Category: Australia


My regular readers (and anyone else who stumbles upon my blog) will have to excuse my hiatus and this fairly jumbled blog post that will be my first in what feels like ages. I’ve been doing a lot of contemplating lately (admittedly mostly about food) and have been feeling fairly frustrated so am going to use this particular post to just sort my mind out before moving on to Ukraine posts. Some of the stuff I’ll ramble on about has to do with me apparently being a lunatic. See the below definition.

lu·na·tic

[loo-nuh-tik] Show IPA

noun

1.

an insane person.
2.

a person whose actions and manner are marked by extreme eccentricity or recklessness.
3.

Law . a person legally declared to be of unsound mind and who therefore is not held capable or responsible before the law.
Admittedly, most of my friends (actually most people who know me) would definitely say I fall under the first definition. Most every random I meet where I’ve been looks at me like a lunatic and treats me like I fall under the 2nd category (especially when I order vodka tonics) and almost all of the American’s I’ve met definitely think I fall under the 2nd category I personally think I should fall under the 3rd definition for if and when I am detained by police for street poling in front of government buildings. Hence, lunatic in the title.

Street poling in Moldova

Announcements

1. Happy Birthday to my amazing and beautiful Mum! She is the most wonderful woman I know and I would not have grown into the person I am today without her love, guidance, acceptance of my lunacy, support and teachings. While she fairly frequently doesn’t agree with many of my ideas and decisions, she has always loved and supported and encouraged me 100% through it all. I love you, Mummy!

Mum, Dad and I at graduation.
They flew all the way to Australia!

2. Happy Belated Birthday to my wonderful brother, Tanner! He has FINALLY turned 21 and can now legally drink in the USA! If you see him out, buy him a congratulations drink for making it to 21 without us killing each other. I’m so proud of you little bro!

My awesome, crazy brother!

3. My awesome pole dance instructer is engaged! Congratulations, Jacinta! Wishing you and James all the best! For those of you interested in pole dancing who live in Sydney you should check out Studio Exclusive! That’s where I started and the staff and students there are all supportive and friendly and wonderful people. You are guaranteed to get into better shape, love going to ‘work out’, and make heaps of friends.

4. My extremely talented best friend and her equally as talented mother have started their own craft business. I own A LOT of these crafts that they make and they are really seriously awesome and beautiful and I love every gift I get from them. If you are in the market for beautiful and unique crafts (excellent for gifts or just for having around your own house or wearing as jewelry) check them out! Their facebook page is La’Ma Ree Creations.

Travelers vs Tourists and the American Dream

I’m currently in Montenegro (yes, I am very behind on posts) and I am being a tourist. I don’t like it one bit, part of it is not being able to think of a polite way to say no, part of it is my current travel companions and what they want to do as tourists, not travellers and part of it is that I am on the coast during peak season when the only people here are tourists.

Being here has given me lots of time to think about the traveler vs tourist debate and talking to various friends and family has also given me time to think about that debate as well.

Generally I very staunchly fit into the traveler category. I don’t like the tourist category. I’m not a fan of it, I don’t enjoy it and it’s not for me. I’m not saying it’s wrong or a bad way to travel (pending on the type of tourist you are. Obviously drunken idiots who do nothing but destroy things and insult local culture are frowned upon no matter who you are) but I’m going absolutely insane.

I meet so many people who are in awe of me traveling for a year. They just can’t imagine it. I worked hard, I saved my money, I can afford to travel for a year. It’s really not that expensive. I don’t stay at all inclusive resorts (you may as well stay home), I don’t stay in expensive places (hostels and couchsurfing.org are excellent for meeting and making new friends) and are generally very comfortable and safe places to stay. The world is not a big and scary place. People are the same everywhere you go for the most part. The only thing that really differs is the culture.

I digress. So I was talking to a very good friend of mine the other day who said “I wish I could do that.” Now, I love said friend, but when someone says “I wish I could do that” or “I would love to do that” they never will. One of my favourite posts on this topic is by an excellent travel blogger, Nomadic Matt. It has to be something you really want to do. If you want it bad enough, nothing will stop you. Yes, she would love to travel and visit new places, but she never will for various reasons. That being said, there is nothing wrong with visiting a place for a couple of weeks at a time! You can still be a traveler without traveling long term!

Then there are the people who will always be tourists. My dear, darling boyfriend is one of them. I love him to bits, but the question “Is your boyfriend actually okay with you traveling for a year without him” is getting really freaking old. It’s not his decision. He has no say in it. As a matter of fact, he unfortunately does not believe in me as much as my wonderful mother does. He doesn’t think I’ll make it more than 7 months. I think he thinks I’ll run out of money, though my current budgeting strategy (and a nice little tax return) has actually put me AHEAD of where I thought I would be before I have access to my term deposit despite having my wallet and a fair amount of money stolen.

I digress again. Apologies. So I was speakng with Ivo the other day and he has a very good job that he enjoys that provides him with a very good paycheque every month. Considering I no longer am a drain on his resources and he lives with his parents he has a fair amount of disposable income. I was speaking to him on a beautiful summer day from my private balcony in Montenegro with a view of oceans and mountains and I made a comment about how life is amazing and he should totally be jealous right now. I won’t give all the gory little details of the conversation but his basic response was that he would rather be at home making money and only travel a couple of weeks per year than take a year off to experience the world.

Point is, Ivo likes to be a tourist. Stay in nice, expensive apartments or hotels (he loathes hostels and I really have no idea why because he is such a heavy sleeper), eat at nice, expensive touristy restaurants, visit all the tourist sites (nothing wrong with that, I enjoy it as well). Basically, he likes nice things. I can understand this as I have a shoe addiction. I own 12 pairs of sneakers. I don’t reamember the last time I spent less than $120 on a pair of shoes. Nothing wrong with liking nice things. But in the end, Ivo is a tourist and not a traveler. This is why we don’t travel together long term. We just don’t travel the same. If I travelled Ivo style I wouldn’t make it 3 months. As I said, there is nothing wrong with traveling this way, but it’s just not for me. Incidentally, this conversation got me to thinking about the American Dream and living to work rather than working to live. One of my favourite posts on this topic is by Steph at Twenty-Something Travel.

I will admit that I miss working. I miss the feeling of being productive at the end of the day. I miss being able to sit and eat lunch and chat about everything with my amazing mentor and boss who very graciously gave me my first law job when no one else would because of my international student status, supported and encouraged me in all my travels and endeavours and has never stopped believing in me and what I am capable of. She is truly one of the most amazing women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and being able to learn from.

She taught me that while work is great you have to take some time off to learn. You can’t just learn from work. There is so much out in the world that you will never learn it all, but you can sure try. Everytime she comes back on holiday we spend hours looking at her photos as she tells me about every one. The history of a place, the history of the people. We look at google maps and we CIA factbook the countries to learn more about them together. She is truly an inspiring woman. So if the American dream is your dream and you’d rather be a tourist than a traveler, kudo’s to you. It’s not for me, but if it gets you out there seeing the world then I support that.

Identity Crisis

I have no doubt that this will offend many of my American fellows. I’m not here to make you happy though, I’m here to record my travels, observations and thoughts. Not everyone will like them, but such is life.

I don’t really have an identity crisis. The world has an identity crisis with me. Many of you know that I aspire to Australia Citizenship. I have since I was 11 and my entire life has been with that goal in mind. I’m so close to that goal but am not quite there yet. I personally identify as Australian. I identify with the Australian culture, my home and most of my friends are in Australia or are Australian, I love Australia and the people and moving to Australia was the best decision I could have ever made for myself. I made sacrifices to be there. I gave up being able to see my family during holiday (though unless I’m very busy I get to speak to them almost daily so it’s not so bad), I gave up being able to see my 3 best friends in America (difficult to see 2 of them even when I am in the US because they don’t live near Montana), I gave up being with a person I love who meant everything and more to me.

What I learned/earned/received in return was worth it though. I’m not saying it’s easy being away from them so much and there are times when I wish I was closer because I want to be with them, but home is where the heart is and my heart is in Sydney. Australia has been good to me. Where many American’s reject me for my views, Australians embrace me for being critical and not accepting the status quo and wanting the world to be better. They embrace my love of travel and constant need to learn more about the world around me.

All well and good right? One would think, but no. I have had queries from people about my accent “but you don’t have an Australian accent?” so I have to explain that I am actually from the US but I immigrated to Australia 5 1/2 years ago. I also have an American passport so am traveling on that (great for Moldova and Ukraine who require Australians to have visa’s).

All this inevitably leads to questions about American politics and what American’s think of the government and the current joke that is the election campain of Mitt Romney. Thankfully, most people know that there is a difference between the government and the people. They don’t think Americans are all a bunch of evil bastards out to destroy the world. They think the American government (no matter which party is in office) is an evil bastard out to destroy the world.

Despite knowing this difference, they are not under any illusion about Americans. Everywhere I go people are generally surprised, if not downright shocked, that I am travelling behind the former Iron Curtain and that I know so much about the countries I travel to and actually go to the effort to know about these countries that frankly, most people have never even heard of. The fact of the matter is that 15% of American’s hold passports. Most of them never read foreign news (or domestic news for that matter), they get their news from one source. If you watch Fox, chances are you don’t watch CNN and vice versa.
Americans are predominantly clueless. Americans are known for their blind patriotism and most of the American population does nothing to quash this idea. Nowhere I have been (including Belarus) has even come close to the blind patriotism that Americans have. It’s the sad truth, but someone has to say it. I’m still hoping one day that this will change. Seeing how hard American’s are willing to fight for the things that really matter, I don’t doubt that this is an attitude that can change. I find it quite sad that there is this perception about American’s and I hope that with time Americans will be able to change this view of themselves.

So if you made it this far I congratulate you and you now deserve a delicious drink so you should go get one. I just want to leave you with this quote that was on a random page I like on facebook. No idea who made it up, but I liked it.

In the end we only regret chances we didnt take.The relationships we were scared to have and the decisions we waited too long to make. There comes a time in your life when you realise who matters, who doesnt, who never did and who always will.

What I’m reading right now: Dracula by Bram Stoker

What I’m listening to right now: Dreams album by Neil Diamond

Advertisements

Something to tide you all over until I get my Belarus blogs posted in the very near future (I promise). It will be interesting to see the differences between this post now and in a years time.

A: Age you went on your first international trip: I first travelled to Australia when I was 16 for a soccer (football) tournament. I fell in love with Sydney and never looked back.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: Hmmmmm, this is a tough one. I’m a big fan of microbrews and have had some of the most excellent beers from microbreweries in Australia and the US (specifically the Rocky Mountains). That being said, I haven’t travelled to Germany yet.

C: Cuisine (favorite): As much as I love the variety of cuisine the world has to offer and it’s all wonderful in its own way, I’d have to say my favourite is Cajun/Creole food down in New Orleans. Also, my mum’s fried chicken. But I only get that when I’m not travelling.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: My ultimate favourite is Australia, specifically the Sydney Opera House, but as I live there I don’t think it counts. So other than Australia my favourite so far is Turkey. No real specific place in Turkey, I’ve loved it all so far (only travelled western and central Turkey). They have such a beautiful culture, wonderful people, amazing food and there is soooooo much history. You could live your entire life there and you’d never see it all.

My least favourite? Los Angeles, California. It’s a wretched, polluted, dangerous city (I’m half shocked it’s in a first world country) which has very little to offer society whatsoever. It could fall off into the ocean and I’d probably throw a party.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: Again, I’d have to say watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks from just in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but I’m a Sydney-sider so I suppose it doesn’t count. I have a lot of things that have made me say “wow”, but not so much events I suppose.

F: Favorite mode of transportation: Trains hands down. I can lay down and sleep on them, I don’t get sick on them and I don’t have to worry about checking and picking up my luggage. Plus it’s a great way to see the countryside.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling: Sitting outside a little street-side café or restaurant, people watching, drinking in the environment and culture and thinking about all that I’ve managed to accomplish so far and what I am going to accomplish in the future.

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to: Any desert area in the American Southwest. We stopped in Phoenix when I was travelling with a friend back in 2001 and it was a whopping 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celcius). You’re sandals would literally start to melt as you walked across asphalt.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: Usually any decent restaurant in the US will give you great service. In Kamyanyuki Hotel at Belevezhskaya Pushcha National Park in Belarus the staff went out of their way to help me out, knowing that I didn’t speak Russian (and they didn’t speak English). Rather than shrug and attempt to use sign language when I needed something they would call up a member of staff who spoke some English to translate (even at 11pm) and they also got an English translator to come in one day to show me around and help me out (free of charge).

J: Journey that took the longest: Anytime I fly to or from Australia. It’s guaranteed to take at least 24 hours in transit.

K: Keepsake from your travels: I like to collect flag patches, postcards and shot glasses from every country I visit. Unfortunately, I do visit dry countries, so the shot glasses aren’t always possible.

L: Let-down sight, why and where: I just left Odessa, Ukraine and one of the points of interest that they like to push is the allegedly famous Potemkin Steps, well known from what is apparently one of the most influential films of all time (I’ve never heard of it) Battleship Potemkin. It’s just a big set of stairs. I’ve seen cooler stairs.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: Before I can remember. I’ve always wanted to travel. I blame my dad’s enormous collection of National Geographic magazines that I’ve been reading since I could read.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: Oh, I dunno. I stay in a lot of nice hotels, but they tend to just be the chain ones. The Hilton, Shangri-La, Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, Mantra up at the Gold Coast. I’m not terribly picky about my hotels so I don’t go out of my way to stay in nice ones usually.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Shoe figurines, models, and shoe art. I also have a thing for taking pictures of staircases. I really don’t know where that came from either as I hate going up and down them.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where: I have about a million and one stamps from passing in and out of Australia a dozen or so times in the past 6 years. I also have stamps from the UAE, Turkey, EU (into Germany, out of Lithuania, back into Lithuania, out of Poland), Belarus, Ukraine, US and New Zealand. Oddly enough, I’m currently in Moldova and they didn’t stamp my passport. Not sure if I should be concerned about that.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: Any of the “Australia’s Largest” stuff. The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the world’s largest rocking horse down near Adelaide, the worlds largest Prawn somewhere on the New England highway going up to Nimbin…you get the idea.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience: Event/Experience- New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney, Australia, the Sydney Opera House (after seeing the horrendous structures that are opera houses in a lot of Eastern Europe, I really miss the splendour that is the SOH). Sight- As morbid and depressing as they are, WWII museums. They are touching, humbling and horrifying all at the same time and it’s important to be reminded about history and what can happen so that we don’t repeat.

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: Amazing food. Luckily, most of the world’s best food is super cheap so I don’t have to worry about it though.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: I was at a conference in Dubai and one night we did a four wheel drive ride through the desert sand dunes and had a dinner/dance party at a model Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert. Also being forced to stop the car, double back and take photos of a bunch of kangaroo’s when my mum was visiting Australia the first time.

U: Unforgettable travel memory: Sitting at the water’s edge in Assos, Turkey at the resort we were staying at with the sun setting, having a drink and watching the lights come on in the villages on the Greek island across the water.

V: Visas, how many and for where? 3- Australia (student and travellers visa), Turkey and Belarus

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where? Hunter Valley Lake’s Folly and Pepper Tree Estate wines are the best I’ve had by far. Moldova also has surprisingly amazing wines. It’s about the only thing the country produces.

X: eXcellent view and from where?: Anywhere along the Turkish coastline. Also, any hotel with a water’s view balcony in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. The desolation of the deserted coastline along the Curonian Spit, Lithuania on a chilly, rainy day in June was also a beautiful view for my personal preferences.

Y: Years spent traveling?:  We’ve been travelling around the US since I was a very young kid, but I’ve been travelling internationally off and on for 8 years now.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?:  Australians and Brits are sports mad about every sport and can turn into quite the hooligans after a match. From personal experience though, the entire world is crazy mad about football (soccer) and you can relate to and make friends with anyone in the world by bringing up the topic.

I Didn’t Climb Uluru!

Mum and Dad arrived on Easter Sunday to spend 2 weeks with me here in Australia for my graduation before I head off on my gap year. We spent a pretty cruisy first couple of days visiting my partner’s family, a museum in Sydney, a good friend of ours and Featherdale Wildlife Park where we saw all sorts of Australian animals and even got to pet a wallaby and a kangaroo. The really awesome activity came on Wednesday though. We only found out about a month ago that my Dad would be able to come visit with my Mum so I cancelled our trip to Port Stephens (couldn’t get an extra hotel room) and booked 3 seats to Uluru. Uluru has been a place both my Dad and I have always wanted to visit so I was waiting for him to come to Australia before going myself.

Ivo spilled the beans about Uluru to my Mum (it was supposed to be a surprise for her too) but we all somehow managed to keep it a secret from Dad (only because he’s basically deaf though). Seriously, he didn’t know where we were going until we got to the terminal at the airport about 10 minutes before boarding thanks to extremely lax security in Australian airports. Needless to say it was a very nice surprise for him.

We spent the first half day we had at Ayer’s Rock Resort just chillin’ for the most part. Checked in, checked out the resort, did some grocery shopping, watched an Anangu (the local Aboriginal tribe) dance and music demonstration, went to dinner, etc. Nothing terribly exciting. Our first full day at Uluru we decided to take a shuttle to Uluru and walk the base. A couple things to note before even taking off for this excessively large monolith:

  1. While you are allowed to climb Uluru weather permitting it is EXTREMELY disrespectful to the local culture and religion to climb it. Before white people arrived it was only an activity done by men for religious and initiation purposes. It is an inappropriate thing to do and should not be done no matter how you feel about the local religion. How would you feel if someone came into your church or mosque or temple or general place of worship (or your house for that matter) and started climbing all over the alter or other places of significance or started jumping on your beds and furniture with their dirty shoes on? While I would love to rise to the challenge of climbing Uluru it is disrespectful to the Anangu peoples, it increases erosion on that part of the rock and defecations from people reaching the top (where there is no toilet) is a contributing factor to higher levels of bacterium in the water surrounding the rock which does affect the environment. Basically, DON’T CLIMB THE ROCK!
  2. There seems to be a problem with information in this place. Online and at the resort all the tours are extremely vague and it’s difficult to find specific information on anything. The tours are expensive and I wouldn’t really recommend them unless you enjoy large and slow moving tour groups with lots of cameras or spending a short amount of time at each place. If you are traveling with someone I recommend hiring a car. Book well in advance to get a cheap car. There is a shuttle that goes to Uluru and Kata Tjuta several times a day, but it is extremely expensive. If you are traveling alone the Shuttle Express is the way to go.
  3. Bring a hat, sunscreen, a large water bottle or two and a backpack.
  4. Australian domestic airlines allow you to bring as much liquid as you want on board. Bring enough alcohol to last your stay because it’s expensive and there is limited selection.
  5. Don’t take pictures of the locals. Apparently the Anangu tribe is rather averse to having their picture taken. If you are hell bent on getting a photo, make sure you ask first.

Okay, now we have that out of the way, let’s start with Uluru. Nothing can do this giant hunk of stone justice. At about 350 metres high and nearly 10 km around the base, this thing is gimasinormous (giant, massive and enormous). All the pictures in the world and all the descriptions in the world cannot in anyway prepare you for it. I grew up in the Rockies and I was awestruck by it. The base walk is quite pleasant, with signs regularly posted telling you about the significance of an area, local flora and fauna. Expect to spend about 4 hours walking so pack comfortable walking shoes, plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen. I think it would be pretty awesome if there were some kind of podcast or guidebook explaining things about the culture and the history and stories of certain parts of the rocks, but they don’t have that and there are parts of the rock that are of the utmost importance in their religion so photography isn’t allowed and they aren’t allowed to tell anyone except the uninitiated the stories. I find this greatly irritating, but that’s religion for you. Anyway, there really is no way to describe Uluru in such a way to impress upon you the size and significance of this place and all I can say is it is definitely on my list of top 10 rock formations. If you make it to Australia (or live in Australia) I can only recommend this place for a holiday. It is definitely a place you must see before you die.

Kata Tjuta

If Uluru is the centre and heart of Australia then I don’t even know how to describe Kata Tjuta. Kata Tjuta is another rock formation about 50 km away from Uluru and, in my opinion, even more impressive than Uluru. Uluru was made famous for its semi-symmetrical middle of nowhere jutting out of the landscape. Everyone knows Uluru. Most tourists, myself included, know jack all about the Kata Tjuta rock formation. This is another sacred rock formation to the Anangu people and they do ask that you don’t climb on the domes. There is a great 7.4 km hike called the Valley of the Winds hike and I cannot recommend it enough. If you only had one full day at Ayer’s Rock Resort I would say do one of the short hikes or just go to view Uluru during a sunset or sunrise and spend your day hiking at Kata Tjuta. Once again, no picture or description could ever do this place justice.

The first part of the hike from the carpark has a bit of greenery, but no more than you would see at Uluru, and all you can see to the right are these massive dome shaped rocks, which I think may actually be higher than Uluru. You get to a part of the trail where you could be in Southwestern USA there is that much red dirt and rocks. Unfortunately, if the weather gets to 36 degrees Celsius they shut the rest of the trail after 11am. We continued on to the second lookout and after a fair amount of hiking up and down (this is not a hike for disabled or injured persons) we came around one of the first corners of one of the larger domes and it was like stepping into an oasis. We went from barren dessert like conditions to beautiful little streams, rocky hills and trees everywhere. It was an extremely serene and beautiful area and I would not have minded an opportunity to stay longer. Unfortunately we only had 3 hours in total to do the hike.

We spent another 20 minutes walking uphill amongst this gorge forest before coming up a crest and opening our view onto a green valley that could be viewed between the two massive domes we were walking between. In the background we could see numerous smaller domes as well. You’ll have to take a look at the photos, the link which is below, but even seeing those photos you couldn’t possibly understand just how beautiful this landscape is. Kata Tjuta also makes the top 10 list by the way.

Needless to say, I think this surprise holiday was definitely a success. We had an absolutely amazing time, worked off some of the alcohol we drank and food we ate and experienced some of the most amazing rock formations I will probably ever see in my life.

Pictures can be seen here.

What I am reading now: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (don’t watch the movie, it was crap).