Wednesday, March 31, 2010


It’s official! We are now both employed. Ross as an “offsider” (not a bad guy in football, but someone who helps with removals) and I’m a research manager in a market research agency. We’re both happy with our new colleagues and we’re working fairly close together, so we drive to work in the morning together.

The driving has been the biggest challenge for me up to now. Although I’m sticking to major roads to get to work (and really there are only three long roads I need to take) I still have to concentrate hard to make sure I’m in the right lane and don’t miss my exits. There’s lots of traffic, but it moves fast, so timing isn’t a problem. We drive for about 45 minutes in total, including stopping to let Ross out.

I pulled onto the right side of a quiet road yesterday. The shame! The driver coming the other way must’ve thought I was nuts! I messed up a couple of times at right turns – New Zealanders have this crazy rule that someone turning right (i.e. crossing the lane coming the other way) goes before someone in the opposite lane who’s turning into the same street. It makes sense for traffic flow, because the chap turning right doesn’t hold up the traffic for as long, but it’ll take time to get used to.

The right-turn rule, courtesy of

In Italiano!  Impieghati!
Ross ed io abbiamo dei lavori!  Ross fa il trasloco e io faccio il research manager ad un'agenzia delle ricerche di mercato.  Siamo entrambi contenti con i nostri nuovi colleghi.  Ci andiamo insieme nella nuova macchina.
Giudare e' stato una sfida per me.  C'e' molto traffico e devo concentrarmi molto per non perdermi ne' usare la corsia sbagliata.
Sono uscita sul lato sbagliato della strada ieri - che vergogna!  Il conducente che veniva dall'altra parte mi considera sicuramente pazza!  Hanno inoltre una regola strana di svolgere a destra - non riesco ad abituarmi.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Have wheels, will travel

Much has been said about how much "greenie" New Zealanders love their cars.  It's all true.

Saturday morning on the motorway

Here in central Auckland, the buses aren't bad... but they aren't that good either.  I've yet to try the trains or ferries.
A car is - well, not essential in urban areas, but very handy.  And the roads are very developed in the interests of drivers.  (To my disgust as a pedestrian waiting many minutes for all the various filter lanes to have their go at junctions.)
Car-user services don't end there.  Driver's licences are pretty easy too.  In Italy, Ross (holder of a 10-year-old perfect New Zealand driver's licence) had to re-do his driving test from scratch to be legal to drive.  It cost well over 500 euros by the time everyone had their cut, even though he didn't need lessons.  I took my Italian driver's licence to the AA in downtown Auckland and, after some form filling, an eye test and a payment of $45 (about 22 euros), I was the proud holder of a New Zealand driver's licence.  (The actual card arrived in the post 2 weeks later, but I was given a temporary licence for the meantime.)  I even got to keep my Italian licence. 
Despite all these conveniences for drivers, there were some problems for me.  The cars available here are quite different to European cars - or even American ones.  I liked my manual car in Italy, and didn't want to learn a different interface (especially not after doing several emergency stops as I tried to find the clutch pedal and got the brake on Ross' dad's automatic sedan).  But 90% of second hand cars here are automatic.
I was also very keen on getting a small car.  Our carpark here at the house brings to mind bulls and china shops.  I'll happily admit to hating parking.  Small cars consume less and are easier to park.  Simple.
But New Zealand cars are usually nearly-new Japanese imports.  (Something to do with the Japanese being obliged to support the car industry by buying new cars, and both countries driving on the left.)  From what I can tell, Japanese people must like big silver sedans - what I would call corporate cars.  Not my cup of espresso.
Ross has begun work (yay!) and is away 12 hours a day, six days a week (boo!), so I started the car hunt on my own.  After a short while, I realised that (a) cars cost a lot here (we sold our '99 Corsa for 700 euros in Italy, while similar cars cost four or five times as much here) and (b) I was going to have to relax my criteria on the transmission.  A good brand, I decided, was more important, and I would just have to learn.
Turners Auctions seem to get the cars before the dealers do, and have so many I felt it was a good place to start.  At my first auction I had my heart set on an '01 3-door Toyota Vitz (that's Yaris to Europeans).  My heart pounding, I was building up the courage to raise my numbered card to bid, and someone pipped me at the post.  It sold for $5,300 (about 2,500 sterling) - plus charges of $700 as it had to be licenced in New Zealand for the first time, like most of the cars there.
My second auction saw me a little more confident.  I tried 5 cars, and bid on 4, but was outbid.  Depressed, I went home to see if we could raise some more cash.  Our budget of $6000 (including the $700 of charges) didn't seem to be able to get us a 2000 small car with 100,000km or less on the clock.
Saturday morning's listings renewed my enthusiasm.  There were no fewer than 17 hatchbacks that met my criteria of being a well-reviewed car on Honest John's website and had the year and the mileage to suit.  I arrived, red-eyed, before the doors even opened at 8.30am so I could test drive them all.
At least 10 were worth bidding on - mostly Toyota Vitzs, but also some Hondas and Mazdas, and a couple of my favourite Mitsubishi Colts.  I duly drove and rated them all (I had previously checked their records online) and prepared myself for disappointment.
When I won the first car I bid on (and the fourth car in the auction of 200 cars) I was so shocked I was shaking.  The Mitsubishi Colt is ours!  And it came in on budget and it's 2003!  Please don't let it be too good to be true!  We'll ask a local mechanic to check it next week.

In Italiano!  Abbiamo delle ruote, possiamo viaggiare 
Nella Nuova Zelanda - famosa per essere ecologico-ambientale ecc. - una macchina e' essentiale.  Communque, non e' difficilissimo.  Ad esempio, in Italia, Ross non poteva scambiare la patente neozelandese per una italiana.  Doveva fare l'esame da capo.  Qui, ho messo una trentina di minuto a scambiare una patente italiana per una neozelandese.  Ho pagato $45 (22 euro).
Ho cercato di comprare una macchina all'asta.  All'asta arrivano tante macchine dal Giappone - semi-nuove, ma purtroppo maggiormente grandi, e esclusivamente automatiche.  Volevo una macchina manuale, ma dovevo fare dei compromessi perche' avevo solo $6,000 (3000 euro) e faticavo a trovarmi una dal 2000 in poi con meno di 100,000km di una buona marca.  Dopo aver provato a tre aste, sono riuscita ieri, ho comprato una Mitsubishi Colt del 2003.  Spero che non abbia problemi invisibili!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's Quiztime!

Given my appalling lack of knowledge of New Zealand's geography, and the fact that I'm not likely to tour it any time soon, I decided to teach myself at least the main cities and regions.  I love Quizlet, a flashcard quiz-creating programme made by MIT.  Let me know how you score!

 PS  To play, you drag the city onto it's region, or vice versa, to make them all disappear.  E.g. Auckland's region is called Auckland, so drag one Auckland onto the other.

When opportunity knocks - Op Shops

I love bargain-hunting for a bit of retro chic, and so I was delighted to find the Op Shop culture in Auckland.  Op(portunity) Shops are a bit like charity shops in the UK.  At the top end, they're commercial ventures selling vintage pieces for not-so-vintage prices, while there are also Salvation Army and church-run affairs.  The focus is on recycling rather than raising money for charity, in contrast to the UK.
Having de-camped over here with only what Emirates would let me carry, I gave away most of my clothes before coming.  (Oh, I hate moving house!)  And then there are bedclothes and furniture to think about.  Our room came with a built-in wardrobe and a mattress, but that's about it.  And there are two of us in a relatively small space - lots of potential for clutter.  If I was going to avoid insanity, I would need some drawers and shelves quickly!
Since Ikea hasn't made it to New Zealand (if anyone knows when they're coming, please tell me), there are few options for cheaply kitting out a bedsit.  I thoroughly recommend the Salvation Army's furniture Op Shop on Dominion Road:

View Larger Map
And for cheap formica flatpacks, there's the Warehouse, which sells most things and is everywhere - not great on quality though.
But my best discovery so far is a little room under the church across the road.  It's only open on weekdays, so I guess I won't be able to go after I start work, but what a goldmine!  There are many trendy Op Shops on K Road (a main road in central Auckland which is famous for Op Shops) but they don't have the range that this place does.  What's even better is that they're currently having an end-of-summer sale - everything is a dollar (less than 50p).  Except some books, which are cheaper.  So far I've not managed to spend $20 there - not for want of trying.  I've bought several pieces of clothing, about 15 books, a few things for the kitchen, a sheet, a duvet and a duvet cover...!

Monday, March 15, 2010


As if on cue, a rabbit turned up to much a fallen persimmon - right beside the planned veggie garden!  He was such a cutie, I thought you'd like a pic.

Appena pubblicato l'utimo post, un coniglio e' apparso a mangiare un cacchio caduto - accanto all'orto!

L'Orto! - The Veggie Garden

I hope to start work at the new job in 3 weeks' time.  3 weeks to keep myself busy without a salary...  Time to plant a veggie garden!
Before you ask, I've never done a garden of any kind before, but they say ignorance is bliss, so I wasn't going to let my ignorance stop me trying.  The veggie garden isn't at our house in Auckland, but at Ross' parents' large plot in Warkworth.  They've been planning a veggie garden for a while, so it'll be a help to them too.
To clue myself in before all the dirt and digging, I did a little web research.  What I read convinced me that raised beds are the way to go.

The plot: :it doesn't look like much now, but it's gonna be great

Raised beds, my research tells me:
  • help to protect the plants by keeping path and bed separate
  • deter rabbits
  • are easier to reach and less back-breaking
  • deter weeds
  • give the gardener control over soil and water
They're also ready quicker (despite the set-up work to make a raised bed, ordinary soil should be left for months longer after tilling and improving) and I've never been a patient person.

Here's what I did:
  1. What plants?  I found out what would grow in Warkworth (it's subtropical) during autumn and winter.  With input from my veggie-eating customers (i.e. Ross' parents!) I settled on broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, beet, onion, spring onion, leek, garlic, carrot and parsnip.  There were a surprising number of other possibilities too.  I'll be doing some from seed and some from bought seedlings.
  2. Layout?  Raised beds should be no more than 1.2m wide with access on both sides do you can always reach your plants!  Also, some plants go well together - onions like strawberries and beets for example!  Generally it's good to keep plant families in blocks so when you rotate crops next year, you can easily avoid putting the same kind of plant in one area twice.  I had great fun planning this in's free trial - they colour code the plant families and also space the plants for you correctly.
  3. How?  Raised beds can be constructed out of many materials.  But when you've just arrived in a country, you don't have a lot of scrap wood or brick lying around.  Freecycle has some good stuff, and lots of greenie points, but not having tools to cut wood to size, etc. I decided to get cheap planks from thw wonderful Bunnings.  I tried to get untreated wood, because treated wood seeps chemicals into your veggies, and I'm painstakingly rubbing raw linseed oil into it to protect it from moisture.  It won't last for centuries, but it should last a few years.  I also got galvanised nails and some short pointy posts to attach the planks to.
  4. What soil?  Ross' first question was what are you going to fill raised beds with?  But, I discovered, it's a bit like making compost - you can use lots of waste materials to layer up your bed - no need to dig or fork out lots of cash.  I just have to layer "brown" carbon materials like newspaper with "green" nitrogen materials like grass clippings.  I bought a couple of bags of compost to put around my seedlings, and one of lucerne/pea hay, which is supposed to do wonders for plants, but the rest will all be recycled material.  The best bit is that washed seaweed is great for plants, and we're just half a km from the beach, so I'm now washing bucketloads of the stuff.
  5. What about the bunnies?  Stumbling block number 1.  I hadn't thought of rabbit control.  In theory, they should be discouraged by the height of the beds, but I'm not convinced this will be enough.  So I've started making a rabbit-proof fence.  This involves digging a foot-deep trench and burying the mesh underground as well as 3 feet above ground.  I'm down about half a foot and now have blisters.  Will get back to the fence tomorrow.
Bladderwrack type stuff - washing off the salt in a bucket

So that's where I'm at now.  Still got plenty of wood to oil, and plenty of trench to dig, but still enthusiastic.

6 planks oiled, too many to go!

I look forward to hearing your comments, even if you think I'm a nut (as I've already been told!).

In Italiano!: L'Orto
Con una pausa di 3 settimane prima di iniziare il mio nuovo lavoro, ho deciso di fare un orto nel terreno dei genitori di Ross.  Non lo mai fatto, pero' non mi scoraggio!    Dalle mie ricerche su internet, ho capito che ci sono certi vantaggi di un orto rialzato con muretti di legna o mattoni.  Limitano il danno dai conigli e riduce gli erbacci, e sono piu' comodi di lavorare.  Ho deciso di fare un orto di questo tipo con tavole economiche di legna.  Sto impregnando la legna con olio di lino - protegge la legna dall'umidita', ma non contamina le verdure.  Pero', ci metto molto tempo!
Mi piace molto la programma per la progettazione da - i colori ti dicono di che famiglia sono le piante che ti aiuta con la rotazione delle colture.
Ho deciso di piantare verdure che approfitano dell'inverno mite in questo clima subtropicale: i broccoli, i cavolfiori, i porri, le cipolle, l'aglio, le rape rosse, gli spinaci, le carote e le pastinache.
Il terriccio si puo' fare con tante materiali riciclati, ho scoperto - con strati alternati di materiali secche (es. i vecchi giornali) e materiali umide (es. erba tagliata).  Posso anche utilizare l'algae dal mare - a solo 1 km dalla casa.  Sto lavando un mucchio!
Fammi sapere che ne pensi con un commento!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Architecture II: Victorian Grafton

The discuss thrower on the gate of the Domain (a large park) 1930s (no. 2 on map)

As if in tune with my interest in the old buildings of Auckland, I found a leaflet on the kitchen table entitled "Grafton Heritage Trail" - a walk around the interesting buildings of my Auckland quarter.  How exciting!  I put my trainers on and left immediately.

The route from the leaflet, thanks to Grafton Residents Association

The route, made for Grafton Residents Association and sponsored by a local estate agent, is mostly houses from the mid-1800s to the 1930s.  Colonialists were prosperous in Auckland and it shows in the quality of the 100-150 year old buildings.  The quarter of Grafton was settled with a Crown Grant and a few bigwigs built their mansions here from the 1840s onward.

Huntly House 1876 (no. 10 on map)

Another grand residence was Eden Hill, which the Outhwaite family later donated to the city.  The house doesn't survive, but the garden - complete with several original trees imported by the French  Madame Outhwaite from Europe - is now Outhwaite Park.

 Outhwaite Park (no. 7 on map)

The tour also takes in more modest dwellings - some of my favourites are these colourful workers' cottages on Seafield View Road.

Seafield View Road, workmen's cottages from 1850s-60s (no. 19 on map)
I have a few more pictures I'd like to share, so I'm trying to make a slideshow for the first time.  Hope you like it!

For more info about the trail, or to tell me what you think, drop me a comment!

In italiano!: Architettura II: La quartiera Grafton di cent'anni fa

Come se qualcuno avesse sentito la mia voglia di conoscere l'architettura di Auckland, ho trovato un depliant nella casa: "Percorso storico di Grafton" - Grafton e' la quartiera di Auckland dove abito.  E' uno dei primi posti di essere colonizzati, dalla meta' del ottocento in poi.  I coloniali erano ricchi, e si costruivano dei palazzi belli a Grafton.  Il percorso ricopre anche le case meno ricche - mi piacciono queste colorate degli operai degli anni 1850-1860.
Fammi sapere che ne pensi con un commento!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

In Praise of the Pukeko

Pukeko spotting in downtown Auckland

This is my first attempt at putting video online, so forgive the clumsiness! 
Despite the pouring rain I enjoyed Auckland's Saturday Farmer's Market yesterday.  I saw these cheeky pukekos en route - right in the middle of the city.
I got some lovely bread - bread made the real way, sourdough and all.  To hear more about why it's so important, look at the writings of Felicity Lawrence.  I also loved the Turkish food stall - easily the nicest humus, pita and harissa I've had, and the feta was darn good too.
The veggies weren't the cheapest but they were local and seasonal, and some were organic.
A local energy company is running a series of funny ads featuring pukekos - they're a bit more amusing than mine!

*     *     *

In Italiano!: Il piacere del Pukeko
Nonostante la forte pioggia, mi sono divertita al mercato dei agricoltori nel centro di Auckland ieri.  Ho visto questi uccelli impertinenti sulla strada - proprio in centro della citta'!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Job Lot

Jobs, or should I say careers, were a big part of the decision to move to New Zealand. Oceania was touted to be weathering the global storm better than most places, and it would certainly have a more modern, merit-based approach to recruitment than Italy.

I don't want to tempt fate by speaking too soon, but I've had a really good interview (my third meeting with a potential employer), and I might soon be a gainfully employed person once more. Relief! Self-worth!

Going out for a pub meal tonight to celebrate with the housemates. Review to follow.

* * *

The Horse and Trap pub just across the trainline in the trendy Mount Eden quarter gets a big thumbs up. Nice terrace, nice atmosphere, and some nice offers to pull you in. The boys had chosen to go there for the Friday night deal of pork ribs for $5 (€2.50 or £2.30) - big bowl of 'em. My pizza was slightly less bargainous, being $17.50 (€9 or £8) (but considerably cheaper than the Italian restaurant the other night which was $24 or €12.30 or £11). It was called:
Grazer - roast red capsicum, garlic, spiced pumpkin, eggplant, topped with mozzarella

and its kind hasn't been seen within the Italian peninsula. In fact, I'm not entirely sure it classifies as a pizza. Was nice though. I can't imagine what our pizzaiolo would say about the so-called:
Italian - chicken, bacon, blue cheese, onion jam
except that it's not. Still, who's complaining? I'm getting used to paying $34 for the absolute cheapest bottle of plonk (which, to be fair, was quite drinkable), when good wine in Italy was easily half that. I guess I should switch back to beer drinking. It's not cheaper, but they do make some great ales here. I enjoyed Monteiths Original.

In Italiano!: Il lavoro
Il lavoro constituiva gran parte della decisione di trasferirci in Nuova Zelanda. Sembrava che si sosteneva meglio nella crisi mondiale, e comunque, l'atteggiamento neozelandese sarebbe sicuramente piu' moderno e piu' basato sul merito di una persona rispetto alla situazione in Italia.
Non voglio parlarne troppo presto, ma sono ottimista di aver trovato un lavoro; ho fatto un buon colloquio. Che solievo! Che ritorno di autostima!
Esco con i coinquilini a festeggiare - commenti sul pub saranno publicati dopo!

* * *

Mi piace la Horse and Trap nel quartiere del momento Mount Eden. E' un ambiente bello con un terrazzo fuori. Ho mangiato una pizza, ma non e' stata per niente come le pizze in Italia. Si chiamava:
Grazer - peperoni rossi arrosti, aglio, zucca speziata, melanzane, mozzarella
In realta', non sono convinta che se la possono chiamare "la pizza". E' stata buona comunque. Non sono sicura che cosa avrebbe detto il nostro pizzaiolo italiano della:
Italian - pollo, pancetta, gorgonzola, confettura di cipolla
a parte che non lo e'.
Il vino piu' economico del pub costava $34 (€17,50), non era male. Al posto del vino dovrei bere la birra. Non e' piu' economica, ma se la fanno bene qui. Mi piace la "Monteiths Original" birra rossa.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Auckland architecture

A public loo on Symonds St, Auckland - circa 1910, but still in use

In the brief time I lived in the States, I was sorry to find my every prejudice confirmed about the place.  Houses, cars, roads and shops were big and tasteless, as if sheer size could overcome their lack of charm.  It was ordered, modern and clean - and for me, it lacked any ounce of character that, I assumed, only places with history could have.  (I extend humble apologies to the Americans I've had the pleasure of knowing and those I haven't for my lack of appreciation - without a doubt, it's somebody's paradise, just not mine.)
New Zealand's towns grew up in the same period as the towns of the western USA, and an inkling of concern ran through my thoughts before I left Italy.  What if I, so in love with the ancient architecture of Italy, found myself once more surrounded by new world styles which I couldn't help but loathe?

Auckland building facades that wouldn't be out of place in Northern Ireland

My curiosity battled my sleepiness to let me have a look at New Zealand on my first car ride from the airport.  I noticed the strangest thing.  Alongside the mirrored skyscrapers and the modern beach houses, there are lots of Victorian-style buildings which I guess are about 100-130 years old.  I felt an odd jolt of familiarity.  The buildings wouldn't be out of place in Belfast or other industrial cities of the UK!

Old architecture contrasts with new trends in central Auckland

Of course, there are differences too.  The skyline of the city is dominated by tall buildings - some stunning, some ugly - and the most dramatic icon for Auckland, the Sky Tower.  This graceful pinnacle is so high above everything else (the highest in the southern hemisphere in fact) that people bungee off it.  Given that the Sky Tower is visible for miles around, it's not hard to see this phenomenon... a dark speck dropping off and dangling from the tower.  I've little desire to try it.

The new and rather textural Imax building with the Sky Tower behind

Meanwhile the style that typifies Auckland for me is to be found in the city's oldest houses.  These are sometimes brick, sometimes wooden clapboard and often a mix.  They are abundant with lathework and latticework, an apt demonstration of the richness of wood that the colonists found here.  It might be called New England-neogothic-victoriana and it's a little too overdecorated to be my dream house.  But it's lovely to walk through the old residential streets on my walk to the Domain (a large park and botanical gardens) and nosey at their quirky style.

 New England-neogothic-victoriana?

In italiano!: L'architettura a Auckland
Dal mio breve periodo negli stati uniti, temevo che lo stile del "nuovo mondo" sarebbe tutto cio che non mi piace: grande, ma senza stile.
Invece a Auckland, l'architettura mi ricorda molto del mio paese, e di diverse citta' brittanniche dell'epoca industriale.  Ci sono tanti edifici che hanno 100-130 anni, insieme con i grattacieli.