Since the dawn of time (well, not really, but for quite a while) New Zealanders have found a way to recognise Waitangi Day in London. Someone, somewhere, decided a few years back that a London-based pub crawl around the Circle Line would be the most respectful method for expats to express their love for a wee island nation. Every year since, enthusiastic Kiwis have dressed up in costumes representing some aspect of the homeland before getting mightily pissed.
And somehow the London police not only tolerate this occasion – they look forward to it! As long as crawl-goers follow the unwritten rule of ‘don’t be a dick’ then the London police force allows us one day a year to drink cans of beer in public and wander merrily, dressed like lunatics. It’s worth noting at this point that Waitangi Day celebrations from within New Zealand are very different. I have never, ever gone on a Waitangi Day pub crawl in New Zealand and nor do I ever expect to. This is a London-only oddity.
This was my fourth year on the crawl and like other years, I dressed up and had a lot of fun. In my first year I was a member of the ‘Crazy Horses’ gang. Year two I wore a newspaper-covered boiler suit adorned with pictures of ‘Fush & Chups’. For the last two crawls my boyfriend and I have pooled our brainpower and creativity towards a hardcore-handmade-matching-costumes-approach: we were L&P cans for 2013 and Whittaker’s Peanut Slabs for 2014.
While the novelty of drinking a beer in public has has worn off over the years, the best part of the crawl is chatting to other insane Kiwis. A good costume is guaranteed to get ‘mad props’. We were the only Peanut Slabs I saw on the crawl so were pretty popular for photo-ops. The only downside was that we were also magnets for obnoxious drunk people. I don’t know what it is about wearing a giant cardboard box but I may as well have worn a sign saying ‘punch me really hard’ because that’s exactly what kept happening…Needless to say I started to get pretty annoyed and started telling people in a patronising fashion: “If you punch me I will not be nice to you OR pose for a photo with you, because you were rude. Yes I am serious. Go away.”
Rant over. For the most part people were fun and friendly.
So, I reckon we single-handedly boosted online orders of Whittaker’s chocolate this weekend…wonder what that’s worth to a hungry homesick Kiwi? 😉
It’s been a busy few weeks. Since my last post there has been a whirlwind European bus tour, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and some very long flights from London to China to New Zealand and back again. So there’s a lot to catch up on. Phew.
First and foremost though, I want to talk about Christchurch, one of New Zealand’s largest cities. In February 2011 the city was devastated by a large earthquake which took 185 lives and caused mass destruction. We visited Christchurch nearly three years after the quake and it was a moving experience to see the city’s slow recovery. Some areas have been repaired or rebuilt but huge areas of the city, particularly in the red zone, have been replaced by grey rubble. These fenced-off areas could look like a war zone but the people of Christchurch have turned their city into somewhere really special. They’ve brought colour, life, creativity and spirit to their city. It’s inspiring to see.
Where there were office buildings and shops there are now art installations, street murals, pop-up businesses and a shopping mall built entirely of colourful shipping containers stacked on top of each other. In the city’s nooks, crannies and open spaces you will find delightful surprises such as the coin-operated ‘dance-o-mat’, a space for people to play music and dance as they please. You’ll find oversized outdoor furniture, giant chess boards, life-sized snakes and ladders, rainbow-coloured benches to rest your weary feet, 1960’s inspired psychedelic flowers painted on the footpath and many more surprises.
The food and drink! Oh, the food and drink
Many of Christchurch’s beloved cafes have reinvented themselves following the quake. I highly recommend visiting C4 coffee shop and C1 espresso. The fresh juice stall within Cashel St’s Re:START mall made me a mouth-wateringly good carrot, apple and ginger juice.
I enjoyed some of the best food I’ve had in yearsduring our visit to Christchurch. I had been reliably informed that the garlic naans at Riccarton’s Arjee Bhajee were ‘off the hook’ – and they were. So much, in fact, that we ate there twice. Once in the evening (the venison and portobello mushroom curry is amazing, as is the lamb saag) and once on their fixed-price weekday lunch menu (get the lamb bhutuwa, you won’t regret it). Average cost: $10 per person for lunch, $30-35 per person for dinner including naan and beer.
Dinner that evening was at Spice Paragon, a new-build Thai restaurant in Riccarton. Four of us shared the melting beef cheek, the tempura fish with mango salad and the mussaman lamb curry. Add scallop starters, creme-brulee desserts and a bottle of the Mt Difficulty riesling to the mix and I was in food heaven. Bliss. Average cost: $50 per person for a heavenly three-course feed.
And the beer! We had a great time sampling beers at new pop-up speakeasy Volstead, before heading to Harlequin Public House, an amazing new restaurant and cocktail bar/speakeasy in Ironside House, opposite Victoria St’s Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower. The clock tower is an eery memorial to the 2011 quake: it is half the height it used to be and its hands are stopped at 12:52, the time of the quake.
Wandering around Christchurch you’ll spot many a painted mural – many of them with evocative messaging or memorials to the quake. It feels very East-London-meets-Berlin which meant, of course, that I LOVED IT as those are two of my favourite places in the world.
I first visited Christchurch as a small child in 1991, then again as a boozy student in 2005. I spent a few days in the backpacker’s hostel just opposite the now-ruined cathedral and this trip gave me chills to see what the quake had done to that building. This was my third visit and I have to say: I always loved Christchurch. Now I love it even more fiercely, and differently: there’s respect, sorrow and inspiration in the mix now. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Imagine a Gothic Disney-style castle with dark towering spires. Overlooking a cobbled square with copper statues, horse carts, hog roasts and crepe vendors. Add craft beer and strip bars to the mix and you’ve got Prague, a city of sleaze-and-beauty, rather than Sleeping Beauty. It was my first trip to the Czech Republic and my fellow travellers were Prague-virgins too.
The digs Our crew rented a six-bed apartment in the Downtown Apartments complex, a five-minute walk from the Old Town central square. The apartment was spacious and warm, with a wee kitchenette for much-needed morning fry-ups. It worked out to £37.50 per person – bargain much?
Prague in a day-and-a-half
So here’s the deal: you’ve made it to Prague, finally, but you’re dishevelled and harassed from the previously-mentioned flight dramas. Here’s what you should do to perk right up again.
1. Eat at Bakeshop Because you’ll want an awesome feed for the day ahead. You’ll have to fight for a window table but it’ll be worth it. I sampled the pumpkin and feta tart, side salad and some of the ham & cheese quiche. The lattes are decent enough, bit on the giant side. This ain’t a cheap place, I spent 500 koruna (roughly £15) to feed two of us. But the rest of the city is so cheap you won’t care. Bakeshop: Kozí 918/1.
2. Explore the square. The buildings in the Old Town Square are amazing and there are crazy gargoyles everywhere. See the famous clock if you must (it puts on a little show every hour on the hour) but it was pretty underwhelming. Hell, I’d even say it’s shit and don’t bother – but you probably will, coz someone said the same thing to me and I went anyway. The food stalls in the square are delish, especially the hog roast.
3. Beer stop! It’s tough work being on holiday. You’re lucky there’s an amazing hidden bar underneath the square. Opposite the clock is an unassuming alleyway that takes you past a Starbucks. Go just past the Starbucks and you’ll see the signs for U Zlate Konvice, an underground haven of delicious beer and taxidermied animals. Very Gothic. As far as Prague goes the beers are pricey at 98 koruna each (roughly £3), compared to 30-ish at other places (£1). U Zlate Konvice: Melantrichova 477/20.
4. Shop at the junk markets behind the square. Buy shit you don’t need. Someone in our crew bought a Russian doll toy that was painted to look like members of the All Blacks rugby team, complete with a teeny tiny Piri Weepu in the middle of it. As you do, Prague. As you do.
5. Another beer stop! Since the first one didn’t quite hit the spot, you need another beer, obvs. Our second stop was for an outdoor beer at Lavka Club, overlooking the famous Old Town Bridge. The beers were cold, the blankets were snuggly and the sun was starting to set. Nice. Lavka Club: Novotného lávka 201/1.
6. Photos on the famous ‘statue bridge’ as the sun sets. The Old Town Bridge is one of the prime landmarks and is also an ace spot for photobombing other people’s pictures…
7. Yet another beer stop! With chips! It was getting cold, so we needed even more beer. A friend had recommended we try The Pub, where you can order casks for your table, but it turns out you need a reservation to get a seat on a Saturday so we couldn’t get in. Just around the corner from The Pub we stumbled across Kozlovna and I am Glad That We Did. The beers were cheap and plentiful and the staff were hilarious. My memory gets a bit hazy here but I am pretty sure two rounds of large beers, plus chips and some shots of the local nut liquer, set us back about £20 equivalent. Tops. Kozlovna: Křížovnická 4
8. It’s probably time you eat something. Yes, that’s a good idea. I can’t quite recall how we chose our dinner location. Or what it was called. Or where it was. What I do know is that I ate goulash with potato dumplings. At a really nice place that was stumbling distance from Kozlovna. Sorry I can’t be of more help.
1.Get your hungover ass out of bed and eat something. You won’t want to but you’ll thank me later. Grab a coffee and a snack from one of the plentiful bakeries (but don’t get one of the star-shaped fruit pastries you’ll see everywhere, because gross).
2. Get thee to the Strahov Monastery. The views are great. The monks brew good beer. They make damn tasty goulash-in-a-bun. And it’s pretty. Strahov Monastery Strahovské nádvoří 1/132
3. Check out the castle. Take some photos, the view is great. We didn’t go inside. It was too much. Prague Castle: Pražský hrad, 119 08 Praha 1
4. Have another beer, on a boat. A floating restaurant is still a boat. We sat here as the sun set and it was a beautiful way to end a rowdy, lovely weekend. The swans floated by as we sipped our ice teas and eventually felt brave enough for a beer. Marina Grosetto Ristorante: Alšovo nábřeží, 110 00 Praha 1
And man oh man are these some tasty buns. The buns themselves are basically dumpling-dough (sweet & fluffy = good times) with 4 options for fillings: chicken, pork, fish or veg.
The damage: Buns are £3.50 each, or two for £6.50 so it’s a cheap feed.
What to eat: I wasn’t going home without trying the crispy fish special with coriander mayo and crunchy spring onions. Drool. Second on the agenda was the pork bun, which had less of the zingy flavours of the fish but was bursting full of porky goodness. Mmmm. We washed it all down with a quick pint at the neighbouring pub, where you can perch on the counter and eat your buns in style. Overall a great snack on the go and deserving of the hype. Yum Bun: we will be back!
Location: Stumbling distance from Old St roundabout, Yum Bun’s at 31 Featherstone St, EC1Y 2BJ