Sunday, March 25, 2012

down the rabbit hole and what we found there

Another Wellington weekend's come and gone.

This one started out on a low note. After a month of falling in love with the (mostly) beautiful city, I think Wellington was testing the power of our relationship. Last Monday the rain started. I got soaked walking to class. The southerlies blew. My skirt was ripped from my legs a la Marilyn Monroe on multiple occasions. Luckily, houses in Wellington are built with poor insulation and no central heating - so I didn't have any incentive to sit at home and feel sorry for myself. I trudged out the door every day for runs and attempted to enjoy myself.

I didn't take any pictures. I was too depressed.

On Friday morning, my friend and I tried to get tickets for Flight of the Conchords. They sold out in five minutes. So we went to get coffee instead. Holding a steaming cup of espresso, while delightful, doesn't quite feel the same as gripping a crisp new ticket voucher. We were a little sad. Later my friend Lauren and I tried to drag ourselves out of the funk. It was raining. We didn't care. A dingy one-room sushi bar in town sells their rolls for half price every day after 4:00. It wasn't glamorous. But it was delicious.
 OM-NOM picture. Note the rain jacket.
Then we decided to do one of the most popular Kiwi activities: go out drinking. Wellington is full of tiny, cool bars hidden in back alleys. We wandered down one of them and found a rabbit hole.

Alice is the coolest bar I've been to yet. It's a small, dim place crammed with stuff from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The book's original illustrations are displayed on the walls underneath an array of funky clocks and blown-glass lamps. On one side of the room, the furniture is slightly too small and the ceiling is a little too low. On the other, the stools are tall and the ceiling is high. The bar itself is cluttered with teacups and teapots and books. And you can order drinks for two served in your own personal teapot. I believe they also have a few kinds of cake on the menu.

 There's just something inherently awesome about sipping an absinthe cocktail from a teacup.

Saturday rolled around cloudy and rainy. The climbing trip we'd planned was cancelled. I took it as a sign that I should go meet up with the local running club instead. I'm glad I did - I finally connected with some runners in Wellington (no more lonely long runs!). I even managed to get a ride to a race the next day. I walked back into the wind with my skirt whipping around my legs, feeling almost content.

On Sunday morning, one of the club captains picked me up for the Mt. Lowry Challenge, a 12 km trail race. I squinted into the sunrise. The weather had finally broken.

"It's a flat 4k on the road before the trail starts," a runner said as I was waiting in line to register. "The trail might be a little messy and it kind of undulates when you reach the ridge trail. The descent's a bit steep after that."

I nodded. I've done some trail races before. It couldn't be too bad.

The race started flat and fast, winding around the road by the bay. I tucked in behind a group of five girls and blazed along as well as I could. Then we turned up a gravel road and crunched uphill for a while. People started walking. Ha! I don't walk. I run cross country. I surged past, feeling smug. And then we turned onto the real trail. I don't have pictures from it yet, but here's a preview from the event website:

See those people? Do any of them look like they're running? No. Because it was nearly impossible. "Kind of technical" was a gigantic understatement.

The term "trail" only loosely applies to the ridge trail. It was steep and technical, covered in slimy, muddy roots and rocks. I lost sight of the leaders immediately. The climbs were endless. I stopped caring about running fast and started caring about keeping my ankles in one piece. As I picked my way down the descents, little kids bombed past me. Whatever. The last bit of the trail was basically a cliff face covered in roots and gravelly dirt. At least twenty people passed me going down.

I managed a shaky sprint to the finish line and staggered to the water station. I won zero prizes. Eight miles has never felt so long.

Wellington rewarded me for sticking with it in the bad times. The day was still beautiful and sunny. After I washed the mud off my legs and shoes, I went to town to watch the National NZ Barista Competition. The passion for coffee was palpable - you could actually taste the freshly ground espresso in the air.

Wellington's baristas nearly swept the competition. I've made a resolution to visit their cafes. And finals are in Vienna, Italy. If only I could go.

Then I meandered down to the harbor and took some touristy pictures. 

This guy is called "Solace in the Wind." He stands alone every day, facing into the wind at the waterfront. Sometimes I think he looks like he needs a friend.

Then I sat in the grass for a while and read a book. After an atrocious week, it was a perfectly delightful weekend.

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