Saturday, March 26, 2011

Field trips

Over the past couple of weekends, I've done some exploring in other regions of Victoria. I have always loved a field trip, after all and my flatmate is also new to the area and up for sightseeing. Last weekend, I went to Ballarat, an old mining town about an hour outside of Melbourne. The first stop was Sovereign Hill, one of those historical reenactment towns (nerd alert!) a la Old Sturbridge Village. The highlight was the mine tour, where you actually ride carts down into an old mine- it was dim and dusty and downright scary, especially if you're prone to daydreaming about disaster scenarios. The photo doesn't quite do it justice. Then I panned for gold, but didn't strike it rich, alas. After that, we headed into downtown was 6pm on a Saturday, all the shops were closed, and the place was absolutely deserted. I was half expecting to see a tumbleweed blow by. We did manage to find a (surprisingly good) Thai restaurant, though.

This weekend's field trip was to Geelong, a small costal city about an hour West of Melbourne. Again, it was pretty quiet but not nearly as void of inhabitants as Ballarat. And they had a ferris wheel set up on the beach- bonus! We walked around the waterfront for a bit and bought some mussels from a Spanish man who sells them from his boat, before we headed to our main destination- the Mt. Rothwell nature reserve for a guided nighttime walk. (I already mentioned the nerd thing, right?) My boss had recommended it as a unique experience and a cool way to see a lot of native Australian animals in the wild. I didn't bother trying to take pictures in the dark, but we did see lots of strange little marsupials, my favorite being the quoll. And now I can add another qu word to my Scrabble repertoire- double bonus!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Adventures in Strange Fruit: the kiwiberry

I spotted these little guys at the grocery store and just had to give them a try. Mini kiwis! They don't have a furry skin so no need to peel, you can just eat them like grapes. Plus, maybe they don't share a trait with their full-sized, furry relatives: kiwis make me fart. There, I said it. I mean, what is a blog if not a portal through which to share details about your bodily functions with the entire internet?
And the verdict is...kiwiberries taste just like regular kiwis, and the inside looks just like a big kiwi, only smaller. And now 100% fart free!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What I've been up to lately

The rest of Ern’s visit:
After a relaxing trip to the Mornington Peninsula, Ern spent a couple more days in Melbourne before flying back to Boston. We shopped for foodstuffs at Queen Victoria Market - which I recently learned is situated on top of an old burial ground…cue eerie noises. We had a bunch of friends over for a barbecue, did some more shopping and eating – I finally went to this restaurant that I’ve been curious to check out for ages, and it did not disappoint. Blood orange Campari cocktails and a seafood tasting board? Yes, please! Then Ern left :( Overall it was a fantastic visit- nice to be on vacation for a week, and obviously wonderful to get to spend time with a great old friend- it really made me feel like myself again.

Other than that, I saw one of my new favorite (or shall I say favourite) Australian musicians, Darren Hanlon, play at the Thornbury Theatre, which is essentially a giant version of my grandmother’s parlor- paisley wallpaper, rugs, and lots of plush furniture. He (and his backing musicians) were really good, and the tickets only cost $24, which is extremely low for Melbourne.

And it’s been back to work as usual, very busy but in a good way. I gave my first presentation at my institute and it wasn’t a disaster, and nobody fell asleep, even though it was about mass spec.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Happy (belated) 50th Birthday, Peace Corps!

Last week, the Peace Corps celebrated its 50th birthday. Most of you know that I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua from 1999 - 2001 (wow, that seems like a long time ago) and I must admit that despite the program's shortcomings (mainly, that it largely benefits the volunteers more than the host countries), I am very glad that I had the opportunity to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. Sure, it was incredibly frustrating at times and I had to deal with things like giardia, bedbugs, and constant unwanted attention from strangers, but overall it was an immensely positive and rewarding experience and the source of a lot of great friendships. From a political standpoint, I think it is important that some Americans do know what daily life is like in a developing country, as much of the world lives without access to things we take for granted, like clean water. Plus, in the scheme of government spending, Peace Corps is dirt fucking cheap to run: in 2010, Peace Corps requested an amount equal to 0.01% of the total federal budget.
And now, some Peace Corps themed links:

Does that commemorative poster look familiar? Maybe because it's the work of Shepard Fairey, whose sister was a volunteer in Togo.

The Peace Corps Times 50th anniversary edition- with one of my fellow Nica 20 Ag volunteers representing Nicaragua!

A nice little article about the Peace Corps with some interesting historical tidbits.

My cousin Carolyn is currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama, working in a remote indigenous community (yikes! no weekly trips to the discoteca), and writes about it on her blog.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Ern's visit Part II: Mornington Peninsula

During the week, Ern and I spent a couple of days in one of my favorite areas of Victoria, the Mornington Peninsula. It's sort of like Cape Cod, a summer weekend destination for city dwellers, only with better wine and more kangaroos. We started off the trip to the hot springs where we soaked in pools of natural warm mineral water and also witnessed an entertaining photoshoot involving a girl who looked like a stripper in unfortunate tiger print bathing attire.

We went on a couple of hikes (aka "bushwalks") in two parts of the national park- Cape Shanhck and Point Nepean, where we got rained on and deftly avoided dangers such as snakes and unexploded bombs. (we did see a snake, and a bunch of kangaroos.)

A large portion of the trip touring vineyards. I know, you're shocked. Our favorite wines came from Tuck's Ridge, partly because the guy pouring tastes reminded us of Colin Frizzle. He also recommended a great lunch venue...hello, polenta fries!

We stopped in Rye on the way back to Melbourne and took some photos of their brightly colored beach sheds, something of a symbol for the region.

Ern's visit Part I: Weekend in Melbourne

My friend, former roommate, and DCoE star Ern arrived midday on Saturday after a tedious journey from BOS to MEL. Ever the good sport, she did not object to my plans to drink beers all afternoon at Little Creatures Dining Hall in Fitzroy. I allowed her to take a short nap, after which we headed out to the Forum to see one of my favorite musicians (and fellow Masshole), Amanda Palmer. I realized I've now seen Amanda perform six times (three of those were with the Dresden Dolls), which kind of puts me into fangirl/stalker territory, but I never get tired of her live shows. Her music and songwriting are both clever and captivating, and above all, she is never, ever boring. To wit- her current album features a song called "Map of Tasmania" about pubic hair. For reals. On Sunday, we toured the Old Melbourne Gaol (creepy!) and then stumbled upon an Italian festival featuring the World's Longest Pizza (amazing! and really long!). We hit up the local vodka bar for dinner and then off to bed.

On Monday (hey, it's part of the weekend when you're on vacation), we drove out to the Healesville Sanctuary to check out some Australian wildlife. I saw my first echidna (very cute and larger than expected) and platypus...and learned a new word: platypussary, a platypus breeding ground. Please, somebody get James Bond to Australia to make a movie called Platypussy. The highlight of the day was a close encounter with a lyrebird, who have awesome feathers and make awesome noises.