Saturday, October 17, 2009

Back in Sydney

We are back in Sydney. We flew in at noon and Derek wasn't feeling well. We hung out at the hotel for the afternoon. I tried venturing out by myself, but couldnt' figure out how to know how much I had to pay for fares. You pay different amounts depending on where you want to go. In the evening, Derek and I went and figured out our train tickets. When we bought the tickets, we asked the guy in the ticket booth if he could recommend a place for us to eat that would be open at 7 or 8 at night. That's something I forgot to mention. Stores close early here. It seems as though businesses and restaurants are either open until 5:00 or 5:30 or they don't open until 6:00 or so and then are open quite late.

The guy recommended a noodle bar. After getting lost after we exited the train station, we finally found the place he had recommended. It was a very hip place. Located in Chinatown, the clientele ranged from cool, younger asian adults to a white businessman to an Asian grandma who sat across from Derek. There were 2 long tables with benches. We ordered at the counter (from a menu which we couldn't read)and then were brought yummy bowls of noodles and broth. Derek's was a pork broth with ramen noodles and I had a chicken broth with fried chicken and fat noodles in it. It was delicious and we were so hungry.

As were were walking (which we did a lot of when we got lost) I noticed that they had labelled the street at the curb (or kerb, as they spell it here) which way to look in order to avoid being hit by a car. That's something that my sister, Heather, had mentioned from when she was in Australia that you have to adjust to which way to check for on coming traffic before you cross the street. Derek and I have commented to each other a number of times how it feels like you may get hit from one side (the expected side in Canada) when the traffic is moving in the opposite direction.

We went through Central Station as well. It joins all of the train lines in Sydney. It's this cool, old train station and it's always bstling with activity and accents from around the world. Very cool.

Last Day in Cairns

Our last day was our hottest day. My hair is crazy as it is so humid here. We tried an Australian BBQ restaurant while we were here (I'm still looking for an Aussie Pie) and have enjoyed the range of types of food that Cairns Esplanade has to offer. We spent the day relaxing, checking out a local music store, and buying taffy and a few souvenirs to take home. We enjoyed one last evening on the esplanade, followed by a return to the crepe stand (they make the crepes in front of you, filled with fruit and whipped cream) and gelati (I have to admit I am a bit obsessed, but with flavors like kiwi fruit, mango, blood orange (like tangerine) and passionfruit, who could resist?)

We returned just as it was getting dark as Derek wanted to get some pictures of the bats. I have to confess, he took most of the pictures as they kind of freaked me out. It was crazy though, to see how they were basically sleeping when we got there and within 15 minutes or so, as it started to get dark, they started flying until the sky was filled with them. These pictures don't do it justice. The sky was totally filled and they were flying quite low, while screeching. It was quite a sight.

This last picture is at Derek's request. He has a funny, unexpected, and interesting fascination at creatures everywhere we travel. Geckos are of particular interest...ones that turn yellow to camouflage against the wall are extra interesting, hence the photo. There were lots of these little guys running around, particularly at night.

Friday, October 16, 2009

More from the Great Barrier Reef

Some more from the Great Barrier Reef:

You can see all of the fish we were swimming with. The videos are a little shaky as it was getting a bit windy. You can actaully see where the reef is in the middle of the ocean from far away, because there are waves that form over the shallow reef areas like they do at the beach.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Great Barrier Reef

We woke up at 5:45 to get ready for an incredible adventure (not a small feat for those of you who know how we like to sleep). We drove about an hour along the coast (really beautiful) to Port Douglas. There we got on a fast boat (sort of yacht-looking)where they had breakfast for us and made us sign papers saying we knew that snorkeling and scuba diving were dangerous, yadda, yadda... We rode out to the reef, which was about an hour ride where they gave us, who hadn't scuba dove/dived before a lesson on how to scuba. Actually, it was also a video on all the bad things that could happen like lungs popping, running out of air etc. They told us that the most important thing was not to hold your breath underwater, just to kep breathing slowly. Since when does breathing become so complicated?? (Oh, right when you're underwater for 40 minutes) So the ride itself was pretty bumpy and Derek (for those of you that have heard about our not-so-fun cruise experience) wasn't feeling top notch anymore, but we had taken some anti-nausea pills, so it wasn't too bad. We got suited up and weighed around 150lbs more with the tank and the weights around our waist. They put weights around your waist so you don't float to the surface, which I kept doing anyway. We went under and practiced switching to our secondary air supply and clearing our masks. We went under the water and looked at all the coral. The coolest part was seeing an anenome and seeing the little clown fish (like Nemo) less than 12 inches in front of us. Ok, so I have to be honest with you, I really hated the diving part. My mask kept filling up with water because I didn't have it positioned right and there were several times where all I could think about was "breathe, breathe". My eyes were stinging with saltwater and the instructor kept having to come and get me as I tried to clear my mask and was floating to the surface. My air regulator came out of my mouth (which then you have to blow small bubbles out of your mouth so there isn't as much pressure on your lungs). Anyway, I was super glad when it was all done. I would try it again, but only after lesssons and becoming certified. **Aside: I wasn't sure how much detail to put here, but basically the rest of the day for Derek went like this: Derek was sick, threw up over the side of the boat, went snorkeling for 15 minutes at my request, and slept for most of the rest of the day inside the boat. (this is a sea cucumber, they breathe out of their butts) I went snorkeling at the next 2 locations, which were absolutely beautiful. I resolved my facemask issues and took pics and videos with an underwater camera we rented, and enjoyed the rest of the day, and was thrilled that I didn't get stung by a jellyfish (this is the beginning of the jellyfish season). We had been snorkeling in the Bahahas, and I thought it was cool, but not amazing. It was so amazing at the Great Barrier Reef. I am so glad we went to the reef (and Derek is almost glad we did too)

Monday, October 12, 2009

The smells we smell...

Have you ever noticed how there are different smells depending where you visit? Florida smells like water, chlorine, and moist, California smells like smog and tropical flowers. So what does Australia smell like? Where as in Canada a mall would smell like food and cleaner, in Australia it smells like food and incense. Sometimes at night there is a smell like hot garbage and dog food. Other times is smells like salt water and sunscreen. The food markets smell more like surrry than in Canada.

I just noticed this and thought i'd write it down so I'd remember.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Rainforest and The Ocean

We took a drive up the mountains near Cairns, to the Rainforest Village of Karumba. Karumba Village is located in the Rainforest. This rainforest is considered the oldest Rainforest in the world. We walked a 3km pathway through the rainforest. It's crazy how the canopy really does block out the light (and the rain, as it was sprinkling in the morning).

We then drove to Barron Falls, also located near Karumba. The road back down the mountain, was the narrowest 2 lane road we have been on. Derek didn't have to touch the gas once the whole way down the mountain. He only had to use the break as he navigated around hairpin turns. Once we reached the bottom, we went to check out a golfcourse nearby. It was also so incredibly beautiful (wee may reutrn to try it out).

On the way back to Cairns, I suggested that we go down the road to Trinity Beach. The area down to the Beach was full of Beach homes and apartments. When we made it down to the ocean, it was absolutely beautiful. I suggested parking down near the beach and that we walk along the water. That progressed to taking off our sandals, and finally to my suggesting that we take a swim. We went back to the car, changed into our swimsuits and went back to the water. There are red and yellow flags set up on the beach, indicating where swimming is recommended. We may have wandered outside the flags, but had a great time jumping into the waves. It was pretty windy here today, so we had lots of great waves to enjoy. There were a few saves that were so strong they knocked us down and pulled us along the bottom of the ocean. The sand was soft where it was still dry but in the actual ocean, the grain were far more coarse. Coarse sand plus being dragged along the bottom by waves equals a bathing suit, hair, ears, and every other orifice full of sand. I had 2 large handfulls of gravel-like sand fall out of my bathing suit afterwards, but boy was that spontaneous swim ever worth it. It was amazingly beautiful. The beach curved around to where a small mountain rose next to the ocean.

After showering and removing all the sand, we went for supper on the Esplanade. We parked and started to walk to the restaurant when Derek looked up and saw something flying overhead. It wasn't a bird, it was a bat!!! We looked in the trees and saw them hanging upside down in the tree. When we returned to the car later in the evening the were screaming and swooping overhead, with their nasty, glowing eyes.

As a nice finish to the evening, I had the most wonderful Rhubarb Ice Cream. For those of you who don't know, my favorite types of desserts are Rhubarb dessert, so this little flavor discovery was quite a treat.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Couples Retreat

We are totally living the life here. We had a nap this afternoon and then went and booked our SCUBA adventure and walked along the boardwalk. After that we went for oven fired pizza on the Esplanade...had the Don (kalmatas, roasted red pepper, basil, ham) and spiced chicken (chicken, garlic) and they were so yummy. We just saw the new movie Couples Retreat, which was pretty funny and less inappropriate than I was expecting. It's 9:00am in Manitoba and midnight here, which is still kind of strange. I'm sleepy and off to bed...

Crocs and Kangaroos and Koalas, oh my!

*Note: yes, this is an actual sign, not a joke.

This morning began with a trip to the Cairns Tropical Zoo. We drove 20kms north, through many round abouts to Palm Grove. It was there that we got to see a variety of native Australian animals. We saw 5 meter long crocodiles, many of which are serving "life sentences" there for eating dogs and up to 30 head of cattle along river edges. There were a variety of birds, with enclosures that you could go in and have them flying freely overhead. I really like to look at birds, but had a few "moments" when I didn't realize how close they actually were. Just ask Derek, and he will be happy to mock me and tell you all about it... We went to the Red Panda enclosure where the panda was taking a nap in the tree. We saw the hairy nosed wombat, which is a marssupial relative of the kangaroo. We also got to feed and touch kangaroos. They were about 3 feet tall and smelled like rabbits. Derek described them as being as if a Rabbit and a Deer mated (which I can kind of see).

WARNING: Geek Moment:
Marsupials are a class of mammal with the characteristic of the mother having a pouch in which the joey (all marsupial babies are called joeys) climbs into this pouch, or marsupium, at an earlier age than most mammals, where they are fed and continue to develop until they are ready to live outside the pouch, such as Koalas, Kangaroos, and Wombats. Koala babies are born after only 35 days gestation, when they are merely 2 cm long, hairless, eyeless and earless. They climb into the pouch, where they are fed by their mothers until they are ready to come out of the pouch. They then stay with their mothers, riding on their backs for up to 1 year. Also, the reason that they sleep for up to 19 hours a day is that their only food is the leaves of gum trees and the leaves are so low in protein that they don't have very much energy

Ok, I got that out of my system, so here is the really cool part: We both held a Koala!!! They are super soft and not as heavy as you would think. They hold on tight but I definitely wouldn't want to meet them if they were angry, their claws are crazy! It was such a cool experience!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Adventures in Cairns

Today we ventured out to see what Cairns had to offer. We spent some of the afternoon shopping at the factory outlet mall here. I drove there on the wrong side (to our standards) of the road. It was so cool! Unfortunately I didn't realize how cool it would be and didn't take my camera.

We went down to the pool just outside our hotel room, and hung out, enjoying the beautiful weather. Then, we went down to the Esplanade, which is the street and boardwalk area by the ocean. It is full of great shops and restaurants. We went to a seafood restaurant and tried Barramundi (a local australian fish) which is a white fish and absolutely delicious! Derek also had kangaroo (which tastes like a very tender beef) and crocodile, which had a chewy texture and tasted like a combination between scallops and chicken. We then walked down the esplanade where we saw boomerangs, UGGS, lots of honey and macadamia nuts (grown locally), and digeridoos. Digeridoos are a weakness of mine. every time Derek and I go to a msic store in Winnipeg, I always go and look at them. They are even cooler here, they are works of art. It's also neat because in each store where they are sold is usually someone who is demonstrating how to play them. The aboriginal art here is also really awesome.

While walking we tried dessert crepes (fresh fruit with custard and whipped cream) which were amazing and gelato. The gelati here is the best I have ever had, and I love gelati in Winnipeg. The fruit flavors are even more intense and include flavors such as passionfruit. There was also a cute shop offering samples of soft salt water taffy-like candy. The flavor they were offering as a sample was some sort of blue plum, and it was so soft and delicious, we went back and bought a bagful of mixed flavors. I can't remember all of them but they included a variety of fruit flavors I hadn't heard of before. We also saw a guy performing with flaming sticks (I don't know what they are actually called), but it was neat. The weather here is still gorgeous at almost 9:00 pm, it's actually too warm for me to wear a cardigan with my tank top and shorts! It's going to make it hard to go back to the unseasonably cold weather in Sydney and even harder to come home to snow.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Something is different...

We are having a great time here, and noticing some of the differences between home and here. First, and most obvious is the driving on the wrong side of the road. This means the rivers is on the opposite side of the vehicle, you have to look in the opposite direction when crossing the street, yield to the opposite direction, and make sure you're not driving on the wrong side of the road after turning.

There is not a "no shirt, no shoes, no service" policy here. People walk around in Cairns without shoes. Last night, half of the people who walked into Subway as we were eating were barefoot. Children walk around on the streets, sidewalks and in restaurants without shoes.

Business hours are "Trading Hours"

The electrical outlets are a different shape (we need converters) and they all have switches on them to turn them on and off.

Yogurt is spelled Yoghurt, but is yummier than the stuff we buy at home.

Phone numbers are eight digits, rather than 7 (eg ####-####)

The tax is included in all the prices

Green Peppers are called Capiscum, Cream Soda is called "Creaming Soda" and "lemonade" is the same as Sprite.

The trunk is called the "boot"

There aren't Starbucks that we've seen so far but some McDonalds have a McCafe area, which is beside the regular counter area where they have espresso machines and you can order gourmet coffee and fancy desserts. I haven't tried a coffee there yet but I am planning on checking it out.

Grocery Shopping in Cairns

We have arrived in Cairns, Australia (which the locals pronounce as "Cans" and I'm still deciding which way I'll pronounce it). So we rented a car...oh my goodness!!! Derek and I laughed so hard! This whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing is hilarious. (More on all of the differences we are noticing in a later post). Anyway, we made it to our hotel and even ventured out to the grocery store. The first thing we picked up was Milo (not our cat). It a malted chocolate drink (I think it's sort of like chocolate milk), which Heather had requested (this can is coming home for you, Heather). Grocery shopping was bizaare, as they don't have any of the same brands here, so you have to read each label carefully. We found chicken chips (which we tried about 5 minutes ago and decided NOT to finish), and Tim Tams (malted chocolate wafer cookies..mmmm).

Buying cheese was even strange. Cheese was labelled as Tasty or Super Tasty. Not knowing what this meant, we erred on the side of caution and went with 'Mild'. Milk was also strange as regular milk was labelled as not less than 4% milk fat (uh, no thanks) so we went with 'Light White' which we think is close to 1% milk.

Another strange thing was that Papayas were less expensive than apples here in the grocery store. Finally, when we were in the checkout, the cashier asked if we were from Canada or America. When we told him Canada, Derek asked "How can you tell?" and then said, "You aren't going to tell me I have an accent are you?" To which the guy simply shrugged and smiled. We are loving it here so far as the weather is 25 to 30 degrees celcius (unlike the unseasonably cold Syndey at around 15 degrees). We're off to the beach tomorrow!!!

Sydney, Australia

This morning began our first full day in Australia, as we got in later last night. We started the day checking our bags at the domestic airport, and then went to figure out the trains. The 'train' is what they call their subway system. It is far cleaner than the Subway in New York, and waaay more expensive. It cost us $46.00 AUD (about $40 CDN) for us to ride down to the Sydney Harbour and back!! Having said that, their public transit system really does rock. There are buses, ferries, monorails and trains to get you anywhere in the city.

So we got to the Harbour and the first thing we saw was the famous Harbour Bridge. We walked down along the edge of the water and saw the famous Sydney Opera House which, was actually the first thing we saw as we flew into Sydney yesterday. It is really incredible up close. The paid for a tour of the inside of the Opera House. It was really neat to see the stages (there are 3 smaller ones and the large main auditorium) and the roof lines and architecture are absolutely amazing.

The main auditorium is completed made of wood. The ceiling and chairs are made of white birch and the walls and floors are lined with another type of wood that result in perfect acoustics. The stage was dressed with thousands of REAL flowers as the London Philharmonic is currently playing there. The rings hanging from the ceiling are for acoustics as well. they allow the sound to bouce back down to the orchestra as they are playing so that they hear the full sound. I can't really explain what a cool place it is. We got to touch the roof which is made us of hundreds of thousands of special, self-cleaning white and cream colored ceramic tiles. Even the bathroom was super cool. During the tour there were some technical malfunctions so the tour guide allowed us to take pictures inside the main auditorium (even though you're not allowed to due to some sort of copyright laws). It was a truly incredible experience to visit the Harbour in Sydney.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hello from the New Zealand-updated

I'm currently standing and blogging in the Auckland Airport in New Zealand. It is about 10:00 am Tuesday morning, but only 4pm Monday. I missed an entire day of my life, which is sort of strange. The view as we flew in today was so beautiful. Green rolling hills and lots of cows. We're only here for a few hours,but I have a feeling we are going to want to come back for a longer visit. We've already heard our first G'day mate! Well, I'm off to see which way the toilet flushes!

-update: the toilets flush straight down here. I have to admit I'm a little disappointed, but still thrilled to be on the other side of the world and ready for other (more civilized) adventures!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hello Los Angeles!

Wow! Was today ever a whirlwind tour of LA! We started out with Sunset Blvd, and In and Out Burger. Wow, this burger reminded me of a yummy Buddy burger from near home. We ordered a two double cheeseburgers (one ordered animal style with a different sauce and fried onions) They were awesome burgers and the place was hopping! The fries are also worth mentioning. Fries can be filler sometimes but these were so yummy! We watched as one of the employees cut the potatoes and dumped the freshly cut fries into the oil. It doesn't get much fresher than that!

Next we went down Rodeo Drive. Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana, Cartier...and the high end names continue, each one sporting a uniformed security guard at the door. Needless, to say we didn't do any shopping there. We followed Rodeo over a few streets to Canyon, where we drove up the hill to a hiking trail (with watch for Rattlesnake signs) and hiked up to get some great shots of the Hollywood sign and an aerial view of LA (and smog). Next was Hollywood Boulevard, including Grauman's Chinese Theatre, complete with famous hand and footprints, the Kodak Theatre (home of the Oscars) and all the stars. I had no idea how long the stars went on. It's block after block of famous names in movies, tv and music. There are also a large number of people dressed as characters ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Spiderman to Barney. I had some really yummy peppermint and chocolate ice cream at the Disney Store on Hollywood Blvd, as we walked down the street.

We went over to The Grove, a really hip shopping area. There was a green space in the centre with children playing in hundreds of bubbles, and a live band playing. We went into Crate and Barrel (yay!) and Anthropologie (double yay!).

Lastly, we decided to check out The Lobster, a seafood restaurant in Santa Monica, right at the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier. Did you know that the Santa Monica Pier was constructed in 1909, making it 100 years old and is considered the end of Route 66? I thought that was pretty cool. We took a walk to the end of the pier and took in the ocean just after sunset. We had our yummy lobster dinner (unfortunately, we didn't feel that it was worth it for the money, as we have been spoiled forever by Canadian Maritime Lobster) and are now hanging out in our hotel by LAX. Tomorrow we have more seeing and eating to do so stay tuned. Tomorrow we are planning to go to Venice Beach, Pinks Hotdogs and Sprinkles Cupcakes! It may take a few days to get it posted though, as we have almost 20 hours of travelling first.

p.s. My rash is clearing up

Trying to Get Away...

I woke up this morning to find that the small body rash that I had on Friday (I guess I'm allergic to sulfa drugs) had grown, brightened and was now covering all of my body, including my face and making my lips swell. I was concerned, so I decided to try to get into see a doctor at the Urgent Care Centre. We had to leave by 12:30 at the latest in order to make it to Minneapolis on time for our flight to LA. I received a prescription for prednisone, and went to the pharmacy that I thought would be fastest. I was stressed to hear that the wait was half an hour. This was at 11:30. I ran over the Wendy's to get some food as I texted Derek, who was packing my stuff and the car. I got the prescription and, as I was waiting to turn at an intersection, a gentleman backed into the truck! All I could think of was, "I hope there's no damage so I can get out of here". Thankfully I was out of there in less than 2 minutes. I made it home and at 12:15 we left home! We made it to our flight with time to spare and flew to LA. When we went to pick up our car, we decided to upgrade to a midsized car. The guy at Hertz was so nice that he upgraded us to a convertible! So, we got to cruise through LA in a nice, sleek, black Mustang convertible! We are tired, nut glad to be here for a few days.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Absent Blogger

This blog post gets it's title for 2 reasons. One, I have been very absent lately on posting, for which I apologize. Inventory and being short staffed at work have lead to less time at home (and more sleeping when I am at home).

The second reason for the title is that I will be absent for two weeks...from the country. That's right! Derek and I are taking off for a much anticipated vacation. We leave tomorrow morning, drive to minneapolis and fly to LA tomorrow night. We spend Sunday and Monday in Los Angeles taking in the fabulousness that is LA and then fly to Auckland, New Zealand and finally to our destination...Sydney, Australia. We will spend 7 days in Cairns, taking in the beach, Great Barrier Reef (we're hoping to do some surfing and scuba diving) and then 4 days in Sydney, enjoying the sights. I'm hoping to post along the way as I am taking my trusty camera and Derek's laptop, so I can show you what we're up to!

I'm just finishing off some last minute packing right now. How do you pack for 8 flights, 4 countries and 16 days away from home?!? I've come to the conclusion that as long as we make it away with our flight information, passports, glasses and contacts, and my camera, we can beg, borrow, buy or steal anything else we may need along with way. Cross your fingers for no lost luggage (and no business issues while we're gone) and I hope to update you in a few days!