01/18/11 - Christchurch, NZ
Ten hours of sleep later, we awoke in a room of pink. We'd booked our first two nights stay at Hotel So in the town center of Christchurch. A week before departure, however, we got an email telling us that Hotel So was no more - it was now the All Seasons Hotel. Fine with us. Nothing had changed about our accommodations except for the name. Well, not exactly. The front door had been changed, yes, but the hotel information booklet, the free tea, the sugar bags – all still labeled Hotel So. Oops. I guess the re-branding hadn’t been fully rolled out yet.
Hotel whatchmacallit was unique. It was the cheapest one we could find, yet it didn’t look cheap. On the contrary, it was rather sleek and hip, with curved walls and styled décor. Each floor had its own assigned shape and florescent color. That said, it was easy to see the telltale signs of cutting corners wherever you looked. We had to pay for parking, fetch our own replacement linens, and there was always a strange stench greeting us whenever we arrived at our floor (which happened to be the pink triangle floor – it doesn't get more appropriate than that). Our room was a studio, essentially, since the bathroom was nothing more than a frosted glass egg. You want to take a shower? You want to go the bathroom? Well I hope you know your roommate intimately, because it won’t be a private experience.
No, it wasn’t the Ritz Carlton, but Katie and I didn’t care. For one, we’ve never cared about such things, we just need clean sheets and a pillow. For two, we were in New Zealand! Our room was amazing as far as we were concerned. We loved it, quirks and all.
We stepped onto the streets of Christchurch for the first time around 7 A.M. It was slightly overcast, but pleasant; the air was clean and clear, and the roads were very quiet. We were indescribably happy.
Just a couple blocks away was the Christchurch Cathedral watching over the town square. Before we ventured inside we ate some breakfast - a plain bagel with an egg, bacon, and tomato relish (FYI – bacon here means ham, and tomato relish ain’t half bad). The interior of the cathedral was breathtaking, and despite the recent earthquakes plaguing Christchurch there wasn’t visible damage. Scaffolding covered the front interior, but it looked more for restoration than repair. We strolled through the church admiring an art exhibits and the decorative tiles along the wall. I then became enamored with a beautiful green pounamu cabinet that sat at the front of the church behind the altar. Pounamu is a unique New Zealand stone, their version of jade, and it's frequently used in Maori art and weaponry. A local artist designed and carved this cabinet specifically for the church. It was backlit and gave off a stunning glow.
We then paid to go up, up, up the church spire and take in the city view. Along the way we spied massive church bells resting motionless in peaceful wooden rafters. Outside the spire we could see the entire town square below and all the way down the street, where pavement gave way to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens: Our next stop.
One of the first things we saw when we arrived was a charming vegetable, herb, and fruit garden growing to the side of a restaurant. It was truly lovely, with massive flowers, and thistles, and apple and pear trees growing in the form of a fence and arbor. We followed a path along the river where we encountered many-a-duck, including an adorable baby duck with one shriveled little leg. I chatted with her before she hobbled away. We wished her well in life. The rain started drizzling at this point, forcing us to get out our raincoats (always be prepared). At first we withstood the meager drops, but once it started pouring in earnest we hastened our way into the Christchurch Art Gallery.
The gallery treated us to some modern art, Maori art, and many classical pieces. My personal favorite was a painting by George Dunlop Leslie created in 1904 called "In The Wizard's Garden." A beautiful woman in red, a shadowy figure, and an eerie pair of cutting shears - could the symbolism be any clearer? Yeah, I think we all know what it means, it means that...errr...um...what's that over there? Is that a Renoir? *sidles away*
We stopped by the cathedral once more to catch a few minutes of an organ recital before carrying on to our hotel room where we…(wait for it)…RE-packed our bags! That’s right, my friends. We packed one way for our flight to New Zealand and another way for our trip through New Zealand. What? Don’t look at me that way. It makes perfect sense. Trust me.
After unpacking/re-packing, we went grocery shopping to prepare for our upcoming camping and hostel stays. One thing we were stoked to find were apricot/chocolate Bumper Bars!!! We'd bought one earlier in the day at a convenience store and instantly fell in love. Perfect for hiking and oh-so-delicious. Once the shopping was over, we proceeded to a restaurant we’d read about called Dux De Lux. They have their own brewery, and we were determined to try their acclaimed ginger beer. We weren’t disappointed. Those who know me know that I’m not much of a drinker, and I’m even less enthusiastic about beer, specifically. But my God…this was the best beer I’ve ever had! Delicious! Along with the ginger beer we split a meal of seafood chowder and Akaroa salmon cooked in a ginger soy glaze. Be still, my beating heart! It was, hands down, one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The salmon melted in my mouth and the chowder was chock-full of fresh chunks of fish and clams. I’m getting hungry just writing about it.
On our way back through the heart of the city, the sun finally began its descent around 9 P.M., just as the Christchurch Cathedral Society of Bell Ringers practiced their synchronicity. I’m not joking! They rang the tower bells in descending order, starting out slow and building to a fevered pitch, where they often lost their flow. Then they’d start all over again.
We enjoyed their recital as the light bloomed and wilted against the cathedral spire, then we headed home. A lovely end to a lovely day.