Friday, October 28, 2011

Welcome to India!

Singapore, SINGAPORE & Delhi, INDIA: 25 - 27 Oct. 2011

On my way from New Zealand to India, I spent two nights in Singapore. I liked it more than I thought I would. While I didn't have much time there (just one full day), I feel I made the most of it. In between heavy thunderstorms, I checked out some interesting temples, the modern waterfront and ate some tasty food. A successful stopover.

My flight to Delhi arrived in the evening during the celebrations for Diwali, the Hindu "festival of lights" which is one of India's biggest festivals. This meant that my first sight of India was looking down from the airplane at fireworks going off all over the huge city. It was my best welcome to a country since landing in Dublin Airport at the same time as the Triple Crown-winning Irish rugby team where I exited the arrivals area to a crowd of welcoming television cameras and flag-waving supporters. It was a great start to my three months in India. (I had planned to spend six months in India - five months volunteering and one month travelling. But, to cut a long story of my dramas dealing with the Indian embassy in New Zealand short, I could only get a 90 day visa. So I've had to cut my travel time down to a week and my volunteering to two and half months, which is a pity. But on the bright side, that gives me more time for Nepal, so its all good!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

All Blacks abú!

Wanganui, Lake Waikaremoana, National Park, Auckland, NEW ZEALAND: 11 - 25 Oct. 2011

With Ireland out of the World Cup, my focus shifted from following the rugby to doing activities in scenic parts of New Zealand - a much healthier way of life. I spent ten days working my way from Wellington to Auckland by criss-crossing the North Island. My travels brought me to: Wanganui, where I did a boat and walking day-trip on and around the historically-interesting Whanganui River; the stunning Lake Waikaremoana, where I enjoyed a peaceful three-day walk; and Tongariro National Park, where I went mountain-biking rather than hiking as the majestic snow-capped mountains were shrouded in mist.
Having gotten off the rugby circuit, I met a number of backpackers (e.g. some Germans, Israelis and Americans) who hadn't come to New Zealand for the RWC. I was dismayed to learn that many hadn't done any rugby-related activities. While I fully understand that rugby is barely known, let alone popular, in many countries, to me it beggars belief that you could be in NZ during the World Cup and not get into the spirit of the whole thing. I thought it would be impossible to avoid, given all the flags flying, the "Backing Black" campaign and the special events happening which all gave a great vibe to traveling around the country. But I realised that plenty of tourists had somehow managed to miss it all.

I made it back to Auckland on the Thursday for the buildup to the Final, where I very gratefully again stayed with my friends Sinead and Gavin. We went to the "Taste of Auckland" the evening before the Final, which was very enjoyable.
For the Final, as Gavin and his father headed to the game, I joined Sinead and a gang of their friends in one of the fanzones. It was an extremely tense match, but thankfully the All Blacks held on for victory! There was a fantastic buzz in the city and it was the perfect end to the World Cup and to my time in New Zealand.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ireland v. Wales

Wellington, NEW ZEALAND: 5 - 10 Oct. 2011

After the fantastic atmosphere at the Italy match in Dunedin, I really hoped that I could find an affordable ticket for Ireland's quarterfinal against Wales in Wellington. Luckily a small number of "impeded view" tickets were released in the days before the game, so I got a pitch-side seat which turned out to have quite a good view.
So in total for the four pool games and the quarterfinal I paid NZ$400 (around €230), which I think is very good value.

It was a busy weekend in Wellington with Irish, Welsh, South African and Australian fans filling the city (all accommodation was full so it was great, for many reasons, that I could again stay with my aunt Jacqueline). I spent a few days seeing the sights, which included walking up Mt. Victoria for a view of the city
and visiting the many rugby-related attractions like an art exhibition featuring faces of rugby stars made from toast.
Unfortunately Wales brought the dream of an Ireland - All Blacks final to an end. It was very disappointing, but I've had a great five weeks following the Irish team. It was a new experience for me and, while it was bizarre at times to constantly being surrounded by other Irish people, it was fun and something I would definitely recommend.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ireland v. Italy

Dunedin, Invercargill, NEW ZEALAND: 29 Sept. - 5 Oct. 2011

To paraphrase the Black Eyed Peas' song that gets played in the stadium before each RWC match, as I boarded the plane in Wellington to fly south to Dunedin I got a feeling that the weekend was going to be a good weekend. And so it turned out to be. Everything worked out perfectly for my four days, starting with that flight (as we flew over Wellington Harbour I could see the NZ Navy sailing in to mark its seventieth anniversary; then I spent the rest of the flight looking down on the string of snow-capped mountains that stretched down the South Island) and ending with a fun night celebrating Ireland's 36 - 6 win over Italy.

Dunedin had everything necessary for a memorable long weekend:
  • sunshine (thankfully the repeated warnings that Dunedin would be freezing in September proved incorrect);

  • attractions ranging from the sophisticated (I was impressed by the city centre art gallery) and historical to the touristy (I walked up "the world's steepest street") and fun (on my tour of Cadbury's chocolate factory I had to wear two hairnets - one for my head, the other for my beard);

  • a festival (I scored a free ticket to the Port Chalmers' Seafood Festival);

  • lots of friends (Jen and Patrick also made it down from the previous game in Rotorua and Elaine and her posse flew in from Melbourne for the weekend); and

  • generous locals (I stayed with Ros and Mike, a couple I met briefly over beers in Vietnam, who fed me and provided a plentiful supply of beer and whiskey).

  • When you then add in the fact that thousands of Irish were in town for what turned out to be a game with a fantastic atmosphere in a state of the art stadium, you'll see why I left Dunedin with a very favourable impression.I headed further south to Invercargill, which when I arrived at 6:30pm on the Monday seemed like a ghost town, especially when compared to the bustling Octagon city centre of Dunedin over the weekend. I drove around the Caitlins area, with its green fields full of lambs and its rugged coast full with a history of shipwrecks, and onto Bluff, the southern end of the Highway 1 that runs the length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga in the north (where I was back in February), to complete a memorable week in the South Island. From Invercargill, whose airport is the closest to a town centre that I've ever seen, I flew back up to Wellington where Ireland will play Wales for a place in the semi-final.