Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oz Trip - Day 7

(Pics of this day can be found at:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=27955&l=d1b32&id=668843227)

Today we chose to take the double decker bus tour of Sydney. It was a great way to see alot of the city in just one afternoon. There was actually two tours in one. The first was a tour of Sydney, the second a tour of Bondi Beach. So all in all, it took about 3 hours to complete. You'll see in my photo album just a few of the nearly 100 pictures I took that day. So much to see! Of course the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge (the "coathanger") and the Opera House. But there were many other great sights like Kings Cross, St. Mary's Cathedral, Botanical Gardens, State Library, Band of New South Wales, etc.

On the Bondi Tour we, of course, got to see Bondi Beach. It was exciting to see this world-renowned beach. We stopped off and had lunch and took in the sights for an hour. Then caught the bus back to the city.

Tonight I was feeling too great so we walked to the nearest supermarket to get a few things to cook in the common kitchen back at the hostel. In the kitchen, Nev and I were surprised to see an Asian family making dumplings... from SCRATCH! It was amazing. I guess they were taking advantage of the space to cook in a commercial kitchen.

My highlight for today was the whole double-decker bus tour. It was exhilirating to experience the city from the top of a bus. Feeling the wind in my hair, the sun on my face and amazing view around each corner. It was one long highlight.

Oz Trip - Day 6

(Pics for this day can be found at:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=27954&l=19a73&id=668843227 )

Back to the airport today. This time we got a ride from one of the staff that hostel so we didn't need to hire a taxi.

Sydney here we come!

When we got to the airport, there were (unlike Rockhampton) a large selection of public transportation services. So we took the cheapest, a shuttle. But due to Chinese New Year celebrations still commencing, the shuttles were delayed trying to get out of the city. We ended up waiting forever for the shuttle but once we got to our destination, I was very excited. Nev had yet another secret up his sleeve. He had chosen something special at our hostel. Since the Sydney Railway YHA is in the location of an old railway station, there are a selection of rooms fitted inside train carriages. I'm pretty certain they're fake, but they're way cool. You'll see a picture in my photo album.

After getting settled, we headed out to see the city. We walked through Chinatown and observed some of their celebrations. We walked around Darling Harbour and ate Fish n Chips sitting on the side of the harbour. We walked past the Chinese Gardens, Powerhouse Museum (featuring a Princess Diana exhibit) and the Star Casino. It was a nice relaxing afternoon/evening.

Three highlights for today: First was our accommodations, so cool. Second was playing the 1 cent slots at the casino with Nev. We actually made a few dollars. Third was playing blackjack at the "learners" table. It didn't cost anything and we got free chips to play with. Didn't win anything, but didn't lose. It was great fun cause there were people from all over the world playing and I ended up learning a few blackjack tips.

Oz Trip - Day 5

(Pics for this day can be found at:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=27952&l=92e37&id=668843227 )

This day will go down in history as the day I thought I was gonna die. Even Nev admitted that my blog would no doubt include a story about how he killed me. And it's true.

We'd decided we would go to a nearby water park for the day since it was, once again, hot and humid. All but unbearable unless you're inside with air conditioning or in a pool. And the manager of the YHA had showed on a map approximately where it was. Approximately twice the distance of the shopping center we visited on the first day. TWICE the distance, that would mean nearly an hour walk. Not for the weak of heart, even on a nice day. But with the weather, I all but demanded a taxi. And I don't know how he did it, but Nev convinced me to walk. Many times on that walk I wanted to just sit down and quit but I didn't. Finally we were there and it felt so good to slip into the cool pool water. That made up for part of the trip. Unfortunately, with a nice sunburn from that previous excursion on the island, it wasn't gonna be a good idea to sit in the sun all day so we tried to take a few breaks in the shade when we could find it. Who builds a waterpark with no shade along the pool?

There was a putt-putt golf course connected to the waterpark so in the afternoon we did a round of golf (I won!) and then decided to head back to the hostel. Having lived through the trip to the park, I believed there was a good chance I'd live through the trip back. But it was brutal and since we took a different path back, we overshot our turn so we actually walked further than we needed to. I really thought I was gonna pass out despite a few rest stops and pouring precious water over my head. It was in these moments that Nev knew I'd be writing about him killing me on this walk. All to save a few bucks on transportation.

But, he redeemed himself by walking to get me pizza for dinner. It didn't quite made up for the torture but it was awfully nice of him and the pizza was delicious.

My highlight for today was the time in the water. Definitely not the walk, but the time playing in the water was nice and relaxing.

Oz Trip - Day 4

(Pics for this day can be found at:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=27949&l=567e4&id=668843227 )

Today we headed to Great Keppel Island. And the adventure getting there took almost as much time as the visit on the island did. Not to mention the cost of transportation. It's crazy. It cost us $36 to get to Roslyn Bay where we caught the ferry which cost us $80. So just to GET to the island, it cost us over $100. Insane! Despite the cost, it took the bus over an hour to get to the bay and the ferry was another 30-45 minutes.

The coast of Queensland had recently experienced flood level rains. The runoff from the rivers had poured into the water along the coast so we'd been warned that the water wasn't going to be worthy of snorkeling. Since we didn't have much choice in the matter, we decided to just go for it and see what happened. Fortunately it was a nice day but the water was very cloudy so we didn't waste money on the snorkel gear. It was a nice day playing in the water, laying on the beach and soaking up the sun. You can see from the pictures that it was gorgeous, but (once again) it started to rain as we left. Over the course of our trip, we were VERY fortunate that the rain always held off until the end of the day or until we we'd already left. The only exception was in Sydney in the last few hours. You'll see pictures of that later.

The highlight for this day was a bird trying to get my ice cream. It was very friendly and hopped right up on my hip and started to nibble on the wrapper. Luckily the ice cream was in my other hand. It was a great photo opportunity. Too bad I look like a sunburned, drowned rat. But it was a cool experience.

Oz Trip - Day 3

(Pics for this day can be found at:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=27948&l=3b3de&id=668843227 )

Today Sneaky Nev got me all the way to the gate and the boarding call before I knew what our next destination was. Even the lady checking our bags played along. The joke all along was we were headed to "Hawaii". That was what we called our next secret destination. When we explained this to the lady at the check-in desk, she smiled and said "well, I can tell you there are more cows at your destination than in Hawaii but that's all I'll tell you." She was a good sport.

So when I heard the boarding call for a flight to Rockhampton, my eyes got big and I said "I thought we were going to Sydney!" (I thought we were going to Sydney on the first flight too...lol). I took a few pictures of the coastline from the plane, it was really beautiful.

When we landed, unlike Brisbane which is a decent-sized city, there was no kiosk with information on public transportation. There wasn't even a taxi stand. It was as if we'd landed on a not-well-known island in Hawaii. A tiny airport in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, a bus pulled up outside and while his route was intended for those headed to the bay, he agreed to drop us off along the way. His name was Mick and loved the fact I was an American. He would call me (in his best imitation American accent) "Ms. U.S. of A." He was fun. And even gave us a few tips on getting to Great Keppel Island the next day.

The Rockhampton YHA was, by far, the most jungle-like accommodation on our trip. You'll see a picture in my photo album. So not only was the weather hot and humid, the accommodations made it feel like we'd stepped into the looking-glass. Add to that the crazy number of mozzies (mosquitoes) and other tropical insects... it was an experience from the beginning.

Since we weren't in the middle of a city like we were in Brisbane, we were required to walk a good distance to get supplies to eat. It was about a 30 minute walk to the shopping center where we picked up food to cook for the next few days. If it'd been a nice cool day, it wouldn't have been too tough. But the heat made it really tough. So we stopped as often as possible in shops with air conditioning to cool off. Course it was just torture cause we'd go back out into the heat again.

Two highlights for this day. First, Sneaky Nev bought a cake when I wasn't looking and surprised me with it. A light match substituted a candle on the cake. It was beautiful and yummy. Second, the YHA had $1 sodas. This may not seem like a biggie. But with the cost of a bottle of soda easily $3+, it was a God-send to have access to $1 cold sodas. Side note: I've come to realize there is VERY little you can get in this country for a dollar. Probably the only thing I know of would be a soft serve cone at McDonalds. You can't even get a hamburger at McDonald's for a dollar. Oh how I miss the dollar menu in the U.S.

Oz Trip - Day 2

(Pics for this day can be found at:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=27481&l=f7413&id=668843227 )

I was so excited when I got up... today we were headed to the zoo! The train trip to Beerwah took more than an hour but we got to the zoo around 10am. Still in time to see many of the shows and experience a FULL day of animals.

The Australia Zoo is unique because it is the home of Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter. Despite Steve's death, the zoo continues to develop a place that not only showcases amazing animals, but does so with a very strong emphasis on conservation. Everywhere you go in the zoo, everything you hear will include a reminder of Steve's philosophy... (I paraphrase) "As you begin to understand the animals, you start to love them and then you want to protect them."

Part of the highlights for me was in feeding the elephants, walking freely among the koalas and kangaroos, and watching the wombats. It was a full day and thankfully it didn't decide to rain until we were ready to leave. Whew!

On the way back to Brisbane, we met a man and his son from the US. It was fun to chat about the states and the new experiences they were having here in Australia that I've also experienced since being here.

My highlight for today was getting to walk among the koalas, pet them and take their pictures. It was amazing.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oz Trip - Day 1

Day 1
(pics for this day can be found at:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=27478&l=39f90&id=668843227)
I turned 35 today... and that made for a perfect beginning to our trip... as did the diamond and amethyst earrings I received from Nev. (they're BEAUTIFUL, I'll post a picture later!)

We had a 6am flight out of Melbourne which meant we had to be there by 5am, which meant we had to park Nev's car at his grandad's by 4:30 so we could catch a taxi to the airport, which meant we had to leave home by 4am...which all meant my alarm went off WAAAY too early that morning.

Our destination was a secret until we arrived at our gate and he gave me my boarding pass. Brisbane! This also meant that the Australia Zoo was in the near future as well since Brisbane is the primary jumping off point for the Zoo.

After shelling out way too much money for public transportation (it was nearly the same amount we paid for our flight), we were set to travel into the city, to the zoo (an hour outside Brisbane) and back to the airport in just a few days. We caught the train into the city but without a trainline map it was tough to determine where and when our stop was approaching. Luckily we figured it out in time. Now if only we had the same luck with getting out of the train station ("so the Roma Street Parklands doesn't actually get us to Roma Street?"). Once properly on Roma Street, we walked 20 minutes to our hostel.

I have to add that a 20 minute walk isn't just a 20 minute walk. I've got a 15kg (35lb) backpack on my back and another 8-10kg (20lb)backpack strapped to my chest, in near 90 degree heat. I was not comfortable!

We got checked in and stored our luggage until later then headed out to explore the city. We wandered toward the south bank area which is primarily a park on the southside of the Brisbane River. It's also peppered with shops, museums and cultural centers. Makes for fun sightseeing and good photo opportunities. One of the features of the south bank that I found most interesting were the pools and water elements. It runs through the park but the primary focus is the man-made beach in the middle. Complete with sand and a lifeguard. It's like you're at the beach but it only goes maybe 4 meters deep. It's very cool.. and it's free! What a Bonus!

After exploring the South Bank, we headed into the heart of the city. You'll see pictures in my album of the casino, business buildings, unique pieces of art and architecture, along with some of the jewelry I drooled over while in wandering through the streets and shops of downtown Brisbane.

In the evening, we toured up and down the Brisbane River on the CityCat. It's a ferry service via a catamaran. Holds quite a few people and services more than 20 stops along the river. We rode the boat all the way in both directions. Unfortunately, it was dark by the time we got on the boat so the pictures aren't good. The ride, however, was great fun.

Our day drew to a close as we returned to the hostel and got settled in our rooms. Mine was a 4-share room with a girl from the U.S, one from Ireland and another from China. Nev was in a dorm that slept 10+ guys. (better him than me...can you imagine the smells in there?)