Monday, February 18, 2008

New Zealand: Wellington

Wellington is New Zealand’s capital and certainly the most “bustling” of the three cities we visited. But in my opinion it lacks charm. For all of the Starbucks, bagel shops, and bookstores it could be almost anywhere in America – even the teenagers dress the same – wearing their leggings and skinny tapered jeans with flats. The only exception is that sadly, the magazines at the Borders in Wellington cost $20 a piece, rather than the $4.50 back home. So it was with great displeasure that I sulkily put back the Australian issue of InStyle with Kathryn Heigl on the cover and decided to go spend my twenty friggin dollars on four pints of beer, vowing to catch up on my celebrity gossip online. Twenty dollars…the nerve!!! And at this price, how do people afford to stay literate in New Zealand? Even the paperback books were $25!!! Note to NZ visitors: bring plenty of reading material with you on the plane.

Aside from my bookstore price disgust, Wellington turned out to be a pleasant and clean (if slightly boring) city. We popped into several taverns and sampled the beer, ordered local fare (beware: potato skins here are actually potato chunks thrown into a bowl with a lump of sour cream on top, you eat them with skewers…totally bizarre) and shopped at mini-marts for food and drinks we couldn’t buy back on the ship. Our favorite pub was General Practioner, a bar housed in an old-fashioned Victorian home with marble-topped tables and ultra-modern aluminum stools outside on the front deck. Here we sipped glasses of Monteith’s beer (try the black – it’s dark, but not heavy) and watched the twentysomethings pass by on the street below. The boutiques are cool in that Brooklyn-esque sort of a way with funky t-shirts and belts made out of vintage scarves for sale. Oddly, there were quite a few Christian bookstores selling God-related memorabilia with decals in the window posing questions such as “Got God?” or “Where will you be spending Eternity: In the smoking or non-smoking section?” Very clever, those New Zealanders. And to add to my confusion, just down the street were a number of sex shops. (Although out of respect for it being Sunday – or perhaps a lack of business on a church going day – they were all closed). One of their signs advertised “quality” sex gear…which made me wonder…are there a lot of people running around Wellington selling cut-rate vibrators? It’s a question worth asking.

All in all, Wellington is a nice city, but I think New Zealand’s real charm lays in its gorgeous countryside, small towns and bevy of thrilling adventure activities. Come to this country to stay at a fabulous B&B near a lake, to eat roast lamb, to paraglide, sea kayak or to wine taste…but if you’re looking for Manolo Blahniks, martini bars and big city nightlife, keep on movin. Wellington just can't compete with Tokyo, London or Milan.

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