Oxford Christchurch

I arrived into Christchurch on Thursday Evening on the train. Unsurprisingly the train was 20 minutes late even though there didn’t appear to have been any reason or obvious sign of delay while on the journey.

After arrival I went to a local French named restaurant/bar called Dux de Lux, though the interior was a more traditional wood panelled building like most of the good Oxford pubs. There I had some Green Mussels which were delicious though they could have done without the Chili in my view. After that I had some delicious chocolate cake before returning towards my hostel.

On the way back I passed a small arthouse cinema and as I had nothing else to do that evening I went to see a film. One of the films on was called the Counterfitters which I went to see. This was seriously arthousy and didn’t have any previews or ads at the start and just got straight into it. The film was excellent and described German efforts to forge the pound and dollar. The film was apparently a true story as well.

Spoiler alert: text in white – highlight to read.

These notes were designed so that they were 100% indistinguishable from the originals. They did this with the help of a Jewish expert counterfitter from Berlin who had been arrested in 1936 and was trying to counterfit the dollar a the time, then when working for the Germans they gave them the pound and then delayed the dollar until it was too late and they survived the war.

After watching that I went to bed and the next day I headed to some museums – first heading to the Canterbury Museum which had excellent displays on the Antarctic. After seeing that I then went briefly into the bontanic gardens before going to the Christchurch Art Gallery. On the way I passed Christ’s College which had the requisite “Keep off the grass” signs as well as a traditional Oxfordian ugly concrete building (though the engineering department is uglier.) around a fairly pretty quad. After that I saw there was an opportunity for Punting. Though due to health and safety reasons you apparently have to pay a man in a straw hat to punt for you rather than doing it yourself. Then I headed to the art gallery which had interesting collections of New Zealand and modern contemporary art and I even managed to get a free one-on-one guided tour of the gallery.

At that point I got my stuff and just caught the bus to the airport so I could drop off my stuff and visit the nearby international Antarctic centre which was interesting and it contained a cool room to simulate the temperature as well as a great ride in a Hägglunds (all-terrain vechile) but it was a bit expensive for my liking at £17. They also had a collection of good looking 45 minute videos which I missed due to lack of time. I then caught a the totally painless flight up to Wellington.

Back to Christchurch

So I got up at 8am on Thursday for the 9am bus which was later than everyone else in my dorm who had mostly only arrived the day before – I think people are trying to do the whole country in 2 weeks. I’ve spent 5 weeks here and could have spent more time in several places fairly easily (doing some more walks, rafting and some mountain biking would have been great.) so coming back would still be great. I am still glad to be moving on as I’m getting a little bored of the UK in the southern hemisphere.

So I left Franz Josef on Thursday morning for day 1 of 4 of travel until Japan. First I headed up the coast to Greymouth. First we stopped at about 11am to have morning coffee and I also had a local delicacy of possum pie which was delicious. Basically in New Zealand they have 80 million possums and they are a pest so eating it is definitely a good thing. After that we followed the road up the coast including going over 2 bridges that the road shares with the railway line (trains obviously have priority). After that we headed up for lunch before getting into Greymouth for the train.

The train headed into the mountains across to Christchurch and first headed through a pretty valley before going through a massive tunnel to take us up to the small village of Arthurs Pass in a pass in the mountains called Arthurs Pass. The New Zealanders generally take the same attitude to naming that Warwick University does. In New Zealand the northern island is called “North Island” and the southern island is named similarly. At Warwick the cafe under the library is unsurprisingly called “Library cafe”. As we passed along Arthurs Pass we headed through lots of small tunnels and viaducts surrounded by beautiful scenery as we made our way to Christchurch. About 30 minutes before arrival we left the mountains and went across the heavily farmed but fairly featureless canterbury plains on our way to Christchurch.

Franz Josef and more

After a long coach journey I arrived into Franz Josef on Tuesday evening. That evening I went for a few drinks and learnt that the town is completely dependent on tourists. It’s population is only 100 but swells to approximately 3000/day in the summer which is absolutely massive. I also found that in appreciation the bars charge less to those small number of locals than the tourists by giving them discounts off the menu price.

The next day I went to the visitors centre in the morning and saw an interesting video on the southland area and some further exhibitions. The video was especially good as it included commentary as well as epic scenery. In the afternoon I headed out onto the Franz Josef glacier (access to the nearby Fox Glacier and many of the walks nearby are currently closed due to being washed out in the rains while I was in Mount Cook.) and I got to use crampons and walk on the ice of the glacier which was really cool, especially when we walked through a narrow crack that reminded me of te Cu Chi tunnels in Viet Nam. Also this was all for a bargain price of NZ$92 (£33) so I was pleased to do something for under NZ$100 for once. It was a good day and even though I was in the “advanced” group it wasn’t too difficult though there were ropes to hold onto in places.

In the evening I watched the repeat of a British ITV program called “ladette to lady” which was about converting “the worst” young women in the UK from drunken whores into ladies at an old fashioned finishing school the show itself was entertaining but not that great as it was fairly sexist and old fashioned (though as it was ITV from 2005 it was probably the best show broadcast at the time!). Basically they got them to learn all the stuff you might learn in finishing school such as embroidary, flower arranging, sarcasm and of course playing hard to get. That is at least seems ill-advised – I mean the chances to win someone actually worth having are few and far between (and besides there are the inevitable accidental mistakes.), games don’t help and I can’t believe that if you were serious about someone you’d care about whether they were “easy” to win or not – it doesn’t reflect on them as if you a good match for them are the exception not the rule.

Though this does lead to alcohol abuse which is probably the most serious problem in the UK at the moment*. Now I certainly enjoy a few drinks occassionally but the general culture of drinking in the UK in unacceptable. Currently 800,000 people a year go to hospital for alcohol related issues (which is approximately 1.3% of the population) and the number is increasing so unfortunately the government is going to need to regulate it and step in as it must cost the economy billions of pounds a year in lost productivity and wasted police and hospital time. Maybe we’d grow as fast as Viet Nam does instead of resession if we sorted it by the end of the year, but unfortunately it’s an embedded part of our culture so will take a long time to fix (like 5 to 10 years or more).

* = I’m sure some people are thinking our trains are worse but they aren’t really that bad: probably only France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, China and Singapore and maybe Russia, Finland, Sweden, Italy and India (not for reliability but because they make huge profits – I believe £2 billion in 2007.) have better systems. So out of 190 odd countries in the world only 11-16 have better train systems. Whereas probably only 10-15 countries have worse alcohol problems and I can’t think of any of them.