Canterbury, New Zealand. It’s often the place visitors pass through to get to somewhere more exciting. But for the last 12 months, it has been our home. And we’ve gotten to explore some of this often overlooked part of New Zealand. There are some gems in the area, some well-known, some not so well-known. Here’s what we saw.
It was the sun that tipped me off. Something was off. According to the airplane “moving map”, we were flying east towards Christchurch, but the position of the sun outside the window suggested we were heading south. And then it hit me — we were in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning the sun stayed in the northern half of the sky. So the rising sun ahead of us and off the left side of the airplane meant we were indeed heading east. I’d spent all my life in the Northern Hemisphere and I’d used the sun being in the southern half of the sky to orient myself. But not anymore. Not for the next year or two, or three.
After 12 days in Lerici (with trips to Pisa, Cinque Terre, and Portovenere), we flew from Pisa to London. We planned to extend our stay for a little vacation + neighborhood hunting. Aman loves museums, I love good food, and Gen loves taking a break from the cold and snowy Rocky Mountain winters, so London is always a great vacation spot for us. And since we’ve been considering a move to London, we wanted to check out neighborhoods that we might want to live in.
We had been in Lerici for a week and on Saturday we visited Cinque Terre in gorgeous weather – the forecasted rain never materialized. Any hope of a repeat of the nice weather for our trip to Portovenere vanished the moment we woke up on Sunday morning. Thick gray clouds scudded low across the horizon and a steady rain fell from the sky, quite heavy at times. The forecast called for a possible break in the rain in the afternoon, so we decided to hang around Lerici in the morning and walk around in the rain. The rain didn’t really let up by the time we finished lunch, so we just decided to take our chances and go to Portvenere regardless.
After a week of work in Lerici, we arrived at the weekend ready for a break. Since we were so close, visiting Cinque Terre was the obvious option. We drove to the train station in La Spezia and bought tickets to Cinque Terre. Due to devastating rain and landslides in October, the villages were hurting (especially Vernazza), but they were still open to visitors. A quick 7-min train ride later, we alighted at Riomaggiore, the southern-most village of Cinque Terre. Rain had been forecast for the day, but it turned out quite sunny in the end.
We had arrived into Lerici on Saturday. On Sunday, we had to return to Pisa to pick up another colleague of ours who was coming from the Netherlands. Due to his early evening arrival, we took the opportunity to drive to Pisa in the afternoon to check out the sights. After one wrong turn getting onto the A12 highway which resulted in a 20-min drive in the wrong direction, we made it into Pisa. We found out that non-resident cars are not allowed in certain parts of Pisa, and were a bit concerned about finding parking. But due to it being the off season, we didn’t have to worry — we were able to park only a block away from the Piazza dei Miracoli, and off we went.
Work beckoned overseas again, this time to Italy. The development team I’d be working with was based in La Spezia, Italy, right next to Cinque Terre. Given that La Spezia is a large industrial town, the Italians told us to stay in the nearby town of Lerici for a better experience. Since personally we needed to check out London for neighborhoods we might want to live in, Gen and Aman came along as well. We spent 12 days in Lerici. I spent most of my time in La Spezia with colleagues during the day (a 20-min drive), while Gen and Aman explored Lerici.
After our quick Paris stop, we were off to Italy. We had wanted to go somewhere warm, and settled on the Amalfi coast. Then it was a matter of picking where along the Amalfi coast we would go. Given the scarce parking, we did not want to drive. We wanted to be someplace where we could just relax and walk around a lot; somewhere big enough to keep us interested (in terms of walking paths, restaurants, etc.) for a few days. We didn’t want to deal with the hustle and bustle of a big town (like Positano), but also didn’t want a really tiny place (like Atrani). In the end, the town of Amalfi seemed to fit the bill, so that’s where we went.
After my work meeting in London, we decided to add some extra vacation days and travel. Paris was number one on the list. I’d been to Paris once, but didn’t get to explore much at all. Gen had been in Paris once for an hour when she was traveling through Europe during her college semester abroad in Lancaster. Aman had been pestering to see the Eiffel Tower for the past 6 months. So Paris was a no-brainer.
Yet another work meeting across the Atlantic, this time in Woking, about 45 minutes outside London. This time I decided to take some proper time off after the meeting; Gen and Aman came along and we planned to visit Paris and Italy as well. This time Aman was big enough to really enjoy the museums, restaurants, and sights that London had to offer.