Sunday, November 16, 2008

Not so far from Iowa anymore

All right everybody, tonight is my very last night in Australia. Well, for now at least.

I can't believe this experience is over. It's always a funny time when a chapter of your life closes and another one begins. I don't know what I'm off to next, but I do know that I'll often think back on this experience as a very special time in my life. I'm so glad I did this.

So as I head home, I think a thank you to Australia is in order. I wrote a list a few weeks back about what I miss most about home. Below is what I'll miss most about Australia.

1. Living a short walk from the ocean

2. The Aussie way of shortening words (i.e. brekky, Chrissy time, arvo, sunnies, Brissy, Tassie)

3. Aussie slang (up the duff's my fave)

4. Australian TV (Denton, Border Security, Kath & Kim, Summer Heights High. Hell, I'll even miss Home and Away)

5. The supplements in the weekend papers

6. Crumpets

7. Cadbury Dairy Milk bars

8. Cheap domestic airfare

9. Being so close to New Zealand

10. All the beautiful travel spots (the Whitsundays, Airlie Beach, Cairns)

11. The Daintree rainforest

12. Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays

13. The weather!

14. Tea'se Me

15. Aussie breakfasts (especially poached eggs!)

16. Surry Hills

17. Cara at Barberia

18. Margaret River, WA

19. The Sydney Opera House

20. Taking ferries regularly

21. The widespread availability of kebabs

22. Australia's reception of backpackers

23. Australia's love of travel

24. Being able to see Hamish Blake on a regular basis

25. Everything made by Arnott's

26. Tim Tams Double Coat

27. Absolutely no security at the airport

28. Tea cafes

29. Sportsgirl

30. How everybody always dresses up

31. Aussie beer

32. Paddington in Sydney

33. Outdoor markets (esp. Salamanca in Hobart)

34. Australia Zoo

35. Seeing koalas and kangaroos in the wild

36. Kevin Rudd, P.M.

37. Lachlan Barry O'Leary

38. Watching Aussie journalists 'interpret' American news

39. Creamed honey

40. My friends from school

41. The Europeans from the Whitsundays

42. Perth

43. The Rocks pubs (Mercantile, Glenmore and Hero of Waterloo)

44. El Monde on Favreau

45. Skim flat whites

46. Kangaroo meat (it still doesn't feel right, but it tastes so good)

47. Stanwell Park

I'm sure there are thousands of things I'm forgetting, but that's just a quick list. My time in Australia helped me realize that I had lived a very sheltered life. Looking back on everything I've been through these past nine months, my mind just floods with memories. So many my head almost begins to hurt. But what I'm taking way most from this experience is a new understanding and respect for our differences.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Some view

This was our view of the Opera House from where we ate dinner on the rooftop of the Glenmore. It's beautiful illuminated in the setting evening sun and even more breathtaking after dark.

Digging the Rocks

I've been kicking myself for not exploring the Rocks sooner. This district is right off Circular Quay, across the way from the Opera House. It has lots of kitchy souvenir shops and upscale cafes, but the old-style pubs really got me.

After walking around the zoo in sweltering heat for over three hours, we were all in need of a refreshment. Ryan took charge at this point (which was moderately embarrassing because it involved him frequently whipping out a huge city map) and suggested we check out the Rocks. The map wasn't all bad, though, because it highlighted a couple great pubs to check out. It didn't take too long for a quick pit stop to turn into a mini pub crawl.

Our first stop was the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, Sydney's oldest hotel. After trying the local brews we headed down to the Hero of Waterloo. I quickly realized that the bartender was Irish, so we sat at the bar and chatted him up for awhile. Donal was his name, and he recommended I try the Irish cider. It was amazing, but I only had one glass (I learned my lesson long ago about how to drink beer that tastes way better than beer should), so I had a Guinness after that.

I was just getting well acquainted with Donal and Aisling (another Irish bartender who arrived later on) when Ryan dragged me off to dinner at the Glenmore Hotel. We ate on the rooftop, which had the most gorgeous view of the Opera House. After that, we headed for the Mercantile Hotel, an Irish joint. We ended the crawl with a couple pints of Guinness. Not a bad way to spend an evening with friends.

The Steinbachs come to Sydney

Two of my great friends from high school, Ann and Ryan Steinbach, came out to Australia earlier this week, and luckily I saw them on their last day in Sydney.

Jenny and I took them to Turonga Zoo, where we got a good look at some drowsy koalas and saw a great seal show, among many other things.

Turonga's a beautiful place. It's built upon a hill that can only be accessed by ferry. Once you get there, you get in these little pods that fit about six people each that zip line you right up to the top of the zoo. It's a pretty cool entrance. Being so high up, the zoo also provides some magnificent views of the city.

Sadly, we missed the reptile photo time, so Ann and I couldn't get a photo holding a snake. I'm not too crushed though, I probably would've wussed out if I actually had the opportunity in front of me. And Ryan wasn't able to see the elusive platypus that he was so excited about. And did I mention that Ann and I both got sunburnt?

Amazingly, though, it was a fantastic day. I still can't believe I spent time with two great friends from home in Sydney, Australia. If someone had told us when we were seniors in high school back in Sioux City, Iowa, that this would happen, I doubt any of us would've believed it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More Tea by the Sea

I just loved this place! Here are some more images:

Top: A group eating outside had this adorable Lhasa Apso with them (sorry, you'll have to look closely because I took it from far away and through glass, so it's a bit blurry). I had to take its picture when no one was looking because it reminded me of my puppy Ollie back home.

Second: Some cherubs in the garden.

Third: A mermaid flag waving along the front steps. The mermaid/sea theme was carried out pretty far. They sold beautiful, pearly shells to hang as Christmas ornaments, in addition to heaps of tea-related gifts. They even had Tea by the Sea postcards featuring the owner, perched up on a rock on Stanwell Park beach at sunset, dressed as a mermaid. No, I didn't buy one. I wish I had, though.

Bottom: See what I mean about the 'grandma's house' look?

Tea by the Sea

I love Australian cafe culture, especially cafes that specialise in tea. I've said it before, but Australia has made me a tea-aholic. I'm a regular at Tea'se Me in Wollongong and recently fell in love with its upscale counterpart in Stanwell Park--Tea by the Sea.

Tea by the Sea is quite spacious for a cafe--it's actually in a house. The cafe doesn't really have a business feel at all, it's more of a antiquey, cosy, granny look to it. I wouldn't even be surprised if the owners lived there because the place is only open on the weekends and public holidays. Plenty of tables were scattered across the backyard, but Jenny and I chose to eat in the 'sunroom' area because we'd been walking around in the hot sun all day.

The service was un-Australian (i.e. very good) so after lunch we decided to stay for awhile and order the specialty--Devonshire Tea. How to describe Devonshire Tea...let's see...I suppose Devonshire Tea could be compared to a rich, old aunt. She's bit stuffy (using cups and saucers made of fine china), but you usually leave crammed full of sweets (the pairing of scones with jam and heavy cream and fruit tarts).

Jenny ordered the White Spice (a light, white chai) and I the Darjeeling Vintage (a black tea, known as the 'champagne of teas.' Obviously it had little choice). The tea was quite nice, but the homemade scones with strawberry jam and cream were deliciously indulgent and fabulous in every way.

I hope I remember Australia's tea houses when I'm older because I think it's a business that could really fly in America. Plus, I've acquired a pretty mean scone recipe since being here that might just make me a coin or two someday.