Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Koala in the Mist

With exactly $2 Aus to my name (which seems even more pathetic when it's a single coin!), off I went with Chris and his mates on the drive along The Great Ocean Road (similar to the 49 mile drive to Carmel).

While on the road, Chris, the Aussie outback extraordinaire, spotted a koala in a tree (see below photo--can you spot it?) which officially launched me into a full mental recovery from the wallet incident. That night we camped along the drive and back we went the next morning to Melbourne after a visit to the 12 Apostles rock formation.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cricket and Chaos

G'Day Maties,

And Happy New Year from down under! As I type this, I'm sitting at Chris' dining room table in Balmain, a suburb of Sydney (sort of like Brooklyn to NYC). It's January 2nd and I've officially been in Australia for a full week. I had a rough start in Melbourne but since flying up to Sydney, all is well.

Following are some highlights:

So, the plane ride was the quickest 14 hours I've ever experienced (other than when I got my tonsils out and got a shot of Demerol). We took off at 10:30 p.m. from SFO, I closed my eyes and when I woke up, there were just 3 hours left. Not sure how that happened considering I didn't ingest so much as a glass of wine, but it was fine by me.

Before I go on, I have to make a point to mention the landing into Sydney airport, which was most definitely the best view I've ever seen flying into anywhere. You can see the entire harbour including the bridge and the Opera House with a backdrop of harbor inlets and rolling hills of country-looking houses with thatched red roofs. Think Florence meets Boston…sort of. Once we landed, I transferred flights to Melbourne and 2 hours later I was in a taxi (on the left side of the road!) on my way to Chris' mate's house (Mark), clutching the directions he had emailed me the day before to share with the taxi driver.

After deciphering Mark's instructions to find his house key hidden under the "wheelie bin" in the driveway (I imagined a wheel barrow but it turned out to be a garbage can), I let myself in, cleaned up, grabbed the Aussie cell phone they had waiting for me along side my ticket to the Boxing Day cricket match and was off to the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). I managed to find Chris and his four mates in the stands, and there I spent my first day down under--drinking the local beer and lemonade vodkas and eating stadium quality meat pies while "the cricket" unfolded down below.

As for “the cricket,” one thing that struck me is how funny it is to see all these extremely "pissed" (intoxicated), very large Aussie "lager lads" (as they call themselves) cheering for a no contact game where the players run around in little white outfits and take breaks for tea. The crowd was very intense about the whole thing, too--definitely on the level of the Super Bowl...but drunker and more misbehaved in the stands. An interesting transition to Australia for me after 16 hours in the air to say the least...

The next day I convinced Chris and his crew to take in the sights of Melbourne. One of his friends was visiting from England and Chris and his friend "Tommo" (pictured above with me) were down from Sydney, which is how I guilted them into doing a tourist day. I dragged these poor blokes around on a tram tour of the city which ended early in a compromise to hit a pub and catch the end of the cricket. Hours and hours later, we'd eaten nay a meat pie and the night continued on in full force. The next thing I remember is getting out of a taxi and wondering where my wallet had gone. Yep, mates--every traveler's worst nightmare--it was nowhere to be found. "No worries, mate--beers on us!" was the oddly comforting response from our crew which had doubled in size by this point.

After returning home via taxi by way of the neighborhood kebab cafĂ© with my new mates, I canceled and reordered my credit cards (very responsible, I know) and drifted to sleep to the sweet sounds of Duran Duran coming from Mark’s outdoor patio—those Commonwealth boys love them some English 80’s.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Marsupials and Mistletoe--The Christmas that Never Was

G'Day Friends and Family,

As most of you know, I'll be in Australia for Christmas and New Year's this year, visiting my friend Chris (of Aussie in SF 2005 fame). Well, actually, I'll be somewhere in the clouds above Fiji or maybe Micronesia. And according to my plane ticket, I'm actually not having a Christmas this year. No, it's not because I’m finally succumbing in full to my Jewish roots and it's also not because I've turned into one of the people who refuses to acknowledge any holiday that's fueled by consumerism. In fact, I'm not exactly sure why I'm skipping Christmas--something to do with the intricacies of The International Date Line (I leave SF on Dec 24th and land in Melbourne on Dec 26th after a 14 hour flight).

The whole thing reminds me of one of those puzzles that your 6th grade science teacher would give you on the last week of school before summer when there's no real work to do. You know, the kind where the class is forced to hypothesize what will happen if a cat (which will always land on it's feet) had a piece of toast (which always lands buttered side down) glued to its back (buttered side out) and jumped off a countertop--which side would hit the ground first? In the same vein, if Lauren misses Christmas on the way over, does she get it back on her return flight and, if so, should she expect Santa to pay her a visit then? Ugh...

Anyway, for those of you who will in fact experience a holiday this year, I just wanted to wish you a good one. I'll think of you all on New Year's Day when I'm in recovery mode, wiping off eye makeup and attempting to down some Vegemite on toast as the temperature rounds 100 degrees in Sydney…or somewhere in the 30’s according to the local metrics. At that point, you'll all barely be getting started for New Year's Eve.

So the plan is:

  • Melbourne: Dec 26th - Dec 30th
  • Sydney: Dec 30 - Jan 3rd
  • Cairns (Great Barrier Reef): Jan 3rd - Jan 6th
  • Sydney: Jan 6th - Jan 12th (land in SF on the 12th)

Send word if you get the chance, mates, especially any tips on places/things to check out (thanks to those who already have). Have a great holiday and a safe New Year. Wish me luck down unda and, more importantly, on the 14 hour plane ride tomorrow. Thank God I have the cabin cuddler and Bill Bryson's adventure tales of an American in Australia to ease the journey.