Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tuesday: Canberra

Tuesday, Anne-Nicole and I had breakfast while Uncle Sean went for a long run. It was a pretty nice spread, for a continental breakfast. I got brave and tried some Vegemite on my toast. Never. Again. It ranks right up there with sauerkraut.

Anne-Nicole and I hit another museum that morning. We went to the National Gallery at 9;00. We didn't realize that it didn't actually open until 10:00, so we ended up walking around outside for a while, waiting for the doors to open.

Eventually, we did get in. There is an exhibition of the works of John Constable going on right now, and I was thrilled to get to see that. His skies are some of my favorite bits of art- but then, I love sky-scapes anyway. Having finished looking at the Constable works, we moved on to the International gallery, featuring mostly post-impressionist through modern & post modern pieces. There was a Duchamp readymade, the Hat rack. (I wasn't quite sure I believed he actually existed until yesterday- the whole "urinal as a fountain" thing seemed too much like some artistic prank to be true.) We saw Jackson Pollack's Blue Poles, which is a million times cooler in person than on a screen or in a book. I thought I detested Pollack, but that painting was great.
After we finished up in the International gallery, we made our way to the Asian gallery, and from there to lunch. It was a very nice lunch (curried chickpea and couscous casserole-HOT) and the settingof the cafe, overlooking the gardens, was quite nice. We sat in there chatting for a while after we had finished eating, just talking about our "normal" daily lives, and what we'd be doing on an average Tuesday afternoon.
Eventually we went upstairs to check out the Australian gallery. There were lots of of really great pastoral scenes, but once it got into more modern works, the collection wasn't so great.

Uncle Sean picked us up that afternoon, and we made a quick stop at the Australian War Memorial before heading back to Sydney.

There were showers threatening as we drove back, and the sky looked like something straight out of the museum. In fact, everywhere I looked the landscape created pictures for me. Most bore a remarkable resemblence to the style and composition of Constable's works, especially after some lovely rainbows made their appearance. Some had a more native Australian look, especially where the gum trees were more prominent. This was the first time I'd experienced what I saw as paintings. Normally, I just see photographs wherever I look- this time it was full-fledged oil paintings. (And no, that isn't an indicator of any mental problem.)

I wasn't seeing paintings when we visited the Big Merino in Goulbern. I was doubled over laughing with tears streaming down my face. How can an art museum compare to that?!

Monday: Canberra

We left late Monday morning for Canberra, the capital of Australia. The drive down was pleasant and took us through the Southern Highlands, which are a lovely area of rolling hills south of Sydney. We had lunch on the way down in a little town called Bowral, at the Elephant Boy cafe. The decor was very interesting, a sort of British/Indian colonial theme, plus old Hollywood music, Charlie Chaplin movies, and shelves and shelves full of 1900-40s books. (Which I spent the entire meal drooling over.)I had a delicious beef pie, one of my new favorite things and something I'll miss when I'm back in the States.

Canberra itself wasn't overly exciting. I've never been to Washington D.C., but I expect that it is more interesting. I think Canberra is still too new to have much atmosphere. It could be also that, not being Australian, I don't feel any sort of emotion being there. I don't have a sense of their history like I would hope a citizen would. Maybe you just have to be an Aussie to appreciate Canberra.

Anne-Nicole and I spent most of the afternoon at the National Museum. It was a very interesting place. While looking at the exhibits, I got a stronger sense of something I had felt before. There seems to be a very strong collective guilt here over the treatment of the Aboriginies in the past. It is pervasive in the museums, almost to the exclusion of anything else. (Again, being an outsider, I may not be getting the full story, so to speak.) I would certainly not suggest that they not address or gloss over the issue-that would be ridiculous and unfair to everybody. We need reminders of the atrocities committed in the past or we risk forgetting them. It just seems that the fixation on the subject, to the point that other aspects of history are missed entirely, isn't healthy either.

I also noticed that there was little or no differentiation made between those Europeans who came as missionaries to the Aboriginies, meaning to share the Gospel, and those who came to get rid of them. They all seem to be painted with the same brush. While I certainly wasn't there to judge the behavior of those involved, I cannot believe that every European who came into contact with the native people here did it with the wish to wipe them out.

Now that I'm finished spewing-

We had a fantastic dinner Monday night at The Chairman & Yip, where we dined alongside at least one Australian MP (Mr Kevin Rudd, Labor's Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and International Security and apparently a very important person.) The establishment was the sort where, not only do they take you coat at the door, they also pour your wine and dish out your food for you. (The wine thing can be dangerous.... I'm too much of a lightweight to make it past one glass, but our waitress just filled it back up as soon as I had finished. Good thing I had Uncle Sean there to finish it off for me!)
The food was amazing, starting with jelly-fish/chicken salad and fishcakes for appetizers. Mains were lamb Shan-tung and seseme trout. We even got dessert.....ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I had black seseme ice-cream and coconut sago. I could still almost taste it hours later.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Saturday & Sunday

Before I launch into the weekend, I think I should add something about Thursday. Somehow I forgot it when I was writing before.

Thursday night we went to the symphony at the Opera House. We heard the "Shock of the New:III" which was interesting to say the least. The Tibetian monks were pretty cool, and we had seats right up next to them, and it was fun to watch them. The best parts were the didgeridoo player and the great drums. Apart from those, it was pretty weird.


Saturday, we went over to the fish market for lunch, and pigged out on a huge seafood platter and chips. We ate outside and were visited by many, MANY seagulls. There were pelicans down on the water; the the brown ones I am accustomed to seeing in Florida, but magnificent white ones.

Sunday we drove out to the Blue Mountains. One the way we stopped at a park where there were wild kangaroos, and we watched them for a while, and we able to get pretty close. They were just sitting in a field, like deer but less skittish.

The Blue Mountains aren't anything size-wise, when compared to New Zealand's mountains, but they were lovely. The take their name from the blue haze that seems to cover them, and adds a bit of an unearthly air, especially when the sun is setting.
We drove to Echo Point, overlooking the Three Sisters rock formation in Katoomba, and walked partway down the Giant Staircase (980 steps down, and over 1000 ft...but we only went about 30) to get to the Three Sisters. The area is what I imagine the Grand Canyon would look like if it were covered in vegetation. Pretty spectacular.

Before heading back to Sydney, we hiked down (460 steps) to a lookout point from which we could see Bridal Veil Falls and the Hanging Gardens. They would have been much more appreciated were it not for the fact that we later had to hike back up 460 steps. When we finally got back to the car, we comforted ourselved with deep dark chocolate (gotta replenish all those lost calories...seriously.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Thursday and Friday: Around Sydney

I hadn't planned anything for the Thursday after we got back, so when Anne-Nicole mentioned the Sydney Authors Festival, it sounded pretty good. The order of the day was speeches by Australian historians/authors.

I took the ferry downtown and walked to The Mint, where the event was being held. Getting there took longer than I anticipated, and the speakers were just getting ready when I walked in. There was standing room only, so I didn't get a seat, but my spot had an excellent view of the podium anyway. The authors speaking were Thomas Keneally, Beverly Kingston, and Henry Reynolds. Their information was interesting, even to one who knows aas little about Australian history as I do. Mr. Reynolds and Ms. Kingston came off as exceedingly intellectual (read: superior, slightly condescending), but Mr. Keneally was highly entertaining and his books looked more interesting anyway. I was planning on buying one of Keneally's books, "A Commonwealth of Thieves" to have signed, but they were $60, and I only had $40 on me at the time.

After the lectures were over I walked down the street to the State Library of New South Wales which had several exhibitions going on, including the World Press Photo Exhibition. Many of the pictures were beautiful and touching, but more were meant to be shocking. They were all great pictures, although the captions on most of them were very PC.

Friday, I spent most of the day at Taronga Zoo again, and this time I remembered my camera! I got some great shots, especially of the chimps and the giraffes (my two favorites, naturally.) The day was perfect for a zoo outing. It was almost hot in the sun, but and nice and cool in the shade. Unfortunately, the perfect conditions meant that the zoo was packed- not my favorite way to see the animals. I decided not to let it bug me, and got almost as much amusement out of watching all the children running around as I did out of the monkeys and apes. ;o)

Friday, May 26, 2006

Wednesday: Kaikoura-Christchurch-Auckland-Sydney

We woke up Wednesday morning to a lovely breakfast prepared by Mrs. Groufsky. We had fresh-from-the-hen eggs, homemade muesli, jams and jellies, and the famous Manuka honey. We had to leave around 9:00 to get over to Christchurch and the airport. As we left, I snapped a picture of the Groufsky's garden gnomes. They aren't just any garden gnomes...They're garden gnomes who appear to have been attacked by a member of the cast of "Kill Bill." Priceless.

Our flights were nice and uneventful. On the trip from Auckland to Sydney they tried to show King Kong-or rather, a much chopped and condensed version of King Kong. That meant cutting all of the good scenes in favor of the action sequences. Ugh. I found it easier to basically ignore the movie and concentrate on my books.

We got back late in the evening and waited in a very long line for a taxi to take us to Uncle Sean's car, which was parked in North Sydney. We finally got one, but we might have been better off hitch-hiking. It might have been safer, anyway. This cabbie drove at least 40km over the speed limit at all times, through heavy traffic, over bridges, through tunnels, and he did it all without a turn signal. Or a seat belt, for that matter. It was quite a harrowing trip, but we made it back to Uncle Sean's car in our respective pieces, and if the much shorter distance from N. Sydney to the house took more time than the long trip from the airport, at least it was a SAFE drive.

Tuesday: Hanmer to Kaikoura

We had a relaxing morning and a nice breakfast in our little house in Hanmer Springs before leaving for Kaikoura. The drive over was pleasant, even though the weather continued to be rainy and the mountains were obscured by low-hanging clouds and fog.

Our original plans for Kaikoura included a dolphin encounter cruise, where the boat takes you out to visit with the lovely little dolphins for a few hours. We went to the cruise officce and signed up as soon as we got in to town. Our next stop was the travel center, which had a wall full of brochures for various hotels, B&Bs, and farm-stays. We opted to try the "A Good Life" farm stay/B&B. The travel planner at the information center made the reservations for us, and we said we'd be there at 4:00, after our cruise.

We got back to the cruise center, to discover that our trip had been cancelled. Apparently, those pesky dolphins had swum out to sea and out of the range of the cruise boats. We got over our disappointment and decided that since we couldn't see the dolphins in the water, we'd have to settle for seals on the shore. There is a seal colony just north of the town, on Ohau Point, so we set off along the coast in search of them. The results of our search were initially very disappointing. We'd been driving for a while and only seen a few seals where there were supposed to be hundreds. We had finally given up, and were turning around in a gravel lot, when we noticed a sign marking a trail leading into the forest and away from the water. The sign indicated that there was a waterfall 10 minutes up the trail, so (despite the rain) we decided to go for it and at least get a water fall out of our little adventure. We started hiking up the path through the forest, across a creek running down to the ocean, and up toward the waterfall.

The waterfall itself was beautiful, falling from about 50 feet up, into a lovely rock pool surrounded by trees and ferny plants. But even more spectacular was what was in the pool. At least 2 dozen seal pups were splashing around under the waterfall! They were doing acrobatic flips over one another, and diving around, just having a marvelous time. They didn't seem at all alarmed by our presence, and some even would flop their way up onto the rocks bordering the path. They were all incredibly adorable with huge dark brown eyes which reminded me of my little brothers (animals with brown eyes always do that...wonder why. ;o)) A sign nearby explained that the pups had come up to play in this pool where they would be safe from predators. We later learned that this was a completely new behavior for these seals. They had just started frequenting that waterfall a few weeks earlier. We spent a good half hour just watching them play before heading back up the path to the ocean. I joked about being seal-shocked afterwards, but I was partly serious. For the next couple of hours all I could think about was what we'd just had the privaledge to see and what an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience that was. Far better and more unique than any old dolphin cruise.

From there we went shopping (and I bought gifts-shh!) Around 4:00 we headed out of town towards our farm-stay at the foot of Mt. Fyffe. Our hosts, Brian and Marion Groufsky welcomed us and entertained us for the next 2 hours. Mr. Groufsky (for those of you who are acquainted with my family) is rather like what you would get if you took both my grandfather's quirks, mixed them up with some home-brewed beer, and set them to rise. He was completely mad, but very friendly and generous. (He even shared his own private jar of mussels with us!) Mrs. Groufsky is a bit of a home-maker genius. She cans all her own veggies, makes all her own jams and preserves, tends to their chickens and other livestock, and brews beer. They have 4 dogs, 3 of which are Australian Terriers, and all of which were extremely entertaining. One of them spent at least 30 minutes giving Uncle Sean's stockinged feet a good licking, and all of them would trail along whenever their people moved to a different room.

It was incredibly dark outside after the sun went down. It was overcast that night, so there were no stars. There are, of course, no street lights 12 kms. from Kaikoura, and in Kaikoura itself there aren't many, so there was nothing to relieve the total blackness of the countryside. We went to dinner at Donegal House, which was also out in the country, not far at all from the farm. Our dinner there was delicious (salmon and veges for me, mussels and Guiness for the others.)

We went back to the farm after dinner and we had the house basically to ourselves, since our hosts had retired by that time. We relaxed in front of the telly to watch last season's Apprentice, CSI: Miami, and House. We also downed some sauvignon blanc and more hokey-pokey ice-cream (which Mrs. Groufsky later gave us the recipe for-good woman.)

Around 10:30 we all headed for our nice warm beds (more electric blankets!) to get a good night's sleep in before we had to leave for Aust. in the morning.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Monday: Akaroa to Hanmer Springs

We had a leisurely breakfast in our apartment in Akaroa on Monday morning, after which we packed up and took off for Hanmer Springs. From the postcards I saw, it looked like a gorgeous location, right at the foot of the mountains. Unfortunately, it was cloudy/rainy the entire time we were there, so one couldn't actually see the mountains.

Our accomodation luck continued, and we stumbled across a cottage rental company. They would rent out an entire house to you, even for one night, for less than the price of some hotels. We got a nice little 3 bedroom house, with a log fire, electric blankets AND heated towel racks (my new best friends!)

That afternoon, after getting settled in the house, we got out swim suits on and headed for the hot springs. Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. That was incredibly relaxing. There was a light rain falling part of the time, which cooled my face, butthe rest of me was nice and warm. Moving between pools was an experience. It was NOT a warm day- something like 8 degrees Celsius (46 Fahrenheit) and wet, but the temperature made the pools feel that much nicer.

After a relaxing 2 hours, we went back to the house, got all cleaned and dressed, and went searching for dinner. Anne-Nicole had spotted something earlier that looked appetizing, so we headed for that, and on the way Uncle Sean suggested all of the places we didn't want to Burger King. We got to the restaurant, Jollie Jack's, which had a nice fire going and NZ news on a big screen TV in the bar. Our food was delicious. (Mussels to share, incredible seafood pasta, steak, and cod....and several jugs of water.) It was the sort of restaurant where the presentation of the food is beautiful, but not pretentious and over the top.

That night Uncle Sean built a fire in our fireplace and we sat down with a bar of chocolate and some local wine and vegged. Our hosts had left behind a selection of movies, and it was a matter of choosing between "Willy Wonka" and "Chicken Run." The chickens won. Easily. (Watching a movie like "Chicken Run" with your average, run of the mill person is NOTHING like watching it with Uncle Sean.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sunday: Akaroa, NZ

We left Christchurch after a large breakfast of muesli, yogurt, danishes, toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, and assorted juices and coffee/tea, all courtesy of Nita and Belina, the owners.

Our drive to Akaroa was very leisurely. We stopped several times when one or all of us saw something that looked interesting. After driving through Lyttleton toward the Banks Peninsula, we stopped off at a harbor park where we found a trail that went down along the water. It was a beautiful spot, with the hills coming right down to the water, and a view out onto the Pacific. While on the trail, we met a couple out walking their dog (the killer cocker, Scrumpy.) They were very friendly, and gave us tips on good places to stop, especially for food.

We continued on, stopping every once and a while for pictures. The terrain was hilly/mountainous, and the roads just wrapped around the edges. It being New Zealand, there were sheep EVERYWHERE, even in the most precarious spots. It was cloudy, so we couldn't see very far, but what we could see was beautiful. The hills in that area were a fall-ish golden green color, and very rocky. There weren't just large outcroppings like one would expect to find, but along the flatter parts, there were just big rocks everywhere.

A little outside of Akaroa, we came across one of the suggested stops, a cafe and art gallery. The coffee was delicious, and the art gallery was pretty interesting. (I bought something, but I'm not saying what because I know for a fact that its recipient will be reading this. ;o))

Further along, we stopped again, this time at Barry's Cheese Shop in Barry's Bay. Though I've never stopped and thought about what a cheeseman shoud look like, if I had a I imagine I would have pictured someone like the Barry's Bay cheeseman. He was tall and rosy, with a big white moustache, and he was wearing a white cap and apron. He really looked like something from a story book. We bought a few cheeses from him and continued on.

Before long at all, we were in Akaroa. It is a charming little waterfront town, with lots of neat old buildings, and cats EVERYWHERE. We started off looking for a a place to stay that night. We had seen The Giant's House B&B advertised several places, and it looked interesting, so we picked up the brochure, and started to walk the "four blocks" to the house. "Four blocks" probably equaled 8+ city blocks, went uphill, and seemed interminable. Eventually we got to the driveway, where we had to walk up another hill, followed by a set of stairs to reach the house. the house itselfwas gorgeous. It was built in the 1880s, and it has lovely bones. But an artist lives there now. A nutty artist. The sort who completely overwhelms a beautiful old house with garish colors and really weird sculpture. The owner was a little bit scary herself. I don't mind when my friends dress in mini-skirts and dye their hair blue (yes, that means you, Rachel ;o)) but there's something strange about a 50+ year old woman doing it, especially when one moment she's acting like she wants to hug you, and the next she's about to rip your head off.

We skeedaddled. Thank goodness. I might have gotten nightmares, either from the hostess, or her creepy sculpture garden.

We ended up renting a waterfront apartment, which was incredibly relaxing. We got take-out fish'n'chips for dinner, and sat around the family room watching Return of the King.

After finding a place to stay, we took off for a drive. We drove up into the mountains, starting with nice, fairly broad but curvy mountainside roads, and as we got farther in, the roads got narrower and steeper. Some gave way to gravel entirely. Boy that was fun. :o)
Uncle Sean is a good driver though, and we were in no danger of flying off the side of a mountain. The scenery was fantastic, but the most amazing thing was the silence. It was completely quiet up on the mountain. Even the sheep were silent. I don't think I ever realized before just how much background noise is always around me. There are always car sounds, people, birds, or some sort of machine making noise. Up on the top of that mountain, you could hear the footsteps of the sheep across the pasture, and every breath of wind rustling the grass.

Saturday: Christchurch, NZ

Starting at the beginning...who knows how long this could end up being! I am definitely going to do more than one post.

We left the house on Saturday morning (around 7:00, I think) and hung around the Qantas member's lounge until our flight at 8:50. I'd never been in one of the airline lounges before, and it was quite an experience. There was a hot breakfast buffet, espresso, and just about any alcohol you could want, as well as high-speed internet access. I could really get into travelling that way.

We got into Christchurch, NZ around 1:00 their time, and found rooms at the Croyden House B&B. It was comfortable, clean, WARM (electric blankets on the beds, heated towel kind of place!), and the house itself was lovely.

We did some walking around, looking at various art galleries, and visiting an open market near the cathedral. We got lunch at the market; fresh cheese crepes for Anne-Nicole and me, and a big old sausage for Uncle Sean. After we had finished lunch and done some more walking we visited the cathedral. Despite the modern paraphanelia scattered throughout, it was a very reverent space. There were some beautiful carved panels throughout the church, and the stained glass was lovely.

We went back to the Croyden House for a while, and sat in the parlour, drinking their complimentary sherry. After we had rested for a while, we set out in search of dinner. We ended up at a small Thai/Laotian restaurant. We had a delicious dinner, followed by dessert- fried bananas on "hokey-pokey" ice-cream. Hokey-Pokey is a New Zealand thing. They just don't sell it anywhere else. (I'm very nearly addicted to it...but don't worry. I got the recipe!) If you think that sounds revoltingly sweet, you're almost right. But it was delicious.

The streets were almost deserted later Saturday evening, because of the big rugby match going on, involving the Christchurch Crusaders. Everyone else was somewhere with a TV (and beer.) We decided to go act like locals and catch the end of the game at one of the pubs on the main drag. It wasn't a very pubby-pub. There wasn't any smoke in the room, it was very quiet (for a room full of rugby fans), and the decor was sophisticated. But the Monteith's beer was very good. :o)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Saturday: Sydney to Christchurch

We're in Christchurch, New Zealand now. The town is adorable, and our B&B, the Croyden House, is very quaint and comfortable.

I probably won't get to post for a few more days, because I'm not sure if we'll have internet access everywhere. If not, I'll be sure to fill everyone in on our trip as soon as we get back to Sydney on Wednesday.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday: Sitting Around Reading

I woke up around 8:30 this morning, and Uncle Sean and Aunt Anne-Nicole were both gone for the day. After my hike yesterday, my feet were a little sore, and I didn't have anything planned for today, so I decided against gallivanting off. Instead, I lazed around in my pajamas for a few hours, checked email several times, and talked to my family on the phone. I finally got dressed around 10:30, after which I sat around reading and watching movies until 1:00.

After 1:00, I decided that taking it easy didn't necessarily mean staying inside. It was a lovely, sunny day, far too nice to waste with movies. I packed a bag with all the essentials: my book, camera, pen and paper, wallet, and a bag of chocolate chip cookies. Gear in hand, I set off for a nice, leisurely walk down Cremorne Point. At the very tip, just before you would walk off the edge into the harbor, there are a few benches. I planted myself on one of those.

The view from the point is wonderful. There's a white lighthouse just off the tip of the point, which is quite picturesque, and Taronga Zoo is just across the water. There were times when I could hear the animals over the sound of the water. Any number of boats were passing at any given time; motor boats, sail boats, ferries....

As the day progressed, the light over the harbor changed. It started off as a crisp, clear light, in which it seems that you can make out every leaf of every tree, and the sails of the sailboats shine almost blindingly. The water sparkled and gleamed, reflecting and magnifying the light of the sun. Gradually, the light softened, so that everything looked a little fuzzy around the edges, and the walls of the buildings across the harbor seemed to have a gentle golden halo. The water no longer shimmered, but it took on a deeper blue to contrast with the soft greens and golds of the shore.

Excuse the descriptive flight.... I sat outside for almost 4 hours, just reading and thinking, so I had plenty of time to take in my surroundings and appreciate and commit to memory every color and sound. Hopefully, when I got home I'll remember quiet moments like that as well as I remember all the adventures I've been having.

Speaking of adventures, we're leaving in the morning forNew Zealand! We'll be flying into Christchurch, and from there on, who knows. I get the feeling that whatever we do, as long as we get out of the airport, I'll be happy with it and find it interesting.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Thursday: Manly

Uncle Sean and I headed over to Manly Beach at 10:00 yesterday morning. He hit the waves for some surfing, and I explored. I walked the length of the beach a few times before settling down with a book along one of the quieter stretches of beach.

According to the internet surf experts, it was a beautiful, "sparkling" morning on Manly. They were completely right. The water was shimmery and the waves almost seemed to be glowing. In places where the water was more still, it was incredibly clear and an amazing, un-real shade of blue.

After a little while, Uncle Sean came over to say he was heading back to work, and I put down my book for some shopping. I hit the Mambo store (again) to finish up shopping for my brothers. Lucky for me they had a sale, and I ended up with a free sweatshirt.

By the time I'd finished shopping, I'd worked up an appetite (funny how that happens.) I stopped in at an inexpensive little hole-in-the-wall health food place for some take-away tofu salad, which I took back down to the waterfront for a picnic. As I expected, the seagulls were far more interested in the fish and chips being consumed all around me than in my little tofu salad.

To make up for my super healthy lunch, I got myself a nice big cone of ice-cream for dessert. My ice-cream and I took a walk down the beach to Cabbage Tree Bay, which was oh-so lovely and peaceful. I settled back down with my book in a nice breezy spot, and stayed there for a few more hours.

At 2:00, I decided to head back in the general direction of home, via the "Manly-Spit" walk. (Ok, so it's really called the Manly Scenic Walkway, but it runs between Manly Beach and The Spit, and everyone calls it The Spit to Manly walk. I went backwards...Manly-Spit.)

Anyway. I thought to grab a bottle of water before I left, and it was a good thing I did. The walk was about 9 km. long and pretty tough in spots; the water was thoroughly appreciated. The scenery was incredible though. Some of the views were breathtaking....(at least, I'd like to think it was the views, not the very steep, uneven, 200 or so steps required to reach the views....) My camera battery had been dying slowly all day, but I managed to get some great pictures.

I finally descended from the heights, down to Clontarf Beach, where I promptly took off my walking sandals and soaked my feet in the water. It felt soooo good, and I walked the rest of the length of the beach up to my ankles in water. I found some really great starfish, but they were all still alive (drat. ;o)) By the time the trail picked back up, I was totally relaxed, cool, and comfortable, but my feet were just a little too big for my shoes. Ouch. I survived the last 1/4 mile or so, and settled in to wait for a bus to take me back home. Overall, the hike took about 2 1/2 hours, even though the posted time for it is 4+. I was pretty pleased with myself after that, despite my sore, swollen feet.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Flickr show!

So, I figured out a way to get some pictures where people can actually see them now. There are SO many more, and I hope to upload some more in the near future. For now, enjoy!

Tuesday: Taronga Zoo, Wednesday: Macquarie U.

I spent most of yesterday at Taronga Zoo, here in Sydney. Anne-Nicole, who works there part of the time, had to go in early to walk the dingos (!!!) so I met up with her later on. I had to catch a bus, which was easier than I expected, apart from missing the one I needed by seconds... always frustrating.

Anne-Nicole and I met at noon for lunch. She had been observing the chimps, and she look a minute to tell me all their names and explain some of their relationships and temperments. We had lunch at the zoo cafeteria and walked around together for a little while before she had to get back to work.

I covered the entire zoo. I'm pretty sure I didn't miss a single animal. After I had seen them all, I went back and sat outside the chimp enclosure for anhour or so, just watching them. Having learned something about their individual personalities and the group dynamics from Anne-Nicole, it was even more interesting. A few of the younger ones were incredibly mischievous and reminded me very much of some boys I know. (Yes, I do mean my brothers, in case anyone was wondering.)

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera when I left the house, so I wasn't able to get any pictures. I guess that means I'll have to get go back before I leave!

Today I attended "Uni" with Anne-Nicole. She goes to Macquarie University here in Sydney, and I tagged along to a few of her lectures. The interpersonal and group psychology lectures were fascinating, but the research methods class wasn't so thrilling. :o)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sunday & Monday

I'm going to have to cram a few days into one post, because otherwise I fear I'll get woefully behind, forget what day it is, and come home having only documented three days of my trip.

I wasn't able to find a church to attend Sunday morning, so I sang some hymns to myself, and read a few of the sermons that had come in my email.

Anne-Nicole and I took a ferry over to Cicular Quay, and walked to the Art Gallery of NSW, where we saw a self-portrait exhibition. Some of them were really wonderful or well-known works (a van Gogh, Elizabeth Vigee-LeBrun, etc.) A few were fairly hideous and disgusting, so we didn't spend too much time around those. When we had exhausted the portrait gallery, we got some lunch at the cafe in the museum. Lunch was very delicious and ended with a piece of tiramisu....ahhhhhh.
We walked through the "normal" gallery, containing art from the Renaissance- early 20th century, the aboriginal gallery, and the asian art gallery. The asian one was my favorite. They had a beautiful collection of ceramics and pocelain pieces, which I think I could have stared at all day. There was one set in particular that was especially lovely. They were two gourd-shaped jars, one in a deep rich red, the other in a glowing blue. The glazes made them look almost translucent.

Anne-Nicole and I left around 10:00 and walked to the bus stop, where we caught a bus to downtown. From there we walked to Darling Harbor. We met her friend Susanna for lunch at a little Malaysian restaurant. Our meal was delicious, but I can't for the life of me remember what the dishes were called. Of course, it's not like I'll be able to get Malaysian food back in Fort Wayne, no matter what the dish is named. :o)

After lunch, which we stretched out over a few hours, we went over to Paddy's Market. I had to stop at the Mambo outlet. (Incidently, I take no responsibility for anything shown on that website. It can be....strange.) I found a shirt for one of my brothers -not saying which one yet ;o)- and, um, three shirts for me. They were having a sale. What can I say?

After we had finished shopping, Anne-Nicole and I went to the Chinese Garden of Friendship, which was lovely and restful, despite being passed by a monorail every few minutes.

We walked from Darling Harbor, through downtown, back to Circular Quay, where we caught a ferry back to Cremorne point. People were getting off of work as we walked through the city, so it was very busy. There were people handing out tracts and brochures everywhere. Some of them were exceedingly amusing.

Uncle Sean made dinner last night. Nothing caught on fire or exploded. But he did make some of the best frozen pizza I've ever had. ;o)

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Working to catch up here after just not thinking about blogging for a day.....

Yesterday, after sleeping in til 9:30, Uncle Sean and I went out for a late breakfast on Bondi Beach. Two eggs, lots of bacon, and a few slices of toast later, we took off for a long walk. We did the Bondi to Bronte beach walk, which took a while and gave me a few blisters, but was absolutely beautiful. It was a clear day, and the ocean was a lovely, deep glowing blue. The beaches were busy, but not annoyingly so. It just made for good people watching.

Before coming home, we drove over to Watson's Bay, which is at the opening to Sydney Harbor. There are some fantastic bluffs there, which we made our way to the top of. The view was stunning, and the shoreline - mostly cliff- was very interesting. We made our way back down from the heights, and stopped at Doyles for a drink of lemon-lime and bitters and a rest. We didn't get anything to eat, but I felt like I could have filled up on the smells of everyone else's lunch!

Yesterday evening I got to meet several of Uncle Sean and Aunt Anne-Nicole's aussie friends. We all went over to the "Bowls Club" for Trivia Night.... our team didn't win anything, but we came in third- much better than any of us had expected!

It's time for dinner now, but I'll try to fill everyone in on today....tomorrow.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Now I know where NOT to sightsee...

I woke up this morning to the shrieking of several (wild) cockatoos and a kookaburra. Unbelievable.

Yesterday morning/afternoon after Aunt Anne was at school and Uncle Sean was at work, I took a little time to explore the neighborhood. They live at the "top" of Cremorne Point, which juts out into Sydney Harbor. There are paths and trails everywhere, and I was able to make my way down along the shore. It's very hilly around here, and not having had much sleep, I didn't get very far before I was out of breath and tired.

Uncle Sean came home for lunch and we went over to Balmoral Beach for some fish'n'chips. We sat down on the beach with the seagulls. Unsurprisingly, gulls seem to be the same wherever you go, and it wasn't long before we had some checking us out. One gull, which was slightly larger than the rest quickly took control of the area and chased every other bird away and wouldn't let any others within 10 feet of us! I threw it a chip to repay it. After lunch he took me on an abbreviated tour of some of the other areas of Sydney, including the gay nude beach. NO, we didn't go near it, just drove past the entrance. *shudder* Now I have a better idea of where to avoid when exploring.

I took an accidental nap that evening. I had tried to take another walk, but it started raining, so I came back inside and sat down to read. 4 hours later I woke up. Even after that, I was still able to sleep for a full 9 hours last night.

Today, since Aunt Anne has school until 4:00, and Uncle Sean has work, I'm going to go do some of the more touristy things. I'm going to catch a ferry across the harbor, check out THE Opera House, and just see what else looks interesting around there.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Live from Sydney Australia via Fort Wayne, Indiana it's Thursday on Wednesday!

I'm in Sydney. Wow. After 24+ hours traveling, I'm very glad to be firmly planted on the ground, even if it is on the other side of the world.

My flights were uneventful. Uneventful= good. I was situated next to the windows for every flight, so I got to see some astounding scenery from the air. I flew from Indianapolis to Denver, and from Denver to L.A. The view coming out of Denver was breath-taking. The mountains started off dark and prickley looking, covered with pine trees, which eventually gave way to expanses of snow and gorgeous peaks. Some of the snow must have been melting, because there were streams and lakes everywhere. When the sun peeked out from behind the scattered clouds, the water would flash blindingly for a moment, and then disappear into the shadows again.

Part way over the mountains, the clouds took over and all interesting vistas were temporarily lost. I retreated into my book, and forgot about scenery. A little while later I recalled that my mother had flown over the Grand Canyon, last time she traveled through Denver, so I decided to keep a look out for that. Sure enough, when I glanced out the window, there it was! I had never seen any part of it before, except in travel shows, and the sheer size of it took me by surprise.

Switching planes when I got to LAX was a major pain in the rear, but I survived it. I think I need a shirt. "I survived LAX." Yeah.

I had an entire row to myself for the flight to Sydney
(yessssssssss!!!!) so I was able to stretch out completely and get some sleep. It was only 6 hours of sleep, which in any other case would be nothing, but on a 13-14 hour flight, it was wonderful. I watched "Walk the Line" and started to watch "The Producers" but gave up because my concentration was shot, so I went to sleep.

We got into Sydney around 6:15 am, local time. I'm not even going to try to figure out what time that is back home. My Aunt and Uncle were waiting for me right outside of customs, and they immediatly whisked me over to the coffee shop, where I got some liquid sustenance. Now, I'm at their house, taking over my aunt's computer.

I may describe Sydney later, at least the part I've seen.
Right now, I'm going to go visit some more.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Countdown to Takeoff

I'm all dressed up in my travelling suit; my suitcase is packed and zipped up; and, if all goes well and my flight isn't delayed, I'll be taking off for Sydney (via Denver and LA) at 3:00 this afternoon.

I haven't been too nervous about flying halfway around the world by myself....until right now. Now that I've gotten all prepared and know where I'm going at each airport, I'm nervous. Makes a lot of sense, right?

I've been loading up on vitamins, immune boosters, and allergy meds for a few days, but they haven't quite prevented me from getting some sort of respiratory thing, which chose to manifest itself yesterday. I'm counting on it just being allergies, and that my sore throat is only a result of the ENTIRE weekend spent singing the Brahms Requiem.

I still haven't gotten to the "excited" part of the trip. I'm not sure I'll actually realize I'm going to Australia until I've been there a few days.

I'm going to try my hardest to update regularly once I'm in Australia. Seeing what a good job I do of that when I'm at home, *choke* that may or may not happen.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Excuse me while I scream...


This formerly-homeschooled girl has NEVER been so ready for summer in her life.

My three final finals were today, and I already have the grades back for two of them. I'm so happy. Unless I totally bombed my history exam (which seems pretty unlikely) I will be entering my sophomore year with my 4.0 GPA intact! Yipppppeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Loving my Music

Now that classes are over, piano lessons are over till next semester, and I don't have anything stressing me out, I've rediscovered my piano.

It's not that I forgot it was there, or that I didn't play it during the school year. I had to practice daily, but (especially towards the end) I hated every minute of it. I would get a head ache AND a stomache ache, just looking at the keys. I never played any of my fun, not for school music.

Just this week, though, I've been playing every chance I get. I'll sit down for 15 minutes every so often, play through a few songs, and go back to whatever I was doing previously. I can't stay away long though, and I'll be back an hour later to play some more.
I got some new music last week, which may be partially to blame. My mother bought me a "Best of the 1890s" album (yes-1890s, as in 110 years ago) which has some ridiculously fun songs in it. I just wish someone else in my family were willing to sing along with me. She also bought me a Sonata album, which has been wonderful (Clementi is now my favorite composer to play-his sonatas are sooo much fun!)
Best of all, we found a book of Pride and Prejudice sheet music. I can now play all of the lovely piano pieces from the P&P soundtrack and that makes me SO happy.....*dreamy sigh*

My problem now is that I have a piano-less month in Australia to look forward to. (I can hear the violins starting now.... c'est tragique.) I'll try my hardest to survive.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I was sitting here just now, staring idly at the computer screen when a thought came upon me. "Maybe," I thought to myself, "just maybe, rather than sitting here staring idly at the computer screen, I could write something for my poor, lonely little blog."

So here I am.

I had my first final of the week this morning. It was for art history and was actually a lot of fun (and also very easy.) I'm sorry that class was over. Even getting into postmodern art, as we did in the last week, the class was fascinating. (Although, I think the Matthew Barney video was a little much-I may be scarred for life. But then, he is married to Bjork, after all. I should have been prepared for something unspeakably bizarre.)
I will say, postmodern art is much more interesting than modern. I've never been able to make myself like much of anything painted after WWI, and I spent the last few weeks of class wishing I could strangle Marcel Duchamp. Not that I don't appreciate modern art. I understand what the artists were trying to do and, in most cases, I respect their skills, but I just can't bring myself to enjoy it. I'm the sort of shallow person who prefers the Pre-Raphaelites.