Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Zealand trip

Friday, May 26
Memorial Day weekend started with a bang. I drove to near Auburn for whitewater rafting with friends. Reached the camping site around 8 pm and set up my tent in no time at all. We ate dinner with a whole lot of other folks who had also come over for rafting the next day. We stayed up way past 11 pm, making a ruckus, and one of the camp volunteers had to come over and ask us to keep it down. It rained a bit at night and got a bit chilly but I was OK. I had a couple of wool blankets to keep me warm and the cold did not bother me much.

Saturday, May 27
The morning was beautiful. The sun came out slowly and started warming up the camp site. We ate a hearty breakfast (Anju's delicious upma helped start the day off on the right foot). Soon afterwards, the rest of the gang was all suited up (wet suit, splash jacket, helmet) and ready to leave for their rafting trip. I had elected to stay behind and take care of Malhar and Trisha. I had the best possible time with the two of them.

We first visited a blacksmith's forge where he showed us how to make a hook. He then took us on a tour of his shop, showing us all the intricate metal stuff he and his partner had made.

As soon as we came out of the forge, the children noticed a cafe next door and made a beeline for it. We were soon happily munching on popcorn, snicker doodle candies and sandwiches.

Our next stop was panning for gold. The children were soon engrossed in this amazingly exciting activity. The prospect of finding flecks of gold, which they both did, made for an exciting hour.

We made a pit stop on the way back in a curio store where they both bought a couple of things each.

Trisha jumped into the cold pool as soon as we got back and spent the next hour happily in there. Malhar braved it for exactly 2 minutes and then got out promptly. The adults were back soon after and I decided to go for a run around 4 pm. Char and I ended up running for about 58 minutes on a moderately rolling course. Came back, showered and settled down by the campfire with a glass of alcohol. We ate dinner and gossiped until about midnight.

Sunday, May 28 (& Monday, May 29)
I left for San Jose around 10 am. Reached home finally at around 1 pm. Hurriedly finished up some last minute packing and showered. Lugged my suitcases downstairs where Shekhar showed up promptly at 2:45 pm to drive me to the San Jose airport. The airport was absolutely empty. Checked in my only suitcase and was the only person through security. Others eventually showed up a few minutes later. The flight took off on time around 4:45 pm

Landed in LA around 6:00 pm. Decided to eat an early dinner. Found myself in Wolfgang Puck's where I had Corona and a margherita pizza. Spent the next couple of hours reading my Ultra running book in the gate area. Flight Air New Zealand 1 started boarding around 9 pm. It took off about 15 minutes late. I promptly went to sleep at about 11 pm. Sleep was sporadic and the 12+ hours passed by faster than I had expected.

Tuesday, May 30
I landed in Auckland at 5:45 am. I was out of Immigration and Customs and into a shuttle in 30 minutes flat. The Immigration officer, a woman, asked me the strangest question ever - "How come you do not have a US passport?".

The cab wound its way through the industrial outskirts of Auckland in order to drop off a couple who were sharing the shuttle with me. I eventually reached my hotel, Heritage Auckland (picture below), and my room (# 518) around 7:10 am.

I quickly got into my running clothes and headed out the front door, armed with my camera and a map of downtown Auckland.

The one structure that dominates the skyline, a la CN Tower in Toronto, is the Sky Tower. There is a restaurant up there and a casino (Sky Casino).

The run was awesome. The last 0.7 miles before I turned around were hilly and they helped open out my legs. I returned to the hotel and found the gym. The view from there of Waitemata Bay was awesome (pic above).

Auckland is where New Zealand lost the America's Cup to Alinghi and Switzerland. The city is a sailing mecca and its people are almost maniacal about that sport. No wonder thay call it The City Of Sails. It is New Zealand's 3rd biggest city.

I came back, showered and made my way to my office in the next building. I was given directions to the client's office and I got there with the help of a Fijian cab driver.

The day was spent debugging a problem they were having. The day ended without a resoultion. I got back to the hotel and went back out after depositing my laptop in my room. I wandered in the direction of the water only to learn that most retail stores in downtown Auckland close around 6 pm Mon-Thu and stay open until 9 pm Fri-Sat. I eventually settled on an Italian restaurant for dinner (bruschetta and fettucine pasta with vegetables).

I was so tired that I crashed at 9 pm.

Wednesday, May 31
The day started with the same run that I had done the day before. I ate breakfast on my return and promptly reached the office at 8:15 am Spoke with my manager and then left with Aneez, a fellow employee, to go to the client site. The day was spent debugging the problem of the day before. We finally cracked it around 5 pm.

Dinner was again in the same restaurant. What can I say? I'm a creature of habit! I picked up some bread and milk on the way back to the hotel. The room has a microwave, an oven, a toaster, glasses, plates, silverware and a big fridge. I've decided to eat my own breakfast instead of ordering it from Room Service. The one thing that disturbed me was the onset of a sore throat. That always means fever.

Thursday, June 1
The night went by in some discomfort. My throat got progressively worse. I finally got out of bed at 5:45 am and went to the hotel gym. Biked hard on a stationary bike for 40 minutes and then did some weights and crunches. My throat and general condition got a bit worse so I left the office at 4:20 pm to get back to the hotel. Went to Queen's Street to pick up some medicine (Dispirin Max) and did some shopping in the stores along that busy street. Ate pasta again but in a different restaurant this time around. Went to bed again at 10 pm.

Friday, June 2
What a beginning. I woke up early again and was preparing breakfast when the hotel alarm went off. I callled the Front Desk and they informed me that I needed to exit as soon as possible. So I got my passport out of the room safe, splashed cologne all over me and headed for the exit. Wonder if my priorities are right! Anyway the alarm was turned off in about 10 minutes so I promptly went back, finished my breakfast and got into my office by 8 am.

I went for lunch to this little Asian food court where I ate Indian food after almost 4 days. It tasted so good!!

Have just come back to the hotel. My cold is still harassing me (runny nose) but am planning to go for a short 3-4 mile run to clear my head. Rain is forecast for the next 3 days (Monday is a national holiday here) and I will have to plan my weekend carefully. I had this idea of flying to Fiji for 2 days. I might still do that :)

Oh! Almost forgot. Asked for a room with a harbor view and they are giving me one tomorrow! Same price (NZD 190/night). Me happy camper.

Just got back from my run. It felt good. I had charged my Garmin Forerunner 301 last night and used it on the run. It took almost 20 minutes before the silly thing picked up a satellite signal. I'm planning to use it on my long run this weekend.

I'll eat light tonight. My plan is to go watch "Mission Impossible III" tonight. Have not watched a movie in a theatre in almost 6 months (the last one was in Mumbai in January - the premiere of Zinda).

No movie tonight. Showered and went to Queen's Street again. Finally found myself in a bookstore chain called Whitcoull's. Bought a book by Ian Botham. Ate dinner in the restaurant I ate in on Thursday night. Same food. My nose is running so much that I'm sneezing 2-3 times every 15-20 minutes. Tonight is going to be tough.

Saturday, June 3
The night was not as bad as I had expected it to be. I woke up around 8 am and ate breakfast. I then packed my bags and had the bellboy take them to the Tower where I had been promised a room with a Harbor view. The only problem was that the room was not ready at 10 am so I deposited the bags with the concierge and went out exploring. I got on to a Link bus (NZ $1.50) and got off in a place called Ponsonby about a mile and a half from the hotel. I had an espresso and explored a used bookstore. Some of the buildings in this area of town were a hundred years old.

I then got on to another Link bus (this is a circular service) and went further down the route. I saw a couple of places go by (Sathya, a South Indian restaurant, and Rasoi). On an impulse I got off and wandered into a store called Shringar. I spent 20 minutes or so here after which I found myself in Rasoi. This was a restaurant serving Gujarati food. One guess what the last name of the lady behind the counter was!!! I ordered a Deluxe Thali (3 Rotis, Kadhi, Tur Daal, Dudhi Chana or, as the Punjabis call it, Ghia Chhole and a Cauliflower sabzi). I ate like a pig.

Soon after I found myself in a little side alley with a few shops. I bought a few things from this little store that had interesting earrings etc. I even convinced the girl (shy Irene from Hong Kong) to let me take a picture of her.

I then got on another Link bus again and made my way back to the hotel where I checked into the new room and took a few pictures. I was feeling a bit under the weather so I spent a couple of hours resting. Of course I took a picture of the Harbor before doing so.

I left the hotel again at around 2:30 pm and made my way, using a Link bus again, to a place called Newmarket. This was a street lines with all kinds of shops. I spent the next 2 hours there. Being a Saturday, most of the shops started closing after 4:30 p.m.

I decided to call it a day since I wanted to eat dinner and try and make it for the 6:15 pm show of "Mission Imossible III" near my hotel. Deposited my stuff in the hotel room before heading out for dinner. Before doing so I took a picture of the Harbor with the setting sun behind.

I ate gnocchi with vegetables in a new restaurant this time around. Unfortunately the 6:15 pm show was sold out so I trooped back to the hotel and spent the evening surfing the few TV channels.

Soon after I found a film starring Tom Hanks in which he is the person in charge of Death Row inmates and their eventual execution on an electric chair. I figured out that this was the one movie, "Green Mile", I had been meaning to watch for a long time so I settled down and watched it all the way to the end (11:45 pm).

Before hitting the sack, I watched Daniela Hantuchova beat Nathalie Bechy 10-8 in the 3rd set in the French Open.

Sunday, June 4
I woke up at 8 am to find the streets outside wet with rain and the city blanketed by a pall of gray clouds. I've eaten breakfast and am waiting for a few hours before heading out for a run.

What a run it was. I circled downtown Auckland, a distance of about 10 miles. During the run I experienced drizzle, sunshine, pouring rain and cloudy skies. I started around noon and finished up around 2:15 pm. I came back and eschewed lunch for a half bottle of chocolate milk (protein + carbohydrate - just the thing I need post workout).

I sat and watched a movie called "Alfie" starring Jude Law, Marisa Tomei and Susan Sarandon. Jude Law's face reminds me of Amir Khan.

After the movie, Sky Sports One was showing the Paris Marathon so finished watching that. By then it was close to 4:30 pm so I decided to shower and head out for "Mission Impossible III".

The theatre was quite. empty. I thoroughly enjoyed the non stop action and violence and Tom Cruise's extremely almost expressionless face. I've just come back after eating in an Indian restaurant called Raviz that's very close to the hotel. Good North Indian food.

Will watch TV for an hour or so before hitting the sack.

Monday, June 5
The day turned out to be a beautiful one. The sun was out and the temperature was in the low 40s. A gorgeous late Fall day in Auckland. I showered in a hurry and left the hotel with my camera in hand. The first stop was the imposing Sky Tower. I bought a combo ticket for the Observation Deck (194m, 636 feet) and the deck 9 floors higher (220m, 722 feet). The Sky Tower, at 328m or 1076 feet, is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. The views from up there were simply fantastic. I had the pleasure of watching 2 young girls, aged not more than 12, bungee jump from about 700 feet.

After 40 minutes or so up there, I hopped onto a Link bus and got off to go eat lunch in Sathya's. To my disappointment, the restaurant was closed as was the neighboring Rasoi (where I had eaten on Saturday).

I wandered back in the direction of Ponsonby and took some pictures along the way.

I soon found myself eating lunch in a restaurant called Bolliwood. I opted for a table on the sidewalk and enjoyed the meal while watching holidaygoers walking past. There were even 2 teams playing some kind of a Treasure Hunt game.

I hopped onto another Link bus (I had purchased a Day Tripper pass for $7, good for unlimited rides) and hopped off in Newmarket. By now it was almost 4 pm and shops were starting to close. I walked into L'Occitane en Provence. The salesperson was a lady from Quito (Ecuador) and she was extremely knowledgeable about her products. I bought a cologne for myself and walked out happy about the purchase.

My next stop was a place called Auckland Domain. This was a large, large field with a few people playing rugby out in the distance. I took a few pictures before heading back to the hotel.

I decided to go for a swim in the lap pool. The pool was about 15m long and I swam 20 lengths (300m) before sitting in the steam room for 10 minutes and then into the jacuzzi. This is where I met a New Zealander/Australian (he has both passports) and we talked for almost 40 minutes about everything under the sun. Finally it was time to get up and go eat dinner. I went back to La Porchetta (behind my hotel), the restaurant where I had eaten dinner Saturday night.

I was soon back in my room and about to go to bed at around 9:45 pm when I stumbled upon coverage of the 4th day of the England-Sri Lanka test. I watched for another 30 minutes before finally falling asleep at 10:15 pm.

Tuesday, June 6
I woke up at 6 am and decided to sleep another hour.

This week promises to be a bit busier and am hoping I can get some good work done before heading back on Friday. I signed up yesterday for the Mt. Diablo 50K on Saturday. This brute of a course has 8900 feet of climbing (2 trips up the mountain which is 3849 feet high). It's going to be an interesting Saturday!

The day went by quickly. Got some work done. Aneez and I left the client site around 4:30 pm and he dropped me back to my hotel as usual.

I went down to Queen's Street again and this time around I bought myself a pair of semi-formal shoes. Came back to the hotel room and changed into my running clothes and went down to the Health Club and ran 4 miles on the treadmill. I did some weights after that, came up and ate dinner. I used the washing machine in the bathroom to wash a few clothes and am now preparing to go to bed as soon as I finish typing this.

Wednesday, June 7
The day was no different from earlier work days. Was at client site until 5:15 pm. Came back to the hotel and decided to go for a run. Boy was this one great run! Went up College Hill (very steep 0.3-0.4 miles), down Ponsonby Road, left on Krangahape Road and then a left down Queen Street. This section was as steep downhill as was College Hill going up. Some sections were even steeper!

I stretched in the hotel room and showered so that I could head back down to K'Road to Sathya's. The food was OK. I ate Rava idlis and a Rava Cashew Masala dosa with a glass of red wine. Went to bed at 10 pm.

Thursday, June 8
Penultimate day at client site. The most productive day yet. Made great progress on on of our programs that was running slow. Tuned it and sent off the proof to the DBA along with a Request For Change to some Oracle parameters in the database. Earlier in the day I found out that I will be heading to the south of France (Aix-en-Provence) in early July. THAT promises to be a fantastic trip!

Came back at 5 pm and went to Rasoi for Gujju food. Returned to the hotel at about 7:15 pm and finished packing by 7:45 pm. I will go to bed after this post.

Friday, June 9
Woke up early and checked out and was in the office by 8:15 am. Roger and I were soon at client site, working on last minute stuff before I left. We ate lunch in an Asian food court close to the office. I finally called for a cab at around 3:30 pm. The cab driver, a Korean, estimated that I would be at the airport in about 50 minutes. He was right! I got out of the cab at 4:20 pm!!

After checking in my big suitcase, I was soon through NZ Immigration and into the duty free shops right after. I bought chocolates for friends and colleagues and a cologne for myself.

The flight back to LA was uneventful. I managed to get some sleep. I landed in LA at around 1:00 pm. Lunch was a muffin and coffee. My flight to San Jose took off a bit late, at around 4:45 pm. I landed at around 5:45 pm. Anu was waiting just outside and she sweetly dropped me off at home. She had got me dinner (rice and rasam) which I gladly ate and I was sound asleep, after laying out my clothes for the Mt. Diablo 50K the next morning, at 10:00 pm.


lily said...

Hey Rajeev,
Sounds like you are having a good time down under if new Zealand can be called that...no signs of jet lag huh!

Rajeev said...

Hello Lily my dear - jet lag? No idea. Maybe the cold I have is a sign of jet lag? Don't know. All I know is that I'm going to bed at the same time (10 pm) and waking up, as usual, at 5 or 6 am.

anil said...

great pictures Rajeev. hope you get to explore more.