Saturday, December 30, 2006

Four weeks and counting ...

Wow, its been four weeks already, time is flying at a slightly faster rate than we'd like. The kids are on summer vacation and having a blast. Cecile is visiting us from San Francisco and its the holidays, so Nelson is way more crowded than it was a few weeks ago!

We visited Blenheim last weekend, Mari contributed an excellent trip report. For Christmas, we visited Mapua beach which was quite deserted and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We went back earlier today and it was very crowded. Had a pretty good lunch at the smokehouse (smokehouse platter, fish cakes and the fish chowder). Mari and the kids visited the aquarium, and thought it was pretty good and worth a visit. We then had dessert at Naked Bun Patisserie. Unfortunately they had run out of croissants and bake bread only on Sundays!. The tiramisu and brownie were quite good though and the coffee met the excellent standards of most NZ cafes

Its awesome to have Cecile around. The kids love her company and it spread the workload across more folks and makes things easier on us :) We hope to do quite a few day and overnight trip with her in and around the Nelson / Tasman / Canterbury area over the next few weeks.

This weeks we've been showing her the sights and sounds of the local area including the excellent farmers market. Fish farming is indeed quite a big thing in NZ. I did some research about the organic salmon we purchased a few weeks ago and found the company, Organic NZ Salmon. Would have been good to visit them when we were in Blenheim. Their salmon was incredibly tasty (in general farmed salmon is quite blah), so this week we purchased a whole salmon (just 2 lbs) and will grill part of it with a soy-ginger marinade and prepare the other part using Sukhi's curry paste and coconut milk

We've been taking the kids swimming to Riverside Pool quite regularly and they enjoy it. It also gets them significantly tired and they go to sleep much earlier and sleep longer. I suspect and hope they become good swimmers before we leave NZ. Would like to take them on a kayak trip at Abel Tasman if possible. Speaking of water, I've found a local sailing school, SeaSense. We plan on taking classes there early next year and hopefully do a few sailing trips and get some experience. Should be a good activity to do with kids.

We've been doing quite a bit of baking and cooking out here. Mari is definitely using her Tartine cook book. Next up on the list is gougiere's We also bought the Morrison Street Cafe cookbook, and hope to make a few dishes from there. Maya insists on cooking stuff from her cookbook (thanx Jill!), so we made some great pizza earlier this week. Tasted almost as good as Pizetta 211 (which is definitely the BEST thin crust pizza place in the Bay Area and is worth a visit). Next up on our list is Mexican food night later this week.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Visit to Blenheim trip report

We wanted to explore outside of Nelson and buy some good wine so decided on Blenheim (northeast of the South Island in New Zealand). Blenheim is part of the Marlborough region which is the wine growing region. A few minutes into our drive, we picked up a hitch hiker on his way to Picton. After telling him that we were on our way to Blenheim, he said that there wasn't much to do there and that there was a very nice playground in Picton. So we dropped him off at Picton so he could take the Ferry to Wellington.

After the 1.5 hour drive to Picton, the playground was perfect timing for Maya and PJ. The playground was spacious, had plenty of structures, and a wading pool. After eating lunch at Le Cafe (good fish soup, decent kids spaghetti, excellent coffee) we headed to Blenheim. After checking into our hotel, Chateau Marlborough (excellent website, not so excellent hotel), and settling in, the girls were ready to roam around. It doesn't get dark until after 9pm so needed to get them tired and hungry. Right across the road from our hotel was Victoria Gardens. No structures, but a lot of open space filled with grass, flowers and trees. Maya and PJ had fun chasing after their balls, throwing it up in the air and chasing after it. There was a bell tower sort of structure with stairs on all four sides in the garden. We had fun walking around inside and out of it, in different directions calling out each others names trying to find each other. It was still early and they remembered that we were supposed to be headed to a playground. So off we went. It was 3 blocks away. It was a school playground. Once we were on the grounds, we saw one of those big inflated structures that you jump in. Aside from ourselves, there was a basketball player shooting baskets and a few people in the school room. The girls passed the playground and kept walking towards the jumpy structure. They were on a mission. It was inflated. They jumped right in and had a blast for 30 minutes or so before someone camp to pack it up. No worries, Maya and PJ still had the playground to explore. After another 30 minutes we headed back home because they were hungry. : )

We bought pizza and had it at the hotel lounge because the restaurant was completely booked - it was $10 night. The pizza and pasta were okay.

The next day was winery and chocolate factory day. After visiting a couple wineries (Wairau River, Saint Claire), buying a few bottles, and having a small snack, we took the girls to the Makana chocolate factory. Maya and PJ enjoyed watching the chocolates being made and tasting the yummy samples.

It was still early so we visited the big Blenheim playground at Prospect Park for over an hour. It was freezing so we had to keep moving around. Went to one more winery (Highfield)and had an excellent early dinner. We also bought a case of sauvignon blanc wine from there.

Overall we though Blenheim was an ok town and not very picturesque. We suspect we'll do day trips to the wineries there in the future and avoid staying overnight. Picton is way more picturesque and we could potentially take a ferry ride into queen charlotte sound, so we suspect we'll visit Picton again. We are planning to visit Queen Charlotte Sound and stay at the Queen Charlotte Wilderness Lodge which seems pretty awesome.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Week three update ...

Yep, its been three weeks since we arrived. Time does move at a fairly fast rate. A few more trivia facts about NZ to commemorate this week

  • Roundabouts are awesome. Not sure why the US does not have them, but they make traffic flow so much smoother and faster in low density areas. I suspect its significantly better than a stop sign even in medium traffic but probably worse than traffic lights?
  • Very few homes in Nelson (and probably NZ) have a dryer. So you wash your clothes in the washing machine on a non-rainy day and hang your clothes on the drying lines. Quite a fun activity with the kids
  • Most of the roads are fairly windy and max speed is 100 km/hr (62 miles/hr). In general your average speed is more like 60-70 kmph ( 40 mph) since most roads are 2 lanes. A fair number of vehicles are towing something behind them (boat, additional gear)
  • Things have changed significantly since our first visit. There are more shops open on weekends past 3:00 pm. Previously most shops would be closed on Sundays. The large chains operate 7 days a week
  • Its a good place for kids. In every small town, there will be a good playground, public restrooms and most likely a swimming pool or a swimming hole (if a river runs thru town)
  • I have some strange problems with my cell phone. Our current phone works in the Nelson area but did not work in Blenheim and does not work downtown :(. Mari's phone which has been unlocked does not work at all. Any tips to debug the hardware/software would be appreciated :)
  • Dec/Jan seem to be peak tourist months with spots booked weeks/months in advance. Guess we'll be spending time in Nelson and surrondings over the next month. I'm hoping to start taking some big boat sailing lessons in the New year.
  • Last item on our TODO list is to get us some bikes so we can go on a long bike ride and find some longer term help for the kids (so we can get work done)

Merry xmas and happy holidays ...

Wishing all our friends and family out there a very merry xmas and happy holidays. Kinda strange to be celebrating the holidays in a new country without friends and family around, but we should be seeing most of you sometime over the next few months :)

Maya was scared that Santa would visit and scare her. So we told her that we did not give Santa our new address and Santa will not be visiting us etc. She did make sure that all the doors were locked before she fell asleep. The kids are still not aware of the presents and gifts trend. So we are skirting by another year without giving them gifts on xmas day. (they get a fair number of things the rest of the year though ....)

Things were quiet around here. Except for Subway and Pizza Hut everything is closed. We went to Mapua beach today and had a good morning in the water followed by a picnic lunch. We'll go there later this week or next week since they have some good restaurants (The SmokeHouse, Flax, Naked Bun) out there that we'd like to visit. The aquarium seems a wee bit small, but is probably worth a visit

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Recommended reading material ..

We've been reading a few good books that some of you might be interested in with regard to children and behavior that are definitely a must read. The books are:

  • Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender - Our friend Smita recommended this series just before we left. They do explain quite a bit of what your kid goes through and we think we have a slightly better understanding of them and their behavior at times.
  • Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy - It just amazes me that the book can tell you exactly what your child is going through and why, and how similar all children are across countries / cultures etc ...
  • Tartine - the cookbook from the famous San Francisco bakery. Mari has been baking quite a few yummy treats from this book. Tonite its time for the date tea cake :)
  • Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is the glass-half-empty follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. While Guns, Germs, and Steel explained the geographic and environmental reasons why some human populations have flourished, Collapse uses the same factors to examine why ancient societies, including the Anasazi of the American Southwest and the Viking colonies of Greenland, as well as modern ones such as Rwanda, have fallen apart. (taken from

Its summer break for the kids ...

The kids were settling in nicely at Richmond Montessori (a school that we highly recommend!). Unfortunately for them (and us!), they now have a fairly long summer break till Feb 7. Fortunately the school does have a summer fun session the last two weeks so they go back to school on Jan 21.

On the last day of school, the teachers and children organized a music concert. This was a small fundraiser for the school so they could purchase additional equipment, project materials etc. The children sang around 5 songs and it was quite cute to watch these young kids perform. Maya and PJ were part of the concert and did pretty good considering that they were involved for only the past 2 weeks. Most of the songs also include Maori and maya is starting to say some Maori words (mari and i are a bit lost on this, and we need to pick up a few words)

We went to the local climbing gym earlier today. It was quite empty, so the kids had a blast running around and jumping. They also put on their harness and tried a couple of climbs. The swing rope and the metal ladder kept them occupied. Its quite amazing as to how you adapt to a climbing gym and how the holds and texture of the walls vary. We are fairly decent gym climbers at Mission Cliffs and Planet Granite. At Vertical Limit it was a different story. The holds were a bit too smooth and slippery, the setup of the climbing rope / belay device was a bit too close etc. Hopefully we'll adjust to it and start climbing much better. They also use a different rating scale down under!

We plan to do some amount of traveling and camping around the South Island if and when the weather gets a bit warmer. We are off to visit Blenheim in Marlborough tomorrow for a 3 day visit. We wanted to stay at Queen Charlotte Wilderness Park, but they were booked for the rest of the month. We are planning to go back there with Cecile in early January.

And the house rental search is over ...

We managed to find a furnished place to rent in Tahunanui Hills close to Nelson, on the way to Richmond. Our approximate address is Orakei Street, Nelson 7011, NZ. Similar to our San Francisco place, this house is also on a fairly steep hill (which should make hikes and bike rides quite interesting). We are a 10 minute walk from Tahuna beach and playground (which is definitely worth a visit if you have small kids) and a grogeous view of the tasman hills, abel tasman park and beyond.

Our landlords own a sailboat and they are off sailing for the next year or so. Its a 50 year old, 4 bedroom, 1 bath house. We did not see too many furnished places on the market and figured we'd take a place we like. Except for the number of bathrooms, the house is real nice. We'll get a port-a-potty in case both kids have an emergency at the same time :). We move in on Feb 4th and hopefully we'll get lots of visitors.

For people looking to rent a house, we found the listing on Homefind, a service that we would definitely recommend. They charge NZD $80 and give you access to their listings for 6 months. We found a place very quickly with them (with the first listing). In general it is significanly more difficult to rent a furnished house. In general homes out here are much smaller than the US counterparts and a fair number of the listings were for 2 bedroom houses and not suitable for children

Monday, December 18, 2006

Weekend update ...

We had a pretty busy weekend which pretty much means things are back to normal :). We did visit the farmer's market on Saturday and did most of our weekly shopping.

After that we went to The Grape Escape which basically is a cafe, wine bar and kids playground all rolled into one. Such combinations are much more prevalent in NZ than other countries. It definitely is a great thing for families and we had a good time. The kids did a fair amount of jumping and riding on the tractor. They also got to see some adult and kid llamas but kept a safe distance from them.

We did sample some pretty good organic wine from Richmond Plains and a good Reisling from Te Mania Wines. Grape Escape acts as the cellar and retail store for these two wineries. The kids keep us fairly busy so we have not had time to enjoy them as yet. Reviews at a later stage, but I dont think we really know how to judge wine very well. Later that evening, we went to our first kiwi neighborhood BYO bbq at our friends Diedre and Wally from Shakespeare Cottage. This was their first annual Shakespeare Walk bbq and we met a few locals there.

Richmond Montessori had a xmas picnic on Sunday at Rabbit Island. We got there on time at 11:00 am and due to some vehicular problems the folks from the school did not show up till 11:30 am or so. We were not aware that Rabbit Island is a fairly big and popular picnic spot so did a fair amount of driving across multiple loops trying to find the group. We were about to give up and have our own little picnic when the rest of the gang arrived and saved the day. The place is quite spectacular with a nice sandy beach and we spent quite a few hours there with the kids. Santa's helper did come and visit, which freaked Maya out a bit. She's getting much better with regard to costumed characters but has a fair way to go. We recycle a children's cookbook (thanx Jill!) and gave that to Maya. She's already made a few dishes from the book (smiley face bagel, fish and cheese quesadilla) and is quite proud that she now has a cookbook just like mommy.

Later that evening, we went and saw the Nutcracker, a performance by the folks at Nelson School of Music. We had watched the kids version of Nutcracker in NYC last year which was a wee bit scary for the first few minutes. So Maya kept telling us and PJ that she might be scared for some time, but then it gets better. The interpretation was quite different and disjoint, but the kids liked the music and the dance show. When the two male dancers made a shirtless appearance, PJ was quite surprised and kept saying: "They dont have a shirt, I have a shirt too", which was quite cute and funny.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

End of Week Two ...

Its been two weeks since we arrived in Nelson. Has definitely been quite interesting and we seem to be getting back into our regular groove. As reported previously, we did purchase a car. The kids like their new school a lot, maya is sad that she cannot goto school on weekends!. We've started taking the kids swimming at the local pool.

The last big item on the agenda is finding a place to live for the next 9 months. Surprisingly its been a bit harder to find a place than I expected. Hopefully we'll get this sorted out in the next week or two. I've got a pretty sweet office space on the top floor of the house, and the DSL connection is quite zippy. Did a fair amount of work (and blogging) this week, and hoping to be a bit more efficient and productive from next week onwards

In other news, Cecile is coming to visit us starting Dec 27th. The kids were happy to learn that she's coming and maya is excited to show Cecile her new school. Its been interesting being on our own the past few weeks. Life is definitely harder than it was in San Francisco, but not as hard as I imagined it would be. The kids have summer vacation from Dec 20th - Jan 25th. Will definitely help to have Cecile around during that time :)

Mari the baker and food news ...

I'm glad Tartine has a CookBook and mari bought it along to NZ. She's gotten into the cookbook quite heavily and has been making delicous treats the past week. This week we've had yummy lemon pudding, delicious whole wheat scones and shortbread. Here's hoping that this continues for a long long time. I'm hoping for the gougiere and croissants next :)

In other food news, we went to the local Malaysian Restaurant Spices on Hardy Street. We went there a bit early, 5:30 pm, so we could finish dinner and put the kids to sleep after a long hard day. People eat quite late out here, the place was quite empty even when we left at 7:00 pm. The food was not bad (5/10). Some of the dishes were quite good (nasi lemak, specifically the lamb rendang), others mediocre (seafood mee goreng) and others just plain bad (roti canai). How can u serve roti canai without the sauce? We did order a side of peanut sauce which was terrible.

After dinner, we stopped at the Gelato place. The ice-cream place closes at 5:00 pm in summer on a Friday night!!!! We did go back earlier this morning, and it was decent but definitely did not come close to Sketch

Today was saturday, hence it was farmers market day :) The kids slept in today (8:00 am), so we were a bit late getting there and it was fairly crowded. We now have a routine there and a specific set of vendors we frequent which makes it nice and convenient. Since its summer here, we get fresh raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. Reminds me to make my french toast this week, so i've got to find some good brioche bread :). Saw some fresh organic sockeye salmon today which I did purchase. The vendor informed me that all salmon in NZ is farmed!. I suspect fish farming is quite a big industry in NZ, need to do some more research on this. We also found a very yummy pie company, MyPie.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

And we now have a car ...

One more step closer to settling down and getting life back on a normal track. We bought a used Toyotal Caldina from Nelson Suzuki. We dealt with Mark Chapman and had a pretty good experience.

Its quite confusing to decide what car you want, the make, the model etc. We decided that we could live without a 4WD (winter is still quite a few months away, and i suspect we'll go stay in a ski place for a week at a time and take the shuttle etc). We did briefly consider getting a minivan so that we could transport more folks when we have guests etc. Ultimately we decided against it, since we preferred a smaller car etc. We saw and liked the Toyoya Caldina, its a 5 door wagon, slightly smaller than the Volvo XC and drives quite nicely. Also gives us enough room too load the bikes, camping gear etc and take off on an extended road trip etc. Its got a small 1.8l engine and gives u decent mileage (or so i think)

We are back into getting a Japanese car, after our not so pleasant experience with the Volvo Cross Country which we purchased from Royal Motor Sales. Luckily for us, we did have the extended warranty which saved us quite a bit of money, but the car was in the shop a fair amount. The warranty had some sleeper clauses like not covering airbag defects. No more Volvos for us.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sending boxes to New Zealand via Fedex ...

We had a fair amount of stuff to carry, so we opted to use Fedex to ship some clothes, books and gear. We had this a few years ago when we moved to London (pre-maya) and it had worked out quite well. This time we were not so lucky, and our boxes have still not arrived! (its been 10 days since they were shipped).

NZ has pretty strict rules and checks about anything coming into the country. Fedex does not bother to tell you this in the US. When our boxes did not come in a few days, i checked the tracking number and noticed it there was a clearance delay. Sent them email, called them and realized we needed to fill in a few more forms which were emailed to us. Not sure why those forms have not been web-enabled as yet :(. We sent those forms in and were told we needed to fill in still more forms and send in copies of our passport and visa (why didn't they ask this the first time around). They also have the bad habit of not responding to email and different people leaving you voicemail at different times etc. It seems to be finally sorted out (according to the tracker), and i'm hoping we get the boxes in the next few days ..

Also for some strange reason, NZ customs insists on charging GST for items over NZ $400. Kinda wierd and not sure why. I accessed the two boxes at NZ $1000 and was socked with $100 in GST, which obviously necessitated another call and message from fedex ...

For the curious, here's the tracking history:





Dec 13, 2006 6:33 PM

Int'l shipment release


5:17 PM

Int'l shipment release


2:02 PM

In transit


9:04 AM

Clearance in progress


Dec 12, 2006 5:55 PM

Clearance in progress


1:45 PM

Clearance delay


Dec 11, 2006 12:05 PM

Clearance delay


9:36 AM

Clearance delay


Dec 8, 2006 5:48 PM

Clearance delay


9:32 AM

Clearance delay


Dec 7, 2006 1:35 PM

Clearance delay


Dec 6, 2006 1:15 PM

Clearance delay


12:10 PM

Clearance delay


3:52 AM

At dest sort facility


Dec 4, 2006 2:12 AM

In transit


Dec 3, 2006 7:57 PM

Departed FedEx location


6:35 PM

Arrived at FedEx location


2:14 PM

Departed FedEx location


12:54 PM

Arrived at FedEx location


7:06 AM

Departed FedEx location


Dec 2, 2006 4:01 PM

Left origin


10:57 AM

Picked up


10:25 AM

Picked up


10:25 AM

At local FedEx facility


More NZ tidbits ...

Here are a few more random facts and stuff that happened that make you smile/wonder/frown about living in a different country.

  • The people in NZ without a doubt are the nicest, most social people in the whole world. They are super friendly, always helpful and honest. Even the used car salesmen are quite nice and dont try to push you to buy a car immediately :)
  • There are playgrounds everywhere. The quality is quite high, overall much better and more varied than the US ones. Most of them seem fairly new
  • The Kiwis have inherited the crappy bureaucratic traditions from the British (and India). Hence there is a line pretty much for anything and everything all the time (post office, atm machine, fish market etc).
  • The weather in Nelson is quite variable and very much like San Francisco. A typical day has rain, wind and sun combined and significant differences in temperature
  • I had funded my BNZ account from my US Bank. My online statement showed I had the money, however I could not withdraw it nor do any electronic transfers. A trip to meet real people at the bank was needed. Someone, somewhere had put a hold on the account for no reason, which prevented any and all transactions. Took the bank 60 minutes or so to figure it out. Overall, quite frustrating ...
  • The used car market is huge here. Most of the cars are imported directly from Japan.
  • Trademe is a pretty good alternative to EBay in NZ. We've used it successfully to buy a bicycle for Maya and nearly managed to get a car on it. More car stories coming soon as we try to close the deal today ...
  • Visited Cable Bay and Kaiteriteri beaches over the weekend. The kids had fun and was great to get out of the city. Amazing how close all these spots are (or how small nelson is)
  • Morrison Street Cafe is still our favorite cafe. We are pretty much regulars there now :)

We get our first visitors ....

Dave, Bob, Josh and Tim were heading over to Awaroa Lodge in Abel Tasman National Park from their awesome Dolphin Encounter in Kaikoura. We got to spend the evening with them, primarily because the regularly schedule Aqua Taxi's last run in the Park is at 3:30 pm. Kinda ironic they call it Aqua Taxi, rather than just Aqua Shuttle, which it what it really is.

The kids were thrilled to see them, and Maya spoke quite a bit to both Dave and Bob along with multiple hugs and kisses. She described some of the school activities, the lunch schedule and what she has been doing in NZ. Nice to watch Maya chat up a storm :). We gave them an option of the BoatShed or Haven Fish and Chips for dinner. Since they would be eating pretty good meals at Awaroa, they opted for the local greasy newspaper fish and chips consumed facing scenic Nelson Bay. We ordered a sampling of various fish (Blue Cod, Snapper, Grouper, Cardinal, Fish Kebab, Mussels, Scallops, Fish Stick) and a couple of orders of fries. I liked it much better than the first time, probably because we ordered the better fish on the menu. The Blue Cod in particular was quite excellent. It definitely is a super greasy meal, and cannot be repeated more than once a month!. We also ordered drinks and lemonade from the nice bar next door (sand????) and had a pretty good time. As usual, PJ managed to eat nothing but chips and ketchup, while Maya did try pretty much everything we ordered.

We got them some pretty decent accomodation at RiverLodge Motel which is across the street. They had to leave a bit too early in the morning, before our favorite cafe opened (morrison street cafe), so instead we paid a visit to the coffeeshop of the world that cannot be named (and should not be visited either, but thats another story) :(

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Its been a week!

yes, time does fly and its been a week since we arrived in Nelson. We've partially settled in and accomplished quite a few things (bank, phone, school, insurance). The next few things are relatively big items (long term house rental, second hand car) and we are hoping to make progress/wrap that up sometime early next week (so we can get back to doing some real work for a change)

The DSL/wireless at our rental cottage (shakespeare house) was quite flaky. Diedre and Wally were very understanding and gave us use of the apartment as a workspace which helped quite a bit. We also swapped their wireless router and installed the Belkin router which seems to have a much higher range than the previous crappy DLINK DSL-604T. We tried upgrading the firmware on their old DLINK from v1.0 -> v3.0) and that failed miserably. The new version range was even lower than the old one, and the tech forums were virtually useless.

The kids seem to be getting up real early out here (6:00 am or so). They have their own room, so kinda cool to hear their conversation. Maya seems to see monsters everywhere enlists PJ's help to eat all of them up :). Nice to see them interact and play with each other nicely most of the times. Maya is warming up to the teachers really quick and things look good on the school front.

Since today was Saturday, we had to head to the farmers market to stock up on fruit, produce, meat, eggs, cheese, salami and bread. We went there fairly early and saw quite a few more vendors than last week (maybe we were jet lagged last week). Kinda nice to meet and get to know our supplier and most of them remembered us from last week. (kinda easy to remember the family with 2 cute girls!). I dont think we'll be missing the SF farmers market for the next few months. The quality of the food here is quite high, and the variety is significanly more than we expected. We also found a local italian bread shop which bakes yummy bread/rolls/pies etc

Hike to Center of NZ and a weather report ..

Since the kids were in school, Mari and i had some time to run a few errands, drink coffee in relative peace and take a long hike in the hills around Nelson. Nelson is quite picturesque, the clean green ocean on one side and the backdrops of the mountains on the other side. (pictures coming soon, i promise). There are a few long walks close to the center of town, i.e. u dont need a car :)

Mari and I took a 2 hour stroll to the center of New Zealand and then walked along the ridge to Founders Park. Was a good uphill climb and seems like it will make a good trail run once we get in the groove and are all settled etc. The weather out here is quite variable. It has been raining on and off since we got here. Most days it does clear up and allows the kids time to go explore either along the river or the beach or the multiple playgrounds. When the sun is out, its fairly out and you definitely need sunscreen, when u r in the shade, u need a jacket. Kinda similar to the weather in San Francisco.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Review: Nelson Coffee Houses and Restaurants ..

Noticed that there were not too many reviews of places to eat and drink in Nelson. So here's my contribution to all the foodies :)

We've been visiting the coffee shops around the area. The coffee is quite good and we don't really miss San Francisco cafes.

Pomeroy's is an institution out here, it is more of a coffee retailer rather than a coffee house. I got a latte as takeway. Out here on takeaway orders, they add the amount of sugar you want, which makes it a bit like a Cubano. The coffee was strong, not bitter and overall i'd give it a 7 out of 10. We'll go back soon to rate it more appropriately. Update: We went there yesterday for coffee. Definitely lacking in atmosphere (though the coffee smell is quite divine). Had a mocha which was way too sweet and quite horrible (IMO). Need to downgrade this to a 6/10. Mari liked her latte.

Next up was Morrison Street Cafe recommended by the dude at the climbing gym. The baked goods out there were quite tasty, and we sampled the Chocolate brioche, the poppyseed muffin and the broccolli and blue cheese muffin (yeah sounds wierd, but is quite a good combination). We had part of the muffin with mari's freshly made lemon curd (recipe from the tartine cookbook). Had a double shot latte togo yesterday and a single shot latte at the cafe today. Great coffee, 8/10. Update: We went there on saturday morning for breakfast with the kids. Their baked good are quite terrific. We had the sweet blueberry muffin (PJ's favorite) and the savory asparagus/bacon muffin (maya's favorite). They even had fluffies, so both Maya and PJ got their very own fluffy. Definitely our favorite cafe so far :)

We also visited our favorite restaurant in NZ, The Boat Shed Cafe for lunch. We first visited this place 6 years ago when we were in Nelson for quite a few days, and we liked it so much, we went there 3 times or so. Last year we stopped over for dinner here with Lara on our way to Golden Bay. We had the mussels with a tomato chorizo sauce, the seafood broth and a blue fin tuna over linguni. Maya once again amazed me with her capacity to put away large amounts of food. The food did live up to our expectations and i'd still rate it quite highly. 7/10

Finally we had Fish and Chips for dinner tonite at Haven Fish and Chips (near Wakefield Quay, the Boat Shed etc). Our landlady, Diedre, thinks they are the best in Nelson. The quality was quite good and there was a decent line to buy them. Our favorite place for F&C in NZ is still The Fishmonger in Parnell, Auckland. We also decided that we will not have F&C more than twice a month :)

Speaking of NZ delicacies, the pie is quite common out here and is a great snack. Our current favorite is KB, since their crust seems a bit healthier than the others.

The kids start school ...

We went back to Richmond Montessori on Wednesday morning. We liked the small class size, the student/teacher ratio and the way they were organized. So we decided to enroll the kids there immediately. Signed the paperwork and the kids started school earlier today :). They don't have a website, hopefully mari will convince them they need one, and build it for them using CivicSpace On Demand

The teachers are young and full of energy. They follow Montessori principles quite closely but are a bit more flexible. I suspect Maya and PJ will love the school and their teachers. Maya has already started playing school at home with PJ as the student. The only downside is Richmond is approx a 15 minute drive from Nelson, so we'll probably try to move to a place closer to Richmond when we start looking for long term housing ..

Howto: Transfer money from a US bank to Bank of New Zealand

I suspect this will not appear on Bank of New Zealand's web site anytime soon. I did send them a polite letter asking them to do so, and got a nice reply about how it has been submitted to the committee who collates requests yadi yadi yada ...

To save future travellers from such hassles, here's what BoNZ's email customer service told me which has all the necessary information that my bank in the US could process and send the tranfer. The Transfer normally takes 3 days.

In order for funds to be sent successfully from Banks and Credit Unions in the United States, the following instructions need to be followed. If these instructions are not followed, there is a risk of your payment being delayed or being returned to the United States.

The instructions you will need to forward to your bank in the United States are:

"Pay via FEDWIRE type code 1000 Customer Transfer utilising product code centre Payment through SWIFT by MT103 (Customer Transfer).”

Pay to Receiver:

ABA #021000089
Citibank N.A.
New York, NY

For A/C with Bank:

A/C 10933728
Bank of New Zealand

Favour Beneficiary:

Your account name and full account number

Bank to Bank Info:

Your Bank of New Zealand branch address

There is a fee of $15 to receive an incoming TT. The overseas bank may also charge a fee to process the transfer.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Moving is hard ...

or "Moving is more difficult than you'd expect or remembered"

I've moved a fair amount of times in my life, but i have never remembered it to be so hard or taxing. I suspect having kids and the added responsibilities makes it that much harder. Trying to restart your life in a new place reminds you of all the things you took for granted. We were in a pretty good groove in San Francisco and are busy trying to get into a groove in Nelson. In all fairness, mari, maya and PJ have been awesome troopers and our spirit and energy levels are quite high.

Here are some of the things that have been keeping us busy over the past few days

  • We visited the Nelson Montessori school at Founders Park yesterday. I was never a fan of school visits, primarily because I think you cannot make a reasonable decision based on a 1-15. hour visit, some of which are planned and coordinated. However, we did stay at this school for 2+ hours in a largely unplanned event. Maya and PJ were participants and were part of the classroom for that period. It was quite interesting to see the differences between this school and their old school in SF. More on this later when we make a decision
  • We rented a car today and are mobile :) Makes quite a big difference. We also paid a visit to the nearby town of Richmond (12 km away) and visited the Montessori there. It was an after lunch visit with much fewer kids and much more mellower. We'll go back tomorrow in the morning and visit them again. Both schools were not as diverse as we'd have liked them to be. We kinda expected it though.
  • Getting a new SIM card for the cellphone was easy. However only one of our phones worked, even though both were supposed to, and were unlocked, tri-band etc. Interestingly enough the local Telecom Company (Telecom NZ) uses CDMA rather than GSM (i thought CDMA was restricted only to US and Japan)
  • Opening a bank account was quite easy. I had faxed most of the paperwork from the US and the account was already created which was awesome. However figuring out how to transfer money was quite a difficult task. The local folks had no idea how to do it, and insisted that the wiring instructions were sufficient. They did not have intermediary bank information and did not know they needed it for US transfer
  • The coffee is surprisingly good here. Also quite a few ethnic restaurants in the town.
  • Finding things you like and choosing grocery stores is an interesting exercise. You have to kinda visit all of them to figure out where to get things from etc.
  • Renting a car - Easy
  • Our landlady, Deidre, is just awesome and has been super helpful with many things, including activities for the kids. Shakespeare Cottage in Nelson, NZ is definitely highly recommended :)
  • Health insurance, relatively easy. We did most of the work for this in the US and needed to sort out just a few details. Basically, you only get emergency health insurance, and the rest you pay as you go.
  • For a small town Nelson (and i think most NZ towns) has a LOT of car dealers, banks, medical offices / pharmacists and lawyers. Way more than a place in the US. Surprisingly some of the bank have a sign: "Not a registered bank in New Zealand". Why would anyone deal with these entities?
Mari is getting the ingredients and getting ready to make Lemon Bars from Tartine. So off to the beach with the kids while the sun is still out. Awesome to have long summer days again, though the weather has been kinda fickle


Sunday, December 03, 2006

First days in Nelson ...

The kids were a bit tired, but we wanted them to stay awake for a few more hours, before their afternoon nap. So, we headed off to the local farmers market near the town center (at Montgomery Square, Bridge St @ Trafalgar St). It was a combination of arts and crafts, local fruits, veggies, cheese, bread and eggs and some yummy cooked food.

We stocked up for the rest of the week out there with:

  • whole wheat bread, ciabatta roll and muesli
  • some free-range eggs (free range out here, means really free range, unlike the US)
  • apples, avocadoes and strawberries
  • some hot smoked salmon and salmon pate
  • wild game salami
  • sheep's cheese
  • olive oil from blenheim (echo olives by A and K Jeffries)
We also snacked on a tasty white fish sandwich, chicken wrap and a falafel sandwich. The kids had a kiddie vanilla cone (not as good as sketch in berkeley) , which they enjoyed. Later that evening we also visited the local supermarket (fresh choice) and stocked up on milk, juice and yogurt. The supermarket prices seemed significanly more expensive than the US, but the farmers market prices were approx the same.

Kinda wierd to see a fair number of shops closed on saturday and sunday, and the remaining few work only half days on saturday. I also went and got a SIM card for my cell phone. Wierdly, mari's cingular cell phone from the US which was specifically unlocked for this trip was not able to pick up a signal. I had purchased a Nokia 3220 in SF which did work.

There is a play structure close by across the river, next to the gym and swimming pool. I suspect we'll be getting membership there and hopefully the girls will become good swimmers before we return back. There is a grapefruit and orange tree in the garden outside and they've been entertaining themselves with the fruit, making juice etc.

Sunday is currently a lazy day. Lots of blogging :) We went in search of coffee at Pomeroy's. The web site seems quite pretty, but does not have basic information about the hours that they are open. They were closed on Sunday, so we ended up having coffee at the local flea market / garage sale (Montgomery Square). The latte was quite good. In the afternoon, we are headed to a Christmas Parade in town and visit Founders Park

Flight over to Nelson ..

We flew Air New Zealand from San Francisco to Auckland. Its a pretty convenient flight for children since it leaves at 7:15 pm. We fed the kids at home and got to the airport fairly early and had 90 minutes to kill before the flight. Maya and PJ were having a great time walking on the escalator, so we did that for a fair amount of time figuring this would tire them out etc (our regular tactics which works quite well for all kids!).

Maya is quite comfortable stepping on and off escalators, but this was the first extended escalator visit for PJ. Was quite interesting to see a normally confident, do first - think later PJ, hesitate and wanting to hold hands as she stepped on and off the escalator. By the time the flight boarded, the kids were quite tired and ready to sleep.

In the past year, AirNZ has added video terminals on all seats. The kids also got a fairly useful kids treat bag (stickers, crayons, coloring paper) that kept them occupied for the next few hours. They then crashed pretty much for the rest of the flight. I managed to catch up on some movies and watched Water and WordPlay. The food was quite awful, luckily we did not have to eat most of it :) (we had some excellent sushi from yum-yum fish and dim-sum from good-luck for dinner at home)

Immigration, Custom and the transfer to the local flight was quite uneventful. Its amazing how much work it is to push 8 bags through the various procedures. Obviously NZ biosecurity wanted to check out the spices and our camping gear. They've become quite efficient at this and were out of the international area fairly quickly. Immigration has a seperate line for families with kids under 5, which helped quite a bit.

The flight to nelson was on a small 40 seater SAAB place and took approx 90 minutes. We took a super shuttle (since it had a big trailer to haul our 6 bags and 2 car seats) to our cute little cottage in nelson. Our hostess Deirdre is quite helpful and very nice. We settled in and went exploring


Leaving SF ...

Its a strange feeling to pack up and leave. As with many things, it sounds like a good idea in the planning phases, but when you actually get down to do it, there is this small voice at the back of your head. Are you sure? Is this the right thing? Will the kids adjust nicely?

As with most other things in life, sometime you just have to go for it :)

Moving is a great time for getting rid of a lot of stuff and cleaning up. Mari performed a major cleanup and gave a lot of our old stuff to goodwill. We also gave away most of the baby stuff to friends and family. Our friends, the Tejedas, will be staying at our place in San Francisco, so we did not have to pack and clean the entire house. This saved us from a fair amount of work.

The kids were excited to get on a plane. Maya was a bit hesitant and kept saying she wanted to stay back with Cecile and the grand parents. But as the day came closer she seemed to get ready for the move. She remember her last trip to NZ with Lara and the spaceship (the orange camper van we rented last year). I dont think Pranjali understood what moving really meant. We packed pretty minimally, but still ended up with a fair amount of stuff. Our packing list included

  • Clothes
  • Winter fleeces, jackets, long underwear
  • Rain Gear
  • Toiletries
  • Lots of books for the kids
  • Arts and Craft materials
  • Favorite toys (blocks, matching set)
  • Camping Gear (tent, sleeping bags, pads, utensils, water bottles, camelbak)
  • Backpacks (mari and I are hoping to get a couple of backpack trips without the kids!)
  • Indian and Thai Spices
  • Labtop Computers, Camera, iPod, Wireless router, DVD-R
  • Car seats for the kids
We headed to the airport, checked in and bade farewell to Cecile and Mari's parents. Mari's mom was a bit sad to see the grandkids leave. We hope to visit them in Phillipines relatively soon. We were under the impression that NZ was fairly close to Asia and the PI trip would be shorter. When we actually started looking for flights, things seem to be a bit more interesting and a long journey awaits us :)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why the move to NZ?

We love to travel and we travel quite a bit. We first went down under from Oct 15, 1999 - Jan 15, 2000. We had an awesome time, did a lot of camping, hiking, backpacking, river and sea kayaking primarily in the South island. It always remained my favorite country and mari's second favorite country (nepal is at the top of her list!)

Last year, we visited NZ in the winter (june 2005) just to make sure that we could hang out here for some time in the winter season. It was actually a pretty dry winter last year, and we were rained out just 3 days (on a 21 day trip). We had Maya with us, and our friend Lara was with us for a large section of the trip. We found it fairly easy to travel in NZ with a kid and decided we needed to move here for a few years

We were in the process of adopting Pranjali, and the paper work and all the other bureaucratic delays took a fair amount of time. Finally in October 2006 we got her paperwork all sorted out and her US passport. To avoid NZ paperwork, we applied and got a 1 year visa (immigration is a much bigger hassle along with wait lists, tons of paperwork, forms etc). We wanted to leave before the peak of the tourist season and get settled in, the kids in school etc. So come Nov 30, we packed bag and baggage and left for NZ ..


Moving to NZ

We are moving to Nelson NZ

We'll blog about our move to Nelson, NZ from San Francisco, CA and update folks with our new life in a new place along with periodic pictures and travelogues :)