Two Yanks Downunder

A blog about the experiences of two Americans on their first visit to the fabulous continent of Australia

Monday, July 31, 2006

Perth and Re-Perth

Saturday was the only free day for our students before the upcoming Monday start of classes and so we decided to take a break ourselves. It was supposed to be rainy again so of course we decided to get out of the apartment and go sightseeing in the nearby major city of Perth. Of the approximately 2 million people who live in Western Australia (which is three times the size of Texas) about 80% live in the greater Perth metro area. Since we are not acquainted with any of these people, they would not know to stop us.

If you are a regular reader, you might recall that we went to Perth on Wednesday on an outing organized by UNDA for all of the International and Study Abroad students. Having been given an overview of things to see and do in town, and armed with a Multi-Rider "card" (with about 10 prepaid train or bus fares) left by the previous CSB SJU program directors, we made the 10:30 a.m. train and were in the downtown area within 30 minutes.

A very short walk from the Perth train station is a well designed square with a few important cultural centers (all with free admissions BTW) in view of each other, and this is where we planned to concentrate our time. Also, only two blocks away is the community of Northbridge, which is comparable to the Uptown district in Minneapolis, trendy shops, restaurants, dives, bars, discos, clubs etc. The same place that our students have been warned against frequenting, and where some will invariably wind up in pursuit of more adventurous night life than Fremantle has to offer.

Our first stop was the Art Gallery of Western Australia which had three main exhibits going.

However, the musuem information desk said the one with recent works by indigenous Aboriginals was closed for that day since new security systems were being installed. I think they just said that to us and would open it back up right after we left, Wendy told me not to say that to them and this time I listened to her. Anyway, we got to see some of these works by looking over an open balcony on the upper floor since the paintings were leaning against the wall and resting on the floor making them very visible. There were really neat greeting cards in the museum store with amazing quotes and I wanted to buy some, but since they were $4.50 each, someone talked me out of it.

Next we decided to walk over to Northbridge and get some lunch. There were lots of places to choose from, but typically several were closed even though their signs indicated that they should have been open. A couple that sounded tempting were actually out of business, so we settled on a Japanese place and would end up being served a veritable feast for much less than we would have paid in the Twin Cities.

This was unusual as most dining out seems to be more expensive than in the U.S. I know that photographs were taken and will probably wind up in e-mail to Victoria who seems to want to read about the trip through our dining adventures.

Afterwards, we visited PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts).

This gallery contained some different works, some were 15 minute videos submitted to show what the filmmakers typical day was like. One work was pretty much nothing but young people smoking reefer, eating and sleeping. There was an exhibit where the artist had used a saw and or scissors to carve out interesting patterns into books as if they were blocks of wood. Experimental short films were on display and one showed all of these plants opening up and moving like you may have seen in stop action fast forward films. Only these plants all had numerous forms of eyes, it was very strange, creepy and amazing.

Wendy is going to try to acquire this work for SJU CSB and if she is successful, many more folks will get to see it. (Wendy adds the plants are all found in central park and animation is affixed to the otherwise familiar forms. The video is called Sixes last by Arvind Palep.)

Next up was the Western Australian Musuem which focused on the geological natural history land and various lifeforms on the Australian continent. The natural history exhibits were great and we got to identify a few birds that we had seen in our various travels. There are also an amazing number of tiny little crabs native to West Australia and we will have fun looking for these (on the beach).

Even more interesting was a special exhibit on Aboriginals and their experiences since the arrival of Europeans. When we were leaving, exit and entry being through a large revolving door, a small Asian kid tried to stop our departure by refusing to leave the doorway area and wedging his foot betweent the floor and the opposite door from the one which I was pushing. He must have been nearly superhuman since I could only budge the door with difficulty and could not figure out what was happening until Wendy pointed out the situation. Eventually he let us go and we did not have to pay a toll, which made me wonder what was going on?

We then went over to the train station area where there are a few square blocks devoted to shopping and where vehicle traffic is forbidden, much like the old Mall Germaine in St. Cloud. At an outdoor cafe, Wendy bought a double dip gelato Italian ice cream cone, and then we did some window shopping. We then caught the train back home and after viewing a sunset at the roundhouse near the end of our street, we made a dinner of leftovers before Wendy resumed work on her Senior Seminar ethics course that she will begin teaching on Monday afternoon, and I watched some Australian rules football on the TV.

Surprisingly, on Sunday when we bought the newspaper, we found out that we must have had a way more boring time in Perth than just about anyone else! The Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, had been in Perth for a Liberal Party meeting and protestors had mobbed his vehicle and inflicted minor damage. Also, two other groups of protestors, those for Israel and those for Lebanon had clashed elsewhere in the city and police had to step in.

On Sunday, we noticed that MN was under a prolonged intense heat wave with horrible humidity and dew points in the 70s! Try and use up our allotment of that weather before I return, OK guys?

Wendy spent lots of time on her course syllabus Sunday morning and then after lunch we did some errands. At the local weekend market Don made his first impulse buy since arriving in OZ two weeks ago!

A local artist was selling these toys called a Floonie. They are a colored oblong clay or play dough like substance that you can push and pull to form a face with any number of characteristics to show your mood! Little tufts of hair adorn the top of the creature and you can purchase a few accessories such as a hat. Depending on their color, they have different names and Don bought a "Haiku" to bring back to MN for use around the office. Shared use that is, so office mates can indulge themselves as well.

After purchase, Don remembered that a dry sense of humor is the prevalent one in OZ and so inquired of the seller "Are they any special Floonie excise taxes that I will have to pay at customs upon leaving Australia and entering the U.S.?" This completely flummoxed the woman until Wendy intervened and let her know that I was trying to be funny at which point she replied with a slight smile that there were none that she was aware of.

At the markets, Wendy focused on more practical acquisitions like bread, fresh vegetables and fruits for our meals and then did some looking around at various crafts and jewelry for sale. We saw several of our students at the market, I interrupted Patrick while he was using his digital camera saying in a mock official voice "Hey, there's no photos allowed here!"

Also, later on Sunday, we attended evening mass at UNDA with our students. This is the mass where lots of local parishoners attend to arrange homestay opportunities for our students and other interested International students. Fr. Gregg anounced this and at the supper afterwards our group was signing up for homestays and lots of connections were being made. I asked some of our group if they were going out afterwards, but they said they had homework to do for Wendy's class on Monday! It turns out that groups of them had also gone to Perth over the weekend and some had also gone to the beach, where a few waded in the Indian Ocean, which was evidently quite, quite cold.

We plan to surprise the students by having them over to the apartment after their first Wendy class Monday for cake and ice cream. Plans are to celebrate all the student birthdays in a given month in this way, so we will see how it works out with the July group this afternoon. Wendy made one cake and we purchased ice cream and several toppings, but we may have to go and buy a cake to make sure that all of their intake needs are covered!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Don's Report to His Colleagues

Because Don lost 45 minutes of writing this morning (because HE DIDN'T LISTEN TO HIS WIFE'S ADVICE - bwahahahaha!!)
I am culling from a letter to his colleagues for his daily column. Here's what he had to say to them (with a few additions from yours truly).

This is the outside of our apartment. You can just see the gigantic American flag that our landlord has provided for the Yanks that rent.

We have now been in Australia for about two weeks and our students are in their seventh day here at Fremantle. We've seen a few sights and eaten at a few places like Joe's Fish shack here:

They are having a good time and have had a decent balance of recreation and orientation activities. They are all old enough to drink here in OZ and have sampled the local pub culture, but in a good way. They all live in an refurbished hotel called the P & O and their Residential Supervisor or RS, an Australian named Brad is a top notch bloke. He has lived overseas in the U.S., Asia and Europe I think and was also a police officer here in Australia before he became a student at UNDA in physiotherapy (our equivalent is physical therapy).

They took to Brad right away and when he gives them information about things to do or not to do and places to visit and when not to visit they actually listen! He took them all around to some decent pubs and will continue to look after them throughout the course of the program. These Resident Supervisors are a great asset and I wish that other CSB SJU programs were based at universities that incorporated such a feature.

Wendy and I have been quite busy setting things up for the program and doing a lot of work on the computer. She has created a blog just for our students and has gotten it off to a start by posting quite a few photographs of them since they arrived in Fremantle and incorporating some short captions. The blog address was then sent via e-mail to the students parents and guardians and we received quite a few responses, all positive. This way the folks back home and the CSB SJU International Programs Office can see how things are unfolding whenever they like.

The students share a large common kitchen where they are responsible for their own meals, preparation and clean up. So far Brad has been full of praise for how things have gone in the kitchen. He said the clean up has been top notch and timely and as long as that continues he will not have to step in. If it deteriorates, then he will set up a schedule and a rotation of duties for our group. There is a competition that is held between all three International and Study Abroad student housing complexes and their R.S. folks to see who can do the best job, so our group is off to a flying start as at least one of the other housing units has had to draw up a schedule.

We have gotten involved with a local sports enthusiast and business man named Tony whose love is Australian Rules Football.

Together with him we have gotten about 17 of our 22 students interested in attending a gathering of Australians who are involved in this sport and their friends and families who socialize together. Traditionally, they gather for games or practices and then go to their pub and have a brew and a pie. This pie is more akin to our chicken pot pie and is not a dessert, but rather a meat pie. This afternoon at 430 p.m. we will meet with three OZ students from UNDA who play and they will take our interested students and us two over to the their sports club and talk about the game and get to meet members of their community.

This is a great way for our group to meet Australians and see another side of their culture. Tony also has numerous connections to homestay families in the area who are eager to meet CSB SJU students since our young people have a great reputation. This connection will be made after evening mass at the school on Sunday evening. We have encouraged if not insisted that all of our group be there for this.

Students learning about Australian Rules Football.

I have been busy and made a big batch of shortbread. It was quite a challenge working with completely different flour, butter and sugar and then having ONLY metric system measurements and baking with Celsius temperatures. The batch turned out though, and the first trial serving, to our students at a brunch at our apartment last Sunday went well. So far, I have given some away to a few staff at UNDA that have been particularly helpful and our RS and gotten positive feedback.

Don has also had a chance to have a nice breakfast on our veranda:

Our landlord called up and stopped by today. His name is John Lynch and he is a fit 60 something businessman who was a farmer for 25 years. He now deals in moving large quantities of fertilizer domestically and abroad.

He and Tony are life long friends and have business together in properties, one of which is where we are staying. We had a great talk over tea and cookies and found out that we share a common interest in history. He also gave us some great tips for traveling and sightseeing while we are here. We will soon be gearing up to have several different folks over for dinner at different times and he will likely be the first. The wining and dining is an important part of keeping the social relationships going over here in OZ and it is part of what we must do in order to make the program a success. All the connections that we create will make things that much more interesting for our students.

I will send more details about this punishing duty in the future.

Classes begin Monday and Wendy will be teaching our students on Monday afternoons and Thursdays nights. After the Monday class, they will all come over here for cake and ice cream since we want to have a once a month celebration for any of our students who have birthdays during the months that we are here. Three or four have them in July and they will be first up for the celebrations. Afterwards, we will start a rotation and have four or five of them over once each week for a home cooked meal.

This is Don R. over and out for now!

Other things you should know about our trip. We finally saw our first Australian kitty (and of course I had to document the event.) One of our neighbors was pretty negative about cats in general. Thought they should be shot on sight (which seems to me what has happened since there are so few around).

Don and I treated ourselves (are you paying attention, Victoria?) to a meal out at a local Indian restaurant.

It was delicious, but we were sure not to show any food so Victoria wouldn't get mad!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Katoomba Blues or Riding the Rails

Ok, so like the next day we decide to like keep up with the walking thing cause like when after we eat dinner it is like soooo easy to go to sleep. Now we have this upstairs room with a balcony that shields us like from all the street noise more than the other downstairs room on the first floor by the porch with all the night noise and drunks screaming. BUT maybe it is all deception since there is not nearly so much drinking and partying on Sunday night?

We spend Sunday morning first thing checking out the train station, and there are lots of people around and some weirdos who blessedly do not interact with us, although given half a chance they seem to be the types Wendy asks for directions.

The reason for wanting to know about how long it takes to walk from our hotel to the station and when trains depart and how much they cost ties in directly to a plan we have to travel out to the scenic Blue Mountains outside of Sydney and spend part of the day hiking and enjoying some fantastic scenery and being out in nature a bit. This idea was given to us by the mom of the baby who sat next to us on the Qantas flight from L.A. to OZ. All right, we probably WOULD have gone to the central train station anyway because even though Wendy does not want me to say this, it is our weird tradition to do this when we visit foreign metropolitan areas.

Directly from the station we walk over to a nearby neighborhood that hosts Paddy's Markets on weekends. There are regular stores in the building, but on three days of the week there are numerous extra displays where you can purchase clothing, curios, various electronics and fresh fruit and vegetables. It is pretty much a mob scene but we take go with the flow and see a lot of stuff for sale.

Then it is off to China Town which is only a couple of blocks away. Wendy orders some food to go and we chat with a local guy who is very friendly and recommends some things to see and do.

We return to our room and have a feast of a lunch with food from the market, Wendy's Chinese take out and left over Thai food from last night's dinner. We dine on the enclosed balcony of our room and the windows are open letting in a pleasant breeze, for although I have kept you in suspense about the weather, it is a beautiful day with sunshine and no hint of rain.

Then we are off again to the main tourist area back over by the Opera House, but on the opposite side of the bay. We wind up on Pitt Street where there is a monorail that goes through part of the downtown area and where the street turns into a pedestrian shopping mall with all sorts of expensive upscale stores lining both sides. We do not spend even a dime here, but lots of other overseas tourists are making up for our fit of stinginess.

When we finally reach the core tourist zone by the bay it is packed with people. We get away from them and visit another market which has lots and lots of crafts displayed for sale. It is extremely crowded so we do not escape from people by going there.

Some temptation exists to make a purchase, but again nothing leaves our wallets. We then go to a nearby museum whose entry fee is free. They feature an exhibit titled Sydney Biennale 2006 which is a multi media work that would be nearly impossible to describe, so you will be spared reading any more about it.

There are some street performers that Wendy spends some time photographing and then we head back to Darlinghurst for dinner. There, we wind up a an Indian restaurant called Malabar where we have a very tasty feast. The owner is a friendly Indian decent man who mixes with the customers and is genuinely interested in how everyone is enjoying the food, the atmosphere and the music. When Wendy inquires about a particular photograph on one of the walls, he goes into significant detail about the work, when it was taken and who is pictured. There is also amazing music being played on the sound system and he tells us that it is a random mix from his database of over 8,000 songs. They even let us take home what we did not finish of our feast, although usually they do not allow that. Before we head home with our leftovers and full bellies, I stop across the street at a bakery and purchase slices of gluten free chocolate cake for breakfast, Wendy buys a croissant for the next day and we go home. I was wondering even after our feast if the croissant would last until the next day, but it goes untouched until the morning,

(Wendy at the Indian restaurant with a borrowed Turban looking like the Maharani)

On Monday, we get up early and realize that we do have both the energy and the inclination to make the train trip to the Blue Mountains. It costs about $20 round trip for each of us and as it turns out the trip is 2 hours each way with all the stops that are made. We do not care since all the scenery is new to us, and we even see Kangaroos in a field both on the journey outwards and then once again on the way back to the city that evening.

Once in the small town of Katoomba, we walk about 15 minutes and are at the canyon edge and can see the mountains, forests and facinating rock formations that dominate the area. Actually, it was not that simple since Don was worried about how far we had to walk to get to the canyon, so we stopped at the police station and talked to a friendly officer. We wanted to see if we could avoid paying for an expensive bus tour of the area, many of which were advertized and gave the impression that they were the only way to see the sites in the region. The officer assured us with good humor that our plan to go on foot was entirely feasible and that the canyon was only a 10 minute walk away.

Once we were there, another pleasant surprise awaited us in the form of an older couple we meet at a scenic overlook who spent quite a bit of time talking with us.

They live in the area and share so much about what is good to see and what is a tourist trap.

They tell us that the reason the area is called the Blue Moutains is due to a haze that results from the vapors emanating from the eucalyptus forests that collect around the rock formations and give them a distinct blue hue in the sunlight.

We notice a wonderful aroma in the air as we walk along the trails that affects our sinuses in a positive way, it is the same vapors from the trees.

(Don has neglected to tell you about these very noisy birds inthe mountains that the older couple calls Carolyn (?) birds. There are many kinds of birds,some of wich we see and some like the bell birds which we hear, but never locate)

We do a little bit of hiking/walking and see these rock formations called "The Three Sisters":

Much of the soil and rocks is a beautiful ochre color. Here is an exxample of one of the formations we went around:

We walk back into town and have lunch at a little cafe that is attached to a hat store of all things. They had an eclectic menu with gluten free main courses and desserts available so I am able to take in a good dose of both. I also had there house special iced tea which was incredibly flavorful and had lemon, lime and mint. Wendy even remarked about how excellent it was and she is not easy to give praise to iced tea unless it meets distinct standards. We got into a good conversation with a local resident and a French woman who was traveling about Australia and various South Pacific islands on a lengthy vacation. We would have stayed longer but our train was only a few minutes from departure so we said goodbye and had to double time it to the station. We made it with just a few minutes to spare, but long enough to inspect and use one of their little rooms that are needed by us humans a few times a day.

Once back at our hotel in Sydney, we had to get our stuff packed and call our shuttle service to confirm our reservation for a ride to the airport for Tuesday morning. We had to brace ourselves for another five hour airplane flight the next day and decided that turning in early was a good way to do this, never mind that we could barely stay awake after hours of walking and riding the train.

We know that once we arrive on the west coast of Australia, our time will start to be taken up by work and preparations for the arrival of our twenty-two CSB and SJU students. It has been good to have some time to be on our own and take in some amazing sites before our work begins.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sydney: Sites and Incites

So, we leave our hotel room after being there less than an hour and hit the streets of the neighborhood walking. It is good to be on our feet after sitting for hours and hours and everything is quite different from what we are used to seeing back home. Two and three story buildings constructed right up against one another line both sides of all the local streets with businesses on the ground level and dwellings up above.

Wendy remarks after a while that it reminds her most strongly of New Orleans with all the green vegetative surroundings, the breezes from the nearby ocean and river and the numerous balconies on many of the upper levels of the buildings. The neighborhood is littered with restaurants, delis, hair salons, clothing stores, bakeries, you name it. Many of the restaurants have only four or five tables inside, much smaller than anything we might see in MN, even down in the Twin Cities. It is late morning local time and with Sydney being 15 hours ahead of MN, we are in our afternoon of the day before, so we are up and going, but how long will it last?

I do not solely mean our energy levels here, but one false move from the curb into the street could be fatal since they drive on the left side of the road. Fortunately, the city must be used to having lots of visitors from nations that drive differently and has printed "Look Right" in bold white letters on the streets by most major pedestrian crossings. Looking right is absolutely essential UNLESS the road is a one way street going the other way. We learn to recognize those pretty quickly too, or I would not be typing this blog right now.

One thing that we cannot find in Darlinghurst is a place open for lunch on Saturday! We walk about for quite some time and notice that most places do not even have hours of business posted! Maybe it is impolite to post your schedule here in OZ, or maybe folks do not want to be committed to spending their time at work when something fun might come up? All sorts of thoughts race through my head and my hunger increases leading to negative thoughts that are not condusive to a good start to our time here. Wendy decides to keep me moving and we head north to where there is an immense botanical garden that covers a good part of the city to the east of the downtown and is on the way to one of the Sydney's most famous tourist destinations, the Opera House.

It really starts raining hard at this point and I am really glad that I tossed my overcoat into my luggage at the last minute prior to leaving home for the airport. I do not think that my funky blue floppy hat would have kept me dry enough to persevere in sightseeing in such weather, but with an overcoat and decent shoes I am good to go. Wendy would be fearless with or without rain gear, but she is in fact equip for the conditions.

The botanical gardens are nearby and are filled with exotic trees, some incredibly large in the trunk and with branches that extend and in some cases arc and curl in amazing ways.

The pyramid in the botanical garden bears an intriguing subtitle!

There are unusual wild birds promenading about the grounds and perched on the park benches, Wendy says they are a form of Ibis. Plants that would astonish Don N. abound and defy description. Fortunately none of them were carnivorous, or we did not wander close enough to accidentally discover that this might be true.

We pass by a major museum, the Contemporary Arts Gallery of New South Wales, and Wendy says that we will come back to see this, for now we are off to the Opera House. I watched a documentary on the design and building of this structure on the Qantas flight and now we were going to see the real thing. From afar, the white roof appears to be a collection of white sails, but when we got closer, what seems to be one building is actually three, and those gigantic sail like roof structures are etched in a feather design so that they could be the wings of birds. The buildings sit perched on Sydney Harbor and attrach countless visitors from numerous countries.

The roof structures of the Opera House were constructed after the foundation was laid and only then did the architects and engineers begin the interiors. The roof was of such a novel design that many in constructions and design were totally awed by the acheivements of the architect. However, his attempts to be equally innovative with the interiors ran up against opposition when the political winds changed and a new government came to power. They refused to provide funds for models to test his ideas and he walked away from the project.

The interior is beautiful with lots of sumptuous wood.

The roof is actually made of tile as you can see despite the reflection through the window.

The team that took over needed seven more years and tens upon tens of millions of dollars to finish the project with their own designs for the interior. The original architect later said that he was sure that at the point he left only 18 months of work remained. So the new government that claimed it was saving public money on the project turned out to have been a little off in their calculations.

Since tourists abound in this area, there were actually restaurants and cafes open, so we got to eat a pretty expensive couple of salads and much needed hot tea in the open air where it was rather chilly. Our years in MN made it much easier on us to bear the cool and wet conditions than many of our fellow tourists who were shivering as they ate. It is good to be full, even down under!

We did not know whether it would be better to take a tour of the Opera House or actually see a performance and try it out so to speak. One of the operas was sold out when we got to the box office, but the evening performance still had seats available, and what seats they were. We could either pay $250 each for first class chairs, or drop down to only $95 each and have seats with partial view of the stage or full view of the stage and NO view of the surtitles (English translations at the top of the stage that let you know what the HELL is being sung in a foreign language- in this case Italian). Never mind, that made up our mind to take the tour of the place for only $20 each, and that was money well spent.

The rain had stopped when we got back outside so we took the long way through the botanical gardens and eventually made it to the Contemporary Arts Museum of NSW.

(Weird film installation of the Bienale Inthe bubbles are images of a black man swimming down to look at the viewers who look up at him.)

We had about an hour plus there to see a couple of exhibits and since the price was free, that was a really good deal. By the time we headed back to our room, it was clear that restaurants were coming to life and that some of them would even open for customers. We stopped at a Thai food place and got a spicy meal that left us full and had leftovers that we could take for the next day.

The Thai restaurant had a very interesting decor and lots of waitrons despite the relatively small number of tables.

We ordered a dish I had never had before a minced fish served on a beetle leaf. It was incredibly delicious and tasted unlike
anything I have ever eaten before. I will have to see if it is available in other locations. (ws)

Our plan was to eat out only once a day and make the other meals from groceries and left overs. When we got back to the hotel after dinner, we were really tired, having walked several miles left us able to sleep pretty decently. It would have been better than decent if not for the fact that it was Saturday night and the partying crowds were busy until about 5:00 a.m. We slept through most of it, but when they are drunkenly shouting at one another ten feet from your bedroom window even jet lag cannot insure sound sleep.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Wet and Wild In Sydney

(Well, wet anyway!)

Ok, so we are on the ground down under (finally) and it is Saturday morning July 15 in the megalopolis of Sydney. The city is home to 20% of Australia's entire population, (in the U.S. such a city would have about 60 million people), and the sky is overcast and there has clearly been a lot of rain and more to come. The cool 60 degree temperatures are quite a break from the 90s we left behind in MN just 24 hours earlier!

First of all, we needed to get a shuttle to our hotel, and for some reason we actually went to an information kiosk and inquired about the process. Directed to station 7 outside of the airport terminal, we expect to find a KST shuttle van, but for some reason there are a bunch of other vehicles (of questionable quality) and drivers all beckoning that we avail ourselves of their services. Pretending to be dumbfounded and jet lagged foreigners, we outfox these rouge drivers at their own game by our silence and they all promptly scatter when an actual KST van pulls up.

Within minutes the van is all but full as a few other traveling couples join us, but we sit there for some minutes while the driver waits to see if he can fill his last remaining seat. At some point during this wait, a woman comments that the open seat could be the drivers profit margin and from that point on, she and Wendy (and occasionally this writer) are involved in a conversation that lasts until she and her husband are dropped off at their hotel. (Wendy adds - yes, she was quite a talker, but a fascinating woman who had painted her hot pink suitcase with all kinds of metallic paint in whirls and swirls. I thought it was gorgeous!!)

Our fellow traveler is from Aberdeen Scotland, but when Wendy notes that her accent does not seem particularly Scottish, she reveals that she is originally from the Tasman Island (just south of the eastern part of the Australian mainland) and that they are returning to visit family. Beyond that, she and Wendy share a lot of interests in arts and crafts and the creative process in general, so the conversation makes the ride pass rather quickly, although we later realize that it lasted about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, I am kind of freaking out that the driver sits on the right side of the car and drives on the left side of the road. Fortunately, all the other drivers seem to be doing the same thing.

When we get to our hotel in the Darlinghurst area of the city, the rain comes pouring down as if on cue and we get our first baptism down under. (Wendy adds - Darlinghurst is the Bohmeian section of town, full of chic pubs and little bistros and it was a totally perfect part of town for us.) There are two people sitting on chairs smoking cigarettes on the front porch of our hotel, and they turn out to be Andrew, our host, and his girlfriend whom I will call Anna since I cannot recall her actual name.

They give us a friendly welcome and show us to our room, which is up a couple of steps into a hallway and basically just on the other side of the wall from the porch. Andrew speaks fluent English with this interesting accent and he soon reveals that he is from Poland, as is his companion Anna. They both remind me of a Scott and Janine like couple in appearance and manner. He being a charming person of immense character and humor, with a sports cap atop his head everytime we see him, and she being a willowy blond, easy on the eyes. Much like Scott, Andrew show his appreciation of his companion by remarking how lucky he is that she came from Poland to be here and now they have been together for over two years.

Our room is not much to brag about, but it is in Sydney Australia, it is very economical, and that is a good thing in a city where prices for just about everything are significantly higher than in MN. We have our own bathroom (not a guarantee in many places), a small refrigerator, a microwave and a water heating device for tea, and a space heater (no central heating or air conditioning), and a double bed with lots of blankets.

So, we do what many other couples do when they have arrived at a seedy hotel in an exotic city and passions begin to overflow. We each take a shower (separately), put on fresh clothes, and ask where we can get a cheap but tasty lunch in this town.

(Wendy adds - Yes, my heart sank a bit when we first walked into the room - it was clean but probably best described in the four letter word term as being a "dive". It was the front room in the hotel and thus on the street and would be both noisy and a bit cold that night.) The next day we got to move to a bigger room with a balcony and some insulation from the street and that looked no better really, but was much more comfortable nad had good natural lighting so we were very happy for the change. AND Andrew and Anvette were so charming and helpful, that I would go there again!)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Pleasant Uneventful Day in Freo

Since Don refuses to write anything properly informative about our visit to Australia, I thought I'd jot down a few notes. (I guess you can either have Don's style or my substance cleverness or drab prosaic descriptions (but at least there are pictures!)) Today we had the students over to brunch at the house.


This meant a busy morning of fetching baked goods, cooking and striaghtening. I slept a bit later than usual this morning which I hope means the jet lag is beginning to wear off, but which also meant that my first batch of biscuits went into the oven a bit later than planned. I invented an olive, chicken cheese biscuit that I liked quite a bit, but which was not terribly popular with the students (several of whom don't really like olives). After two meals with the students, I have to say it is a very good group, respectful, kind and interesting. Don's shortbreads went fast and the scones disappeared quickly. We had been a bit worried about whether there would be enough food (It is very hard to gauge what 22 young adults might be likely to eat.) It was good that we had fruit to augment the 2 dozen scones. Apricot bars from the bakery were unpopular, but the heavy, German-style bread seemed to go well. Most of my muesli cookies were also eaten. Unfortunately we lost oneof our students and when we went back to show him the way he had headed off to the market. So we were not yet a complete contingent, since james was shopping and Maggie had yet to arrive. We discussed the schedule and then sent the students off to explore while we stayed home and stragihtened up and rested a bit before heading into town to check out the deals at the market.


We decided to leave Maggie and James a little snack bag since they had missed breakfast, so it was back to the bakery for some more scones and then back to the P and O to leave them. On the way we happened upon Tony Fairhead at the Orient bar so we bought a shout and got to know the University of Portland sponsor, Tom and the Notre Dame, Indiana, Director, Katie a bit as well as meeting Tony's companion Ros.

It was a lovely, congenial afternoon together. Late in the afternoon we zoomed over to the market and bought some vegetables for very good price (close out from the market and although we spent $16.00, it cost us much less than it would have at Coles (Supermarket). For that paltry sum we bought, cilanthro, parsley, and eggplant, a HUGE bag of spinach, a box of cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and a grapefruit. The market was crowded and a busker (who had been in a pirate costume when we arrived, was stripped down and doing strange things with some kind of metal device that looked like a bow saw. He had bone ribs tattooed on to his chest and seemed to have a very funny spiel as he manouvered his body through the metal bow.

We went home and had a spinach chicken concoction for dinner and then it was off to mass. The Father used an incident at a Dominoes (pizza place ) where management had insisted workers be docked two minutes for every minute late and pay penalties for improper clothing and been told to quit if they didn't like the policies. The sermon concerned being like Jesus and the right to work (a concept not so wide-spread in the US). I found it very interesting, with a very nice textual interpretation about the meaning of the return o f the disciples who praised themselves for their work rather than (like John the Baptist) focusing on Jesus (and the essential).
After mass, I came home and watched Australian 60 minutes. The topics were recycled water (sewage treated and used for drinking water) a very hot topic here right now, because of water shortages. Other features were about Billy Joel and a Canadian man who traded a red paper clip on Craig's List and after 14 trades had turned his single red paper clip into a house. (A fascinating story involving, Alice Cooper and a Kiss Snowglobe - check out .)
Tomorrow is a big day with lots of Orientation meetings etc. so I will sign off for now.