24 February 2015

The Amazing Anniversary Race: how we raced around the world without even leaving Wellington

It's no secret that hubby and I love travel. Sure, settling down and having two kids has made it a little more difficult to gallivant all over the world but we do still manage to get out and about and see new spots around NZ these days on a regular basis - which is still travel - it's just closer to home!

I decided to spring a little anniversary surprise on my beloved for our 11th wedding anniversary on 21 Feb. This year it fell on a Saturday night so it worked out well to be able to incorporate some activities together around Wellington as well as dinner out. We are also big fans of the Amazing Race TV series and I thought it would be fun to jog his memory and let us reminisce about some of our more memorable travel experiences around the world.

He thought we were going to Taste restaurant in Khandallah and he knew I had something planned beforehand but he didn't know what! As we drove down the street and around the corner, I pulled in and handed him his first Amazing Race card. If I'm honest, he wasn't overly thrilled to begin with. I think he thought I might be planning on making him do things out in public that would embarrass him which I definitely wasn't intending! Anyway, after a bit of a rough start to the night, it gradually got better as we went along. So off we went:

Clue 1: Find and drive to the place you might go if you wanted to get a visa to visit the country where we saw elephants and turtles in the wild.

This was of course Sri Lanka - Mark had been working for Kuoni Travel in the UK in his first job out of university, and the top sales person after their first three months on the job was up for a holiday. Mark and his mate Dan were neck and neck all the way to the last week - so they decided that no matter who won they would take the other person on the holiday and pay for the partners to come along too. So as it turned out the four of us had the most amazing week or so away in Sri Lanka and the Maldives in May 2001.

We drove to the Sri Lankan Embassy at 32a Izard Street Khandallah - which was the most unassuming embassy I've ever seen - a normal house with a Sri Lankan flag flying outside - where I handed him his next clue.

Clue 2: Drive to the place that's just around the corner that has the name of the country we visited at the same time.

Which was of course Maldive Street and turned out to be pretty easy to find.

Clue 3: Now find and go to the place that most reminds you of Santorini in Wellington.

This is the Greek Orthodox Church on the same street that Mark's office is on back in the centre of town. We visited Santorini in July 2004 for our honeymoon - it was the most incredible place for sunsets - and warm - at nearly 40 degrees - although it was a dry heat with a constant meltemi wind blowing to cool things down. The sunsets there are to die for - how I wish I knew then what I knew now about photography to capture them!

Clue 4: This very nearly got us into big trouble in Perth. Where around here do you think you could buy it? Go there and find it.

When we moved back to NZ in 2002, we spent an amazing 3 weeks in South Africa and then a short stop over in Perth on the way home. However, we didn't think to declare the biltong we had planned to bring back home for my brother and then once customs found that and the wooden giraffes we also had in our luggage we very nearly got a $10,000 fine! Eek! So the biltong was duly found in New World where I handed him his next clue.

Clue 5: While you're here find something that's named after an island we visited in 1999.

This was Kos (although I wanted him to find cos lettuce). Our trip to Kos was our first holiday abroad together in late September 1999 and it was my first taste of the magic of the Greek Islands - we also later visited Keffalonia in 2001 (inspired by reading the book Captain Corelli's mandolin) and of course we also visited Santorini in 2004.

Clue 6: There's a restaurant near here that has the name of a place we visited in Amsterdam as part of its name.

This one had Mark stumped for a while - and so he had to resort to good old Google - he knew it was Heineken (we'd visited the Heineken factory whilst on a city break in Amsterdam) but he wasn't sure how to relate it to somewhere in Wellington - I'm not surprised as I also had to put my thinking cap on to get the association when I was making up the clue - but it turns out that St John's Bar is actually called the St John's Heineken hotel. Once he got that we headed there for a drink. My plan had been to have dinner here (as we have been here before on at least one other anniversary) but unfortunately they were booked for a private function so I'd had to rethink the whole route mid-week after I thought I had the whole night sussed - never mind!
When I handed Mark his next clue it took him a while to figure it out and I needed to give him a few clues - it was a little obscure as I don't think the Lovelock Bridge in Paris was probably even famous when we were there back in 2000 - but I knew Wellington had one and that it was only a couple of minutes walk away.

Clue 7: Near here is a place that's a smaller replica of a much more famous place in a European city we visited in 2000. What roadblock do you think we need to complete here?

But once he'd figured out the location - he knew exactly what we were planning to do. During the week I'd scoped the bridge out and put a padlock - the famous thing about the bridge in Paris is that couples put a padlock on the bridge and then throw away the keys - symbolising their eternal love.
Back in our earliest days when we were working together at the Museum Hotel in Wellington , we used to use 'Ma' and 'Me' as a short form of our names when signing off on things so it was only fitting we use the Ma and Me for our wee symbol of love here.

We had to be a little surreptitious as I'm pretty sure you're not meant to actually do this so while no one was looking Mark dropped the keys into the water while I clipped the padlock to the bridge!

Clue 8:  Head down the road to a shop that sells something we did in late 2001.

This was the snowboarding shop on lower Cuba Street - and was a memory of our snowboarding trip to Switzerland in December 2001. Originally we'd been planning to go to New York but then September 11 happened and we decided it probably wasn't the right time to go. So we headed off to a little ski-field called Crans Montana not far from Montreux and had an interesting week of sightseeing and a little snowboarding - I say a little as it was really much too early in the season for good powder so we had a fair few frustrations trying to find a good place to board with chair lifts (as I found the T-bar lifts nigh on impossible to manage!).

Clue 9: From here we're going to a place that's named after an impressive mountain we've seen.

And this was of course the Matterhorn - we went to Zermatt and ended up doing a day of sightseeing here and then came back later on in the week for another day of snowboarding - it was no small feat to get to from our little village - nearly 2 hours and 3 different trains to get there.

Wellington's own Matterhorn restaurant is another place we'd been to for another anniversary some years ago - although it had pretty bad memories as I ended up with one of my 'sore tummies' afterwards and the walk home from the restaurant was anything but fun. Mark got so fed up that at one point he told me I was like a 'bulldog chewing on a wasp' at one point - a funny memory that has stuck with us ever since.

Clue 10: And now it's time for tea!

So it was definitely time to lay old ghosts to rest and have a much more enjoyable Matterhorn experience this time round. Which we most certainly did.

Clue 11: Where close by can you get one of our favourite desserts from a country we've visited twice and haven't mentioned on this adventure yet?

For the last clue of the night, I wanted Mark to guess tiramisu and then give him the choice of a couple of restaurants nearby that I knew served it on their dessert menu. As it turned out, he chose Scopa which was only a short hop up the road from the Matterhorn.

We got a takeaway serving and walked back through the night market where we managed to scrounge a couple of spoons and then ate our tiramisu at the top of the cable car watching the city's lights twinkle below us.


On the way round as Mark had ticked off each clue I'd also given him a puzzle piece at each stop which when he put it all together at the end read:

It was definitely one of our more memorable anniversary evenings - it was very fun to plan and gave us the opportunity to relive some of our funny, awkward and awesome memories of the past 17 years together!

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