March 13th, 2004

BTW, Victoria says hello.

She said I should say hello to everyone for her, so I am. :)

She says she and PJ will be in NZ for a while. She won't be back to the ice for at least a few months.

(If you don't know her, she was one of my housemates for a while.)

A couple of cautionary notes on NZ.

Many restaurants advertise that they are open "until late". E.g., "Open for dinner 6PM until late". This does not mean what it does in New York. "Late" in this context can be as early as 9PM, as I discovered to my cost when I tried to eat at Ebisu, in Christchurch, at 9:30PM. (It's a shame, as it looked worth trying.)

Prepare for sticker shock. NZ prices were cheap when the exchange rate was NZ$2 = US$1, obviously, but at 66 cents US, not so much. Most things are still reasonable (though not wildly cheap) but occasionally you get an unpleasant surprise.

Pacifica Kaimoana

This place was two doors down from the backpackers I'm staying at. The menu looked promising, though I doubt many backpackers will be eating here, as the price of my meal would pay for two nights at the backpackers.

Pacifica Kaimoana - Seafood Restaurant
209 Marine Parade
Napier, Hawke's Bay
North Island, New Zealand
tel/fax: +64.6.833.6335
email: (note: URL did not work when I tried it)
Tu-Su: 1800-"late"

There are two New Zealand specialties I am making a point of seeking out and eating as often as I can on this visit: lamb, and green-lipped mussels. Tonight, at Pacifica Kaimoana, I found mussels on the menu. There was no lamb, but this wouldn't have been a good choice at a seafood restaurant anyway.

The mussels (a starter) were excellent. Ten, reasonably large, nicely prepared mussels in an onion-garlic-butter sauce were NZ$12.50 ($8.10). They came with a slice of very tasty bread, which served to mop up the remaining sauce. (I had initially wondered about the effrontery displayed by having one of the starter options being a "selection of breads" at NZ$8.50 ($5.50); the bread was so good, however, that I might order it next time.)

I had dithered a little over the main course, but finally chose the John Dory fillets, with dill, at NZ$29.50 ($19.10). It was the dill that sealed the deal, but in the event, the dill flavor was extremely subtle. That, or I simply like dill applied with a heavier hand. Nonetheless, the fillets were lightly seasoned and quite acceptable, though the star of this meal was still the appetizer. They came with both a selection of stir-fried "summer vegetables" (string beans, nicely toothy and sweet; slices of corn on the cob, again, not overdone; a long slice of squash; and kumara or sweet potato sprinkled with fennel seed--a combination which worked surprisingly well), and a variety of grilled eggplants and squashes. All the vegetables were excellent.

There was so much food, however, that I was unable to find room for dessert. Alas.

A bit of personal travel philosophy.

As I was having dinner last night I realized that I'd really internalized some travel advice from the Far East Economic Review's All Asia Guide, read so many years ago. If you have to cut your budget, do it on lodging, and splash out on food, it suggested. I've lived by that advice ever since.

I thought about it for a while over dinner. If I'm travelling alone, a hostel bed will do, although a single room is preferable. I spend a minimal amount of time in the room anyway, so I don't find it useful to spend more money than required for a secure, clean room and bed. I've rejected places that haven't had one or another. One memorable guesthouse in Vientiane was a breeding ground for mosquitoes--bad news in a place with multi-drug resistant malaria--and I got out of there fast. For me, in hot climates, air-conditioning is not optional.

Food, on the other hand, is something I'm going to savor as I eat it, remember afterwards, and greatly influence what I think of a place in general. It's important to me, and I'm willing to pay for it. On the other hand, a cheap, unpretentious hole in the wall with zero decor but great food is just fine. As Tsui said to me recently as we were eating in an open-air dessert place in Bukit Timah, just up the road from his place, "The great thing about hawker centres is that someone might drive up in a Rolls and order something to eat. Sometimes, the best food really is in the hawker centre." (Just then, he pointed over my shoulder. I turned to see someone pulling up in a Jag.)

It is probably why I'm so fond of Singapore and Penang, and why I think Sao Paulo and Johannesburg are undeserving of their awful reputations.

If I'm travelling with someone I'm sleeping with (i.e., having sex, not just sharing a bed), that's a different story, although once we've got a big bed in a room of our own there really isn't that much more I require. I've paid for a jacuzzi, and think that's definitely worthwhile and great fun, and a bidet in an attached bathroom is nice, but clearly not essential. A verandah one has one's breakfast served on is also a nice touch, but again, not essential.

I'm reminded of a place in Paris that had a bidet in the attached bath, a nice big bed, breakfast brought up to our room on a tray, and staff that were clearly pleased--in what seemed like a very "Paris in the springtime" way--to have a young couple staying in one of their rooms.

I guess what it boils down to is that food, sleep, and sex (as I said in my original introduction) are my three great pleasures in life, and my sleep requirements are relatively few. Food, there's endless variety in. Sex, there's also endless variety in, but the bed's just a venue; the performers and the action are much more important to me than the stage.

Email from KJ reminded me...

...that I hadn't posted more than two entries for Florence, Pisa, and Lucca. I have to dig out the receipts when I get home and sit down with KJ and compare notes, then post about places.

It also reminded me of leaving Florence last July, on the night train to Germany. KJ and I had a classic cinematic parting: she on the platform, me leaning out the window of my sleeper compartment, waving to each other until we disappeared from sight.

There really is nothing like travelling by train in Europe, even if you don't have someone waving to you from the platform as you depart.

...which reminds me, in turn...

And thinking of that parting reminds me of the journey continuing through a warm Italian evening. A two-minute stop in Bologna. Bologna, where I'd visited Jim and met Nancy. Pulling into the station seemed like visiting a scene from a former life: Jim and all the others had left, long ago. If I got off the train now I'd hear echoes of that autumn.

As the train started up, I saw the memorial to the victims of the bombing. Jim had said it was subtle and he'd had to search for it before he'd found it. I'd gone looking for it myself, after he'd told me that, and never found it. But as the train gathered speed, there it was, right in front of me: a jagged crack in the wall, glassed over, with a marker.

Enough reminiscing.

A very short sketch of what I actually did on the South Island. I may fill this in with pictures after we see what Justin's digital camera recorded.

Christchurch to Dunedin, and the Otago Peninsula; a long drive from Dunedin to Bluff, via Invercargill, then back up to Queenstown (how touristy!), and back to Dunedin. Then a trip to Mt. Cook.

pookfreak thanks for the pointer to the Vudu Cafe! Dinner was okay but dessert was excellent!

Finally, a drive from Christchurch to Picton, via Kaikoura.