Archive for the ‘University of Sydney’ Category

Lapointes Reunited

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Mom and I were up early on Thursday morning to check out of our hostel and check into The Menzies in downtown Sydney where we would be spending the next two nights and meeting the other half of the family assuming they had survived the flight. This was a big assumption. While I was excited for my mom to come to Australia early, dividing our family in this way meant that we were leaving the two least capable members of it behind to get through two flights and a layover by themselves. Mom’s anxiety about their arrival began almost immediately after we woke up that morning. Their flight was supposed to get in around six am but we had checked their flight status the night before and learned that it had been delayed two hours.

We arrived at the Menzies, checked into our rooms and then found a place to stage our stake out in the lobby. I was quite relaxed, I mean even if something had gone wrong it would be no fault of ours. Mom had given each of them a stapled, color copied, and laminated copy of everyones passports, credit cards, travel documents and visas, trip itinerary, and details on the location of our hotel in Sydney. All they had to do was get off the plane, find their bags and then locate the bus driver who was scheduled to pick them up and would be looking for them. Even if something did go wrong, neither of them had an international cell phone so there would be no way for them to reach out to us for assistance. So basically all there was to do was wait. Or at least thats all I thought there was to do. Mom found all sorts of other things to do, like try to predict what had gone wrong, mentally work through the worst case scenario, call the bus company thinking they would know something about wether or not they had arrived, pester me about checking the Qantas website to search for updated flight information, inform the concierge desk to look for them even though we already were. Mom was jumpy and anxious like anyone married to my father has reason to be.

We sat waiting in the lobby for a little over two hours and I watched moms breath quicken everytime a bus or taxi stopped outside the hotel. Around 11:25 we had this exchange.

Mom: I’m so anxious! Why aren’t they here yet, are you sure the flight information said they were only two hours delayed?

Me: YES. For the last time YES. I don’t know why you are so worried, relax, there is nothing you can do.

Mom: I should go get my blackberry so they can call us, do you have your phone? Where is your phone? you should go get it.

Me: What exactly are they going to call us from?

Mom:….well….I don’t know …can you just go get it please?

Me: No, they aren’t going to call us, and even if they do, what can we do?

Mom: If they don’t get here by 11:30 I’m going to–

Me: You’re going to what? Implode?

Thankfully around 11:35 they did arrive. They looked worn and weary but for the most part they appeared to be intact.  After a few minutes of hugs and hellos we all headed upstairs to our respective rooms so that dad and Julie could put their stuff down, shower and change. As it turned out, their flight had been delayed because there had been some sort of problem with the fuel pump, and so they had sat on the runway at LAX for two hours waiting for that to be resolved, thus turning their 14.5 hour flight into a 16.5 hour flight. Needless to say they were quite thrilled to no longer be on a plane or in an airport.

For our first day in Sydney Mom had booked us a hop on hop off Captain Cook cruise, which runs all day and goes to various attractions in and around Sydney Harbor. So after Julie and Dad had recovered a bit, we went to Pancakes on the Rocks for lunch and then got on the boat and headed towards Taronga Zoo, the premiere zoo of Sydney. Taronga is home to over 2,600 animals and is located north of sydney harbor on 52 acres of land by the water.  Taronga is an aboriginal word meaning “beautiful view” and this is perfectly fitting as the zoo has some of the best views in the city, but I feel like this is probably wasted on its animal inhabitants. It would be the US equivalent of putting a very fancy zoo somewhere in the hills of LA overlooking the city. Beautiful, yes, but it means that admissions is crazy expensive to pay for the massive real estate bills.  Taronga is one of only two zoos in the world that breed platypus, thus a platypus occupies their official logo.

It was a chilly and blustery day, and so most of the animals were hiding or sleeping. Dad became very frustrated by this and kept saying “This is a zoo with no animals! Great! We should go to the botanical gardens because at least we know the plants would be there!”

Entrance to the Zoo

Giraffe and Zebra exhibit and the Sydney Skyline

We wandered around the zoo from 2pm until it closed around 5pm and then took the boat back to our hotel. Julie and Dad were exhausted and while it was good that they managed to stay up the whole first day, they were ready to get to bed. So we headed back to the hotel for an early dinner in the hotel bar and then up to our rooms for an even earlier bedtime.

The next day we were all up fairly early and after breakfast at a small cafe near our hotel we set out towards Paddy’s Market, or as dad came to call it- Trinket Heaven. My father is very persistent in his search for “trinkets.” For a man who doesn’t like to spend money he has an odd tendency to snatch up the most inane and useless objects he can find. I steered Mom and Dad and Julie through the maze of market stalls at Paddy’s and watched in horror as they purchased the most awful touristy items that could be found. A stuffed kangaroo, an Australia t-shirt, key chains, boomerangs and all sorts of other tacky and useless items. Not wanting to waste the whole day there, or any more money on kitschy trinkets I made every attempt to push them towards an exit. Once I was finally able to pull them out of the market we headed towards Central Station where Mom and Julie would catch the train to go to Featherdale Wildlife Park to pet marsupials for the day. Since I had already been twice and dad had no interest in going, we went instead to the University of Sydney to explore the campus and then walked through Darling Harbor and then along the water to the Sydney Harbor Bridge where we walked halfway across the the pylon museum.

Julie at featherdale with a koala who is awake- very rare.

Mom, Julie, and a marsupial

Feeding time

View of the Opera House from the Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney from the Bridge

Dad and I had a pleasant day catching up, and the weather was beautiful so walking along the water was breezy and picturesque. Around 6 we headed back to our hotel to meet up with mom and Julie. Since this was our last night in Sydney and Julie was of legal drinking age in Australia mom demanded that we go sit somewhere on the water and have a Lapointe family cocktail hour. When mom and I had taken the Opera House tour a few days before we had received a 20% off voucher for the Opera House Bar, so we headed there. The opera bar was a popular happy hour spot and it was crowded, but we each got a drink and took in the nighttime views of the bridge and the opera house before setting out in search of dinner. It was in this moment that dad officially dubbed our vacation the “Lapointes Get Hammered Tour.”

For dinner we headed back over to Darling Harbor to the Black Bird Cafe so that dad could get a kangaroo filet. Julie, who had pet a kangaroo earlier that day was mildly horrified that the same animal could be eaten with a side of vegetables, but dad wanted to try it. I think Australia must be the only country that eats their coat of arms.

A tasty coat of arms

Dad ended up not really enjoying his kangaroo filet because he enjoys his meat fairly well cooked and because kangaroo is such a lean meat it has to be served very rare. After dinner we walked back to our hotel and packed our suitcases to get ready for our 10 am flight to Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef.

Mom Arrives!

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Mom’s flight was supposed to land in Sydney at 6:30 am on July 3rd, but as nothing can ever be simple in my family this of course did not happen. As she was nearing the 15th hour of her trans-Pacific flight the captain came over the intercom to tell the passengers that the Sydney airport was shrouded in fog, and therefore they could not land there. Instead they would be making a slight detour trip to Brisbane (453 miles north of Sydney) to sit on the airplane on the runway there until they could be cleared for a landing in Sydney. By the time Mom actually made it to Sydney it was close to 11 o’clock which means that she had been traveling for over almost 30 consecutive hours. Luckily she had arranged to get a shuttle from the airport to our hostel and I didn’t need to meet her anywhere, otherwise I would have been waiting for quite a while. Not having slept  hardly at all on the flight she arrived at the hostel and we had our hugs and hellos before she demanded to know where the shower was located.

After a shower and a quick change she was feeling more human (and certainly smelling better) and I thought she would want to take a nap to sleep off some of the jet lag as almost everyone else who come to visit has wanted this. Not my mother. She was not going to let the flight beat her, so we set out in search of lunch and then got to walking. She wanted a picture in front of something quintessentially Australian to put up on the internet so that she could prove to friends and family that she had survived the flight and had arrived safely. So of course after lunch I steered us towards the opera house.

She has arrived!

Me, Mom, and the most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere

We walked from Glebe to Darling Harbor and then along the water to Sydney Harbor. We stopped in Darling Harbor for an hour or two to take in some street performers and soak up the sunshine and the lovely 70 degree winter weather. We even enjoyed our first official alcoholic beverages together as we sat at a table on the water chatting. We must have walked a good three miles over the course of the day, but mom kept on trucking. We walked around the craft markets at the Rocks and popped into a few opal jewelry stores to have a look. By 5 pm the jet lag had finally caught up to her and we found our way back to Glebe and enjoyed a light dinner at an outdoor Spanish wine and tappas bar before heading back to the hostel. We were in bed by 7pm, which in the world of me is utterly absurd. I was tired though for not having slept but a few hours the night before due to restlessness. We were both sleeping quite soundly until about 2:30 am when mom’s blackberry started ringing. We both started grumbling and through our grunts had this conversation:

Mom: Valerie…Valerie! What is that?! Turn it off!

Me: Mom, I think thats you’re blackberry, its ringing

Mom: Who in the world could be calling me?! Someone better have died.

I stumbled across the room to pick up her blackberry, and by the time I found it we had missed the call. On the call log it said that Home had called and Mom started assuming the worst. We thought it was Dad that had called us so we decided to call back. To our surprise it was not Dad, but Julie who answered the phone. That conversation went something like this:

Julie: Hello?

Me: Julie! Did you just call us?

Julie: Yeah, why?

Me: It’s 2:30 in the morning here!

Julie: ….o…I forgot about the time thing

Me: You just FORGOT that its a whole different day on the other side of the world?!

Julie: Yes. Look, can I just talk to mom?

I handed the phone off to my mom. As it turned out nobody had died, Julie just had some menial question that did not merit us being woken up at such an ungodly hour. After we hung up with her neither of us could get back to sleep and we ended up talking until the wee hours of the morning when we finally fell asleep for a few hours. We woke up the next day with a list of Sydney Sights to see. First we walked up Glebe Point Rd and had a light breakfast at a local cafe and then continued up the street so I could take Mom around USyd.

Mom at the University of Sydney!

Not only did I attend Hogwarts this semester, but I was a Gryffindor Lion too!

So excited to be at USyd!

After walking around and showing her where I had interned and where all my classes had been we sat in Fisher Library for a few hours so we could skype with Julie and Dad and listen to them panic about their impending solo travel mission. We walked Julie through what to pack and how to navigate the airport, even though mom had left a large packet of information behind for her and dad that contained all their travel documents, vouchers, important phone numbers and directions to everywhere they needed to be, all neatly numbered, collated, and color coordinated of course. Despite all this, we were both painfully aware that we had left the more inept half of the Lapointe family behind, so we were willing to field their panicked questions for a while. After leaving USyd, we hopped on a bus down to Circular Quay to check into an opera house tour, which wasn’t available that day due to rehearsals taking place, but we were still able to walk around the inside of the lobby and the outside of it. After leaving the opera house we made our way through the botanic gardens before grabbing a small salad to tide us over till dinner.

Botanic Gardens

As the sun was setting and the temperature beginning to drop we hopped on the bus back towards Glebe where had dinner at my favorite Australian mexican restaurant, The Flying Fajita Sisters, and then turned in for another early night.

A beautiful day

A Freshman Once More, Now Internationally!

Friday, February 25th, 2011

So after a week of orientation I got one day off, and in that one day I must have somehow become askew again because I had to go to a different orientation today! I am going to be the most oriented human being by the time I return to the states.

My orientation for the University of Sydney began this morning at 10:30 am, and I had no problem waking up for it. (Miracles do happen, you just need to go to Australia for them to occur apparently) My roommate Courtney and I are both attending  University of Sydney so we set out together and ran into a group of about 10 or so other kids living in our building who were also headed to orientation. The University is about a 20 minute walk from our apt which means I am going to have to carefully budget my time to ensure I get to class on time. (pray for me)

Most of the walk to Uni (as they say in Oz) is through suburban glebe, but once you get to the main drag you cross the road and this is what you see:

Large public park that backs up to my Uni

The fountain in the center is HUGE. We saw a guy showering in it as we were walking to orientation this morning. Although we suspect it was some sort of hazing thing as he did not look like a hobo, more like an idiot.

Once we had walked through the park we moved onto the main campus of The University of Sydney. The main buildings on campus are modeled after Oxford, and even knowing this could not prepare me for the striking similarities. To me, when you say something is “modeled after” something else that means “inspired by” or “in the same style as” but in actuality the main building at USyd is an EXACT REPLICA of the main building at Oxford. The very same building in which the great hall scenes were shot for Harry Potter (the oxford building not the USyd one).

walking up the hill towards USyd. There was a huge club carnival going on which is what all the colorful tents are about.

EXACT replica of Oxford building. USyd was established in 1850, which makes it the oldest university in Australia but a spring chicken compared to many of the universities in the states. It also has a student population of 47,000. Which is nuts.

We were met at the bell tower (the big pointy structure in the center of the above pictures) by the international studies organizer. She was very lovely and had a bubbly personality but a name that I have sadly forgotten. She walked us across campus (our group was about 40 or so once the kids living in the other housing options joined us) to a classroom where she proceeded to go through a powerpoint presentation with us on how we go about adding/dropping classes, finding our schedules online and other administrative issues. We were given our registration paperwork and had to fill out some forms to finalize our enrollment and then she left us in the care of this chubby guy who seemed very bored. His lack of enthusiasm seemed to stem from the fact that he was leaving for vacation as soon as he got through the orientation program with our group (something we were told by the lady who presented after him). People began to ignore him and he didn’t seem to mind as he continued to talk. Once he had finished and told us we were done we all got up with more questions than answers. We were supposed to get our student ID cards, but where ? and how? We were supposed to go to the international student office at 1 to do add/drop but where was that?? Once we got there how did we add/drop? Did this all have to be done today? WHERE WERE WE?!

All these questions would have been nice to get answered, but since they weren’t, me, Courtney and a small contingency of our fellow Glebe-ers set out on the scavenger hunt from hell. Rules of the scavenger hunt: You have a vauge idea of what you need to get, but not a clue as to where it is, how to get to it, where you are, what time you need to have it by, or how to get back to where you started once you have finished. ReadySetGo!

Any of the adult uni employees we asked for help gave very conflicting information. One lady told us that we could not acquire our student ID cards until we had finalized our schedules, which meant going to the international office first. This turned out to be false. A different university adult employee told us to get our Uni ID cards in the basement of the Law Building, this was false as well. Someone else sent us to the international student lounge which is in no way the same thing as the international office. We were also told that we were exchange students, which we are not. Exchange students are students who directly enroll at the university as opposed to doing it through a program as we did. Exchange students are treated differently from study abroad students, which is what we are. This is an important distinction to be aware of when dealing with administrative matters.

Luckily for us Australian students  are super friendly and find bewildered americans endlessly amusing, so we were able to locate the international student office and the student ID services center after 20 or so minutes of trial and error and running around in circles. We had to laugh at ourselves when we discovered the two buildings were basically next to eachother. We asked one australian guy where the ID office is, and he stopped what he was doing to walk us there. They are such a friendly/helpful people.( with the exception of the university employees who deal with international students apparently) So once we had acquired our IDs (and waited in a line that would rival those at the DMV to do so) and finalized our registration at the international student office we spent some time wandering through the club carnival.

In order to join any of the clubs on campus (of which there are hundreds, and there are things like scuba diving club, rock climbing club, rapelling club, cocktails club, basically awesome things that you want to be able to join) you have to purchase a “Uni Access” card for 70$. Having this card also gets you a 15-20% discount at hundreds of local bars, restaurants, and shopping locations. It also gets you all sorts of student discount prices and free stuff. Although I was hesitant to purchase it, when I looked at the brochure that explained all it could be used for it seemed like something that would in time pay for itself, so I ended up doing it. Once you have the access card you get a nifty gift bag with USyd gear in it, which kinda softens the blow that you just spent $70.

I got this towel in my gift bag, its way cooler than I could show in this picture being so close up.

Courtney and I looked into a bunch of clubs but many of them are kinda pricey to join because they go on trips(which is just obnoxious because college clubs are free to join in the US, which is the way I think it should be done, wether that sounds internationally prejudiced or not) but we decided to join a club called “Beat the System.” While this sounds like a political activism thing it isn’t at all. It is actually a music club that puts on local music events. They organize shows with live bands and DJs both on campus and in the community. Plus if you bought a tshirt for 5$ and wore it to any of the events you get a free shot when you come in the door. So now I have a “Beat the System” tshirt- obviously. I mean, free booze? Come on. They really know how to market to college students.

After all was said, done, and oriented, it was about 3pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Courtney, Lindsay (who lives in the only apt that has internet right now) ventured back to our Glebe residence, and stopped on the way at this adorable outdoor cafe called BYO. I got a pumpkin, sun dried tomato, capcium, brie, and eggplant sandwich on wheat bread (they don’t use white bread here, at least not that I have been able to find) and it was DELICIOUS. I also had a pumpkin, squash, tomato salad on the side. It was an amazing lunch. The amount of healthy food options here is glorious. And when the check comes, you just leave the money on the table because there is no tipping. Minnimum wage here is 12-18 dollars, and increases depending on your skill level and age.

My Beat the System tshirt (punny!) and USyd ID card. I am official now!

After our cute and healthy lunch we headed back to the apt and Lindsay (the fabulous human being that she is) showed me a sketchy website that enables me to watch Glee and all my television shows overseas. We are going to be best friends, I can already tell.