April, 2010

Newcastle & Surprise Birthday Party

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Three nights ago, my friends threw me a surprise 22nd birthday party. After one of my housemates and I went up to Newcastle for a weekend getaway from the Sydney, we returned on the evening of the 25th of April. I was really tired since we camped out and it was extremely cold and rainy, and since it was another spontaneous road-trip decision, we were under-prepared. Therefore, not much sleep. So, I just wanted to go to bed since my actual birthday was tomorrow anyway, and I could plan a night out then. However, my Uni friend Luke insisted that I come over for homemade pizza at his apartment situated in the Sydney University Village. I told him I was too tired, but my housemate and Luke (separately) were insisting that I go. Deciding that a nice dinner was too good to give up, and also feeling a bit guilty if Luke went through the preparations, I said okay.

Strangely, my housemates were all gathered in the living room. I asked where they were going, and each of the 3 different couples said they were going out to 3 different restaurants for dinner. Since I was so tired, I thought nothing of it. I hopped in the shower quickly to get ready, and by the time I was done, they had all left the house. No big deal.

Surprise Birthday Party

Surprise Birthday Party

Upon arriving at Luke’s apartment complex, we walk past his apartment and he points and says “That’s where I live, but we won’t be going there. We have to go to the main lounge area where they have the ovens.” I thought that was a bit strange, but it IS true that none of the apartments have ovens because of safety. But they do have stovetops. When I walk in, all of my housemates who had left had sparklers ready and some of my other friends were there too! So exciting! Apparently, my housemate had to plan via SMS with Luke while we were gone over the weekend, but it all came together in the end.

A simple evening with some snacks, music, and drinks, of course. Other random U-Villagers showed up right before midnight and the whole group sang Happy Birthday at midnight. What a fun night. Unfortunately, we were having a blast that we didn’t leave the complex until 2 AM, when a lot of bars/clubs have lockout periods, and you cannot get in. But, by this point, I was exhausted. Regardless, spending time with my international housemates and Sydney friends was just as special as spending it with my best friends back in Seattle.

Rewind to three days before the party (sorry for the reverse chronological order), and one of my housemates from Germany and I decided to road-trip the short distance to a city called Newcastle. I must say, and it might offend some Australians, that it should be called Old-castle, or Dead-castle. Everything closed at 3PM on Saturday for no apparent reason, maybe just closing early all the time? Yes, there are a ton of beaches within 5 kms of the city centre, but the roads/alleys/beaches even were all empty. It was like one of those country films where tumbleweed blows across the frame. The one department store that I went into (equivalent of a Nordstrom) had no customer service reps in sight, and it was so empty, quiet, and honestly – DEPRESSING. Maybe we just went on a bad day. The city center itself has a lot of empty, run-down buildings. But the beaches along the way from Sydney to Newcastle were AMAZING. My favorite would be the Norah Lighthouse, where the beach was warm from the sun, and the lighthouse guided the boats along the coast as they headed towards Newcastle. There were tons of amazing shells, and I could sit for hours

Camping out in the bed of a truck

Camping out in the bed of a truck

collecting funky ones for art projects. My housemate borrowed a truck from work, and the tent fit in the bed of the truck, so it wouldn’t be too cold or wet in the morning! Perfect dimensions. The coast never gets old – even beach after beach, I am not tired of soaking in the warm sun, the bluest water, the smell of salt water, and the crashing of waves. We started noticing that flip-flops and shoes were randomly left on every beach that we visited – so, we might start a photo collection of “Lost Treasures Found on Beaches.” It was cool to go hunting to see if we could find shoes, or a necklace, or other random possessions.

But, I can say that if you are short on traveling time, you wouldn’t be disappointed if you skipped Newcastle.  Sorry Newcastle, maybe next time.

Cheers!

Lost Treasure 1 - Abandoned Flipflops

Lost Treasure 1 - Abandoned Flipflops

Collecting Sand at Norah Lighthouse

Collecting Sand at Norah Lighthouse

Lost Treasure 2 - Abandoned Shoes

Lost Treasure 2 - Abandoned Shoes

2300 km. 3 friends. Sydney. Melbourne. And in between.

Monday, April 12th, 2010

What do a lot of international backpackers do here in Australia, from what I seen in the ‘backpacker’ district on Victoria Street? They either rent huge camper vans or cars, or they buy their own. Then they road trip! It can be north, along the beautiful Australian coast, passing the peaceful and quaint Byron Bay, zooming through Bisbane (aka “Brisvegas”), seeing places such as the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, and Surfer’s Paradise. Or South along the bluest coast. Or west through the Australian outback, where miles and miles of desert stretch endlessly. So what better way to spend my Easter break (yes, Australians get a week off following Easter Sunday)? ROAD TRIPPING IT MYSELF. But let me bring to light how the whole idea came along.

It is the second week of classes. My Junior German (German 101, essentially) class was having an informal get-together at the Broadway Café/Lounge one evening, where, by the way, students can get a really nice burger with fries/wedges/or vegetables for $5! Great deal! My Australian friend in the class, Amelia, was the only other first-year to go to the event. So, we sat down at the table with less than eight people and all three of the German tutors (tutors being the equivalent of a T.A. back at UW). Then, over 2 jugs of freshly made Sangria, we all started discussing travelling plans for the break. I told Amelia and Maggie (one of my German tutors) that I wanted to visit my Grandma in Melbourne. Then, Maggie mentioned she was going to book her busses to go to Melbourne during that same week! Magically, Amelia said “Well, my parents have a huge SUV that we can borrow. Let me call them. Melbourne would be fun!” She calls, and two minutes later, it was decided that all three of us would do a Sydney-Melbourne road trip. I love spontaneity in this sense. Just having met Amelia and Maggie two weeks ago, we would soon find out that our chemistry made for such a great trio! And that’s how the Easter adventure starts. Over the next week, we planned our 8-day drive from Sydney to Melbourne, hugging the south coast.

The trio tries to jump on the beach at sunset

The trio tries to jump on the beach at sunset

On the Thursday before Easter, we headed off, SUV fully packed. Maggie brought her friend (Alex) from Germany who was on an internship with AUDI here in Sydney. She was doing marketing for them, with a combination in event planning. Her job seemed really interesting and fun. Anyway, Alex joined us three down along the drive to Nowra, where Amelia’s close family friend owns a farm. She had a guest room for Maggie and Alex, and we each had a bed. What a luxury! Then, in the morning, we woke up to the sounds of the birds and the sunshine. It was so peaceful and quiet compared to the construction normally outside my window in Sydney. After grabbing a fresh breakfast with home-grown bananas, yogurt, muesli (aka granola), we were on our way to Bermagui, another rural town which is where Amelia’s grandparents own a farm.

Since we would arrive on the farm in the evening, we thought it would be a good idea to buy a bottle of wine for the dinner that was going to be prepared for us. However, it was Good Friday, and ALL stores are closed on Good Friday. Along the drive, we saw that a hotel/bar had their front doors open with a sign that said “Bottle Shop” on top of the roof. So, we slammed the brakes and went inside. At the bar, we asked if we could buy a bottle of white wine. Apparently, liquor is not allowed to be traded for take-away on two days in Australia: Christmas Day, and…. naturally, Good Friday. Amelia did not know that, and we were all skeptical. But, he seemed really serious. So, with sad faces, we turned around and headed out the door when, we heard “But….” Turning around, he then whispered “Put your money on the table, it’ll be eight dollars, and meet me around the back. Hurry, and don’t let ANYBODY see you.” It was as if we were smuggling something illegal out the back of this little shabby hotel bar, and when he handled the bottle (in a brown bag, even) to Amelia, he said “Quick, RUN to your car and HIDE it.” We were probably the only 4 people in New South Wales that were able to buy wine on Good Friday! Very exciting.

Waking up an hour too early on Easter Sunday with Amelia's family

Waking up an hour too early on Easter Sunday with Amelia's family

So, for Easter weekend, we spent a peaceful weekend out in the Australian country. Very green, much like Seattle. Also, the primary source of water for the whole house is RAINWATER! Surprisingly, it tastes better than “normal” tap water and it is really refreshing. Glenda’s horses were actually being kept there, and we got to play with the sheep as well. Amelia’s mother, brother, and father were down at the farm for Easter weekend as well, and it was nice meeting her parents. Amelia’s grandfather makes his own gin and keeps it in the basement, so we all had G and T’s over home-cooked meals. On Easter Sunday, Alex had to wake up early to catch a bus back to Sydney since she had to work on Tuesday. So, we all got up at 5 AM since we were going to leave at 6 AM to head to the bus station. Half-awake, we turn on the television as hot cross buns (traditional food during the Easter weekend) are being re-heated in the oven. We notice the TV news channel said 4:30 AM. WHAT? All four of us forgot to turn our clocks back for Daylight Savings, and I am just used to my USA mobile doing it automatically! Oh well, we got up super early on Easter Sunday, where piles of chocolate eggs and bunnies were in nice little piles for each of us to take. Amelia’s family was so hospitable and kind-hearted.

After dropping Alex off at the bus, we continued to head south along the coast. Maggie was slightly upset that she had not spotted a wild kangaroo, but (more…)

Biggest differences from home in the States to Germany…

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

While talking to friends and family while abroad in Germany, the most common question I am asked is ‘what are the biggest differences from home in the States to Germany?’ My answer is that the biggest, and most blatantly obvious, difference is the language. Further, that the German language did seem to be somewhat overwhelming at first to try and pick up because of its vast distinction from English, and its seemingly robust sound to my English-speaking ears.

Following language differences, I always respond that there are also general ‘European distinctions’ in Germany for the everyday way of life. For example, in my experiences traveling to Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and England, I have found some very consistent ‘European culture’ similarities. Some of these similarities include the pace of life being slower with the grocery stores and retail shops having shorter hours and strictly being closed on Sundays and holidays, and the requirement to request the check while dining at a restaurant rather than having it pushed on you while you are still eating.

Another ‘European distinction’ I came across while living in Germany was the maturity of the public transportation systems in place. In nearly all of the major cities I have visited in Germany and in other European nations, there is always exceptional public transportation! Most of the cities I have visited have an underground subway system, street-level tram system, and buses. This makes it very easy to travel throughout the city, for a very marginal cost.

The final big ‘European distinction’ I encountered during my time abroad… was that Germans, or Europeans in general by in large, are able to party for very long amounts of time!! For example a typical evening out would be to start the night by gathering together for some pre-party activities around 8:00pm, head to the party/event around 10:30pm, go to a club or bar for an after-party-party around 1:30am, and then end the night with grabbing some Döner Kebab around 5:00am. This party itinerary certainly took some getting used to, but it sure was a lot of fun! J