East Meet West at Blakes Amsterdam

By: Cymber Quinn

Our 11th floor penthouse suite was comfortably decorated in tasteful furnishings (à la Danish modern) in shades of light green and purple. How did they know these are my favorites? If you've read any of my previous articles, you know how important an excellent bed is to having a good hotel experience, and Heritage's king was first rate. We had a nice poofy pillow top mattress with super soft sheets. As an added bonus, we had eight sleeping pillows in addition to the six or seven decorative ones. As Bob and I like to sleep with pillows between our knees to alleviate back tension, we loved this.

We were too pooped from our travels to go out for food, so we ordered room service. Because Christchurch is a multicultural city with large English, Asian, and Polynesian populations, the menu made for interesting reading. You can get fish-n-chips, bangers-n-mash, Thai green curry, pasta, hamburgers, and omelets. We ordered an interesting and spicy version of Hot-n-Sour soup, and a perfectly presented Caesar salad. All of these wonderful dishes are available at the hotel restaurant, which is located in the OGB — Old Government Building, just across the driveway.

The Old Government Building is the work of acclaimed architect Joseph Clarkson Maddison and is believed to be the finest example of monumental Italianate Renaissance Palazzo in New Zealand. Restoration of the century-old building to transform it into hotel suites was achieved without destroying any of the building's innate charm, using Maddison's original drawings. The OGB houses luxurious suites, the restaurant, wine celler, a chic bar, and a wonderful day spa.

The bathroom had a nice, large tub for soaking and large shower with a high showerhead, which Bob especially appreciated because of his 6'3" height.

Many of the rooms include a complete kitchen, not just a coffeemaker. We enjoyed the flat screen TV, the first we had seen in a hotel room. Heritage offers Sky TV satellite service which includes all the American TV you could want, plus BBC and MTV — in New Zealand that's Maori Television.

The Maoris are Polynesian relatives of Hawaiians, and they have managed to maintain their language and their culture; they also control all the jade mining in the country. To get a taste of Maori life, rent the recent movie, "The Whale Rider." Maori TV offers all the same television fare as the English language version — news, events, documentaries, even game shows, all in the local language.

The Heritage offers high speed Internet, although you have to pay for it, and a lovely evening turn down service. But what makes the hotel so spectacular is its location — just a few minutes' walk to loads of beautiful and interesting sites in "The Most English City in New Zealand". It's also called "The Garden City" . . . read on to learn why.

"When the first settlers from England arrived at Lyttleton in 1850, they brought with them the gardening traditions of that country. It was just 13 years after the arrival that the initial plans were made to form the present Botanic Gardens.

The grounds of the Botanic Gardens encompass an area of 30 hectares, the majority of this being within the loop of the Avon River. Contained within this area is undoubtedly the finest collection of exotic and indigeous plants to be found anywhere in New Zealand. There are numerous large majestic trees, many of which are in excess of 100 years, and form an interesting background to the various sections of the Gardens.

Spring (October, November and December) is the best time to visit the Rock Garden, where blooms change daily. From Spring through Summer to Autumn, many plants continue to flower, bringing life and colour to this part of the Gardens."

I love gardens, and we walked through different parts of this one every day we were in Christchurch. As you botanists may know, Giant Sequoias need quite specific conditions in which to grow, and those conditions are found only in California and China. Or so I thought. We were quite surprised to find 6-7 fine specimens of redwoods, growing happily, and for quite some time, too, judging by their size. One of the redwoods has a branch that makes a wonderful hammock-y seat. From its shiny bark, it was clear my hiney was not the first to grace it.

Got Art?

On your way to or from the Botanic Gardens, be sure to stop in the Te Puna O Waiwhetu or Christchurch Art Gallery (all government signs are offered in English and Maori; the "wh" is pronounced as an "f.") The Gallery is the city's art museum, and houses a fine collection of New Zealand art in its permanent collection, and a fine show of portraits when we were there. There's also a MOMA-style gift shop and appropriately modern eatery. Admission is free, though a donation is appreciated. There was a considerable controversy over the aesthetics of proposed additionArticle Search, so you'll have to let us know how it turned out when you get there. www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz

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