Monday, June 2, 2008

Stuck on Hamilton Island, and a bridge climb....

The next part of our adventure landed us on Hamilton Island, one of only seven inhabited islands part of the Whitsunday Island chain off the coast of Australia. It is the only island with a domestic airport. The mode of transportation once on the island is only hotel shuttles and golf carts. There is one owner for the whole island, so all the different hotels, shops and restaurants, are pretty much owned by the Hamilton Island Enterprises. It is extremely beautiful, but tends to get a little old for a few days since all the food is similar (aka bad), and there are lots of families and kids everywhere. Luckily we found our way around to the other side of the water and made it to the shooting range. It was the first time I'd ever shot a gun, since no license is needed in Australia. They don't have quite the gun problem were accustomed to in the States.

The strangest phenomenon on the island, is that the ocean has a massive tide, so once one or so in the afternoon hit, you could walk about 300 yards on into the water and still wouldn't be more than knee deep. We would have thought it was the ugliest beach ever if we hadn't gotten there early. Mostly, we spent the time relaxing and doing random things on the island, including watching an awesome sunset from the highest point on the island. On our final day on the island we took a sailing trip to Whitehaven beach, rated the 3rd best beach in the world, and then to another island for snorkeling. In the 80's, the Australian government declared that only about nine of the close to 90 islands in the Whitsunday chain could be built upon. So most of the islands sit uninhabited besides the occasional camper. Whitehaven was obviously amazing with perfect white sand and clear blue water. Unfortunately the weather was not quite what we expected, but its hard to complain in paradise.

After three days on Hamilton Island, we we're off to our final stop, Sydney. Kevin had not yet seen it, and was incredibly impressed, like most are. We had an amazing view from our hotel over Hyde park, and were in the heart of downtown. After a quick shower at the hotel, we were off to do the infamous Sydney Harbour Bridge climb. Sydney's bridge was the first ever bridge to allow public climbing in the world. An entrepreneur about 20 years ago, petitioned the local government to change countless laws and regulations eventually allowing the public to climb the bridge. Now it is world famous as the views are truly amazing, and tons of celebrities and people of that nature have no experienced the climb. Luckily we climbed at dusk, which in my opinion ended up being the perfect time to do it. It was sunset as we began the climb, and night by the time we got to the top. The views of the city were absolutely stunning, and although I was a skeptic, I now have jumped on the "Bridge climb in Sydney is one of the coolest things you can do in Australia" bandwagon. We ended the night with a great dinner overlooking the Harbour and the bridge, with the taste of good food and a sense of accomplishment. Although in reality its just a bunch of ladders that you climb to the top, but as far as your concerned its extremely hard.

The next day after a delicious breakfast at "Pancakes on the Rocks", in the part of Sydney known as The Rocks, I gave Kevin my best few hour tour of Sydney. A quick stop at Darling Harbour, King's Cross and a walk through the park and I was off back to Newcastle. Ending what was A long journey spanning two weeks, countless flights and miles, and a great experience.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Great Barrier Reef

The Australia leg of our trip started with a fair amount of traveling on to the Cairn's airport, and ending in Port Douglas. New Zealand's weather was great, but relatively cold compared to Port Douglas which is all the way at the top of Australia. Our resort was large with big pools throughout, as it was not recommended to swim in the ocean due to "ocean stingers." The beach was the famous four mile beach which stretched for, four miles. However, this is not even a big deal since almost Australia's entire coast is a beach. The rest of the day was very chilled out, enjoyed some drinks by the pool and some necessary relaxing. We we're able to meet up with some friends from Park Ridge for a little pizza dinner and went to sleep early in anticipation for a long day on the reef.

The next day began with a quick grab from the bakery and a shuttle to the marina. There we got on a medium size cruise liner with about 50-75 travelers and about 10 staff members. The night before at Dinner, we were warned that the water was rough, but I brushed off the talk. I had been on the ocean numerous times and was not someone who would ever get sick from such a mundane thing. When on the boat, the warnings came again. "The ocean was extremely rough, and it will take an hour and a half to get out to sea." The message kept coming, and the staff endorsed the purchase of sea-sick pills. We declined.

We set out to sea, as Kevin and I decided to ride all the way on top where it was most rocky. I was surprised to find the most intense movement of a boat I'd ever been on, as you couldn't stand without holding on to a rail. People we're crawling around, and the back of the boat was filled with people throwing up. Those scuba diving (a group Kevin and I were in), were asked to come to the inside cabin area. This was an area where you were specifically not suppose to be if either sick or wet. The instructor went through the various instructions a person needs to know before scuba diving, and we felt relatively prepared. However, through his monologue a sudden heat hit my body as the rocking of the boat started to get to me. I quickly stood and grabbed some water, but this was not enough. I looked at the staff member behind the counter and said, "is it to late to get one of those pills." He smiled and said that we only had about 15 minutes till our destination, not enough time to even feel better. I agreed and felt slightly better.

I walked towards the end of the boat and started talking with one of the female workers. We laughed and I made fun of all the people that were sick. As I walked back into the cabin area I suddenly felt worse than ever and threw up, but was able to hold it in my mouth. A worker quickly shook his hands, "No! Not in here," and motioned me outside. Luckily, I held it in a let it out in a bag. The girl took it from me laughing and through it off the back, "and you were the one a second ago making fun of everyone for throwing up!" Yes, I was that guy. After that I felt much better. We got the laughs out and continued on. Suddenly, the feeling came over me again and as I held it in and ran with a worker to the back deck I let lose uncontrollably, on the Worker. After letting it go, a "oh my god I am so sorry," came out quickly behind the mess I had just let ago on his shirt. I had thrown up on one of the workers. Priceless.

The day continued on relatively uneventful as we scuba dove and snorkeled in three areas of the outer reef. The coral was amazing, as was the diving. We were able to rent an underwater camera and got some great photos. The reef was amazing, especially looking off the back of the boat and seeing it from outside the water. It is Earth's only living element which is visible from space. The fish were also beautiful and interesting and it was a great day on the water, besides the worker who's life may have been altered forever, or maybe just his career path.

That night we ate dinner at "Nautilus", an outdoor seafood restaurant that was in the rain forest. As you walk down the street of Port Douglas, you come to some forest that has a path of about 75 yards leading you to the restaurant. It was extremely unique, and only was the way it was because it was the first part of the town, and the rest of Port Douglas was built around it. Originally it was not a eatery, but over time it developed into one. The food was excellent and we were surprised to find through conversation that Bill Clinton had actually ate there twice. We were equally amused to find that the last time Clinton was there was the week of September 11th, 2001, and at the time of the bombings he was in a bar which in Australia's time was 1am. I wonder where Hilary was? The next morning it was another early flight and off to Hamilton Island.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Christchurch and Car Rentals

Christchurch is in the northern part of the south island of New Zealand. It is a larger city that Queenstown, but still has a mountain range as a backdrop in the distance. Its also a city with a gondola which takes you from the ground up to the top of a mountain, but not nearly as cool as the one in Queenstown. We rented a car in Christchurch, which besides for the driving on the other side of the road and Kevin's continuing to hit the windshield wiper when trying to hit the turn signal, driving was a relatively easy task. In Christchurch we also stayed at a Bed and Breakfast, which was another change of pace. At first I was a little nervous about this endeavor, but it ended up being the highlight of the Christchurch "experience."

Christchurch is the oldest town in New Zealand, so instead of staying in a high rise hotel, its much better to get a homely feel like we did. The cathedral is the symbol for the town, and makes up the epicenter of Christchurch. We even did the staircase walk to the top, all 134 steps. Our B&B was near the center of town, and they cooked some very delicious breakfast and served wine each day, both major pluses. I told Kevin that if there was ever a time where someone asked for a recommendation on how to do New Zealand right, staying at the Orari B&B in Christchurch would be near the top. After getting the car, checking in, and getting our barrings in the town, we did some driving and discovering and topped the night off with a church service, some $10 steaks, and a few dollars in machines at the Casino. Quite an eventful mix for a Sunday night in Christchurch.

On Monday we drove to Akaroa, a small French colony about an hour South. It was a very cool drive, filled with small roads passing farms, animals, mountains, the ocean, beautiful landscapes and grass which went for miles. The town of Akaroka had a French feel to it, right on the water. We were able to grab some pastries from a local bakery and walk around the town and harbor. In the most "New Zealand" moment of our trip, as we winded up a two lane road on a mountain, we were greeted by about 100 cattle in the road. The day was highlighted by our quest to find a random Castle which looked very cool in one of the travel guides. After leaving the gondola, we asked for directions from about four different people and argued about where it could be. Finally after a drive up a spirally mountainside we find our destination. An interesting castle turned restaurant. The night was relatively uneventful with dinner at an Italian restaurant, and drinks with a crazy Australian and crazy New Zealander at a hole-in-the-wall bar.

Instead of participating in a high priced wine tour, which probably weren't even that fun, we decided to do our own and drive through the Waipara wine Country. The wine store in Queenstown had recommended that we see the Pegasus Bay winery, so we decided that would be a good spot for lunch. Our trip ended up lasting all day, as we ended up making our way to several different wineries. Only one, the most "renown", made us pay, so it ended up being a relatively cheap endeavor. We were actually most disappointed by Pegasus Bay, and ended up eating at a different winery who even gave us a free tour of the facility. It became sort of a running theme that we wanted to try grapes that were being grown in the local fields. We even came close to sneaking in and stealing them. Eventually a very nice lady went out and grabbed us some Pinot Noir grapes. Best grapes ever.

We capped off Christchurch with some descent, which I say being very kind, Mexican food, and headed off the next morning verrry early (about 4 am) to Brisbane and immediately on to Cairns.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Journey Begins: Sydney to Auckland to Queenstown

I worked most of the day Monday and Tuesday leading up to my midterm and departure for break, and barely slept in studying for a Finance midterm which I took Wednesday morning. After the test, I took a little nap, and then got to organizing a few things for my journey. My journey was going to be with a family friend, Kevin, and we had on our docket to visit parts of New Zealand, portions of Northeast Australia and to end in Sydney, from where I was going on another journey to Melbourne. You know, as if I hadn’t seen enough or spent enough money by that point. I’ve decided the easiest way to document my journey would be to divide the posts into the individual destinations, which is what I will do. I ran by the bar on campus, had a few drinks, and went to bed fairly early as I needed to catch an early morning train.

Equipped with a couple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a big bag of necessary items, and a backpack, I departed from campus at 10:00am on Thursday April 10th. I basically ran the uphill 15 minute walk to the train, as fast as you can run while dragging luggage, because as usual I was a little behind and had to catch the train to Sydney. I found a companion at the train station, a kid I had met a few times and was also going to New Zealand. Only a few minutes later I switched over to the Sydney train and arrived at the airport around 3:00pm. After munching on my sandwiches I purchased some duty free alcohol, a $24 bottle of rum which I later found at the liquor store for $57. The flight from Sydney to Auckland was easy compared to the long journey from Chicago to Sydney, and I had the wonderful in-flight entertainment of “Mr. Woodcock.”

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, houses a third of the overall population and is in the North Island. When I arrived at the airport I realized that I didn’t remember which hotel I was suppose to meet Kevin at, as he flew direct from Los Angeles to Auckland. I went to find a shuttle outside and asked the man if he knew of the Hilton or Hyatt, and he said he could take me to either. Laughing I said that I was hoping there was only one of the two downtown but unfortunately there was both. He ended up being a nice guy and took me to the Hilton, where on the way I realized it could have even been the Westin. Ironically, after using the phone at a Kevin-less Hilton, I found him stationed at the Westin. Both hotels were beautiful and positioned in the harbor on a real up and coming part of Auckland. The America’s Cup sailing competition had been there year’s prior and forced revitalization in the area. The Hilton was part of a larger complex which was made to look like a giant ship on the water. The Westin, where we were staying, was also on the water and less than a year old. Our room overlooked the water and the city. I arrived late, around 11pm because of the two hour time change, but was able to drag a jetlagged Kevin out of bed to explore Auckland a bit. It was kind of a small version of Sydney, and surprisingly a very cool place.

We headed out early again the following morning as our trek would then head to Queenstown, a town at the lower end of the South Island of New Zealand. Queenstown is about as far south as you can go in the world, besides a location in South America and obviously Antarctica. Upon arrival we were greeted with beautiful mountain ranges and a town with a perfect setting on a lake. We stayed about five minutes outside of town, and could either walk or take a free shuttle. After settling in we headed into town, took a look around and ate at a restaurant called Ferberger upon recommendation from a friend who had been there previously. It’s a “gourmet burger” and they have a few locations throughout New Zealand. From there we went on the gondola, which transported us from the bottom of the mountain to the top, in small containers. It was an amazing view all the way to the top, as the weather was fairly mild in the mid 60’s, a good temperature for that time of year, and a beautiful day. At the top, we took a look around and decided on paragliding. Basically, you jump off of the mountain as opposed to riding the gondola back down. It was a fun time, as you are in the air for about ten minutes, and eventually spin for about a minute as you make your final descent. From there we hung around town and had some dinner back at the resort.

The next morning we woke up early to head back to the airport and take a six-seater plane! It was by far the smallest plane I’d ever been on, but ended up being a very easy and scenic flight. This was opposed to the eight hour round trip bus ride we could have taken. Our destination was Milford Sound, a fjord which is caused by the movement of glaciers from sea to mountains. It was extremely beautiful, and with the cruise through the fjord, and the plane ride over the mountains, the views were breathtaking. The best part may have been that we got back to Queenstown before the bus even arrived at Milford Sound, and it was cheaper to fly. We later found out the catch is that the plane only flies about once every few days because of random weather conditions so if it hadn’t had been a beautiful day we would have not been able to go. We hung around Queenstown the rest of the afternoon and visited a very cool wine store. It was called “Wine Tastes”, and throughout the store they had bottles of wine and they gave you a credit card which you could put into any of the bottles and get a taste. So, it was our own little wine tour. From there we had some amazing lamb, which was the first time I had ate lamb and since New Zealand is the best place to get lamb, it was reallllly good. The next morning we headed an hour north to Christchurch.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Studying? Abroad

Unfortunately, my lack of blogging over the last few weeks came in part to my work in other areas, like studying and my new job at a café. I did also, occasionally, find time to hit the mean streets of Newcastle. It was too bad to realize that I wasn’t just abroad, but actually part of a “study abroad” program, which meant that a few papers and a multiple choice exam were also part of the trip over here, right after the nights partying and trips to the most beautiful places in the world. I also started to receive more hours at the job I obtained at an on-campus café. Basically, people order food and/or coffee, and then I bring it out to them, clean tables and dishes, and then other random jobs that I’m asked to do. Overall I really enjoy it, service is service, but the people who manage it and work there are very nice and enjoy having a non-Australian around to lighten the mood, it’s not like I take it very serious but I do a good job. The crazy part is starting to have a relationship with customers, and I’ve been amazed and the amount of regulars there are. People literally come in everyday; Creatures of Habit. After a few last minute nights of cramming for a midterm, I was off on a trip all over, encompassing my two week break, that comes with the overall vacation this whole trip has basically been.

A quick story about my midterm, after getting my itineraries and finally getting all the dates set for my big trip, I was laying in bed a week prior to leaving and realized that my flight to New Zealand was an hour before my midterm in Intro to Finance class. This is a microcosm for the importance of school in the mind of us “students” abroad. However, I ended up passing the exam, and I’ll end up obtaining all the appropriate credit for my major, so this will not be a wasted semester.

Now about the trip: A few weeks after arriving some friends and I decided that we should spend the two weeks of our break driving down the east coast of Australia. Other trips other “students” were going on included Thailand, the West coast of Australia, Figi, New Zealand and a couple other random ones. Very cool what people have the ability to do, since I believe that Australia gets a bad rap for its ability to travel once you are here. Unfortunately, the original trip started to fall apart piece by piece, and I really began leaning towards possibly traveling the south island of New Zealand with friends from Iowa. This possible agenda also fell apart since their insurance with the camper they rented stipulated that there could only be four passengers. Basically, I was left a few weeks before with some question marks and no set plan, but sometimes this is the way things work out.

Fortunately, a family friend of ours who recently acquired more free time than he knew what to do with decided to possibly make the journey out here for a couple weeks. At first, as I siphoned through the list of plans which weren’t coming to pass, the idea didn’t seem to fit. Nevertheless, as the agendas dissipated it seemed more likely that this would actually be the appropriate measure for a long break. We came to an agreement on a trip throughout New Zealand and then to the top of Australia, making our way back to Sydney.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Root Beer Floats

I started a long journey early Thursday morning to Bryon Bay for the Blues and Roots Festival. It is around 7-8 hours north of Newcastle. I went with an Australian friend of mine, his girlfriend and six other girls. An interesting crew. We stopped a couple places on the way, and mostly drove along the coast which made for some amazing scenery. We arrived at our destination later than expected, and went grocery shopping. It worked very well that $25 in groceries and boxed wine would get me through most of the weekend. We stayed in Balina, a town outside of Byron. We had hoped to be sleeping on the floor of one Kevin's (the Australian) friends house, but unfortunately last minute the plan fell apart. Luckily we were able to snag a cabin/trailer thing on a campground about 20 minutes from the festival.

The festival was a great time. It went from noon to midnight for five days. We only went Friday through Sunday. There was obviously a ton of live music and a lot of people. Luckily, my Australian friend had been to the festival before, and told us that we could sneak in bags of wine. The catch was, we needed to put the bags of wine: in our pants. Having a bag of "goon" (what they call wine), was an interesting way to enter the concert. However, it saved us a lot of money, just like the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we also brought in. It was kind of ironic since I remember all the times on family vacations I would be mad that my parents would make us sandwiches to bring to places, like Disney World, and here I am at 21 doing the same thing and loving how much money I was saving. Byron Bay, where the festival was, is notorious in Australia because it is one of the true Australian towns that hasn't been "Westernized", meaning there are no McDonalds or Walmarts. It is on the ocean like most of Australia, and the weather was nearly perfect, just under 80 degrees and sunny the whole trip. The nights were the best, as each act seemed to build on the next, and even come out on stage together. I was able to see Don Mclean (the bye bye American pie guy), and numerous Australian bands who were great. One band from Los Angeles, Ozomatli, went as far as to jump into the crowd (a like 15 person band), and play two songs as they walked around in the crowd.

It ended up being a long, dirty five days, but very enjoyable. The drive was beautiful, going from outback to ocean views the whole trip. On the way home we stopped by Nimbim, a notorious hippie town in the mountains. You can google it for more fun information on that. The night after I got back, I headed down to my friend Hank's with Phil, to try and formulate a Spring Break plan. Basically, we we're off track the whole night, swapping stories about each other's trips we had been on. Phil brought up that he wanted a root beer float. It was random, and funny, but I also agreed that I wanted a root beer float. The one thing we really don't do here is eat deserts or anything of that nature. Thats just not in the budget. We decided to go on the two block trek to the grocery store, dodging rain drops on the soggy walk over. When we got to the soda isle, we found no root beer. We asked the woman working and she replied, "what is root beer." We had been in a country for seven weeks that didn't have root beer, and we didn't even realize it. Sometimes I don't know if I should just laugh, or miss home, or maybe a combination of the two. We bought ginger beer and another, what we thought were either root beer or cream soda knock offs, but unfortunately they were the worst two drinks we had ever tried. No root beer floats in Australia.

Monday, March 17, 2008

In 27 Years....

(I have updated photos up to the left)I spent most of Tuesday doing a "trial" at a coffee shop on campus. I had received free coffee and an offer to trial the day prior, which basically consisted of me being a coffee bitch (for lack of a better word, I guess slave would work) for most of the day. It was unpaid, and was for them to see me work for five hours and decide if they wanted to hire me. Luckily, they asked me back; so far so good. A little extra cash working in between classes would be clutch. The money just seems to fly. Wednesday went by rapidly as every day seems to, and I finished it with a night on the town. Wednesday night is student night, so all the bars (including ones on campus), have drink specials and a lot of students go out. This is unusual since besides one night a week student specials, it is illegal for bars to promote drinking by giving discounts. The violence is a big problem, primarily with Aboriginals attacking Australians. Although either way the Australians tend to get very crazy when intoxicated. I mean, at least they don't bring a shotgun into their lecture halls.

Friday brought Commencement, which is event attended by over 200 International House residents. It's a formal dinner where they show pictures, give speeches and pass out awards to celebrate the beginning of the school year. Two Australian friends and I prepared a few songs, they played acoustic guitar and I sang. People enjoyed it, which is of course the point with something like that. We then had a free bus downtown. The next morning, the music was very loud at 10am. Everyone in International House started drinking at 10am, the RA's grilled eggs, bacon and such for 200 people, and we had a pool party. They call it "recovery day." We all got shirts that say, "I'd rather be a liver, than have one." I'd like to have a shirt that said, "I'd rather have my money, than to have wasted it all in Australia."

After a few hours of "recovering" I made my way to my friend from home, Phil's house. He and five other guys are renting a house by the beach. It is an older classic home. There are only three rooms, so the guys are each sharing a room, and a bed. You can imagine this makes for some funny stories. Phil had a small gathering that night, and I headed back to my friend Hank's place. Hank scored a verrrrry nice apartment overlooking the harbor. A real estate agent made note to him that the reason a lot of college students were struggling to find housing is that no one wants to rent to them. Hank decided to make a very nice cover letter detailing his intentions as a "hard-working graduate student." This is why Hank has two balconies, a 50-inch plasma TV, and a stainless steel grill. Unfortunately, the TV only gets four channels.

I spent the night at Hank's, and we got on a train very early on Sunday. It was my friend's 21st birthday, from Iowa. Christina had gotten down a few weeks ago and I had been meaning to go see her, so i figured her birthday would be a perfect time to go. She lives in Coogee, which is a small sect of Sydney. Her apartment is only three blocks to the beach, great location. Coogee beach is the most calm beach I have seen here. There is a large rock and coral reef about 500 years off the shore, so it keeps the beach very calm. Hank, Christina and I decided to make the hour and a half walk to Bondi beach, the most famous beach in Australia. We ended up taking about four hours to get to Bondi, stopping at all the beaches on the way. The walk was overlooking the water, so it was beautiful, and on the way to Bondi there was about seven other beaches. There was even a cemetery on the walk, overlooking the water (look at my pictures up to the right for an image of that, very cool). We went out to dinner with her and some friends and had a nice night in Bondi. I decided to take a personal day from classes today, and headed back from Sydney late Monday night.

I had an interesting encounter with a bus driver that got me thinking today. When Hank and I asked him which bus to take, he told us and then asked if we we're from America. We said yes, which isn't always the best answer. He said, "oh, well I was in America in 1981. I went to San Francisco and traveled up California. Then I went to Oregon, Washington, traveled some in Canada and came down through Chicago." I said that of course I was from Chicago, and he replied with the fact that, "hey, they dye the river green today!" Obviously, the man was very excited to talk about the time he spent in America, even though it was 27 years ago! It made me think, even though I am still sometimes dumbfounded with what I am doing, and just in complete awe of it all, that in 27 years ago, when someone brings up Australia, I will say, "I went to Australia in 2008! I traveled..........." And that, is what this kind of experience is all about.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Offending 750,000 people.... and counting...

This past week has been verrry uneventful, well it is Australia so there's always something going on, but uneventful compared to the last month. It was the first weekend I didn't travel anywhere. I had plans to go to the Blue Mountains, a mountain range two hours west of Sydney, but the trains from Newcastle to Sydney were under construction. I ended up spending Friday by the pool, followed by my first game of "Australian Rules Touch Football." They really don't like the American football game known as "gridiron." The rest of the weekend was low key, which worked out well since I had my first project/speech due in my Introduction to Aboriginal Studies class.

I worked relatively hard on the presentation and figured I would earn a high mark. I'm pretty good at PowerPoint so I whipped something together. When I went to give my speech, the teacher started by saying that he hoped mine would be a good example for the class, since I was one of the first ones to go, and the remaining students would do them each week the rest of the semester. I gave my speech, rather well I must say, and had some pictures, a video clip of Aboriginal students singing and another clip of their initiation. Everything went well, the class applauded and I asked if there were any questions.

My teacher, from the back of the classroom of 25, sat sort of staring into space. He replied, "Well I don't have any questi(mid-word), mayyybe this would be a good time to tell you what NOT to do in a presentation." I gave me a questioning sort of look and immedietly pulled my jump drive out of the computer, I figured I was in for it. I have a kind of history with getting yelled at by teachers. "Showing images, or videos," he continued, "is not only imoral but also illegal. There are some of us, including myself that needed to leave the room. It is also illegal to show images of children. I don't even know where you could have gotten those clips. I don't even know what I'm feeling right now, I'm kind of in shock." Students in the class began giving me awkward, I feel bad for you - this is so uncomfortable - I can't believe your still standing in front of the class, look (come on, you know that one). He continued for another ten minutes, and finished his monlogue with, "alright, maybe I handeled this incorrectly." You think? I spoke with him after class, and he understood that I had no idea the rules/laws and regulations of Aboriginals in Australia. To bad I had already offended a group of 750,000 people. A friend in another tutorial (the smaller classes to accompany a lecture), said that an announcement regarding my speech was given to his class. Then, to top it off, the lecturer in our lecture, made an announcenemt saying, "it might be better if we just don't use PowerPoint."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Asian Invasion

Sydney, Australia is infested, with Asians. My second trip to Sydney started with an early morning train ride from Newcastle to Sydney. The weather was beautiful so the views from the large windows on the train we're amazing. It is truly a beautiful country. We arrived in Sydney early afternoon, and after three hours, we were all starving. Of course, we found the $7 steak, salad and fries deal that we had eaten the weekend before because our budgets are extremely small (and the $8 pitcher helps the cause). After a good meal, we started walking to where we thought our hostel was. We knew the vicinity, but didn't have an address (genius). We'd stop people on the street, excuse me do you know where the Base Backpackers Hostel is? They'd reply, do you have an address? No, we're just tourists. Anyway, after missing the hostel by six city blocks, we finally made our way back to the correct spot. Much to our surprise, we we're actually only a block from Darling Harbour which is a major hot spot in Sydney, and beautiful during the day and night.

The hostel didn't have our reservation, but luckily was able to fit us in an 8-bed-room. They cut the rate slightly and gave us free breakfast (a bowl of cereal). After settling, we headed over to Darling to try and find a happy hour, since it was later in the afternoon. Unfortunately this country only charges more, never less. The Harbour is very beautiful, very similar to a larger Navy Pier with more bars and restaurants. Of course, also more people since Sydney is packed. After a few cocktails we got ready and headed for Gay Mardi Gras. Gay Mardi Gras was actually a week long celebration and the big event was the parade on Saturday night. The event was packed. The most amount of people I had ever seen at a free public event like that. The Asians we're suffocating though, and basically ruined the night. Now, I love my Asian roommates, but the ones in Sydney are some of the most rude people in the world. We would come around the corner and be jammed in a swaying crowd of hundreds. Eventually we made our way to a less crowded area and saw portions of the parade.

After the parade we headed back to Darling. We went to a cool bar/bowling alley/karaoke place called Strike. They had $14 Red Bull Vodkas on special, so that really helped my checking account. Unfortunatley, the group had been drinking far to long, and we lost members along the way. Eventually there was only about four of us left. The problem with going out in Sydney is the proximity of the bars and clubs. Once your in one district, its hard to get to another. Each little neighborhood is its own portion of the city. It ended up being a fine night, but I got home way to late to wake up way to early.

The morning came quickly, with an early checkout and rain outside. I decided to head back with Phil on the first train we could find. As we walked though, the weather seemed to change for the better, and we met up with a friend who was at another hostel. We decided to stick around a little longer and hit a few of the places we still hadn't seen. This was the best decision, ever. We made our way to King's Cross, which is the "Red Light District." I had seen it at night, but its much different during the day. From there we made it to the large park in the middle of the city (a smaller Central Park), and the gardens which also fill a portion of the center of the city. We then hit the oldest part of Sydney, the first areas of colonization. The buildings are extremely old, but have beautiful architecture and obviously wonderful elements of history.

We continued on our long journey to the Opera House and Sydney Bridge. The area was filled with lots of people, many taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. The Opera House is huge! It looks very small in pictures compared to when your standing next to it. The weather had gone from terrible, to perfect, as did our attitudes. We headed around the pier and went to a restaurant in the "rocks," another very old district in Sydney. By that time, it was nearly 5 pm, and we had seen almost all of the city. I now realize the importance of the Fodor's guide, and will never leave home without it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Left Turn on a Red Light

The week was relatively uneventful. I spent Tuesday at the beach, all day. I unfortunately needed to attend a few classes on Wednesday, but skipped my late lecture in order to go to my first Australian Kegger! At home, I'm sort of a pro when it comes to that sort of thing, but down here is a whole new ball game. At home, a keg cup costs $5. In Australia, it costs you $20. They don't have normal tappers either. Instead, the put this box containing ice on top of a table, with a hose connected to the keg, and somehow it comes out easier and quicker. Definitely a better device than in the States. The night was fun, every Wednesday night is "Student Night", so seemingly everyone in Newcastle is downtown.

Thursday was spent slightly hungover, needing to attend four hours of my Business Finance course. Not exactly where I wanted to be. Luckily it was raining, so I didn't feel as bad being inside. Not having TV has been very strange, sort of. It means I don't waste portions of my day doing something relatively mindless I guess (although my episodes of NipTuck and the Wire can be seen streaming on the Internet). My Thursday night was going to be a quiet one filled with some NipTuck and Chardonnay, but as usual it led to some "cooking with Koreans." My roommate CK, from South Korea, has another friend from Korea living with him in his room. I don't care, cause he doesn't bother me, and they make incredible food all the time. This particular night, my roommate Emma and I, stumbled upon them making a shrimp filled omelet like Korean dish. As usual, they also had rice, noodles and this other Korean thing. It's always delicious and they love talking to us. They said that before us they we're scared to talk to Americans. When CK got to Australia, the only English he knew was from fourth grade (and they say this perfectly, while laughing): Hello, how are you?, I am fine, thank you, and you?

Friday held my funny moment with an Australian, as a simple trip to buy fabric for a toga party turned into an Australian adventure. My roommates (Emma and Val, the Mauritan), two Australians, and myself headed to the fabric store. The Australian girl driving said, "I need to stop for some Petrol, I'm running low." Petrol is what the Australians call gasoline, and it's not the same I guess, I can't understand them when they try to explain the difference. Five seconds later her car stopped in the parking lot. "Nooo! She screamed, I've ran out of Petrol!" We had only moved a few meters. (Note my use of meters) Val and I pushed the little Australian vehicle into a spot, we borrowed someone else's car, drove to three stations until she could find a container to hold the petrol and made it back to the parking lot. Even though she had a tin, she had no funnel. So I jammed a stick into the gas hole, my Mauritian roommate held a makeshift paper funnel, while the Australian poured the petrol, all over the place, and some went in the tank. Luckily, it was just enough to make it to the Petrol Station. I eventually found some good, cheap fabric and the entire dorm dressed up for a good night out (in Toga's). Unfortunately the two bottles of chardonnay I thought would be fun to finish before the bus arrived for downtown, ended my night slightly early. (which worked out well since I had an early train to Sydney on Saturday morning)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Train Fight after the Newcastle Jets win the Championship

Crazy Fight I witnessed after a Soccer game.

The First Trip to Sydney

I spent this weekend in Sydney, catching a ride with an Australian girl early Friday morning. We we’re on the road by 9:00am, with the bright idea that we’d see Bondi Beach, the most famous beach in Australia, by around noon. Unfortunately transportation around the city of Sydney is harder than we expected, almost impossible. We we’re staying with our friend Samantha from High School, and her University is located in a weird spot which allows no easy entry into the city. Nevertheless, Bondi Beach was awesome, and they even film “Bondi Rescue”, an Australian Reality show about the life of lifeguards there. We continued on to Chinatown, which trust me, even the Asian population has an Asian Population, they’re everywhere. The city is beautiful, the best I’ve ever seen. It has a little over a million more people than Chicago, but is so stretched out. It makes it very difficult to get anywhere. Luckily, at the end of our journey, we we’re rewarded with a $7 delicious steak and beer.

We headed back to Maquarie University equipped with the usual, a bottle of Chardonnay, and got ready for the night. After we we’re ready, I was warned that I had to have a collared shirt to get into most of the bars. One of Sam’s roommates let me in the apartment, I changed quickly, and when I got outside the bus had pulled up and I needed to run to get it. I made it luckily and turned around to see that none of my friends had made the bus. So now, I was alone and lost, in Sydney. Fortunately, like almost every element of my trip thus far, everyone is extremely friendly and I ended up going out with the kids on the bus. We went to Darling Harbour which is a hot spot in Sydney, right on harbour which during the day is beautiful and at night is full of clubs. I ran into my friends from school, which worked out well, but since I was staying with Phil and Sam I needed to find them. I knew they we're in an area called King's Cross, so I made my journey to that destination.

What I found at King's Cross, was something I had never really seen in the flesh. A full out Red Light District filled brothels and prostitutes. When I was looking for my friends, I asked a woman for directions on the street. Luckily right then my friends spotted me, and pointed out that I had just asked a hooker for directions. I didn't even think that was legal in Australia, but now I know it is. The notorious symbol for the start of King's Cross is a giant Coca-Cola sign.

The next day, Saturday, we made our way to "Manly Beach," another famous Sydney beach. It is in a small section of Sydney called Manly, and it is a small town on the water filled with bakeries, cute shops, restaurants and bars. The kind of place I know my Mom would love. Unfortunately, once again our transportation took us two hours to get to the beach! Not exactly where I wanted to spend my weekend, on the bus. As usual we did it with good attitudes because there was no way to change it. At night we wanted to go to a Brazilian festival called Carnaval, but we knew it was not feasible since it would have taken forever to get there and back.

We woke up Sunday morning beat. Phil, Brad and I, had not stopped moving besides the occasional nap on public transportation, but we had already purchased tickets to the Australian National Championship of Soccer that night. Brad bailed on us and headed back to Newcastle, but Phil and I decided that since we had already spent the money, and it would probably be the only soccer game we attend in our lives, we mine as well go. This was a great decision. The game ended up being an awesome time, definitely the highlight of our weekend. We cheered on our "hometown" Newcastle Jets who won the national championship! The group we we're with also consisted with some friends from Iowa, and we snagged great seats. I even was able to get a few free beers and some mud pies from a friendly employee. The Chicago accent works wonders out here. On the way home we witnessed that crazy fight, which I have well documented below. Only in Australia. The weekend was great, and Sydney is an awesome and diverse city. If I had money and a job, I could definitely see myself living there for a few years. But as a student, it is wayyyyyy too expensive. The funny part of these trips is being a full out tourist. It's one thing to go to New York or Los Angeles and not know your way around. However, being in a different continent is a whole new ball game.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Quick Post before a Big Weekend

I just wanted to get in a quick post, because I'm going to be in Sydney all weekend, which I'm sure will be filled with stories. The weeks been going well, and I just find myself very tired today. We've been partying most of the week, with some more welcome events on campus, and my friend Phil's 21st birthday. All my roomates are here, and they are all great. We have Emma from Rochester, NY, CK from South Korea, Val from Mauritius (an island off the cost of Madagascar and Africa), and Corrinne from Malaysia. Quite the lineup, but I do live in International House so its expected. They have all been wonderful and I think I'm really going to enjoy living with them.

We had the start of classes on Monday, and although I am studying abroad, I have a rather hard schedule in order to still graduate on time. Fortunately, everything is pass/fail, so I simply need to pass, and it will have no affect on my GPA. My Introduction to Aboriginal Studies class is definitely the most interesting and my teacher seems like a cool, large aboriginal.

We went out for Phil's 21st celebration, which ended up being a 3 day festivity. I had converted $150 into Australia money on Monday, and I returned today (Thursday), to get more. The teller said, you spend all that money already? Well yes, unfortunately I did. Now I'm off to Sydney for the weekend, which will be another spend-fest.

The country of Australia lacks one major attribute that fills the souls of all Americans, a thirst for money. There is no element of money-hungriness to these people. The minimum wage is extremely high, and goes up with how old you are. So most 21-year-olds make around $20 per hour. With no regard for education, this number is based simply on age. For the most part, this means that everyone is fairly equal, and people are content, they don't even think about it. Of course, this negatively inflates their dollar, makes construction prices extremely high (no cheap labor), and basically kills any chance of getting good service. They also, don't tip bartenders/waiters or anyone in such a service industry. This means that the quality of service is poor. Plus, money gets you nowhere. The other night, we we're the only group in the bar, and spending a lot of money, so you think the service would be impeccable. But no, they would rather have us leave the bar so they can go home, than to make more money. A big difference and sort of the main issue I'm struggling to adapt to. The moral of the story: I need a job.

A quick story about Phil: an example of true Australian culture. So Phil wakes up to find that his cell phone, which he has only had for a few days, is now in all Chinese. He walks over to the store where he bought it, to ask an employee for help. When he gets there, the employee is astonished by the fact that the phone is in Chinese, and tells him he has no idea how to help. Phil looks at him puzzled, and replies, but you sold me the phone, you're a technician, if you can't help what am I suppose to do? The employee replies, well of course, just find a Chinese person to translate it for you. Mind you, this was an employee making probably around $25 an hour. So here is Phil, the hungover American walking the streets of Australia, looking for someone who speaks Chinese. After two Koreans, and a Japanese person was unable to help, he found a Chinaman to fix it. Only in Australia.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How you doing + How's it going = How you Going (in Australian)

A quick note about my title: We've discovered that actually we do not both speak English, us and the Australians. We speak American and they speak Australian. They call Sprite- lemonade, and they call french fries- hot chips. They say, how you going? Most of the time I can't understand them, and vice versa. But, somehow we all love each other anyway.

Where to begin... Our orientation week which is intended for International and first year students has been going on all week. We finished last night (Friday) with a "Mystery Dinner." We basically got on a bus and had no idea where we we're going or what we we're going to do. Everyone dressed nice, and we met in the courtyard of our dorm. (The picture to my left is myself and my RA. They are really cool here, not like in the States.) Of course, the random Australians had their guesses about where we we're going, but know one knew what we we're in store for. After an hour drive we arrived at Nelson Bay. It was out of control beautiful. The weather was perfect, and we went on a sunset cruise with a seafood buffet. It was one of the best things I have ever done. We all posed for some pictures on the water, and then loaded up the cruise liner.

The boat was slow and stable, so we barely even knew we were on the water, unless you went to the way top. I bought myself a bottle of wine since I didn't have to pay for anything anyway. We watched the sunset from the exposed top of the boat, which was amazing! My pictures are beautiful. However my memory stick is broken so the quality isn't great, that's what you get for buying it from a discount Japanese wholesaler on the internet for half its value.

The seafood was delicous, all fresh, and we we're told it was some of the best in the area. I had prongs and calamari and other items I didn't even know what they we're, but ate them anyway. I ate dinner with someone from Hong Kong, Swedan, Australia, South Korea, and Signapore. It's not very often you can do that, while eating seafood on a cruise in Australia. Let's just say, I'm having a great time here.

The boat had a woman and man playing live music, and somehow members of the group got word that I was a singer and relayed it to the musicians. She made an announcement and made me promise I would get on stage. After the bartender offered me a free drink, I agreed (since the beer was like $6 each). I went out back during their smoke break and chatted with the two Australian performers. I have talked to an unbelievable amount of people from all over the world down here, all doing random things with their lives. I went on stage and performed Drops of Jupiter, which the crowd knew better than me, but with some help from the guitarist and the crowd, it ended up being a fun time. Everyone enjoyed it. We ended the night on the boat with more dancing and music, everyone had a blast. How could you not? A awesome cruise at sunset in Australia.

I tried to get in early that night, because I know I had a big day on Saturday ahead of me. I woke up around 7:30am and jumped on a bus a few hours to The Australian Reptile Park. A bus picked up all the international students who wanted to visit either the Reptile Park or go on a dolphin cruise. It worked out well for me since the dolphin cruise was the same ship, and port, that the sunset cruise had used the night before. I didn't know what to expect from the Reptile Park, which made it more interesting. When I arrived I found that it was more than I had originally bargained for. Immediately as we entered the park I was able to see and touch a koala bear (and check that off the list). Then I got to run and pet kangaroos which was a major one on my list of things to do. Then of course I saw some dingos, some crazy snakes and spiders, and ended it with a crazy Steve Irwin look-a-like feeding Elvis, the 15 foot crocodile. After a long ride back I took a little nap and had a few drinks at night. Chris, a friend from Ohio, my roommate Emma, a few Australian girls, and myself all headed to the train station. After a 15 minute walk we arrived to find no train at the appropriate time. We decided to walk back instead of wait the hour, and return after about 45 minutes. Lets just say, it was a lot of walking. But somehow again, no train. We we're extremely disappointed we we're unable to get downtown, especially when we arrived back and we we're told the train was out of commission until Tuesday. Only in Australia.

Sunday came and went relatively slowly and uneventful. When we wake up, it is almost always cloudy, but you head to the beach anyway and cross your fingers that the clouds will break. Plus there is this strange phenomenon where it is almost always better weather on the beach. Our prayers we're answered and it was a lovely day at the beach, with a tremendous view of the city, and besides an infestation of jelly fish, another great afternoon in Newcastle.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rough Day at the Beach

It's been a few days since I've been able to write, since I haven't stopped moving since I've been here. This experience has already been an amazing won hard to describe to anyone who isn't here. I'm basically in a random place, in a random continent with thousands of random people. The kicker is we're all in the same situation so everyone is friendly, open to meeting people, and very down to earth. From Andreas the German to Aaren the Australian, I have met them all. You know your situation is amazing when you have a two hour conversation about world politics with a white kid from Zimbabwe. As a sit with a Mexican yesterday, we agreed that 50 years ago a Mexican and American wouldn't be sitting together in Australia. This kind of globalization we are all able to experience due to events like this, and modern day technology will drastically change (and I hope improve) our world.

Speaking of technology, the internet in Australia is United States internet circa 1985. I am doing my best to accomplish everything I need to do on the internet but it takes forever. I can't describe the situation I am in. Already it has been some of the most amazing times of my life, and will only get better. Today was a tough day at the office, heading to the beach at noon and chilling there all day with friends.

When I was coming from Sydney to Newcastle, I met some very cool American students in the same boat as me. One girl, from New York, was down here alone and moving into a hostel while she was going to find a place to live. We exchanged information and tried to get a hold of each other, which proves impossible down here. A day or so later we saw each other while she was getting on the bus, and me getting off, so again no real contact. Low and behold after days of struggling to find a place to live, the University (which EVERYONE calls the Uni here), contacts her that they have a place to live. Of course, she ends up moving across the hall for me. Crazy how the world tends to work itself out. Today I had no contact with either of my groups of guy friends down here, and somehow we all gravitated towards the same beach. Interesting how I now know the world DID exist before cell phones.

My roommates are great. My Korean one is the man and has been awesome since he cleaned up his stuff! We are our only little family with two Koreans, a girl from an island off the cost of Sri Lanka, a New Yorker and a Chicagoan. The other two girls have not yet moved in, they will sometime this weekend. Our dorm (The International House, obviously) has has numerous events. Trivia night, icebreaker games, "Back to School" themed party and tonite speed dating on Valentine's Day. But my tank is close to empty so I may not be participating. More to come.

Chopsticks and Ocean View

Slow. Everything is very slow down here because no one has any sense of urgency. This is why I still don’t have the internet, and why it takes forever to get around using public transportation. However, this is easy to get used to. I’ve been doing a lot of exploring, and meeting a million people. Everyone has the same mindset, so it’s commonplace to talk to everyone you see and get to know each other. I live in basically a five bedroom apartment but only one person has moved in. A 26-year old South Korean who is more of a ghost since I’ve only met him once. He’s slightly messy so I’m going to have to figure out how you say take your chopsticks out of the sink in Korean.

Drank a bottle of chardonnay last night, made some pasta and took the train downtown. As I was walking to the train I ran into a heard of probably 200 students. They we’re a big group from another dorm, so immediately you start meeting everyone. The dorm had paid for all their train tickets, so luckily I was able to also get a free ride. After the ride into town I split from the group and went to a hostel where my friend from home was staying. He introduced me to all the people he had met at the hostel, and we all went out together. It was a lot of fun, especially with a lot of people I didn’t know, but unfortunately the price of alcohol is just terrible. But, whatever, no worries. I ended up crashing on a loveseat, with my friend Phil on the couch next to me. He is basically homeless because it is impossible to find a place to rent, so all these American students are stuck in town with nowhere to live (and the hostels are filled). The apartment we stayed at had a beautiful ocean view, very nice. The weather finally contained no rain today which is how I’m hoping it will stay. Have an International House barbeque tonight, and from there who knows where the night will take me, always an adventure down under.

Monday, February 11, 2008

No Worries

Well my first batch of photos just got erased off my million dollar camera, thanks a lot. So, unfortunately nothing yet to show form what has been a crazy couple of days, and a day I lost in time. I met some interesting people sitting next to me on the plane. They we’re both young, and simply traveling all over. It’s, I guess, a custom in Australia that before you go to college, you just run around the world and explore. Their average age of a freshman college student is older than in America. We passed over the international date line, thing, and jumped from Wednesday to Friday. No Thursday. I will never exist on February 7th, 2008. Getting through customs, pain obviously, but somehow I bypassed a three hour line and was able to enter the country. Took the “happy cabbie” from the Sydney airport to the “Uni”, which is what they call the University. “You goin’ to the Uni, mate?” I arrived at the college two hours later, which meant that I had then be traveling for around 30 hours, but thanks to sleep on the plane I was jacked up and ready to go. Of course there is no internet in my room yet, to which the guy in the office simply replied, “Chill out, mate.” I don’t like not having the internet.

Dean and Doug, friends from Iowa, live right through a jungle pathway, which really isn’t a path. But as I was lucky to find on my drunken first night walk home in the rain, does have large lights. I showered and composed myself slightly, and we all took the train to the city of Newcastle, which is about ten minutes away. The city is beautiful, breathtaking. The beach is massive, and there’s a ton of happy people on it. Surfing, laying, barbequing. Everything is very slow and simple out here. In response to any request the standard reply is, “no worries.” Since I’m usually worrying about EVERYTHING, it’s going to take some time to adjust to not being able to worry. We ate at a lovely restaurant, Subway, but since it costs $11 for a foot-long and drink, it really doesn’t matter where you eat, or drink.

The biggest shock comes when you first enter the liquor store. A case of beer costs over $40. Even the Australian beer is $30 for a case. I must have walked around 100 times, until the owner came over, realizing I was a cheap American, and told me to buy the $7 bottle of Chardonnay. Wine is the only thing reasonable in cost. For some reason the system of minimum wage is all screwed up over here, so it goes by age. If you’re a 21 working some shitty job, you get paid like $15 an hour. But then your sub costs $11, but so it just doesn’t really make sense. But hey, “no worries mate.”

We canvassed the town a little, and I took some amazing pictures, which my camera happily decided to erase. But hey, “no worries mate.” I saw Phil, a friend from home, who was in a hostel, and a buddy from school Austin was staying in a hotel downtown. The programs everyone went through gave an option to either stay on campus or off, but they really screwed the people living off campus for not telling them there is a HOUSING SHORTAGE. Those words are something everyone in America wishes we could trade with Australia. So the folks with nowhere to live, and there’s hundreds of them, are just hunting and extremely pissed. But hey, you know what they say in Australia, “no worries mate.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

To LAX and Beyond

Accompanied by a George Clooney movie, Michael Clayton, and a school teacher from Baltimore on her way to New Zealand, I was on the first leg of a long journey that would lead me to a new land. I was alarmed by news late last night, that my flight had been canceled, meaning that I needed to try and get out of O'Hare as soon as possible, and earlier than originally planned. The impending snowstorm could have hurt any chance of making my 10:30pm flight out of LAX on route to Sydney. Luckily, I'm in the air headed to Los Angeles, and one more flight to paradise.

When I decided to do this trip I was in a somewhat different state of mind, with an eagerness for change. I'm the type of person who, even if I can't do something, I act as though I am strong-willed enough and able to take on any task. Even to accomplish it with ease. I do usually take a task on and complete it well, but I can't hide how unbelievable this particular event is going to be . No matter how much I try, there is no doubt that this mission of leaving everything I have known for the last 21 years, and only 21 years of my life, is going to be hard. I will miss home, I will miss my friends, I will miss my girlfriend, I will miss Iowa City, and I will miss Park Ridge. Because, this is all I've ever known. Now it's time to get moving on life, because the years are getting shorter and time is in less of an abundance, and I have sure as hell a lot of work to do if I'm going to end up changing the world. In the words of Outkast, "spaceships, don't come equipped with rearview mirrors."

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Saturday, January 5, 2008

32 Days away....

Just dreaming about the idea that I'll actually be leaving for another continent in less than 32 days...