Best Break Ever Part 9: Like a rolling stone

This year, I went to Easter Vigil Mass in one country and Easter Sunday Mass in another.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s pretty awesome.

As you may recall, I went to Easter Vigil at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland. I then spent the night at the Auckland airport, wherein I found a surprisingly comfortable bench and actually got a few decent hours of sleep.

I woke up at 4 a.m. to check in for my flight. For the first time on the trip, I ran into a little problem: my carry-on bag was about twice the maximum permitted weight. I’d known this all along, but no one else had bothered to weigh it until now. Therefore, I had no choice to check the bag. Luckily, I was flying Qantas, so one checked bag was included in my fare. (If this would have happened on either of my earlier flights, JetStar and Virgin Blue would’ve charged me about a million dollars.) I handed over the bag and prayed it didn’t get lost–though even if it did, I was going back to Sydney and all my clothes anyway.

After that little issue was resolved, I bought a cup of tea and a sandwich and tried to pretend the 4:00 on my phone was actually referring to 4:00 in the afternoon. This worked surprisingly well until I looked out the airport window. Oh. Right.

I considered sleeping on the plane. But then I remembered I was flying Qantas, which meant I got all the free movies, TV, and games I wanted. I broke the Solitaire record for my seat, then watched “Secretariat” instead of sleeping. An hour or so into the four-hour flight, a lovely hot breakfast was served, free of charge. I sure didn’t see Virgin Blue and JetStar doing that on my other flights. The meal came with a Cadbury cream egg for dessert. Happy Easter to me.

Basically, I spent the entire flight reflecting on how wonderful Qantas is. Sure, it’s a little more expensive than the other carriers, but I think it’s almost worth it. (Especially when you can pay part of the fare with frequent flier points as I did.) Seriously. Free meal, free movies, free Cadbury egg, free checked baggage, free pillow and blanket. It’s like flying back into the 1950s or something.

I arrived in Sydney at 8 a.m. and picked up my (thankfully, not lost) bag from the exact same carousel that I picked up my luggage from when I landed at the airport on February 11. Is it weird that I remember that?

Then I caught a train from the airport to the city, hoofed it to St. Mary’s Cathedral, and was only a few minutes late to join Ariana for Easter Sunday Mass.

I stowed my luggage in a corner, found my seat, and realised an hour ago I was sitting on a plane. In other words, I went through customs and quarantine, picked up my luggage, got some Australian currency from the ATM, bought a train ticket, caught a train, and walked to St. Mary’s Cathedral–all within an hour. I’m still not sure how that happened.

In fact, that’s how I feel about my entire break. It was at times improbable, but always incredible. I took four planes and one train and got a few stamps on my passport. I saw the sun rise four times. I met people from all over the world. I lived out of a suitcase, sharing rooms with complete strangers for two weeks.

What’s even more amazing is I met people who were doing this for seven, eight months. Just taking their backpacks and going wherever the road may lead. I don’t think I could do that. I’d miss having a home to go back to. All the amazing things I saw and did would start to run together, and none of them would be as spectacular anymore.

For me, two weeks was plenty. Of course, there’s still much more of Australia and New Zealand I want to see. I didn’t make it to the Outback, I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about Tasmania, and it takes a lot more than five days to properly experience New Zealand.

Nonetheless, these two weeks were quite a beautiful journey–and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Best break ever, indeed.

Ariana and I outside St. Mary's Cathedral on Easter.


Best Break Ever Part 3: Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

I went to jail over break.

Or at least that’s what I tell people, so I can enjoy their reactions.

Then I tell them the truth: I went to a tourist attraction formerly known as a jail.

But it still sounds cool, right? Right???

Visiting the Old Melbourne Gaol was one of my favourite parts of the trip. It’s definitely a tourist attraction, but it’s a dang good (i.e. not tacky) one. The gaol–if I may use the Australian spelling–has a long and storied history. I won’t bore you with details, but you can read about here. Most significantly, it’s the place where famous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly was hanged.

Much of the original gaol complex has been repurposed or demolished since it was first built in 1842, but one of the main wings still stands and has been either very well-preserved or meticulously restored (probably the latter) to resemble its original appearance.

The central corridor of the gaol.

Most of the cells had exhibits and information in them, but a few were empty except for a thin mattress and flat pillow on the floor. I went in one of the empty ones, closed the heavy metal door, and settled into a corner of the floor. Nothing like shutting yourself into an old, dark, dirty jail cell to bring on a serious case of goosebumps. It only took about thirty seconds of that to make me very glad this is not the 1840s and I am not an Australian criminal.

Nice lovely window.

Looking out the open door of a cell.

Upstairs on the second floor of the corridor, things got even creepier. There was a big exhibit on Ned Kelly and a gallows in the exact spot where he was hanged. Only parts of the gallows were authentic, but it was certainly close enough to send chills down my spine.

Any last words?

Adjacent to the gaol, and included in the admission price, is the City Watch House, where criminals were held between their arrest and trial. For this part of the tour, we were all given cards with the name and suspected crime of an actual prisoner. I was a twenty-something woman arrested for arsen. Once we had adopted our convict identities, a frighteningly convincing charge sergeant led us into the holding area, seperated us by gender, and informed us we were all under arrest. She sternly told us not to touch anything, including the walls. We were forced to take off our jewelry, put down our purses, and shake our hair to ensure nothing was hidden in it. The seargent checked the webs of our fingers, the soles of our shoes, and underneath our toungues to ensure we had no illicit substances. Thankfully, this seargent decided to forego the cavity search.

We were then shown around the facilities under the watchful eye of the sergeant. We explored the holding cells, including the padded cell for people who were in danger of hurting themselves or others. Then the sergeant showed us to our rooms for the night: all the women in one, all the men in another. The rooms were cold and concrete, furnished only by hard benches lining the walls. The guard locked the door, shut off the lights, and told us to go to sleep. Thankfully, she came back and set us free a few moments later.

Then we moved on to the holding cells where “drunk and disorderly” people were kept until they got themselves sober. Apparently most of the people who came through this facility were arrested for drunkeness, and released with a warning after they had sobered up. As for the rest of us, we would be detained in the facility for a few hours or days until our trials could be arranged. We had a small, concrete-walled exercise yard, shielded from the rain by a dirty tarp. Once again, I was incredibly grateful I wasn’t arrested in Melbourne in the 1840s.

Or in 1994.

Yes, that’s right. Near the end of our tour, the guard told us something I found incredible–these facilities (just the watch house, not the gaol) were used to detain criminals until 1994. I can’t even imagine how dirty, miserable, and overcrowded that place must’ve been.

Actually, maybe I can. Because the criminals held in this area were still in their street clothes, they had plenty of resources at their disposal for leaving their mark. The walls of the women’s exercise yard were etched with graffiti: names, dates, vows of love, nonsensical rants, and of course plenty of curse words aimed at the police, the government, and the world in general.

Seeing this graffiti, much of which had been created in my lifetime, made an already realistic experience even more gut-wrenching.

Let me just say I’m glad I paid attention in Comm Law, because I hope the Old Melbourne Gaol tour will be the last–and only–time I’m ever sent to jail. What an an arresting experience.

Of course I got a mug shot.

Best Break Ever Part 2: Don’t get run over by a car…or a bike…or a tram…

My story of Melbourne starts with the trams, because the trams are EVERYWHERE. Melbourne apparently has the oldest tram system in the world, and it’s still a very vibrant part of the city.

Most of the trams are modern, like this one.

But a few routes, particularly the free "city circle" route that caters to tourists, still use the old-fashioned cars.

On one hand, the trams are a good way to get around. They combine the convenience of buses (you can catch them right on the street) and the efficiency of trains (they run on tracks and follow fairly predictable routes).  No matter where you want to go in Melbourne, you can probably catch a tram and get there easily.

On the other hand, though, they’re kind of annoying. Because the trams run down the middle of the road, a basic two-lane street is automatically converted into at least a four-lane. Four lanes become six, etc. As a result, it takes seemingly forever just to walk across the road.

Conveniently for pedestrians, trams follow the same laws as regular vehicles. Well, except when they don’t. So even when the “walk” sign is lit, you still have to watch out to make sure a tram isn’t barrelling down the middle of the road towards you.

A typical Melbourne street: parallel parking along the curb, eight lanes of traffic, two tram tracks, some bike lanes, and a few grassy medians thrown in for good measure.

Riding the tram itself is an interesting experience. Most of the stops are in the middle of the street, and usually (I have no idea why) in the middle of the block. Thus, you have to cross a lane or two of traffic to get to the stop. No big deal, because most of the city stops have nice raised platforms with sidewalks and shelters and benches, like a bus stop. But some stops aren’t so accomodating–they basically just dump you in the middle of the road, with only a fence seperating you from vehicular traffic and nothing but your common sense keeping you out of the path of another oncoming tram.

The ticketing system for the trams is also interesting. Each tram has a ticket machine, and the cars are theoretically patrolled by transit officers, but there is absolutely nothing preventing a passenger from travelling without a ticket. Passengers don’t board in plain sight of the driver like on a bus. There’s no physical barrier that requires a ticket to cross like on a train. So unless and until you get caught by a transit officer, it seems like it would be pretty easy to take a free ride. I didn’t see a single transit officer the entire time I was there, but of course I bought a ticket every day anyway. (It’s called Catholic guilt. And when a pass for 24 hours of unlimited travel is only $7, why not just fork over the money?)

The trams, however, aren’t the only environmentally friendly transit option in Melbourne. Biking seems to be quite popular there, providing one more moving vehicle for hapless pedestrians to watch out for. The city even has bike rental kiosks that allow passengers to borrow bikes for short trips. They’re stationed every few blocks, charge an hourly fee, and I even saw a few people actually using them.

Are you listening, Columbia, Mo.?

Once I got used to all the trams and bikes, I noticed something else about Melbourne streets: they don’t have a lot of cars. There is traffic, obviously. But the streets aren’t nearly as crowded with standard vehicles as a normal city’s are. I guess with so many other options, having a car just isn’t practical.

Just for fun, here's a photo of the mess of train tracks coming out of Southern Cross Station. Trains run to the outer suburbs of Melbourne, but people rely on trams to get around the city itself.

I’m baaaaack!

After more than* two weeks of bus rides, hostel beds, beaches, bushwalks, meat pies and muddy jeans, I arrived back home in Sydney this morning. I know, it’s not technically home. But crossing the Harbour Bridge on my way back to college, it sure felt like it.

I’ll begin a series of proper blog posts about my adventures on Tuesday (hold me to that, okay?), but until then let me just say it was quite a trip. I saw the sun rise four times (if you know me, you know that NEVER happens). I took photos of so many beaches that they all kind of started to run together. I got a couple new passport stamps and crossed at least one thing off my bucket list. I went to Easter Vigil Mass in one country and Easter Sunday Mass the next morning in a different one.

And that’s just the beginning.

I know you can’t wait to hear all about it, so as soon as I get my computer back in a couple days, we’ll get this party started.

And if you don’t want to hear all about it, why are you reading this blog anyway?

*Edited to correct “over” to “more than.” Amy Simons, if you’re reading this, you taught me well. :)

Help me plan mid-semester break?

I haven’t left the Sydney/North Ryde/Blue Mountains general area since landing at the airport on February 13. Over mid-semester break, that will change. I get kicked out of my college for two whole weeks (sixteen days, actually), so I really have no choice but to go out and explore Australia. I’m not bored with Sydney yet–not even close–but I’m excited to see some other parts of the country. What will I be doing, exactly? Well, let’s take a look at my itinerary, shall we?

Saturday: Train ride from Sydney’s Central Station to Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station. I don’t know why I’m choosing to spend 11 hours on a train instead of 1.5 on a plane. Oh wait, yes I do. It’s because the train station is more convenient than the airport, and trains are awesome.

Saturday night-Wednesday morning: Explore Melbourne, the city I probably would’ve lived in if Mizzou offered an internship as part of the program. Still, no regrets here. In Melbourne, I plan to:

Sleep in a converted convent

– Catch a few shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, including a show full of female comedians (Deja Vu really needs to get on that) and another show called “Grammar Don’t Matter on a First Date.” Too perfect.

– Go to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Ride the world’s oldest continuously operating roller coaster at Melbourne’s Luna Park

Check out an exhibit on Disney films at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image

Indulge my pretentious/hipster side at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

Get locked up (not really) at the Old Melbourne Gaol

Enjoy Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens (Sydney’s will be a tough act to follow)

Check out an exhibition on the history of Australian women in the Army

Ride the tram. Of course.

Once I get all these things accomplished, hopefully I’ll have some time left over to just wander around Melbourne. It sounds like a wonderful city, and I’ve been wanting to go there for quite some time.

I’ll be leaving Melbourne Wednesday morning, spending an hour or so in the Brisbane airport, then arriving in Cairns Wednesday afternoon. Here’s my itinerary for Cairns:

– Snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef

– Um….

Obviously, I’m going to Cairns to see the reef. I will not–will NOT–leave this country without doing so. I haven’t booked a snorkeling expedition yet, because the number of options is overwhelming and I’m having a crisis of indecision. But I will definitely be doing so in the next few days. After that, I’ll still have a couple days in Cairns. I have no idea what I’m doing with them yet. I’d love to take the Savannahlander train into the Queensland outback, but it’s really expensive (especially for single travellers) and I’m not sure I can justify the price. So I may just end up hanging around Cairns with Ariana and exploring the nearby World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest.

At 11 pm on Saturday, I’ll board a plane to Auckland, New Zealand. I hope it’s a comfortable one, because otherwise I’ll be quite a sleepless mess when I land in New Zealand at 5:30 a.m. At this point, though, a little less sleep for a $40 savings is a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

I’ll spend Sunday exploring Auckland, including going to Palm Sunday Mass at yet another St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Yes, I’m aware my Catholic is showing. Thanks for pointing that out.

Then on Monday, I’m joining a sort-of tour of the North Island. I booked an expedition that includes a guide and transport to four different towns. It’s a hop-on-hop-off tour, so in theory I can spend as much time as I want in each place. (In reality, I only have seven days in New Zealand.)  I’m hoping it will give me the flexiblity to do what I want at each place, while still providing the convenience of a guided tour. I’ll probably plan most of this week as I go, but there are two things I know I want to do for sure: visit the glow worm caves in Waitomo, and go zorbing in Rotorua. There are a few reasons I’m choosing to spend almost a week in New Zealand:

– I’ve heard it’s really beautiful.

– I’ll probably never be in this part of the world again, at least not for a while.

– I’ll get another passport stamp.

– The New Zealand dollar is currently worth about 73 Australian cents. At this point, I can’t afford NOT to go to New Zealand.

My tour will depost me back in Auckland on Saturday, and Sunday morning I’ll catch yet another painfully timed flight–this one at 6:15 a.m.–back to Sydney.  I will drag myself to Easter Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, and then….?

Monday and Tuesday are both public holidays in Australia (Easter Monday and Anzac Day observed, respectively), so I don’t have to go back to school or work until Wednesday. Monday, some people and I are going to the Royal Easter Show at Sydney Olympic Park. I’ve been excited for this event since I found out it existed. We’ll see if my love for state fairs transcends national boundaries.

I can’t move back into my college until Tuesday, so I’ll hopefully end up spending Sunday and Monday nights at the home of a friend who actually lives in Sydney. Or the floor of a friend who lives in my college. Or a hostel. Or something.

Anyway…that’s my break in a nutshell (a very, very large nutshell).

What do you think? Any must-dos I’m missing in Cairns, Melbourne, or the north island of New Zealand?

Any advice on which snorkelling tour to take at the Reef?

Any generous donations to the “Angie wants to ride the Savannahlander” fund?

Any requests for photos of koalas, kangaroos, or emus?

Just kidding, I already acknowledged those.