Thursday, March 27, 2008

Good old days

Before I get started,  I'd like to thank my anonymous reader for the informative research on albatrosses, which you can find in the comments section of the previous post. It certainly advances the educational objectives we hold for our readers here at "Kia Ora, Y'all!" Although the post was not signed, I suspect it was Emily, and that she did not sign for fear of being called out again. Too bad for Emily.

Last weekend I went to Athens for a Russell Hall dorm reunion/joint 30th birthday party/bachelorette party with four devoted readers who also happen to be some of my oldest and closest friends.

First of all, is there any place where my heart feels more at home than Athens? No. I love that it is both beautiful and dingy and small town and worldly and home to some of the smartest, kindest and most interesting people I have ever known. I love the townies, who are so surly when they pour my coffee. I love that I can't walk a quarter block in any direction downtown without passing a fantastic restaurant. I love that you can pay less than $30 for two rounds of happy hour drinks for five people. (Including tip!) I even love the frat boys, and the fact that their shag haircuts, khaki shorts, and Oakleys don't seem to have changed since I was in undergrad ten years ago. As someone who moved around a lot growing up, I planted roots during my nine years there and will forever consider it my adopted hometown. I secretly hope that Chris and I retire there some day. (Possibly a bad sign for my career that I'm already planning retirement ...)

Second, is there anything more fun that hanging out with my best friends from freshman year? I highly doubt it. We drank like 18-year-olds (ahem, I mean 21-year-olds). We suffered hangovers like 30-year-olds. Thanks to a kindly RA who was willing to thwart Russell Hall policy, we made dorks of ourselves at our old dorm hall, which is even darker and more sparse than we remembered. (It is now a boys' hall. Hence, the sign above, which was not necessary when we were students.)

We laid in the sunshine on the North Campus quad and listened to this random guy play his guitar. As Chris will tell you, random guys with acoustic guitars tend make me very nervous. Nine out of 10 random guys who show up with acoustic guitars are extremely sensitive, and are very bad musicians, and are just trying to pick up girls. But this guy was actually legit and sounded fantastic. His name is Gabriel Kelly and you should check him out when he plays around Athens and Atlanta.

It was a perfect Athens weekend. I'm ready to get back soon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dunedin: Inquiring Minds Want to Know

This week we respond to some questions from devoted reader (and "Kia Ora, Y'all!" co-founder) Emily. This site is nothing if it is not both educational and entertaining for you, eager readers, so get out those pesky comments/questions and ask away!

Emily writes:

I want to know more about your new town, please. What do people do there (i.e., is it really just a university town, is there any industry, etc.)? Is it considered a city? What's the closest big city? Is there a mall? A zoo? Any museums? Any interesting history?

Hmm. Not entirely sure about the industry question. I'm guessing the University of Otago is a major employer, obviously, but I'm not sure about other big employers. Dunedin is home to a large Cadbury factory, which you can visit when you come to visit me and get chocolate tastings. It is also home to Speights Brewery. (Incidentally, Chris reports that he prefers Emerson's, a Dunedin microbrewery.) I only know about Cadbury & Speights just because they have the tourist thing going on.

Is it considered a city? I guess, but keep in mind that New Zealand scale is just different. It's about 120,000 people, the second biggest population on the South Island and I think the fourth biggest overall. Christchurch, the second biggest city in NZ with about 350,000 people, is our closest "big" city. (Auckland is biggest with a little more than 1 million; Wellington, the capitol, is slightly smaller in population than Christchurch but larger than Dunedin. Both of these are on the North Island.)

I didn't see any Lenox-type indoor malls (am I wrong to feel a little relieved?) but there is a department store and a ton of women's clothing stores downtown. I'm not sure if most of them are locally owned or NZ chains I just didn't recognize.

No zoo that I know of, but you can take tours to see the wild penguins, sea lions, and albatrosses. (Is that you pluralize "albatross?") Dunedin is also home to the Otago Museum.

As far as history, Dunedin was settled by the Scots in the 1840s. I believe there was a gold rush of some kind, but I'm afraid I need to brush up on all of that. Lanarch Castle, pictured below, was built by some prominent businessman in the late 1800s and boasts that it is "New Zealand's Only Castle."

The train station is also supposed to be some unique example of historic architecture, but I know nothing about architecture and I'm too lazy to look it up right now. Maybe you can figure it out:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

New Zealand: Now you know! Part I

It's probably bad blogging form to do two FAQs back-t0-back, but I'm new at this, so bear with me. I get a lot of the same questions over and over when I tell people we are moving to New Zealand, so here is my "Getting to Know New Zealand" FAQ.

Q: Where is New Zealand?
A: What were you doing in 9th grade geography class? Passing notes to boys? Hmm? Yep, that's what I thought. You should be ashamed.
New Zealand is in the South Pacific, off the southeastern coast of Australia. It is made up of two islands, descriptively named "North Island" and "South Island."

Q: Where are you going to be living?
A: Dunedin. Southeastern corner of the South Island. Read about it from our trusty friends at Wikipedia, or see the Dunedin City home page.

Q: What is the weather like in New Zealand?
A: The weather seems to vary a lot by location, and even the same city can vary a lot over the course of the day. One of the things that struck us during our trip was how we could be completely bundled up and doused with rain in one part of the country, then we'd drive a few hours and find ourselves sweating in almost desert-like conditions. Layering is important.

Chris bought me one of those ironic hipster T-shirts that says "Sunny Dunedin," as our new hometown is known for being rather damp and overcast (think Scotland). On the plus side, Chris assures me the winters don't get much colder than Atlanta's. Goodbye, Hotlanta summers ...

Q: Is New Zealand part of Australia?
A: Your miserable, pathetic geography teacher. Her whole career really was a waste.

Q: How long does it take to get to New Zealand?
A: Flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco direct to the largest city, Auckland, are about 12-13 hours. The flight from Auckland to Dunedin is about another 2 hrs, I think.

Q: Oh my goodness, how do you stand that long flight?
A: It wasn't the best way to spend a day, I'll be honest. But it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and I rode over by myself, in coach, on a completely full flight. It works like this: watch a movie, eat dinner, drink a couple of glasses of red wine, eat a snack, sleep as long as you can, get up, brush your teeth, wash your face, snooze some more, eat breakfast, watch another movie, and poof! You're there.

Q: Do they speak English in New Zealand?
A: Sigh. This blog is going to need a Part II. Stay tuned, my eager readers!

Friday, March 7, 2008

In retrospect, pet fish would have been a good idea

As you probably know, we are the adoring dog parents of two fuzzy freaks we call Livy and Owen. They pretty much dominate our lives with their incessant demands for food, belly scratches, more food, and potty time. Both of these guys got off to a pretty rough start in their lives, and the thought of handing them over to just any loser who answers a "Free to Good Home" ad made us a little nauseated, so we decided to take them with us to New Zealand.

What does shipping two 50 lb mutts to New Zealand entail, you may ask? I get a lot of questions about this, so here is my "Taking your dogs to New Zealand FAQ."

Q: What do you need to do to get them over there?
A: Lots and lots and lots of vet tests over a six month period. And vaccinations. Signed by 10 different vets from six different offices in four different colors of ink, notarized and sealed with the blood of each vet's firstborn child.

Q: Is it true you didn't leave for New Zealand when Chris did because the dogs weren't allowed to travel until April, and you decided to stay with them?
A: Basically, yes.

Q: Isn't that a little weird?
A: Next question, please.

Q: Do they ride on the plane with you?
A: They have to ride in the cargo hold of the plane in a travel crate.

Q: Isn't that going to emotionally scar them for the rest of their lives?
A: Aren't you about done with all of your questions?

Q: Will they have to be quarantined in New Zealand?
A: Yes, for 30 days. They get to be in an indoor/outdoor pen, just the two of them, in a very nice-looking facility, which you can see here. They are allowed treats and toys and their own bedding. They are allowed visits but unfortunately this place is about a 4-5 hour drive from Dunedin, so I'm not sure how well that will work.

Q: 30 days is a long time.
A: Yes, but it used to be six months. It is still six months for certain countries, like South Africa. By comparison, 30 days is a cakewalk.

Q: Is all of this expensive?
A: Yes. Oh, dear Lord, yes.

Overall, the decision to take them is both unbelievably stressful and incredibly comforting at the same time. And look at those fuzzy faces. Like you would just leave them behind?

Sunday, March 2, 2008


I thought my devoted readers may want to see a few pictures of our town to better appreciate our new Kiwi lifestyle. Although I was there in January 2007 as a tourist with NO CLUE I'd be moving there in a little more than a year, I got a really good vibe from the place. The atmosphere is very Athens-like in that it is a similar size and a college town, it's very young and creative, and there are lots of cool little shops and restaurants and bars. It is not very Athens-like, as you will see, in terms of geography. On the drive from the airport into the city, I thought, "This must be what Ireland is like," because of it's greenness and rolling hills and sheep. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have never been to Ireland, so this is just a guess.) I later learned that Dunedin was settled by the Scots and "Dunedin" is the Gaelic name for Edinburgh ... that works too, I guess.

I should add that while Chris took the first pictures seven pictures in the last couple of weeks, I stole the rest from the Web because the Dunedin pics I took during the visit last year turned out pretty crappy. If these are your pictures and you want to sue me, know that 1) I know a lot of really ferocious IP lawyers and 2) I am happy to give you credit. Or I can just take them down and borrow photos from someone else who's not so uptight. So let's be friends. Okay?

Okay, so this isn't actually a sign from Dunedin, but something Chris saw when he was visiting Oamaru, about an hour north of Dunedin. Obviously, I still had to include it.

This is the main road near our house, looking out of town

Main road on walk toward campus (I think?)

Little shopping village near our house. Note the roundabout ... these things terrify me, even when I'm driving on the right and know where I'm going, and they are EVERYWHERE in NZ. Kiwi pedestrians, here I come!!!

Coffee shop walking distance from our house. Remind me to tell you about NZ coffee later. It's really good.

Beach picture Chris took while he was on a run. I think it's about 3-4 miles out of town.

Another beach picture Chris took on his run. See what I mean about thinking this is Ireland?

A little known fact to most Yanks, but Dunedin is home to the steepest street in the world. I'm told there is some dispute with San Francisco over this claim, but of course I am going to side with my new hometown.

Impressively steep. You'll get a good glut workout, here.

Visitors center in the Octagon, which is Dunedin's town center (centre?). I can't find a good picture of the whole Octagon, which is pretty cool, but I'll post one when I find it.

Downtown Dunedin. You can see the train station in the left hand corner.

More downtown. The leather crowd, I guess.