September 2, 2009

More Traveling?!?!

(Caution: the photos uploaded backwards... just work with me on this one!!)

You know me, I can't stay put for too long!! As if traveling for almost 2 months this summer wasn't enough, I've already been on 3 trips since being home (in between closing on the sale of my house, moving to a new apartment, interview for a new job, registering for grad classes). The first was the first weekend I was hope to Noel, Missouri for a float trip (see previous post).

Tommy's 21st birthday was at the end of August. I thought that sounded like the perfect excuse to hop on a plane and visit my Georgetown friends. I left on Friday, August 28th for DC!

I'm slightly in love with this GIANT green chair. Naturally, I made Kevin take a series of photos of Jo and I on the chair... and then I couldn't get down :)

REUNION!!!!!!! Oh ya, Happy 21st Tommy!!

Jo was so excited when I made her do fun tourist things around DC on Saturday afternoon

I forgot how beautiful DC was!

Jo and I posing... What you don't see if the creepy Brazilian that wanted his photo taken with us for taking our photo..

How could I forget that Jo likes to document my "creeper" moments. And my creeper count was only 4 for the entire weekend... Thanks guy! :)

I live there..

View of DC from the Washington Memorial

Camera set up in the Washington to film Ted Kennedy's funeral procession
I kept saying I needed to get out in Indiana before school/work got too busy. I had my graduate orientation on Wednesday, August 19th. Orientation got over at 8 PM.... and I called Sarah up and told her I was on my way (Yup, I started a 450 mile, 8 hour roadtrip at 8PM.. not considering it was 9PM in Indiana). With the help to several friends that entertained me on the phone.. I arrived at Sarah's a little past 4 AM. I spent all day with Sarah on Thursday doing our usual shopping and pedicure routine. I stopped by my grandma's that evening for her typical "Happy Hour" (Yup, she's a baller) before heading back to Sarah's house. We had plans to go hit the college town specials to catch up with old friends. I love visiting Indiana and seeing everyone!!! On Friday, Sarah and I had lunch with my grandma before doind a little (uh huh.. little?) bit more shopping. I stopped by my grandma's Friday evening to show off my pictures before heading up to Greenwood to see Mandy, Chris, and the boys. We had a low key Friday, playing games and chilling in the hot tub. On Saturday, I went to watch Jake's first flag football game. I seriously love the innocence of sports at the age of 6!! Our little MVP scored 3 touchdowns!! Mandy and I decided to head to the outlet mall Saturday afternoon (notice a trend of what I do in Indy!?!). On Saturday night, we built a bonfire and sat around hanging out. I love my time with the Becherts and they are one main reason I would consider going back to Indy some day!

Two of my favorite boys in the entire world!!

Mandy and I
I had brunch with Jeanie and her crew on Sunday morning before meeting Sarah and her parents for lunch. Sadly, I headed back to Kansas City Sunday night (just in time to start work and school on Monday!!). I might have taken a little break in St. Louis to see Ian!!
The travel continues!!
August 19-23: Indiana
August 28-30: Washington DC
September 4-8: VEGAS
September 25-27: Huntington Beach, CA
October 2-5: Austin, TX
More stories to come :)

I'm Still Out Here!

Hello Blog, oh how I've missed you!! Life has been a huge whirlwind since I have returned to the states. I have started my blog about my last week in Australia (hint: learning to scuba dive, sky diving, white water rafting through the rain forest, and a scenic flight), but have not had time to attach pictures (Thank you Internet for being fast enough again!!!).

It was hard to say goodbye to all the amazing friends I met this summer. From the time we left Cairns, Australia until we finally reached Kansas City International (Sarah stopped in KC to spend the night before flying on to Indy), 28 hours had elapsed. How weird is this: I watched the sun"rise" twice in 2 different hemispheres on the same day. Freaky huh?? Sarah and I did nothing but relax (And cure my crazing for Minsky's Cheeseburger Pizza and Diet Dr. Pepper!!) on Monday evening. I dropped her off at the airport and headed up to Maryville. In case you missed the earlier post, my house sold and was set to close on July 31st. Mind you I returned to the states on July 27th and had yet to pack up anything in the house.... Standard :)

Selling the house was a great feeling. It was the last step before I could completely close the book on my "old" life. I still stand by every decision I've made in the past 6 months and feel like I've finally gotten my life more of where I want it. I hurried up and got the house packed up (but not without help from my dad and brother!).

Since being home, I have participated in another Race for the Cure. I have decided I'm going to make it a goal to participate (run or walk) in a RFTC in every state before my mom's 10th anniversary. After this September, I will have hit 3 states already (Indiana 4/09, Missouri 8/09, California 9/09). I have slightly over 4 years to achieve my goal. With my traveling record, I'm up for the challenge!

I've always wanted to run through the fountains at Crown Center...

Great attendance KC!!!

The "would be" weekend has come (and now gone) since I have been home as well. Having the amazing friends I have, we decided to go on a float trip in South Missouri for the weekend. We packed up on a Friday evening (a total of 5 cars full!!) and drove the 4 hours to Noel, Missouri. I had never been on a float trip before and boy was I in for a treat!! No details needed, but it was the perfect way to spend the weekend!!

Taking a break to jump off a rock

Party Foul!! :)

Water balloon wars...

I've had more life updates!! I'm starting to think my father was right when he declared it a full time job to keep up with me.
To begin with, after a series of unfortunate events, I have moved AGAIN!! This is officially my 3rd apartment in Kansas City since January. I have moved to an apartment that is off the Plaza. I'm so much in love with it and have had a BLAST picking out furniture and decorations. It really adds to my life change to be able to create my own perfect apartment. Mandy is coming out for the weekend to help me decorate my little place. Chris bought her a plane ticket when I called the wedding off (standby in case I needed ANYTHING) and we decided it would be perfect for her to use it to come out here and help me decorate the new place. I've been tossing around the idea of getting a puppy, but I've decided I need to slow down a little bit before getting a dog.
I also met with my advisor at UMKC and got settled into a schedule for the fall semester. I am taking a total of 12 hours, 3 accounting classes and an entrepreunership. I have class on Monday and Wednesday from 5:30-9:45 and Thursday from 7:00-9:45. It is really fitting that UMKC's mascot is a Kangaroo :)
As if all of that isn't enough... I started a full time job as well!! I'm working in Lenexa, Kansas for RTS Financial, a factoring business. Without boring you all too much, basically I'm an account representative that handle everything from purchasing receivables, mailing out invoices, doing minor collections, and keeping good customer service with my clients. I start grad school and my new job all on the same day. So far, it's been working out just fine working and going to school. I really enjoy the new people I've met at work and school!!
I promise I won't be a stranger for this long again!! :)

July 19, 2009

Reflection Of My Trip...

After flipping through my recent blogs, I’ve noticed that they are really long (sorry about that guys!) and they just explain how I’ve spent my time. I decided it’s time for an actual blog posting/reflection!

I’m currently sitting in the Sydney International Airport getting ready to catch a flight to Cairns, the last destination in my journey through Australia. I’ve officially been out of the country for over a month and half. It’s crazy how fast this trip has gone, but it is turning out to be more than I could have imagined it would be!! Sarah and I have been friends since we were kids, although we haven’t spent too much time together over the past 6 years (long weekends a few times a year). A lot of people questioned if our friendship would “hold up” spending 2 months together in 3 foreign countries after not spending that much time together over the past few years. Yes, we are different people than we were when we were 14, but things haven’t changed a bit!! People usually spend 5 minutes with the two of us and ask “how long have you guys known each other?!”. I told Sarah a few weeks ago that I’m going to go into mourning when she goes back to Indiana and I stay in Kansas City!! I think there will be a lot more flights taken to Indy or KC! I know we already have plans for me to fly out there in August and October and she is coming to KC in October as well. I’m trying really hard to get her to come to KC for grad school… sounds like a great idea to me!

Although this trip isn’t over yet, I can confidently say that this study abroad experience has been 1,000% better than last summer. Don’t get me wrong, I liked London, but Australia has been a much different experience. I like that we had actual Australian professors this summer and more trips outside the program were offered. I feel Aussies are generally more accepting of Americans than the people in London. They are friendlier, willing to help more, and generally enjoy carrying on a conversation with you. I also love how this is a traveling program. I feel like by the end of the summer, I will have seen more and done more in Australia than most Aussies ever do. I will have traveled from the top of the country, clear to the bottom, and most the way up the Eastern Coast line.

I’ve realized there is a lot of things that Australia does that America should pick up on. For starters, I love their money (okay, so who doesn’t love money, but I love the concept they adopted). It’s made of a plastic like material that doesn’t rip, tear, or crinkle. It’s also colored [$50 (yellow), $20 (red), $10 (blue), $5 (purple)] so you can easily reach into your wallet, identify the color, and pull out the bill you desire. I still don’t know how I feel about their coin system (they have $1 and $2 coins). I feel like I blow through money and then look in my coin pouch and usually easily have $20! When you buy something, the price is also often rounded up or down. For instance, today I spent $12.02 somewhere and they asked for $12.00. I also love how majority of restaurants are BYO for a small corkage fee. I know some American restaurants allow you to bring in a bottle of wine for dinner, but it’s usually such a high corkage fee that it isn’t worth it. It’s much more accepted and normal to bring a bottle of wine with you to dinner in Australia than America. Australian politics has also intrigued me. Their system is a hybrid system between American and British government systems. The main aspect that intrigues me is the question time both their Senate and House of Representatives have. When watching question time (yup, I watched it in both houses), it appears very unorganized and like a giant cluster. In truth, it’s very organized and you can’t just randomly stand up and blurt out questions (although some people try!). It’s a chance for both parties to ask questions to either the other party or the ministries about issues currently affecting Australia. It is a good time to be held responsible for your actions, but being politicians, they are pretty good at talking for 5 minutes and not really saying much! I also love the Aussie attitude! They are so laid back and don’t get worked up about much. As our main professor, Pete, usually says, “We could have done something about it, but no one did. We decided to go to a pub and grab a few beers with our mates instead!”. Aussies love their alcohol! I also love their terminology! FYI, for anyone wondering, they don’t talk like the typical “Throw another shrimp on the Barbie!”. They do use some interesting terminology and there has been a slight communication barrier. They also shorten everything! Mosquitoes become mozzies and so on. I’ve noticed accents are worse in people that live in the country or the Northern Territory. Aussies love American accents just as much as we love Australian accents!!

A few highlights from my trip so far includes:
· The culture in Brisbane (BrisVegas as they call it!) – recall “It’s like Vegas on Crack” post!
· Darwin/Kakadu
o Bike Tour
o Jumping Crocodile Cruise
o The views and scenery in Kakadu
o Seeing the Milky Way and Southern Cross
o Harbor Cruise
o Holding a baby crocodile
o Karaoke… enough said!
· Canberra
o Australian War Memorial
o Visiting Parliament and seeing both Senate and HOR in action
o Off-roading in a tour bus looking for wild Kangaroos
o Feeding a Tiger, Eland, Giraffe, Emu, and Alpaca
o Petting a Kangaroo and Dingo
· Sydney
o Spending a day at the Harbor (Opera House, Sydney Harbor Bridge, and Botanical Gardens)
o Visiting Sydney Olympic Park to watch an International Rugby game
o Watching a movie at the World’s largest IMAX theatre
o Passing my GMAT
o $2 steak, pitchers of beer, and shots of tequila celebration night
o Climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge at night
o Seeing an opera at the world famous Sydney Opera House
o Ice Bar and Marble Bar
· Fiji- I can’t just highlight Fiji… the whole experience was unreal. Fiji is this untouched country with the happiest, most unselfish people in the world….
· New Zealand
o Auckland City Tour
o Auckland Harbor Cruise
o Wine Tour on Waiheke Island
o Waitomo Glow worm caves
o Rotorua geothermal area (boiling mud, hot springs, geysers)
o Lunch at the Auckland Sky Tower
· Melbourne
o Night at the Casino
o Renting a car and driving the Great Ocean Road
o Largest shopping mall in the Southern Hemisphere
o Seeing an AFL game (and choosing who to cheer for just because we liked their colors)
o Going up the Eureka Skydeck and out on “The Edge”
o 2:30 AM wake up to catch our flight to Sydney
o The Melbourne Avalon “Airport”

I have also met some amazing people this summer. I love staying in hostels because you meet people from all over the world, all on different journeys. The people we met in Fiji still stick out in my mind. We met honeymooners, an engaged couple that decided to travel instead of have a wedding, study abroad students, and travel bug infested people like myself! The people on our program and in our class are incredible as well. We have formed a close knit group of 8 that goes everywhere together. I love how genuine our group is. We can all go out and have a blast and I’m never worried about someone messing with me. I know the guys in our group watch us pretty well and we are under some great care! There are other great people in our program as well and we’ve had some good nights out/travels with them too.

I’ve stayed in amazing locations (Octopus Resort in Fiji), dodgy places (Brisbane Hostel), ate amazing food (Octopus Resort in Fiji), unidentifiable food (dorms at UNSW), slept in comfortable beds (Sheraton in Fiji), had sleepless nights (toss-up between Brisbane and UNSW dorms), experienced “airports” that resembled a shed (Melbourne Avalon), been on more boats, planes, buses, and taxis than I could count, spent far too much money, but had one of the most amazing 2 months of my life. The travel bug I’ve always had has done nothing but grown on this trip! I’m going home with a severely sore back and slightly snugger clothes, but well traveled, cultured, and experienced!!

I Slept 31 hours in a 36 hour period... What?!

We arrived back to the dorms Monday morning at 8AM. We were all exhausted (maybe because we had already been up for 6 hours!!), but there was so much left to do. After class, we immediately jumped on a bus and headed towards downtown Sydney. We had booked a nighttime Harbor Bridge Climb. We arrived at the Bridge climbers, watched a short video, and got suited up. We were given a jumpsuit and wind pants to put on. Next, we got our harness, fleece jacket and rain shell (both in pouches attached to our backs), gloves, beanie hats, flash lights attached to our heads, and radios. Our climb group was small, consisting of twelve (7 of which were my class). We went through a short training session, blew into a breathalyzer, and set out for the bridge. We were attached to the side of the bridge by this harness contraption. The climb to the top took around an hour. The first part was just walking along a catwalk towards the middle of the bridge. Then we started the actual climb; at one point we were climbing up steep stairs with cars passing by on either side. I was in heaven!!! The view from the top was simply breathtaking. Sydney is a gorgeous city, but becomes breathtaking at night. Our guide pointed out all the important places around Sydney. We weren’t allowed to take our cameras up, which really bummed me out because the photos would have been amazing. After our climb was over (the whole experience took almost 4 hours!!), we met up with Jo and Tommy (who were lame and didn’t want to climb!) and headed to dinner. We had originally planned on going to the Ice Bar after dinner, but we were too tired. Instead, we called it a night and headed back to the dorms.

We had morning class again on Tuesday because we had a field trip with Pete again. After a quick lunch, we headed downtown to Hyde Park to meet Pete in front of another War Memorial. Upon arrival, we discovered the inside of the Memorial was closed. We talked outside the Memorial instead before heading to another memorial, St. Mary’s Cathedral, the Barracks, and the Famine Memorial. After our walking history lesson, we headed to the downtown Hilton to go to the Marble Bar. The Marble Bar opened in 2002 and cost $200 million in renovations. The entire bar (floor, ceiling, bar, pillars) is made out of custom chiseled marble. After a few drinks, we went down to Circular Quay (the Sydney Harbor) and went in search of a nice seafood dinner. We were successful in our search, eating at the Waterfront (obviously right on the water with an amazing view of both the bridge and Opera House). Sarah and I said our goodbyes after dinner and headed to the Opera House. We had tickets to see an Opera: Masters of ??????. I’m not going to comment on the actual Opera itself, but the experience was interesting. After the Opera, we met back up with our group and headed to City Extra for dessert pancakes. The guys had found this place the first weekend in Sydney (when Sarah and I were in New Zealand) and it’s all they ever talk about. They are famous for their chocolate pancakes, apples and cinnamon pancakes, and banana pancakes. I wasn’t sure how I would like a flavored pancake with ice cream on top, but I now know why they are famous!! After our dessert, we headed to Minus 5, The Coolest Experience in Sydney (aka, the Ice Bar). The bar was actually closed when we arrived, but they opened it up just for us. Nothing like renting out the Ice Bar in Sydney!! We got suited up with parkas and gloves and headed into the “freezer”. Everything is made of ice; from the walls, tables, chairs, bar, and glasses. They only served vodka drinks since vodka doesn’t freeze. Because of the temperature, you are only allowed to be inside for 30 minutes. By the end of the night, I was exhausted and not feeling the best. I’ve had a cold that comes and goes since before our New Zealand trip and it was in full flame! I’m writing this portion on Wednesday morning and I have no voice. Being sick and climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge at night and then going to the Ice Bar the next night = not smart!!

After class and a short nap, Sarah and I went downtown to meet Erin and do some shopping. We hit up the UGG and Apple Stores before I decided to hop in a cab and come back to the dorms. I still wasn’t feeling the best and wanted to lay down again. From the 36 hour time period (5:30 PM Wednesday until 5:30 AM Friday, I slept 31 of those hours!! Guess I was really not feeling well huh? I wanted to make my way to Bondi Beach and Paddy’s Markets sometime Wednesday or Thursday, but neither happened.

We woke up early Friday morning for a day tour to the Blue Mountains. Jo had missed the group tour since she was in Melbourne with us the weekend before and booked had booked our day tour at the last minute. After arrive 25 minutes late (whoops!), we were on our way. Our first stop was to Featherdale Wildlife Park, an interactive zoo. This was the first zoo we were able to get up close and personal to a Koala! Seriously, although they are by far one of the cutest animals in Australia, they look fake!! I would like to take one home, but we have heard they are really mean. We were also able to pet and feed more kangaroos. Sarah was a little scared of them this time after hearing Ben had been kicked by one last weekend! (I would have paid money for someone to get that on video!!) After Featherdale, I’ve decided I would like a pet wombat. They are so ugly they are cute! We left Featherdale and headed towards the “mountains” (to anyone that lives in a country with actual mountains, they are more like giant hills). Our first stop was to take a short hike to a gorgeous waterfall. From there, we headed to Echo Point to get a view of the famous Three Sisters rock formation. After a quick lunch, we fell for the tourist trap of Scenic World. There were three different “rides” offered to get different views of the park. Naturally, we rode all three!! We left Scenic World and headed to another hiking spot. After this hike, our guide set up a picnic with tea, coffee, and “biscuits” (aka: cookies). We left the Blue Mountains and headed for the Sydney Olympic Park. We ran out of time and didn’t get to explore the park anymore than we did when we went for the Rugby game. It was kind of nice to see it in the daylight, however. We caught a ferry out of the park and headed back into Sydney. Our group had planned on doing a big pub crawl through the Rocks area, but Sarah and I opted out since we had another early, busy day on Saturday.

We had booked a wine tour through the same tour company as our Blue Mountains trip. We had the same guide and an American family was on this trip with us as well. We headed straight out of the city and towards Hunter Valley. The first winery we did a tasting at was Savannah Estates. I’ve never tasted so many wines at one winery before! If my count was correct, I’m pretty sure we tried 12 of their wines. I’m starting to appreciate red wines more after this trip. Next, we visited the Iron Gate Winery, where we did another tasting (again, 9 wines?!) and learned the wine making process. I liked the look of this winery the best. It just looked like what a cute, traditional winery should look like.. not too commercialized. We left Iron Gate and headed towards Hunter Valley Village, a little shopping village, for lunch. Sarah and I ate as fast as possible so we could squeeze in some shopping (naturally.. J). After lunch, we headed to WINERY to do a formal cheese tasting before tasting more wine. This was a really different winery because it was built for entertainment. In addition to the Smelly Cheese Shop and winery, there was also a restaurant and a huge grassy lawn designed for concerts. Some big name stars have actually been there to perform. Our last stop of the day was the Ernest Hill winery. We only tasted around 6 wines, but I didn’t really care for any of them. The two white wines were both 2009 and I found that really strange. They didn’t have much flavor, but I felt they had potential if they had been aged longer. All in all, it was a great day and Sarah and I came back with a few bottles to enjoy later!

We spent Saturday night packing up to leave Sydney. I’m not that sad to be leaving and heading towards warm weather again!!! Cairns is supposed to be a really touristy town near the Great Barrier Reef. I’m excited to get some sun, snorkel, and skydive!!

July 18, 2009

2 New Yorkers, 2 Midwesterners, & A Pirate From California Rented A Car In A Foreign Country...

This has been one of the best weekends we have had in Australia!! The weekend started on Thursday with Sarah, Jo, and I flying to Melbourne. First off, the domestic side of the Sydney International Airport is the biggest joke I have ever seen! We had checked in for our flight online and used a kiosk to print our boarding passes. I had my passport out to get through security and I kid you not, the security agent asked me why I had it out!! Never once was our IDs checked or our boarding passes looked at! We arrived at the Melbourne Avalon Airport around 8pm on Thursday. We knew there was two airports for Melbourne, but we didn’t know we had chosen the airport that was out in the middle of NOWHERE!! I feel like JetStar purchased a farm, put up a tin building, and called it an Airport. The arrival section consisted of a “baggage claim” (the looked like a treadmill) and a counter where you would either rent a car or buy a bus ticket (for the 50 minute drive to Melbourne). We arrived in downtown and called Tatiana and Sam (from the Imaging group) to get directions to our hostel. We had booked out a 4 person hostel room with the intentions of making it sleep 5 (lucky Sarah and I!). Jo said she felt like an illegal immigrant all weekend (she was the one that never “checked-in”). By this time, we were all starving and decided to head to the casino to find some dinner. Thursday night was pretty low-key since I had been up so late the night (see the excitement in my 2nd week of Sydney blog) and Sam had the worst pink eye I’ve ever seen!

We woke up Friday with the intention of picking up our rental car. Plans changed when we saw how bad Sam’s eye looked!! The girls decided we were going to spend the day shopping while Sam went back to the doctor to make sure he wasn’t having an allergic reaction to his eye medicine. The first shopping center we found was an outlet mall connected to the Southern Cross Train Station. We shopped around there, grabbed lunch, and headed to the Docklands District to shop some more. Stores close early in Australia (usually everything is closed by 6), so we decided to get mani/pedi’s after our shopping had to come to an end. We hopped into a cab and headed back to the hostel to check on Sam and get ready to go out. We had found a pretty cheap deal at the casino the night before and planned on going back again Friday night. We found a pub that had $12 dinners and $12 for 3 drink tickets. I’m just going to say Friday night was one of the most random and fun nights I’ve had in Australia! The group that went to Melbourne is way too similar to travel together like we did!! We still laugh when we talk about the casino night!

Intelligently, after our big night out, we decided we wanted to pick up our rental car and drive the Great Ocean Road on Saturday. The original plan was for Sam to drive then rental car (remember, they drive on the opposite side of the road in Australia!), but that didn’t end up working out since his eyes were virtually swollen shut. I volunteered to take the job instead. It actually wasn’t that hard: driving is more or less driving, no matter which side of the road you are on! I had to stop and think about it slightly when I was turning on a road with no other cars around. The only thing I couldn’t get the hang of is the fact that the windshield wipers and turn signal was also switched. Every time I went to flip on my blinker, the windshield wipers would start going crazy!! The views we drove by were simply amazing. There was rocky cliff/beach to our left and thick, dense rainforest on our right. It was nice driving the road at our own pace, stopping only where we wished. We got bad news about 2 hours into the road (after an hour drive to the road!). We learned that 12 Apostles (famous rock figures) was another 2 hours away. We decided since we were already so far and had the car, we might as well keep driving. Low and behold, we got to the famous landmark… right when it got dark!!! We were able to see the closest three rocks, but weren’t successful in getting any photos or seeing the entire landmark. We decided to call it the end of our trip when we discovered we were 4 hours away from Melbourne… taking the direct route instead of the Great Ocean Road. As Sam put it “It was the Best Worst Roadtrip I’ve ever been on!”. I will say as beautiful as it was and how glad I am we drove it, parts of the road was the windiest road I’ve ever driven!! I’d also like to point out how weird and random the Australian road signs are!! I might have slightly ran part way off the road at one point checking out the “No potatoes passed this point” sign.. and that’s only the beginning!!

By the time we got back to Melbourne, we were all exhausted and went straight to bed. Sarah and I had purchased tickets to an Australian Rules Football (AFL) game for Sunday afternoon. We arrived at the MCG stadium and discovered our front row tickets we were so excited about were actually some of the worst tickets sold. Like everything else, it’s backwards here: the higher the seat, the better. We decided we would cheer for Port Adelaide because we liked their colors better than the Melbourne team. Although we didn’t fully understand what was going on, it was still an exciting and intense game. As Sarah put it “AFL is like Rugby on crack”… too bad we had been to a rugby game and didn’t understand it either!! After the game, we went out in search of more shopping (naturally!!). As it started to get dark, we met up with Jo (who had been checking out the city) and headed to the Eureka Tower, the Tallest Residential Building in the Southern Hemisphere. Floor 88 had been dedicated to a public observation deck. We went up, took some city view photos, and then went in “The Edge,” which was a glass cube that shoots out the side of the building, giving you a 360 view (including roof and floor). I loved it and Sarah was terrified- but then again I love heights! After grabbing a quick dinner, we headed back to the hostel to pack up. Our flight left Melbourne at 6AM, which didn’t sound too bad until we realized our bus left at 4AM and we were a 20 minute walk from the bus stop!! It was a long, busy weekend, but my favorite weekend in Australia yet!!

I’ve decided if I ever move to Australia, I’ll reside in Melbourne. The city is really clean, the people helpful and friendly, and the buildings modern. It might help that the Largest Shopping Mall in the Southern Hemisphere is located just outside of Melbourne (457 stores… yes please!!). I kind of wish we had spent 3 weeks in Melbourne instead of Sydney. Hmmmm, becoming a Melbourne resident and opening a resort in Fiji doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea… J

Would You Like A Kangaroo, Emu, Crocodile, or Duck Pizza??

We arrived, exhausted, back in Sydney on Sunday evening from New Zealand to another busy week! Although I was tired, I had slept the entire flight home and knew I wasn’t going to be able to get to sleep again. Instead, I hung out with Tommy, Kevin, Ian, and Allie hearing all about their exciting weekend and telling them about New Zealand. The majority of our group had gone on a wine tour on Saturday and attended an Australian Rules Football game on Sunday. We also made a tentative schedule for the next 2 weeks in Sydney. There is so much to do in this city and we wanted to make sure we could squeeze everything in!

Sarah and I had decided we both wanted to sleep in on Monday morning before heading to the library to upload photos (5 albums on Facebook!) and update our blogs. I had purchased 2 liters of duty free Tequila from the Auckland International Airport to take to a BYO Mexican restaurant on Monday night. We all wanted to go out to celebrate the sale of my house (always SOMETHING to celebrate!) so we decided to go for Mexican and margaritas. Remember how I said the Mexican restaurant wasn’t too bad? We must have struck it lucky because it was HORRIBLE on Monday night!! Although the food wasn’t very good, we still had a good time drinking margaritas and getting in some laughs. We got from dinner and had another internet party out at our typically picnic table. I was finally tired and was able to get to sleep relatively early.

On Tuesday, our class had been moved to the morning. We had an afternoon “field trip” with Pete to The Rocks. We went on a walking tour/lecture to visualize how Sydney looked when the British landed and started building the colony. It was actually really interesting because we had a packet of drawings that showed how it look that you could really tell was the same place we were standing but hundreds of years earlier. The Rocks is famous for having the oldest pubs and hotels in Sydney since that was some of the earliest businesses opened. Our lecture ended right outside the oldest hotel in Sydney, which conveniently also brews its own beer. After grabbing a few beers, we decided to walk to another hotel in The Rocks famous for its gourmet pizza. We ordered a couple pizzas: Kangaroo, Emu, Crocodile, Duck! It was actually the best pizza I’ve had in Australia! The Rocks has several neat and different pubs that we planned on visiting during a mini pub crawl. However, the weather didn’t cooperate and so we decided we would hold off for a better night. Instead, we grabbed Starbucks (Heaven in a Cup!!) and headed back to the dorms to watch a movie.

We woke up Wednesday morning, grabbed a quick breakfast, and headed to the library (are you catching the daily pattern!?). We had a few things to sort out before we left for Melbourne (rental car for Great Ocean Road and possible wine tour). I also needed to get check out a few books to start my research for my sports paper (Oh yea, I’m here for school….). After class, we all rounded up and headed back to Coogee Beach to eat at the $2 steak place. For only $8, you can get a beer, steak, fries, and salad. Considering we are all starving students, this is a really good deal! The plan was to just hang out after dinner, drinking beer and playing pool. We ended up having a little excitement instead… An Aussie guy that was playing pool with our group offered to guy one of the girls and one of the guys in our group a beer. Not thinking anything of it, they accepted. The Aussie ended up spiking one of the drinks (unbeknown to us) and tried offering that one to the girl in our group. A series of events happened, the guy in our group took that beer instead, and a night full of commotion began. Without going into detail, I got back from the ER with the guy in our group and one of our program coordinators around 4AM. It was really scary and a lesson we could have all gone without learning first hand. We were told numerous times to not accept drinks, but none of us thought anything of it. It makes me fortunate that we have an amazing group and we all look out for each other when we go out. Take it from me: be careful when accepting drinks at the bar!!

I’m currently (it’s Thursday, July 9) sitting at the Sydney International Airport waiting on my flight to Melbourne, Australia. Jo, Sarah, and I are flying down together and meeting 2 other people for a 4 day weekend. We have a fun weekend full of shopping, wine, and the Great Ocean Road ahead of us! Update soon!

July 6, 2009

Backpacking Through A Country Is Not As Glorious As It Sounds..

Alternative Title: My Shopping Habits Don’t Fit The Lifestyle Of A Backpacker

When we were enrolled in our original class, International Business class, we were supposed to have a 4 day weekend. Sarah and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to hop over to New Zealand. When our IB class was canceled, our 4 day weekend went out the window. We decided we were just going to skip class and go to New Zealand anyways. Sarah has a friend, Erin, from IU that is interning in Sydney this summer. She booked a ticket to come on our long weekend with us!

Being the intelligent travelers that we are, we arrived in New Zealand with NO plan (AKA no hostel, no tours, no sites picked out.. nothing except the determination to bungy jump). Let me back up a night. We went out on Wednesday night in celebration of my GMAT scores, Tommy’s MCAT scores, and Ben’s job offer. It was a really fun night full of $2 steaks, pitchers of beer, shots of tequila, girl’s kicking ass at pool, and Wii tennis. Sarah and I had great intentions of waking up Thursday morning and going shopping for some warm clothes to wear this weekend. FAIL… we woke up at 11:30! After grabbing some lunch, throwing (random- Sarah didn’t even bring a jacket/sweatshirt!) clothes into a backpack, and hailing a cab, we were on our way to the airport. It’s worth recalling that the time is now 1:30 and our flight was scheduled to leave at 2:50. We arrived at the airport and discovered the check-in line was super long. After waiting in line for 30 minutes (and getting near the front), we were moved to another line. This second line CREEPED by and took FOREVER. It’s also worth pointing out that Sarah and I were DYING (or felt like it) and super hungover! We got through that long line only to discover the line through Customs was also huge! Sarah and I had to keep motivating each other to keep moving and not curl up on a ball and die. When we finally reached the Customs counter, the Custom’s officer made fun of us for looking like death. Her exact response was “Please keep moving and not die at my counter!”. I’ve decided, by the time we reached security, that everyone was enjoying messing with us. I got into it with the security officer after he tried telling me all my makeup had to also fit in my liquid baggie. Last time I checked, my face powder and blush was NOT LIQUID!! It’s time to mention that our flight had been delayed until 4:00, which was really good considering it was now 3:30. After getting through security, we stopped to grab a drink. It was during this break, that Sarah looked out the window and goes “I always wondered how planes went backwards… I thought it was really cool they had reverse too.” Fail Sarah, Fail! Again, we wanted to die when we realized our gate was THE LAST GATE in the wing. We got up from our break and made our way to our gate. We arrived at 4:00, thinking we could board our flight and fall back to sleep. Wrong… we FINALLY boarded our flight at 7:00 PM. We pulled out my New Zealand book to start finding sites and activities we wanted to be sure to see. After involving a few rows in this mission, we had a semi-game plane figured out. I immediately fell asleep on our plane (I’m getting great at finding ways to get comfortable enough to sleep on planes, buses, and boats!). When we arrived in Auckland at 11:00 PM New Zealand time (2 hours ahead of Sydney), I learned from Sarah that the guy sitting next to us on the plane looked over and goes “hmm, someone have a rough night?”. Fail.

New Zealand security and customs was the WORST we have seen. The lady at the ticket counter in Australia tried to warn us that New Zealand was the hardest country to get into and she was correct! Sarah had a chicken wrap that I had put in my bag before the flight and threw away on the plane. We got through the first of 4 rounds of customs and started to walk away when a lady comes running up to me and informs me to put my bag on the ground immediately. She says the dog has smelled food and she needs to search for it. I tried to explain there was food in my bag, but I had thrown it away on the plane. I got hounded about that bag every step of security!! We got something to drink, grabbed a couple hundred (okay, so like 30!) brochures about tours, sites, attractions, and hostels and started planning out our trip. Erin’s plane arrived around 11:30 and we met up with her right outside of customs around midnight. She joined in our quest of planning out our next 3 days. We finally settled on a hostel that had openings available for at least Thursday night. By the time we caught a cab and drove into downtown Auckland, it was 1:30 before we were checking into our hostel, Queen Street Backpackers. There was a really nice guy at the front desk that stayed up with us until 3 AM and helped us get everything booked for the next few days.

We woke up EARLY on Friday morning and left for our first day trip at 7:30 AM. We had booked an all day Auckland City Tour, Auckland Harbor Cruise, and Wine Tour. We drove around Auckland (which is known as the “City of Sails” because 1 in every 4 Aucklanders owns a boat) and toured sites such as Westhaven & Bayswater Harbors, Mount Eden, the Sky Tower, and Parnell Village (shopping!!) Mount Eden is a dormant volcano that became a crater last time it erupted. You can literally see the lines in the grass where the ground gave way and sunk. It looks like there is just a layer of green grass with lava below it. We grabbed lunch at the harbor before boarding a ferry that toured the harbor and then headed on a 40 minute boat ride to Waiheke Island, the Island of Wine. Waiheke Island has over 25 different wineries of various sizes. Our wine tasting group was small, consisting of only 5! Considering Erin, Sarah, and I were the only English speaking members of the group, it was more or less a private tour. The North Island is known for making white wines and the south part of the North Island and South Island is known for red wines. We visited three very different wineries. Our first stop was to MudBrick Vineyard. This was probably my favorite winery. We tasted several kinds of wine including a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc (my favorite), cabernet, merlot, and a cabernet/merlot mix. Our next stop was The Ridgview Estate Winery. This one wasn’t as pretty and scenic as the first, but had some amazing wine as well. This is the winery that we all purchased wine from. The final winery was the Te Whau Vineyard, which offered 360 views of the island. This winery produces some of New Zealand’s finest wines and more expensive wines. We tasted a merlot made in back to back years (2006 and 2007) to see how the grape crop changes the flavor of the wine each year. After catching the ferry back (yup, I slept!), we went back to our hostel to change and freshen up before heading to dinner. We discovered that no Auckland restaurant was BYO, which was unfortunate since we purchased some wine throughout the day! We were all exhausted and had another early day on Saturday, so we finally settled on the idea of grabbing a quick dinner and heading to the movie theater to watch “The Proposal” (laugh it up..).

We woke up early again on Saturday and left on another all day tour at 7 AM. I’d like to point out that NOTHING in Auckland is open (nor is the city “awake”) at 7 AM, which seemed really strange to me. I’m used to being able to get most things I want at pretty much any hour I need it at. We boarded a double decker bus and headed down through the Waikota River region, known for its dairy farms. We passed through a few small Maori settlements, Whatawhata, Pirongia, and Otorohanga, which is home of the official residence of the Maori King (FYI, not impressed). The rocking motion of the bus had all three of us dosing off and sleeping majority of the time we were on the bus. The scenery of New Zealand reminds me a lot of that seen in Scotland (you were right dad!). This made me really excited since I fell in love with Scotland last summer! Our first official stop was at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. We took a guided tour through one of the smaller caves and saw how the Waitomo landscape had evolved over millions of years. We boarded a boat and floated off into the darkness. We rounded a corner and it looked like someone had flipped off the light in a room with those glowing stars (remember when we were little and would hang them all over our ceiling??). The glow worms were this amazing little creature that lit up from their stomach down to attract their food. The caves had no bugs because the glow worms eat them all. Although the cave was small and the boat tour a little short, it was still pretty amazing. I must point out that I hate when you can’t take photographs in tourist places. Our next stop was at the Agrodome complex. I must admit that I had a pre-conceived notion that I would not enjoy this place although it is one of New Zealand’s premier tourist attractions and every tour that we found stopped at it. It was nothing more than a sheep farm!! It was quite comical to see the (not being racist by ANY means!) Japanese and European tourists fall in love with it! We boarded a trailer pulled by a tractor (see where I’m not impressed?) and took a tour of the farm, which had animals such as the American pig, American sheep, American cattle, American mini horse, and American deer. Wow… what a trip! I am dying to get home and call one of my good friends, Kate, and tell her all about this place. Kate and her husband, Matt, breed show sheep and will get a great kick out of this place. It’s advertised as mainly a sheep farm that has a few other animals. We also got to watch a sheep get sheered and watch how wool is made. There was one cool part and that was when we got a demonstration on how the sheep dog rounds up the sheep and pens them. All in all, I felt it was a very wasted hour! I was even more upset when I found out we could have paid an additional $15 AUD, skipped the farm, and spent an hour at a day spa!! We departed Agrodome and headed on into Rotorua, a town known for its hot springs, natural geysers, and boiling mud. We drove along the Rotorua lakeside, past the Government Gardens, and stopped at our first geothermal steam pool. Let me start by saying the whole town stinks like sulfur!! The steam pools were really neat and I started to notice my cold and sore throat going away immediately. We boarded the bus again and headed to Te Puia, New Zealand’s Maori Arts and Craft Institute. We started the experience off with a 45 minute cultural show put on by some Maori performers. The Maori’s are the Aboriginal people of New Zealand, arriving from I believe the Philippines, and were displaced when the British discovered New Zealand (hmmm sound familiar Australia or America??). We then took a guided tour through the park which was nothing but a giant geothermal area with boiling mud pools (reaching temperatures of 212F) and the famous Pohutu Geyser. The geyser was performing for us, but we couldn’t see it because it was so cold, foggy, and misty. Everyone we talked to said we couldn’t miss out on Rotorua. It was neat, but the weather wasn’t cooperating and Yellowstone National Park is just like Rotorua only larger and more spectacular. We got back to Auckland around 8:30 Saturday night, grabbed dinner at a really sketch Chinese restaurant (we were tired of wondering and wanted something cheap!), and went back to the hostel to repack our bags and get some much needed sleep. I hadn’t been feeling the best and the weather made us all feel blah.

Erin and I had a VERY exciting day planned for Sunday morning: the AJ Hackett Auckland Harbor Bridge Bungy Jump!! This is the site of the very first harbor bridge jump. It was actually a smaller jump, only around 200 feet high. I was super excited and fired up, until I got to the edge of the platform, had the weight and my toes off the side of the ledge, and LOOKED DOWN! Don’t EVERY look down when you are about to jump off a bridge!! After a minor freak out and 3 minutes of calming myself down and getting encouraged, I buckled my knees and went flying!! When you first jump, the bungy isn’t tight and it is absolutely the freest feeling in the entire world. My heart didn’t start beating nor was I able to scream until after the bungy caught and started to pull tight. As soon as I came up, I wanted to do it again! I later learned that bungy is actually about challenging yourself to find it in yourself to jump off the bridge. It’s the body’s natural instinct to tell you not to jump and they won’t push you off the ledge. It’s seriously this huge mental battle to make your body move and jump off the ledge. It’s rewarded with the most amazing, heart-pumping feeling in the world!! After that nice morning wake up, we hit some stores to do some touristy shopping. New Zealand is known for producing Jade, so I naturally wanted some jewelry!! After shopping (I should not be allowed to just bring a backpack into a country!), we headed to the Sky Tower to eat a seafood lunch. The Sky Tower is 1076 feet tall and is the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere. It actually tops the Eiffel Tower by 8 meters and the Sydney AMP Tower by 24 meters. After lunch, we went to the highest observation deck (722 feet) to take photos of the city. We jumped on a bus, headed back to the airport, smoothly went through customs and security (a little more pleasant experience at the Auckland International Airport!), and boarded our flight to Sydney.

All in all, New Zealand was gorgeous and I’m really glad we took the chance to hop over and explore. I wish we would have had more time to see more and the weather would have cooperated more!!