Archive for the ‘The Rocks’ Category

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!

Courtney’s Birthday In Argyle

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Saturday was Courtney’s Birthday, and Kaela and I had made up our minds that we were going to make her favorite dessert for her birthday. A red velvet cake. Kaela had wanted to do it from a box mix, but I have never prepared anything that tasted better out of a box than it does from scratch. Plus when you use a box mix you get all these nasty unnecessary preservatives and additives that are easily avoided if you cook it yourself. Of course I was not this tactful when discussing this with Kaela and Jill. The conversation went something like this:

Me: What are we doing for Courtney’s birthday this weekend? Did we want to make a cake or something?

Kaela: O yeah, I was going to make a red velvet cake because its her favorite.

Me: O cool, you going to make it from scratch?

Kaela: No I thought I would just pick up a box mix.

Me: Well thats lame!

Jill: VALERIE! You are so mean! Kaela is trying to do something nice for Courtney what does it matter?

*Open mouth insert foot*

Me: I’m just saying that box mixes are lame, not that Kaela wanting to contribute to the birthday festivities is lame. Look, I can help you and we can do it right.

Jill: Valerie! Could you be nicer?! There is nothing wrong with a box mix!

This is pretty much par for the course in terms of how conversations in our apt go. I say something that comes off more harsh than I meant it, Kaela, being the sweetheart she is says nothing, and Jill being fearless, verbally knocks me over the head. Its a good balance. If our apt were an episode of Sex and the City I would be Miranda, Jill would be Samantha, Courtney would be Carrie and Kaela would be Charlotte.

I really don’t get why everyone goes nuts over red velvet cake. I don’t think people realize its just a chocolate cake with red food dye in it. The first time I ever made one was for a friend’s fathers birthday. I foolishly thought it was a raspberry or strawberry flavored dessert, and that the red color was due to some natural ingredient. How young and naive I was. I was very disheartened when I started looking up recipes and saw that the magical crimson ingredient was nothing more than a dye. I spent about twenty minutes researching recipes thinking that maybe that was just a cheap substitute for the actual ingredient that would turn it red. No dice.

So then I thought well why does it need to be red? It doesnt! It’s  just a color. So to satiate my appetite for humor and irony I bought blue food dye instead and made a blue velvet cake, because that was going to be a fun moment. When someone cuts into a red velvet cake and finds that its blue. That messes with your head for a minute. Plus the recipient of the cake was an Elvis fan and I thought once the initial moment of shock was overcome he would find it funny.

Anyway, Sat morning Jill was at work and Courtney was at a friends so Kaela and I compiled a list of ingredients and then trekked over to the grocery store to do our shopping. Once we returned to the apartment it was getting later in the afternoon and we didn’t want Courtney walking in on the cake making mid progress, so we went down to one of the boys apartments and used their kitchen instead.

Since we were expecting ten or so guests that evening our original plan was to make two double layer cakes with cream cheese icing and white chocolate shavings on top. We doubled the recipe and used just about every bowl and spoon in the kitchen in doing so. The mixing bowls we had were not large enough to hold the amount of cake batter we were dealing with so we ended up putting it in a giant plastic Tupperware container that looker more like a bathtub for a small child. We put our first two cakes in the oven and they burnt slightly on the tops but were still soupy in the middle. For some reason our Australian oven REALLY does not like to cook cakes, because this is what always happens to me no matter how I adjust the time/temperature/oven racks. Since the cakes came out kinda lopsided I decided to grab the muffin tins and have the second round be cupcakes instead. The cupcakes turned out much better. Since we didn’t have an electric mixer our icing turned out a bit runnier than I would have liked, but it all tasted great and Paula Deen would have approved of the amount of butter we used, even though I was mildly horrified.  Our double layered cake turned out a bit special looking and since the icing was runny it also kinda looked like it was melting, but the white chocolate shavings helped a bit and it all tasted decadently divine, so who cares.

Once we had cleaned up I went back over to our apartment where I found Courtney. Kaela returned fifteen minutes later to avoid suspicion. Once Jill returned home from work we sang, lit sparklers and presented our velvet creations.

Happy Birthday to Courtney!

For dinner we ordered take out from Baja Cantina, a wonderful Mexican restaurant in Glebe. Then we all changed into going out clothes, had a few people over for more cake and merriment and then headed out to a nightclub on the Rocks called The Argyle. Courtney and her friends that came over all wanted to take a cab, but since Kaela, Jill and I had bus passes we opted to meet them there and take the bus instead.

I had never been to this club before, but there was no cover charge, which for a Saturday night in downtown Sydney is damn near miraculous. Being that it is moving into winter here, it was a brisk evening, about 60 degrees or so, but still nice. Australians, we have observed, have absolutely no cold weather tolerance. This week on campus I have switched from flip flops and short sleeves to my sperrys and a zip up hoodie and felt perfectly comfortable, but all week I have been passing by people who look  like they are about to embark on an arctic expedition. People have been wearing huge fluffy down coats with hats, scarves, gloves and boots. Seriously? I used to think Virginia was bad about snow but I think if Sydney ever saw a snowflake they would declare a national state of emergency. When we entered the Argyle courtyard they had outdoor heaters placed ever ten feet or so. Really? It’s 60 degrees out. Come on people. Man up.

Outdoor courtyard

We walked inside to a very crowded room buzzing with activity. We were meeting everyone upstairs so we headed towards the stairs, but above the stairs looking down from the top floor were three tall European guys who were pointing at us. I tried not to pay any attention, but as soon as we got to the top of the stairs one of them grabbed my arm and yelled over the music “Can I buy you a drink?”

What I actually said: “Um, no thats ok. I’m here with my friends, its my roommates birthday, so we are trying to find her”

What I wanted to say: “You really think its that easy? You really think that you purchasing me alcohol makes me want to talk to you? How about try opening with something that actually shows me you have brain cells and not just a penis and a desire to buy your way into my pants”

Upstairs area

We keep moving and eventually find Courtney with all her friends hanging out in a corner by the bar. We mingled and danced a bit while some random girl we didn’t know puked into a champagne bucket in the corner of the room. I mean if you have to throw up I guess you might as well do so in style. Wanting to get away from the thick mass of people surrounding the bar we decided to check out some of the other rooms. On our way across the room this seven foot tall Armenian guy with two of his buddies in tow stops me and asks me what my name is.

Apparently my blonde head floats above the crowd as a beacon attracting  all manner of creepy untactful males. Talking to this guy I got a feel for what it must be like for short people to talk to me. Even in heels  I was craning my neck to look at him. I told him my name and he asked me where I was from. I said the states and then he told me he was from Armenia. I said that was cool. I mean what else can you say?  Then he asked me if I even knew where Armenia was on a map. I honestly didn’t. I had some vague notion of it being somewhere in between western Europe and the middle east, but beyond that I really had no clue. So after insulting me over my lack of geographical knowledge he asks to buy me a drink.

I found Armenia

What I Said: “No I’m ok thank you, I’m hanging out with my friends tonight, its my roommates birthday”

What I wanted to say: ” I know I am probably the only person who is even neck level with you in this room but I don’t respond well to being scolded about geography and then attempted to be bought via alcohol. Yeah, we are done talking now. Goodbye”

Jill pulled me in the direction opposite of where he was and as I walked away he shouted at me “Hey, we were talking here!” Astute sense of the obvious there sir. Maybe you should have also observed that not wanting to talk to you I stopped and started to walk away.

Am I the only girl on the planet that really despises being hit on? If someone wants to come up to me and actually talk to me then sure, lets have a conversation. Plus if someone buys me a drink I would feel obligated to hang around them while I drank it and carry on a conversation, and I don’t want to make that kind of commitment before I am sure that said person is worth talking to. But for someone to compliment me and then think they can buy me off with an alcoholic beverage in the vain hope that I will later want to make any sort of physical contact with them is an insult to my intelligence and a waste of my time and I don’t find it flattering in any way.

We spent a few more minutes mingling and dancing, but after only being there for an hour Courtney had decided she wanted to go home, even if her other friends did not. So we headed back out through the court yard, piled into a cab and zipped off back to Glebe for some late night pasta and bit more red velvet before going to bed.

Good Friday on the Rocks

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

As the weather has cooled down a bit the lower state of New South Wales has entered into a period of gloriously sunny and temperate weather. While this week me and my roommates had been very busy turning in assignments and trying to prepare for our upcoming spring (technically fall) break travels, today we all woke up to a beautiful day and nothing to do. Kaela and Jill proposed that we head down to this small park near Sydney Harbour, and invited me to come along, and of course I agreed.

After a slow meandering morning we caught a bus from Glebe Point Road around noon to head downtown. We arrived at Circular Quay-West, an area better known as The Rocks. This area was established shortly after the first colony in Australia was set up in 1788. The original buildings were made mostly of local sandstone, from which the area derives its name. Originally it was a rough and tumble area, the bad part of town. It was a slum type area that was frequented by sailors and prostitutes.

In the decades that followed through the 20th century plans were drawn up many times to have the area and its crumbling structures demolished. Large world events like the break out of the bubonic plauge, WWI and WWII stalled these plans every time they arose and doing anything about the area was put off until 1968 when the state government gave control of The Rocks to the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority with the intention of demolishing all the original buildings and re-developing them as high-density apartment buildings.

This plan was opposed by a group of local residents who didn’t want to see their rents raised and the history of the area destroyed. They requested a Green Ban from the Builders Labourers Federation to halt the demolition from happening, and in 1973 it was implemented. This ban remained in place until 1975 when instead of demolishing the area renovations began which transformed the area into the commercial and touristy precinct that it is today.

Self explanatory

Walking around it reminded me a lot of the inner harbor in Baltimore or downtown Alexandria, as it is a beautiful bustling downtown area with swanky stores and fancy restaurants. The three of us spent a good two or three hours just walking around, people watching, taking goofy touristy pictures of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and of the Opera House. It was such a wonderfully pleasant day we lingered outside with no real goal or destination in mind. We saw street performers and lots of tourists and families. Australia takes its holidays very seriously apparently, because most stores were either closed today, or closing early for Good Friday, and most restaurants had signs out front saying that they would not be serving alcohol that evening.

Me and Jill and the most photographed building in the southern hemisphere

The "Mary Cait and Ashley" pose as Jill calls it

I'm in Australia! Every so often this dawns on me, because sometimes I forget.


Apt 18 ladies!

Baw. Cute

Harbor skyline

Under the Opera House

Getting up close and personal with the opera house


After a few hours of wandering around we started to get hungry, and Kaela had been saying for the past week how she was really craving pancakes, in particular pancakes from a restaurant called “Pancakes on The Rocks.” Jill and Kaela had been before but I had not, and they both insisted I was in for a treat. The menu read more like an ice cream shop than a pancake house. I swear there was nothing on there that wasn’t sprinkled with powder sugar, stuffed with creme, dipped in chocolate, or drizzled with syrup. Among pancake variations with names like devil’s delight, strawberry jam, jaffa orange, hot n troppo, macadamia madness, strawberry patch, bavarian apple, and banannarama I landed on the simplest variation I could find- blueberry heaven. And it was that. It was two of the thickest buttermilk pancakes I have ever had with blueberries in sauce served with cream and vanilla ice cream. Ihop this was not. These pancakes blew Ihop into the next universe.

Blueberry heaven. mmmmm

After we had eaten our fill we wandered back towards the bus station to catch the bus that would take us back to Glebe. Then Kaela, Courtney who joined us later, and I all settled in for an evening of packing and preparing for our trip to Thailand!