Touring is hard work and normally by nightfall we’re tucked away exhausted. But our first night in Wellington lured us a few blocks from the hotel to Cuba Street, the artistic, funky heart of the city. It was getting even colder and we chose seats at an outside pub that had propane heaters, sharing the table with two women who worked in organic farming. We had a great convo with them, learning more about New Zealand, about Wellington and about farming. They also told us that the famous Night Market was about to open in the alleyway nearby. One woman had to go home, but the other, a French expat named Anne accompanied us across the street and into the weekend throng. We were greeted by the exotic aromas of dozens of ethnic food vendors and the competing rhythms of buskers. Jack and I immediately realized how hungry we were and made the rounds of the food stands to make our selections. Jack and Anne chose mixed jerk from two Jamaicans who it turns out both went to college in Philadelphia, one to Temple University where I was born, and the other to Villanova, whose basketball team just won the national championship. We marveled at how small the world really is, and extended our enthusiastic congrats on the win. I’ve got cousins who went to Villanova so we’re proud too.
Jack and Anne parked themselves in a relatively quiet corner to eat and enjoy the scene while I continued the search for something exotic and vegetarian. I found a tent selling Moroccan falafel wraps and put in my order. It was one of the busiest vendors but it was fun to watch the crowd, listen to the music and enjoy a rare night out on the town while I waited for my food. And believe me, it was worth the wait.
Our first order of business when we pulled into Wellington was to find a parking place. I guess I haven’t said much about driving on the wrong side of the road here in New Zealand but I suddenly found myself having to parallel park on the wrong side of the street. Instinctively Yours Truly looks up to the right to check the rear view mirror but of course the rear view mirror is on the left side. The brain side of this is a fairly light load while on the road, except for the Kiwis’ inexplicable love of the traffic circle, but in a city it’s a whole other kettle of fish. Our go-to plan these days is to find NZ’s excellent I-Site tourist info building wherever we are and have them hunt down a room for us and get the lay of the land, attraction-wise, at the same time. But first you have to park. So, where was I? Oh yes, the rear view mirror, when finally located, revealed a longish line of cars impatiently waiting to zip around me. I reached up to activate the turn signal which turned on the wipers but I did remember to turn the wrong way into the parking space in spite of the racket the wipers were making. It’s good to rent a small car in a big city. After turning everything off I looked over and smiled at Marce who said, “Good job, but it doesn’t look like rain to me.” Point taken.
Wellington is a handsome city and in the bright afternoon sunshine we quickly found the I-Site, scored a room that was almost affordable, and in true Kiwi fashion the concierge assured us that there was still time to take a “short Kiwi walk” over to the funicular and ride up to the overlook for a magnificent view of Wellington. But first we had to find our hotel.
We soon found ourselves at the corner of One Way and No Entry. Every city has one. I decided to go “stupid tourist” and just carry on, eventually looking up and there it was, the Abel Tasman Hotel. We really don’t have room on the boat to store actual luggage, so we just use a collection of canvas boat bags all of which have to come out of the car in the basement lot and get schlepped up to the sixth floor. Finally we were off to find the cable car.
I have a special affinity for funiculars, having lived up on Mount Washington, a high cliff overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, with the oldest continuously operating funiculars in the USA. I rode one almost every day. The walk through Wellington seemed to take forever and we found it uncharacteristically poorly signed, but then they all know where it is. Finally found, it was fun with colored lights and stops along the way, a far cry from the sober no-nonsense Pittsburgh conveyance.
The view was indeed magnificent but there was a lot going on at the top of that mountain too, so we walked around until dusk closed in and the hunt for dinner in a strange town could commence. All in all it was a good day where no lawyers or doctors were needed, just a red hot credit card.