Exactly one month from today (which is actually just four weeks, because it's February) I will be hopping on an evening plane out of San Francisco en route home to a three-week stint in little ol' Wellington, New Zealand.
It makes me happy to think about being back for a break. I get to see my two nephews and my niece. I get to see my parents, sisters and old friends. I get to celebrate my nephew's fifth birthday with him. It's going to be pretty cool.
There are a lot of obvious reasons why I am excited about my trip. But I've been trying to make myself look past that and remind myself of the smaller, simpler pleasures of New Zealand that have little to do with it being the place where the people I have known my entire life live.
It was a fun subject to reminisce upon. Here's (some of) what I came up with...
The way New Zealand is like America in slow motion with the volume turned down
When I return home after an extended spell abroad (this time around I haven't been home for 14 months!) the moment where I first take in the world outside of the airport is always indelible: everything seems softer, there is less noise, people are moving a bit more slowly, there's so much less of everything. It's disorienting in the best possible way and it always takes me a couple of days to adapt to.
Two long-black mornings
The preponderance of filter coffee that I consume in America necessitates the consumption of a rather excessive amount of liquid at the beginning of every day. A long-black or two each morning in New Zealand means not only access to better coffee, it's also just a more efficient way of getting myself caffeinated.
The five-minute quiz
I dabble in the Stuff.co.nz quiz, and have made forays into the Slate version (where you earn points for how quickly you answer the question and can compare your scores against Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings and a chosen member of Slate's staff). Neither is ever quite the same as doing the Dominion Post's five-minute quiz. I'm pretty certain the five-minute quiz isn't posted online because so many people buy a paper just for the quiz alone. The quiz turns reading the paper into a social and competitive event. The questions are the perfect mix of the gettable and the obscure. I'm sure I'm not the only person to feel ritualistic toward it. Alone at a computer, the joy of the quiz can never be replicated.
Good and cheap bottles of red wine
In America, my carefully calibrated wine buying system (not Shiraz because I hate the word, it has be under $12 and the label must have the fanciest font possible) still works with some reliability. But the highs are much lower. Cheap wine in America, at best, is passably drinkable. In New Zealand we have dependably enjoyable wine on offer for a steal. There's no wine-related pleasure in America quite as pure as finding a Matua Valley Pinot Noir retailing for less than $10.
New Zealand cities seem to put more of a premium on developing waterfront space for public use. The Viaduct in Auckland and the Wellington waterfront (I had to leave to finally appreciate how cool it is that you can walk from the end of Lambton Quay right around to Oriental Parade in Wellington) are spectacular uses of space.
Boston's waterfront was somewhat of a shambles. San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf is overpopulated with tourists and much of the rest of the waterfront is simply sprawl. In New York you have to get halfway across the respective bridges to get the full majesty of viewing a skyline peeking up over the water.
I can remember being home for Christmas at the end of 2011 and walking up from Lambton Quay toward Thorndon and it fully sinking in for the first time how amazing it is that in the middle of Wellington city there's an epic, undisturbed green belt of land. It is so serene it slays me. If I look at an aerial view of the city on Google Maps, there is nearly as much park and sanctuary space as there is city. Sometimes when I fly over New Zealand and I haven't seen it for a while it looks computer animated, it is so lush.
Seeing how people my age in New Zealand can afford houses
True story: at some point in the past year or two, the number of my friends in New Zealand who own a house finally overtook the people who still rent. When I left the country in 2010 I had one friend who owned a house. Now I have several. This pleases me tremendously and seeing as how any house is a bit out of my price range in San Francisco, I can live vicariously through their ownership.
Watching a day of test match cricket at the Basin Reserve
Our cricket team is pretty much a walking catastrophe. For the past couple of years the New Zealand cricket team has been like the Mighty Ducks at the start of each of the movies, in the moments before Emilio Estevez makes the motivational speech and everyone rallies around each other for the greater good. But cricket is an impossibly idyllic sport to watch live: you get a nice spot on the embankment, catch some sun, spend time in good company and imbibe a drink or two. It is really just long stretches of aimless sifting, intercut with micro-moments of action. The Basin Reserve is also impossibly quaint when run up against concrete American ballparks and arenas.
What is, or what has been, on your list in a similar situation? What surprising things from home do you find yourself abroad thinking that you just can't live without?
Become a fan of Voyages in America on Facebook: you'll get blog posts to your news feed, some great photography, and some good chatter. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter, or send an email and share your thoughts.