Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jack Attack Christchurch, vol. 1

Well, it's a long time in the works, but here goes!
I arrived in Christchurch on February 1st. So much has happened since then, but when telling a story, one must start from the beginning.

My first night in Chch I met a Canadian farmer who was on scholarship to study hops farming in the Nelson region of the South Island. I know it sounds like someone's lame (or genius) attempt to get discounts and access to many breweries, but he really was a hops, herbs, and veg farmer up near Toronto. We visited a brewhouse to do a sampling and got 3 free bottles of beer (since he flashed his scholarship business card).

My second day in Chch was equally fortuitous in that I met Sandy, a local woman who, upon finding out that I was trying to embark on a bicycle tour of the South Island but did not yet have a bike, offered me a free bike. Someone had dumped it in her yard one day; she gave the bike to the police, who could not track down the owner; the police gave the bike back to her, whereupon it sat in her shed until my arrival. She desperately wanted to get rid of it (enter Jack, in need of a bike). I should've said earlier that this whole interaction happened at Joe's Garage. Who knew that my place of work would follow me all the way to Australia and New Zealand, but alas, fortune has a funny sense of humor. I ended up staying at Sandy's place for two nights (since she had an extra bedroom).

As soon as I had a bike, my exploration of greater Christchurch began. I biked SE of the city center toward the ocean and around the oceanside suburb of Sumner. Maps can be really deceiving, especially ones that don't have altitude. I found out the hard way that New Zealand is VERY hilly. I got lost somewhere on Godley Head Peninsula. I wandered along a path that wasn't meant for biking (which meant I did a lot of walking the bike and carrying it over fences) until reaching an old coastal military defense region with old gun enbankments. I found my way down to Lyttleton (the epicenter of the earthquake that was still two weeks away), and since it was almost completely dark, I decided to stop at a local bar for veg nachos and a ginger beer. I checked the bus schedule and decided to throw my bike on the bus rack and head back to Chch.

Two days later, I joined the Rainbow Riders (a GLBT-friendly cycling group) for a bike ride back to the same region. This time, I would be with people who knew the area and its elevational challenges, and they were great support. They were both over 60, but they were in great shape. On the big uphills, Davinia would race to the top and come back down to encourage us to get all the way up. (what a show off!)
After the ride, Larry offered to make buckwheat pancakes, and I am NOT one to turn down buckwheat pancakes (or any free food really). We had a great time just chatting and getting to know each other. He is as wise as a 60-year-old, but in the shape of a 45-year-old.

I made a friend on CouchSurfing that went by the handle, ComradeLee. He had a whole day of fun planned for our hangout on Monday, but then it rained. Seeking to be non-plussed by what I learned is typical NZ weather, we decided to have our day of fun in the rain. So we took his scooter out to the woods and found a suitable patch of land on which to make a Bear Grylls-approved lean-to out of sticks, leaves and pine needles. We brought the photocopied instructions from Bear's book and our raingear. It was harder than expected, and the end result was a bit small for us, but we were proud nonetheless. Plus, we brought soy hot chocolate with us, so we had a perfect rainy-day reward!

I also met a wonderful couple on CouchSurfing who have a garden and chickens and a love of Dexter and surfing. I cooked them an Indian curry, and they made a delicious rhubarb crumble for dessert. They took me surfing, and we even got some photos that make me look like I'm good at surfing (a photographic feat, really). To Jill's chagrin, Julia went out the next day to buy Dexter Season 4, so the second night ended with a couple episodes of Dexter and delicious lemon popsicles. We also caught the final match in the Sevens World Series. It's the 7-man rugby championship. England lost to the All-Blacks (which I learned was their actual team name, not just some non-PC epithet). It's NZ's premiere rugby league. The whole match was over in 20 minutes. To my used-to-American-football mind, it seemed so anticlimactic. Upon further analysis, however, I think I really do prefer it. Less time wasted and more athleticism on display, since all 14 men on the field run at absolute sprints for the whole 20 minutes. All in all, a great time!

I was very much looking forward to going back to Chch when Tristan flew in. We had tickets to the annual Flower Festival; I had many cool places to show T while he was getting over his jetlag; and we had a CouchSurfing host family lined up with a 5-year-old daughter who loves ponies and unicorns. Well, I guess NZ had other plans for us...

Lyttleton and Sumner (suburbs of Chch) 2 weeks before the earthquake

Getting lost on Godley Head Peninsula

Christchurch's quirky beauty

Bear Grylls would be proud!

What is Art?

I've been thinking that a lot as I see "art" galleries, "graffiti," and some delicious meals. Nothing profound, but food for thought. :-)

Jack Attack Queensland Art Gallery

Jack Attack Melbourne Again



dirty penguin at night

Johan's van, "Karla"

Johan, Sanne, and I

Combination Boris Becker and Bjorn Borg

Well, it's gotta be kinda short and sweet tonight. My stay in Melbourne was amazing! My favorite part of the city is a place called Fitzroy; it's full of hipsters, bikers, vintage clothing shops, and cheap pizza. I met an amazing guy on CouchSurfing who hosted me for 5 nights, helped me find and fix up a used bike, took me dumpster diving, and took me to Gay Day in the Park. I got a 5-day Ground Pass to the Australian Open for only $99, and I got to see some really good action the first few days. I met a man from Sweden named Johan who was living in his van, but he was also hosting on CouchSurfing (his van sleeps 3 comfortably - see attached picture).

On the day of the women's semifinal matches, I went to an Op Shop (thrift store) and purchased a vintage junior wooden racquet, a headband, and super short white shorts (see attached picture) so that I could enter a Best Dressed Tennis Player contest. I ended up getting 2nd place to some old geyser wearing a suit, but I still ended up getting tickets to center court to watch the women's semifinals. I took Johan and his friend Sanne (Netherlands) with me and watched some amazing tennis - see attached picture again.

My days in Melbourne were spent watching heaps of tennis, meeting some really cool people, eating cheap pizza at Bimbo's Pizza ($4 every day), meetings some penguins at St. Kilda Bay, taking a Full Moon Bike Ride, doing a 60km bike ride through the countryside on Australia Day with one stop at a winery, and being an extra on an Australian TV show. All in all, a pretty good month.

Oh, and I went to a zoo. I would've rather seen them in the wild, but I didn't want to NOT see kangaroos and emus while in Australia, so...there you go!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pictures from Brisbane

These are the pictures that were supposed to accompany the Brisbane post. As you can see, the constant rainfall ended in some severe flooding. And these aren't pictures of suburbs or cities far from Brisbane, this is in the center of Brisbane proper.

Panic set in a bit, and most people went shopping and the bread and the milk sections at the grocery store were completely empty. Fear shopping makes me laugh!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jack Attack Brisbane?

Wow, it's been quite an adventure. It has been non-stop raining, but I've been trying to fight the urge to pout and stay in. I have an umbrella, and I can always dry my clothes if they get soaked. I can tell that if it were dry I would be having an amazing time biking in this city. There are wide bike paths and cool bridges over the river (including two that are only for peds and cycles). I really want to rent one, but I don't really have my rain gear. We'll see...I might just change my mind. I've been doing a lot of sitting with Flat Whites (lattes) and trying to find free wifi (which is SUPER rare). I read Siddharta by Hermann Hesse, an amazing novella about self-discovery and expectations. It was beautiful. I walk-xplored the Botanical Gardens yesterday, and I'm going to hit the museums today, despite the rain.

I also found a cool vegetarian all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in downtown Brisbane. You can do a yoga class, followed by the buffet for $20 (a great price for AUS). I'll probably do that tomorrow or Thursday.

I took a train out to Yeerongpilly on my first full day here to catch some live professional tennis at the Brisbane International. I watched Robin Soderling (the Swede who is one of my favorite players) and Andy Roddick both win some pretty good matches, and I watched the women's final. I know it sounds boring to watch a ball going back and forth over a net, but it really was fascinating. I can't wait to watch more tennis when I get back down to Melbourne. I'm not sure yet how to put pictures on the blog since I forgot the cord that connects to computers, but I'll figure it out soon enough.

G'day for now!
jack attack

Friday, January 7, 2011

Jack Attack Melbourne

I've always had a soft spot for puzzles, whether jigsaw, crossword, logic, or highly addictive puzzle games, like the one I played my entire 14-hour flight from LA to Melbourne. It's called Zuma (like short for Montezuma), and it's Aztec-themed. It's basically like Snood for those of you who know (for those of you who don't, stay away; I wasted so many high school and post-college hours on Snood). The woman next to me woke up toward the end of the flight and laughed at me, saying, "You're going to go cross-eyed." Little did she know that I already was. The skirt on the lady on the restroom sign was already fluctuating between a mini-skirt and a full-length dress. I knew I had to stop, but I had no power over the Aztec witchcraft. I felt like an early Colonizer. Being faced with a mysterious yet strong force over me by a thing I
did not understand, I instantly classified it as evil. Foolish, weak Colonizer that I am, I arrived in Melbourne very tired, but I had to stay awake to fight the jetlag. I found a hostel for a reasonable rate (reasonable being relative since Oz is so expensive) for $22. I met up with a Minneapolis friend who is looking for work and a place to stay. We explored Fitzroy, an area much like Uptown Mpls that is full of hipsters and overpriced stores but also good independent coffeeshops and a few great deals, like the $4 pizzas we found at a cool restaurant/lounge thing with rooftop seating. Overall, my venture in Melbourne has been a success. Pictures to come later since both my camera and phone were presumed to be dead, even though I later realized that I had attempted to load the battery in the camera backwards. Oops!