Sunday, February 21, 2016

How to Spend 24 Hours in Christchurch

At 6:30 a.m., the lifeless, gray skies only seemed to add to the feeling that Christchurch was a ghost town.

After strolling through the lovely Botanic Gardens, where we saw two other people, we wandered into the city center to find a coffeeshop. After living in Melbourne for the past nine months, we just assumed we would find something open by 7. Maybe 7:30 a.m.

We were wrong.

Christchurch, with a population of 366,000, appeared not to be inhabited until almost 8 a.m. We wandered down main streets lined with silent construction cranes and stone rubble and past vast empty gravel lots where buildings once stood in the city center. We could have been standing in a post-war zone.

Not a soul in sight!
Cathedral Square
We stopped by the historic ChristChurchCathedral, a Gothic Anglican church built between 1864 and 1904, which stands in crumbling ruins behind construction fencing in Cathedral Square. The deadly February 2011 earthquake destroyed the 63 meter-high spire, and subsequent earthquakes in June and December 2011 damaged the church’s stained-glass rose window.

I felt downright miserable that this beautiful church has been left in ruins for 5 WHOLE YEARS while the church, locals and city government argue about what should be done about it. Finally, it looks like the parties (maybe) have agreed to repairs and reconstruction to be completed by 2022 if the building is reinstated by the diocese.

The 2011 earthquake killed 185 people, injured thousands, caused widespread destruction and was felt across the South Island and parts of the North Island. Our taxi driver from the airport told us he had just dropped off a customer and watched a building fall down and the road ripple right in front of him five years ago.

Following the earthquake, a temporary church was built, called the “Cardboard Cathedral,” due to the cardboard tubes used in the building’s ceiling. The Anglican church is still holding worship services and concerts here.
Although the city center still looks like a gigantic construction zone, Christchurch is rebuilding – slowly by slowly. We found several things to enjoy during the 24 hours we had to spend here.

Botanic Gardens
The gardens are located just west of the city center and cover a large area in Hagley Park. We strolled through the beautiful rose gardens and enjoyed seeing the New Zealand silver ferns up-close for the first time.
Popups and Street Art
As we wandered around, we discovered the city’s artistic community has jazzed up the concrete landscape with streetart in the CBD (in a previous blog post) as well as popup stores and art installations.

We found a funky shopping plaza called Re:START City Mall that has been built out of shipping containers and features cafés, locally made goods, clothing and food trucks. This is where we finally found a fun, lively vibe! I bought an Andy Warhol-inspired sheep apron and couple of NZ Christmas ornaments.
Kiwis have such a good sense of humour.
Tree Housesfor Swamp Dwellers, consisting of 10 modular objects identified both as trees and houses, was created by local artist Julia Morison.

Located nearby is a solar-powered table that acts as a power station to charge your electronics such as your mobile phone or Ipod.
Chairs, corner of Cashel and Madras streets, serves as a memorial for the 185 people killed by the earthquake in February 2011.
Art Museum
In December, the Christchurch Art Gallery, home to the country’s largest public art collection, reopened its doors to the public for the first time in nearly five years. I think the gallery’s outdoor neon sign describes the city’s motto well: Everything’s Going to Be Alright.
New Regent Street
If you want to pretend you’re in a live version of Candyland, head on over to the charming New Regent Street, a historic shopping street originally built in 1932. This Spanish Mission-style designed street, known then as New Zealand’s most beautiful street, was built during the Depression years to help boost local shopping. 
We found several restaurants, bars, a bakery that sold amazing cookies and shops selling locally-made tourist goods. We settled in for a thirst-quenching NZ beer at the speakeasy-looking Institution.
Local Craft Beers
Near our hotel in the Riccarton neighborhood, we had read about a place called the Volstead Trading Company. (in 1919, the U.S. enacted the Volstead Act to establish Prohibition.) Since we loved watching the American series Boardwalk, which takes place during the Prohibition era, we thought this would be an appropriate place to grab an afternoon beverage. This bar featured local craft beers, comfy chairs and a laidback environment – a perfect place to rest our weary feet. I loved my pink cider beer made from Red Gala apples!
Creative Food
Unsure of where to pop in for dinner, we checked our reliable Foursquare app to see what looked good nearby. That’s how we ended up at the popular Fiddlesticks Restaurant and BarWell two of the dishes I have photos of are the seared scallops and locally-cured NZ salmon with pickled ginger – both were delicious! The restaurant also had a nice selection of NZ wines by the glass.

Today, as the residents of Christchurch remember the five-year anniversary of the 2011 earthquakes and those who died, let’s not forget to support this city. I believe the city, like the Phoenix, will continue to rise from the ashes and soar again!

If you are traveling to New Zealand, be sure to spend some time in Christchurch and help this friendly community rebuild.
Playing in an old-fashioned telephone booth in Christchuch.
The rose garden in the lovely Chateau on the Park, where we stayed for one night. The hotel offered a free shuttle bus ride to the train station, one of the reasons why I chose it; however, for convenience sake I wished I had selected one of the hotels in the city center. We ended up walking more than 10km since it was about 2 km from the hotel to the CBD.
My Traveling Joys
Last night, the city of Melbourne opened its doors to creativity from dusk ‘til dawn as part of the 2016 White Night festivities.

In only its fourth year, the White Night event transformed the city’s laneways, parks and public spaces with special lighting installations, exhibitions, musical and dance performances and more. The event, called Nuit Blanche in French, started in Paris in 2002, and has since inspired more than 20 cities around the world to host their own White Nights.

Our Aussie friends had warned us that the streets get extremely crowded so to choose (wisely) the events you want to go to around the city. I thought I had a rough schedule figured out, but I was wrong. Nothing prepared us for the mayhem that we encountered. Well, the city wasn’t truly chaotic, but was filled with thousands and thousands of people. The entire CBD was shut down to traffic.
View of Federation Square and the spire atop The Arts Centre Melbourne
at White Night 2016.
We arrived late to the Balit Ngulu, a special aboriginal ceremony performed by the Wurundjeri, Boon Wurrung, Taungurung, Dja Dja Wurrung and the Wadawurrung people. I really wanted to see this traditional spiritual dance, but I couldn’t see ANYTHING and ended up watching through people’s mobile phones who were videotaping it all.

Lesson learned: arrive early at White Night events if you want to see anything!

The ceremony turned into a colorful, gorgeous light installation shown on the exterior of the Royal Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens. We stepped back from the crowds so we could enjoy the show.
From there we wandered through the CBD and along the Yarra River to see the other events and light installations. We ended up walking at least 10km and arrived home about 2 a.m. Whew! We haven't been up this late since New Year's Eve! My only complaint is that there seemed to be a lack of enough events in the CBD, so you ended up walking a long ways before you found something. 

Here are some of the colorful things we saw in Melbourne for White Night 2016:
Illuminated Jellyfish floating by the city's skyline.
“The Dresses” by French artist Tae Gon Kim featured three beautiful gowns made from hundreds of fibre-optic strands that changed colors. Just lovely!
Food trucks near the Yarra River.
Hot Air Balloons along the Yarra River
Light installation on one of the laneways in Melbourne.
A really good Spanish guitar player on the street.
A giant Golden Monkey adorned the Melbourne Town Hall.

Have you ever been to White Night?

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A New Zealand city that has been devastated by earthquakes is making a colorful comeback.

Just this past Sunday on February 14th, Christchurch, the country’s third largest city, witnessed another earthquakeat 5.7 magnitude, which fortunately caused little damage. February 22nd will mark the 5th anniversary of the city’s deadly earthquake of 2011. On our visit right before Christmas 2015, we were shocked to see how much of the city center still sits amid crumbling ruins.

Entire blocks remain vacant.

Lifeless construction cranes fill the skyline.

However, as we wandered around, we saw that Christchurch is making a colorful comeback – in the form of large murals. Street art pieces are taking over the central business district where vast empty sections and bare, brick walls dominate the landscape. We picked up a mini-map of Christchurch marking where we could find street art and other pop up art pieces.
Since 2014, more than 25 huge murals have been produced as a part of Oi YOU! shows, and at least 10 are planned for this year. In addition, the SpectrumStreet Art Festival is currently happening now through April 17th. Basically, you can actually see the street art coming alive right before your own eyes! 
We arrived to what we thought was a gray and depressing city, but later were impressed with the city’s vibrant street art scene.

The positive local vibe in Christchurch just goes to show that the city will go on.

In addition to street art, the city council has approved numerous other pop up art projects such as Re:START (a small shopping area made from shipping containers), oversized armchairs made from astro turf on Gloucester Street and living art such as the “Kaitiaki– The Keeper” in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

My Traveling Joys