Monday, February 6, 2012

Holidays in the Land Down Under

Yes I know what each of you are thinking and I will admit that I am plain horrible at this blogging thing. I have to say I think about it just about everyday and come up with ideas on what I should write about (How the toilets work here....Learning Australian slang...Grocery shopping with little to no brands you know...etc) but then I don't sit down and do it. I can't make myself sit at the computer and type it out. I come up with something else I need to do (i.e. Facebook, read a book, go hang out with roomies...). I of course then feel guilty because I know there are several people back home wanting me to do this on a regular basis. I have this constant voice of my older brother in my head telling me I will regret it if I don't do it. I get some sort of comment, friendly reminder, or joke about once a week on how my blog has only two entries...I said I would update once a week...I have now been gone over 5 months....I will now try my hardest to post something, anything even small on here every two weeks. See how that works out for me.

I do have loads to catch everyone up on about end of New Zealand trip, first few months living in Sydney, and then my move and new adventures in Melbourne. I will however skip that for now and give you for your reading pleasure my holiday happenings here in Australia.

As we all know, or I hope we all know, is that Thanksgiving is purely an American holiday that many people abroad do not understand or appreciate. They do not understand it which is fine and expected as I do not understand some of the holidays here. I have discovered holidays I did not know existed (i.e. Boxing Day, Melbourne Cup Day, Australia Day etc). I however get the chance by living here to get to know more about their holidays. This is what some of this adventure is about for me to live in a country, be part of it, learn more about it, and appreciate it all the more. 

I got asked several questions about Thanksgiving: 
What is Thanksgiving? 
What are you celebrating? 
What are you thankful for? 
Your Thanksgiving is like our Christmas right? 
What do you eat? 
You get together with your families at Thanksgiving and Christmas? 
What do you do on Thanksgiving day? 
I thankfully knew how to answer all of these!! I hope each of my fellow Americans can as well.

I made some grand plans to host my very first Thanksgiving dinner. It was to include my roommates, neighbors, and whom ever else we decided to invite. I made my list of dishes. I got recipes from my Mom. I made my list of groceries to buy. The hunt began for not only a turkey but the American products I would need to make dishes. I found a fully cooked turkey, since I would not have the time or means to cook it, for a mere $80. Yep that was not going to happen. My Mom pays around $20, granted not cooked but still $80 was too much for this poor, backpacking lifestyle girl. Slices of turkey it would be! I began looking in grocery stores for items on my list. Yes, you can find onions, lettuce, apples, cheese (not orange though) etc in any store but some of the important things I could not find. I mean it is just Australia peeps, the country most like the United States, so things can't be that hard to find?? There are TONS of areas in Melbourne that provide food stuff from different parts of the world. I have been able to find such places here for American products but most are American candy, drinks, etc and not actual items we cook with. I couldn't find cornbread mix for my stuffing, I could not find pumpkin puree for my pie, I could not find cranberries or cranberry sauce, and I could go on. I began to discuss my need for American food items and I got a tip that there was a USA food store in the area. Awesome!! I looked it up and discovered it would take me 3-4 hours round trip to get to said store with 3 different change overs on public transport.

I finally came to the conclusion that celebrating Thanksgiving this year without all the food was going to be okay for me. Thanksgiving food is wonderful and every year I look forward to eating some of my favorite dishes and baking some as well but it is simply not the most important thing about this holiday. I realized that more this year than I have any other year. It is about giving thanks and rejoicing in all of the wonderful people and things in my life! I sat down instead to make a list of the things I was thankful for this year in my travel journal and I got well over a 100 listed. I am one lucky girl and I am living a dream right now. I am doing things others will never even get a chance to do and that is one amazing gift. I am going to keep this tradition going and make a list every year to look back on. I do know though that wherever my travels lead me to this year that I will be back in the states sitting down at my Mom's table for Thanksgiving dinner!

Since there is no Thanksgiving here the festivities and decorations for Christmas were started in November as seems to unfortunately be the trend now in America as well. Australia was going into summer at this point in time so while not as hot as Texas spring and summer it still had a few hot days by this point. While I had noticed Christmas decorations around the city it was not as festive as we are in America. You know what I am talking about. Every where you look there are Christmas decorations up, items to be bought, and a Santa every where. This is not the case here. It is much more subdued. I therefore did not fully feel like I was heading into a major holiday without the usual festivities with my family until Christmas Eve.

Christmas decor around trees

These banners were on just about every street in downtown Melbourne

Loved this decor on a building in the city

In the Christmas village they had set up ~ I was happily surprised to find this.

Nativity scene that has a video playing telling the story of Jesus's birth

I was going into the holidays planning on working Christmas Eve and then would have 3 days off because the restaurant where I am working would be closed. I began trying to figure out what I would be doing for actual Christmas day and if I could find someone to adopt me for the day. I did not look forward to being alone on this day and definitely did not want to feel like a burden on anyone. I was fortunately invited to go home with my roommates, Janita and Lisa. They are cousins and most of their family still lives in the same town in Leeton, New South Wales.

Janita is the girl that I met on my tour in New Zealand in August. She was on the tour for only 7 days (I did the tour for 19 days) but in the first few hours of meeting each other we hit it off. She offered for me to come and live with her in Melbourne after I had been in Sydney for a while if I wanted to. My plans for Australia were pretty much up in the air at the time but I told her I would plan on it at some point. I ended up moving to Melbourne at the end of October, Lisa and Janita had just moved in together about two weeks before, and happened to move into a place with an extra bedroom! It all worked out perfectly. I should say the Lord worked it out perfectly.

I was fortunately able to get off work Christmas Eve. Thanks to having a wonderful boss! I then got the few gifts for Janita, Lisa and Janita's parents. I woke up Christmas Eve and it hit me. I was not going to see my family for Christmas this year. No trip to Colorado. No hugs from my Ammaw. No putting out my stocking Christmas Eve for Santa to spoil me with riches. No food made by my Mom. No making my toffee everyone loves. :) No board games. No Christmas Eve service at my church. No snow. It hit and it hit hard. I had to Skype home. I got to 'see' both parents but of course cried. It was hard. I am close with my family and it is hard going this long without seeing them much less at Christmas time. Skype is a great invention and has been such a blessing to me.

We headed out for Leeton in the sweltering heat at about 2pm. It was a hot day and we were headed into an even hotter area of Australia. We had a 5 hour drive with a fully loaded car of girls stuff and presents (I know you can imagine). It was a quite uneventful ride for me as no (live) kangaroos were spotted the entire trip. I was bummed. This was the one thing I was hoping to see during this adventure. The girls were kind enough to make a few stops for the American to get her touristy photos! These were stops the girls had made years ago when little. We arrived in Leeton and I immediately felt at home. It looked like any small West Texas town you drive through and I loved it immediately. 

All packed and jammed in the back seat!

Getting my touristy photo op at the big strawberry!

Classic town sign

Beautiful sunset as we were coming into town

I met Janita's immediate and extended family and was welcomed with open arms. This was my first real experience of being greeted by everyone with a kiss to the cheek and small hug instead of the normal firm Texas handshake or BIG, Texas-sized hug. I have to admit that I was awkward at this and probably hit air or almost lips a few times!  I was not sure who would and who would not greet me this way so had to work on the people reading skills. It did not work. I had big, manly men coming up to greet me with a kiss hello and this was unexpected. I have now become accustom to it and find it a very endearing way to greet someone. I am not backing off my big hugs and strong handshake though friends so no worries!!

I stayed with Janita at her Dad's, George, home on his vineyard. He grows grapes for Yellowtail wine. I know Americans know this wine. This is a widely distributed Australian wine in the United States. The crop he had this year was for Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Semillon. I must admit this was an exciting opportunity for me to get to stay here and get to know more about the workings of a vineyard. The house was an older style home and very beautiful. He had rose bushes out the front which brought up the sweet memories of my Granddad, my Mom's Dad, who grew rose bushes at his home. The smell enveloped and comforted me.

George De Paoli's beautiful home

One of many gorgeous rose bushes

Grapes are close to harvest!

Road leading to the house with vines all the way

I was given gifts to open with the family on Christmas morning. I got to eat some turkey!!  I got to try my first pavlova (Australian dessert). I got to eat some good fresh prawns (shrimp). I went to my very first trots (horse races). I got to see my first kangaroo!! George had became determined to find me some kangaroos so we spent one late afternoon on the hunt. He found me not one but a whole mob (herd) of them! It was a blast! I was stoked to get to see my first kangaroo in Australia in the wild and not in a zoo. I got to Skype again with my parents on my Christmas day and their Christmas day. I then got the added surprise of seeing wild emus on the way back to Melbourne!

First set of kangaroos we saw - they were hanging out eating
George's amazing eyes saw this Mama and Joey (kinda blurry sorry)

A night at the trots!

Myself, Kylie (Janita's cousin), and Janita

George, Janita, Jenny (George's partner) and  (Janita's Aunt/Kylie's Mom)

Wild emus!!!!

I felt like I got to experience a genuine Australian Christmas. I was welcomed into this family and adopted as one of their own. If I can't be with my family at Christmas I would gladly go spend Christmas with the De Paoli clan again. They were quite simply amazing!

I hope everyone's holidays were magical! 

Much love to all from Oz! 



Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The trip of a lifetime.....2nd week

Well it has been a while since I have posted my friends and I am sorry for that. I have had some pretty full days since being in this amazing part of the world. I want to say that we are VERY spoiled in the U.S.A to getting free internet almost everywhere!! I have had to pay for internet in just about every place I have been. The first free place I discovered was McDonald's and it is not even that reliable to actually get on it. I will keep this as short as possible but will be hard with all that has gone on. 

We pick up my journey on Sunday, August 14th….

The day began with a visit to a local Thermal Village in Rotorua. I will note here that besides the smell of sulfur (stronger than Pagosa Springs, CO) it was a very neat little town that I would recommend a visit to anyone coming here. 

Their homes and businesses surrounded the pool
The Thermal Village was home to another Maori tribe. A lady from the tribe took us on a tour that showed us how they lived in this area right by the pools, and how they used the thermal pools for everyday things. They bathed in them, washed clothes, cooked food in earth ovens, used the mud for their skin, etc. 

When the tour ended we got to see some of them do several traditional Maori dances, songs and a traditional Haka (known as a Maori war dance, which you can also see if you watch New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup these next two months). This was all a bit touristy to me when compared to the Maori Marae we had visited a few nights ago. It was still a great learning experience and since most people will not be able to go through the experience I got, this thermal village is a great place to visit. 
After we left the Thermal Village we headed into Rotorua for a quick lunch and a chance to buy some proper winter coats, gloves etc. I mention this mainly because this is the point that Tasha and I bonded. I did not have a winter jacket, hence you see me wearing my Texas Tech fleece in just about every picture. After lunch, I dragged Tasha around to about 20 different shops trying to find a cheap, woman's, winter coat. I was not being picky by any means but seriously could not find a one or gloves or a hat. I ended up in a men's store, to finally settle on a black man's jacket, gloves with no fingers, and a red/black striped toboggan. Yep not a great choice to settle on but it was all I could find. I spent money on gloves I ended up hating, a hat I never wore, and a jacket that I did use a lot but now do not want to get rid of because it is too nice. I am therefore dragging a bulky coat around for the first chance I can get to ship it home for one of my brothers to hopefully use!

Tasha and I in our new coats!
Tasha - She is a precious, very tiny, 19 year old girl from England (London area) and is one of the most musically talented people I have ever met. Yes there is an age difference but she is really quite mature for her age. We really connected over our love for sarcasm and a some what unhealthy need to not stand down when a challenge is presented to us. She informed me at one point that I am the first American she has met that understands her sarcasm and is also sarcastic themselves! I was amazed since I come from such a sarcastic family!! This is also actually a stereotype that Americans do not get sarcasm and are not sarcastic, so a point for me for proving that one wrong!!! We became fast friends and I look forward to many more trips with this girl. She is of course coming to my wedding because she will be singing in it. I have already given her her song to get ready. 

After our exciting lunch/shopping stop we headed on down the road. We first stopped at an amazing waterfall, Huka Falls, for a quick photo op.

Rapids to Huka Falls - not allowed to raft on these
Huka Falls

Our tour guide, Lance, had told us several days before that today would be our first opportunity to bungy jump. I came on this trip knowing that New Zealand was the place I wanted to do it for the first time since this is where it started commercially years ago. We were headed to Taupo Bungy with a 47 meter (154.1995 feet) jump! There was a group of 6 of us jumping with 2 having done one jump before. I was worried about chickening out but once you pay you cannot get a refund, so I went inside and paid before giving the bungy a look.

Ready to go!

Now for the kicker, the lady told me she could not guarantee me NOT going into the water AND that I might be going in up to my waist.

Ok so....

1. I LOVE water but not in freezing, cold winter time!
2. NO they did not have a towel at the bottom for me before I made the wonderful hike back up the side of the mountain.
3. Not going to get my precious Tech fleece drenched so had to take that off.
4. Hoping my swim team diving skills are still good!
5. Paid for with no possible refund.

She told me to do my best “Superman” jump (i.e. going out straight for a while instead of diving straight down). The longer I jumped out straight the better chance of not going in the water. This pretty much took care of my nervousness since I now had a challenge I had to overcome. You challenge me or say I cannot do something, will get me pretty focused to get it done. Who says I'm competitive?? I just prepared to dive like I did when on the swim team and went for it. 

Gotta give a Guns Up!
Still got the diving skills :)

I did not come out of the diving pose or make a noise until I realized I did not touch the water. I started screaming as soon as I knew I was not going into the water. It was such a thrill and over way, way too fast!! I had such an amazing sense of accomplishment at the end!!

This is something I recommend everyone to do at least once in their life. It was not jerky like you think it would be and I was concerned about that since I have some back issues. I really did not even feel it when it bounced and brought me back up. 

After we had all jumped, we headed on down the road to Tongariro National Park for the next few nights. As we were heading there the once in 50 years snow storm began. There was quite a bit of snow when we got there and it continued to snow throughout the night. 

Side Note: This was my first day of getting home sick. I had a pretty big day with the bungy jump but was unable to just text or call anyone back home to share it with someone. This got to me and I ended up having a bit of quiet, alone time that night to write some postcards to friends and family and write in my journal. I will say this has been the hardest thing for me to date to not have this simple act of contacting people whenever I need or want to. 

Monday August 15th

We woke up to a beautiful winter wonderland in New Zealand in August!!! This set us up for a lazy day ahead since we could not do much because of the snowfall around us. Even the bus to go to the mountain for snowboarding/skiing was canceled. Janita, Sam, and I decided to sleep in since we did not have a set time to get up. 

Sam and I
Samantha aka Sam – Sweet, beautiful, tall, brunette girl from South Africa. We started to become closer friends on this portion of the trip. She shared a room with Janita and me for the two nights we were at Tongariro National Park. She had been with us on the Hobbiton tour and that is actually when our bond began over being very excited, nerds over it all!! I am very excited to go to SA to visit her some day!
Some of the group went on a 3 hour hike to see some waterfalls but since we were just getting up we opted out of going. I will say part of me regretted not going because the pictures were beautiful but I did have a very lovely day at the lodge with my girls. We sat in front of the fire, writing postcards, writing in our journals, reading, and drinking some hot chocolate.

Patio at the lodge

Later in the day some of us watched a movie, read, or played some UNO (YOU-NO is what the Australians call it). I tried and tried to tell them it was U-NO since it is a Spanish word but they would not change how they said it and of course frustrated me!!:)

Mount Tongariro (aka Mount Doom in LOTR)

This day was very chill all the way around and was nice since we had had some pretty hectic days so far. We even experienced two, massive earthquakes this evening that no one felt but the bus driver Scotty. We were after all staying next to 3 classified active volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe. Which in New Zealand it is fine to snowboard or ski on them and for your safety they do have escape routes in place if one does erupt and you need to get off that volcano in a hurry!!  I made sure and read up on all the notices posted around, including in the bathroom stalls, so I knew what I had to do in such an emergency.

Little light reading in the bathroom
The view from backside of the lodge
As the day progressed and the snow continued to fall off and on all day, we began to realize that we might not be able to leave the next day. We were to head to Wellington, get there by early afternoon, and have the rest of the day to explore the city. We would not find out until the morning if we could leave so, we went to bed planning on getting up early to head to Wellington.

Tuesday, August 16th

We got up early, ate breakfast, and found out at about 7:30am that the roads were closed. We would have to wait until 10am for the next report. I figured I should get on and put up my first blog and then played some UNO. We got the next report that the roads were still closed, next report at 12pm, so we all headed outside for some fun in the snow.

This was not great snowman building snow
Did some sledding down the road w/ Catriona (Irish friend)

The whole crew
Let’s be honest here, no, this does not look like a lot of snow and for what I have seen in my life it was not. This however, was a huge snowstorm for New Zealand since it was snowing in most of the country and even snowing at sea level in Wellington. There were many places that do not see snow that were getting snow. I was surprised it was not more and even when we started driving to Wellington was wondering why it took so long to open the roads. It did however make for some beautiful scenery for the rest of the trip, and Lance said he had never seen this much snow in many of the places we went. We got the report that the roads were open at 12pm so we headed on down to Wellington!!

Reminds me of Narnia
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and again for those LOTR rings fans is where Peter Jackson has his studio. This is where a great portion of filming was done. There was both indoor and outdoor filming done here so you can take several different tours to see the locations. I unfortunately did not have the time to do this and yes will be coming back someday (hopefully with my Mom) to do this tour.

After the beautiful drive to Wellington we had a quick dinner and then went out for the night since several of the people were leaving the tour at this point. I unfortunately had to say bye to Janita and Sam that night. They both had only signed up for the tour of the North Island. We had a blast all hanging out as a group that evening.

We found out this evening that we would be staying in Wellington another full day because the ferry that takes us over to the South Island was canceled. This was nice in that we got to have a full day in Wellington to do what we liked but also meant we were losing out on something scheduled on our tour. Later we found out that we would miss out on our night at Hamner Springs.

Wednesday, August 17th

Pointing out on New Zealand map where we are
We slept in this day and again had a lazy day to do whatever we wished to do. There was a free museum within walking distance of our hostel so several of us went there for a few hours. It was a rainy day and since we had not planned on being there, no one had any booked activities to do. 

This day was a pretty mellow day in retrospect. After the museum, we came back to the hostel, did laundry, read, rested, worked on journals, etc. A group of us girls went to eat and had a nice dinner out. I also got to introduce several of them to Bananas Fosters for dessert and they LOVED it!! We headed to bed early again “planning” on getting up for the ferry early in the morning.

Thursday, August 18th

We once again got up early and were delayed due to the weather and the ferry not crossing that morning. All we could do was sit, wait and hope we would be able to leave that afternoon. After a few hours we found out the ferry was going across that afternoon. We had a little bit of time to kill so we headed up to Mt. Victoria to see the view of the city from higher up. It was a rainy, cloudy day but still got an amazing view of the whole city.

Lynne, Me, Katie, Tasha, and Sarah
We finally headed to the ferry and boarded for our about 4 hour long journey to the South Island. The ride was a bit choppy in the open ocean but thankfully no one got seasick. When we got back into the calmer waters near the South Island we were able to go up top to take some pictures. I feel like all the pictures I have taken do not really do this place any justice. It is just so hard to capture the magnificent beauty of it all.

Definitely still getting use to driving on opposite side
We arrived in Picton and then continued on to Christchurch where we would be staying for the night. We had a 5 hour drive to get there so the rest of the day was spent on the bus and then a late dinner in Christchurch. We got to see some beautiful scenery this day but other than that it was a long travel day.

Friday August 18th

We had ANOTHER earthquake early this morning!! But…again no one felt it and did not know until Scotty told us. I would say having been in 3 earthquakes and not feeling a one is ok with me.

We were adding more new people to the tour today! We were going up from 13 people to 30 people for the next week. It was always exciting to add new people to see where they would be from and of course the opportunity to make new friends. I was also curious to see if I was going to still be the only American. 

Taking it down in pieces to rebuild
We drove around Christchurch a little so we did get to see some of the damage from the big earthquake but not much. The city centre where most of the damage was done is still blocked off and you can only get so close. They continue to have small earthquakes every day but not enough to cause much more if any damage. The city centre (American - center) is being rebuilt but will take some time. There were areas with buildings completely demolished and some with just areas to be rebuilt. We did drive by one church that was being taken apart piece by piece to be rebuilt because some of it had fallen and this was the best way to fix it. 

It was very sad to see all of the damage and sad because of the many things that were ruined. They have a famous Cathedral in the city centre that has been damaged and was one of the things I was looking forward to seeing. I am hoping to come back here someday. I pray that this city will rebuild and be back to what it once was. 
We picked up our new passengers and did our introductions on the bus. There were some new Germans, a group from Taiwan, several more English and Australians but no more Americans once again. It was kind of nice being the only American to be honest but at the same time made me sad that Americans do not travel like the rest of the world does. Spread the word Americans, to travel is to live!!

Pretty cool cloud cover over the mountains
We headed out of Christchurch and to a sheep farm for our morning tea and a tour of the farm. The farm was run by a very sweet couple who opens up their home to show us how things are run. Sheep here are like cows are in Texas. They are everywhere and you see them all the time while driving through the country. You can spot them in a lot of the pictures I took. 

The morning tea included cookies, scones, sausage rolls, tea, orange juice, and coffee. This is something that is practiced here and several European countries I have come to realize. They have breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. It was a very nice thing for this couple to do for us and it was my first homemade scone! I actually probably ate too many scones…. 

Watching the sheep dog do his job
We got a brief tour of the farm, held/petted some lambs, and watched as the sheep dog did his job. We were all given sheep dog whistles which I have yet to make a sound with. I am working on it though and will come back with an obnoxious toy but a great Texas Tech Gameday noise maker!!!

Lake Tekapo

After the sheep farm, we headed on down the road towards our accommodation for the night at Lake Ohau. The rest of the day was filled with stops by beautiful lakes to take some pictures and do a little goofing off. This country is by no means hurting for some beautiful scenery. It is also amazing how much countryside there is because if this was any other country the lakes would be surrounded with homes. The majority of lakes in New Zealand are uninhabited and therefore makes the place that much more special and beautiful!

Little bit of obstacle to get down to lake

Lake Pukaki

Lake Ohau (Our lodge sits next to this)

Doing a little bit of tree climbing

We stayed the night at the beautiful Lake Ohau Lodge. You have to be purposely coming to this place because the lodge is the only thing on this lake. This place is popular in the summer months for it's water and wilderness activities but more so in the winter months for it's skiing and snowboarding. It has been voted the best place to ski/snowboard in New Zealand for the past 3 years. We of course were not there long enough to try it out and not so sure my snowboarding skills are up to par. It is a pretty straight down, hardcore mountain so you have to be an excellent snowboarder to even attempt it. 

This was my first night to finally see those Southern Hemisphere stars I had been so excited to see since I started planning this trip. It was magical for me to be under a completely different night sky. I have always loved to sit under the stars and try to take in the vastness of our universe. I got to see the Southern Cross and the Milky Way. I have to work on finding more constellations but I got a whole year to do that!

The journey goes on next to Queenstown, so I will pick up there next post. I appreciate all who take the time to read this. Thank you! 

Until next time....