Christchurch

Christchurch isn’t what I expected. Then again, I’ve been so absorbed with the process of getting ready to go out to the ice, I hadn’t put any thought into actually having expectations about CHCH. It wasn’t until we were milling our way through sushi and bento in the food court at AKL that I had the presence of mind to think about it. Shawn offered that Christchurch reminded him of Burlington, with a bit of London stirred in.

Relentlessly cheerful shuttle drivers at the CHCH airport herded the addled pack of us into their waiting vans and deposited everyone at their respective USAP-selected hotels. Once I’d showered, shaved and changed, my ambling survey of the streets around my hotel seemed to support Shawn’s assessment. The wide, clean streets of the downtown area seem to be populated with an unusual number of outdoor fitters and travel shops. Cozy bed-and-breakfasts interleave the modern, experimental architecture of Japanese-style business, and an enormous, two-storey bouquet of steel-and-glass flowers stands abeam the centuries-old city cathedral.

I think I tend to reduce cities to cameo activities: Seattle is Queen Anne Hill, blackberries along the Burke-Gilman trail, and kayaking in the Montlake Cut. Pittsburgh – walking down Schenley Park at dusk. So whenever I visit a new city, somewhere in the back of my head, I’m dowsing for that experience I will forever define it by.

So far, the CHCH experience is encapsulated by nachos, beer and sweet potato fries at Dux de Lux. Word filtered through by email that Dux was the place that Polies and other Antarcticans pre- and ex-pats gathered, a few blocks off Cathedral Square. I found the usual suspects from our group at an outdoor table on the back patio, preminiscing (I just made that word up) about the season ahead over beer kiwi-style appetizers.

Ben arrived a few minutes later, with Megan-the-firefighter in tow (yes, another Megan). Megan was just coming off the ice having wintered over at McMurdo and taken the previous summer at the Pole. She was breathtakingly pretty, with hair cropped short in one of those stands-up-in-front styles that’s so popular with boys around California. And she had arms and shoulders that looked like they could snap the top off a tractor like it was a tin can.

I sat enthralled, listening to her swap stories with the others of glorious snafus past and present. Megan was done, done, done with the ice, and, for the time being, never wanted to go back. But her eyes sparkled and hands danced when she told her stories of flaming Pisten Bullies melting themselves into the sea ice, and other insanity that Antarctic firefighters have to deal with.
Anyhow.
Today’s a free day around town until 1 pm, when we pick up our ECW gear  check the manifest to see if we really do have our ice flight tomorrow. If not, a bunch of folks are already making plans to catch a bus out to the beach. Too cold to swim (think New England temps), but supposed to be some gorgeous little hikes.

There’s certainly no shortage of things to do if we find ourselves stranded in Christchurch for a few extra days while McMurdo gets the temp housing situation straightened out. Brochures at the visitor center touted everything from the expected – city’s art museums and botanical gardens – to the surreal: Lord of the Rings, Mount Edoras, and “Drive a Centurion Battle Tank!” (crush-a-car option $395 extra). But for the time being, my plan is to just kick around town doing a few last bits of shopping (alarm clock, spare hat), and chatting with total strangers. 

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