Holy smokes, I Live in New Zealand.

Surprise Canadian Christmas.
December 30, 2007, 2:14 pm
Filed under: Actual Travelling

I left a sort of teaser about this on my website a week ago (the Grabaseat post). This is a trilogy about my Surprise Canadian Christmas that, after I finished writing it, I was too tired to thoroughly edit or make more interesting.

Summary: my parents were very happy and tears were involved, snow and cold is overrated, jaunts into cities are fun, and I managed to finish this post on 1 January (Auckland time).

Part 1

On 12 December, Grabaseat had a deal offering NZ$500 return tickets from Auckland to both San Francisco and Los Angeles. The LA tickets came up first and sold out in about 14 minutes. This, coupled with the lag time between the issuings of the sales, gave me enough time to contemplate the consequences of my actions and find an equivalent deal to Toronto from SF.

And so it happened, like clockwork. Air New Zealand ticket purchased, United Airlines ticket purchased, bus route to airport found. Cost of Christmas surprise: $1000.

The adventure started after completing a solid half day’s work on Monday the 24th. I scoured the apartment that weekend (five loads of laundry!) and packed that night so I could walk straight to the bus stop from work. I tired of waiting at the bus stop so I popped into JB Hi-Fi and bought some noise cancelling earbud headphones for enjoying music while walking (the iPod earbuds are, therefore, relegated to running duty). I spent my four hours at Auckland Airport trying to open up the package they came in. It was like a little plastic fortress. An impregnable plastic fortress.

I managed to score the emergency exit seats just behind the bulkhead. The in-flight entertainment system was personalized for each passenger. They had some 150 movies to check out, from Superbad to Eagle vs. Shark, some 200 CDs, 12 streaming “radio” stations,…. They served two meals. Nobody was assigned to the seat next to me, but after I fell asleep somebody moved into that empty seat. I was not happy. I went back to sleep.

I landed in San Francisco to find out that the third leg of my trip (Denver to Toronto) was cancelled. Having already checked in from work, this sucked. I spent my entire layover running from payphone to service counter to security line to the next service counter trying to get rebooked that day. United came through for me. I don’t think others were so fortunate. There were an awful lot of cancelled United flights originating in San Francisco. I bought a pile of M&Ms for the poor clerks stuck at the United counter, since there were a lot of cranky passengers with potty mouths at SFO that day.

Eventually I did get rebooked onto an earlier flight out of Denver. I confirmed with Air Canada (over the phone) that everybody was still on time at that end just as they announced final boarding for my flight to Denver. I am 14 hours into my trip at this point. All the overhead baggage space was taken up on my flight, leaving my bag to be shoved behind the back seats on the plane. I was looking forward to a nap and in-flight movie, but of course my seat did not have a working headphone jack. Who needs relaxation anyways?

Upon landing in Denver I dodged a few people hogging the aisle and was helped out by the rest, ensuring I got off the plane in about seven minutes. Oh, I was seated in the back corner of the second flight. Denver Airport has three terminal buildings, each separated by a large swath of pavement. One must take a train between buildings, even to pick up one’s baggage! It was a cute, automated little train, not unlike a subway for a small town. My Denver-Toronto flight was in another terminal, so I had to run to the train, wait for it to arrive, ride said train one stop forward, and finally run to my next departure gate. Highlight: when asked by a local what terminal I was looking for, I replied, “I’m Canadian. Obviously, I am looking for Terminal A.” I made it with twelve minutes before pre-boarding was called. Their computer was broken; my boarding pass was issued by Lufthansa.

Hooray for my surprise though, as there were only seven, count’em, SEVEN passengers on the plane to Toronto. Add three crew and you get one empty plane. They bumped us all up to first class and fed us like royalty. Open bar (two Heinekens), steak and pasta dinner, Toblerones and a viewing of the delightful Breakfast with Scot. It won’t make it to New Zealand, so I’m thrilled I had a chance to see it while on this vacation of mine. Loved it.

I landed at 11:55 PM on the 24th, 20 hours after starting my trip but only advancing four hours in terms of clock time. Should make the return leg adjustment quite exciting.

Part 2

My brother picked me up at the airport to drive me home. Customs asked me what my plans were AFTER New Zealand. Why, I don’t know. I don’t think the female agent was trying to pick me up…

The plan was to sleep under the Christmas tree when I arrived home. However, there was only the “small” tree out this year in front of the big teevee and the family dog would likely lick my face in the morning (worst wakeup list entry #4). I elected for the couch instead. I left one foot dangling off the couch which the family dog did manage to find. That gave me enough warning to prepare for my mother coming around the corner. Needless to say, she was very happy. After exchanging hellos, I curled up in my usual Guelph resting place – that being on the floor parallel and adjacent to the coffee table.

Seeing how I was determined to stay on Auckland time for this week back home, I promptly fell asleep and woke up around 1 PM EST (7 AM NZST).

We did family Christmas that day, including turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables and dip and store-bought cheese. I brought all my mailed gifts back from NZ so I had things to open up. We ate too much chocolate and swapped stories. There were some movies. Basically it was a really quiet Christmas.

I didn’t do any Boxing Day shopping. I did go out in the evening for a Guelph Expatriates Christmas at the Jimmy Jazz. We won round one of their music trivia contest (only because we had a ringer) and proceeded to lose round two. Note to trivia team: this is why you shouldn’t trust me with any responsibility. The night was awash in great, Canadian indie rock and delicious, local, craft beers (Wellington, namely). I did get gifts though ๐Ÿ™‚

Thursday was a Kitchener visiting day. I went to see my grandmother (not a surprise) and two friends (a well-planned, awesome reaction surprise). I got a couple more gifts ๐Ÿ™‚ . I also went out for another, Expatriate-themed evening on the town, this time at the Bookshelf‘s eBar. I enjoyed it. I had great conversation with lots of people, including one nice girl who maybe I will see again some day.

Friday was a family day. I took the dog for a couple of walks and played video games all day. This was the day the presents stopped coming.

I am writing Part 2 on (Canadian) Saturday. I went to the vet with my father and the dog to have her ears checked out. She was surprisingly well behaved. I spent the afternoon making phone calls to Canadians I was unable to visit this week (and I will obviously be making more next week) and packing up my goods to take south. I ate corn chips and salsa for dinner (which is actually lunch on my New Zealand clock) and finished off the twelve-pack of Root Beer my brother bought for me.

Part 3

My flight to San Francisco was delayed by over two hours. I did some reading on flight delays upon my safe return to Auckland and discovered two things people blame delays on: lack of staff and weather. Weather is also supposedly code for too many planes using not enough airports and other, general infrastructure woes. In my circumstance it wasn’t exactly a bad thing, as I managed another hour of fake sleep in Guelph.

It did, however, restrict my ability to explore San Francisco. The way my discount itinerary worked, I was required to spend ten total hours in San Francisco. Rather than eating airport M&Ms all day, I decided to venture into the city with the exotic goal of taking a historic cable car from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf. I figured seven hours (ten hours less three hours required for Air New Zealand international flights) would be enough to make the round trip and eat a fish sandwich. The two-hour delay left me with four comfortable hours in the city.

I had planned on taking their subwayish train (the BART) into town. On the way down, a homeless guy with a broken leg asked me for $7. I pretended to speak French so that I could keep on ignoring him. It was not a successful tactic (“French? That’s okay. You can still help me”) so I had to resort to a quick exit at my stop. BART took about 45 minutes to to make the one way trip. The airport is a fair way out of town. Therefore, I had two-point-five comfortable hours in San Francisco.

My cable car idea was so original that by the time I made it to the end of the line at Powell Street, there must have been 500 people already waiting in line! Ouch! Not wanting to navigate the city bus system, I opted for a quick walk to Union Square to take advantage of their free wireless Internet to write home. Wandering in clockwise circles away from the main park itself, I discovered John’s Grill, one of those old fashioned, place-to-be-seen kind of restaurants with old wood veneer walls covered in framed, glossy photographs of every cop, politician and celebrity who had ever visited the place. I had the prawns provencale; so good I could have cried.

On my way back to the BART, I found a shoe store having a 50% off Boxing Week sale. I picked up two pairs of super-trendy slip on shoes from Sperry (brown) and P.R. Shoes (mostly white). US$65 for both. That’s how I spent my US$50 allowance from my parents ๐Ÿ™‚ .

I decided that enough was enough at that point, especially since I now had two pairs of shoes but no money. I went back to the airport with the intent of being first in line for checking in and securing myself the same awesome bulkhead seat (note to Air New Zealand fliers: on the 777s, that seat is 53A) that I had coming north. I was third in line and was told that the seat was unavailable. I was placed in 35A (great window view)…next to a toddler and her Republican mother. I knew that because a) she had a kid and b) mentioned that her fiancee knows Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Cute kid, liked pawing at me for the first hour of the flight. I helped put nighttime formula Robitussin into his bottle of milk (at the mother’s request) to help him sleep during the flight. He was out like a light.

They changed over the entertainment system offerings so I didn’t get to watch Eagle vs. Shark, but did get more episodes of Extras and the New Zealand-based cartoon bro’Town. The one episode of bro’Town featured a Canadian girlfriend for Pepelo, the protagonists’ jerk father. They filled her dialogue with “aboot” and “eh” references. I loved it. They also served Heinz’s Canada Fancy Grade Tomato Juice on the flight. The flight attendant apologized for not having my requested spiced tomato juice available. I told her it was okay and instructed her on how to pronounce the name in French. I had quite the francophone day of travel, it seems.

They served a chicken or beef meal on the flight. I went with chicken. It was okay. I had a cheese omelet for breakfast. It was not very cheesy. That’s about it for airplane food for me for awhile. I think what was worst, though, is that the seat I requested, the aforementioned 53A, was unoccupied when I did my mid-flight walkabout of the plane (for stretching/circulatory purposes). Even the headphones were still wrapped up! What a letdown.

After landing, Customs noticed an issue with my Work Visa for the first time: it was stamped for the wrong date as my actual Work Permit is for. Seventeen minutes later, Immigration (yes, two different agencies, just like home) decided I could keep the permit to the 30th. That one extra week of pay is nice, for sure. However, it appears as though each time I return to New Zealand from a foreign country (which will happen at least once more during my stay here) I will have to go through the long immigration line (Queue D) because they will keep on catching this glitch each and every time.

However, I did discover that Auckland Airport gives out free tea and coffee in the baggage claim area of the international terminal, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry staff let me bring it through the biosecurity examination area. How awesome is that? Free AM tea and coffee! Imagine Pearson doing that, eh?

The trip concluded with my pre-paid bus trip back into the city (the one where I got $2 off because the bus driver was feeling charitable). The driver pointed out each of the hostels at my stop for my reference. I just said, “Thanks,” as I was too sleepy/exhausted to care. He tried to prevent me from bringing my free tea on the bus as food and drink was not permitted on it. I closed my eyes to look purposefully groggy and walked straight toward a seat. I dropped my bag on my apartment floor, called home, had a shower and took a five-hour nap.

I was awoken by the sound of blood curdling screams from the concrete covered courtyard below my apartment. The New Year partying continued merrily onwards, and I started the conclusion of this wonderful trilogy.

My surprise Christmas at home, in almost every painstaking little detail. Thanks for sticking it out thus far…assuming you did.


6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Aww, how nice of you… hope you’re enjoying your Xmas holidays. When are you flying back then?

Whoa, $1,000 for the tix? CAD? Round-trip??? Considering it’s transpacific, that IS a sweet deal. Last time I flew to HK, it was ~$2,200 round-trip.

Say, is the Auckland-SF flight non-stop or is there a Honolulu layover?

Lastly… HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Goes without saying, don’t party too hard! ;o)

Comment by PianoMan

next time the ‘delivery guy’ is bringing by one of my gifts, i’m definately not sitting around in my pjs all day reading a book and drinking coffee…maybe i’ll even shower…brush my hair…who knows

safe trip back, and many thanks (i’d like to know who thought to shave a possum and make yarn out of the fur)…

Comment by b

That sounds like a great time. I can’t believe the price. Man, I need to start searching for better deals like that.

Happy New Year, Joe.

Comment by Sarah

A wonderful read….thanks Kid. Happy New Year !!!!

Comment by Blacksheep

What a great read … got to relive aperfect Christmas ….

Comment by puppydog

[…] Random $900 flights home. […]

Pingback by How I Combat Homesickness. « Holy smokes, I Live in New Zealand.

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