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Archive for February, 2007

Hangin’ with Koalas

What an Australian tourist day! I went to a Koala sanctuary in Brisbane and got to snuggle with a koala. I also got a chance to pet and feed kangaroos (males, mums, and joeys) and pademelons.

After that, I walked all around downtown Brisbane — along the Brisbane river and through the Central Business District (CBD). It’s Chinese New Year, and all of Australia seems to celebrate it with parades and festivities in the their respective China Town district. I caught a dragon dance and a lion dance at Brisbane’s festival.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time scheduled for Brisbane and the city is pretty closed down on Sunday afternoons. I have a few more hours tomorrow morning before my plane, but basically my trip has come to a close.

It has been a wonderful, memorable trip.

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A Relaxing Day in Tasmania

I had the most relaxing day today at the Royal Tasmanian Gardens, Hobart.

Originally, the day started out very overcast and cloudy…. that’s when I decided to go to the gardens instead of 7 mile beach.

The gardens were beautiful and very relaxing. I walked around, sketched, napped, and watched the clouds go by. I also listened… to the sounds of Tasmania which include lots of happy children calling out to “mummy” and the kookaburra bird. I couldn’t see the famous birds, but I could hear them talking to one another.

All in all, a great day. Now I’m waiting for my plane. I’m traveling tonight to Brisbane.

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Music in Oz

I don’t know if everyone is like me…. but I tend to associate certain songs with certain places. Usually it happens when the local DJs go crazy for a particular song and play it over and over. And, since I’m listening to the local radio station in the car, thus setting the stage for a musical memory. So I have two musical memories.

  • First, the local radio station seems to have Scissor Sister’s I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’‘ on continuous loop.
  • Second, I just love Gwen Stefani’s The Sweet Escape which seems to play every time I step into the car and I heard it in a few Sydney shops too.

Both songs make me smile, and both will forever be associated with Oz for me.

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View from the Top

Today, I drove to the top of Mount Wellington. What a view!

On a clear day (which it was) I felt like I could see all the way to Antartica… but not quite. In addition to taking photos at the summit, I tried to walk a bit down some of the paths. But they are steep and I am sore from my hike at Wineglass bay yesterday.

Instead of pushing it, I opted for the rest of the day as a lazy day in the city: a pint of beer, a walk around the Hobart harbor, an ice cream cone, and some wine tasting of local wines at the liquor shop.

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Wineglass Bay at Freycinet

Today, I drove 100 miles (each way) to Freycinet National Park in Tasmania. Then I hiked to Wineglass Bay lookout point and beach, a roughly 3hr RT hike. It was beautiful and very challenging… sort of similar difficulty to the half of Half Dome (a.k.a Quarterdome) hike that MAS and I did.

So I’m toast, in more ways than one. I’m tired beyond belief and I’m also toasted with a sunburn. I wore sunblock, but I guess that it wore off with the sweat. The hole in the ozone affects this island more so than most other places. My feet look completely ridiculous since I have the sunburn marks of my sandals.

I saw a wallaby today, and I also saw a Tasmanian devil. Unfortunately, however, the Tassie devil was roadkill. Apparently the devils are being seriously threatened from some sort of face cancer. Weird, huh?

 
Driving on the Wrong Side

I’ve rented a car to drive around Tasmania. It’s such a challenge to drive on the opposite side of the road. Thankfully, people drive slowly here… it gives me some time to think. Every movement is a thoughtful process and going around the roundabouts is always a gamble. Still, I’m glad that I decided to rent the car. There really isn’t a choice like there is in the big cities. In order to see anything here in Tasmania, you need a car.

I think that there is something about driving on the left that requires additional road signs. There’s a million “keep left” signs, and the painted street crossings always tell you which way to look. It’s almost as if they know, deep down, that this is a more difficult way to orient themselves.

The funniest part about being in opposite land is that I am constantly dancing with people as we attempt to pass while walking or hiking. Our normal tendencies collide and we end up dancing. It has made for a few funny scenes.

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Tasmania Mania

I’ve arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. It’s very different from Sydney and very nice also.

I went for a hike in Mt Field National Park at Russell Falls. Right at the base of the falls, another hiker called out for me to stop. The reason? There was a huge tiger snake hanging out right there on the walking path – just waiting to kill someone.

Eventually, that snake left. Another was spotted in the next 5 minutes. Then I went on an hour long hike, and came upon another one making his way up the path. First, I retreated and got the hell out of the way; then I made as much noise as possible to try to dissuade the snake from the path.

If a death-defying adventure isn’t what you were hoping to read about in this blog, I saw other wildlife in the park too. I saw a momma wallaby and a joey hopping around. I also saw a pademelon.

On the drive back to Hobart, I did a bit of blackberry picking from the wild bushes along the road. The area is a really good wine region… it’s comparable to the Russian River area of California. They also grow Cascade hops on hop farms.

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Soaked to the Bone, a day for music and storytelling

Well, I went to the blue mountains with the Oz Experience yesterday, but the weather was not cooperating with me being able to view the Three Sisters rock formation. So…. instead, I went to Wentworth Falls. Normally it is a trickle of a waterfall. But yesterday it was a rushing torrent of water. We were all drenched.

The tourguide, Adam, took us indoors for lunch and brought out his didgeridoos. He played the thing well, and even told a story with it in true Aboriginal style. I got a chance to try it and I was able to make a decent sound. But the breathing is the really difficult part of playing the instrument.

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Bluebottles at Manly

I took a ferry to Manly beach. It is a really great surf spot, but I don’t surf. I had intended to go swimming, but the beach was invaded by bluebottles. Bluebottles are the local type of jellyfish. They were especially prominent nearest to shore… and the lifeguards really had their hands full trying to help the children and tourists who were adamant about getting in the water despite the announcements over the loudspeakers and posted “beach closed” signs.

It was also a rainy day… sort of. Sydney is going through a drought, so the rain came in 5 minute bursts of sprinkling showers.

I’m going go crazy with the chickas staying in my hostel room. I don’t know how I managed to get a room with the most boring homebodies. One girl was sleeping at 8pm, when I returned from dinner. Everyone was asleep by ten. And, as far as I can tell, I’m the only one with an excuse. I’m headed off to the Blue Mountains for a hiking day trip, so I’m up at 6 am for a 7 am departure.

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A Day at the Opera

Went to The Marriage of Figaro opera at the Sydney Opera House. The singing was amazing. If you’ve never seen an opera, see this one. It is very accessible and understandable. Trust me; this is only my 3rd or 4th opera ever and generally speaking they are like taking cultural medicine. But not this one. It will be a really treasured memory for years to come.

My seats were about 5 rows from the stage… which sounds like fabulous seats and they were excellent for viewing the action and minute details on the stage. But that opera is sung in Italian, and (thankfully) they project the English translation onto a tiny screen high above the stage. So there was a good bit of my craning my neck to look up. In an effort to really see the words and not miss the action, I was slumping so far in my chair that I was practically lying on the floor.

The singing was fantastic, and the costumes were excellent. But they really needed my help in the historical consulting realm. There were so many anachronistic props! They had an electric iron, a metal wheelchair, a salon hair drying contraption, and a plastic “couple” on top of the wedding cake. I’m giving the director the benefit of the doubt that this was a decision rather than a series of oversights. It has to be…. and besides, I was probably the only one who noticed the anachronistic props.

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The World is Fat

In case you haven’t noticed…. the whole world is fat. I mean it! Don’t wax poetic about the French woman’s diet until you’ve visited a hostel recently. I hadn’t stayed in a hostel in a dozen years. Everyone is bigger. And I mean everyone… even the folks speaking French. I’m guessing here, but my guess is that women are about 15 pounds bigger at the age of 18/20 than they were a dozen years ago, and the guys are schlubbs too: at least 10 pounds bigger and all of it around the middle.

So I chatted with the Irish chef/traveler about this topic. We discussed various aspects of things. The typical suspects turned up (not enough walking, eating too many fried foods, and fast foods) but we also discussed the issue of variety. I really think that variety is the key to the change.

All humans are hardwired to take full advantage of food variety. It is the reason why we eat like pigs at the buffet table. Well the Western world has had an unprecedented increase in food variety: fruits in winter, cross pollination of food preparation techniques. Even backwater towns have a dim sum restaurant nowadays. As a result, things that used to be true delicacies are commonplace. And everything is everywhere. Nothing is too difficult to find. Compare that with the cuisine in 1970s America and you’ll begin to see my point.

The chef agreed. He has noticed that in the past ten years the Irish have truly broadened their palate. Now they eat more than just the standard fare of potato-based meals. Now everything is pasta-based, or prepared in the rich French style. It definitely helps his wallet, but it is bad on the belly.

Our riches will be our downfall. Every thriving economy with a thriving trade in goods and services is doomed to be fat.

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Long Walk & Long Talks in Sydney

Went for a long walk yesterday. Walked all over town. It really is the only way to get to know a city. Walking gives you a completely different perspective on a city. Every blemish is visible, at the same time that every hidden gem is revealed. Sydney continues to impress me. The only thing that is less-than-desirable is that the Sydneysiders (that’s what the residents call themselves) are so reserved that I seem to only be able to “meet-n-greet” with immigrants and travelers.

So yesterday I met some immigrants: a white guy from Zimbabwe, a Korean who grew up in both the US and Dubai, and a dark-skinned British Arab. (I mention his skin color because it is important to the story.) I’ve decided that all British find it great sport to attempt to “wind up” us Americans – especially when there is a pint of beer to be enjoyed, but I don’t fall for it anymore. This former Brit tried to wind me up by attempting to tell me that Thomas Jefferson had black Arab ancestry in his immediate/recent familial chain. I simply wasn’t playing along the way he would have liked, but we did have a good laugh about it all.

I’ve also found myself in more than a few political discussions. I’ve described how the electoral college works; I’ve been asked to explain how and why Arnold won the governorship, I’ve even been in the unenviable position of attempting to explain how it is that someone could be in favor of gun ownership rights and still be a sane, logical person. And many people have asked me who I think the presidential candidates will be. As a result of these conversations, I’m more convinced than ever that, despite their view of America as being of being full of arrogant lemmings, citizens of every other country are absolutely riveted to the minute exigencies of our system of government. It is weird to be simultaneously so desired and yet feel the sting of such repulsion.

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Sydney Settling In

Yesterday, I tried to check into my Sydney hostel. The hostel’s computers were down, so I went next door to do email…. came back and the computers were still down… so they let me drop my bags and go out for the day. When I finally returned, around 7pm, I found out that I was trying to check into the wrong hostel. That one is on the same street, roughly 10 minutes from this one. Similar name. Thankfully, this one is *much* better: cleaner and newer.

I did a city tour bus yesterday. One of those jump on/off deals. Unfortunately the Sydney Diva’s tour (by the drag queens) is only done on Sundays and is typically booked up weeks in advance.

Big news is that I was able to get an opera ticket for the Syndney Opera house Sat performance of The Marriage of Figaro (in Italian, with English subtitles.) I paid a bit more for tickets, but I’m only a few rows from the stage. Looking forward to that.

Sydney is a very nice place. Totally clean. Despite the fact that it is a city, it’s has almost no bums, and the central park is amazing. I could totally live here.

I met an Irish guy who is a chef. He travels for 3 months a year, then works his ass of the rest of the year to pay for it all. Sounds like a good way to live! For an American, I’m well traveled. Amongst the world traveler set, I’m positively homebound.

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