Auckland, New Zealand.

Yes, Auckland is making me very happy. I was trying to figure out why I like it so much and I came up with a somewhat shameful reason: it’s a lot like home! When I walk down Franklin Street, I see the tree-lined avenue and modest-but-homey wooden houses and I think, wow, that reminds me of the neighborhood that I grew up in. And when I see all the smartly-dressed people on Ponsonby Street I think how they could be in any fashionable area in San Francisco (like Maiden Lane or Union Street); when I look into the windows of the boutiques or see the coffee-sipping cafe patrons I think, Ah, civilization is not such a bad thing.

The best thing of all is the weather: cool and breezy (in the “City of Sails”). No sweating, no need to guzzle down liter after liter of water, no need to dust my heat rash (!) with the anti-rash powder that I HAD to buy in Aitutaki (I didn’t write about that one did I?). So nice.

Today we went on a vineyard tour of Waiheke Island. The island has about 30 vineyards; today we visited three of them. The ferry left at noon and arrived at Waiheke at about half past; we then hopped on a small tour bus and headed to the first place. We stopped at Mudbrick Vineyards and tasted their Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2002 (pretty nice, not too oaky) and their Sheperds Point Cabernet-Merlot blend 2000 (okay, perhaps not really a Perez wine). Then we headed over to the “town” (oh no, not another island mini-town!) for lunch, but we only had an hour and walked about for half of it, so by the time we sat down at a cafe and ordered, we had less than 30 minutes left. I really should have known better and not even tried to have a meal in such short time. But, Casey really wanted their raw oysters and I thought, how long can they take? I ordered a “Turkish” flatbread and told the waiter that we needed to catch our bus in half an hour, and did he think we’d have time? “Oh yes, there are only a couple of orders up before yours, it shouldn’t be a problem.” Hmm, famous last words. (As an ex-waiter I should know that our time-frame was too short but I thought that if we told our waiter our tight schedule it would be enough to ensure that we would have enough time to eat. Afterall, I thought, he knows the kitchen.) Well, a good ten minutes went by, and we still didn’t have our drinks. Finally they arrived, and I thought, well, our food must be coming soon. Another couple of minutes rolled past, and our waiter came up to us, “I’m sorry, but I’ve just been informed that we have no more oysters today.” Casey was like, “Oh, no I don’t want anything else…:” And the waiter said, “Well, they went into the soup. It’s a mussel and oyster soup.” So it sounded good to Casey, and he orders it, but at that time a red flag went up in my (ex-waiter) brain and I’m thought, Hmm, if he told us just now that there aren’t any oysters, that means that either he JUST put our order in to the kitchen (at which time the chefs would have told him that they were out), or the kitchen JUST looked at the order (because they were so slammed). And about 15 minutes had gone by already….But, I thought, well, how long can abowl of soup take (it was the kind of place that would have it made up already), and my flatbread shouldn’t take too long…So we saw a couple of people from our tour bus leave the restaurant to go back, and time was ticking away. At about 20 minutes after two (we were leaving at 2:30) he ran by and told us that it just came up and he’d have it for us in a second. Well, another five minutes went by and at this time we’re like, we gotta go. So Casey went up to the counter and I ran out towards the street (in case I had to make a mad dash down the hill) and Casey paid for our drinks, and since the guy felt badly he gave us the flatbread in a togo box (wich we didn’t pay for). When we got onto the bus we made our way to our seats and opened the box and it was actually pretty funny: three slices of ciabetta bread, a few tablespoons of feta cheese, and some kalamata olives. NOTHING had been cooked! We both thought, What the —- kind of flatbread is this? AND, why did it take so long? Very strange.

We headed to two more wineries: Stoneyridge (Sauvignon Blanc 2001 Marlborough and Gimblett Gravels Cab-Merlot Blend Hawke’s Bay 2000) and then to — our favorite– Peninsula Estate (1997 Cab-Merlot-Malbec-Syrah blend…very good! Not a traditional Perez wine, somewhat tannic and smokey, but really nice the way they did it!!!). We caught the 4:45 ferry back to Auckland…the harbor was really busy and exciting. There were tons of sailboats (some Americas Cup) and the city buildings looked (from the ferry) as if they reached right down to the water. It was a pretty cheery sight; the wind was blowing and the sun was shining and the crisp air gave the atmosphere a lot of energy.