As you may be familiar from some of his past columns about his travels (Sevilla, Spain, Prague, etc.), Notes from Vivace always makes a point to try to locate the local music scene in each of the places he is exploring at one point or another during his trip. You can read about his Auckland “Mission Bay Jazz and Blues Festival” experience here.
Saturday to Monday
Why Auckland, New Zealand?
A number of small reasons led up to my decision to fly off to New Zealand:
1. “Lord of the Rings” was filmed in New Zealand – though not in Auckland (“The Piano” was filmed around Auckland) – so there was that built-in intrigue.
2. New Zealand is known for it’s natural wonders. I went in late February and since it is in the southern hemisphere, I was dealing with Summer versus Winter weather.
3. My last two vacations were to Europe and New Zealand was not Europe. Czech and Spanish were the national languages for my last two vacations and vacationing where English was the official language seemed like a good idea.
And why not another New Zealand city like Wellington? Honestly, going to Auckland was much cheaper.
The trip. A storm system hovered over Southern California when I left Glendale for LAX via public transportation. I caught a lucky break as the rain stopped until after I transferred from the bus to the Metro rail. While on the Green Line, the rain came down in torrents. Other than the rain, only two minor events provided any sort of excitement. First, I just missed a Blue Line metro. The Blue Line Metro has two rail lines. I entered on the wrong side and by the time I got to the other side of the track, the doors were closing. I imagined myself in one of those movies where the good guy is chasing after the bad guy and the bad guy ducks into a Metro car just as the doors close (actually, isn’t that usually the other way around, the good guy just escapes the bad guy? — whatever). Also, I did do my good deed for the day. An elderly man was attempting to get a senior discount ticket, he kept on hitting the wrong buttons so I leaned in and worked it out for him. Of course, I don’t know if it was so much of a good deed versus me just wanting to get my ticket.
My flight was via Virgin Australia. Instead of flying straight to New Zealand, my flight first diverted to Sydney, Australia. There are flights that go straight to Auckland, but the cheapest Expedia deal was via Sydney, so via Sydney I went.
Let me just say that the Virgin Australia Experience (and I do believe the ‘E’ in experience should be capitalized) starts at the ticket counter. You come in from your hectic travel to the airport and your mood adjusts immediately. Mood lighting and soothing pop-rock music greet you as you enter the area. Modern lamps grace each of the ticket counters. You’re like, “Hmm.”
And you read quirky comments like such that are written on your ticket:
“The Stub: Ever wonder where this part goes? So do we.”
“The Big Bit: This part of your ticket is fiercely loyal to its owner. While The Stub cavorts off to who knows where, The Big Bit sticks around to help you get to your seat. Treat it well, and it will be yours forever.”
It isn’t like the mood adjustment totally removes the pain of air travel. When I got to the counter, the ticket lady told me to put my carry-on onto the scale. It came in at 10 kilos. She told me I’d need to check it. I was like, “Why?” In the past, I’d never had to check my carry-on due to weight constraints (even though in the back of my mind I knew this restriction would hit me eventually). She told me it had to weigh less than 7.5 kilos. She asked if I wanted to take anything with me (as I also had a Jason Bourne-inspired shoulder bag with me). Hmm, I said, “What if I removed these books?” I pulled out a “Lonely Guide” travel book and a Nick Hornby book. She smiled. The weight dropped down to 9.0. I took out my various adapters/rechargers. It dropped down to 8.0. She smiled again and let me remove my carry-on from the weight machine. Of course, my shoulder-bag probably weighed in at 10 kilos at that point.
I have this problem with checking my luggage. I avoid it at all costs. A few years ago, my luggage got lost twice in a row. After those experiences, I’ve always attempted to use a suitcase that would slide into the over-head bins. Of course, the airlines wanting to apply fees to everything so that they can increase their revenues and knowing that many of us only bring a carry-on to avoid those fees are now going for a weight restriction. Maybe I’ll just have to deal with checking my main luggage from now on; however, I’ll probably still bring a small carry-on with clothes to cover me for a couple days should my checked luggage get lost in the grand scheme of things. As you can see, Virgin Australia or not, I do not trust airlines to keep track of my luggage.
After the desk clerk allowed me to cheat the luggage rules, she noticed that my itinerary took through Sydney. “You need a Visa to enter Australia.” What? “You can buy it here at the counter for $20.” I hadn’t even given a thought to an Australian Visa. I mean, I was heading to Auckland. I was only going to be sticking around the Sydney Airport. The thought of looking up the Visa laws in Australia hadn’t even dawned on me. I responded, “I’m only going to be sticking around the airport. Do I really need a Visa?” She looked at her monitor, “Oh, you only need one if you’re staying longer than 8 hours.” Cool. I’d just saved myself $20. As I left the counter, she tagged me with a, “Mr. Lucky.”
(If I’d gotten the $20 Visa, I would have gotten a tad irritated. In Sydney, I never went through customs, never had my passport checked by the Australian version of TSA, and spent my whole time in the terminals.)
As for the Virgin Australia jet: you enter the jet and you see a vase of flowers placed atop a table. The lights are toned down. Pop music plays in the background. You get real headsets that cover your ears versus the cheaper ear plugs that other airlines hand out. And unlike a previous Iberia Airlines experience, my personal TV screen and remote control were back. I do have a couple quibbles. First, I’m not sure about the color/design of the chairs; light blue or red squares against a backdrop of brown. I think they could do better. And the mood lighting makes your food look sickly – I didn’t turn on the over-head lights as I didn’t want to bother my sleeping row mates
Random thought on the airplane: One of these days I need to make enough money where I won’t feel guilty about flying in first class.
Many of us passengers hit a screw up when we arrived in Sydney. Those of us heading on to New Zealand were told to get the required boarding pass at the Transit Desk. When a handful of us arrived at the desk, we were told to come back in two hours. We showed up 2 hours later to an un-manned Transit Desk. A group of passengers had to take off to Wellington in an hour and weren’t too pleased about it. One young lady took off to Gate 55 (the Wellington gate). She came back, reporting that no one was there. She then decided to call a number that connected her to Virgin Australia. From the sound of her voice, the response from the operator did not please her.
Another person took off to Gate 55 and came back with news that the gate was now staffed. I decided to follow along as obviously no one was coming to the Transit Desk. Visible chaos ruled at the gate, which was run by Pacific Blue. There was one employee stationed at the desk. Then another burst through from the jet way door, visibly upset. Then their boss showed up. And then a fourth. For some reason, I think some yelling and screaming happened behind closed doors.
Folks queued up to get onto the Wellington jet. One lady and her two kids boarded the jet last even though they were the first in line at the Transit Desk. Passport problems from what I could tell. It looked like they hailed from Eastern Europe.
Another guy with a broken foot had purchased a whole row of seats plus an additional seat elsewhere. A frustrated-filled conversation occurred between the plane crew and the boss at the gate. “He bought a whole row. I don’t know why he got the extra seat. He has a broken leg. I don’t care if he got an unneeded seat. He paid for it and so he’s stuck with it.”
My Auckland flight seemed to have far less issues though I did experience a severe headache upon landing. Warning: make sure your sinuses are clear when flying. I was recovering from a cold while flying into Sydney/Auckland and on both descents I got rather severe headeaches. Specifically for Auckland, the pain got so bad; I had this desire for someone to knock me out.
Notes on a Virgin Australia napkin:
Blow your nose – Tissue
Wipe your mouth – Napkin
Wipe a tear – Tissue
Wipe you hands – Napkin
Write a song – Napkin
Write a love song — Tissue
I left Los Angeles on a Saturday, but arrived in Auckland on a Monday. I had gotten enough sleep on the flight and didn’t feel overly-exhausted so when evening arrived I decided to get a feel for the music scene. I took off to the Thirsty Dog, which based on the “Lonely Planet” street map seemed rather far from my hotel/service apartment, but I arrived in short order. (I’d done some pre-arrival Internet research, which is why I headed off to the Thirsty Dog.) When I arrived, I hesitated before entering. Looking through the windows of the bar, I saw musicians in an oval setting. Patrons sat along the walls. It looked like a random gathering of friends listening to a round of music. This just didn’t seem like a place to look for Auckland’s music scene.
I finally decided to go inside. I found myself in the middle of some beautiful music. Most of the musicians were between the ages of 50-70 with a sprinkling of some under the age of 30. Those in the oval would take turns leading out though there was a trio who were the leaders. When one decided to start a song, the others would join. It was one massive round. There were two twenty-somethings in the oval circle. They remained quiet throughout the rounds. After an hour, one of the leaders called them out.
“Okay,” they responded. They got their sheet music and did a lovely cover song of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talking at Me.”
After they finished, I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye. A large cockroach walked pass my right foot. I gave a jolt. “Wall-E” ranks as a great movie, but I still don’t find roaches intriguing. A guy saw me shift. He looked down and saw the roach. He reached down and cupped it in his hand. Wait a second there, that’s gross.
I headed home soon after that . . . not because of the roach, but because I needed sleep.
As I walked past an alleyway, I noticed some teens/twentysomethings spray painting their graffiti art up on the side of a wall. I decided to walk down and asked if I could take some photos. They were pleasant about it.
My hotel/service apartment stood near a record store called Real Groovy. I decided to drop in to get the low down on the music scene. At the used CD counter, I went up and asked the guy at the desk if he had any thoughts. He was very helpful. He walked me up to the front of the store where he pulled out the Groove Guide music magazine. He turned to the music calendar and he started to highlight various venues: two of the venues I’d already heard of (Kings Arms and Juice Bar at the Windsor Castle) and one I wasn’t aware of (Rakinos). In the end, I only took his Kings Arms suggestion. The Juice Bar was too far (for someone without a car) and I just never made it over to Rakinos.
Regarding Tuesday: Around noon an earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand. While walking along Queen Street, I over-heard a brief part of a conversation that went something like this, “There was an earthquake.” My immediate thought was that there was a massive earthquake that hit California (can’t remove the biased perspective of an American), but I learned soon enough that an earthquake had hit New Zealand’s South Island.
Look for Part II on this Auckland Adventure Tuesday June 14th