Chix Soup for THIS Soul = Ginger Beef & Red Wine
7/5/12 - 7/5/12 65 °F
May 7, 2012 - 6:32 p.m.
I made it to Auckland today. Oh boy and big sigh. Before I vent about the Pride of New Zealand (really? Auckland is the pride of New Zealand? I think that has to be a typo or a failed IQ test question), I need to do a shout out to my being all grown up and driving lefty style ALL day and only turning the windshield wipers on ONCE. Of course that was when I was having a nervous breakdown navigating Awkland proper at 4:30 in the afternoon, which appeared to be pretty close to rush hour on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD. One way streets without it being set up as a one-way grid. That was worth a whole bottle of wine, but I digress.
Got up at the crack of dawn this a.m. with Marge and putzed around a little. Took a long shower, made two cups of tea and started gathering belongings. Checked money (that's going way too fast), searched for travelers' checks and then searched some more (I apparently did a great job of burying them among my clothes, because it took me over 30 minutes to find them all) and then packed and repacked the carry-on and Kristen's loaner for the drive/fly/drive part of my trip UP the north island then back down, and then down to the south island, and then back up. Another up, up . . . up and down, down . . . down, but hopefully this one will be via air!
Speaking of up, up . . . up and down, down . . down, I did end up having to navigate some of the knuckle-bending driving Margaret and I did on Saturday to get to Awkland, but it wasn't nearly as bad as our roller coaster ride on the Unforgettable Highway. And I did it all by myself, on the wrong side of the road without taking out a guard rail or hitting those white clattery things they put on the side of the road to scare the crap out of you if you fall asleep and swerve (yes, I admit I might have just touched one or two of those on Sunday during my watch behind the wheel). Auckland is a 4 1/2 hour ride and it actually was close to that. We decided yesterday that every single Kiwi that gives you an approximate estimated drive time is lying. Add 2 hours and a supply of antacids to every single hour they tell you it will take. But today was pretty close.
And I found the best little cafe by the side of the road outside of Hamilton, a fairly big town about 35 km south of Auckland. I had a chicken, cranberry and spinach Panini with homemade "bitter lemonade." That was amazingly delicous and wasn't the least bit bitter. Yum.
The road opens up between Hamilton and Auckland to a "freeway," and then turns into an honest-to-god expressway the closer you get. I should have known my simple directions to find the hotel was going to get swallowed up in a metropolitan megopolis when I saw the lanes go from 3 each way to 5 each way, with exits every km or so off to the left. Uh oh. I took my recommended exit as required and that's where it all went to crap.
No signs (why am I not surprised), including no street signs and the streets immedately go one-way, but not in a grid. I turn right to go around and end up going left and then up some mountain that appears in between buildings 30 stories tall, and now I'm on the river or bay, or whatever it is. It was really awful. I called the travel agent 3 times (the first 2 were exercises in translation horror 101 - imagine an Asian/Austrailian accent over a crackling cell phone - lovely) before I got the name of the street where the entrance to the parking garage was (which, by the way, was two blocks over and two streets behind the actual hotel). Then, the garage is gated and of course I haven't checked in yet, so I have no key. So, I have to get out of the car, leaving it's @ss-end in the street, blocking oncoming traffic to call the front desk (yup, you guessed it, another Asian/Kiwi who understands me as much as I understand her) asking for entry. Finally, it springs open to reveal 8 parking spots that are all full and no way to back out, or to call anyone. No way am I moving, so I just pulled it behind one of the cars and parked it right there. I got my stuff out of the car just as a bellman comes jogging out the back door waving his hands frantically at the park job. Yes, sir, Yankee here in Awkland. I showed him my voucher (NZ payment method for overseas travel reservations taken by credit card) and handed him my car keys with a smile that said, you figure it out. And walked into the lobby without looking back.
Ah, but no, I'm not done. The lovely Kiwi-Asian girl at the desk with a permanent look of disdain on her face informs me that the hotel is generally "eco-friendly," as is the rest of the city and therefore does not encourage actual driving. So, there's an additional $25 fee to park it EACH and every time it needs to be parked. Really? Not a problem - not planning on moving it until first thing tomorrow morning when I run screaming out of the city. Ms. Sour-face Unfriendly gives me my key, finally, and waves me away like a gnat on a summer afternoon. Big sigh.
I'm thinking that it can't get any worse, really, when I get to the room and can't figure out how to open the friggin door! There's no slot! No opening of any kind, no oriface or other type of gap in which to slide the plastic card that is my room key! You've got to be kidding! A maid comes out of the closet a few doors down -- yes, Asian/Kiwi style -- and I flag her down to ask for help. She rolls her eyes as she waives it at the door jam. I'm not making this shit up. The door clicks and a light on the face of the handle goes green. I know I heard Rod Serling in the background at that very moment. I'm ready to just collapse on the bed at this point, so I drag my defeated self into the stark, modern-looking room and switch on the light. Nothing happens. I switch it off and then back on. Nothing. So I go for the bathroom light. Nothing. Hmmm. It's light enough to see what's what, so I move into the room and try everything and anything that might have power to it. Nada. WTF?????? Deep breath. I walk over to the phone and dial zero, all the while trying not to have a major meltdown. Ms. Crankypants comes over the phone again and I explain that there doesn't appear to be power in the room, as strange as that sounds. She responds with "Yu key is thee powa. You ju poosh yu key in da ceewipe." Uh, excuse me? She repeats. I hang up the phone and just stare at it first, and then the door. Repeatedly. In the dark. I'm sure it was a good 3 or 4 minutes later when there was a knock at the door. I open it and there's a Kiwi in his hotel uniform with a tolerant look on his face as he asks me for my key. I hand it to him. He takes it, slides it into this white thing on the wall to the right of the microwave (yes, tucked into a corner that is rather hard to make out in the DARK) and every single light in the room goes on (of course because I had turned them all on and off at least 5 times and apparently left them in the on position). He smiles and it's everything I can do not to break down right then and there.
So, after a good purge and a facewash, I forced myself to walk 8 blocks . . . "down, down . . . down" and then 10 blocks back "up, up . . . up" (remember, no grid - longer to come back than it was to go down) before stopping at the seedy corner mart and getting a bottle of water, a cheap bottle of wine and a bag of mixed nuts. Then I ordered room service (which was actually really good) and am now in the middle of nursing a good red wine buzz. Much better. I plan on hitting one of the mega-banks two blocks down in the morning to cash some of those elusive travelers' checks and then head out of glass and steel as early as I can. Clearly I can handle trauma on a mountain in the dark much better than cranky Asian/Kiwis in the city that is AWKLAND (or at least will be to me forever more).