For me, Christchurch, New Zealand in 2012 was one of the most visually gripping images of resilience I had ever experienced. A massive and deadly earthquake had destroyed the city in February of 2011, killing 185 people and flattening much of downtown.
It also decimated the economy of the Christchurch, New Zealand's second most populated city. Downtown became a ghost town, filled with rubble, construction barricades, and empty, condemned buildings.
Businesses closed. Jobs diminished. And people just left.
We ran into a young family walking with their children outside while we were there. They were quick to share with us what life was like post-quake.
"Many of our friends decided to just leave. There are much fewer jobs, and many people are displaced from their homes."
And yet, some stayed.
By the time we arrived at Christchurch, it had been about a year and a half since the earthquake. Rebuilding had begun, and you could see signs of life.
Yes, there were still many barricades up, and the downtown area still felt empty and mostly abandoned, though certain businesses had started to open.
We discovered an incredible gem of a restaurant during this time. The young family directed us to an Italian restaurant called Saggio Di Vino. The restaurant had recently moved locations due to the earthquake but had just re-opened not too long ago.
It turned out to be one of the most memorable meals we had our entire 3-week trip.
Although there were no tables left for walk-ins, they told us we could sit at the bar.
Sitting at the bar allowed us to talk and get to know the staff, which was really special. The women working behind the bar, Lina, took excellent care of us.
We started by choosing a bottle of wine to go with our meal: a 2010 Pinot Noir from Escarpment, a winery in New Zealand.
Their Rack of Lamb was executed beautifully, a perfect food to go with good wine.
In fact, all of the food was really good.
We loved sitting at the bar (pictured above, us with Bryan's parents).
And then, at the end of the meal, Bryan decided he wanted an Irish Coffee.
I was blown away by the way they make this drink. Is this how it's always made? First, brown sugar is heated and dissolved in Irish whiskey over an open flame. Once melted, the flame continues burning inside the drink, encouraging sugar caramelization as well as providing a stunning visual.
Finally, 2 shot of espresso are added as well as fresh hand-whipped cream.
I liked Bryan's Irish coffee so much that I ended up ordering another one for myself. Not only did I get to enjoy this delicious drink, I got to watch the show all over again. Benefits of sitting at the bar, I guess.
The Bartender Lina (shown making our coffee drink above) was especially nice to us. In fact, after finding out that we would be returning to Christchurch at end end of our circular loop around the South Island, she offered to take our entire family around Christchurch on our last day.
On our last morning, after a delicious breakfast with Lina at The Monday Room, we hopped into her car for a personal tour of Christchurch.
It was a fascinating look at another side of Christchurch we had never seen. Aren't these houses facing Sumner Bay on the hill just gorgeous?
After the earthquake, shipping containers took over the city, reinventing themselves as barriers, passageways, and even makeshift shops. The ones above serve as barriers to protect the road from falling rocks.
We felt so indebted to her for her generosity to complete strangers. We promised to keep in touch.
"I think I will be traveling to America sometime next year, maybe Los Angeles."
"Oh, you must come visit! Bryan's parents live in LA . . ."
Alas, unfortunately, we completely lost touch. We had only given her our New Zealand specific cell phone number, which went dark as soon as we left the country.
I am hoping to be able to find her again someday, if nothing else just to say thank you so much for your warm hospitality.
I leave you with the recipe for Saggio di Vino's incredible Irish whiskey. I love how it's made with espresso, which adds a stronger intensity that I really like. I've made it at home a few times, and it's delicious.
1 teaspoon brown sugar