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 8: New Zealand real quick.

Okay, here’s the deal. As much as I’d love to tell you every detail of my five days in New Zealand, I only have three weeks left in Australia and I’m waaaay behind on blogging. So I’m just going to give you a quick highlight reel of the awesome stuff I saw and did. If you want to know more, well, as I said, I’ll be home in three weeks.

For now, I’ll only say the country is just as brilliant and green and wild and beautiful and enchanting as you’ve always imagined.

Hot Water Beach

Wherein I dipped my feet in hot water pools created by digging holes in the sandy beach, then went for a walk with a couple of Danish women from my tour group.

Gemstone Bay

I’m just going to leave these photos here for you, k?

Somewhere along the road

Pretty scenery this way. And everywhere else, too.

Buffalo Beach, Mercury Bay

Wherein I had the best fish and chips possibly ever, watched the sun set on a beautiful beach, slept in a hostel by the ocean, and watched the sun rise again the next morning.

Twin Kauri Scenic Reserve

Wherein I hugged a giant Kauri tree.

Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway

Wherein I explored an abandoned gold mine and crossed a really, really wobbly bridge.

Matamata

Wherein I pretended I’d seen more than zero “Lord of the Rings” movies and just generally had fun saying “Matamata” a lot.

Rotorua

Wherein parks are built around bubbling mud pools and steam vents come out of people’s back yards. The entire town smells like rotten eggs and I’d never seen anything quite like it.

Rotorua is home to lots Maori people, and I had a wonderful cultural experience/dinner there.

In Rotorua, I also went zorbing. My tour guide described it best when he said, “Zorbing is like your first time. It’s wet, warm, and over in 30 seconds, but you’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Waitomo

Wherein I went on a cave tour and saw a magical array of glowworms, but didn’t take photos because really there’s no point.

Lake Taupo

Wherein I watched the sun set and that’s about it, because I didn’t have time to go kayaking or skydiving.


Best Break Ever Part 7: Glad I’m not living in Auckland

My last post left off with me preparing to catch an 11 pm flight from Cairns to Auckland, New Zealand.

When I arrived at the Cairns airport, my flight was the only one open for check-in in the international terminal. (The place isn’t exactly LAX.) Checking in took a little longer than I anticipated, because the person working the counter apparently wanted to ensure before I left for New Zealand that I wasn’t going to be deported once I got there. Before she gave me my boarding pass, she asked if I had plans for leaving New Zealand. Luckily, I had my itinerary in my bag for my flight back to Sydney a week later. When she saw that I had an American passport but was flying back to Australia, she asked me if I had a valid Australian visa. Luckily I had my visa confirmation with me as well, but really, how did she think I got into Australia in the first place? She was friendly enough, but I just wanted to get to my gate so I could sit down and think about taking a nap.

Eventually, I got my boarding pass and proceeded through security. People complain about the TSA, but Australian airport security is pretty much the same ordeal. You have to take your laptop out of your bag, and the liquids rule still applies, except here’s it’s 100 millilitres instead of 3 ounces. The main difference is in Australia, you get to keep your shoes on. They also don’t do pat-downs, as far as I know. Oh, and no one asks you for your passport. Okay, maybe it is easier in Australia.

Once I passed security, I was directed to the customs area, where I had to fill out a “departing passenger card.” The card asked for some random information about my stay and made me swear I wasn’t exporting any contraband from Australia. (This is where I’m glad I left that coral on the beach in Palm Cove.) It wasn’t a difficult process, but I don’t remember filling out anything like that when I left America. I presented the completed card to a customs officer, who put a “departing Australia” stamp on my passport.

It was sometime during this process that I realised New Zealand is, in fact, a different country. Intellectually, I knew that, but the whole customs process reminded me that I was in fact leaving the country I’d spent the last three months in. Not nearly as dramatic as leaving (for the first time) the country I’d spent the last 21 years in, but still notable.

When my flight was ready for boarding, they didn’t even bother to make a real announcement. It was the only flight leaving from that part of the terminal, so the crew pretty much just looked at all the tired people sitting near the gate and said, “Okay, y’all can get on the plane now.”

Once I got to my seat, I was delighted to find I had the entire row to myself. I guess not many people were clamouring to take a red-eye flight from Cairns to Auckland on a random Saturday. I was able to get a little rest by lying down across the three seats, but still airplanes are airplanes and I can’t sleep on airplanes.

The plane landed in Auckland at around 5:00 a.m., just in time for me to see my second sunrise of the trip. (Four-hour flight plus two-hour time difference, for those of you keeping track at home.) I proceeded through customs in a sleepless stupor, passed the giant “Kia Ora – Welcome to New Zealand” sign on the airport wall, and found a shuttle bus to take me to my hostel.

Because it was 6 a.m. when I arrived at the YHA International, I couldn’t really check in yet. The desk attendant looked about as awake as I was, but he gave me some change for the washing machines and the key to the luggage storage room. My first task was to do my laundry, since I’d only brought enough clothes for a week and they were all pretty much dirty by the time I left Melbourne. Once that task was complete, I stumbled out into the street in search of a cup of coffee. Along the way, I was surprised to find a record shop near my hostel open so early on a Sunday morning. The store reminded me of Vintage Vinyl, except it was much bigger (!) and sold music books and c*** colouring books and things as well as records and CDs.

As I wandered around downtown Auckland, I felt like I was at home–but not in a good way. The city reminded me of St. Louis. There are some nice parts, but it’s not. quite. there. The interesting things, like the record store, coffee shops, and museums, were scattered amongst vacant buildings and deserted sidewalks.

I don't know who Deloitte is, but I do know we have a building with the exact same sign in St. Louis. Point proven.

The Auckland Domain was okay, but the walk from the CBD was full of construction and concrete and not all that pleasant. In my wanderings, I came across the Auckland Institute of Technology. I remembered very briefly considering studying in Auckland this semester, and was quite glad I didn’t give that thought any serious attention.

My initial distaste for Auckland may have been caused partially by my tiredness resulting from a sleepless overnight flight. (Not that that stopped me from loving Sydney the minute I got here.) Despite the exhaustion, I decided to try to make something productive out of my day. First I went to Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was very nice. I even managed to stay awake through the 1.5-hour service.

The inside of the church. It was pretty in a clean, simple way.

Leaving the church after Mass.

The front of the church. It was pretty tiny by cathedral standards.

Then I went to the Auckland Museum, which was pretty cool. The Museum is located in the Auckland Domain, a big grassy area in the middle of the city. (Like Forest Park. Except smaller. And uglier. But the St. Louis analogies continue.) Next to the museum is the Winter Gardens, which consist of a few greenhouses full of pretty flowers and stuff.

Water lilies.

Some flowers. (Obvious caption is obvious.)

After visiting the Domain, I decided I’d had enough adventure for the day, so I got a sandwich for dinner and went back to check into my hostel and sleep. It was 6 p.m., but that was highly irrelevant.

The next day, I left Auckland on a Kiwi Experience tour. Our first stop was a lookout over the city. It was cold and rainy but the city looked slightly less lousy from the top of a very dormant volcano.

Rainbow provided for your enjoyment.

I spent a wonderful five days exploring the North Island. But at the end of the tour, I ended up–guess where–back in Auckland.

When I arrived in the city on Friday afternoon, I had the benefit of a full night’s sleep. On the other hand, it was Good Friday, which is a public holiday in New Zealand, so EVERYTHING was closed. Plus, it was raining. Feeling epically lame, I spent some time on the internet at my hostel, then ventured out for a falafel kebab, some chips, and a bottle of L&P from a shop down the street. The kebab shop was pretty crowded, because it was one of the few places open on Good Friday. Kiwis take their public holidays very seriously. I also got a chocolate chip cookie from an “American-style” cookie store. It’s funny–I don’t think of chocolate chip cookies as particularly American, and it wasn’t until this store pointed it out that I realised I hadn’t really seen them anywhere else in Australasia.

On Saturday, I decided to give Auckland one last chance, so I ventured down to the harbour. There, the St. Louis comparisions ended and the Sydney ones began. Let’s face it: Auckland just wants to be Sydney. Their Harbour Bridge looks like a smashed-down version of Sydney’s, and they have a Bridge Climb too. (To be fair, you can’t bungee jump off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But this is New Zealand–you can bungee jump off everything.)

Harbour Bridge fail.

I took a ferry to Davenport because, as I’ve mentioned before, ferries are awesome. Davenport is the historical area of Auckland, and there were lots of pretty buildings and parks there. I climbed to the top of the dormant volcano we drove up at the beginning of the week. I walked around with the tourists for a while, then slid down the steep grassy side and back to the bottom. That was pretty fun, even if the only other people doing it were under the age of 6.

After killing some time in Davenport, I went back to the Auckland CBD and has a delicious Chipotle-style burrito at a Mexican restaurant. Then I walked around the harbour for a while and became further convinced that Auckland is trying to be Sydney. Unfortunately for the city, it is failing. Miserably. If I had gone there first, I probably would’ve thought the trendy restaurants and fancy boats on Auckland’s harbour were pretty sweet. But because I’d lived in Sydney for three months, I was not impressed.

The harbour from the ferry.

The city from Davenport.

The city from the top of the volcano (in sunlight this time).

Then I went to church, because that’s what I do when I’m alone in a city with time to kill and no money to spend. (Actually, it was Easter Vigil, so I probably would have gone anyway.) It was a beautiful service, and it lasted until 10:30 p.m. After Mass, I said goodbye to Auckland (not entirely happily–even if it was a lousy city, few things are more enticing than a city on a Saturday night) and took a shuttle to the airport. There, I found a comfy bench and slept until it was time to check in for my 6 a.m. flight out of the New Zealand knockoff version and back to the real Sydney.


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. :)


(Temporary) Goodbyes

I’ve found that university life is a constant stream of packing, unpacking, goodbyes, and reunions. At the end of each semester, before each break, we cram our stuff into cars and hug our friends goodbye. At the end of the break, we return, unpack our gear yet again, and joyfully greet friends we haven’t seen for months–or days, depending on the break.

It’s no different for study abroad students. One of the lovely perks (just kidding) of living at DLC is that we have to move out of our rooms for mid-semester break so conference guests can sleep here. Fortunately for me, I only came here with two suitcases of stuff, so packing isn’t a huge ordeal. Still, it’s a little annoying, and I am of course surprised at the number of random items I’ve collected in the last seven weeks. I put some of my stuff into a backpack to take with me and the rest in a couple of suitcases to store in the DLC luggage storage room. I also had to take down my bulletin board, so now my room looks even emptier than usual.

Highlights include photos of people I like, a large and pretentious collection of art gallery maps, a Sydney Opera House ticket stub, a particularly vagina-looking Georgia O'Keefe painting for this month's calendar, and some aesthetically un-pleasing white space (pink space?) in the middle.

Of course, packing inevitably comes with goodbyes. I haven’t written much about them here (“The Social Network” taught me a lesson on blogging about acquaintances), but I’ve met some pretty decent people at DLC. One of them is Canadian, several are Asian, a bunch of them are American, and a few are even–can you believe it?–Australian.

Over the past two months, I’ve tramped around Sydney, had more than a few three-hour-long dinner conversations, and debated everything from healthcare to music with these people. They’ve taught me a lot and even helped me through one particularly lousy weekend when a phone call home just wasn’t going to cut it. I’m extremely blessed to have met them, and even more blessed they put up with my annoying Americanness and unavoidable snarky comments.

Me, Karen, and Ariana at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Photo courtesy Ariana.

Anthony, Sean, Raven, Vincent, Kate and me at a pub in Sydney. Photo courtesy Kate.

Tomorrow we’re having “family” dinner and movie night before we all go our seperate ways this weekend. I’ll miss them, of course, but knowing we’ll be reunited at the Royal Easter Show in two weeks (plus knowing I’ll see Ariana and Alicia in Cairns) makes it a little less painful.

The mid-semester break, fittingly, also represents the halfway point of my time in Sydney. Technically I think the halfway point is next Wednesday, but it’s not worth counting the days out. Anyway, it’s time for the traditional OMG I HAVE TO LEAVE THIS PLACE EVENTUALLY freak-out/reflection.

I’ve done a lot of freakin’ amazing stuff so far in Australia. I have no regrets about my first two months. Yet every time I check something off my Sydney must-do list, I seem to find two more things to add. So when I get back from break, I will definitely not be bored. The “OMG I leave so soon” panic hasn’t set in yet, probably because I still have 67 days here. Of course, 15 of those will be spent in other cities, so we’ll see how I feel when I get back and realise I only have, what, 52 days left in Sydney? For now, I’m operating strictly on a “carpe diem” type of policy.

I’m very excited for this break, obviously. But there’s one thing that makes me a liiittle nervous. My computer will be stored in a super-secret safe location at DLC. That’s right, I’m not taking it with me. This is slightly unsettling because I use it for EVERYTHING: looking up directions, finding public transit schedules, making plans with friends, keeping in touch with my family, and of course updating this blog.

I won’t be totally disconnected from the world: my not-so-smart-phone is equipped with easy access to Gmail and Facebook, and some of the hostels I’m staying in provide internet. Still, it will be interesting to see how many times I get lost without detailed “get on this bus at this time” directions. Thankfully, Amanda gifted me a great guidebook that will hopefully help in this regard. And yes, contrary to popular belief, I can read a map.

As for the blog? Well, I’ll be doing it the old-fashioned way–with a notepad and paper. I’ve got an empty reporter’s notebook for words and an empty SD card for pictures. When I get back to Sydney with both of these things filled up, I’ll try to edit the disorganized jumble into some blog posts you’ll like.

Until then…if you need me, I’ll be off exploring the world. Bye now!


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.