He Just Smiled and Gave Me a Vegemite Sandwich
February 11, 2006
Following a nice breakfast in the hotel, we went back into town. We took the gondola (cable car) up to the Queenstown overlook. The peak is 2500 feet above sea level and the views were fantastic. There was a system of clouds making its way down the lake towards the city - it was creating a lovely rainbow as it moved. We felt a few drops of rain, but then it started to clear again. Queenstown seems to be notorious for rapidly changing weather!
The sun was shining brightly once again and we sat outside with a cup of coffee, just soaking up the rays. We rode the gondola back down the mountain, miraculously found a parking spot in town, and strolled around the harbour. The weather had deteriorated once again and we nipped into the Irish Bar to stay dry. The rain let up and we meandered back through the village to the Speight's Ale House for a late, but light lunch of soup.
Unable to waste any more time, we decided to go to the airport. Unfortunately, check-in for our flight wasn't yet open, but we were able to fill the time by going to the Qantas counter to change the dates on our upcoming flight segments to and within Australia.
We were standing in the "premium" line at Air New Zealand (I am a gold member with US Air, part of the Star Alliance, as is Air New Zealand) and had just been called to the counter. Another couple had been standing in the non-premium check-in line, and they really started to make a fuss, saying that they were premium members of ANZ's frequent flyer program and that they hadn't seen that there was a separate designated queue. We were certainly in no rush, and I immediately stepped aside and indicated that they should go to the front. They were extraordinarily rude (so completely unlike every other Kiwi we have met - NZer's are by far, the nicest people we have met on the entire trip) and didn't even say "thank you". I guess their time was more valuable than ours! Anyway, our gesture scored mega-brownie points with the check-in agent - she put us in the 4th row (there was no business class on the flight, entirely economy) and nobody else sat in our row of 3. So Markus was able to move to the aisle and I kept the window seat and we had the extra seat in between us - very comfy!
We arrived in Auckland a few minutes early, got a cab from the airport and were dropped off at Viaduct Harbour by 7:30 PM. We have rented a condo (3 bed, 2 bath with a loft), which is way too big for us, but it was the only one available at the last minute, and we got a really good rate. The extra space is a true luxury and we are really enjoying the big and beautiful kitchen as well as the two balconies.
Since we didn't rent a car, we had to hoof it to the nearest supermarket, about 3/4 mile away. By the time we returned and cooked a light dinner, it was nearly 9:30. After we cleaned up the dishes, we just collapsed on the sofa in front of the TV - something we haven't done in months!
February 12, 2006 and February 13, 2006
We enjoyed a traditional leisurely Sunday with a pot of coffee and a couple of local newspapers. This is our favorite way to spend a Sunday morning. We did finally venture out for a walk around the harbour this afternoon. We had just returned to the condo when the rain started - what perfect timing! It rained for the remainder of the evening, but we didn't mind as it really helped to cool the temperature down. It will probably dip to about 68*-70* overnight.
We had another leisurely morning on Monday before going out for lunch at one of the restaurants on the harbour front. After our meal, we toured the Maritime Museum. It was quite interesting and very well done - a lovely way to spend a couple of hours. We left the museum and strolled along Queen Street before returning to the condo to sit on the balcony and enjoy our last night with the Kiwis.
February 14, 2006
Happy Valentine's Day - we hope that you all are feeling loved today (and everyday)!
Check out time was 10:00 this morning, and sure enough, house keeping was knocking on our door at 9:55. We gathered our bags and settled our account before heading out for one last stroll around the harbour. There are several benches along the waterfront, so we sat down and enjoyed the view and the warmth of the sun.
From the harbour, we walked up to the city center and the Sky Tower. It houses a casino and hotel - unfortunately, there is a charge to go to the top, so we gave that a skip. As an alternative, you can "jump" off of the tower. Of course, you are strapped in a harness and hooked to a wire cable system, but you do free fall about 630 feet before slowing to land softly on the bulls-eye at the bottom! We just missed a young lady's descent and there were no other fools lined up, so we didn't get to witness the spectacle first hand. We can certainly see how New Zealand gained its reputation as the inventor of Xtreme Adventures!
We decided against a stop in the casino, and instead walked back to the harbour, where we had lunch at the Waterfront Cafe (at the Maritime Museum). The food was very nice. After lunch, we stopped for a coffee at the Loaded Hog, enjoying the last few minutes of harbour views. We wandered back to the condo, where we had stored our bags in the office. In the morning, we had arranged for a taxi and Lucky (that is his name, I swear!) was waiting for us.
At the airport, we got checked in and as we were flying business class, we were able to "pre-clear" immigration and customs. We had about 90 minutes until boarding, so we just hung out in the lounge. The flight was uneventful - actually downright boring, and we arrived safely in Melbourne. We were leaving the customs hall on our way to the taxi queue when we were approached by a young woman asking if we would like to hire a corporate car as opposed to a cab. She said that her client was a no-show, and she was looking for an alternative so that her trip out to the airport wasn't wasted. We hesitated, but did agree in the end and we had a very nice ride into the city. The fare was only about Australian $5 more than a taxi and a complimentary drink was included - not a bad deal!
We checked into the Marriott and went to the executive lounge for a few nibbles. The Marriott upgraded us to a king suite - the rooms (living room, bedroom and bathroom) are all huge! Too bad, we're only staying here for one night.
February 15, 2006
After breakfast this morning, we changed hotels - for the next 5 nights, we are going back to self-catering in a 1-bedroom apartment at Quay West Suites. The journey was only about 8-10 blocks, but we took a taxi since we had our baggage to bring along. We crossed the Yarra River on the way and caught our first glimpse of the flotilla of 72 "fish" barges. They will form a parade for the opening ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games next month. Each of the 72 fish represents a participating country. Needless to say, the competition is huge, with an expected crowd of 90,000 flooding into the city. According to a local official, "the city is all ready for the big event, all we have to do is get dressed." If the fish are any indication, the city is indeed ready and nearly dressed!
After check-in at Quay West, we set out to explore the city. Our first stop was a Swiss watch service center - the battery died on Markus's Tag Heuer (he has been whining for about 5 days now!) and I was able to find an authorized service center in the yellow pages. The watch is waterproof to 150 meters and since he wears it to dive, Markus wanted to make sure that the battery replacement was done properly and that the waterproofing was maintained. We had to leave the watch, so we went in search of a bite to eat to pass the time.
Although the name Hardware Lane doesn't exactly evoke images of cafe and sidewalk dining, the entire lane is actually chock a block with dining establishments. On the second pass through, we finally settled on one of a dozen (or more!). We both had salads - mine with prawns and Markus's with chicken. Unfortunately, Markus had a really bad experience as he was only about 1/3 way through his salad when he discovered one of the longest hairs I have ever seen. At least he found it before he put it in his mouth - it was truly stomach turning! The waitress took it away, and Mark didn't have much of an appetite for anything else, so we paid the bill and left.
We picked up the watch - Markus was very pleased with the service. We then stopped at the market on our way back to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening "in".
We had a very leisurely morning today, although we did manage to make it to the fitness center for a bit of exercise. After breakfast, we spent the balance of the morning on the internet, planning the next stage of our journey.
The weather this morning was quite overcast, but it cleared nicely and we ventured out for a late lunch at one of the cafes just around the corner. We sat overlooking the river and really enjoyed people-watching.
We learned today that we just missed the Volvo Ocean Race boats here in Melbourne - they left on the 12th, just a couple of days before we arrived. It would have been great to see them again after seeing them at their first port of call in Cape Town. Ironically, their next stop was Wellington, New Zealand, so we just missed them there too!
Today, we went to the car show at the Melbourne Exhibition Center. There were a good number of vintage vehicles on display - they are going up for auction on Sunday. My personal favorite was the 1965 mustang (same vintage as me!), although the 1973 Mustang Mach I was also interesting as it was purchased in Rockville, MD, Markus's old stomping ground.
There was also a show of new cars, with several car manufacturers that neither of us had ever heard of as they don't market in the U.S. I absolutely loved the Ferrari, but the Lexus SC 430 was also beautiful (and a lot more affordable - at least relatively speaking!). Markus's favorite was the BMW 650i cabrio, which we saw for the first time in Moscow. It is truly a gorgeous automobile.
After the car show, we had a lovely lunch at one of the riverside cafes. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed a glass of wine in the late afternoon before the Friday evening, after-work crowd started to gather.