Taking advantage of the unofficial four day weekend that the Melbourne Cup offers you, I've found myself in Wellington, New Zealand for the last few days.
My old friend Martijn is stationed here at the moment for work, so I half took up the offer to come over, half invited myself to come for a few days. And why not? A good tax return, decent ticket prices, haven't been to the city in over 25 years, it gave me a chance to have a look around and see what the place was like - despite it's reputation for being cold, wet, windy and prone to earthquakes, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
What did I find?
1) Wellington is a really cool place. Arty, sporty, seafaring, good coffee, great food, brilliant sea food, friendly and everything is in walking distance. Brilliant. I've walked miles over the last few days.
2) Wellington keeps you fit. The hills are brutal. Built on a whopping great fault line, the hills get larger and smaller depending on the earthquakes - houses cling to the sides of the hills like a sooky child. You're called lazy or a tourist if you take the cable car up to the university on the very top of the hill, but the cable car is great fun.
3) There is a sense of humour around here in regards to the rivalry between our two nations. When coming through customs, I was asked "Anything to declare?".
My answer was, "Other than I didn't vote for Tony Abbott and a tin of mints, no, nothing."
"For the first point, you are very welcome here. No problems about the mints." Said the lady, nodding knowingly.
They take a lot of interest in what goes on in Australia over here.
4) The Museums (Musea?) are great. The National Museum - Te Papa Tongarewa is superb. One of the better museums I've been to. Felt incredibly ashamed to be Australian at one point when they showed had a room devoted to the welcoming of Asylum Seekers. They've also integrated the Maori culture well - most will admit to it to it not being perfect, but it seems to an outsider, to be really inclusive, sensitive and just fine. Te Papa also houses the skeleton of Phar Lap. Poor horsey, his skin is in Melbourne and his heart in Canberra. Do you think they might be able to do the same thing to Russell Crowe one day?
There is also a smaller museum, The Museum of the City and the Sea - which is fantastic and can't recommend enough. Rated in the top 50 Museums in the work, only takes an hour to go through, but it's fascinating.
5) The average down town Wellingtonian is very friendly. Everybody is really friendly, even to bolshie Aussies like me. Everybody smiles and talks to you - which suits me fine as I smile and talk to most people too. Had lots of lovely off the cuff chats to all sorts of people. It makes it a nice place to visit, especially when you roam the streets by yourself during the day.
6) Saying that, the do talk a bit funny over here.
Case in point, we were out to dinner last night at a little Italian place. Martijn was listening to the waitress explain the specials to the next table.
"Nipples?" he smirked.
"What are you wittering about? Leave the poor buxom woman alone." I retorted.
"But she said that nipples were on the specials." He continued to smirk and witter.
Okay, you have to give him. Nipples are funny things to have on a menu.
Took him five minutes to work out that she'd said that "meatballs" were on the specials.
I've also worked out that you sleep in a "bid", fit a "spear" to your car when you get a flat, and that it doesn't get cold but "Chilly" - just as they don't have eskies but chilly bins, and thongs are not footwear but they wear jandals (short for Japanese Sandals) instead. The accent is great. They laugh at the way we Aussies say 'six', which is how Kiwi's procreate...
7) I've worked out that I'm not used to having people around. Nor is Martijn - but we managed very well. Both of us have lived alone for a long time, and that's okay. Three days was a good amount of time to visit. Martijn had a sailing lesson on the Sunday and was at work yesterday. I'm a self-sufficient traveller and try hard to be a good house guest. So spending the days roaming about and evenings with Martijn worked well. It was great to spend a bit of time with him.
8) Never leave home without the arnica. I've got some minor strains in my calf muscles from all the hills. Arnica appears to be making them feel a bit better.
9) A holiday is not a holiday without a swim. This morning I took myself down to the Freyburg Pool, right on the harbour for a half hour of laps. Just wonderful. Sea water and a lane to myself. Very happy.
10) I'd really like to spend a bit more time in this quaint, quirky, cool, friendly, welcoming, interesting place.
Right, I'd better go get on my plane back home. Back to work tomorrow.
Thanks for having me, Wellington (and Martijn - your spare room was brilliant, thanks again)
Photos to follow.