Monday, August 24, 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
I learned to drive in Ballard, a neighborhood of Seattle that has very narrow streets. Actually, they aren't that narrow inherently but they always have cars parked on both sides which makes them extremely narrow. As a novice driver I was constantly nervous that I would side swipe the cars parked on the right because I didn't have a good sense of how far away that side of the car was. Then I was afraid that I would overcompensate and hit the cars on my left.
Here, in New Zealand, that anxiety came back for the first day or so of driving (only reversed because now I'm sitting on the right side of the car and driving on the left side of the road). I'm mostly used to it now and I'm extremely glad I decided to drive myself because on a bus or a train I might be too consumed by motion sickness to really enjoy the scenery. Yesterday, I took a bus from Rotorua to Hobbiton because there was drinking involved in the Hobbiton tour and I wanted to be able to partake. The motion sickness was almost too much on the way there. Interestingly, on the return trip it was not as bad which seems to imply that the beer I had actually helped to decrease my nausea which seems counter-intuitive.
Today I made my way from Rotorua to Taupo (on my way eventually to Wellington and then back up to Auckland again). On the drive from Rotorua to Taupo I found that the roads and the road rules are not the only things similar to home. The scenery I drove through this morning was just like home (and beautiful, of course, like everything here). Some of the trees and plants aren't the same as what we have but for the most part the similarities were uncanny. This area has mostly dairy farming and timber as its industries so it was just like driving through the Snoqualmie river valley, or the Skagit valley, or over Highway 2, or along the Trans Canada Highway from Vancouver to Kelowna. I felt right at home.
I've been very focused on the similarities but there are some minor differences that I find very interesting as well. For example, I had a migraine the other day which put a damper on my travels...actually it mostly put a damper on my writing as that evening I was holed up in a hotel room in Rotorua finishing a script that's been tugging at my imagination for a while now. I was only able to see about half the computer screen though due to the aforementioned migraine. I ventured to a pharmacy looking for something to take for it. Actually, first I ventured to the supermarket (all of which have pharmacies in them back home), but that was fruitless so I then sought out a pharmacy.
At home I'd probably take Aleve Cold and Sinus for a migraine because it has 120 mg of time released pseudoephedrine in it and that is the best and strongest vaso-constrictor that I've ever encountered. Here, however, you can't get pseudoephedrine (even the 30 mg) without a prescription. I asked what else they would recommend for a migraine and they gave me something with codeine in it. I did have to give them my name and address to buy it, like I would back home if I wanted pseudoephedrine, but back home you can't get codeine without a prescription. It's odd little differences like this that I notice.
One of the other differences that struck me is that the electrical outlets all have on/off switches on them here. That seems extremely convenient for saving power, you can just turn off the entire outlet, but I definitely have trouble remembering that I need to turn them on (or off for that matter).
The on/off switches on the outlets also got me wondering where the electricity comes from over here. I very rarely think about my carbon footprint when using electricity at home because where I live almost all of the electricity comes from hydro. Since I'm here primarily to see a play about climate change though I've been thinking about energy sources and carbon footprints a lot since arriving. I wondered what sort of energy sources New Zealand is using. They certainly have a lot of geothermal activity so that could be an energy source, they could also use hydro (there are a lot of rivers).
I looked it up, of course, and according to the Google and Wikipedia about 75% of New Zealand's energy is generated through renewable sources (hydro, geothermal, and wind primarily). That's pretty comparable to Washington state (where I am from) so on that front I feel pretty okay about my energy consumption here.
The car I'm driving is another story. I miss my Prius C. Again, I feel compelled to say that I receive no compensation from Toyota, though I'd happily accept if they wanted to compensate me. I love my Prius C, I couldn't love it more...unless it were a fully electric, like a Tesla S, or a Leaf, or if it were a plug in hybrid like a Prius Plug-In, but as I've got no where to plug in a car at home so I can't go the full electric or plug in route. The Prius C is the next best thing, it gets 53 mpg (average).
I had to take whatever car they gave me at the rental agency here though and, in addition to missing small modern conveniences (like bluetooth syncing and decent suspension), this car is a gas guzzler. Also, it has to warm up. It took some getting used to, when I first got my Prius, to look for the ready light rather than listening for the engine noise, but now that I am used to it when the car I'm driving roars to life and then has a little green light on until it warms up it's a little disconcerting. Also, I'm a very bad parallel parker, and trying to do it from the other side of the car, on the other side of the road, in a car that's significantly longer than my Prius C is no fun. Luckily, I've only had to parallel park a few times so far.
All in all, on the other side of the world, and the other side of the road, on the other side of the car, I feel remarkably at home.
What makes New Zealand better? Well, there's the dairy products as previously mentioned, then there's the fact that apparently you can't walk ten meters without running into one of the locations from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. I visited Hobbiton today, which is the set of the Shire. Hobbiton is the only location to still have sets from the film built on it, but according to the Hobbiton bus driver both the North and South islands are littered with locations. Not surprising I suppose since all six of those films were at least 80% set outdoors. Hobbiton, by the way, was beautiful.
Everything in New Zealand is beautiful, or the small portion of it that I've seen so far anyway and I've stayed on the North island. I'm staying on the North island for my entire trip actually. On my second to last night in Auckland it was suggested to me (by an amazing photographer who has an excellent visual sensibility) that I should cancel my planned itinerary and go to the South island instead if natural beauty is what I am looking for. If that is true, and I've got no reason to doubt him (as I said he's a photographer who knows a thing or two about beautiful things), but if it is true I can only say New Zealand is likely the most beautiful country in the world.
One of the main reasons I decided to stick to my plan was the Zorb. Zorbing, for those unfamiliar, is an activity (some might call it extreme) wherein you get inside a giant plastic ball and roll down a hill. It's more like a ball within a ball actually. You can do it dry or wet the difference being either they put water inside with you or they don't. The dry track was down for maintenance when I went. I sort of feel like the dry version would be kind of a waste anyway, but that's just me. In addition to the dry versus wet choice you can also chose a straight track or a twisted track, I chose the twisted one.
The thing about the Zorb is that it's incredibly freeing. You have to completely give up control. I mean, it's on a "track" so there is a level of control, but that control is certainly not yours if you are inside the Zorb. For a minute, or however long it takes it to get to the bottom, you are completely without control and you know it when you are about to get in so you have to consciously chose to give yourself up to it. Then for that minute, not only do you have no control, but it's almost as though you have no thoughts. It's kind of the ultimate in meditation. You are completely in that moment while it's happening, you can't help it. I'm trying, but I really can't describe it. All I can really say is that I am not the same person I was before I got in the Zorb and doing it was perhaps the best decision I have ever made. So, when I say that everything is better in New Zealand, "everything" includes me.
Monday, August 17, 2015
Actually first let me say that I am not a professional, paid, travel blogger though wouldn't it be nice if I were. I'd love to be paid for writing things I would (and do, and will) write for free. If the New Zealand tourism board wanted to pay me to travel their country writing about the beautiful sights, friendly people, and exciting adventures to be found there I would take that money and thank all the gods everyday for my amazing luck. The Holiday Inn has also not paid me for the glowing praise I am about to write. Though, again, if they wanted to offer me unlimited free nights in their hotels I would certainly accept that offer and not think twice about my integrity for I would praise them for free happily, and will now.
My love of the Holiday Inn began, as many of my loves do, in Austin, Texas. I was there for the premier of the Veronica Mars movie and I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express partly because it was relatively inexpensive and partly because they had a block of rooms saved for Kickstarter backers of the movie and finding hotel rooms on that short notice in Austin during SXSW would have been difficult at best.
At first my love of the Holiday Inn could be almost entirely traced to the pancake machine (which is specific to Holiday Inn Express hotels). The pancake machine doesn't make the best, most fluffy pancakes you've ever had but it makes pretty darn good pancakes and they come out of a machine. You press a button and a few moments later out comes a pancake, off a conveyor belt. It's awesome.
Now, the Holiday Inn I'm staying at in Rotorua is not a Holiday Inn Express, and therefor doesn't have a pancake machine. It has a breakfast buffet which does have pancakes, and though I didn't eat any of them they looked delicious.
Despite the lack of pancake machine, this Holiday Inn represents all of the things I have come to love about all Holiday Inns (Express or otherwise). The thing about Holiday Inns is that they are clean, and comfortable, with extremely friendly and helpful staff, and generally good facilities (this one, I think, has a gym and a pool and, I know, has laundry which can either do yourself or they have a service). The other thing about the Holiday Inn, is that they are everywhere and every one I have ever stayed in, while not exactly alike in every respect, is the same in quality.
When I travel I like to stay at least one night in an expensive 4 or 5 star hotel and/or a hotel that is also a tourist attraction, this trip I'll be doing that my last night in Auckland (at Sky City which I believe is both of those things). While it's fun to do that and sometimes hotels like that have amenities you won't find in a Holiday Inn (the 5 star hotel on Wenceslas square that I stayed in had complimentary bohemian champagne...or sparkling wine if you want to be that way about it), often they are just more expensive, with fancier furniture, (expensive) mini bars, and more expensive shampoo. I bring my own shampoo anyway because I'm picky like.
The Holiday Inn though, with or without the pancake machine, is is a reliably wonderful hotel that has everything you need and you'll find at least one in every major city and in most minor cities as well. This one in Rotorua even has power adapters that you can borrow for the duration of your stay.
Sunday, August 16, 2015
When a story is told well it can make you feel connected to the entirety of the human experience by showing you a single moment of that terrible contradiction that is inherent in humanity. It takes a good writer to start with, regardless of the medium. If the medium is dramatic (film, TV, or theater) it also takes a great actor; someone who can bring to life that contradiction.
Saturday, August 15, 2015
Auckland is a lot like home (Seattle). In fact even the weather has been very reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest. Day one of my trip was sunny and with the palm trees all around it had me thinking of LA, but everyday since has been wet and overcast and has me thinking of home.
There are other similarities too. Auckland is a port city and an economic hub which means lots of tech and fish from what I can tell (just like home). It's also very hilly and there is coffee everywhere you turn. Also, the Pacific rim nations are all well represented in terms of food options. In short I feel like I never left home at all.
One of the problems with all these reminders of home is that I am suddenly struck by the strong urge to do nothing at all. Yesterday I spent mostly reading which is all well and good, it's my vacation and I'll spend it how I like, but I only have a short time here. It's not like it's the first time I've been vacation in a beautiful foreign city and spent most of a day reading, but at least when I spent most of a day reading in Granada I did in the gardens at the Alhambra, and in London at Trafalgar square. I can't let a little (or a lot of) rain stop me. So today is get in the car and drive day and see where it takes me.