The Quiet Traveller: Day 32 – San Francisco

Today was a travel day, but not just any travel day, this was a time travel day. The journey across the Pacific would take me back in time, as I was leaving Auckland in the evening and arriving in the morning of the same day. It’s obviously no different to any other long haul flight, but to think you have time travelled is pretty cool.

Kicked out of the hostel at 10 (figuratively speaking), I hopped on the Skybus to the airport, and in case I wasn’t already awake, this preliminary journey made sure I was. As the bus speakers played a selection of chart-topping tunes, the driver threw the bus around the streets towards the airport, rattling my bones and making me look forward to the relative comfort of an economy class long haul flight seat.

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N78. Relax? Oh go on then, if you insist electronic board.

Auckland airport was mildly snazzy, although lacking in seating I found. Contenting myself with a perch rather than an actual seat, I made the most of the 30 mins free WiFi (why WiFi should be a paid for service in an international hub baffles me), before taking a wander around. I ended up buying one of those curved travel pillows; not just for the flight but for hostels, as often hostel pillows can be of varying quality, ranging from the structural stability of a Mars bar on a hot day to military grade titanium. At least with my new purchase, consistency was assured.

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Found in the airport toilet, this author’s struggles with DIY is a problem for the ages.

As I people watched and thought ahead to my new destination, I was a mixture of anxiety and excitement. When you think about it, new people are everywhere. Each one walking by has a life, family, dreams, hopes, and desires. To become good at and comfortable with constantly meeting new people is to open yourself up to lots of new worlds. So even if it can be draining at times for introverts, it’s always a positive thing to do. As I looked ahead to America, I was curious as to what it would be like during election year. Looking back, I’m so glad I got in and out prior to the orange gibbon.

The flight itself, with Air New Zealand, was relatively uneventful, apart from the mad time travel aspect. Upon arrival at San Francisco international, I was looking forward to wearing cold weather clothes, as I had heard the weather was known to be very changeable. However, the Bay Area had decided to make my week there a scorcher, which was appreciated to an extent.

Immigration was rather intense, as I suspected it would be. Interrogated by an unimpressed woman, who looked at me as if I had just thrown her dog off the Golden Gate, I was asked where I had got the money to come to the USA. Shakily replying that I had worked at a thing called a job like lots of other people do to get money, she went on to ask if I knew anyone in the States. Giving the answer that my uncle lived in New York, I answered a few more standard questions (business or leisure etc.), until I was finally given the all clear to proceed. This confirmed my suspicions that the United States was a slightly nutty country, as I would find out many times over the next few weeks.

I caught the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) into the city, and then caught a bus from Montgomery Street Station. To say I was thrown into the deep end of the public transport system would be an understatement. Boarding the bus by dropping a few quarters into a slot, I found myself on a crowded classic American style city bus, surrounded by people of all colour, age, and ethnicity. It was about 1pm, and here I was, awkwardly standing with my huge backpack in an iconic city ready to be explored. It seems like a banal experience on paper, but I remember this part of the trip so well, and it was simultaneously stressful, exciting, and energising to find myself there.

Eventually reaching my stop, I hopped off and completed the short walk to my hostel, HI Fisherman’s Wharf, an old fort and barracks located on a hill overlooking the bay. It was an ideal place, slightly out of the way, great views, clean, INCLUDED BREAKFAST, and not too busy. A famous icon glinted red in the distance, and I was struck by how impressive it was. It’s much bigger in real life.

I was quite tired by now, and as it was early evening I headed out in search of sustenance. Luckily there was a food truck night on at the bottom of the hill, so I headed down to check it out. It was a really cool setup, lots of different foods and a good crowd, despite the shitty DJ in the middle ruining it. Filling up on steak strips and chilli, I topped off my evening with a monster doughnut (when in Rome). I had become very aware of my accent during the past few hours, and my British awkwardness was baffled when the cashier asked my name followed by asking how I was in a weirdly genuine fashion. I was confused, as in Britain myself and a lot of people generally try to carry out transactions with the least amount of syllables possible. I think Britain is one of the best places to be an introvert – unless you live in the North, whereby it seems they will chat to anything with a pulse.

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Food and food and food.

Clambering into my top bunk after watching the sun set behind the bridge, I made a nest with my new pillow and enjoyed the ‘new city to be explored’ feeling.

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The Quiet Traveller: Day 31 – Auckland

I did very little today, apart from some washing, listening to new music on youtube, and mentally preparing myself to go to the United States of America. I was finding Auckland to be a bit of dull city to be honest – Wellington did not seems as big, but at least it had a bit of history and character.

The Sky Tower in particular is an example of trying to inject some character into the city. You can jump off it (with all the necessary safety equipment) which is pretty cool. But ultimately it’s just a bigger building in a city full of big buildings. Maybe I’m wrong and just need to spend more time there. But that was my impression.

Auckland also seemed to have a high proportion of homeless people, and it seemed I was asked for change so often that it would have been a good financial investment for them to acquire a contactless point of sale device. Sadly, this seems to be commonplace in cities where there is a lot of money earned by a top group of people.

On the bright side, thanks to the decent internet at my last two hostels, I was able to follow the football, during which England beat Germany in a friendly, a result of a late Eric Dier goal to cap off a rather unexpected comeback. Whilst cooking dinner, a rather depressing blend of pasta and whatever vaguely edible things I had in my food bag, I struck up a conversation with a German guy cooking next to me. Naturally, it was only polite to quickly turn the conversation towards football.

According to him, the German media had diagnosed a lack of motivation as the reason for the loss. This was immensely satisfying to hear, as more often than not a lack of motivation is what is splashed all over the back pages after an England defeat.

Surprisingly, the day ended by catching up with Veronika, who I had already said goodbye to in Wellington. It’s a small world, and New Zealand, it turns out, is even smaller. Parting ways after 3 weeks in New Zealand, we had made plans for a Vienna/UK reunion, which is yet to happen, but remains firmly in the pipeline. It was very rewarding to make a new friend in a land far away, partly because it reduced the drain that meeting new people puts on me, but also because it’s one of those things you can’t buy. And the best things in life are free 98% of the time. 2% reserved for custard creams and other tastinesses.

The internet also told me that back home, the name Boaty McBoatface was winning the poll for the name of the new scientific research vessel. Upon reflection in 2018, this should have been the ominous warning sign that things were about to get a lil’ crazy on this planet. ‘Onwards to the land of Trump’ I have written at the bottom of the page.

P.S. I borrowed the cover photo from Wikipedia. There wasn’t many things worth taking a photo of in Auckland.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 30 – Auckland

As I awoke from a deep and interrupted slumber, I could feel the excitement of a new city waiting to be explored. If only you could bottle this feeling and consume it at will, a crisp refreshing beverage to quench the exploratory thirst.

I didn’t have much planned for Auckland, I was only here for a short time, so I simply headed off in the direction of the harbour. Wandering through the streets, I noticed a distinctly financial feel to the city, mostly due to the skyscrapers and high number of banker suits bustling to coffee shops in-between meetings regarding how to shaft the general public with maximum efficiency.

Wearing my Nike shorts and plain t-shirt I looked very much out of place, which got me thinking that as a tourist, you are probably much safer wearing a suit in a large city, as it looks like you live there and therefore aren’t to be messed with. Things such as bum bags simply make you stand out as a target even more. Speaking of bum bags, why are they suddenly so fashionable? To clarify, I was not sporting a bum bag.

On the way down to the waterside, I stumbled across The Globe. Quite literally. It was a pop up Globe, a recreation of the London theatre as it would have been in Shakespeare’s day, with an open plan ground and stage, and then seating around in a semi-circle above. Curious, I got closer to investigate, and discovered that there was a performance of Twelfth Night this very night. The best part of this was a ticket price of only $10 NZD, and seeing as I had nothing else to do, I decided to give it a go.

Fast forward a few hours, and I was standing where the peasants traditionally stood, whilst people with jobs and more money had paid for seats in the semi circle. Ironically, the standing area gave the best views, as you were so close to the stage to see the actor’s expressions close up. Waiting to go in however, I felt a bit underdressed, as the crowd seemed to be full of blazer toting elites – and I quote, ‘I’ll just grab a wine here’ said one. No one ‘grabs’ a wine. Beer, yes. Wine, no.

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My view of the stage.

The performance itself was actually a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. As is often the case with Shakespeare, the sexual innuendo and general filth of some lines was a highlight. Interestingly, the cast was also completely made up of men, as it would have been during Shakespeare’s day. Because of the plot of Twelfth Night, this meant you had sometimes had a man playing a woman pretending to be man, which got a bit confusing given I hadn’t read/seen the play before.

 

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 29 – Auckland

Today was an early start, leaving Wellington station on a train called the Northern Explorer. This ten hour journey would take me from the bottom of the North Island all the way up to the top of it, reaching Auckland at dusk.

On paper, a ten hour train journey, especially for someone familiar with the utter shite that is the UK rail network, seems akin to being voluntarily waterboarded. However, this  was no ordinary train and no ordinary journey.

The Northern Explorer consisted of several comfy carriages, including huge windows, wood-style panelling, a food carriage, and most importantly, an open carriage at the back, where you could walk around freely and take in the sights. Unlike passing through Wolverhampton on a wet Tuesday via an Arriva Trains Wales service, the views consisted of all the natural wonders the North Island has to offer.

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It didn’t smell either. And you actually had a seat.

Most of the passengers were silver-haired, as I assume they have the time to travel slowly in comfort rather than flying in a squashed seat. Which is slightly ironic given that they’ve most likely got the least time in a different sense. My neighbour for the journey was a pleasant older lady who I chatted to about NZ and the UK. She was on her way to visit relatives in Auckland, but she also had links to UK. This was one of the most rewarding things I had experienced so far on my travels, simply because it was nice to have a genuine conversation with a complete stranger. To top it off, she even offered to buy me an ice cream from the onboard cafe, which I gladly accepted. Moral of the story: respect your elders because they might buy you food.

After an hour or two I wandered down to the back of the train to check out the open-air carriage. It was a bizarre sensation to be on a train with no windows, just holes in the side. I felt a bit like a cow being transported to new pastures, or perhaps a scrawny goat to be more accurate. There were signs demonstrating that if you dropped anything over the side, it would be gone for good and there would be no stopping for it, which makes me think people have previously hit the emergency stop button when they’ve dropped their phone over the side. Butterfingers, you’ve been told.

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Do not lean over the side notice at the back as well. There’s lots of tunnels which would result in cranial smushing.

I was enjoying this mode of travel. It wasn’t at all stressful, the views were great, and I was able to chat, read, go off on my own, eat, and do as I pleased. I think it helped that everyone was definitely enjoying the journey as well, unlike a flight or bus journey. However, the day was going well, so naturally the train gods decided that there should be an hour delay due to ‘waiting for clearance to go through works’, and by the time I got into Auckland it was dusk. I hadn’t planned on the train stopping so far out from where I was staying, and Auckland seemed a lot bigger and more intimidating than Wellington.

I headed off at a pace into the high-rises, and soon realised that my hostel was at the top of what seemed like the steepest hill in Auckland. Turns out it was the steepest hill in Auckand, with a gradient of 24.8%. #gradientfacts. By the time I reached the top I was pretty puffed out, and I plonked my bag down in front of the receptionist with a sigh, de-sticking my t-shirt from my body. Though I imagine this was a common sight given the size of the hill. Luckily, I had a room to myself tonight, which cost a little more, but it was only two days and I was looking forward to sleeping without being disturbed by the regular occurrence of motorbikes in dorms.

The room reminded me of uni halls, and I even had a desk to write at. A simple thing but dorm rooms are often filled with bed frames and mattresses and nothing else. You might get a socket if you’re lucky. Something that struck me was the fact that being completely alone was an odd feeling. I’d spent so long around people recently that the prospect of being alone actually felt strange, as much as it was welcomed at the same time. I suppose that proves we’re a lot more adaptable than we think.

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Looking towards Tongariro National Park.

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 28 – Wellington

As established in the previous post, I was pretty much done with Wellington by this point. I didn’t get up to much on this final day apart from making sure I had everything packed for my train journey tomorrow. However, there were a few incidents of note.

The Germans in my dorm had moved on by this stage, and two newbies in the room were an American and Canadian. I was reading in my top bunk, when the American returned to find that the Canadian had inadvertently taken his bottom bunk. Bottoms bunks are, as I think I previously mentioned, like gold dust in a hostel dorm. They are the treasure that every traveller hunts for, yet rarely do they find it. I think the Canadian had simply seen that there was nothing on the bed or around it and assumed it was empty, as the American’s luggage was under the bed.

Cue scenes of American returning and being a bit of a drongo about the situation. Rather exacerbated, he launched into a long and winding tale about how he simply could not take the top bunk because once when he was 11 he fell off one, hit his head, and nearly died.

Suddenly a strong stench hit my nostrils. I sat up, curious as to what this unpleasant waft was. I turned my head in the air, trying to ascertain the source. Then the penny dropped and I realised what was fumigating my nasal receptors. It was vintage bullshit, left to mature in barrels made from the wood of the ancient ‘didnothappen’ tree.

A few minutes of posturing followed, and for a moment I thought something was about to kick off, during which I readied myself to get out of there fast. In the end however, the Canadian relented due to what I believe was the sheer absurdity of the American’s argument, and contented himself with the top bunk. Hostels are fun. They really are.

Earlier in the day I had a moment of hysteria to myself as well. I had misplaced my iPod, something which is very sentimental to me and was my source of tunes throughout the trip. It turned out that it had got tangled up in my sheets, as I used it often to drown out the motorbikes that sleep in hostel dorms. The relief when I finally found that battered box of music was akin to a heroin hit.

And that was about it for Wellington. Tomorrow I would be embarking on a 10 hour rail journey to Auckland. Which was much more exciting than it sounds.

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As railway stations go, this is rather majestic.

Edit following last post: (I found a picture from Mount Victoria! It’s the featured photo.)

The Quiet Traveller: Day 27 – Wellington

I awoke in the morning to the sound of the German language, and I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and reached for my phone to check the time. I had planned to head up Mount Victoria today with Steph from the Stray bus, who was still in town for another day or two.

As I clambered down from my perch and began to sort out my stuff for the day, the sound of the German language turned to laughing. Not just a chuckle. Proper throaty laughs. I attempted to tune in to what they were saying, but as is often the case with listening to foreign languages, they often sound too fast to understand to the outsider. However, I managed to pick up on several words, including breakfast (Frühstuck), chocolate (Schokolade) and what seemed to be an English word with a lot of emphasis on it – Loser. The final word was slightly disconcerting to hear, but I put it out of my mind and headed out to meet Steph.

Mount Victoria is not as mountainous as it sounds, but it still takes considerable effort to ascend, with the warm Wellington sunshine necessitating several bench stops en route. I chatted to Steph about her cabin crew job as we walked, learning about the importance of always wearing your seatbelt on a flight. She informed me that on occasion planes can simply drop from the sky for a short time, meaning anything unsecured will get thrown upwards. I believe this is due to air pockets or something air related. Anyhow for the rest of my flights I kept my seatbelt on.

Reaching the summit, we were rewarded with some absolutely stunning views. The whole time in New Zealand, you go round a corner and think you’ve seen the best view of the whole trip, and then another view comes along blowing your mind again. It’s like your visual processing brain bits are being repeatedly blown to pieces but in the best kind of way. Unfortunately, being the professional writer/blogger/content creator extraordinaire that I am, I took precisely zero photos of the summit.

That evening, I stuffed my face with a bargain Domino’s deal (a couple of dollars for a pizza), and reflected upon the past week. It felt like I had exhausted all of Wellington’s activities, and as much as I was enjoying New Zealand, I was looking forward to the new challenge of the USA. I had been in Wellington so long and seen so many people come and go from my dorm I felt like a piece of the furniture. Not that you could fit much furniture in said room. I was also a little tired of meeting new people constantly, and as nice as most of them were, my energy levels for them were at a low. A recharge period was needed.

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Note the lack of English flag – probably something to do with these three.

What wasn’t tiring about my situation was the pace of life in New Zealand. I have long held the view that we should learn from the sloth as a human race; well the UK should learn from the Kiwis when it comes to societal pace too.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 26 – Wellington

Wellington seemed much more alive today, probably because it was a Saturday. However rather than hitting the shops look at stuff I couldn’t afford or carry (you forget you have to carry anything you buy with you around the world), I decided to sign up to a free tour of the NZ parliament for later in the day.

Now the design of the NZ parliament is an acquired taste. The building is known the ‘Beehive’, but quite frankly I think it looks like Dalek with a meth problem.

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This upturned paper waste basket is home to New Zealand’s MPs.

On the other hand, the beautiful Parliament Library building looks like this:

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Clearly, design consistency was not on the agenda of the New Zealand government.

After signing up for the tour and doing all the usual security checks, I exited the building and to my surprise, I was greeted with a small (around 10) group of protesters wielding a number of mostly black banners with what I think were skull logos with ‘RWR’ above them. I gathered they were some sort of neo-nazi white supremacist group, and a quick google later revealed that the ‘RWR’ meant ‘Right Wing Resistance’, which confirmed my suspicions.

Two things struck me about this display of stupidity. Firstly, it was so strange to actually encounter neo-nazis. It’s just one of those things that you don’t physically see day to day. Secondly, at what point do you, as a neo-nazi, look at your BLACK banners with GOTHIC text and SKULLS and not think ‘Are we the baddies?’ Not that all black, gothic, and skull stuff is evil. But in politics, it probably is.

As security began to move them away, I did a Ross Kemp on Gangs and got out of there ‘before things kicked off’.

Upon returning later for my tour, I wondered if they would still be there, but by the time I got back the Beehive they had disappeared, and I was free to enter the building. The parliament tour itself turned out to be rather interesting, though I suppose it helps having studied political systems and being a bit of a geek. Different to the UK system, the NZ parliament has no upper chamber, and voters vote separately for the party in control and their local MP, which seems to me like a good way of doing things.

Something I have always wondered is how many introverts there are in politics. On paper, extroverts seem to be the ideal, but listening is also an important part of being a politician. I wonder what the relationship is between the popularity of a politician and their personality type.

As well as politics, the tour guide also discussed the earthquake-proofing of the building, including the base-isolators, which technically speaking, dramatically reduces the wibbly-wobbly dynamic in the event of an earthquake. Earthquakes, much like quicksand, are one those things that you think are going to be much more of a problem throughout your life. Southern England doesn’t get many of those.

After the conclusion of the tour, I headed back to the hostel for a bit before going out to meet some Stray bus people who were in Wellington for the night. It was good to see my Austrian friend Veronika and to find out how the deep south of the South Island was. Apparently I didn’t miss much as it rained the whole time, which made me feel slightly smug. Well, quite smug.