Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Auckland is my oyster - Food in NZ

Isn't it nice to be able to choose between hundreds of different styles of food? Well, yes and no.
Thai food and sushi have made a welcome return to my diet.  Proper chips are also very welcome - not French fries but proper, steaming, chunky chips...  And there is something about going to a market or food shop and not recognising the foods that makes me more excited than a kid in an icecream shop.
But instead of delighting in the choice, we've been nervously checking that our Italian staples - pasta, tomato passata, ricotta, parmesan and so forth - are actually available here.  Thankfully, most are.  We pay three times the price and don't have a choice of brands, but still.  We've got very comfortable with our pasta-five-times-a-week diet.

Food shopping
Supermarkets in Auckland aren't quite the serve-your-every-need-from-cradle-to-crypt affairs that British supermarkets have become - and that's probably a good thing.  They are on the pricey side, and we've found independent fruit and veg stores to be better value.  There are also lots of Asian supermarkets of various creeds, which no doubt cover at least 101 kinds of seaweed etc. - fun for trying new things.

The crowds head out of the city for the weekend - probably to tend their olive groves

We enjoy shopping in open-air markets, but our one experience so far has been the Matakana Saturday morning market.  It's a small town market that brings yuppies from far and wide.  Merchants sell everything from fancy pastries to their own olive oil.  There's more arts and crafts and artigianal produce than you can shake a stick at.  I like the principle of small scale/organic/local production.  Fresh off the boat from rural Italy, I was a bit overwhelmed by the crowds of sundress-wearing mums and toddlers, and put out at waiting 10 minutes for a substandard coffee.  (Don't even get me started on coffee - I miss my Italian breakfast like crazy.)  I can't help it - I just think of my Italian neighbours making their produce without the fuss, hand-decorated labels or hefty pricetags.  I've become an Italo-snob.  That said, it's the sort of thing I would have loved five years ago, and will probably go back to loving soon.  I recommend it to anyone. www.matakanacoast.com

Little Italy?
Still on the quest for a taste of home, we went for our first meal out together to a local Italian restaurant in Newmarket, Auckland. 
It was BYOB (I love having BYOB again!) so I go a bottle from the nearest offies for $12 (about 6 euros).  Wine here is fairly good quality, a bit heavier than I'm used to, but doesn't come cheaper than about $10, so it's not for everyday drinking.  It's nice to have a choice of good white wines, which wasn't available in Abruzzo.  That said, they don't go beyond Australia in sourcing their wines, so it's all local stuff - good for the carbon footprint, but less good if you just fancy some Montepulciano.
The restaurant was run by a lovely Iranian chap.  Great service, enormous prices ($24 for a 12" margherita pizza), and, unfortunately, not spectacular authenticity.  We'll keep hunting for the perfect Napoli flavour.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do 
I've always found this principle serves me well when eating abroad.  New Zealand is no exception.  Kiwis go crazy for their savoury pies and their fish and chips.  The quintessential pie is a traditional style pot pie, serving one, and available all over from bakeries.  They're incredibly economical, starting at $2.80 for a fresh meat pie.  Some bakeries even do vegetable pies, and I've throughly enjoyed the couple of pies I've had.  
The next kiwi obsession I'm looking forward to trying is the eggs benedict breakfast.  Mmmm.

New Zealand fish and chips, photo courtesy of www.nzataglance.com

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blog makeover

I've given the blog a makeover to suit its new kiwi setting.  Let me know what you think!

My first bad day

All that tension from my last days in Italy spilt over when we ran into technical difficulties.  Several problems crept up on me at once.

Lovely views - but no internet

My mobile didn't pick up what little reception there was in Warkworth with the new Sim card that Ross had got me.  My old tank of a laptop died, cutting us off from the internet.  My final earnings - and therefore our entire worldly monies - didn't quite make it over with me.  I'd been so stressed when I'd done the transfer in the moments before leaving that I'd entered the information wrongly.  I needed another code from Ross's bank in NZ, but it was a bank holiday, then the weekend, then I had to wait for it to be Monday morning in Europe, then the internet cafes were shut so I couldn't call the currency transfer company, hence another twelve hours'wait before the transfer could even begin...

Great spot for birdwatching, but not a great spot to be penniless

We needed food and other supplies but had no money.  I couldn't call anyone.  We weren't within walking distance of any amenities - apart from fabulous views that is.  I couldn't drive, so I was reliant on Ross's patience if I wanted to go to town.  I felt trapped and miserable.  Furious with Ross - even though it wasn't his fault - for not making it all work.

*   *   *

Things sorted themselves out slowly.   My mobile works in Auckland.  The money arrived and we bought a new computer (though even then the first one we bought was faulty and we had another 3-hour round trip to Auckland the next day to replace it.  The shop refunded the petrol though, so that was okay).

The city of sails: Auckland from the Harbour Bridge

To treat ourselves we had a yummy (veggie)burger from BurgerFuel (highly recommended - nine out of ten) and went to see Avatar at the Imax (very nice - eight out of ten).  I started to see some of the good sides to living in New Zealand.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

First impressions

One of my first walks in NZ - near Warkworth

After two days of fairly civilised travel and only a few hours of motion sickness, I touched down in Auckland airport on the sunny afternoon of Thursday 4th February.
I had tried to freshen up on our fuel stop in Melbourne, but it was no good.  I was terrified that the strict environmental control at the airport would either (a) be furious with me, or (b) make me throw out my rucksack and all my clothes.  This was because I - in my rush to pack - had grabbed my rucksack without realising it had been used for carting firewood up the stairs and still had quite a lot of woodchips in the bottom.  In fact, I had only evicted a stray log when I got to Dubai...
Luckily environmental control didn't care, except for taking a very long slow look at my tent.  Between flight delays, massive passport control queues and the tent thing, Ross had to wait three hours at the airport for me.  It was good to see him, looking leaner, happier and more tanned than when he'd left.

A kingfisher - one of many birds that I've seen close-up since arriving

My first impressions were positive.  New Zealand looked well-organised and well-tended.  Bright sunlight shone down on green hills and blue water.  We headed north to Ross' parents' house on the coast near Warkworth.  Their lovely house is nestled in a steep valley of native bush (i.e. NZ-origin trees) close to a small yachting harbour.  Occasional villas could be spied peeking out of the forest.  I later understood that these are "lifestyle plots" - where people retire or buy holiday homes with lots of space for making their own olive oil or whatever.  And very lovely it is too.

  One of the good things about being jetlagged (possibly the only good thing) is that you get to see the sunrise

After a welcoming glass of champagne and an early dinner at a nice Thai restaurant, I got to bed at 9ish.  Not bad for 12 hours of time difference.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Leaving Italy

Goodbye to Rome
My partnership work visa came through surprisingly quickly - we had it even before Christmas.  By that time, I'd agreed to work through January, so we booked a flight for me for 2nd February.  Ross would leave three weeks earlier in order to see his parents while they were in NZ for Christmas.  This also gave us a break from each other - our different mindsets about leaving Italy were causing friction.
Ross caught the flu a couple of weeks before leaving - making not only his journey difficult, but increasing the burden on me.  Clearing out the house and saying goodbye to friends became mostly my job.
We didn't want to sell our house immediately, or leave it closed and empty, so we decided to rent it out.  In Italy, the law is very much on the side of tenants.  It was hard to leave the house we'd put so much into in the hands of a young Kosovar couple with very different tastes to us, and to know that we couldn't get it back for four years (the minimum contract in Italy).

Bugnara on my last day with wood fire smoke

I was so busy with working up to the last minute and sorting out all the stuff we'd gathered in the house that I couldn't even think about New Zealand before leaving.  I did watch Whalerider one evening - an enjoyable fairytale that helped me to understand a little about Maori culture.
There were a few tears as I hugged my neighbours in the village and drank a last glass of wine with friends.  After a month of very cold weather, it seemed to put on a beautiful display of sun on snow for my departure.  The landscape looked so perfect as the coach carried me away that I cried unashamedly.  It felt like an ending.
 Dubai airport - stunning

Dubai suburbs


I stopped blogging for a while - my thoughts were rather negative!
I'll try to recap as honestly as possible.