Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Shopping in Bondi

Monday, June 27th, 2011

WIth a whole week ahead of me and no scheduled activities I decided that I would spend each day wandering around various sections of Bondi and document my findings. My first stop was the Westfield Bondi Junction Shopping Center. This shopping center is a six level massive high end shopping center, and the architecture on the inside is stunning and modern. It is bigger than Tysons in Northern Virginia, but type of stores inside more closely resembles Tysons 2. It contains stores that sell things that are so expensive I shouldn’t even be allowed to look at them. Stores like Coach, Harvey Norman, and David Jones. They also have some stores for us little people, like Target, Coles and Woolworths (the two major grocery store chains in Australia).

The entrance to this complex is quite literally right across the street from my Bondi residence, so I decided I would spend a few hours perusing the mall and then finish up at the grocery store since I needed to purchase  a few things to put together dinner for that evening. So I began:

Australian's don't go "Beyond" apparently, they just go to the table.

I would think this store name would lend itself to some very "Who's On First" kind of situations. Like, where are you going? My house. O you're going home? No I'm going to my house. Right, your house. No, My house, to buy linens. You buy linens from your house? NO! I buy linens from My house! I would think it would just be confusing/frustratingly comical

This makes me ashamed to be American

Either this company is affiliated with Dunkin Donuts or somebody's copyright lawyer is slacking

Super swanky lounge/cafe near the movie theatre

More of the swanky cafe

Milking the Shrek cash cow for those last lingering lactate drops.

Another fancy cafe space, this one with a view

What parent wants to purchase clothing for their child from a store with "bratz" in the name?

Nifty lighting fixture in one of the food courts

If there is a Build a Bear here surely Chipotle can't be far behind, because this continent is in dire need of some cheap readily available Mexican food thats good, and nobody is in need of do it yourself stuffed animals that cost way more than regular stuffed animals that are pre-made. Also- quote from one of my favorite comedians, Bo Burnham: "I adopted a child from overseas to rescue it from child labor factories, and on his very first birthday we went to build a bear workshop...oops"

Something I miss terribly from home, my bathrobe. Sadly it was too bulky to have been reasonable to bring with me, but I have missed it. I have this wonderful Martha Stewart Robe that makes it feel like I am cuddling into plush cloud of magic and happiness. Martha Stewart isn't so great with insider trading, but the woman can make a bathrobe.

For shame America, FOR SHAME! As if the bump-it didn't plague the northern hemisphere enough but now it is being exported?! Tragic.

This girl is bilingual at age 3 and yet somehow can't find things when they are right behind her? I MEAN COME ON.

I bet most Australians don't even know where Montana is, or that it is even a US state, and in this instance most Montana residents are probably grateful.

Hot pants for your toddler! Because they need to be selling more than lemonade on those street corners!

Very direct advertising. It must be affective because I bought one. It was quite good.

After  a few hours of wandering around the mall I went to the Woolworths, did a little grocery shopping (tim tams were on sale, it had to be done) and then headed back to my 18th floor apartment.

Bondi residence for the week!

I felt like such a little housewife for the day, because I spent it shopping and then came home and had dinner ready by the time Kaela and her mom returned from the zoo. Then we all hung out, chatted and watched television until we drifted off to bed.

How the Other Half Lives

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

This week has been a week of transitions and finishing up. Kaela’s friend Shelby left on Thursday morning, the same day that I had my last exam of my Junior year and my Australian university experience. On Friday Kaela’s mom arrived, just as we were beginning to pack up our apartment. The weekend we spent packing, organizing, and cleaning to get ready for our big move. Our move out date was dependent upon which school you attended and when that school finished their exam period. I had till the 26th, Jill had till the 28th, and Kaela had until July 2nd. We were told that if someone in our room needed to stay past our move out date then we could stay as well.

Well apparently the housing coordinator for Study Australia goofed and it turned out that we all needed to be moved out by the 26th. For most people this was not a problem, since the group flight back to LAX left on the 26th, but Jill’s flight left on the 27th and Kaela and I were going to be here till the 2nd. Since we had been promised through the 2nd we were told we would be moved at noon on the 26th to Meriton Serviced Apartments in Bondi Junction for the remainder of our time. The Bondi Junction Apartments were a housing option on our program, and one that a majority of students chose. It was the most expensive option, being a high rise apartment building where you get a weekly cleaning service, you live atop the main bus/train terminal, you’re a short walk from Bondi Beach, and there is a gym and a pool in the building. That being said, it wasn’t a very practical option for anyone who attended the University of Sydney since it is a 50 minute bus ride from Bondi but only a 20 minute walk from Glebe. Plus it was $2,000 more than my apartment in Glebe was.

So after a long night of packing and cleaning we found ourselves sitting in our Glebe living room surrounded by our baggage waiting for a representative from Study Australia to come pick us up. One of our last cleaning chores was to take our bottle collection down to the recycling room. Being the classy college students that we are, every time we had finished a bottle of liquor or wine we had saved the bottle and put on top of the bureau in our living room.

Trophies of our conquered evenings. We also made it through five boxes of wine (in Australia they call it goon) but those didn't make it to the collection, plus we brought two bottles of wine and a bottle of gin with us to Bondi, you know, just in case.

At 12:30 we were still sitting around not having heard from anyone. We decided to make some phone calls, and we found out that our resident director was on a trip to Fiji and was out of reach, and even though he had told us that we would be moving out at noon on Sunday it didn’t seem like he had told anyone else. Of the three people we spoke with, two had no idea we were being moved and one thought we were being moved on Monday. Meanwhile, the landlord came around to do room inspections and bring in the cleaning people and we were still sitting there.

After a few phone calls and making use of Jill’s sassy attitude when necessary, we got things sorted out and they told us they would send someone to come get us around four. Between the four of us we had so much stuff it was comical. Each of us had two bags plus a backpack/purse, and then Kaela had a huge bag of dirty laundry and we had bagged up all our remaining food and loaded it into a borrowed grocery cart to wheel downstairs so we wouldn’t have to waste food or buy new groceries when we got to our new apartment for the week. It took the four of us at least five trips to get everything downstairs. The Maxi Taxi driver we had said it was the biggest load he had ever taken. We were packed tight in the taxi, with each one of having items that were sitting on our laps and squeezed in next to us. Once we got to the Bondi Apartments we had to take two separate elevators to reach our new residence. This was quite an ordeal since the elevators were not very patient in waiting for us to get all of our bags out and kept closing on us and beeping because we were taking so long. Additionally, people were waiting to use the elevators and we were causing such a fuss with all of our stuff that people looked almost afraid to get in the elevator with us. People must have thought we were moving in for  a month instead of a week. Around 6pm the remaining ladies of apartment 18 moved into apartment 4 on the 18th floor and spent a good ten minutes marveling at the extravagance of our new digs. We had two full bathrooms, complete with stand-up steam shower and jacuzzi style bathtub. We also had two televisions with a full cable package, three balconies, a full kitchen complete with appliances, and a washer/dryer. That is how you know you have arrived in the world of apartments, when you have your own washer/dryer.

Not wasting any time we busted out the wine and beer and then changed into bathing suits and went for a soak in the hottub downstairs. Feeling relaxed and rejuvenated we headed back upstairs to shower, change into pajamas, make dinner, and watch some television. After dinner Andy, one of the boys from Glebe arrived. He, like Jill was flying out on the 27th and needed a place to crash for one night, so we of course had offered up our couch. We all hung out chatting, laughing, and reminiscing until we gradually drifted off to bed.

The next morning Jill and Andy got up early to catch a cab to the airport and the rest of us got up to see them off. We walked them down to the curb, said our goodbyes, hugged everyone and sent them off. Kaela and her mom had plans to go to the Taronga zoo, and since I was going to go there with my family in a week I decided to spend the day on my own. So I fixed myself a bowl of cereal, grabbed my laptop and enjoyed a few quiet moments on the balcony overlooking the city.

Sunroom/eating area, where I will be spending most of my time this week.

View of Sydney from the 18th floor- harbor side

18th floor Sydney view- ocean side

So now the question remains- what to do with my last six free days in Sydney? I have no classes, no internship, and no schedule. Maybe I will walk to Bondi beach. Cook? Do a little shopping perhaps? I have Sydney at my disposal and 23 more days left in Australia. O the possibilities!

Four Friends and Three Sisters

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

One of the big day trip attractions in Sydney are the Blue Mountains. I have been wanting to go all semester, but the timing hadn’t worked out when other people had been going. This week apartment 18 lost an inhabitant, Jonathan, Kaela’s boyfriend, and gained another, Shelby, Kaela’s friend from California. Having guests in the apartment has been great because it has forced all of us out of our studying and staying in and back out into Sydney. The first two weeks in June were cold and rainy and we thought for sure we were in for quite a miserable Southern Hemisphere winter, but when Shelby arrived she brought the California sunshine with her and it has been beautiful for the last week. Since the weather has been favorable and Jill and Kaela both finished with all their finals and classes we decided that on Monday we would take the two hour train ride from Sydney to Katoomba to spend the day in the Blue Mountains.

Katoomba is the biggest town in the Blue Mountains with a population of 7,600. It is a quaint and quiet little mountain town filled with antique shops, small cafes, and a steady stream of hikers, tourists, and backpackers who come from all over the east coast of Australia to see the Mountains. The main attraction that draws people to Katoomba is a rock formation known as the Three Sisters, viewable from Echo point about two km south of the main town. This rock formation is of great significance to the Aboriginal people of Australia, the legend of how this formation came to be (as copy and pasted from a website on Aboriginals stories) goes thusly:

“In Gondwana, there lived Tyawan of the Gundungurra people. He had three daughters, Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo. In the valley there lived a Bunyip, an evil creature who feasted on human flesh, particularly that of young girls and women. Its cry was harsh and horrible and if you heard it, the only safe thing to do was run away as quickly as possible. When Tyawan had to pass the hole, he would leave his daughters safely on the cliff above behind a rocky wall – just in case.
One day he descended the cliff steps down towards the path near the Bunyip’s hole and left his daughters chatting on top of the cliff. While they were waiting, a huge centipede suddenly appeared. Startled, Meenhi picked up a stone and threw it at the centipede.

The stone missed the centipede, but rolled over the edge of the cliff and crashed into the valley below. The sound echoed all around the mountains. Suddenly the rocks behind the sisters shook and split open, leaving them perched together on a thin ledge. The Bunyip, angry at being awakened, dragged himself through the split to see the sisters cowering on the ledge. His evil eyes widened in delight at the feast before him. Tyawan looked up and saw the Bunyip reaching for his daughters, so he pointed his magic bone at the girls and immediately turned them to stone. They would be safe there until the Bunyip had gone and then Tyawan would change them back.

But the Bunyip, angered at being deprived of his prey, chased Tyawan through the forest and up a mountain where he found himself trapped. So Tyawan used his magic bone again and changed himself into a Lyre Bird and glided away. But then, in dismay, Tyawan realised that he had dropped his bone whilst changing. After the Bunyip had gone back to his dark pool, Tyawan glided down to the forest floor and to search for his magic bone … he is still searching. The Three Sisters stand silently watching him from their ledge, hoping and hoping that one day their father will find his magic bone and be able turn them back to Aboriginal girls.”

We arrived in Katoomba around noon and after getting off the train popped into a little cafe to take stock of the town and decide what our plan of attack would be for the day. While we wanted to see the Three Sisters, the local geography includes extensive areas of dense sub-tropical rainforest and a series of waterfalls, so we had no qualms about hiking and taking our sweet time getting there while enjoying the scenery. We decided we would buy a hop on/hop off trolley ticket for $20 so we could hike when we wanted to and then get a ride when we got tired. From Katoomba we took the trolley about fifteen minutes out of town to where most of the trails begin, hopped off and started walking.

Me, Jill and Shelby

Rainforest Bridge

One of the many lookouts we stopped at

We were walked  lush rainforest-esk type foliage and every so often would emerge at a lookout point and be completely awe-struck by the majestic views we encountered.

So peaceful

Shelby, Kaela, Jill and I

In the mountains

Blue Mountains majesty

Me putting my arms up- is anyone surprised?

So beautiful

Quite an exemplary picture of our personalities

The area surrounding the blue mountains is also known for its natural waterfalls, of which there are a few. The main vegetation of the region are eucalyptus trees which are only found in Australia, but they are here in abundance. Heath-like vegetation is present on plateau edges above cliffs. The sheltered gorges contain temperate rainforest type vegetation, hanging swamps with button grass reeds and thick, deep black soil. Although it was very muddy at times, it was incredible.

Marveling at the waterfall

Conquered the waterfall

Embracing the outdoors

We hiked for about three hours hitting every lookout point and waterfall along the way before deciding that we would catch the trolly to Echo Point where we could see the Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters


By the time we reached Echo Point it was around 4 pm and the sun was beginning to set and the temperature was starting to drop. After spending a few minutes hanging out and snapping pictures we headed into a mall type area to snack on some of the food we had brought with us. In taking stock of what we had already done we decided that we wanted to see Katoomba falls before we left for the day, so after we had finished eating we went back outside to catch the express trolley that we thought would take us there. Upon boarding we asked the driver about the falls, and he gave us some generic answer about the falls being nice and we assumed this meant that his route would get us there. The bus instead took us on a ten minute loop of  the small surrounding suburb before putting us right back in front of the mall at Echo point. Confused, we asked the driver if the bus went anywhere else, he laughed and told us that yes he went into town if that is where we were headed. We thought by “town” he meant the falls, since this is what we had previously discussed, but again, we were wrong and we ended up back at the main bus terminal where we had purchased our trolley tickets earlier that day. This was a rather abrupt end to our day, but we all agreed that since it was getting colder and darker out that it was probably best to call it a day.

We wandered around the tiny town of Katoomba for a while, popping in and out of vintage emporiums and second hand clothing stores. Kaela and Jill both found some antique and vintage items to purchase.

Checking out the vintage shop

Vintage fare

By the time we were ready to board the train back to Sydney it was getting quite dark. Exhausted, but having had a wonderful day we all laughed, chatted and giggled our way back into the city.

All credit for the stunning mountain photography in this entry goes to my adorable shutter bug roommate: Kaela Brinkman.

Wearing blue in the Blue Mountains

How Mary-Kate and Ashley Got it Wrong

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

The last two weeks exams have been in full swing. Since the exam period in Australia lasts for the better part of a month and most of us only have two or three classes this has lead to a lot of down time. In addition to this, it has been raining quite a bit and therefore we have spent most of our time confined to our apartments pretending to study, or just straight up procrastinating. After a few days of this we were beginning to feel the early symptoms of cabin fever, so late one sunday night Kaela and I decided to head to the local blockbuster to pick up some DVDs to watch. We grabbed 3 full seasons of Sex and the City, The Royal Tennanbaums, Ferris Bueler’s Day Off, Stardust, and this little gem:

More like: Our Lips are Full of bad stereotypes and cliches

It was Kaela’s idea.

Our Lips are Sealed is one of those classic straight-to-video releases that Mary-Kate and Ashley made in their prime before they started dating suicidal movie stars and developing eating disorders. The premise of the film is that the girls witness a crime and have to be placed in the witness protection program. They are relocated all over the United States but they keep blabbing that they are in the witness protection program so they are finally relocated to Sydney, where theoretically they cannot be found. It was one of my favorite Mary Cait and Ashley films when I was ten years old, and re-watching it eleven years later I am having serious doubts about my mental capacity as a ten year old.

In the film the girls spend all their time in Sydney, and all their time in Sydney around the Harbor. It’s as if American’s will only be able to recognize that they are in Australia if the Opera House is in the background of every shot. All the usual suspects were wheeled out for the film: kangaroos, vegemite, crocodile dundee hats, and all the boorish Aussie colloquialisms they could squeeze into an hour and a half.

While Jill, Kaela and I sat and watched the movie we mocked the bad acting and were elated when we could pinpoint every location they filmed at. During one scene they have a chase sequence that goes through the public restrooms in Darling Harbor that Kaela has used on many an occasion, she was quite excited that she could recognize them.

While we mostly just found ourselves laughing at the sheer idiocy of the film, we also found ourselves groaning at the grossly over perpetuated aussie stereotypes that the film rested upon. Here is a brief synopsis of what we found to be deplorable about this film. (Let me just say before I go into this that yes, I realize its a movie and a crappy low budget one starring Mary Cait and Ashley at that, so I don’t take anything too seriously nor delude myself to think that this film had much of an impact on anything, although one of Courtney’s friends from Bondi did once say that this film was her reason for becoming interested in Australia, which frightens me)

Aussie slang

1) Colloquialisms- Throughout the film they use words like “sheila” and “brekkie” over and over again, trying to illustrate the point that even though Australians speak English you can’t understand them half the time. This is highly inaccurate. While there is some use of colloquialisms here they are easy to figure out for the most part. For example, brekkie is short for breakfast, sunnies is short for sunglasses, bangers are sausages, barbie is short for barbeque, ect ect. While sometimes a thick Aussie accent can make someone a bit more difficult to understand someone, generally speaking it is really not a problem in Sydney where accents are not that thick. Also- the word “sheila” is only used now on tacky tourist t-shirts.

2) Vegemite- In the film the students at the girls new school make them eat vegemite to prove that they are ‘worthy’ of hanging with the Aussies. While vegemite can be found at most continental breakfast bars and has its own shelf section in the grocery store, it isn’t something people are big into forcing onto other people because even the Australians know its kinda weird. Vegemite is a gritty brown food paste that is made from a yeast extract and it is typically eaten over a piece of buttered bread. So basically you are putting bread on your bread. In the film one of the twins tries it but it is fairly obvious she is eating Nutella and not Vegemite as the substance she spoons into her mouth is creamy looking and smooth, whereas vegemite is thick and gritty. I even looked it up on IMDB and it was cited there as being nutella as well. Not that I put too much stock in Mary Cait and Ashley films but SERIOUSLY!? They couldn’t even be bothered to ACTUALLY try vegemite for one scene? So much for method acting.

Care for some bread and yeast?

3) Kangaroos as pets- In the film the girls have a kangaroo as a pet. This is not only ridiculous but its something that Australians often make fun of Americans for thinking. Keeping a kangaroo as a pet would be like the American equivalent of keeping a deer as a pet, you just wouldn’t do it. Yes its true kangaroos are everywhere, because, like deer, the population has gotten a bit out of control, but you are more likely to see them lying dead alongside a major highway in Sydney than anywhere else in the city. Just like you don’t see deer in New York City you aren’t going to see Kangaroos in Sydney unless you go to a zoo.

4) Climbing The Sydney Harbor Bridge- At the beginning of the film the girls and their parents live in a trailer and the twins share a room. When they move to Sydney they work at a hotel on the harbor but have almost no guests, suffice to say it isn’t a very profitable enterprise. Yet, one day they meet two boys who ask them what they are doing later, and they say nothing. The next scene cuts to the four of them climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I did this during orientation and it is a $200 excursion, certainly not something in the budget of most 14 year olds and definitely not something you can just do on a whim as you have to schedule it ahead of time and its an hour of processing to get onto the bridge.

5) Manly Beach- At the end of the film the girls attend a surf competition that is supposedly held at Manly Beach, which is in North Sydney. Had they actually been on the beach in Manly then the would have been surfing on the ocean and not the Harbor, and therefore would not have been able to see the Opera House or the Harbor Bridge in the background, and yet during this scene that is exactly what you see. Anyone with any sort of basic geographic knowledge of Sydney would know that if you can see these landmarks then you are not where waves could be caught because you would be in the harbor.

6) Boomerang usage- A boomerang is an Aboriginal flying tool that was used for hunting and for sport and has become an Australian icon, but you are far more likely to find one in a tourist trinket shop than anywhere else. Living in Sydney for four months I have never seen anyone tossing a boomerang around a park like a frisbee, or tossing a boomerang to an animal to catch and retrieve. It just doesn’t happen. In the film they make a big deal out of the Australian kids playing with boomerangs like frisbees and one of the Olsen twins even masters the art of using one so that it actually comes back to her after she throws it. Most boomerangs are not “returning boomerangs” which are a kind of boomerang that is specifically designed to return when you throw it, but you have to learn how to do it, it doesn’t just happen if you chuck it mindlessly into the wind.

7) SHAMELESS Qantas Product Placement- Qantas is the big airline in Australia, and clearly they thought it advantageous to use Mary Cait and Ashley as their marketing monkeys throughout this film. It went further than just showing the famous kangaroo logo every time the characters flew anywhere, they even went so far as to blatantly spell out where all the funding for the film was coming from during this little exchange.

Mary-Kate: You need to get yourself down to Australia

Ashley: I recommend Qantas, is a long flight.

Not that I thought the Olsen twins had standards or souls when it came to creating films, but COME ON.

The whole film was camp, kitsch, and embarrassing in its shameless promotion of Qantas and pushing of inaccurate Aussie stereotypes, but then again, it’s a Mary Cait and Ashley movie, so I can’t say I expected much more out of it.

Where Friends Became Family

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Before coming to Australia I had been concerned about finding friends that I would really connect and want to travel around with. My friends from home are so important to me and I am usually slow to make meaningful connections that I was concerned about meeting people while abroad. I am so glad that this fear turned out to be completely unfounded. As the semester is ending and people are starting to return to the states I find myself excited to return home but sad to leave my glebe family.

The first people I really got to know were my roommates. Jill is a brassy bostonian with a razor sharp wit and an old soul who could be found most nights knitting and waiting for Law and Order to come on TV. For the first three months we shared a room together and would fall asleep talking about home and our lives there. We also spent a few evenings bailing out our balcony which would flood with a few inches of water every time it rained, but we always laughed and smiled as we did it.

Kaela is an adorably southern shutter bug who is kind to a fault with an infectious laugh and a tremendous weakness for chocolate. She is a hopeless romantic who would read us the poetry of Pablo Neruda at night and take dozens of pictures whenever we would go out. The Australians would always pick on her for saying “Ya’ll” but within the apartment we would just giggle and tell her that her Alabama was showing.

Courtney is the trendy street smart californian turned New Yorker who knows how to find a good time and is always ready for an adventure. She was always the one to initiate our take out nights, and per her suggestion we shared many meals of Thai and Mexican food ordered in.

Together the four of us shared meals, movies, drinks, and laughter. Together we are Samatha (Jill), Charlotte (Kaela), Carrie (Courtney) and Miranda (me) to a T.

Apt 18 ladies

The first night in my Glebe apartment Jill, Kaela and I decided to go out on the town (or at least up the street) to get a drink to commerate our new digs. Yaella, who lived down the hall, had agreed to come along. As per usual I made a memorable first impression. This is how Yaella described it (copy and pasted from her blog)

“What is the origin of your name” Valerie, a tall blonde haired girl asks me as we walk around Glebe, hunting for a bar where we can get a beer.

“Hebrew” I respond without hesitation.
“Oh I should have guessed, what with the hair and the nose” she causally replies. Like a boxer punched the stomach, I feel a whoosh of noise leave my mouth that sounds vaguely like “what!”
Valerie is not trying to hurt my feelings or make racial slurs. In fact she has many Jewish friends, has eaten Matzah, and attended  a Jewish funeral (which she swiftly endorses and tells me she wants one). Quite honestly, Valerie is just the most honest person I have ever met in my life.
We find a karaoke bar and it turns out Valerie not only has a penchant for the truth but is also a very good singer. As we sit around the bar, we (Valerie, Jill, Kaela, and myself) all belt out the lyrics to popular songs from the 90′s while Kaela deflects the advances of a 30 something man. However, before we can get up in front of the crowd to sing and make fools of ourselves, karaoke night is over.

Despite my brassy beginning Yaella and I got to talking and  discovered that neither of us had class on Tuesdays  so we made a plan to walk a differnet suburb of Sydney every Tuesday. While wandering the side streets of Sydney we shared conversations and slurpees and found a fabulous pair of $15 leather pants. We weren’t fast friends, but we definitely became great friends.

As Yaella and I got to know eachother we also got to know eachothers roommates. Yaella lived with two Lyndsays, one of which was a tiny sorrority girl who is full of life, laugher, and is always ready to rage. One rainy weekend in March Lyndsay found herself sitting alone in her apartment for most of the weekend, and I wanted to go see the USyd production of Cabaret, and no one would go with me. Somehow Lyndsay and I found eachother that day and ended up going to the show together that weekend, and had such a great time trying to decipher the german accents done by Australians that we planned many other adventures. We went to see Spring Awakening, skipped school one day to go to the beach, and then spent a long weekend in Melbourne together. After one fateful night at the Flying Fajita Sisters where we agreed to split an amazing coconut bananna desert, one of the major tenets of our relationship became the splitting of deserts. We have split pies, cookies, puddings, a questionable chocolate pear parfait, the most amazing mango lime cake and countless wild nights. Suffice to say that life with Lyndsay is always sweet. She also taught me that you can never be too tired to go out and have fun. She would never let me skimp on an evening out, she taught me how to rally and rage!

Lindsay Yaella and I have spent just as many nights watching movies and eating baked goods as we have going out and painting the town red. We have danced till we dropped and color coordinated our outfits to get into clubs for free. We even spent an evening getting thrown around by shirtless Australian circus performers. I am so lucky that the two best friends I made in Australia both live in Maryland because this means our good times can be continued in the northern hemisphere.

The other Lindsay in Apt 29 was my roommate all through Thailand, and my fellow connoisseur of hotel breakfasts while we were there. We graduated cooking school, went snorkeling, made pad Thai, and rode elephants together. We even shared a lavish honeymoon suite in Krabi where we stayed up late watching HBO movies and chatting. She was always down to party and we had a crazy Thailand adventure together.

The lovely ladies of apartment 23, Alana, Amanda and Megan have always been the most welcoming hosts and some of the greatest party companians. Their apartment has been the location of many of our Glebian group evenings and they never show up anywhere without a bottle or a plate of something for everyone to enjoy. It’s hard to go over to their room and not end up sitting on their couch chatting for the next twenty minutes. They are always up for an adventure and excited to join any adventure already in progress. They party hard and the six of us always end up having a great time together reguardless of the activity.

The boys of apt 30, Andy, Seth and Jordan were always up for going out or staying in and watching a 1$ movie rental from blockbuster. They were also usually the first ones to show up when I announced that I had baked something. They even allowed us to borrow their apartment kitchen when Kaela and I needed to bake a cake for Courtney’s birthday without letting her know. For some reason the boys in this room decided early on in the semester that they would never pay for a haircut so every month in their room they would put a whole bunch of newspapers on the floor, get out the trimmer kit and have hair cut day. Jordan experimented with some odd hairstyles over the course of the semester. Andy and Seth are both from Iowa, but Andy is the only one I ever picked on about it. Andy is also the one who would insist that we stop in at McDonalds every time we passed one.

Yaella, Jordan, Andy, Lyndsay, and Me

Lyndsay, Seth, me, and Jordan on our weekend in Melbourne.

Seth was the father figure of the group when we went to Melbourne. He was the only one who ever knew where we were and could get us from point A to point B. I was the maternal one who was always suggesting activities and making sure we had eaten, but Seth could be counted on to make sure the logistics were taken care of.

If ever I was looking for little Jordan I knew not to even bother knocking on his door, for he would always be in someone elses room sitting on their couch and chatting. He fielded the most questions about Jersey Shore being from New Jersey but he always answered them with a laugh and a smile. I edited many a paper for him throughout the semester but we made sure to always celebrate with a gin and tonic once we had finished. He was like the stray puppy of Glebe, if he knocked on your door he was sure to be let in and stay for a while.

This group of people from all over the united states assembled in Australia and became friends and then a family.  I am so fortunate to have met and spent a semester with all these wonderful people, and I will miss all of them once I return home. Thanks for a great semester guys!


A Winter’s Surf

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

On Monday, since neither of us had classes, Yaella and I set out to make good on my goal to explore more of Sydney. Yaella had a discount card for a surf board rental place in Bondi Beach and wanted to get in one last surf before heading back to the states. I had never been to Bondi before, and even though I had no intention of surfing I agreed to sit on the beach with a book and snap pictures of her while she caught waves. It was a sunny winter day with the high temperature being about 65 degrees, but this is perfectly acceptable surf weather in Australia. The hardcore surfies known no appropriate surf season.

So Yaella and I made our way to Bondi via train and then a bus, rented a board and wetsuit and headed out onto the beach. It felt odd to be walking on the beach fully clothed, but I kicked off my shoes, spread out my towel and plopped down to watch Yaella. She paddled out into the 63 degree water, dove under and started chasing after waves. Meanwhile I was sitting on the beach, dry, wearing a sweatshirt and a jacket and shivering when the wind blew at me. Yaella is clearly stronger than I. While she was out in the water I was observing the odd winter beach behavior of the Bondi residents. Some people were on the beach bundled up like me either reading or listening to music, but there was also a daring group of individuals who were in only bathing suits and were playing in the surf. 63 degree water is not water I would want to go into without a wetsuit. Yaella even had a heating pack in her wetsuit and while she did adapt to the water temperature there was no denying that it was quite chilly. I also observed a woman in a very skimpy bikini jogging down the beach listening to her ipod, and jogging right past the people who were all bundled up in fleece jackets. Beaches in the winter are odd places.

Yaella trying to catch some waves

Still trying

Yaella had rented the board and wetsuit for three hours but after an hour of getting thrashed by the waves she had begun to get frustrated. Surf conditions were somewhat odd on this particular day given that the waves were breaking about 80 feet out from the shore, and then were breaking right on the shore, but in between was a giant dead zone where they just fizzled out. There were a bunch of other surfers out and nobody seemed to be able to take any waves in past the dead zone. As she was rounding out her first hour the sun which had been shining quite brightly moved behind a big clump of clouds and the temperature dropped a few degrees. This combined with the shoddy surf conditions led us to decide that our time might be better spent sipping something warm in a cafe. Yaella and I walked her board back to the rental shop where the owner was nice enough to give her a voucher for 2 hours of board and wetsuit rental since she hadn’t used all of her three hours.


Bondi Beach, in addition to being the biggest and most popular beach in Sydney is also the jewish area of town, so over the course of the semester Yaella has spent her weekends there attending synagogue services and sharing shabbat meals with various jewish families.  Wanting to get out of the wind to dry off for a bit she suggested we pop into this small cafe she knew of that had amazing fruit pies and tarts for a hot drink and something sweet to eat. I got an apple apricot crumble and she got a cherry crumble and we split a pot of Earl Grey Tea. The deserts were absolutely delicious and we lingered over our tea, soaking up its warmth, glad to be indoors for a while. By the time we were ready to leave it was close to 3pm and Andy had texted us asking if we wanted to check out the Vivid Sydney Festival in Sydney Harbor that evening with him. We agreed, but this meant that going all the way back to Glebe would be a waste of time. Instead we filled up the next three hours popping in and out of various shops and bookstores in Bondi beach before catching the bus over to Sydney Harbor to meet up with Andy.

The bus ride from the Bondi Junction bus station to Circular Quay is about a thirty five minute ride and Yaella and I were chatting and listening to music watching the city zip past us when the bus stopped and this elderly woman got on. She had dingy brown and gray hair that was swept back in a bun and she was wearing a long skirt and unfortunate looking clunky black tennis shoes and a sweater. She sat down across from us and about ten minutes after boarding leaned over and asked

“Are you guys from a Pantene Pro-V commercial? You both just have the most beautiful hair, and the one of you has the dark curly hair and the other has the blonde straight hair, you should totally just work for Pantene.”

We both laughed this comment off, but once she had started talking to us she didn’t appear to want to stop. She spoke to us for the rest of our ride and told us about how she was a neurosurgeon who had studied at John Hopkins and had worked with Doctors without Borders. She talked about how she had traveled to dozens of countries, but also had studied at Juliard and worked as a professional singer for a while, and now she was a music promoter and went on and on about this band she was currently working with and how perfect the members of the band would be for us. Somewhere in the middle of all this she turned to Yaella and said “Are you Jewish? Because I am getting that Kosher vibe from you” Yaella of course told her than she was, and then she turned to me and said “But you’re not jewish are you?” Gee, I wonder what gave me away? Could it have been my bright blonde hair? Maybe my blue eyes? Could it be that I look like the poster child for the Aryan race? I guess I just don’t give off that “kosher vibe.”

This woman seemed quite evident on getting us some music from this band she was promoting, and she asked for Yaella’s phone number, which she gave her. WHen I asked her about this she said “I am leaving Australia in two weeks, she can call me all she wants.” Yaella and I couldn’t decide what to make of this encounter. Either this woman is truly incredible or she is the most fantastic and pathological of liars. We looked up the band she is promoting and they do exist, so the jury is still out on all the other claims she made.

Once we arrived at Circular Quay we found Andy and made our way to the inner rim of the harbor to see the festival sights.Vivid Sydney is an artistic festival of sorts that happens every year in the Harbor. The website for the festival describes it thusly:

“Sydney will once again be transformed into a spectacular canvas of light, music and ideas when Vivid Sydney takes over the city after dark from 27 May -13 June 2011.

Vivid Sydney will colour the city with creativity and inspiration, featuring breathtaking immersive light projections on the iconic Sydney Opera House sails, performances from local and international musicians as part of Vivid LIVE and a free outdoor exhibition of interactive light sculptures.

In 2011 the festival will also include a range of artistic collaborations, public talks and debates from leading creative thinkers from Australia and around the world, celebrating Sydney as the creative hub of the Asia Pacific”

Some of the sights are just for viewing, but many of them are interactive.

Cool moving 3D lighting effects on the Customs House in Circular Quay

Melting polar bear ice sculpture

Playing the light harp

Andy and I sitting on a chair of light

car sculpture

Making a lit sculpture friend, Yaella disapproves

Light up! Everyone is doing it!

Giant light up jellyfish and the illuminated opera house in the background

One of the many designs and colors we saw on the opera house

More colors

I got this image online, there were so many designs I couldn't capture them all

More Customs House colors

Cool interactive light show on the side of the art museum. You stand at the base of it and throw your hands up at it, and light projects onto the wall when you move. It resets every minute or so.

We walked around the Harbor for a little over an hour before Yaella and I began to drag and decided it was time to head back to Glebe. Even though the surfing hadn’t been all that great we had a great day out, and although we were tired, we were throughly pleased with our day.

Vivid Sydney!

Taking The Long Way Around

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Last week my Australian classes ended, and they did so rather abruptly. Perhaps I had not been paying attention to the schedule or I just could not conceive of the idea that I would have two weeks of no class before exams started up, but it caught me completely off guard. Silly me, I thought we would spend at least a week discussing what would be on the final and reviewing in preparation for it. Nope. We weren’t even told when and where our finals would be, that we had to find for ourselves online. Yes, silly me to assume that I would get any of this information.

So my last day of class was May 26th, the Thursday before Justin and I left for Canberra, and on the 30th Justin went home and suddenly I was left with this giant void in my heart and my schedule. The day Justin left was particularly bad as I knew I would not be seeing him again until September at the earliest and I was a gooey mess of emotional gunk the whole day. I am my mothers daughter after all. The day he left I did two loads of laundry, caught up on some work I needed to do and packed away all my summer clothes and reorganized the remaining ones. In short, I tried to stay busy, but once all the housework had been done I was left with a void that I soon identified as a loss of purpose.

While I have really enjoyed being in Australia and I am quite pleased with my decision to study abroad, with my classes ending and my boyfriend (this is a fairly recent development and I still find myself feeling weird using that word) leaving, I found myself wanting to get on that international flight with him and forgo my last month of Australian adventures.  It is not that I had suddenly lost my taste for Sydney, but rather that I felt like I had gotten everything out of this experience that I was going to get, and I was ready to return home.

The general consensus among my  fellow Glebians has been that everyone is pretty much ready to get home. I have heard many people say that they have done everything there is to do in Sydney and they are beginning to feel restless and bored. I cringe when I hear people say this because while I have lived 20 minutes outside of Washington DC my whole life, when my friend Katie moved into the city to go to art school there I discovered all sorts of things through her that I had never found on my own. There is no way we could have exhausted every interesting thing to do in Sydney, there are always rocks left unturned.

With this in mind I tried to focus on setting new goals for the remainder of my time here. I talked to Yaella and came up with a short list of things I wanted to see and do over the next few weeks. While this was progress I was still feeling kinda down. Come Friday afternoon I had nothing to do, so I decided I would walk up to the library and check out some movies to watch over the weekend. On the way back to my apartment I  was bopping along to some music and decided to venture down the other end of Glebe Point Rd, past the street I normally turn down, just for fun. I also wanted to check out the hostel that my mom and I will be staying at when she arrives on July 3rd, which is located down there as well.

I found the hostel quite easily as it wasn’t that much further down Glebe Point Rd than I was used to traveling, but the weather was nice so I decided to venture even further. Eventually the road ends at Backwattle Bay Park, a beautiful green area and dog park that overlooks the bay and the ANZAC bridge. It was a beautifully clear night when I got there, and I was astounded to find that I had lived so close to this park all semester and had no idea it was there.

The next day I needed to go back to the hostel to make the reservation and ask some questions, so I grabbed my camera and walked back down to the park after finalizing the reservation.  Once there I was greeted with a gloriously sunny day and a park that was bustling with activity. Moms and dads with babies and toddlers, people jogging with ipods and dogs, old men chatting on benches, couples lounging and picnicking.

Seeing this tucked away part of town that I had no idea existed so busy with life and activity excited me and made me realize all that I had been missing about Australia. Yes I had gotten to know the famous landmarks, monuments, and major tourist attractions, but here was a whole community of people who live their lives here and I had never noticed them before now. I had entered into a casual acquaintanceship with this city, but I had really explored the depths of its treasures. All week I had been glum about feeling like I had no purpose in being here anymore. Walking around Backwattle that day I kept thinking about perspective.

It’s amazing the kind of peace this can bring. Wether its a figurative act where you back off of a problem or mental hang up to examine its relevance in a larger context or in a literal sense where you climb over the face of a mountain to see the valley below and the ocean beyond. It’s peaceful.

I tried to remember why I had studied abroad in the first place. It was not really to study, because I was doing that just fine in Virginia, and it wasn’t to spend time with a boy, although that had been a nice unintended side effect, it had been to explore. To explore this new continent and to explore myself. To figure out who I was away from everything that I defined as being a part of me. Away from my family, friends, school, state, country and continent. This process of redefining remains ongoing, so I was not without purpose, I was just without motivation.

Some combination of being near the ocean, the glowing sunny weather, all the dogs playing, and the children laughing totally cured me of my glum disposition. I walked all the way around the bay to get back to my apartment, stopping whenever a dog came up to me to pet it. I hung out for a few hours until the sun set. I watched the sailboats come into port and some rowers head out for an evenings row. I sat with my feet dangling over the water and the setting sun casting warmth on my face and I felt content. I plan to push myself to explore more and try and fill up my remaining days with adventures worthy of writing about. I don’t want to ever feel like I am taking this experience for granted, because spending 21 hours on a plane to get somewhere means you better have the time of your life.

I hated myself for wishing my time away for even a second. I am in Australia! A place few people in North America or even the world will ever see, and I got to live here for five months. It is the furthest away I could ever travel without commissioning a rocket and going to the moon. After coming here no flight will ever be able to intimidate me, and no distance away from home will ever scare me. I kinda feel like I got relive my freshman year of college, a year where I was upset and went home every weekend. I got to replace it with a semester where I removed myself from everything I knew and met all sorts of new people who I now consider close friends and opened my mind to exploring and pushing past my comfort limit.  If nothing else, I am proud of myself for having grown so much since my freshman year. I don’t think I would even recognize that girl anymore, the one who got in her own way and lost a year to moping and complaining about a school she never really gave a chance.

Well I never seem to do it like anybody else, maybe someday I'm gonna settle down, but if you ever want to find me I can still be found taking the long way around.

In taking stock of what I have gained so far I can already be appreciative of  the opportunities I have been given, the cities I have seen, and the cultures I have experienced. I will return home with a new world perspective, memories of the laughter I have shared, new friends who became family, a boy who was willing to chase me across the globe, and waiting for me will be the family who supported me and got me to this point. So all in all, not too shabby.

A City Without a Soul

Monday, June 6th, 2011
Our last morning in Canberra consisted of waking up, packing, and walking to the bus stop. While the city had been eerily quiet and empty the whole time we were there, it was especially spooky early on a Sunday morning. It felt like we were walking through one of those sci fi movies where there has been some massive apocalypse and we were the sole survivors.
It would be incorrect for me to express any sort of passion for Canberra, even if it were a passionate hatred. There is really just nothing in the city to be passionate about. It is a city that is devoid of life, character, and energy. In short, it has no soul. It is boring and yet extremely important at the same time. It is a perfectly-planned capital in the middle of nowhere. Its museums are highly interesting and of national significance and yet the whole place is boring, even ugly in places.  The city is so large and characterless that I spent much of my time there feeling as if I was on some kind of long layover in an extremely spacious international airport.

Julia Guillard, current prime minister of Australia, who Lindsay thankfully had no motivation to assassinate

Interestingly enough, Lindsay went to Canberra the weekend after we did, and also did a self guided tour around the Parliament House. At some point during her time there she got turned around and accidentally walked into the reception area for Julia Gillard’s office. (Julia Gillard is the current prime minister of Australia) Lindsay didn’t know where she was, but could sense that she was somewhere she was not supposed to be. Guillard’s secretary looked up from her desk, noticed Lindsay and asked if she was lost. Lindsay said she was, and the secretary mistaking her for an office intern assured her not to worry and that it happens to everyone. A nearby security guard, witnessing this interaction noticed that Lindsay did not have a security badge on and asked her if she was lost. She said that she was and he said that she must have gotten turned around because she was one door away from the Prime Minister’s office. Good thing Lindsay is not an international terrorist or else Australia could would be in search of a new Prime Minister about now. I am trying to imagine how this would have gone in the US. “O excuse me Mr. Obama, I just got lost and now I have eight snipers breathing down my neck with M-16s, could you please call them off? I just got a little turned around” Yeah, right. Poor Australia, they are so insignificant in international relations that they can’t even attract any decent international terrorists.
Justin snoozed most of the 3.5 hours back to Sydney while I gazed lazily out the window at the rural landscape slipping by. Less than 20 minutes into our journey we ran into a heavy fog that decreased visibility significantly so it really felt like we were coming into or out of some sort of odd twilight zone. Percy Deane, who was the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department in 1928, once said, “The best view of Canberra is from the back of a departing train.” While Justin and I departed Canberra by bus, not train, we still felt quite inclined to agree.

It was a dull and dreary day in Sydney, and after getting back to my apt we spent much of the day lounging around. It was Justin’s last night and he had packing and laundry to do in preparation for his long trans-pacific flight home. The previous night Angela, Justin and I had gotten into a big discussion about Mexican food and the sad lack of it in Australia and it had made all of us crave it. While we had made some late night guacamole at Angela’s and chowed down before going to bed, Justin wanted to check out one of Glebe’s premiere mexican restaurants, Baja Cantina for his last meal in the southern hemisphere.

Baja Cantina, one of two superb Mexican restaurants on Glebe Point Rd

Being that it was his last night in Australia we agreed to go all out. I ordered a mojito and Justin got a margarita and then a few shots of tequila. For dinner Justin got fajitas and I got a taco grande, and as is typical with Mexican restaurants both our meals came with way too much food for us to finish in one sitting. We lingered over dinner, and then after we were finished, dawdled in leaving since it had begun pouring rain, but once the rain let up we decided to make a run for it.  We had almost made it back to my apartment before the rain started up again, but we ended up sprinting up the last 500 or so yards in the pouring rain.

So tasty

The rest of the evening was spent packing and trying not to focus on the fact that the next day thousands of miles of distance and an ocean would be put between us.

Everything Worthwhile in Canberra in 24 Hours

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Our second day in Canberra got off to a late start since Justin and I were in no rush and Angela was exhausted from working on her paper the day before. We made breakfast in Angie’s apartment and then caught the bus up Capitol Hill to see the Parliament Building that we had failed to reach on foot the day before.

“Parliament house is a new building, which replaced an older, more modest Parliament House in 1988. It is a rather arrestingly horrible structure, crowned with a ridiculous erection that looks like nothing so much as a very large Christmas-tree stand. On the way in I stopped beside a large ornamental pool to have a look at the rooftop erection. ‘Largest aluminium structure in the Southern Hemisphere,’ declared with evident pride a man with a camera around his neck who saw me studying it. ‘And are there many other aluminium structures competing for the honor?’ I asked before I could stop myself”
- Bill Bryson

Parliament House complete with Christmas Tree stand topper

View of the grounds from the front of the Parliament building

“To enter the Parliament house I had to submit to a security inspection and had a small pocket knife taken away from me and twenty minutes later was sawing away on a scone in the cafeteria with something far more lethal. The whole of Parliament House is rather like that- superficially grave and security conscious, in keeping with the trappings of an important nation, but at the same time really quite relaxed as if they know that no international terrorists are going to come storming over the parapets and that visitors are mostly just people like me who want to see where it all happens and have a nice cup of tea and a bread product in the cafeteria”
-Bill Bryson

Main lobby in the Parliament building

Once you get into the Parliament building you are left to wander as whimsy takes you. Having grown up in Washington DC this seems absolutely preposterous to me. If you wanted to so much as walk into the lobby of a government building of any significance in DC you would have to submit to a security screening, full body scan, finger printing, metal detecting wand, pat down, light frisking, background check, and quite possibly be asked to provide a blood or urine sample. Assuming you are not deemed a terrorist after all that you would probably still have to walk around with an armed escort and a name tag with your finer print and picture ID on it. However, inside the Parliament building nobody seems to be terribly concerned with security of this magnitude. Once we were inside we opted not to do one of the hour long guided tours and instead let Angela take us around and give us the more concise run down of things.

Justin and I sitting in the Senate chamber. There are two houses to Australian parliment. The color of the Senate room matches the colour scheme of the House of Lords in England, decorated in red, but muted to tints of ochre, suggesting the earth and the colours of the outback

Justin and Angela repping their citadel rings in the House of Representatives. In commemoration of the colour scheme of the British House of Commons, the House of Representatives is decorated in green. However, the colour is muted to suggest the colour of eucalyptus leaves.

As if being able to stroll around the most important government building in Australia wasn’t wild enough, they also allow you to take an elevator up to the roof and walk around on top of the building. The views from there are spectacular, and I didn’t see a single sniper or security guard while we were up there. I can’t tell if Australians are too trusting or they just long ago accepted that tourists don’t want to go to Canberra, so why on earth would an international terrorist waste time trying to blow up a lot of hideous buildings and empty space. Plus it would be a royal pain to get out there. So yeah, they are probably safe due to apathy.

View from the roof of the Parliament building

Justin and I posin on the roof

Christmas Tree stand/flagpole

After a thirty or so minute stroll through the new Parliament building, we decided to walk down capitol hill to check out the old Parliament Building. This building was in use from 1927 to 1988, when the New Parliament building was opened. The interior offices are set up to look like they did in the late 70′s, so there is awful wood paneling and yellow and green tones everywhere. It doesn’t really feel that old at all, just dated.

Old Parliament Building

Aboriginal protest over their lack of representation in the Australian government, located on the lawn in front of the old Parliament building

Aboriginal parliament building, also erected in protest

Shanty town that acts as the permeant residence of the aboriginal protestors

Me sitting in the Speakers Chair for the House of Reps (you can tell its from the House of Reps because its green)

Angela playing dress up and repping her citadel ring

The house of representatives in the Old Parliament building. As you can see they updated the color palette in the new building to be more muted and more Australian looking.

This Mace, which is used in the House of Representatives was given to the speaker of the house when it is in session to signify that the session is open and he or she has the floor. The current Mace in use was a gift from the United Kingdom House of Commons in 1951 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the commonwealth of Australia.

Senate chamber, again, with a very bold color palette in the old building and the senate chamber currently in use features a far more muted palette. The Senate is always red and the House of Reps is always green.

After we had seen our fill of the Parliament buildings, both old and new, we began our long walk back towards Angie’s apartment. To get there we walked back over Lake Burley Griffin and leisurely strolled around the sprawling green lawns in the surrounding Parliamentary Zone, an area very similar to the National Mall in Washington, only more deserted and futuristic looking.

“Even the National Capital Authority, the governing body for the city, admits in a promotional fact sheet that ‘many people believe the Parliamentary Zone has an empty and unfinished character, where the vast distances between the institutions and other facilities discourage pedestrian movement and activity. ‘ I’ll say. It was like walking around the site of a very large world’s fair that had never quite gotten off the ground.”

-Bill Bryson

"The Lake Burley Griffin contains an engineering wonder (the wonder being why they bothered) called the Captain Cook Memorial Jet, a plume of water that shoots a couple of hundred feet into the air in a dazzlingly unarresting manner, then catches the prevailing breeze and drifts in a fine but drenching spray over the bridge and whatever is on it." - Bill Bryson

“it’s a very strange city in that it’s not really a city at all, but rather an extremely large park with a city hidden in it. It’s all lawns and trees and hedges and big ornamental lake.”- Bill Bryson

This part of Canberra has a very Washington DC-esk feel to it, like you are near the Jefferson Memorial

This is the National Library of Australia, which looks ASTOUNDINGLY similar to the Kennedy Center. There is an architect somewhere who plagiarized and got away with it since nobody can be bothered to care that much about Canberra.

The Kennedy Cen...I mean National Australian Library and the Lake Burley Griffin as viewed from the overpass bridge

Citadel buddies

Exhausted and hungry we stopped at a wood fire pizza restaurant for dinner before heading back to Angela’s apartment to rest, shower and change before going to the Canberra Burns Club Pipe Band Ceilidh (a ceilidh is a gaelic word meaning party and it is pronounced kay-lay). The ceilidh was being put on as a fundraiser for the pipe band that Angela had been playing with since arriving in Canberra. Ever since we had proposed the idea of coming to Canberra, Justin had been ecstatic about attending the ceilidh.

When Angela and Justin were in Scotland last summer with the Citadel pipe band for the Edinburgh Tattoo, they had attended a traditional ceilidh with lots of older experienced pipers, and both of them had glowing accounts of this evening. Their experience consisted of them hanging out in a pub drinking while lots of pipers got up in front of the room and piped amazing solos and then everyone sat around chatting and generally having a great time.

If this had been how things had gone down it might have been an interesting cultural experience, but the reality of the evening was far from the intimate bar hang out that Angela and Justin had been expecting. Instead we spent upwards of two hours sitting in a banquet hall of a country club-type establishment listening to a bagpiping talent show-esk performance, featuring many differnet bag piping and celtic music groups from the area, many of whom were not that talented at all. Refreshments were absolutely perfect….. had we been at a five year old’s birthday party.  On each table were plastic plates and bowls filled with doritos, potato chips, jelly candies and mints. Classy.

Since bagpipes have only one volume, obnoxiously loud, conversation was almost futile, but Justin tells me my facial expressions said it all. About halfway through the first groups set Justin looked over at me and said

“I think I am going to go get you a drink”

To which I replied “No amount of alcohol will make this better, but you are welcome to try anyway”

He came back with a Gin and Tonic which was made with some sort of weird gin that tasted vaguely like licorice. Even the alcohol in Canberra is awful.

Justin and Angela went back and forth discussing the various musical strengths and weaknesses of each group but to me it all sounded like a rousing chorus of cats being drown that refused to die. After about two hours of this Angela and Justin had both determined that this situation was never going to morph into the idyllic memory they had from Scotland and we left. Once we got back into the downtown area we met up with Angela’s friends to hang out at a bar that had more people in it than I had seen the entire weekend walking around the city. We hung out there and chatted for a bit before catching a cab back to Angie’s apartment, since it was below freezing out and Angie and I were both wearing dresses, having foolishly believed that the ceilidh would be an occasion that required such attire. I shouldn’t have worn a dress, I should have worn ear plugs. Once back in Angie’s apt Justin and I packed up our things to prepare for our early bus the next morning and then all three of us turned in for the night, underwhelmed but exhausted all the same.

Canberra: Gateway to Everywhere Else!

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

When I was a junior in high school I took AP Lang and one of the books we had to read over the summer was Bill Bryson’s A Walk In the Woods. I had never read any travel literature or anything by Bill Bryson before, and I found myself completely enamored with the genre and the author I discovered it with. Since then I have made it a goal to read all of Bill Brysons books and have yet to find one that has disagreed with me.

One of my favorite books of his,  In a Sunburned Country details his travels around Australia and had me laughing out loud the first time I read it. I added it to my Christmas List one year and received two copies from different people. I brought one of those copies with me to Australia but Justin took it home with him when he left, and then my friend Jordan told me to keep his copy when I asked to borrow it to write this entry, because he didn’t want it. In my absence my mother bought a copy of her own to read while she planned my family’s Australian adventure. So I have two copies of this book to my name, but three in my family. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

Funny, grumpy, sarcastic, and so correct. Read this book.

When I first read the book my freshman year of college I remember the chapter on Canberra as being particularly hilarious. Having now travelled to Canberra I can say with full authority that everything Bill Bryson said about it was 100% correct, and so for my blog entries on Canberra I am going to quote him and invite you to laugh along with me at my favorite grumpy travel writer who couldn’t have been more correct in his observations about this odd little town.

Justin and I woke up (or rather Justin woke up and then fought me out of my sleeping state) around 6am on Friday morning to catch our 7am bus from central station to Canberra. We were both groggy and grumpy but made our bus on time without incident and then promptly went back to sleep. The bus ride was around three hours long and once we got out of Sydney the scenery was filled with lots of mountains and odd looking trees. When we got off the bus Angela, Justin’s friend from the Citadel, was there to greet us and walk us to her apartment where we would be staying for the weekend. Angela is currently working on her masters degree in peace and conflict studies (somewhat ironic since she went to a military school for her undergraduate degree) and when she heard that Justin was going to be in Australia demanded that he spend a weekend in Canberra.

As Justin and I surveyed the landscape on our walk from the bus stop to Angie’s apartment we were very underwhelmed. It was around 11 am on a Friday morning and nobody seemed to be around. Things were eerily quiet. All the buildings we saw were sleek and modern looking, but devoid of any real character. Already we were judging.

Angie had glowing things to say about the city, but it is the only Australian city she has visited, and she spends most of her time in it studying. I think Canberra would be a very good place to work on a masters or doctorate degree since there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of distractions in the city. I would think you would find plenty of time to study because the city doesn’t give you many other options.

A little history on this odd little place from Mr. Bryson:

“Years were consumed with squabbles about where the Australian capital should be sited before the selectors eventually settled on an obscure farming community on the edge of the Tidbinbilla Hills in Southern New South Wales. It was called Canberra, though the name by then was often anglicized to Canberry. Cold in the winter, blazing hot in the summer, miles from anywhere, it was an unlikely choice of location for a capital. About nine hundred square miles of surrounding territory, most of it pastoral and pretty nearly useless, was ceded by New South Wales to form the Australian Capital Territory, a federal zone on the model of America’s own District of Columbia.  So the young nation had a capital. The next challenge was what to call it, and yet more periods of passion and rancour were consumed with settling the matter. King O’Malley, The American-born politician who was a driving force behind federation wanted to call the new capital Shakespeare. Other suggested names were Myola, Wheatwoolgold, Emu, Eucalypta, Sydmeladperbrisho, Opossum, Gladstone, Thirstyville, Kookaburra, Cromwell, and the ringingly inane Victoria Defendera Defender.

In the end, “Canberra” won more or less by default. At an official ceremony to mark the decision, the wife of the governor-general stood up before a gathering of dignitaries and, “in a querulous voice,” announced that the winning name was the one that had been in use all along. Unfortunately no one had thought to brief her, and she mispronounced it. Never mind, the young nation had a site for a capital and a name for it and it had taken them just eleven years since union to get there. At this blistering pace, all being well, they might get a city going within half a century or so. In fact, it would take rather longer. Although Canberra is now the sixth largest metropolis in the nation and one of the most important planned communities on earth, it remains Australia’s greatest obscurity. As national capitals go, it is still not an easy place to get to. It lies forty miles off the main road from Sydney to Melbourne, The Hume Highway, and is similarly spurned by the principal railway lines.  Its main road to the south doesn’t go anywhere much and the city has no approach at all from the west other than on a dirt track from the little town of Tumut.”

“In 1996 the prime minister, John Howard, caused a stir after his election by declining to live in Canberra. He would, he announced, continue to reside in Sydney and commute to Canberra as duties required. As you can imagine, this caused an uproar among Canberra’s citizens, presumably because they hadn’t thought of that themselves. What made this particularly interesting is that John Howard is by far the dullest man in Australia. Imagine a very committed funeral home director – someone whose burning ambition from the age of eleven was to be a funeral home director, whose proudest achievement in adulthood was to be elected president of the Queanbeyan and District Funeral Home Directors Association – then halve his personality and halve it again, and you have pretty well got John Howard. When a man as outstandingly colorless as John Howard turns his nose up at a place, you know it must be worth a look.”

- Bill Bryson

The history of this location is very exemplary of the reality of it.

Justin and I hung out with Angie for a bit in her apartment and then she gave us a quick walking tour of some of the sites nearby before handing us a map so we could do some exploring of our own. Since she had a paper due by midnight she said she would take us out on the town Saturday but needed to work till then. When she gave us the map she cautioned, “things look like they are close together on the map, but when you start walking you will see that it takes forever to get anywhere”

Bill Bryson had this to say about that:

“My one tip for you if you ever go to Canberra is don’t leave your hotel without a good map, a compass, several days provisions, and a cell phone with the number of a rescue service. I walked for two hours through green, pleasant, endlessly identical neighborhoods, never entirely confident that I wasn’t just going around in a large circle. From time to time I would come to a leafy rotary with spooked roads radiating off in various directions, each presenting an identical vista of antipodeans suburban heaven, and I would venture down one that looked most likely to take me to civilization only to emerge ten minutes later at another identical rotary. I never saw another soul on foot or anywhere watering a lawn or anything like that. Very occasionally a car would glide past, pausing at each intersection; the driver would l0ok around with a despairing expression that said, “Now where the fuck is my house?”

“On paper Canberra looks quite inviting, with its serpentine lake, leafy avenues, and 10,000 acres of parks (for purposes of comparison, Central Park in New York is 840 acres) but at ground level it is simply a great deal of far-flung greenness, broken at distant intervals by buildings and monuments” - Bill Bryson

Being that it was around 3pm when we set out, Justin and I set our sights on walking up Capital Hill to see the Parliament building, which seemed reasonable to accomplish before it closed at 5. We walked for about 25 minutes before realizing that it was much further away that we originally thought, and not easily accessible on foot. We walked across the bridge over Lake Burley and found that in order to get to where we wanted to be, we would have to dash across four lanes of highway traffic, leap-frog a set of jersey barriers and then scale a fairly steep hill covered in bushes. We decided against this.

After this failed expedition we headed back into the center of town and found a quaint local bookstore where we ordered hot beverages and rested for a few minutes. With grumbling tummies we soon left the bookstore in search of dinner. We found a large shopping mall where we got wraps and salad and then wandered into a Borders Books to try and find a copy of Bill Brysons book so we could compare our experiences to his.

Justin had been trying very hard to stay positive about the city, but when I read him this quote from Bill Bryson he cracked up and couldn’t help but to finally admit that this city was in fact quite crap.

“I glanced at my watch, appalled to realize it was only ten minutes after ten, and ordered another beer, then picked up the notebook and pen and, after a minute’s thought, wrote, “Canberra awfully boring place. Beer cold, though.” Then I thought for a bit more and wrote, “Buy socks.” . . . Then I decided to come up with a new slogan for Canberra. First I wrote, “Canberra — There’s Nothing to It!” and then “Canberra — Why Wait for Death?”
- Bill Bryson
After several u-turns and phone calls to Angela we somehow found our way back to the University and chatted with Angela for a bit before deciding we were ready to call it a day and get some decent sleep. We briefly contemplated going out with Angela and her friends once she had turned her paper in at midnight, but only operating on four hours of sleep this notion was soon pushed aside by our heavy eyelids. We headed back to Angela’s apartment, showered and crawled into bed exhausted and confident that our decision to spend less than 48 hours in Canberra had been the right one.