Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christchurch Part 2: The Sun and the Shops.

My next encounter with this city was the few hours walking around while I waited for my bus to leave. Luckily, it was hot and sunny, the market was in full swing, and so were the ice cream vendors.

There was a lovely park next to the river, where it seemed like half the city was camped out with their ice creams and books, so I joined them for a while.

There was one awesome shop I found, just a little boutique with a lot of handmade New Zealand things, jewellery, journals, home decor, etc.

And then I hopped on the bus, and wound through these lush, green valleys at sunset.

A stop for dinner in Kaikoura, a tiny town on the coast, known for it's awesome dolphin-spotting. I sat on the rocky beach with crackers and pumpkin-kumara hummus, and had a nice conversation with Joe, from Wales. Meeting people while traveling is different than any other circumstance, it seems like people are more honest and open, and you get to know their life story before you stop and ask "Wait, what's your name?".

Christchurch Part 1: Food and otherwise.

Over the weekend at the sheep farm, I went into Christchurch to run some errands and see the city, with 2 of the girls also working at the farm. We went to second-hand stores and the mall, and ate some yummy foods.

Megan, I ate this and thought of you. We started the day at a cute bakery in Darfield, a tiny town outside of Christchurch. I had a strawberry cupcake, and thought of our Saturdays, because we went to like, 3 Salvation Army's afterwards. I wished you were with me:

This next dish isn't particularly attractive, but I took the picture mostly to remind myself that pumpkin, chickpea, spinach, and red bell peppers taste mighty good together.

Christchurch has a lot of old architecture, because apparently it was designed to be a classic English town. I didn't see a lot of the city on the first stop in, but this was driving though.

In the morning we went to the Raspberry Cafe, a pick-your-own berries farm. Everything looked really yummy, but I landed on the Lemon-Buttermilk Pancakes, because I've been missing that particular breakfast. And they had raspberry coulis and whipped cream on top, not bad at all.

They're half-eaten in the picture though. Gotta eat 'em while they're hot, you know.

We also went to a chocolate lounge (Megan, again, missed you) and they chocolate in the shape of almost everything. I only sampled the dark hot chocolate, not that I regret my decision.

There was a really cute stationary shop in the mall. Everything in this store was just so darn cute (and unfortunately pricey). I loved the bicycle-planners.

And we watched The Boat That Rocked. It was a good movie.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Sheep Farm

I woke up early in an attic room in a big white bed in Roy and Annabelle's house, with a view of mountains from the window.

After a big breakfast, they took me out to meet the crew, made up of Kiwis, Canadians, and Italians. It was a really nice group, some girls in vet school training and some people just learning how to farm. We'd take lunch and tea breaks camped in circles on the grass, laying in the sun and eating our sandwiches and tea.

The first 2 days I came along for the "mustering", which is rounding up sheep from a large area. We'd hike over hills in a long, spread out line and yell and wave our arms at the sheep, trying to budge them and their lambs out of the gate. Sometimes it worked, or sometimes there would be "lamb breaks", when a lamb would get scared and run behind us and we'd spend an hour or more trying to persuade it to leave, and finally catching it with the dogs.

Those dogs were amazing. They'd follow different whistles to go left, right, stop, round up sheep, or catch a lamb around the neck without killing it. They had endless amounts of energy too, and seemed to be really excited about their job. Although, sometimes they'd get too excited, and Roy would scream expletives at them.

While some of us were mustering, the other half of the group was "tailing" (the process of removing the lambs tails), which I got to help out with later in the week. It is hard work. There's a rotation of jobs from catching the lambs, putting them on the chute on their backs (they look so funny, like a little lamb-conveyor belt), or cutting a chunk off of the ear to indicate boy or girl (this was a bloody job) or vaccinating them or squirting penicillin into their mouths or castrating them or putting a rubber band around the tail, so it loses circulation and falls off in about 3 weeks. This process was not for the light of heart.

The time in between I helped out around the house, because that was what they most needed, and I wasn't exactly a pro at the farm-work (I tried my hardest, though!). So I would bake bread for lunch, muffins for tea, walk their puppy, and baby sit their 2 adorable kids, Joe and Georgie.

Farm-life is a non-stop lifestyle. Everything was big, the house, the land, the dinner-plates...I admire the people working there, and how much they handle every day. I don't think I could do it, I love the occasional lazy-day, and in this place you couldn't take a day off- the animals wouldn't get fed, the sick ones would die, things would fall out of order. I'm glad to have had the experience, but I was also relieved to leave...

To the South Island I go...

The ferry trip was exciting and beautiful. It felt so similar to Alaska, as we wound between Marlborough sounds to reach Picton. The blue ocean and green hills was achingly picturesque. So, I obliged by spending most of the time on the top deck, thrashed by the crazy-strong wind. But worth it, so worth it.

Picton is a cute little town, which I'll talk about more later. The first time seeing it was a brief passing through, before I hopped on a bus to Bleinheim and then a train to Christchurch.

The train ride was along the coast, and involved some fur seal and dolphin spotting. It's so nice to zoom along with a book in the lap and mountains and the oceans out of the windows to look at.When I finally got to Christchurch, I waited at the train station to be picked up for a nerve-wracking 2 1/2 hours. The sun went down and it started to get cold, and I was a little scared. The only place open was a pub, so I used their phone to call a taxi into town to..get a hostel somewhere? But luckily Annabelle called my cell phone right after that and told me they were on the way. I was so happy to see them pull up. And then we drove in the dark another hour to their farm, and I went to sleep in a warm bed, curious as to what I would see out of the window when I woke up...

Around Wellington with Bexie.

After 10 days with Ian and Alicia, it was back to Wellington for a few days. Bexie met up with me and we had a chance to do some café and bookstore meandering.

It involved a vegan chocolate-raspberry cupcake-castle.

And a stop at low-lit Fidel's, for coffee and a brownie and apple cake. We checked out some live-music bars, but they were either too expensive (the Buzzcocks were in town) or not interesting. We settled on going to the Penthouse cinema to see Away We Go, which was cute and funny and sad all at once and I loved it.
Indigo works as a cook at Parliament, so one of the days we met up with Ian and Alicia for a tour! We actually did 2 rounds, the first time we were shown all the behind-the-scenes of the cooks in their big industrial kitchens. (We were required to wear hair-nets.)

Then we tried to tag along with a formal tour but the woman motioned for security to escort us away. Apparently we weren't wearing the right badges. After these were acquired, we found out we weren't supposed to take pictures, but I had already snapped some the first time around. Here I'm standing with Indigo (Bexie took this).

By the way, Parliament looks a lot like how I envision the Ministry of Magic.
After, we went out for tea.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Belmont Park Retreat

I came from Wellington on the train and was greeted by a man with gray hair and a sweet smile. This was Ian. We drove into the hills, until we reached a little house next to a river. Here I met his wife, Alicia, and their daughter, Indigo. I started off straight away planting trees, and Ian brought me tea (with milk and honey) for an afternoon break.

The first couple of days were long and labor-intensive, as we dug holes and planted lots of trees. Hard work! I was so proud of my blisters and sore muscles. But after the work was done, it was so nice just to wander around the property. Bexie arrived a few days after me, and in our free time we knitted together and watched movies, went hiking, and swapped stories.

More people started arriving for the meditation retreat and everyone went into silence. Bexie and I were on cooking duty, so we made meal plans and sorted through the pantry searching for ingredients. It was fun, while everyone else was meditating silently, we were talking and laughing in the kitchen. But then we'd make sure to be quiet when the others came in from meditation.

She taught me a lot of new recipes. Here we're chopping a pumpkin that turned into pumpkin soup, pumpkin hummus, and roast pumpkin frittata. (We both love pumpkin.) There was baked bread, vegetable stir-fry, and banana curry.

Between cooking, we got to sit in on the meditation, 45-minute sits that sometimes lasted forever. The monk who taught was from Sri Lanka, and we called him Bhante Ji. He had a special meal plan; porridge for breakfast, curry for lunch, and cheese and chocolate and tea for dinner. We served him all of this on a silver tray.

After the retreat was over, and everyone came out of silence (and complimented the meals), Alicia took us hiking, and this was the view of their valley.

On my last night Bexie and I decided to cook, even though we'd been in the kitchen all weekend. This is the night we made the frittata and I made an apple crumble, and we had a nice dinner saying goodbye. They were such a sweet family, in their peaceful little valley. I loved staying with them, and am so glad I met Bexie.