Well, I'm in my new home...for the next seven weeks, at least. Yes, I won't have to deal with boarding airplanes until sometime in February (at which point I'll have a 41-hour flight). Hurray! Instead, I'll just be getting on bus after bus after bus. But I haven't noted where I am yet, have I? ...I'm in New Zealand. There. No major adventures yet, but I should have the opportunities to see some cool things while I'm here. It's funny, my mom sent me a email saying how it's been my dream to visit New Zealand. At this point, I'm not sure if I really have any dreams or aspirations; not the way other people do, at least. I just do things. But brief psychological musings aside, I have always had an real interest in visiting New Zealand, even before it was Middle Earth. Now, allow me to take off my hipster glasses and let's talk about the last couple days.
So, I woke up early again on Sunday morning, feeling quite tired (mainly because I stayed up so late the night before to post my blog entry - yeah, I'm blaming you), and finished what I had left of my packing. I then had a breakfast of champions: toast and watermelon. Not joking; if I could eat watermelon for breakfast all the time, I would. Hell, if I could eat watermelon for every meal, forever, I would. Shortly afterward, Ursula drove me to the airport. I got there really early - about 8:30 for a noon flight - but she had elsewhere to be, and hey, I'm not gonna complain when she's providing free of charge. I said my goodbyes to her, and then headed inside.
I got through everything smoothly (and, thankfully, had printed out some boarding passes the night before, so didn't have to check in at any of the desks), and was inside, near my gate with three hours to go. I searched around, and happily found an "Internet Station", which in this case was just an empty desk with a couple of outlets at it. Perfect. I sat down and plugged in my computer. It turns out that you had to pay for the WiFi in the Cairns airport, so I didn't even bother with it, choosing instead to simply filter through my Cairns photos (and, before narrowing any out, I had a good thousand). I actually managed to weed it down to a quarter, and also did fine-tuning for some of them before it was time to board.
I got on the plane, feeling pretty content at my near-the-back seat, which was almost completely by itself. Nobody in my row, nobody in the row in front, and nobody in the row in back. Or so I thought. As it turned out, right before we took off, a group of people filled up the back rows behind me. Little people. Kids. Mistakes were made, I mused to myself. I did chuckle a bit at the interactions between the flight attendant and the kids - she wanting to give them activity books, them wanting to simply play with their iPads - but I was worried that they were going to be an issue. Thankfully, in this case, I was wrong. The kids were generally pretty tolerable, mainly because they were preoccupied with their iPads. See? Technology addiction has its benefits! As for my part, I spent the flight touching up the remainder of my Cairns photos (meaning that, at that point, I was completely caught up on filtering through pictures), and watched some videos.
Shortly before landing in Sydney, though, I also came to the realization that on this entire trip, I had not seen one koala. Awwww......
Upon arriving in Sydney, I grabbed my bag and made my way to the international terminal transfer bus. Along the way, I checked my pockets and saw that I still had $5.50 in Australian currency. Too little to exchange, so I just spent $5 getting a somewhat big bag of M&M's from a vending machine (interestingly, not much more expensive than they were elsewhere in the country), and put the fifty-cent piece in a charity bucket. (As a tangent, UNICEF was advertising this program where you could donate loose change of any currency to one of their bins. Considering all the small notes and coins I've ended up with going from country to country, that seemed a brilliant idea.) I took a short bus ride to the international terminal, and went to the immigration checkpoint. Having been disappointed at not getting a stamp on the way in, I asked for a departing one. To my dismay, the officer had no stamps of any kind. So my passport is without any evidence of having been to Australia; sad. I then went through another security checkpoint, which went smoothly, but I found it interesting how I was told that the explosive screening (where they lightly swab you and your bag with a cloth and then scan it for explosive material) was random. No joke, I have literally gotten that screening on every single flight I've gotten in Australia. Either I'm beating the odds (regardless of what they are), or I look like a mad bomber.
I still had a little time, so I tried to get some maintenance done on my phone and computer (no rest for the wicked). Then, my flight was moved to another gate, which worried me. I dunno, whenever a flight changes gates, it seems that's never the only thing that goes wrong. And as it turns out, I was right about this one. Once I got to the new gate, the flight was delayed, as the arriving plane was late. So I waited. Then it was delayed again. So I waited some more, this time trying to practice some Spanish on a new app I downloaded called Duolingo (which I only just heard of because it won some award). All in all, the flight was delayed for an hour and 45 minutes. I was terribly exhausted, even though I hadn't done anything all day. I boarded onto the flight, which was absolutely packed. I spent the time watching some videos that I had the foresight to put on my phone whilst waiting, because I figured I wouldn't want to read, would have no interest in the movies they were showing, and wouldn't want to take out my laptop in such a crowded environment. I guess it was just a bit weird for the folks around me to see me staring at my phone and laughing.
When the plane landed, I got out as fast as possible. I knew I wasn't going to check into the hostel until after midnight, but even that was laughably quaint at this point. I really didn't want to spend any longer than possible here. So, I quickly walked to the immigration and customs desks, and gave them my passport and arrival card. And man, the officer there was the most humorless man I'd met in such a position. He never smiled, gave me a number of suspicious stares, and clearly asked me more questions than he had asked any of the other foreigners in front of me. He squinted his eyes when I confirmed that my two bags were all I had, and forced me to not only show him my itinerary out of New Zealand (thankfully there was WiFi for me to access it on my phone, and even then he scrutinized it very thoroughly), but also my itineraries proving that I was going to be going to all the cities I said I was. Again, it's a good thing all my bus trips and accommodations were already planned. Once he seemed as close to "satisfied" as he could possibly be, he wrote a big "E" on my arrival card, stamped my passport, and let me through. I went forward, but when I got further along to customs, the officer took my card, looked at the "E", and then told me to go behind the wall.
Yep, I was getting the thorough examination.
Another officer told me to sit down and place my bags on her desk. I did so, taking off the locks. "Are you sure these are your only bags?" "Very," I replied. I genuinely don't know why that was such a sticking point with everybody. But still, this lady seemed much more sympathetic than the other guy, most likely because I was the last person who'd be going through before they'd be closing shop for the night, so they had every reason to keep it simple and go home. Even so, every single item in my bags was taken out and laid on the table, to prove that it was kosher. My favorite exchange came when I was starting to pack everything back up:
"Wait a minute; it says on your arrival card that you have equipment, that you have shoes that have been in a forest in another country."
"Yes, I was walking through a rainforest in the last week."
"I didn't see any shoes in your bag."
"Where are your shoes, sir?"
"I'm, uh, wearing them."
Truth be told, I was a little concerned about my shoes, as they actually were a tad muddy from when I stepped out onto the Cairns mud flats. Happily, the customs boss came over and determined that they weren't muddy enough to be considered a quarantine issue. I was finally allowed to go. I made it out into the arrivals lounge, got some cash in an ATM, and looked for something to drive me to the hostel. I didn't want to take a taxi, as according to my calculations, that would have cost me about $50. I wanted to use a shuttle instead, as that would cost half as much. Thank goodness this place had free WiFi, as I was able to use Skype to call the shuttle company and have it come pick me up. While I waited, I grabbed pretty much every brochure and info packet I could find; hopefully some of them would prove worthwhile. Before long, the shuttle came and picked me up. The driver was quite nice and helpful, but I could only return his kindness by half-dozing. When we finally got to the hostel, he walked me to the front door to make sure I wasn't locked out, and let me to my own devices. I grabbed the envelope posted next to the door, petted one of the cats walking by, and then went inside. I got up to my room, quietly and carefully, and - only taking the time to put my bags in a safe place and taking my shirt off - went immediately to sleep.
Again, I was supposed to have gotten in shortly after midnight. It was now past 3am.
I didn't get nearly as much sleep as I was hoping for, as the windows here were positioned in a direct beeline towards the tenants' heads, and there seemed to be no semblance of a shade on them, so once the sun came up (which was pretty early), I had a harsh light beckoning me awake. I looked around, and it seemed as though everyone else in the dorm I was staying in had already left to go to their respective destinations. A shame, I felt we were all just starting to really have a rapport going. In any case, I tried to use the opportunity to get my stuff together, to organize my bags, to put stuff away in a locker, to see if I could afford any of the things offered in the brochures I had grabbed. (And...I could, I really just don't want to.) At one point, the cleaning girl came in and said I shouldn't be complaining about being tired because I'm on holiday; I was too tired to either argue the point or to be nice to her, so I went downstairs, had some breakfast (which just ended up being some of my leftover cereal, because they don't serve breakfast here), and officially checked in for my stay here. "Four nights," the lady in the office said, "You're in here for the long haul." Apparently, Christchurch is considered a bit of a stopping point where people spend a day and nothing more. But whatever, even if there's nothing to do, I could manage on my own.
I went out to see the town, and also to see if I could find a SIM card for my phone, as there had only been a single mobile provider kiosk at the airport, and I didn't like their prices (and, confusingly, all their literature was in Chinese). The first shopping center I went to, called Eastgate, wasn't terribly big; in fact, it was compact enough that I felt I must have missed something. But no, it was just a small place. Happily, though, it had a public library, which offered free WiFi with no visible limitations (the hostel offered free WiFi, but only 100mb per night spent, which, as I'll talk about shortly, has its issues). So I spent a little bit of time there trying to orient myself and get an idea of what I could do. That's the thing...back before I started getting country-specific SIM card (that is, South Africa), I was reliant on hotel WiFi for all my phone information needs, but in places like this, I don't even have that luxury. Anyway, once I felt like I had drained my phone battery to a point where it would just survive the day, I left. I looked and saw that I could have my photo taken with Santa Claus, but I would have to spend $10 in the shopping center for such a privilege, so I let it go. (Hold up; that Santa Claus had a New Zealander accent. Hmm, something's fishy here...) I continued on, got a small bite to eat for lunch, and continued my search for a phone store as I walked to the city center.
I'll just put some musings here. Christchurch is an interesting city. Not necessarily interesting in the same kind of way an old European city or exotic Asian or Middle Eastern city is. In fact, in certain places, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're in Southern California. The weather's fairly similar, and the architecture doesn't seem too out there. Really, all that gives it away is the fact that people are driving on the wrong sides of the road. But the whole place seems to have been redefined by the earthquakes that happened back in 2010/2011. I guess I would have imagined that two years would have been enough time to rebuild, but the reality is, there are places that are still abandoned. Like, legit abandoned. I saw a sign for a happy looking place called "Friendz Backpackers". However, as I actually walked past the entrance, I saw that the gate across the door had a lock on it rusted tight, some of the glass of the door was broken underneath their hours-of-operation sign, and there was trash and debris sitting on the threshold, including a dead pigeon. Later, I saw a Starbucks, and thought to get my drink on. But no, that too had spray paint on the windows, and dust collecting on coffee bags still sitting on the counter inside. Other places were a bit more obvious, either with construction crews rebuilding places, or simply buildings missing parts of their structure.
In the city center, there's a completely different aspect that you see. Apparently, one of the main tools of reconstruction here has been the shipping container. These have been used for numerous things, but the most notable has been that businesses have moved into them. I'm not joking. In the city center, they have built a new set of buildings within the open courtyard, all composed of reconstituted shipping containers. There are clothes stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and even banks. And when you go inside one of these places (which can be composed anywhere from one to four containers), they feel like real places, if a bit cozy. There's also a place called the "Cardboard Cathedral", which I haven't had the chance to visit yet, but assume is built off a similar philosophy. I'd guess that all these places, being as unique as they are, will stay in Christchurch for years after reconstruction has finished (whenever that will be). There's even an attraction in this city center called "Quake City." As I said, it seems like the earthquakes have redefined what the city (officially nicknamed "The Garden City") is about. I kind of wish I had the chance to visit this place about, maybe, five years ago, and compare it in all aspects to how it is now. Whatever the case, I can guarantee it would be quite different.
While out, I decided to go to the central bus station to see if I could get a bus card, since this would save me money whenever I wanted to take public transportation (and since the hostel was a fair distance from the city center, public transportation seemed a wise decision for future travel). All that was required, according to their website, was an initial investment of $10, which was worth four trips. No sweat, I could easily do four trips while I'm...oh, wait, what's that, lady behind the counter? It's $10 in addition to whatever money I put on there. Meaning I'd have to take ten trips before the thing paid for itself? Yeah...not worth it. So, having wasted a good 45 minutes on this side venture, I continued looking for a SIM card, and finally, finally found a place that sold them, and it was a stationary store of all places. (To be fair, it was bigger than just a simple stationary shop; it was more like a Staples.) I went inside and saw the section where the four providers were offering their services. And even though I had previously researched all this, multiple times, I still spent a half-hour here, comparing plans.
So, one discovery I've had (which I kind of knew before coming here but it really hit me upon arrival). Internet is expensive in New Zealand. It makes sense when you think about it - it's a small, sparsely-inhabited island nation a fair distance away from any major source of Internet connection. Undersea cables need to be maintained, and that cost needs to be divided up amongst the low number of people who use it. Remember how I noted the phone plan in Australia being one which cost $2 a day for 500mb? And that I could pay that twice a day, getting 1gb a day for $4 a day, plus talk and text messages. Maaaaannnnn, how I wish I could have that here. Here, it's on a monthly basis, and the cheap plan, the cheap plan, is $16 for a month, with 180 minutes of phone time, unlimited texts (yippee...), and 1gb of data...again, for the month. Want a second gig? That will cost $20, unless you want to cancel your old plan and start a new one for $16 (which I might do). And this is with a holiday promotion; all of those amounts are usually cut in half. But yeah, at the cheapest, you're paying quadruple the price per gig, and you get a small amount per month. So, I won't be able to lean upon my mobile plan as a backup WiFi provider for my computer while I'm here. I'm mostly going to have to rely on local WiFi hotspots, which will cost an additional $10 a month for an account, but provide an additional gig a day, should I need it. So yeah, I hope Netflix and streaming sites start making it over here, so the higher bandwidth needs will force some kind of downward price pressure. Anyway, Internet rambling over.
I finally went with a Skinny Mobile SIM card (that's the cheap, youth-marketed brand here), and continued walking. I made my way back to the city center, mostly by accident, and spent a little more time there. I decided to go into the Quake Center. I was a little cautious about paying for my entrance into there, as I didn't want this just to be an exploitation of the events. But I was hopeful that the money would help go into reconstruction efforts, at least in part. The exhibit, while not huge, was quite informative, and I felt I had a much better feeling about what it was like. What actually surprised me was how badly the city was affected, because it wasn't the first time there's been an earthquake in the area. In fact, for the last century-and-a-half, it's been a relatively common phenomenon, so I'd have thought the place would have been built to withstand it. I'd imagine anywhere in California being able to reasonably survive a 7.1 quake at this stage, but maybe I'm just being overly optimistic...
As I continued along, I happened upon the old cathedral, which was formerly the center of town. Now, it was surrounded on all sides by fences, and was only half a church at this point. Walls were crumbling, large portions were exposed...and this is a full two years (coming in on three) after the last big earthquake. Apparently, the cathedral was still considered so unstable that they didn't want to start reconstruction on it (at least not yet), and nobody had the heart to order its destruction. As I was looking at it, an old man came up and started looking at it, basically saying that he felt it would never be reconstructed, and that people were thinking with nostalgia instead of logic. He then drifted into his own nostalgia, telling me about what the place was like when he was a boy (trams came in directly in front of the cathedral, and a number of "moving picture houses" surrounded the area). Then, another fellow came to look at it, and told us that he was in the cathedral, taking pictures for some assignment, literally 20 minutes before the earthquake. He then went to a nearby KFC and paid for his food, but never received it. "Scariest day of my life," he said, as the old man silently nodded his head. The second man then left, and the first one stayed barely longer, asking where I was from. I told him that I was from California, and traveling the world. "It's a good world to travel," he said pleasantly, and walked off. A second later, I turned to look at him again, but he was gone. Whether he was some kind of spirit, or had just turned the corner, I guess I'll never know. But again, I felt that exchange kind of illustrated how the earthquake has been a major player here. People will just gather around old scenes of destruction and briefly talk about it, even now.
Afterward, I decided to walk back to the hostel (amazingly, I'd been out and about for nearly five hours, despite having accomplished almost nothing). Along the long walk back, I felt that I should stop to get some groceries. I initially stopped at a small supermarket, but was suspicious of their claims of having the lowest prices, so I took note of all the things I wanted to get, and continued until I got to a larger grocery store. As it turns out, this was a marginally sound decision, as the prices were marginally less. Actually, that meant it was a pretty sound decision, because it also saved me from walking an extra mile or more with bags of groceries. I got myself a chicken, some bread and sandwich meats, yogurt, and some snacks (but stupidly forgot salad or spinach until I was already at the register), which I then took back to the hostel, another mile away. Once getting in, I moved my chicken meat from bone to container, marked everything with the weakest permanent marker ever, and then went to my room. Inside, I saw that there were new tenants...one of them in my bed. I broached the situation in the most polite way I could think of, but the people were completely nice about it, being mellow Hawaiians. Once they went into the other part of the dormitory, I say down, and decided to log online. And within a half-hour, I had used up all 100mb that was offered. I had no rational explanation for it; I had done nothing especially bandwidth-intensive; I felt like I should have only used up half the bandwidth that I did. So I downloaded a program which measures what programs use what bandwidth, and oddly enough, Avast antivirus seemed to be taking the lion's share. Whether this is because all my web activity is filtering through it, or because some manner of worm is causing me to drain bandwidth, I'm not sure; I'll have to do some tests. This would help explain how I used up so much of Ursula's bandwidth while I was there, as I was again not doing anything particularly intensive.
Ah, bandwidth woes, the most thrilling of travel blog topics.
Anyway, after some time, I had a lovely, exquisite dinner of chicken and toast. I suppose I could have made a sandwich out of it, but didn't really want to. I looked in the fridge to see what freebies were available, and saw a jar of English mustard, so I took out a spoonful to dip my chicken in. Man, that stuff is hot. I don't think I've had such hot mustard before. But it did the trick. Later still (nothing of value happened in the interim), I took a shower, and then did some nightly stuff: writing, reading, watching videos, etc. I didn't have too much interest in going to the bar scene, especially alone, especially on a Monday, and especially when it would mean having to take a bus or taxi. So I just did my thing until the girl sharing my portion of the dorm (who I was, to my own amazement, successfully identify as having a Colombian accent) went to bed. I decided to join her. By which I meant I also went to sleep. In my own bed.
The sun woke me up, again earlier than I would have liked, but the Colombian girl, who was just about to head out to catch her bus, discovered that the strange, strange window in our room had a built-in shade. She pulled it down, and our room was blanketed in beautiful darkness. As such, I was able to sleep in a little longer; not sure how long exactly, maybe an hour, maybe two. When I eventually did get up, I went down to have some cereal and yogurt for breakfast. As I did so, one of the house cats came around, clearly looking for a snack. I wanted to heed the directive to not feed the cats, but he was so darn cute, so I struck a halfway deal by dipping my finger into my cereal bowl and letting the cat lick off the milk. It was nonfat (or "trim", as they call it here), so I didn't feel too guilty about it. As I was eating, though, I realized I could hear the pitter-patter of raindrops. I looked outside, and sure enough, it was raining outside. That put both a literal and figurative damper on the day. Looking at the weather forecast, I saw that it should be finished by noon, so in the interim, I went back to my room and did some writing. I also switched beds, because honestly, I liked where the other bed was better; more privacy.
Shortly before noon, I got my backpack, put in a jacket just in case, and went down to the kitchen, where I made myself a couple sandwiches. To my great pleasure, the hostel's free "from the garden" bowl had some kind of lettuce plant in it (romaine, maybe), so I was able to add that for some necessary crunch and greenery. I also noticed that, as I was spreading the ketchup and mustard, I started thinking, of all places, of Arby's. I realized it was the smell of ketchup combining with the horseradish-like spice of the mustard. That's not actually important in any way, but I thought it interesting nonetheless.
I left the hostel and went to the nearby bus station. I did this for two reasons. First, I wanted to save some time, rather than just walking the near-four miles to the Botanic Gardens (which was one of my destinations for the day). Second, I wanted to see how long it would take me to get to the central station and then walk to the nearby museum, to see when I would have to leave on Thursday. My bus ride out to the next town would be at 7am, and I'd probably want to be there are 6:45, so I wanted to make sure I left in a reasonable fashion. I waited for a bit, and a bus came. I got on, paid, and sat down. The bus drove all the way to the Eastgate shopping center, waited there a bit, and then turned around and went the other way. Wait, huh? That wasn't supposed to happen. I looked at my bus ticket. The number on there was not the one I thought it would be; I had gotten on the wrong bus. I got off at the next available stop, and then crossed the street to wait for the correct bus. Thankfully, these tickets offer a free transfer within a two-hour period, so I wouldn't have to pay again. I waited for a good while until the bus came, and after hopping on, eventually got to the central bus station. Looking at my watch, this had taken a long time, too long to seem practical for my Thursday needs. In fact, it wouldn't work at all, because the earliest bus of the day wouldn't arrive until after my intercity bus was supposed to leave. So, I'm either going to have to walk 4 miles, with my backpack, at 5:30 in the morning (fat chance), or get a taxi or shuttle. Good to know!
I walked to the Botanic Gardens and, upon arriving at 1:30, decided to sit down on a bench and have some lunch. The sandwich couldn't compare to the amazing sandwiches I made back in the Blue Mountains, but hey, it was considerably cheaper. I then walked around the gardens for a while. You'd expect them to be pretty impressive, considering that Christchurch is the Garden City and all, and you'd be right. There are all sorts of plants, all sorts of flowers, all sorts of trees. Interestingly, in most of the botanical gardens I've been too, the range of flowers was the most impressive parts, but here, it was the trees. These were seriously trees out of Lord of the Rings. Two in particular stood out - one of them looked more like two trees which had been braided together. The other one was completely Middle Earth-y. It stood straight and tall, with branches coming out everywhere like wriggling tentacles, with what seemed like a woody ivy growing out from the base, covering the trunk of the tree with a multitude of leaves starting maybe ten feet up. If that description was confusing, just rest assured that it looked awesome.
I continued walking around for a couple hours, and then went to the nearby Canterbury Museum. To my surprise and pleasure, there was no entry fee. It was a pretty nice museum too, covering all your bases: local anthropology, geography, history, animals, dinosaurs, mummies, Antarctic exploration, the works. One particular funny note about it was the fact that they had placed small Santa dolls in a number of the exhibits. It seemed like there was some greater meaning to them, like some sort of "count-the-Santa’s" game, but I didn't see any information about it. Out of place, yes, but fun nonetheless. What wasn't fun, though, were all the kids making a ruckus inside there (one of the disadvantages of having free admittance, no doubt). Now, I am a full proponent of kids going to places of learning, and interacting with everything. But Christ(church), do they have to be so obnoxious about it. Like, stamping your feet when walking. There's no need to do that. Parents, teach your kids to have imagination and freedom while still having respect for their fellow human beings. Now, where's my arthritis medicine?
After going through all the exhibits in the museum, I decided to walk back to the central bus station. This was actually more difficult than anticipated. For some reason, I've had a more difficult time getting my bearings here than in almost any other place I've been to. I'm not sure if the destroyed buildings are the cause of that, or just the fact it's really spread out with no really clear landmarks, but I was finding it difficult to know where I was or where I was going without looking at a map. This added another, maybe, ten minutes to my way to the bus station, which may have cost me more time in the long run. I sat down at the station, and saw that the next 21 bus, which would take me back to the hostel, would arrive in 4 minutes. Perfect! Except...it didn't. It didn't arrive in four minutes, it didn't arrive in fourteen, it didn't arrive in twenty-four. The 83, the 17, the 5; they all passed by multiple times. But my bus, my bus was taking its sweet time, which I passed by listening to another Bill Bryson audiobook (At Home, in case you were wondering) and watching a building next to the bus station be dismantled by a backhoe tractor, which again punctuated how this place is still in a state of reconstruction.
After an hour - an hour! - New Zealand's least reliable bus showed up. Honestly, I might have made better time by simply walking, but I was struck by classic bus waiting syndrome (that feeling of not wanting to abandon the stop when you've waited so long, depite it being a sunk cost). I got on, and took it to the Eastgate shopping center, where I got off and headed to the outside of their public library, which was closed at this point. Just as I had suspected, they didn't turn off their WiFi when they closed their doors, so I suddenly had access to free, unlimited Internet. The only matter to resolve was speed and...oh, it turned out to be among the fastest speeds I've seen outside of Singapore. No wonder I saw so many people inside the library; it wasn't to read or learn at all. Oh ho ho! In any case, I had brought my laptop with me just in case this was the situation, and did all my potentially bandwidth-heavy browsing there. (It's amazing how many megabytes a single page can use up.) When the center itself was closing shop, I went outside and tried to go into the hair salon (as my hair has already gotten back to a state that needs constant upkeep), but found that they too were shutting down. I went inside the grocery store to get some spinach, but bags either cost $3.50 or two for $5. One option was too expensive, and the other was too much spinach for a three meals, even for me. I decided to say nuts to it all, and walked down to the nearby bus stop. I could have just walked back to the hostel, but I still had 20 minutes left on my ticket, and I wanted my money's worth. Also, I guess I could argue that it was starting to rain again, but that would be a particularly weak argument, as it was really just spitting. Thankfully, I "only" had to wait 10 minutes before the more reliable 535 (the bus I had accidentally got onto in the morning) arrived. I got on, went the short distance to the hostel, and got off.
Overall, I'm not too enamored with the bus system here. I know that's a hardline stance, but I'm takin' it.
I went inside the hostel, put my stuff down, had a quick dinner, and then got to my room, where I started doing some writing. I was pleased to see that the other bed in the room was unoccupied, but alas, it couldn't last. I had noticed an envelope next to the front door, and, just as I suspected, the new guy was in the bed next to mine. But he seems to be a nice English guy, and he's only here until he gets an intercity bus tomorrow morning (regarding which I brought him to the same conclusion I had come to myself - take a taxi to get to the meeting point). He then left, most likely to get some dinner, and I continued writing and doing my other nightly stuff.
And I know what you're wondering...no, I haven't seen any hobbits yet. I did see one dwarf woman, but that was about it.