More news and information from your faithful correspondent in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Last night, I ventured over to Cathedral Square to take in The Cathedral Grammar School’s Christmas Festival of Carols and Lessons. Despite the promises of the school’s Dean, the night was not particularly fun for either the kids or the adults who came to hear them. I was one of a very few people in the audience who did not have a rooting interest in the choir (i.e., I wasn’t related to any of the participants). Leaving aside many questions or religion and ethics, you’ve got to hand to the Catholics that they build some interesting buildings. The Christchurch Cathedral is nothing like any of the great European Cathedrals, nor is it particularly old (it’s celebrating its 125th birthday this year which makes it younger than the City of Madison). However, the New Zealanders opt to fill their cathedral with music which makes all the difference. There’s just something about choral music filling a large space that creates a particularly satisfying experience.

During the course of the performance, I learned that just because the words are the same, you can’t count on Christmas carols being sung to the same tune. For instance, the New Zealand version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is nothing like the version we sing in the US. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but because portions of the show included audience participation, I often had to sit out a verse or two until I could pick up the tune and stumble through the remaining verses.

After the chorus concert, I sought out dinner and ended up with another lesson in globalization. I found myself sitting in an English bar (The Bard of Avon), drinking New Zealand (Monteith’s Pilsner) and German (Erdinger Weissbeer) beers, listening to an expatriate Canadian (Eric Simon), sing American pop and rock songs (John Denver, CCR, Neil Young, etc.) to an audience of people that included people from Israel, Taiwan, the US, and England.

This morning, I rented a bicycle and set out to get outside of the city center. Christchurch has a reasonably solid network of bicycle friendly streets, so getting about on the bike isn’t too much work. However, for those were not previously aware of the fact, they drive on the left here. That means that bicyclists ride on the left as well, which is not an easy adjustment. Everything feels backwards when you’re riding on the left. You make left turns on red; right turns are more difficult than lefts; pulling out of a driveway always is done with a left turn; etc. The easiest way to function that I’ve found so far is to listen to your instincts. If they are all telling you that you’re doing something wrong, chances are that you’re right in the left-driving world of New Zealand.

After a while, I found myself at Sumner Beach, south and a bit east of Christchurch. There were people out running their dogs in the surf, and a group of people getting instruction in surfing.

A bit further down the road, I stopped at Scarborough Beach and rested for a while near a cafe ever-so-cleverly named Scarborough Fare. Har, har. After some time spent messing around with the various modes on my camera, I tackled the steep and winding Whitewash Road up to the top of Scarborough Head. Fortunately, the bicycle rental folks dropped off a mountain bike with a fairly low gear. Even so, I had to abandon the bike three-quarters of the way up the hill as the trail just got too steep.

Once I was at the top, I took a few photos, watched the gulls for a while, and contemplated just how much sunburn I was getting and just how little I could do about it. After a walk into Nicholson’s Park to refill my water bottle, it was back down the hill to find some grub.

For lunch, I ate at a little seafood shack in Sumner and had the Gurnard Burger. On the menu, this was listed as: “Crumbled Gurnard, egg, cheese, and tartare sauce.” I thought this might be two sorts of cheese (Gurnard and some unnamed cheese), with an egg and some tartar sauce (what for?) on a hamburger. What I got was a deep-fried fish fillet on a toasted bun with some melted cheese, a fried egg, a couple of tomato slices, some lettuce, and a generous serving of tartar sauce. So, apparently, Gurnard is a white fish something like cod. I chose the Gurnard burger because I just couldn’t think about having fish and chips, which is definitely the national dish here. I got chips with my sandwich last night, and it doesn’t seem like I’ll have any shortage of opportunities to have chips again if the urge arises.

After the burger, I stopped at The Thirsty Marriner (spelling deliberate; it’s on Marriner Rd), to rest and refuel with a Tiger Beer (from Singapore) before biking into the teeth of a stiff wind back to Christchurch.

On the way back, I stopped to buy strawberries and gooseberries from a guy selling them out of the back of his station wagon on the side of the road. The strawberries are good, but I may have to pitch the gooseberries. They’re quite sour and I just don’t see myself finishing them.

Now, I’m sheltering from the midday sun and the wind in my hotel room for a couple of hours before heading out again. The last thing I need before heading for Antarctica in a couple of days is an even worse sunburn than I’ve already got.

I’ve added some photos to the Photo Gallery that show some of what I saw and did so far today.