NZ Post #25: Birthday Wishes And Gelato Dreams

02/17/11 - Nelson

We rolled into Nelson excited by the fact that we'd have a double room en suite – meaning our own private bathroom and shower! This would be our second en suite, but we hoped without the rampant noise just outside our window and door. We weren't disappointed.

The Bug, despite its name, was a fantastic hostel. Our room was like a hotel room: Spacious, airy, clean, and lovely. And by the way, the "bug" in question refers to the automobile, not the insect.  

Each room had its own bug theme with an identifying car to go with it: Surf Bug, Snow Bug (ours), Summer Bug, etc. The backyard had an apple tree (though, sadly, the apples weren’t ripe yet), an outdoor eating area, hammocks, and a ping pong table. The kitchen was well stocked and clean. The owner made muffins and fresh bread for guests! The icing on the cake was the free wi-fi that actually worked! Yes, we liked The Bug. We liked it very much.

 The View From Boat Shed Cafe

The View From Boat Shed Cafe

Grungy from our Abel Tasman escapade, we quickly washed up and settled in. Technically, back in the states, it was Katie’s official birthday. To celebrate we chose to dine at a local restaurant recommended by our guide book as well as a friend of Katie’s father. It was called “The Boat Shed” and it was perched on the water. The bartender (an American) greeted us when we entered and said we were in luck, the later evening was fully booked but the early evening was wide open. We were given a table on the deck overlooking the bay. It was gorgeous. Sun glinted off the water and warmed the evening air. We were thrilled to finally enjoy a fancy dining experience.

The meal: Zucchini bruschetta, green-lipped mussels & cockles, barbequed scallops, a side of fresh green beans with rosemary, a side of potatoes au gratin, and a local cider called Old Mout. The bruschetta was fresh and zesty, the seafood cooked to perfection, the sides warm and delicious, and the Old Mout Cider poured over ice was incredibly refreshing – I even loved it! While eating we were treated to a swim race along the waterfront. All the diners were enjoying the competition in the dimming sun. The atmosphere was perfectly relaxing. I savored every bite and soaked in the moment. But the meal wasn’t over yet! We’d of course saved room for dessert. After all, what kind of birthday celebration would it be without dessert? We chose panna cotta with stone fruit and a hot moccachino to wash it down. Positively superb! Eating a divine meal on the shores of Nelson, New Zealand…what a great way to turn 33.

The next day we decided to follow up on another recommendation. This time it was wine tasting. I know what you’re thinking, and you’d be right. Though, as much as I dislike wine, I’ve never been one to turn down a new experience. And besides, Katie enjoys wine, so I was more than happy to accompany her and see how the “other half” live at Neudorf Vineyard.

 Perfect Patio

Perfect Patio

Our guidebook gave us vague directions on how to get there. A wrong turn was taken. Some backtracking occurred. Then we found ourselves forever driving down a long and winding road. How far should we go? We wondered with frustration. Finally, we gave up. Katie declared she was turning around at the next road…which just happened to be the very road we were looking for. We both laughed. I guess we were going wine tasting after all.

The house we drove to was rustic but sophisticated. I’ll admit, we were a little nervous. We’d never done this before and had no idea how it worked. The sight of a tour bus bolstered our confidence. As long as other people were around we could watch and learn. We didn’t want to be all alone, looking like lost children. Sadly, we didn’t dodge that bullet.

We walked into a foyer decorated with books and bottles and wine glasses galore with nary a tourist in sight. A woman smiled at us and asked if we wanted a wine tasting. We nodded and stepped forward. As a safety net I stated upfront that we’d never done a wine tasting before. The woman explained everything to us, telling us which wines we were going to taste and in what order. I fulfilled my part, tasting each wine with doubtful curiosity. I was well behaved. I didn’t even make a face! Well, except when I sipped that last wine which tasted like flowers.

Katie ended up buying a glass of wine to drink alongside the lunch we’d packed for the day. We enjoyed our meal on the back patio overlooking the vineyard itself. A canopy of vines twined through the arbor above and the vineyard stretched into the hills beyond. Surrounded by cool grass and the musty scent of wine…I swear we could’ve sat there for days. All in all it was a wonderful experience. Sure, I didn’t like the wine, but being able to experience it all on such a fine day was well worth it. And best of all, Katie ended up tipsy by the end! I don’t think I’ve ever seen her inebriated before. They must serve some stiff wine! I was entertained by her silly antics all the way home.

 Relaxing In The Shade

Relaxing In The Shade

Our third day in Nelson found us at the Saturday market. Containing the perfect blend of fresh produce, homemade foods, handmade crafts, art, jewelry, clothing – it had it all. Katie and I both agreed it was probably the best market we’d ever been to. Not only did we find some unique souvenirs and get a great deal on blueberries, but we got to eat mint & beet hummus! Our meandering through the stalls was accompanied by music. Two street performers played the theme song to Amelie (See? That song is following us around New Zealand!). I was happy to hear their rendition, which was unique and beautiful.

Rather hot from the sun, we stepped out of the market, and what should appear before my eyes but a gelato shop! Penguino was its name, and gelato was its game, with award winning flavors no less! Then, like a chorus of angels singing into my ear, Katie tells me they have a sample platter!! (“Hal-le-lu-jah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”) It came with 9 different flavor options – that’s nine scoops of gelato! I immediately ordered one, not caring about the cost or the ridiculousness of two people eating an entire sample platter.

 My Dream Come True: Gelato Sampler!

My Dream Come True: Gelato Sampler!

Katie walked away and left me to it. I had to order the flavors fast since the platter was chilled and its frost was already starting to evaporate! Here’s what we ended up with: mango lassi, cinnamon, earl grey, lime, chocolate, cucumber yogurt, melon, vanilla coffee bean, and boysenberry. The vendor asked how many spoons I needed. I said two. The man behind me (who was also ordering a sample platter) dropped his jaw and laughed. You see, he was sharing his platter with five other people. But I didn’t care! To finally have it all! To finally not have to choose, but instead taste each unique flavor in one glorious sitting! I had to have it! Mwahahahahaaaaa!!!!

I was not disappointed. It. Was. Awesome.

Both giddy, we savored each spoonful with closed eyes and curled lips. Then we'd comment on each one: “This is a touch too sweet.” “That one is light and airy.” “This one captures the flavor perfectly.” The previous day I’d dished out meager nods, wane smiles, and an actual grimace at my very first wine tasting. Today I was a gelato connoisseur; a highbrow sophisticate of food oft smeared on children’s faces. I gloried in my newfound snobbery, licking up every last drop like a pampered cat. We sat back full and happy. Luckily, we’d walked into town that day and now we had to walk back. A good way to work off some of those decadent calories.

That evening (as if we hadn’t treated ourselves enough) we opted to go out to dinner. We intended on going to a Thai restaurant recommended in our guidebook, but on arrival we determined it was no more. Then we hunted for our second choice, again to no avail. Nelson only had a few people on the streets that evening, and even fewer open establishments. It was odd for a Saturday night. After roaming around for far too long we ended up at an establishment creatively named “Pizza Bar.” It was packed, which we took as a good sign. Unfortunately, it didn’t bode well for expedience. By now we were starving, so it was a painfully long wait. We patiently sat there drinking tepid water until our salad and pizza arrived. It was only a notch above par, but it filled our bellies nicely.

Night had fallen by the time we returned to The Bug for one final sleep in Nelson. Tomorrow we would be taking a ferry from Picton to the north island. I felt sad at the thought of saying goodbye to the south island. She’d treated us well and gifted us with amazing memories that would last forever. I hope her northern brother will be just as kind.