Sunday, March 25, 2007

Looking for a place to rent in Nelson, NZ (apr 15 - jun 1)

This post is targeted to folks local to Nelson. We have quite a few friends and family visiting us from April 15 - June 1. Our current place is quite large BUT has only one bathroom which limits the number of folks that we can host comforably. So if you know of a place in and around Tahuna hills, send me mail to lobo at yahoo dot com

Monday, March 19, 2007

The weather in NZ ...

Its been a crazy past weekend with regard to the weather in NZ. Luckily, Nelson was one of the few places that missed most of the excitement. The past weekend NZ experienced:

  1. A lahar bursting from a crater. Apparently this is quite common and they have been more than 30 of such bursts in the past decade
  2. Hail and torrential downpour in Christchurch and Canterbury
  3. The heaviest downpour in decades in Westport on the West Coast of the South Island
  4. A large fire in Blenheim scorching 700 hectares (yes, this is not weather)
We had gone swimming at the pool saturday evening, and put our swim gear to dry on the back porch. The next day we could not find PJ's gear and we assumed the wind gods made off with it. Monday is swimming day at the Nelson pool, so mari went looking for swimsuits for PJ. Well, its no longer summer, and she could not find her a swimming costume!. She came back and called a few stores and the local pools and did not find any. Joys of living in a small town!. She finally called the aquatic center to check if we had left PJ's costume at the pool by mistake. Fortunately we did, and we could continue with our regularly scheduled swimming fun

The girls are getting quite good in the water. They are very comfortable and operate at two different levels. Maya is cautious but keeps progressing at a nice pace that she controls. PJ is the energetic one who loves to jump and get dunked in the water. She's also very willing to try stuff (especially with Mari) and experiment. Maya likes to control the experiment and decides what she will do and when. Two very different attitudes to life ..

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Top ten things to do in Wellington, NZ with kids

  1. Visit Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. Make sure you visit the kid store, discovery area, nature space and the bush walk.
  2. Have a South Indian meal at Roti Chennai. Order roti and lassi for the kids
  3. Take a walk along the quay and spend a couple of hours at Waitanga Park or some time at the beach a bit further down
  4. Now walk in the opposite direction and spend more time at Frank Kipps Park
  5. Take the cable car to the Botanic gardens and do a short hike to the playground in the gardens
  6. Take the cable car back to downtown and stop at the University playground
  7. Have Malaysian food at Roti
  8. Visit Wellington Zoo in Newtown
  9. Have some dimsum or yum-cha at Regal Chinese
  10. Spend some time in one of the cafes at Courtney Place or Cuba

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Windy Not

After 3 months of mellow yellow (sunshine) Nelson, off to NZ's capital we go. Also known as Windy Wellington. We lucked out big - weather was awesome - 24C. The main reason to go - canele, dimsum, indian/malaysian food : ) , Te Papa museum, cable car, different playgrounds, zoo, see more people (163,824; 2001 census)

fun fact: Wellington is the most "fully wired" city in the most "fully wired" country in the world.

The food was excellent. Roti had great roti's. The mango lassi was a hit with maya and pj. Lobo and I ordered the rose lassi and it was delicious. Petit Bordeux, the french bakery I found on the web was closed. Somehow Lobo managed to find another bakery, Bourdeux, that happened to be owned by petit bordeux as well. Thank goodness for the internet. It had good croissants, canele, and pastries. It was so yum, that we bought some to take home. After our fill of butter, we all walked down the street parallel to the train tracks. The girls ran up and down laughing and giggling.

The location of our one bedroom apartment on The Terrace allowed all of us to walk 15 minutes (maya and pj pace) down to to the waterfront, playground, cable car, roti chennai and roti restaurant. The waterfront was a great place to walk, and wander. Lots of people jogging, walking, and biking. Walking around Wellington, was like walking around San Francisco, many stairs and hills to climb. To keep PJ and Maya walking up, I made it fun to walk slow on their toes, run fast, then slow again.

I've been frequenting the $2 shops these days to keep Maya and PJ busy with interesting activities. There are a lot of craft things - glitter glue, paper, paint, little shiny things to glue, etc. During my wandering around Cuba Street I spotted a $2 shop and went in. Knowing that Maya will be awake when I return, I decide to buy some paper oval boxes and stickers. She keeps herself busy for 30 minutes. : ) She spent a lot of time cutting tiny bits of scrap paper to fill her box to the rim.

We could've easily spent a 4th night in Wellington eating and exploring. It's a great city to wander, and yum coffee to start everyday.

NZ weather report ..

We had fabulous weather in Wellington two days ago (25 degree C). Over the weekend a pretty strong weather front moved in and its drenching pretty much all of NZ currently. Its gotten quite cold and was 7 degrees C this morning. The kids had to be bundled up with jackets and beanies etc. Summer was quite short out here looks like :(. The radio station reported that there was a sprinkling of the white stuff (snow) on peaks of some mountains near takaka. Our fabuolous view is quite blurry right now, and no peaks are visible. Hey, might be a great winter ski season here!

Hopfully we'll have some good weather when all our friends start visiting later this month and into next month. Start praying to the weather gods folks ...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Wellington, NZ: Day Three

We had heard about a farmers / veggie market near Te Papa museum. We figured we might as well try to get some yummy food there. My previous night research on the web did not reveal much, so I was not very sure if we would find anything there. Wellington does not have a real farmers market. The one next to Te Papa is more like a commercial veggie market with a few producers with big veggie trucks. We did not find any interesting food, though we did purchase some good artisan bread. It was a windy wellington morning and we wandered over to the Dragon Boat races. Maya does not like speaker sounds, so she was a bit spooked at the announcements of the dragon race and insisted we go home. We compromised and went inside to Te Papa cafe where we had a mediocre flat white and some large fluffies. There was a fair amount of toys to keep the kids entertained while we waited for the museum to open at 10:00 am.

We are not big fans of museums (unless they are kid museums!), but Te Papa was definitely an amazing place and a must-visit attractions. Its well designed, spacious and has quite a few things for kids to do. We spent a fair amount of time at the Discovery Center and then at Nature Space exploring and checking out the birds and animals of NZ. The kids played with a few puzzles at Discovery Center (which we later purchased at the kids store). We then went on the short bush walk and ended up at the sandpit where the kids set up camp for an hour or so. By 11:30 am, the kids were quite tired and we headed to Wellington Market where we had head of a Maori stall. The stall unfortunately had closed down some time ago and the other stalls did not look too good. Roti Chennai has a presence there, but we were still stuffed with malaysian / indian food from our past meals. We had some decent mexican eggs and beans at Vive Mexico, the salsa was quite well spiced. I took the kids home for their afternoon siesta while Mari went exploring Courtney Place and Cuba St.

The evening program was more playtime and biking along the waterfront at Waitanga Park. We had dinner reservations at Bistro Breton in Kelburn and we headed there at 6:30 pm. We started off with an amuse bouche of good salmon pate on not very interesting bread. Mari had an excellent french onion soup as a starter and I ordered the smoked fish plate. Maya managed to scarf most of the smoked salmon and tuna while I got some more of the salmon pate and bread. The kids split the kids menu meal of an excellent pieced of grilled blue cod and some average thick cut french fries. They squeezed ketchup from a cute tomato shaped container. For the main course, Mari had the the Cotriade Breton. This is basically the bretonnese version of Bouilliabaise with musssels, shrimps, salmon and a white fish in a fish stock. The fish was a bit dry, the broth was quite flavorful and tasty. I picked the Potee Bretonne, which is also a traditional Breton Stew with pork sausages and bacon with green cabbage, turnips, carrots and potatoes. We thought the main courses were quite average. For dessert we ordered the Ile Flottante, which is creme anglaise and soft meringye, caramel sauce and grilled almonds. The kids split vanilla and cholcolate kapiti icecream (which was part of their kids meals). We also shared a bottle of French wine (basically I drank most of it, with mari the designated driver having an occasional sip). Overall I'd give the place a 6/10. It was good, but for that price range, your expectations are also much higher. Our meal cost us NZD $150.

Yet another excellent day spent in Wellington. We have a baby cot in the apartment (the playpen), and the kids take turns sleeping in it. We've nicknamed it The Cage. We had it when Maya was a kid and she refused to stay in it, but now they love sleeping on their own in it. The joys of seeing children grow and change :)

Wellington, NZ: Day Two

Mari got up bright and early Saturday morning and went off to explore Wellington. Her main goal was to goto a French Bakery and get some croissants home for breakfast along with some good coffee. Unfortunately the bakery she had selected (Le Petit Bordeaux) seemed to be closed and looking for a new chef. Her coffee shop of choice (Masi) was also closed down since that block was under renovation.

She came back empty handed, and we got the kids ready and headed for the zoo via Cafe L'Affare. The cafe was crowded and buzzing at 9:15 am in the morning (which is quite unusual in NZ). We had an excellent flat white, a good blueberry muffin and the kids had their fluffy with quite a few marshmallows. We then went to the Wellington Zoo in Newtown. The Zoo was not bad, and definitely a fun activity to do with kids. There was a fair amount of walking involved and we got to see a few interesting animals and birds. The view of the giraffes at eye level was definitely the best part. We spent some time at the Newtown playground after that before heading for lunch.

Lunch was excellent dim sum at Regal (5 Courtney Place). The place was quite packed just like Kon Tiang or Koi Palace in San Francisco. A 15 minute wait turned out to be more like 30 minutes before we were finally seated. We were quite hungry and ordered a fair amount of dim sum to satisfy our craving. The roast duck and spare ribs were quite good. The kids enjoyed the shrimp sui mai, eggplant and fish, egg tart. There was not as much of a seafood variety as I would have liked (or probably those plates never made it to our table!). Overall an excellent lunch, i'd give it a 7/10.

Headed back to the Terrace and put PJ down for her nap. We resumed our adventures at 4:00 pm or so and walked to Lambton Quay and the cable car terminus at the bottom of the hill. Took the cable car all the way to Wellington Botanic Gardens. The children's playground was a good 10 minutes walk away in the middle of the gardens and met our high playground standards. (most playgrounds in NZ are well built and quite new!) While one of us was hanging out at the playground with the kids the other one took a 30 min walk through the gardens. We then took the cable car back to town and stopped at a small playground on the way down. This one in contrast was quite old and run down. I suspect there are not too many small kids in that area since the playground was next to Victoria University hostels.

Dinner that night was at Roti Chennai (the original Roti place in wellington according to their menu). We ordered a vegetarian dosa, roti with mild chicken curry for the kids, fish veruval and seafood/chicken laksa. The food was really good. The sambhar had lots of flavor and the coconut and tomato chutney played a good supporting role. The roti was nice and flaky, the chicken curry was quite mild which the kids liked. We had too much food, so did not really eat the fish dish (though the bites we had were good). The only sour note was the laksa, which was really bad. The noodles seemed undercooked and did not taste great. We topped off the meal with a good glass of rose flavored lassi. Overall our best meal of the trip so far and gets the highest rating of 8/10.

We had a nice climb back up to the apartment hotel which walked off our dinner as well as made the kids tired :) Another exciting day in the big city ...

Wellington, NZ: Day One

We've been quite busy having a lot of fun in Wellington. Its nice to be back in a relatively big city, but to a large extent, I'm glad we are spending the year in a smaller place like Nelson.

We woke up fairly early at 4:00 am on Friday. Got the car packed, kids ready and were on the road by 5:30 am. NZ driving is significantly more difficult than US driving. The roads are curvier, fair amount of construction and its pretty much a 2 lane hwy into Picton. It took us a bit longer than expected and we had to skip coffee at the Picton Village Bakery (or Le Cafe) and headed straight to the BlueBridge ferry boat, Santa Regina. The Inter-Islander boats are a bit more comfortable and spread out, and have a few more activities for kids. Next time, we'll take the Inter-Islander between the two islands. We got into Wellington at 11:15, drove around the city in search of our apartment hotel (The Terraces). Its a good find. Its quite central to the city but a good step climb away and very spacious. The major drawback is its close to the Wellington freeway, but the noise level is quite tolerable

The ethnic food in Wellington has met or surpassed our expectations already. We started the trip with a good meal at Roti on Willis St. We had the Egg Roti with lamb, the veggie murtabak, mee goreng noodles, mango lassi and rose lassi. We polished most of it off quite nicely. It was significantly better than the local malaysian restaurant in nelson (spices). They also had thosai (which is the malaysian spelling for the south indian dosa!). Didn't know that before we ordered, so we unfortunately skipped it. (i used to be a dosa addict, still am!). Have not had good ethnic food is some time, so my ratings are a bit off. I'd probably give Roti a good solid 7/10.

We walked around downtown a bit. Wellington is a fairly compact city and all the popular areas are a few blocks from each other. We saw quite a few places that were on our list while we wandered around. PJ needed her afternoon nap, so we headed home to put her down. On the way home, I picked an excellent cup of coffee at Mojo (on Willis and Dixon).

In the evening we headed to the Frank Kipps playground along the waterfront. The kids were quite happy there and we go a good view of the harbor and the afternoon ferry coming in. The place was quite happening since it was a Friday evening. On our way home, we checked the cable car location for a potential trip the next day. Mari took the kids home, while I walked to Courtney Place to get some takeaway dinner. It was either Chinese food from The Beijing or Latin American food from sweet mother. I found Sweet Mother first and went there. We got the Fish PoBoy, Chicken Quesadillas (for PJ), Jambalaya and Kumara Mash. I had a pretty strong margarita while I was waiting and also read a pretty good review of the restaurant in the local Wellington magazine. (the praise was a bit too generous and flowing for all the restaurants there, which made it seem like an advertisement rather than a review). I was tired (and a bit drunk), and did not relish the prospect of a long walk back home. Figuring the kids might be a bit hungry, I jumped in a cab :). The food was quite good. In general takeaway food does not have the same taste/feeling as eating at the restaurant. The Poboy and the kumara mash were excellent. The jambalaya and the quesadilla were above average. I'd give it a 6/10

We were quite tired and slept early the first nite in the Big City :)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The web sites of NZ newspapers are pathetic

Someone please recommend a good web design company to the newspaper folks here. Its amazing as to how little content they have on their website. I've been trying to research the food and kid scene in Wellington, and the newspapers dont help. A few weeks ago, we thought about subscribing to the Christchurch Press, and it took me a fairly long time to find how to subscribe. Obviously, u cannot do it online. You send them email, they tell you to go buy the paper, cut and fill the subscription form and send it in. Can someone please pull them into the internet age

If you think I'm exaggerating, see for yourself the fine web sites of The Nelson Mail, The Christchurch Press and the Dominion Post. They don't have the restaurant reviews online, or stuff about the city / place. Please take a look at the SF Chronicle or the NY Times to see how a real newspaper's website should look like. Maybe the parent website Stuff should stop the practice of producing cookie cutter newspaper sites

Ok, enough venting for now ..

Wellington plans ...

We head out early tomorrow morning at 5:30 am or so to catch the 8:00 am Bluebridge ferry from Picton to Wellington. Its amazing the things you need to pack with kids :) We are taking their bike/tryke, books, helmets, swimming gear etc. Mari has come up with the Pillow Case (tm) packing scheme. Each of us gets a pillow cover and we stuff our clothes in it. The same for books and other items.

We spend a lot of time figuring out the place we'll eat and have coffee etc. All of us are quite excited to be going to the big city. So here' s a list of things we plan to do in Wellingon. If you are local to Wellington, feedback is appreciated.

Most of the above places are within a 2km walk around our apartment hotel. I suspect we'll be walking a lot in Wellington. I suspect we'll entice the kids with fluffies and other yummy treats Thats just the eating part on my list. Mari is maintaining her own separate list. We'll definitely visit Te Papa, hang out along the waterfront, visit the Zoo and/or wildlife park, definitely check out the playgrounds. We'll also check out the local farmers market Seems like the next few days are gonna be packed with eating / playing and having a good time. The weather forecast looks good for now. Hopefully the wind factor does not kick in

We'll keep you updated. Feels so strange to be excited about going into the city. I'm so looking forward to eating some good chinese and malay food :)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sushi tuesday's with the kids ...

We are starting to fall into a regular rhythm now :) Tuesday nite is Sushi night. We call up Masao-San from Sushi House tuesday morning and place our regular order (combination of nigiri sushi, sashimi and rolls) for pickup tuesday evening. Mari picks up the kids from school, feeds their ever growing appetites and drops them off at Nelson library. I bike to the library and hang out with them doing art and puzzles for the next hour or so. Mari wanders around happening Nelson, picks up the sushi and wanders back to the library. The nelson area also gets tuna from Fiji on tuesdays and hence there is a bit more variety in the sushi.

We then head home with a platter of yummy food ready to be devoured by the starving Tilos/Lobo clan. There has been an interesting change in dynamics the past few weeks. PJ who would not touch sushi once upon a time now competes with Maya to pick up the choicest morsels (leaving the rice for moi!). Last week we had to increase our order to accomodate PJ's growing appetite. Unfortunately, today Maya and PJ took it to the next level and pretty much gobbled up 80% of the sashimi and quite a bit of the other nigiri (the rolls have too much rice for their liking!). Looks like the order will need to be revised again for next week :)

Its kinda nice to see how PJ's food habits have evolved from a year ago. A year ago she would only eat rice, oatmeal and meat and refuse to touch any fruit or fish. Today, she loves to eat fruit and fish and is becoming quite adventurous in her eating habits (she still has some ways to go to becoming a true foodie!)

Headed to Wellington this week ...

We are headed to Wellington this weekend :) Taking the Bluebridge ferry and staying at Terrace Villas. We are leaving friday morning and will be back monday nite. If you are from the wellington area or know about good food / cafe / kid things to do, please leave a comment on the blog :)

we'll obviously document all the things to do with kids when we are there, but would be good to get some insider tips :)