Sincerely, Soggy in Christchurch

Two minutes before my alarm went off this morning, the phone rang in my hotel room. It was notification that our Ice Flight was officially delayed 24 hours (as the woman on the bus yesterday predicted). Quite frankly, I found this far superior to an actual boomerang since it meant I could turn off my alarm, roll over, and go right back to sleep. Had it been a boomerang, I would have had to get up at 03:45, get down to the shuttles and out to the airport, put on tons and tons of heavy clothing, wait around to load onto a C-17 which is far less comfortable than a commercial plane, then fly for almost 5 hours only to have to turn around and fly back. So yeah, snuggling down under the covers was definitely preferable.

When I did eventually get up – at the luxurious hour of 07:30 – I found it overcast and drizzling and actually pretty cold. I hadn’t actually grabbed any of my cold-weather clothing or jacket yesterday, so I spent some quality time with a wireless connection, which was something I hadn’t had much time to do before I left. When it looked like it was starting to clear a bit and I just couldn’t hang around inside anymore, I hopped a bus to the CBD (Central Business District) for some exploring, wet weather be damned.

I’m not at all sure what I was expecting. Most of what I know about Christchurch and Canterbury relates to rugby. I had read a bit about the devastation caused by the earthquakes but what I saw was still pretty astounding. For those that don’t know, Christchurch experienced a series of massive earthquakes and aftershocks starting on the 4th of September, 2010, with a 7.1 ‘quake. That was followed by a 6.3 on February 22nd, a large aftershock on June 13th and several throughout December 23rd in 2011. In fact, there have been aftershocks into 2012 as well, although they’ve been growing milder and less frequent, according to our shuttle driver. At any rate, seeing all the reconstruction and repairs in progress everywhere is fairly sobering, nor did it help that it was rainy and today was a holiday so the city was fairly empty in general, lending it a similar air to downtown Detroit – empty sidewalks, coffeehouses, and bars, and lots and lots of properties shuttered, boarded up, or simply gated off. That being said, there is plenty of progress being made, and with Christchurch just being named #6 in Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities, hopefully it’ll help bring in the tourism dollars again.

And I can honestly say that from now on no “pop-up” restaurant or shop can hold a candle to Christchurch’s re:Start concept. While most of Cathedral Square remains cordoned off from the public for safety reasons, a handful of businesses have set up shop nearby in brightly coloured and renovated shipping containers to try to re-energize the heart of the Central Business District.

So I wandered for a couple hours, drooled over the cold-weather gear in the shops, bought a NZ-based cooking magazine, giggled over some of the touristy gifts, picked up a half pound of craft coffee, walked past Canterbury Brewing (closed, Joe, sorry!), wished I could find a rugby shirt that didn’t have “New Zealand Rugby” printed underneath – I particularly liked the one that said, “Ruck Me, Maul Me, Make Me Scrum” but I just can’t bring myself to wear anything with “New Zealand Rugby” written on it… I see it and I am immediately back to the second match of Ireland’s tour this past summer, curled up in bed at 2am screaming at my computer as we lose by three lousy points. The thread of Facebook posts between Ariella and me during that match is epic.

Anyway, by the time I started walking home, my toes were squishing in my boots with every step. Fortunately I managed to catch a bus most of the way back to the hotel, whereby I promptly cranked the heater to full blast, draped all my soggy clothes in front of it and crawled back into bed in my PJs to read. As it got later and I started getting hungry, I found a really nice pub around the corner from the hotel and had my first pint of Monteith’s Original which was…kind of like drinking a Budweiser, if I’m honest. But there was a footy game on and I got some dinner and watched as everyone who walked in the door was greeted like a local and it was definitely more what I had expected of Christchurch. The pub itself was a bit sterile-feeling but given what I knew about the area, I just chalked that up to recent renovation. And the food was good – I had the chicken pie and I’ve never had one quite like it…it had chicken, of course, but also mushrooms, bell peppers, baby corn, green beans, and even bits of pineapple. Odd but good. Eventually, I strolled back to the hotel where I found confirmation that the Ice Flight was on again for tomorrow, so I’d better get to sleep soon for that 03:45 wakeup!

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