Thursday, October 29, 2009

Five Things Not Related to Australia

Inspired by Sarah and Jenny

1. Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies. Just made these for Kris' Halloween Party. I feel sort of dirty now. Dirty and delicious.

2. Trona High School father grew up in Trona, California, a small mining town on the edge of Death Valley. The football field he played on (made of sand and known as The Pit) was recently featured in from the LA Times- click on the link above.

The last three are all books- I've been catching up on my reading while on vacation.

3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. This Pultizer Prize winning novel tells the story of a geeky, overweight Dominican-American boy named Oscar and his family, who have long been plagued by a curse known as the fuku that followed them from the Caribbean to their current home of New Jersey. Although Oscar is the title character, the story is more about his family and their history than it is about him... his mother surviving the brutal reign of Trujillo in the DR, his sister Lola and her captivating mixture of rebellion and vulnerability, and his friend Yunior, who also acts as the narrator and Lola's on again, off again boyfriend. The writing itself is hilarious and heartbreaking, and the characters are vibrant. It's a very latino book, with Spanish terminology sprinkled throughout. All of the women are sexy and gorgeous, and all of the men cheat on them. I really enjoyed it, but I think having lived in Nicaragua for a couple of years definitely enhanced my appreciation of the book. I was also glad that I read In The Time of The Butterflies because I already knew a bit about Trujillo's dictatorship. Here's the NYT review.

4. Out Stealing Horses, by Per Pettersen, is a Norwegian novel about an old man who moves up to an isolated cabin in the north of the country. Although the goal of his relocation was to forget his past, he ends up immersed in it, especially when he realizes that his current neighbor was a childhood acquaintance. Much of the book is a flashback of a summer he spent with his father in rural Norway, and set against a backdrop of the quiet beauty of northern Norway, the book about the relationship between a boy and his father. Out Stealing Horses progresses at a slow and deliberate pace, and it's not until over halfway through that a deeper plot is revealed. I enjoyed it, but it's more suited for reading on a cold evening by the fire than on a sunny beach.

5. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Yep, the title says it all- it's the classic romance story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, only in this version, guts, gore, ninjas, vomit, and zombies (a.k.a "unmentionables") play a prominent role. If you've read the original and don't tend to take English literature too seriously, you'll definitely enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More on Melbourne

As promised, here are some more photos and details about my trip to Melbourne and the South Coast. There exists somewhat of a rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, and residents of one city will frequently ask you which of the two you prefer. Naturally, I say that I like them both. I stayed in two different neighborhoods in Melbourne- the first was the Fitzroy/Carlton, which I loved- a funky area with loads of cafes, restaurants, shops, bars and a couple of beautiful parks nearby. The second was St. Kilda, a beachfront area a little south of downtown accesible by tram (it's really easy to get around Melbourne via tram, and they are free in the city center). I was not a fan St. Kilda. My hostel was terrible- it was full of European fratboy teenagers (the bar had a daily jaegerbomb special...'nuff said.) and even if I had been ten years younger, I don't think I was ever much into the spring break party scene, which is permanently on display in St. Kilda. So I saw the best and the worst of the city and definitely could have done without two nights in St. Kilda. I tried to move back to the Nunnery (dirty hippies > trashy teenagers) but I had already paid upfront for my accommodations in St. Kilda so I sucked it up.

My jaunt to Melbourne was also the first time I've traveled by myself. Australia is a very travel-friendly country, with and abundance of cheap and clean hostels and backpacker tours widely available. I really enjoyed the two tours I did and would definitely recommend that method if you're traveling on your own- you meet a lot of people and see interesting places without having to worry about making nitpicky arrangements. But the time I spent in the city itself would have been a lot more enjoyable if I had friends with me.

One of the highlights of the trip has been seeing all of Australia's bizarre animals in the wild. One night on the tour we camped in a koala forest and saw TONS of them- most of them were pretty high up in the trees so my pictures weren't all that great. The seem cute and cuddly until night falls- their absurdly loud mating calls and noises kept us up all night. Fun fact of the day: the majority of koalas are infected with chlamydia.

Here are a few more pictures of a sleeping koala, me feeding a wallaby, the gorgeous Great Ocean Road coastline, a waterfall in the Grampians mountain range, and a bright yellow canola field.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Greetings from Melbourne!

So, here's what I've done over the past few days:

I went to see the little penguins at Phillip Island. It was really cold. They swim ashore a couple of hours after sunset, and it was very cold and damp and windy sitting on the shore waiting for them to arrive, but they were very cute so it was worth it. Besides, who knows if I'll ever get the chance to see wild penguins again.

After that, I headed off on a three day tour of the Great Ocean Road and Grampians National Park. It definitely had a different vibe from my outback tour- I was the oldest of the group (good thing I'm so immature), everyone was single, and everyone except for me was a European clubster. So yeah, we listened to trance and techno the entire time. The scenery was beautiful, although the tour was a lot more stop-and-go so we didn't get to do any hiking, which had been my favorite part of the outback tour. But I did go quad biking! A quad bike is a four wheeled ATV, and I got mine up to 50kph- it was such a blast. After the tour ended, we met up in St. Kilda for a night of clubbing, which was actually a lot of fun. And then today I dragged myself out of go on a wine tour of the Yarra Valley. Hooray for vacation!

Picture time:

I'll post some more when I'm not being charged by the minute.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are you sick of reading about my vacation yet?

I hope not! Anyways, yesterday I arrived in Melbourne have spent the past day and a half exploring the city's parks, shops, and cafes. I'm staying in a hostel that used to be a convent- it's called The Nunnery. I haven't really done the hostel thing before (well, I stayed in tons of hospedajes in Nicaragua but never shared rooms with strangers) so I was a little but antsy about it, but so far, it's been fine. A lot of people are staying there long-term so it's more like a dorm...a dorm that's full of European hippies.

Melbourne is nice but I'm really looking forward to gettting out and seeing some of the surrounding countryside. I'm going to see the penguin parade tonight and head out on a three day camping tour of the Great Ocean Road tomorrow. Before I left on the trip, a friend who had studied abroad in Australia advised me to spend as little time in the cities as possible, and I'm inclined to agree. Melbourne and Sydney are lovely but not particularly stunning, and what is different and amazing about Australia is the natural beauty of the rural areas. I've heard that the Great Ocean Road is fantastic but it would be hard to top the outback.

Anyways, so far in Melbourne I got my haircut and dyed back to my natural color (I hate having visible roots and celebrities with bad roots are pet peeve of mine. If you have the money, get that shit touched up!)

Anyways, so here are a couple of pictures- me with my new 'do (squinting into the sun) on the balcony of the Nunnery and one of the fun and enormous Queen Victoria Market.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back in Sydney

I spent the past couple of days in Sydney and managed to take two day trips using the ferry system. Sydney is a huge city with tons of small harbors and bays, and many times, the fastest way from point A to point B is via ferry. On Monday, I went to the Taronga Zoo- it has a fantastic view (the giraffes have the best view of all) and typical smattering of zoo animals plus a large collection of Australian wildlife- lions and tigers and koala bears, oh my. Koala bears are adorable but definitely not the most lively of creatures- they sleep 20 hours a day. The highlight was the free flight bird show, which had the best opening sequence I've seen in a long time. As everyone was sitting around waiting for the show to begin, a white parrot flew down and undid a string to open up the show's banner. Over the loudspeakers, a narration of the aboriginal myth about how the birds got their colors began, only the story was acted out by the birds themselves. I was really impressed- it was like watching a school play only with birds playing the parts instead of children. Next, a trainer came out and brought out several different species which would then swoop around over the crowd. In an unscripted moment, a black-breasted kite hopped over the rail and took a little girl's stuffed animal, which was sort of hilarious. The trainer, who looked slightly alarmed, got him to drop it by offering some raw meat.

Today I took the ferry over to Manly Beach, located just north of the city. It was beautiful and the weather was perfect- I laid around on the beach, swam in a (shark-free!) cove, ate fish & chips, and read about half of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. After a relaxing day at the beach (see goofy picture), I headed back to Kristy and Rodd's house and cooked up a big pot of kangaroo chili. Yum! Kangaroo is a lean, red meat, similar to venison.
Tomorrow morning I'm headed south to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road. I gotta be honest, I'm really digging this extended vacation thing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Outback adventure

I returned to Sydney today after a week in the Australian Outback, also known as the Red Center because of the bright red sandy soil, a substantial amount of which I brought home with me on my clothing and in my hair. We spent a day in Adelaide, then one in Alice Springs, and then headed off for a three day camping tour with Wayoutback (highly recommended!). Our group consisted of my former college roommate Kristy and her husband Rodd, a few more Australian tourists, a few European backpackers, me, and two tour guides. I loved it! The scenery was spectacular (oh, the Aussies and Brits use much richer vocabulary than we Americans...I'd be all "cool!" whereas they would say something like "how splendidly magnificent"), the company was excellent, and I enjoyed eating food cooked over a campfire and sleeping under the stars in my swag. I even got a tan, complete with a sock line. Our first day we went to Uluru (Ayers Rock) which was as stunning as I had imagined. I didn't climb it because apparently the Aborigines prefer that people do not, so I hiked around the base instead. Positive: avoidance of tribal curses. Negative: FLIES. I literally had a cloud of them buzzing around my head at all times.

The rock itself is striking, rising out of the flat outback terrain, and we got great views of it at both sunset and sunrise. However, I liked the next two sites on the tour even more, even though I had never heard of them before this trip. The first was a different rock formation with a number of domes called the Olgas (or Kata Tjuta) and the second was Kings Canyon, which reminded me a bit of the American southwest. We spent several hours hiking around both sites, and both were quite beautiful. On the road, we encountered some native wildlife including a dingo pup, witchtail eagles, wild camels (not native but fairly common), kangaroos, and an emu family (dad with three babies). Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get any decent photos but I did eat some of these tasty animals (camel, emu sausage, and camel) at Bojangles Saloon in Alice Springs, which is basically the type of establishment the Outback Steakhouse seeks to emulate (there's no I in emulate, but there is an emu). While in the bush, I didn't run into anything scary or deadly with the exception of a redback spider Rodd spotted in the camp toilet- it was promptly squished. Here are a few photos and you can head over to Kris' blog for a more thorough recounting of our adventures. Overall, the trip was a great success... now I'm back in Sydney for a couple of days until I head south to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Down Under

I made it to Australia. The flight was...long, but not terrible. The plane was packed with middle-aged Canadians athletes on their way to the Masters World Games in Sydney and everyone was quite friendly and pleasant. After a long back-up at customs, Kris met me at the airport and we headed off to explore Sydney- in the pouring rain. The city does have a bit of a British feel to it, and the residents have adorable accents and sure do love meat pies. Here are a couple of photos I took of the Opera House (it really is stunning, and has almost a pearly gleam to it when the sun does come out) and some creepy bats in the botanical garden. I've got one more day to explore the city and then we head off on our Outback adventure- Adelaide to Alice Springs to Uluru (a.k.a. Ayers Rock). I can't wait!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Things I've Been Meaning to Blog About*

1. I spent last weekend in San Fransisco, visiting the fun friends I have there and attending the pig roast wedding reception of Yuki and Jonathan. I had a blast, and every time I go to San Fransisco, I sort of want to move there. Pictures are of the newlyweds, Yuki and me, the pig roaster/go cart that Jonathan built for the occasion, and my lovely hostesses and me at the bluegrass festival. We saw Neko Case and she was great and had amazingly bright red hair.

2. I read a book I loved loved loved- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set immediately following WWII, the book tells the story of British author who forms a friendship with a group of residents and bibliophiles from Guernsey, an island in the English channel that was occupied by Germany during the war. Don't let the uncomfortably long name turn you off- it's a charming novel, though admittedly a bit on the girly side, and provides an interesting account of the war from the British perspective.

3. This morning I awoke to find a whole bunch of strange sound equipment on my front lawn. At first I was mad, thinking that villainous vandal had ditched some speakers, amps, and whatnot under the cover of darkness and now I was going to get stuck with the removal. Turns out that new Tom Cruise movie is filming at the house across the street, and some of the equipment was delivered early. Looks like I'll have to schedule in some celebrity stalking tomorrow before I pack for my vacation.

4. I leave tomorrow for my big trip to Australia and I can't wait! I start off in Sydney, where I will be picked spending the first weekend with my college roommate and her husband. From there we go on an outback adventure, then back to Sydney, then I head south by myself to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road. I'll do my best to update.

5. Interspecies friendship alert!! OMG you guys, this is the cutest one I've seen in a long, long time. Click on the link and prepare yourself for a mental enema of cute.

*Sometimes I think it's okay to end a phrase with a preposition. It's something you're just going to have to deal with.