FiNZ 44 – Relax & Remember

We’re gearing up for three of our WPI friends coming to visit us over the next 2 weekends and another big hike after that. Therefore this weekend was a well deserved break. We even passed on going to the cricket match in return for lounging around not doing much.

This past Sunday, February 22 was the 4 year anniversary of the most major earthquake to rock the city. I say the “most major” because from September 2010 through 2012 the city was rocked with pretty constant aftershocks. When I was here in 2012, feeling a small earthquake every couple of weeks was normal. The February quake caused catastrophic damage in the central city and claimed 185 lives. The liquefied soil that emerged from the ground left the roads in shambles and buried cars.

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City Skyline Post Quake – http://i.imgur.com/0vZbD.jpg

So when the documentary  – “The Day the Changed my Life” – aired this week, Keith and I figured we ought to watch it to learn more about the city’s experience before we arrived. (It’s also available online to watch here). Like you’d expect, its one of those things that’s hard to watch. I’d liken it to watching a clip on 9/11. The documentary interviewed a few people who were involved in the aftermath – a reporter, a construction worker that helped retrieve bodies, emergency medical staff, and a husband of a wife that died in a collapsed building.

 

So when I ran around the park on 22 February, seeing the flowers magically appear on top of the construction cones throughout the city, I couldn’t help but reflect how and why I came to be here and my responsibilities as a structural engineer.

So to conclude a bit of a sobering post…

The city has come a long way, yet there’s still a long way to go. So for this week, it’s a hearty cheers to Christchurch– The city that has humbly been my home for over a year. Until next week…

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FiNZ 43 – The Wild West

How’s everyone doing back in New England and along the east coast? My parents sent me a photo of what life is currently like in Massachusetts–

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Definitely makes me appreciate enjoying the warmer climate after a year of winter!

As for our past weekend (that did NOT involve shoveling snow), we finally got out to the west coast. We’ve been saving a trip to the west coast for some time (more like 9 months!), mainly because it tends to always be rainy over there. But otherwise its a fairly easy 3 hour scenic drive over to the other side of the country.

Lucky? for us Keith volunteered me for his coworker’s marathon relay team when their female team member wasn’t able to participate. Keith and I drove to the tiny town of Reefton Friday night, picked up another hitchhiker from Germany along the way, and stayed at a lovely little hostel that used to be an old bakery…pretty much a typical start to journey in New Zealand. The Buller Gorge Marathon was the next morning, each of the 4 of us had a 10.66km leg and the other team members drove the course in a van to cheer the runner on. It was a lot of fun and our team placed 7th out of 36 mixed relay teams!

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Since the day was still young, Keith and I hoped in the car and “did” the west coast for the rest of the day before meeting back with my teammates for dinner. Our first stop was Charming Creek Walkway. We were told this walk was quite “charming,” and it definitely was! The west coast has their population mainly thanks to the mining industry. This walk took us along an old mining track–through tunnels, along a river, and along some old fun relics.

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Railway tunnels and Waterfalls!

At points it was a bit of a wanna-be horror movie setting, but quite cute in the daylight!

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Watsons Mill Abandoned Camp

Then we drove south along the coastal scenic route. It was GORGEOUS. I can’t believe I never made it out here my first trip to New Zealand. SO BEAUTIFUL! It reminded me a lot of Great Ocean Road in Australia, with less people. We stopped at the ever-popular Pancake Rocks to grab some obligatory photos. You’ll see the rocks are formed into tall stacks that sort of look like pancakes. No one really knows why…

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Then it was off to a typical Kiwi bach for the weekend! A bach is the kiwi’s word for a holiday home or vacation house. They could be cabins in the woods or extravagant houses. Keith’s coworker’s family had one on a beautiful lake with the southern alps beyond. That night we thoroughly enjoyed fresh pork, sausage, and lamb, that were all literally from one of my relay-mates farms (another “only in New Zealand” moment).

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Lake Brunner

The next morning it was time for some boating and waterskiing. Keith couldn’t pass up waterskiing at this beautiful spot, and in February nonetheless–

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While we waited on shore a weka came to visit. Weka are a threatened species of flightless bird in New Zealand, yet still more prevalent than kiwi birds. This is probably the closest we’ll ever come to a “sort-of kiwi” bird. So obviously Keith had to chase it down…

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You can’t catch me!

To make this post even more random, I’ll conclude with Christchurch’s celebratory Cricket World Cup fireworks! We kicked off the competition last week with a very large opening ceremony right in the nearby park. It was definitely a fun experience and likely a “once-in-a-lifetime” type event! When will I ever have a world cup opening ceremony in my backyard again?! I know most of my friends & family have no idea what cricket is or how it’s played, but to give you some perspective, the opening ceremonies were predicted to have over 1 BILLION viewers.

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Fireworks over Hagley

This weekend is going to be a little more relaxed than normal. A few of our friends are flying in next week and we’ll have hectic plans for those next three weekends so I think it may be time for a break…maybe…

FiNZ 42 – High over Middle Earth

I’ve been avoiding sorting through photos from this past weekend because there’s just so many. Alas, I managed to pick out a “select” few and collage the crap out of all of them so they’d fit somewhat nicely here.

Friday was a precious New Zealand holiday – Waitangi Day, aka “the 4th of July New Zealand style.” Luckily, that gave us a head start to drive down to Queenstown and meet up with Kathy and Don Friday morning. Friday ended up being one of the most intense activity days we’ve had here.

To back up a bit, a freak cold snap had come across the country and Queenstown temps dipped to near 0 Celsius the previous two days. That meant that 1) the surrounding mountains were covered in snow in the middle of summer and 2) I was really glad I checked the weather and brought my fleece and winter hat.

Fortunately for us, Friday started to thaw the town up. Our first stop was the Shotover Jet–an activity Keith and I’ve been waiting until warmer weather (the joke’s on us) to do. I’ve heard its one of the “must-do” activities in Queenstown PLUS Prince William and Princess Kate participated when they were in New Zealand last April! I may have required the exact seat Kate sat in… Albeit a pricey activity at $130/person, if you’re going to do SOMETHING adventurous in Queenstown, pick the Shotover!

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Photos of our team and boat

We made it back to the center city just in time for…

THE RUNNING OF THE WOOLS!

which can only be further described through photos and video–

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Central Queenstown Running of the Wools

Soon after we were picked up and whisked away to the airport to do a Fiordland helicopter tour with Glacier Southern Lakes helicopters! Kathy had really wanted to do a helicopter tour but the weather had cancelled every trip until we arrived. We were more then happy to join and what an incredible experience–we landed at 3 planned locations and had to pick up a couple at the beginning in Glenorchy (because why get driven to the airport when the helicopter can pick you up outside?). It was the first time I’ve been in a helicopter and it was quite the first time!

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And we’re off!

Stop 1) Snow.

We were supposed to do a glacier landing but unfortunately the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. Although landing in secluded Fiordland on top of a snow-capped mountain was pretty epic in itself…

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Stop 2) Beach.

We flew through Milford Sound, past all the tiny tour boats below, and landed on a deserted beach on the west coast. Once again, amazing–

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Stop 3) Milford Sound

You can’t come to New Zealand and NOT see Milford Sound. Despite the flocks of people, it’s simply necessary. This was Keith’s first time out here — I’m glad we finally both made it!

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Then we enjoyed a beautiful scenic ride back to Queenstown. I forgot to take more video along the way. The short clip below will have to do–

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It’s noteworthy that our trusty pilot, Alfie, was the lead pilot in all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit filming! I snuck a photo of him (far left) with Sir Peter Jackson. They’re surrounding the special camera they used while in flight.

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What a day. Possibly the most exciting day I’ve had in New Zealand. We enjoyed a well earned beer, had a great dinner at Cow, and bar hopped a bit the rest of the night.

Saturday we split up and Kathy and Don headed back in their campervan and Keith and I did some exploring on our way home too. We decided to check out Arrowtown and finally got our sheep photo we’ve been looking out for!–

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One of many excessive sheep+mountains photos

Then we decided to finally make the 10km journey to the clay cliffs. New Zealand has plenty of tiny tourist signs to natural wonders that people often zoom by. We figured we should finally check this place out and we’re glad we did. Check it out–

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And of course we ended our journey with yet another beautiful blue lake Pukaki, the water color is always so fantastic. Below you can barely see Mt Cook in the background through the haze. On to our next adventure!

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FiNZ 41 – Pats Nation

It’s rare we find other American’s in New Zealand let alone people from Massachusetts. So it was especially special to have some other local faces in town leading up to the Superbowl. Keith’s mom, Kathy, arrived with Don on Friday and we went right to work as tour guides. I don’t think they knew what they had gotten themselves into when we decided to drive them 2 hours outside of town and down a 40km long dirt road to get to Mt Sunday… (reminder – they had just gotten off the plane!). Unfortunately it was a little cloudy, but the views were still pretty “epic New Zealand.”

Mt Sunday is more like a little bump in the middle of a beautiful landscape–

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On the path up to Mt Sunday

Despite it being off the beaten path it was a pretty popular filming location for Lord of the Rings – Edoras! Helms Deep was also filmed here as well. Some of the outer parts of structures were actually built on top of the hill (only for the movie) but most were CGI’d in. Check out the photo from the film below–

Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week –

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Taking in the Views

At the summit trig, Don made sure we were all monumented there forever!

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Spot Marked!

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Jetlagged Troopers!

On the way back our visitors got a true New Zealand welcome. A farmer was out herding sheep so we got a good “only in NZ” experience of waiting for the sheep to cross the road…

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Traffic Jam

Saturday the weather started getting better so we went on a wine tour throughout Canterbury. We were able to hit up some of our favorites — True & Daring, Lone Goat, and Straight Eight — all before dinner at one of our favorites — King of Snake!

Sunday was GORGEOUS. Therefore we picked that day to bring the crew to Akaroa. We did a lot of scenic driving to get the best photo opportunities.

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Akaroa Bay Photo Opp

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Summit Road Views

Then we continued to do a lot of relaxing, drinking, eating, and wandering along the shore.

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Mother Son Bonding

Monday morning we said our temporary goodbyes to Kathy & Don until we see them again this upcoming weekend! We can’t wait to hear their stories of traveling around the island in a campervan over the next few days.

Pretty much the rest of Monday was devoted to the Superbowl. Being in the future we have to deal with work on Superbowl day. So luckily, as Americans we have a bit of lee-way with taking some personal time 🙂

Keith, a few coworkers, and myself headed over to The Carlton at lunch for their Superbowl party they’d been advertising all month. The actual party room was a little overcrowded so we just made our own private party elsewhere.The Carlton provided Budweiser “specials,” aka $30 for 4 bottles…along with corn dogs and hot dog sliders.

And what a game am I right?! That was easily my favorite Superbowl ever. It was a fun environment to be in and the game just kept everyone entertained (including the non-Patriots/Seahawks fans) the entire time.

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Superbowl Monday!

What a week thus far! This weekend is a 3-day weekend so we’re excited to meet up with Kathy & Don once again and have some more fun exploring.

Cheers!

FiNZ 40 – Avalanche Peak

I can’t believe we’re finally at week 40 of my “Flanders in New Zealand” posts. Only a few months shy of a year! This past weekend was ideal in terms of summer south island weather – warm, sunny, no wind. Therefore, Keith, I and a couple of coworkers (Mike & Erin) headed out to Arthur’s Pass to do one of the most difficult day hikes around — Avalanche Peak!

To get to the summit (1833 m / 6014 m), you climb a fairly steep 1105 m / 3625 ft (almost like Mt Washington in terms of elevation) along the Avalanche Peak Trail and then descend a slightly less steep Scott’s Track to get back to the start. Keith decided to pseudo run it, Mike power-walked, and luckily Erin and I were able to stick with a pretty consistent pace after the other two crazies. The Avalanche Peak Trail was definitely more intense than any great walk; however still a fairly well-kept trail. Way to go DOC! Right from the start you were scrambling up rocks but everything was really well-marked. I have to admit we got towards the top and I realized I brought my nice camera with NO SD card! Our iPhones had to do for this hike. Check out our day above the bushline below…

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Myself trudging up towards the summit

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made it to the top!

Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week —

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Team Avalanche Peak

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Myself, Erin, Keith on the way dooooooown

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Mike, Keith and Erin on the way down Scott’s Track

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Looking back towards Mt Rollston

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Keith started bounding down the mountain again….

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Mt Rollston

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One last panorama shot near the summit

The DOC times the loop at 6-8 hours, we surprisingly finished in about 5! We were back to Christchurch and enjoying some local tacos in no time. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how easy it is to enjoy this beautiful country in just a day trip.

Sunday was the last day of the Buskars Festival. The only act left that I really wanted to catch was the “English Gents” – a duo of strong men that do some pretty crazy lifting acts. Keith obliged and we’re both glad we made it, they were pretty incredible! There last acts involved one partner holding himself up on the others head and then the finale involved one lifting the other starting lying down and slowly going into a standing position. The pair actually ended up winning the “iron chicken” of the festival – meaning they were the best act!

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The English Gents

We’re both pretty excited to welcome Keith’s mom to New Zealand this Friday! It will be a fun couple weekends of playing tour guide to family. (have I mentioned how much we love visitors?!)

Until next week…

FiNZ 39 – Hitchhiking, Caving, Waterfalls, and BUSKERS! oh my

Most weekends, if we don’t have a big trip planned in advance, our days end up being pretty spontaneous or really just based on the weather. We’ve been waiting for a warm weekend day to try out “Cave Stream.” Trudging through water in a damp cave just didn’t seem enjoyable all winter or spring. Therefore, Saturday was the day! After a run we hoped in the car and drove west. Well…first we picked up a hitchhiker and then all of us drove west. Ever since we felt guilty about plowing by three ladies on the side of the road a few months ago Keith and I agreed we would pick up the next hitchhiker we saw (as long as they didn’t look too crazy). I would NEVER do this in the U.S. In New Zealand hitchhiking is just how people travel, it’s a way of life or a right of passage for the international traveler!

So our new friend Ryan hoped in the car and we had a good hour-long conversation about his homeland of the Netherlands, how he took a year off of teaching high school chemistry to travel the world with his girlfriend, and how he was heading into the woods of Arthur’s Pass for 2 weeks of intense backpacking before his girlfriend arrived to do some lighter hiking. Quite enjoyable!

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West Coast Road Views

We pulled into the cave stream reserve and sent Ryan on his way. There were a ton of people parked in the parking lot…of course, per usual, Keith and I walked to the mouth of the cave and no one was to be seen. I’m pretty sure tourists show up and take a look at the cave and don’t dare to enter…or are just not prepared with headlamps…or don’t think they’ll get so wet…or are scared away by the scary DOC signage.

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Cave elevation

Enough of my coworkers have raved about cave stream that we were pretty prepared. I wore spandex, Keith wore a bathing suit, we both wore sneakers (highly recommended!), and we both brought a whole lot of light sources.

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At the cave entrance

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Beginning the walk

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Navigating

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Extreme caver

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Plowing through the water

A couple of parts of the cave were waist deep, but otherwise we were trudging around in flowing water about ankle or knee-deep.

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Some deep parts

I’m not a huge lover of confined spaces, but this was pretty cool. After the 500 m cave jaunt, I realized I would definitely do this again, or at least take more friends to come enjoy!

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Standing in water! ahh!

The end was the diciest part–you have to climb up 3 m to get out. Luckily, the DOC helped us out by anchoring in some ladder steps and providing a chain and a little step so one can crawl along the ledge (see the lady in pink below). I would not recommend doing it backwards like the photo below, but to each their own!

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The climb out

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Success!

Afterwards the day was still young, it was still light out, so why not keep driving to Arthur’s Pass? Neither of us had done the short hike to Devils Punchbowl waterfall, so why not?

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Arthur’s Pass – Devils Punchbowl Waterfall

It was a pretty easy/quick hike (although a lot of steps to climb) for an amazing view.

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The money shot

On Sunday we decided to check out the World Buskers Festival! Know what a busker is? Neither did I, but basically its a fancy word for a street performer. Famous street performers travel in from all over the world to perform in Christchurch for 10 full days. It has been a pretty fun time thus far! On Sunday we saw a Minnesotan juggle a knife and fire while riding a 12′ tall unicycle, a man juggle 5 basketballs, and a guy oddly throw multiple rubber bands around his face (talk about weird!).

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Basketball Jones, Rubber Band Boy, and Pro Unicycle

Last night a few colleagues and us went to see the nightly buskers comedy festival. “Donations” were $10 each and it was such a funny night. The show included 3 comedians and a hilarious MC. We all left with a pretty permanent smile – a great way to end hump day.

On to this weekend where the weather is looking good once again!

FiNZ 38 – Bowls, Bats & Bails

Well, I’m certainly back into work mode. Its been a busy week of work on a deconstruction project, I guess most of Christchurch (unfortunately) is involved in a deconstruction project nowadays. Therefore, this post will be far less full than the past three weeks. Lucky for this blog, we try to make an effort to do something notable each free day we have.

So this weekend, besides finally potting some garden plants, it was off to our first cricket match!

This year is huge in the world of Cricket + New Zealand. The Cricket World Cup is coming … and to Christchurch! Well, Christchurch…and the rest of New Zealand…and Australia. It’s really the Cricket World Cup in Australasia. Lucky for Christchurch we host a few of the games and the newly constructed — Hagley Oval. Like most buildings in Christchurch, the previous stadium shut down after the earthquakes, so for the World Cup they spruced up the oval in the park. This is much preferable to a “concrete jungle” stadium. Because cricket matches last DAYS and every day lasts HOURS, having the opportunity to picnic on a vast long is much preferable to a big stadium.

The Black Caps (New Zealand’s national cricket team) were playing a test match game against Sri Lanka at the Oval this past Saturday. The tickets for the Black Caps game during the upcoming World Cup are sold out, so we figured a day-long test match would be the easiest opportunity to check them out. We grabbed a pair of $40 tickets on Friday and found the game to be sold out the next morning. I would assume its a common occurrence at cricket stadiums since the games are so long, but at least at this game we were able to pack a cooler full of food, blankets, and even chairs if we wanted (general admission meant you were able to claim a spot on the grass anywhere).

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Hagley Oval

We knew we couldn’t sit on a lawn for 8 hours without knowing the rules, so after asking around and watching THIS YouTube tube video we felt knowledgeable enough. Basically, while throwing in some more familiar Stateside baseball terms, this is what goes down (still not an expert whatsoever…):

  • There is only one inning, one team goes, for several hours until they either bowl (“pitch”) enough balls or get 10 members of the 11 person opposite team out. It takes a lot longer to get someone out than in baseball and the batter keeps hitting balls until he gets out.
  • Two batters stand in the middle strip (called a wicket…although lots of things are called wicket, it gets confusing). There is also something called a wicket behind each of them – aka 3 sticks standing up on the ground. One will bat depending on what side the balls are bowled (“pitched”). Runs are scored by each batter running to the opposite side where the other batter was standing while the fielding team tries to go catch the hit ball and bring it back (1 run), the batter hitting the ball outside of the boundary (4 runs), or over the boundary without hitting the ground (6 runs!).
  • An out involves someone catching a ball before it hits the ground (so batters tend to avoid popping the ball up), hitting the wicket while the batters are running to the opposite end, or hitting a wicket during the bowl (“pitch”), there’s some other ways to get out but those are the main ones (I think…).
  • So runs continue to get scored and eventually the fielding team bowls their allotted balls or gets 10 of the batting team out.
  • Then the fielding team becomes the batting team and their entire goal is to score more runs than the first team that was up.

Simple…right?

How’d I do cricket experts? OK overview?

Anyways this all leads to a pretty nice relaxing day of sitting on the grass, eating, and watching the game. When someone hits a 4 or a 6 or gets an out it’s always a nice applause and a break of just sitting and eating and chatting 🙂 Another big deal, rephrase – HUGE deal, is a century. A century is when a batter hits 100 runs in a row (so no one gets him out for a pretty long time). During this game one of the Sri Lankan batters got a century, despite being on the opposing team, everyone stood up and was clapping and cheering for him. Cricket…the civilized, nice people sport.

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Sold Out Crowds

This month Christchurch has had these giraffe statues hidden all over town (well, you can’t really HIDE them). It’s an art installation called “Christchurch Stands Tall”. All the giraffes are themed depending on their location. Therefore, I had to take a photo with the cricket giraffe I found at the Oval.

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Posing with the Cricket-themed “Christchurch stands tall” giraffe

That’s all for now. Back to work, and back to scheming up what we’ll be doing this weekend!