enjoyable romp with its tongue firmly in cheek) and The Intouchables (about support work and a reminder of why my job's important!). We also went to watch old school punkers Lagwagon at the San Fransisco Bathhouse and got a rare glimpse of the Wellington punk scene, albeit mostly a nostalgic one (lots of good old days EpiFat t-shirts around!).

It wasn't all passive activities - we finally got around to hiking along the south coast to Red Rocks, which are ancient pillow lava formed 200 million years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions. We had been meaning to make this trip ever since trying the awesome Garage Project Red Rocks, a rich malt and hop bomb with extra caramelised flavours due to it being flash boiled with hot rocks (the original idea was to use the rocks from Red Rocks until they learnt that they explode when heating! There's a pretty cool video on the making of the beer here). The Red Rocks themselves have a slightly film-set feel about them, like if you picked them up they'd be made of polystyrene. But it was certainly unusal to see big rocks on the beach of reddy, pinky, purply hue. There are two Maori legends pertaining to how the rocks got their colour; in the first story, Kupe, a famous Polynesian explorer, bled when a paua (shellfish) clamped his hand, and his blood stained the rocks red. In another legend, the red symbolises the blood of Kupe's daughters, as they slashed themselves in grief over his absence whilst he was away on a long voyage - a little melodramatic. The boring scientific explanation is that small amounts of iron oxides give the rocks their distinctive colouring. From April to October there is also a seal colony at the rocks, mostly males who couldn't find a mate apparently!

Around Christmas we had attended the usual work do's, a meal out for me at a local pub and bowling and Laser Quest for Liam - both enjoyable as far as these things generally go!  I also went to baking class where we made Swiss Zopf Bread - a sweet bread, traditionally eaten on Sundays in Switzerland, which is shaped into a Father Christmas in December and into other shapes at other festivals, such as a bunny at Easter. We shaped pre-made dough first of all to learn the sculpting 'technique', then made our own dough to take home and shape.  By the time I had got my dough home it had grown to fairly gargantuan proportions, and Father Christmas further swelled in the oven, maybe more like a post-Christmas Santa after all those mince pies, but he was very tasty nonetheless! 

The mighty Sea Shepherd had two of their boats docked at the harbour shortly before Christmas, en-route to the Antarctic: The SSS (witty abbreviation for Sea Shepherd Ship!) Bob Barker and Brigitte Bardot (named after the people who funded the ship's purchase, the American game show host and French actress respectively). We did a tour of the Bob Barker and learnt all about their imminent Zero Tolerance voyage to the Antarctic to obstruct the Japanese whaling ships and their "scientific research". Truly inspirational stuff, and we have to be very grateful that these people put their lives on the line to protect the waters down there in absence of any serious international action even though they are hunting in a whale sanctuary (cough cough, governments of Australia and New Zealand, I'm looking at you...). 

And then, as always happens in December, Christmas was suddenly upon us! I was working on Christmas Eve and awoken by an eager knocking at 6:15 on Christmas morning on the office door, as the first of the the residents was keen to open his presents. The others were tickled at the sight of me in pyjamas and a Father Christmas hat when they woke up. At 8am I finished work and walked the 50 minutes home along Evans Bay, stopping to take a quick photo of how ridiculously still the water was - very unusual for Wellington! Arriving home, Liam had laid out all the cards and presents we had received and we had a breakfast of smoked salmon with homemade cream cheese and sourdough before getting stuck into the pressies.  We were lucky to receive some wonderful presents and some lovely cards - thanks all! We had a quick hike to the top of Mt Vic for a squiz at the view before heading back home to Skype my parents. After that we decided it was too nice a day to start eating yet and so hiked over the town belt in order to catch the bus ... to the beach! It was our first beach day in Wellington and we spent it at Island Bay on the South Coast. Our Christmas lunch nourishment consisted of beer and a banana!  Despite the sweltering hot day, the sea was freezing cold (we're no wusses, but there was a reason only people in wet suits were swimming!) so after a quick swim we let the sun thaw us out.

Later in the afternoon we headed back home and began preparations for Christmas dinner (as if a banana wasn't enough!).  Liam realised that the BBQ we had bought needed to be assembled (it isn't Christmas day unless you've drunkenly had to figure out some nonsensical instructions right?).  After a thankfully reasonably straight-forward build we fired it up and BBQ'd the marinated prawns for a starter, followed by Deep South BBQ Pork skewers and corn on the cob rolled in butter, hard goats cheese, chilli and lime juice (this was a total revelation!). Two salads were prepared to add some healthiness to proceedings; potato and radish, and carrot and beetroot.  A rather excellent meal, if we do say so ourselves, and all the better for being washed down with a few glasses of fizz and local craft beer. Later on we grilled the tops Chai Creme Brulees for dessert (sadly not on the BBQ - don't think that'd quite work!) We didn't have room for the second dessert (yes, there were only two of us, those keeping count might note seven dishes so far!) of gin and tonic jelly so we saved that for Boxing Day.  To say we felt smug about the weather on Christmas Day was an understatement... it had been the hottest Christmas Day since 1934 (and writing this in retrospect, the hottest day of the summer) and for Wellington it was an utter miracle given how still it was too. A merry Christmas indeed!

On Boxing Day we went to watch the cricket at the Basin Reserve, a Twenty20 match between Wellington Firebirds and Central Stags (seemingly a collection of districts which don't have their own team, from both the central north and central south island - thanks Wikipedia). Having been slightly anxious about it being very busy and struggling to get in, it became very apparent that Kiwi's don't leave the house in debatable weather and so the Basin seemed very empty!  We hung around for an hour as they delayed the start and ummed and ahhed about whether it was going to rain, which gave Liam the chance to explain the rules to me so I might have an inkling as to what was going on (gleaned from Wikipedia earlier in the day!). The cricket, once under way  was thankfully pretty fast paced. The delay saw the match reduced to 18 overs, in which Wellington Firebirds scored 214 runs, which I'm told is pretty good. We shot off before the end as we were meeting some friends for drinks, but the writing was on the wall for the Stags by that point, and we had been sat in the damp for 3.5 hours by that time! So we spent the rest of the evening with friends in the Hop Garden, sampling the beers and sharing some yummy food (by far the best bar food in Wellington - can't get enough of their chilli-fried squid!).  It was lovely to see them both and Helen had just returned from a short trip back to the UK bringing back with her... some M&S Christmas Cake! That, coupled with lunch of rotisserie chicken from Moore Wilsons (another legendary purveyor of grub in Wellington) for 'Boxing Day leftovers'-style sandwiches with stuffing and redcurrant sauce sandwich, meant that despite a non-tradition Christmas dinner, we still had the best bits covered!

Liam's birthday is the 27th, although he did have to work (from home - so largely in name only!) which is in fact the first time he's ever done so (one of the few benefits of a birthday so close to Christmas!). We didn't miss much of the day as the weather was poor again, so we hung about the house and enjoyed a nice lunch, before wandering down into town for a walk along the waterfront. We visited Bin44, a new restaurant with a craft beer speciality, for a drink before heading to Liam's favourite beer establishment Hashigo Zake for further beers and their legendary beer snack pies. A few interesting beers turned quickly into a late night, and after refuelling at our favourite late night eating haunt (KC Cafe for some greasy Chinese food) we stumbled up into the town belt in what ended up being a very dark and damp hike home! The next morning, I finally got round to baking the cake I had intended to make; Mexican chocolate, cinnamon and chili cake, served with creme fraiche and candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds). Delicious!

New Year was fairly anticlimactic, although we had planned to keep it low-key. The weather on the day had been hit and miss so we hadn't gotten around to doing anything beyond crosswords and a spot of afternoon beer tasting! A nice surprise was our landlord turning up with a bottle of bubbly, definitely a first! We had also been given a bottle on Christmas Day from our neighbours, not bad going! We had debated going to watch some live music at the waterfront, but decided we were too lazy and that it would be full of kids (we're getting on a bit don't you know!). The evening actually turned out to be rather lovely, so we had a couple of Gin & Tonics (Christmas pressie courtesy of Dave and Janet, thanks!) in in our lovely garden before hiking up to the lookout to watch the fireworks at midnight. Later in the evening it transpired that the fireworks had been called off due to (quelle surprise) high winds! So at midnight we climbed to the top of Mt Victoria regardless (only a 5 minute walk from our house), and saw in the new year along with a few drunk teenagers and perplexed looking foreigners waiting for the non-existent fireworks, always a lovely view from up there but hopefully the rest of the year will be slightly more exciting! Happy New Year one and all!

Summer in Wellington