Sunday, March 13, 2011

42 Wallaby Way Sydney, Australia

We didn't find Nemo while we were there, but Sydney was certainly an adventure.

Let me set the scene for our arrival into the city. Envision, if you will, a cramped, dark bus with narrow seats, all of which are occupied by people with lots of unnecessary bulky items. Now add in the charming aroma that comes from stale air, body heat, McDonald's, and that distinct "bus" smell that always induces car-sickness. Let's also pretend that you have been twisting around in a stuffy seat on this bus for approximately thirteen hours, trying to sleep in all kinds of imaginative positions that make the sharp upright seat backs more bearable, and hoping to ignore that blazing beacon of a book-light which the person two seats ahead won't turn off. The result: Our group was tired, dirty, and the tiniest bit cranky when we finally pulled up to the hostel to drop off our bags. No rest (which it turns out, was a trend for this trip), just a quick change and freshening up before we were led like listless zombies out onto the streets of Sydney.

Fortunately for us, Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities we had ever seen, and an all day walking tour of it in absolutely gorgeous weather was enough to melt that transportation trauma from our minds. We walked the entire length of the city, moving from the south end by Darling Harbor up to the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was unbelievable to see these two iconic landmarks in person, just strolling by like it was an everyday attraction. We climbed the steps until we were standing just in front of those dancing arcs of the opera house, and if you walked down the other side there was a breathtaking overlook onto the brilliant blue of the Sydney Harbour with the famous bridge stretching across it.

After a brief lunch break we climbed up the first pylon of the bridge, and if the million flights of stairs to the top didn't indicate how high it was, the stunning view certainly did. The harbor curved around underneath, with tiny boats bobbing or cruising across the water. The white peaks of the of the opera house seemed all the more suited to the active blue peaks that crested around it, and with the streaming sunlight and puffy white clouds against the endless sky it was like looking over the railing and straight into a postcard.

We also saw St. Mary's Cathedral, the Botanical Gardens, and the ANZAC Memorial. Eventually, we caught a ferry ride back to Darling Harbour and stopped into Paddy's Market, a thriving mecca of tourist wares and cheap items.

ANZAC Memorial

Botanical Gardens

St. Mary's Cathedral

The day still wasn't over, however. We rushed back to our six bed hostel room and ran quickly through the showers to be ready in time for our cruise through the harbor. The boat didn't dock until around midnight, and we were so beyond tired that we skipped the after party and went home to rest up for the next day. With a 730 wake up call, it was a good thing we got our beauty rest. The day consisted of a bunch of bus trips around the Blue Mountains where, despite some cool and misty weather, we saw breathtaking views of the tree packed mountains against jagged rocks and a few trickling water falls. The paths led past huge twisted roots spiraling down ancient rocks to the look out points that opened onto vast expanses of tree filled valleys and mountain slopes. Then a quick lunch in the city where I drank the best chai tea latte I have ever consumed and another rushed preparation for a big night out: the Mardi Gras Festival.

In Sydney, the Mardi Gras Festival is a gay pride parade and it featured some of the most outrageous and fantastic outfits and floats that I have ever seen. The atmosphere was fun and chaotic, with brilliant colors and more sequins and feather boas than I have ever seen before in my life. Of course, we partook in the festivities with some outfits of our own, our masks and bright colors drew lots of attention and a few photographs as we walked to our spot for the evening.

The next day they took us on a scenic walking tour of the major beaches. We started at Manly Beach, and around the corner was Shelley Beach. Then they took us over to Bronte Beach, and we walked along the stone pathways until we reached Bondi Beach. The views from the overhangs looking onto the rocky coastline were unbelievable. It was hard to board that bus and go home, especially knowing that we would have to do that thirteen hour drive again, this time with sand sticking to our feet.

Manly Beach & Bondi Beach

The trip was amazing, if crammed with non stop activities. I got to know the city pretty well from walking around it and I wouldn't mind another (perhaps more leisurely) adventure to the place where Nemo finally found his way back into the ocean.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Real Update

Contact with home has proved to be much more difficult than I imagined it would be, it's so strange to be almost a full day ahead of everyone. So for those that I haven't had much contact with, here is a brief highlight of some of the activities that have been occupying my last two weeks.

One of the first things that we did with the international orientation was a trip into Melbourne, and we were introduced to the nightmare that is public transport. It takes almost an hour of bus to train to tram to get most places in the city. Thankfully Loyola took pity on us and gave us monthly met cards so that we don't have to work out which passes to buy every time that we go, otherwise we would never make it anywhere. My map reading skills are also rapidly improving, as well as my willingness to ask for help and direction. Getting off at the wrong stop and having to walk forty minutes through suburbs at midnight will do that to you.

The city is so eclectic and vibrant that it is absolutely worth the risks. We still have to take a day to wander through on our own and really explore it ourselves, but we have also been shown some really fun places. One Wednesday night they took us to an outdoor market with an amazing live band, food stalls, and all kinds of fun things on sale. It was a chaotic mess of people dancing, singing, and hanging around the tables and seats under the pavilion.

We also took our own trips down to Brighton Beach, which was definitely worth the trek. Known for their bright houses that line one section of the shoreline, it was an amazing switch from the snow and wind that we left behind on the East coast. The first time we went wasn't that sunny, but the second time was absolutely beautiful. It is rocky and from one vantage point you can see the dusky outline of the city in the distance.

Once the first year student orientation began, we had to do all kinds of fun "dorm building activities." One day we ran through the city on a scavenger hunt, snapping photos
doing all kinds of things such as "run in with the police" and human pyramids. It was interesting to say the least. Their student activities fair put Loyola's to shame, with all kinds of free food and hand outs, not to mention performances and millions of tents ranging from the metals club (whaaa?) to sports clubs, guitar club, and so many more. We all joined MESS (Monash Engineering Science Society) because they told us that they had the most fun events and BBQs. We couldn't resist.

This past Saturday they took us to the Healesville Sanctuary where we got to see all kinds of wildlife. It was so strange to hear that their common country animals are koalas and kangaroos. Seeing all of the animals was definitely worth the bug bites. We even got to see a shy platypus waddle out of the water and straight into the bushes. The Tasmanian Devil was also really cool to see. They took us on a tour and then we sat through a bird show and an aboriginal boomerang show. It was unbelievable that this was as common as any nature camp at home would be for us. We were all as impressed as the little children that were being carried around on their parents shoulders.

Coming up we have a trip into Sydney this weekend with an itinerary packed full of beaches, sight seeing, a mountain trip, and the Mardi Gras celebration in the city. I'm sure I'll get some interesting pictures from that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Is this real life?

"I feel like David After Dentist"

We all laughed at this statement as we gazed wide eyed out the windows of the train. Thank you viral videos for giving the perfect point of reference to describe the surreal feeling of finally being in Melbourne, Australia.
It certainly hasn't felt like real life, just a constant blur of activities and orientation. I'm not sure if it was crossing the date line, the jumping back and forth through time zones, the marathon run of 3 flights and 22 hours on planes, or maybe the 16 hour time change from home, but time no longer seems like a solid concept. "Time" is too vague to explain the stretching and moving of the space that we are cramming full of city ventures, orientation games, information sessions, and social activities. There's so much to see and so much to take in that I might have forgotten that I actually came here for classes if we hadn't finally started them this week. The first week here was international orientation, then after that was "first year" orientation so thankfully we've had some time to adjust first.

The first day of our international orientation was an interesting experience: so this is what it's like to be a foreigner. I was suddenly hyper-aware of my accent, the way I dressed, the things I ate. It made for interesting conversation but the overwhelming homesickness felt like freshman year all over again - only this time I was two days of travel away from home, not forty minutes. Thankfully, the onslaught of events kept us from really getting time to wallow in it. We've gone to Brighton Beach twice already, despite the protests from Australians that it's not even beach weather. We've gone into Melbourne, used every form of public transportation, tried to sort through their oddly shaped coins (Harry Potter money?) and pretended like we knew what food and drinks to order, all in an attempt to soak in our new location. When we're not adjusting to the hemisphere swap, we're adjusting to the transition from small private liberal arts school to enormous international university.

But change is good, or so they say. And so far the change has been breathtaking. Nothing like sunbathing on the grassy lawns between dorms while we think of the snow and freezing rain that's plaguing our home towns. The city is beautiful, with hole in the wall pubs and restaurants just daring you to be brave enough to stumble through. The people are friendly and curious, taking the time to investigate us strange and frightened little students. There is so much to see and do, and so much that we have seen and done I can barely sort it out in my mind, not to mention record it all. I suppose I will have to update with the actual events later, and get a little preview of what is coming up. pictures to be included.