Farewell, Australia, Farewell.

19 06 2010

So I’ve been plagued with a sense of guilt since my return, at not having posted about my final week(s) in Melbourne. I also have been coming across every piece of paper upon which I scribbled illegible notes of things I needed to blog about, which keeps reminding me that my entries were incomplete. So here I sit, in the midst of piles of pages, back in the good old US of A, nostalgically reminiscing about my final days down under…

The penultimate week at Newman consisted of a variety of exciting cultural experiences. Wednesday night I went to dinner and drinks with a lovely girl I met at Newman- Therese. I had a delicious meal of NACHOS, which temporarily satiated my Mexican foodlust. After a stroll back through the chilly autumn air, we attended a Newman College wine tasting. I felt very worldly as between each delicate sip, we were told of French and Argentinian soil, pH levels, robust noses, and citrus bouquets. The evening only confirmed even more for me the fact that I love red wine.

Thursday was the last formal dinner of the year, a bittersweet occasion indeed. I was caught off guard as we sat down at high table and suddenly everyone in the dining hall began banging on the wooden tables. I didn’t know what else to do but join in. It was quite the ruckus. Then from the side of the hall, the soccer team entered to cheers and smiles from everyone in the room. They had won the soccer championship that week, and what I was witnessing was called a “bang in,” a cacophonous acknowledgement of their great success.

Luke & I went out that evening, as Luke was determined to show me some of the best of Melbourne bars. This night was by far one of the most fun of the trip. We first made our way to The Croft Institute, a wacky, eerie, mad-scientist lab kind of feel. Getting there was probably the creepier part though. We wandered through spraypaint-laden alleyways, past garbage cans and sputtering streetlights (I feel like I’m typing the lyrics to “Memory” from ‘Cats’ right now…maybe I am…) No signs, no real evidence that we were going anywhere but on our way to a mugging. Luke insisted we keep going, and lo and behold- it was provided. The Croft Institute- with bleached tile walls, scattered neon green lighting, an old chemistry sink smack dab in the middle, and people taking shots out of syringes. It was bizarre, but boy, was it cool. After a drink there, we made our way to the Emerald Peacock- an ornately decorated, shimmering display of oriental furniture, rugs, and art. The walls were all painted the most beautiful shades of turquoise, green, and teal. Upstairs led us to an outdoor patio, overlooking Swanston Street- gorgeous. I was so impressed by the thematic continuity in each bar that we entered. I wonder if DC has anything like those bars. If so, I need to stop trolling freaking Clarendon Grille & Spider Kelly’s… What have I been thinking.

Friday morning I borrowed Renae’s bike & ventured out into the crazy traffic to attend lectures with Luke. After nearly being run over countless times, we made it safely to our destination, and sat through 3 fascinating hours (seriously, fascinating) of lectures on stalkers/stalking and threateners/threats. The doctors giving the lectures had the most captivating stories about patients they had encountered with all sorts of issues, stories about crimes that might have been prevented, & generally interesting insights into the brains of troubled individuals. It was like hearing about much less gruesome, real-life Silence of the Lambs kind of stories.

That night we watched the Collingwood v. Geelong game at a pub with Luke’s friends Matt & Olivia. I devoured a massive parma (oh man do I miss those parmas) and sat uncomfortably on a wooden stool as poor Collingwood got a pants-down thrashing from the Cats. The morale was low between Luke and me, but we eased our spirits over Tim Tams & youtube videos at Olivia’s house following the game.

Saturday Luke & I ventured to the MELBOURNE ZOO. At last- one of the things I had been anticipating for so long. Now you Americans can all stop asking- YES, I saw a kangaroo. YES, I saw a koala. And yes, oh yes, I saw a wombat for the first time in my life. I wanted to tackle it into the ground and hug it for the rest of time. Unfortunately, there was a thick glass pane between us, and even if there hadn’t been, the little wombat probably would have clawed my face off with its massive burrow-digging nails. But holy crap, that is a cute animal. I feel as though Australia’s animals (apart from all the deadly, I-want-to-murder-you animals) are so much cuter than ours. We have freaking squirrels and our possums are ugly as hell.

Australian Possum

I’m freaking adorable! Love me! Look at my little pink nose!

North American Possum


As I browsed the gift shop on our way out, Luke comes strolling up to me with a 10x life size stuffed kangaroo, yelling out “GRAE I WANT THE KANGAROO” in a crap American accent. I don’t know if that joke will ever get old for him, but people were looking at me with horror/empathy as he placed it in front of me. One kid turned to me and said “are you really gonna buy that?” I pretty much just power walked away as Luke lost it in a fit of laughter.

We attended a baptism for Luke’s friend James’ child, stopped by the afterparty for a bit and had a tasty dinner of pumpkin soup (aka butternut squash) and lasagna. Later I ventured out into the city with Tom the Kiwi & a few Newmanites for some adult beverages. Luke and his friend Missy met up with us later, and long story short- I decided that night never ever to drink Bundy again. Two nights of drinking Bundy did it for me. I don’t know if they have some sort of superhero tolerance or what up in Queensland, but that liquor gave me hangovers that felt like armageddon.

The next day was pretty unproductive. I think I skyped with my family and that was it. HA

Monday I ventured out to Luke’s mum’s house by bus, and helped her work on her birthday invitations. After about 5 hours on the computer, I made my way to another nearby suburb to rendezvous with Luke. He had bought tickets for a Whitley concert, and I was more than stoked. I don’t know why Whitley hasn’t made it big here in the States. He’s so freaking good. I recommend him highly, so check him out on iTunes if you want some good new music.

The following morning I realized that my check card was MISSING. Ugh. I was so perturbed. There is nothing more inconvenient than losing an essential item whilst in a foreign country. I spent the next day checking the places I had been that weekend to see if I had left it anywhere, but to no avail. I cancelled it before there were any fraudulent charges, so that was a plus. That night Luke and I attended a talk on Jesuit spirituality which was pretty fascinating. I hadn’t known much about the Jesuits before staying at Newman. Here in the States I think they have a bit of a different reputation for being outrageous libs, but I don’t think it’s the case in Aus.

A lot of nights I would sit by the fountain in the quad of Newman. It was such a peaceful spot, and I was able to do a lot of reflecting there. It was also an ideal smoking spot, on the off chance that I dabbled in a cig, but that’s neither here nor there. Directly above me, past the gotchic spires of Newman College, past the branches of the eucalyptus trees- the Southern Cross. I developed a love affair with the Southern Cross during my time in Australia. It’s such a lovely constellation, and so easily identifiable. It was my constant companion on nights when I was unable to sleep, or nights when I could have slept, but chose to sit outside anyway. As I’d gaze dreamily up into the Australian night sky, bats would swoop in and out of the branches of the trees. Over the sound of the trickling water of the fountain, they’d chirp to one another. Well, I take that back. Chirp is far too pleasant a word for their noise. I’d describe it more as a hoarse squawk. Sometimes it sounded as though small children were being attacked. Perhaps not the most romantic soundtrack to autumn stargazing, but somehow I got used to it. One of the things I miss most is sitting by that fountain each night, enraptured by the goings on overhead…

A couple other things I became extremely attached to: cappuccino and muffins. There was a little cafe a couple blocks from Newman that had the most delicious muffins I have ever encountered. I had a sort of game that I’d play that I entitled “Can Grae wake up early enough to make it to the cafe before all the chocolate muffins are gone?” I generally lost the game. But the beauty of it was that their other muffins were also amazing…white chocolate raspberry, banana nut, apple cinammon… AH MY MOUTH WATERS AT THE VERY THOUGHT. It was sort of a “when you lose, you still win” kind of game- like beer pong. But we all know I really, really don’t like losing in beer pong. But I digress.

Fresh cream & parmas were also two of my obsessions during my stay. I seriously am making myself so hungry right now. I need to stop.

…but you should probably know what a parma looks like.

I realized that I needed another installation of the Aussie-American Dictionary.

Australian-American Dictionary Vol. II

chewy (n.)- gum.

“Hey Grae, can I get a piece of chewy?” “No Luke, get your own.”

FF (fun fact): They don’t have orbit gum over there. That blew my mind. I’m not sure why.

thong (n.)- flip-flop.

No comment on that one. I think it speaks for itself.

“Doona” (n.)- comforter or quilt.

This one confused the crap out of me for the longest time. I thought Luke was speaking gibberish.

Milo (n.)- Nesquick. Can be put in milk, coffee (to make a mocha), or even eaten in spoonfuls.

Powdery chocolate. So strange.

“No wuckers” (idiomatic)- No worries, no fuss. Derived from “no f*&%ing worries” -> “no wucking furries” -> “no wuckers.”

Ocker (adj.)- a term for an Australian who generally is rough around the edges, uncultured, or from the country. Generally a thick, outback kind of accent that stands out from the accent of the cities.

Specialist (n.)- weirdo, crackhead.

TimTams (n.)- delicious cookies. Sort of like the Aussie equivalent of the Oreo, but a lot tastier.

Povo (adj.)- shortening of the word “poverty,” means poor, dilapidated, broke.

Cheers (idiomatic)- can be used for a variety of things- “thanks” “yes” “sounds good” “seeya”

Full on (adj.)- extreme, intense. “That haircut is pretty full on.”

Flat out (adj)- really busy. “Sorry mate, I can’t get together tonight. I’m flat out.”

Good on ya (idiomatic)- Good for you. Well done.

How you going/How are you going? (idiomatic)- What’s up?

Good value (idiomatic)- top quality. Used to describe people, food, etc.

Get stuck into (imperative idiomatic)- drink up or get involved in something.

Gorgeous (adj.)- Used as an adjective to describe a good person, or something/someone endearing/lovely. Not having to do with physical appearance necessarily.

Burger (n.)- Not necessarily a beef burger. Can consist of chicken. CONFUSING, I SAY.

Biscuit (n.)- cookie.

Arvo (n.)- slang for afternoon.

I think that’s about all I can remember at this point! There were so many new words and phrases constantly being thrown at me. Sometimes it felt like people were speaking a different language. After some time, words would begin to catch on and feel normal to use. I’ve let some of them slip since I’ve been back and gotten some grief from my friends about it. “What are you Australian now, Grae?” Ha. I actually had a nightmare at one point that I would return to the States and that my friends would accuse me of attempting to be Australian. I don’t want to use the term prophetic, but…

My last week in Melbourne flew by before I knew it. On Tuesday, L & I had another bit of a verbal scuffle, so I don’t think we went out that night, ha. On Wednesday night Luke & I met up with his dad for dinner along Lygon Street. He was a hilarious and sweet man, chock full of fascinating stories about politicians, Australian media, and Luke baby stories. I had an amazing filet mignon. BUT GAH I NEED TO STOP THINKING ABOUT THE FOOD. ANYWAY.

Thursday I wandered around the city alone, visited the strikingly beautiful Shrine of Remembrance (think WWI/WWII memorial in DC). I legitimately had goosebumps as I walked up to it. I took some really lovely pictures as the sun went down over the city. I was already beginning to grieve my loss of Melbourne…

Who’s a pretty little city? That’s right, you are, Melbourne!

Friday I slept in, and lazed the day away in between attempting to begin packing. In the evening we went over to L’s mum’s for fish and chips, and I tearfully (shh they didn’t know) said goodbye to his fam. Such fabulous people. That night Luke took me to Bennett’s Lane Jazz Club where we saw the musicians Yvette Johansen & Trio. It was a relaxing and pleasant evening, and the group was quite talented. I felt a little like a poser sitting around at a jazz club when I know hardly anything about it, but I enjoyed it thoroughly nonetheless. I felt as though I had culture oozing out my ears/ that I should maybe take up the jazz flute.

a picture someone took of me that night. nbd.

Saturday yielded a fantastic brunch of eggs benedict (can you tell that I’m hungry?) with some of Luke’s friends. Afterwards L & Normo kicked the footy around Princess Park adjacent to Newman. I can’t say that I kicked it, because my attempts were so utterly pathetic, it doesn’t warrant much elaboration. I did some laundry, did some packing, then we strolled to the local pub to watch the Collingwood game. Guess what I ate at the pub? Can anyone guess? If you guessed PARMA, you’d be correct. You don’t get anything for a correct guess though, because that’s pretty much all I ate over my final days in Melbourne. After the pub, we went to a local hard rock/heavy metal bar and saw L’s friend’s band called BARBARION play. They are just as ridiculous as their name. I’ve already posted pictures on fb, so I don’t think I need to explain much. I couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of the whole gig. We also were ENTIRELY out of place in our normal clothing, since everyone around us was clad in plaid kilts, safety pins, denim, or black leather and sporting mohawks. I’m not sure if that’s how mohawk is spelled, but at this point I’m not caring.

After the concert, a group of us went back to The Toff at Curtin House- one of the places at which I spent significant time playing NZ drinking games with Newmanites during my stay. 🙂 After a few drinks, and after POS had seriously insulted a tattooed nurse who was hitting on him, we picked up some quick McD’s and walked all the way to the casino. Circa 3:30 AM, this is. The casino was a sight to behold, I will admit, but I’m not much of the gambling type. Also my eyes were burning with sleepiness, and delirium was fast overtaking my red bull vodkas. I spent A DOLLAR at the slot machines, and proudly made it last a full 30 minutes. Go me. L ventured his hand at black jack and poker, but not one of us managed to win big. I got yelled at for taking a picture inside of the casino, which was pretty hardcore.

When we FINALLY made it home circa sunrise after a ride in a deathcab, I slept soundly, but dreaded the afternoon soon to come where I would have to depart Melbourne… I slept a bit late (surprise), so I hurriedly and furiously packed my bags & cleaned my room with the help of Tom. I was sad to leave my little den behind (even though it had no fridge), and even sadder when I took down the sign on my door that my flatmate had made for me- “It may not be black & white, but GRAY now lives here.”‘ A clever, sweet, yet utterly misspelled little sign it was. After a miniature photo shoot with Luke & Tom out front of the College, a depressed little Grae said her goodbyes to both Newman College & Dr. Luke. I’ve never felt so sad to leave a place (other than my own home) before.

Tom drove me to the Melbourne Airport where we encountered a series of luggage fiascos- the Qantas man told me “Well, your luggage is probably on its way to Perth right now, but let’s hope it’s not.” Long story short, it was re-routed before it got on that plane to Perth, and thank the GOOD LORD for that because I couldn’t handle being both check card-less and luggage-less in Sydney, Australia. I said my goodbyes to delightful Tom Everett, the Kiwi angel of Melbourne, and boarded my flight for Sydney.

Upon landing, I rendezvoused with the Davis family. I met Chris Davis at World Youth Day in Canada in 2002, and was seriously smitten. I had never met an Aussie before, and boy, was the novelty of that accent somethin’ else! 🙂 We stayed in touch for several years after Canada, and then met up with him and his family the first time I traveled to Australia with my fam. Our parents have stayed in touch since then, and they had generously offered to host me for several days before I departed back for the US. I felt like such a bum when I arrived at their home- overtired & exhausted from the previous night’s shenanigans, overtired & exhausted from the past month of irregular sleep schedules, an uncomfortable bed, and noisy bird-filled mornings. I slept for a good portion of my stay with them. I’m sure they were convinced that I was borderline in a coma until I’d sleepily wander out of my room at 2 in the afternoon. The bed was so deliciously comfortable and warm, I found it nearly impossible to pry my body from the doonas! And having a working, wonderful shower tempted me to spend half the afternoon inside it. On Monday evening Chris’ brother and wife came over, Anne cooked a wonderful dinner of beef ragu, and I gratefully and happily ate myself silly. On Tuesday, Chris & his sister took me out to dinner at Outback Steakhouse. I couldn’t believe that they had them there!! Too funny. I wonder if they’ll ever get an Outback Steakhouse in the Outback…

But it was so lovely staying with the Davises. Peter and Anne became essentially surrogate parents during my stay, and it was so comforting to be back in such a warm familial setting. I loved getting to see Chris’ sister Angie all grown up. She was absolutely gorgeous. But spending time with all of them made me that much more excited to see my own family again.

My third day there I decided to venture out to the city by train and accomplish some of the family-souvenir shopping I had hanging over my head, and to visit beautiful Circular Quay again. I met up with my friend Lance that evening, & caught up over drinks before meeting a coworker of his for Korean BBQ. Afterward, we wandered through the rain into Darling Harbour, flooding me with memories of my first time in Sydney. It is a bizarre  and wonderful feeling to be in a foreign country, and yet experience a rush of familiarity upon seeing it for the second time. The lights of the dozens of restaurants and bars reflected off the rain-rippled water, and music floated in the air from every direction. I bid farewell to my two Kiwi friends, and hopped in a cab back toward Eastwood. I spent the entire night packing up my things, sending out goodbye emails, and riddled with anxiety about the return trip.

Peter & Anne drove me to the Sydney Airport the following morning, and I won’t lie, I nearly lost it when saying goodbye to them. It was really heartbreaking for me. There were so many emotions swirling around inside of me, so many memories rushing over me, so much to which I was having to say goodbye. I wished for a moment that I could just fuse Australia and the United States together, so that I could always have both whenever I wanted. I wished that all the people I had seen or met could experience my country the way I had experienced theirs. That they could come to know and love America the way I had come to know and love Australia. I wished that I could explain or somehow vocalize all of the beauty with which I had been inundated, or that I could somehow express the gratitude furiously ebbing from the core of my very being. I wished that I could have made so many of those moments last forever- so that I might always be standing at the crest of that grassy hill in Kaikoura with tears in my eyes,  always be gazing out over sunset-bathed Melbourne from the solemn steps of the Shrine of Remembrance, always experiencing the adrenaline rush & the ecstatic success of riding the tram without a ticket, always breathing the intoxicating energy of Melbourne’s neon nightlife, always laughing with 10 different nationalities of people at one table, always kneeling in the Newman Chapel alone as I thanked God for all His blessings, always strolling alone along Circular Quay- so overcome with nostalgia and desperate love for a country that isn’t mine…

The fact is I’m going back. I don’t know when. But I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m not through with Australia, and I have a feeling that Australia’s not quite through with me. 🙂


Is The Computer Lab My Second Home? Yes.

17 05 2010

Friends! Hello to you all. I’m glad to know there’s still a select few who actually have continued to read these, despite their rambling epic nature haha. I think more than anything else this has simply been a form of therapy for me. It’s hard to experience things and have no one to tell them about or have someone around with whom to share. Especially the really beautiful or really sad things! So thank you for listening! I appreciate your reading these. It makes me happy to know that it’s not all typed for naught!

Honestly I’ve been putting off blogging for a bit, because I don’t even know how to follow the trip to New Zealand! Everything is going to seem to blase and uninteresting now that I’ve traversed valleys and fields, jumped of mountains, and been eaten alive by insects! And I’ve been a giant lazy bum since our return as well, which has prevented me from doing legitimate sightseeing here back in Melbourne. I slept for pretty much two days straight after our arrival back at Newman. I was just so wiped out from all the activity and had been on a sensory overload for about a week. Long story short, New Zealand was absolutely amazing. I felt sad leaving, but it was a bit exciting to know I was still coming back to such a fascinating city like Melbourne. It’s funny how familiar it’s become. Looking back on my extreme fear of riding trams and being alone in the city just makes me laugh now. 🙂

The past few days have mostly been a combination of shopping, social activities with Luke & his friends, and eating far too much badforyou food. I don’t know how it’s possible, but I think I’ve actually lost weight since I’ve been here! I have been drinking coffee like a fiend and done a fair amount of walking I suppose, so that’s probably contributed. Thursday night I sat in on Luke’s book club, whilst I sipped bourbon & coke. Several of the attendees joked “of course an American brings bourbon to book club!” I just smiled, nodded, & said “that’s right, folks.” Several of them got stuck into a couple glasses of bourbon a little later on, so they piped down after that haha. I got to wander around Melbourne Central/ LaTrobe Mall for a bit the other day, but I was so overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar stores that I didn’t end up purchasing anything for myself but a cute hairband. It’s bizarre to walk around a mall and not recognize a single brand name or a single store. And anyone you see in Melbourne wearing an Abercrombie shirt or Ralph Lauren can generally be pinpointed as an American ha.

clearly an American.

Later that afternoon Luke & I went out to Austin Hospital again for a bit for him to check into work, etc. Friday night we attended a house party where I got to meet a lot of people that Luke had worked with in Tennant Creek, which was a lot of fun. Everyone has been so warm & interested in America, but there are always little comments/jabs interlaced here and there. But it’s not so bad. I did have one girl get exceedingly condescending with me the other night- she kept saying over and over “Aw you’re American! That’s so cute!! You’re accent’s just so cute, ohmigod!” But I suppose the Aussies probably get a similar reception when traveling in the States, so I’ll suck it up.

Saturday we attended an engagement party where I was able to play with the many babies present, which is always fun for me. It made me realize that I need to really lay some more peer pressure on thick with my sisters. They need to crank out a couple more little miniature humans for me to play with. That night Tom came into the city to meet up, & Luke, Tom, & I went to a joint bday party for a couple Newmanites. On the way to the bar we passed a giant circle of breakdancers just doing their thing in an alley off the main strip. We made a pit stop and watched them for a bit, mesmerized. There were legit 10 year olds doing breakdancing battles with each other. It was priceless. I took a couple videos- I’ll have to load them onto fb at some point, preferably after I finish uploading the other 500 pictures I have yet to put up… The evening was a blast though. We played drinking games, shared in some international discourse (there were about 10 nati0nalities represented in a group of about 15 of us- mindblowing!), & I made friends with the bartender who showed me an amazing view of the city as they were closing down. As we got back to Newman circa 4 am, several of us decided that we wanted Burger King, or Hungry Jack’s as they are known here. There was this goofy and intoxicated boy standing outside Newman who introduced himself to us and asked to tag along as well- Ned. Ned Fitzgerald.  So,  Tom, Ned, & I walked ALL THE WAY back into the city in search of our Hungry Jack’s. As we’re walking, Ned is chain smoking cigarettes and telling each passer by to “HAVE A HELLOFANIGHT, MATE!” He was hilariously, obnoxiously, endearingly friendly. Our mission was ultimately successful (quite successful) & we had turned around to make our way back to Newman, when get this, I TRIP AND FALL. Yes, that’s right folks, I bit it. Hard. I don’t know if it was the cobblestones or my heels, or just a deadly combination of the two,  but I was down. My knee is still bruised, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, Ned, sweet Ned, gallops of into the nearby bushes and begins rustling around. Tom & I are so confused, as he’s yelling loudly “just a bit of romance! just a bit of romance!” After returning from his bush venture, he approaches me with a giant flower in his hand. “Just a bit of romance…” he says again & hands me the giant blossom- the stalk mangled and clearly torn aggressively out of the ground. It was one of the most endearing moments ever. I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. Ned was a real legend. Sadly, he was flying back to Adelaide, Australia the following day, and we were forced to part ways. But what a character- not easily forgotten, to say the least. I’m waiting on his facebook friend confirmation.

The past day or two has been fairly unproductive- I’ve done a lot of sleeping and lying around. I got to Skype with my family for two hours last night which was a real treat. It always tugs at my little heartstrings seeing them and speaking with them. It was good for my little heart though in so many ways. I’m getting excited to be going home before too long. 🙂 This morning I accidentally overslept, and ended up being late to meet Luke’s mom for lunch. I’m terrible! We had a lovely tea along Collins Street, and discussed art, traveling, NZ, & work. She’s a fantastic woman, a real angel. I strolled casually back in the direction of Newman, and made a little stop along the way at the National Opal Collection (I’m a giant nerd I know) & learned more than I ever thought there was to know about opals. Hopped aboard the next tram to Melb Uni, and here I am, writing to you. 🙂

Hopefully I’ll do some more adventurous things over the next week to give me some real things to write about!

Just a bit of romance,

me x

There & Back Again…

13 05 2010

Here are a couple of pics from the NZ journey!

Kaikoura, NZ

Hanmer Springs, NZ

Greetings, friends! Apologies again for such an extended gap between postings. I suppose it’s a good sign though when I don’t have heaps of time to sit around on a computer, rambling nonsense at you! Prepare yourselves as I catch you up on all the happenings of the rest of the NZ trip, & bring you up to speed. Sit tight, little ones, whilst mama Grae tells you a story…

To pick up right where I left off- we made it to Nelson, along the Northern tip of the island, but arrived late at night & had many a place to be the next day, so we didn’t get to see much more than the McDonald’s and Nelson highways the next morning. We had planned to go horseback riding there, but the locals said that riding would be much better down south where it would be more scenic. They suggested that we visit the nearby national park for the day instead. Thus we drove up to Abel Tasman National Park, just past Motueka, and stopped in a little town called Marahau. Luke was keen to take a big hike, and I was not keen to, so before things escalated into a fight, we decided to part ways and do our own thing. 🙂 Luke took off for his 3 hour afternoon hike, and I made my way out to the local beach. I took a lovely stroll down the coastline, and for the first time was able to bust out my bathing suit without feeling like I’d quickly die of hypothermia. The scenery was beautiful (per usual), and I took some fantastic photos of the adjacent mountainous valley, covered in scrubby brush mixed with aloe-like flora; a gorgeous contrast. I waded through a small inlet to an islet just off of the beach and took pictures of the various birds that had camped out there. I decided to lie down for a bit, with my jacket as a pillow, desperately hoping to get back some of the tan that I’ve gradually lost over the past month. I began to feel these miniscule little nips on my skin, & swatted away whatever was the douchey perpetrator. Minutes later, more nips. Then, an ensuing fire in my skin. I quickly jolted up, & scratched furiously all over my thighs and stomach, searching for the source of pain. Then I remembered. Somewhere recently, I had read something about “sandflies” in New Zealand. The words “nuisance” “itchy” “biting females” all came to mind, as I recalled the paragraph about them in the South Island guide book. Son of a bee-sting. I was absolutely covered in sandfly bites. Those little effers had gotten me good. Real good. Touche, lady sanflies, touche. Of course, the clueless little American girl wandering helpless on the beaches of New Zealand, bikini-clad and vulnerable, optimistically setting up camp on the idyllic shoreline.  I was a perfect target. Itchy, angry, & cursing the little she-devils, I made my way back to the mainland & gave up my quest for tanned skin. Narcissism will get ya every time.

I found internet at the local information center, and tooled around until Bear-freaking-Grylls made it back from his 15k hike. I felt little empathy for him as he stumbled in panting and sweaty. He wasn’t freaking covered in sandfly bites, why should I? We hopped back in the car & made our way Southwest, choosing to bypass Westport in an effort to get to Greymouth sooner, and ultimately to Wanaka & Queenstown sooner. Stayed the night in Greymouth, & had a smooth but rainy drive down to the glaciers the following day. The temperature was rapidly decreasing, & the windshield fogged up far too often for my liking. First purchase in town was a RAINCOAT. We had planned to take a helicopter tour of the Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier, & Mount Cook, but alas the weather decided to be a hooker & thus prevented us from doing so. The only option at this point consisted of crossing the street to the Glacier info center, where they had a little movie theater that showed a film on the glaciers, in an attempt to recreate the sensory experience of taking a helicopter tour. On the way into the theater, the ticket-seller-man said “Just so you know, it’s a bit dim in there. I’m missing some lights, so watch your step.” I nodded, hardly paying attention, and we made our way into the theatre. As I’m strolling in, I hear a giant THUD behind me. I turn to see Luke, on the ground, looking confused and disoriented. My immediate thought was that he had legitimately fallen accidentally, until I realized that he in fact, had not. No friends, he had hurled himself at the ground, purely out of comedic motivation, and had plastered on a look of innocence for the appearance of genuiness. He had pulled it off so effortlessly though, I couldn’t help but lose my shit. It was so cleverly & subtlely done, just following the ticket-man’s warning. I was laughing so hysterically that the people on the other side of the theatre started laughing at my laughing. My stomach was still cramping when we finally took our seats to enjoy the feature film. The movie was about 20 minutes long, filmed circa 1990, & was a bit of a laugh in & of itself. I will say that it was a smart move on their part to implement an option like this for when the weather isn’t conducive to actual glacier tours. Following the joke of a movie, we drove to the Fox Glacier hike entrance, where we did a miniature hike in the pouring rain to catch a REAL glimpse of the glacier. It really was a beautiful sight, in spite of the heavy fog, bleak skyline, & miserably cold rain. I can imagine that it would be a breathtaking experience to hike across. Alas, such was not our luck, & we pressed on toward Wanaka.

At this point, L had gotten tired from all of the driving, and he finally took my up on my offer to drive. I was both excited and nervous as I took the wheel, but after about 20 minutes, it began to come naturally. Also, we were in the middle of nowhere, NZ, so it wasn’t as if I was having to do much navigating or maneuvering exactly. After arriving safely in Wanaka, and checking into a local motel, I got to do my first blog entry in ages– where I left off the last time. Post-blogging, there was a bit of an altercation for God-knows-what reason, & I went to bed exhausted & grumpy. And itchy like you wouldn’t believe. The following morning, I called to make reservations for horseback riding in the Cordrona Valley- about a 30 minute drive outside Wanaka. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thoroughly checked the directions to the stables since it appeared quite easy & direct on the map, & the waitress at brunch had said “oh, just go straight, and you’ll see signs for the Cordrona Valley!” I trusted the waitress on this one, and we ended up going the absolute wrong direction. L was frustrated that I hadn’t prepared the venture properly, I was stressed because we were running out of time & we were LOST, & after a snide remark or two from spanky in the driver’s seat, I lost it. We pulled over at a local pub, and I marched my way across the highway to call up the stables and cancel our appointment. L was insistent that we not cancel, and that I was just losing my temper, & that we should continue on and try to make the appointment. It escalated in a bit of a yelling match out front of the pub, geriatric curious bystanders included, as Luke physically was blocking me from entering the phone booth. The innocent little old folks gawked wide-eyed as I yelled “Don’t you speak to me that way! You hurt my feelings! You’re being such a douchebag! How was I supposed to know we were on the wrong road” etc. & Luke hurled retorts right back at me. It was epic. Straight out of a movie, really. I was so frustrated & burnt out from the constant moving around, & I think that getting lost + L’s bad-ittude was the straw that broke the camel’s proverbial back. Long story short, I didn’t make it into the phone booth despite my best efforts, & we got back into the car with directions to the stables. We arrived about ten minutes late, but they hadn’t yet departed, and we were able to have our afternoon ride. It made me realize how very much I miss horseback riding. I got on the horse with my stomach in knots from all the morning’s stress, and I got off on cloud 9. It was so fantastic being on a horse again, especially in such idyllic scenery. We took a 2 hour trail weaving through the Cordrona Valley, & I was at the tail end of the horses (no pun intended) so I was able to pull back occasionally and have a good run on Dawn, my little Appaloosa mare. It was definitely what I needed. Luke wasn’t as content on “Hopi” – I suppose riding isn’t as comfy for males… Regardless, I had a great afternoon and got lots of pictures & videos which of course will ultimately make it to facebook.

That afternoon Luke decided he wanted to do more hiking/mountain climbing, so I dropped him off somewhere in the Cordrona Valley to do his own thing, while I drove myself back to Wanaka to shop around and have dinner. I saw probably the most beautiful sunset of my LIFE over Lake Wanaka, & scarfed down a BLT & “chups” at a local pub. Side note: The New Zealand accent is really quite different from the Australian accent, though most Americans would probably have a difficult time telling the difference. After having spent so much time in Melbourne, hearing the Kiwi accent was almost like hearing another language. I found it hard to believe that I had ever confused the two. To give you an idea of some of the main differences- Kiwis would pronounce “fish & chips” more as “fush & chups”, & “teddy bear” as “tiddy beeyah.” The i’s in words sound more like u’s and the e’s sound like i’s. Uff you read thus aloud, you wull heeyah the dufferince. At least that’s how the stronger kiwi accents sound. A pretty weak attempt at explaining the sound of the Kiwi accent, but an attempt nonetheless!:) As I watched the sun go down over the glacier covered mountains and the mandarin & magenta sky reflected off the lake, & it made me realize how blessed I was to be experiencing something so undeniably heavenly. But the itchiness from the sandfly bites brought me back down to earth shortly thereafter…

After picking L up from his hike, I drove us to Queenstown, further South. I hadn’t anticipated that we’d actually make it that far, but it worked out that we had plenty of time, which was a blessing. Our first night in Queenstown was laid back- L had dinner at an Indian restaurant & I spent the evening lounging around & watching tv in the room. At this point I was feeling pretty depleted. The next morning we drove to the adjacent town of Arrowtown, about 15k’s away to find Mass. We pulled up to the little church of St. Patrick’s, unfortunately about 24 minutes late. As we walked inside, we noticed that there was no priest. In fact, the altar wasn’t even set up for Mass. One of the parishoners was reading announcements, and they closed the service with an off-key, but endearing & beautiful hymn being read off of an overhead projector. As it turns out, there aren’t enough priests in the area for a legitimate Mass to be said every Sunday. Every other week they must have their own makeshift service without Communion. I was struck first with sadness that there weren’t enough priests in the area to say Mass for a whole town’s worth of people, and then struck secondly by the beauty of what I had encountered. Not only were these people gathering in spite of the lack of a priest and a proper full Communion service, they were worshipping so humbly together, without instruments, without anything, it seemed. All that mattered was that they had come together for the purpose of worshipping Christ in that little church. And His presence was more than enough for them to celebrate. It was such a moving experience. As I took photos after the service concluded, I was approached by multiple aged individuals, asking where I was from and thanking me for coming to the service. They were Dominican nuns, and were the ones responsible for holding services when there was no priest available. They were so unbelievably warm and excited to share their church with us. I was truly humbled by their faith and their emanating love. Goodness, there is so much beauty in the world.

We drove back into Queenstown and began the day’s activities. First we had lunch at a little Thai place, then made our way to the gondolas that took you up the mountain face. At the top- one of the most striking views I had experienced thus far in New Zealand. A bird’s eye view of Queenstown and the Bay. Unbelievable. The blue of the water almost hurt your eyes as it reflected the afternoon sun. We enjoyed a cappuccino, took pictures, and prompted by posters- made our way to the paragliding information center. After shelling out a casual $200 each, we were guided another 15-20 minutes up the mountain to the takeoff zone. After being strapped in securely, whispering a series of nervous prayers, & bidding farewell to Luke, my guide & I literally ran off the side of the mountain. It was unreal. The sail caught the wind in just a couple seconds, and then there I was, in flight! Nothing below me but evergreen mountain forest! The breeze carried us to the side facing Queenstown, and the guide gave me the reins to steer us over the city. I can’t even begin to describe how exhilarating the experience was- as close to those dreams of flying as one could encounter, except for perhaps hangliding. It was silent above the town, apart from my screams as he we picked up downward speed and he turned us into a series of loops. So much fun. We glided to a landing on a sports field in the heart of the city, and I thanked God as we touched down again upon terra firma.

a paraglider over queenstown. pretty decent view, eh?

Luke insisted on a game of mini golf, at the base of the mountain. Random, I know. Like, I didn’t come to New Zealand for mini golf. But I went along with it, against my better judgment.

I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to do it. By the end of the course I was probably 24 over par and in a rotten mood– the endorphins from flight, gone, and the adrenaline having turned to frustration at the idiotic mechanical golf course & my inability to putt a straight line. I nearly through my club at a number of the cheesy props that accompanied each hole. Luke proudly waltzed across the course, finishing -1 under par and grinning like a freaking cheshire cat. Jerk. I was feeling grouchy, and probably a bit hypoglycemic, so we made our way to food. After a lovely dinner at the Beefeater Steakhouse, where I indulged in a glass of cabernet sauvignon and filet mignon wrapped in bacon, drizzled in a creamy mushroom sauce (my mouth waters just thinking about it), we made our way back to the hotel. Luke hadn’t quite gotten his kicks out with the paragliding, so he took off again in search of thrills. I, on the other hand, ordered myself a lovely in-room massage. Latisha showed up at my room just as Luke was returning from his failed mission. The bungee jumping place had been closed, so he was forced to entertain himself as I had the knots of anxiety and outdoorsy stress massaged from my shoulderblades. Fantastic end to the day. Props to you, Latisha of the magic Brazilian hands.

The next morning we packed up and prepared for our day long drive back to Christchurch. About an hour into the drive, we spontaneously decided to pick up two female hitchhikers along the side of the road. They were headed toward Christchurch as well, so we told them to hop in. I figured that two young female hitchhikers couldn’t possibly be serial killers. Turns out, they were to American college students, 19 & 20, studying abroad outside of Christchurch, and hitchhiking their way around New Zealand. Ballsy. It was really nice to interact with some Americans, and with someone else in general, since L & I had barely spoken to anyone else for about a week! We played word games, stopped for lunch where they bought us ice cream, & took photos of each other in front of Lake Tekapu, with an amazing view of Mount Cook in the distance. It was there that Butterfingers McPherson (aka Luke) dropped my camera and potentially mortally wounded her. Grrgrr. I’m hoping to take it to a shop and get it stitched up right quick. Keep your fingers crossed. We forged onward, dropped the girls off near their Uni, engaged in farewells with promises of facebook friending, and I (yes, I) drove us the rest of the way to Christchurch. 🙂

although this is probably what I looked like to others on the road…

We dropped off the rental car (on time, hooray!) and checked in to the RIDICULOUS 5 star hotel that I had found on wotif.com for about $95 American dollars. Seriously, wotif.com, it’s amazing. A late dinner at a little Japanese restaurant, and a couple drinks later, I passed out until the horrific, hellish alarm at 4 AM. I was seriously loopy on the shuttle to the airport, but we made it to our 6:30 flight and back to Melbourne safe and sound! All seemed to be going swimmingly when Luke noted upon arrival at customs that his wallet was missing. Nightmare. At this point, we parted ways for him to hunt down the wallet and for me to take all of our luggage through customs. I began to freak out, remembering that I had a shell in my bag that I had picked up in Kaikoura. I worried that the department of health and agriculture or whatever was going to jail me for bringing in a potentially dangerous biological specimen. As my hands grew clammy, and my thoughts turned to Australian imprisonment, a security guard looked at my passport and ticket and said “right this way ma’am,” directing me to a woman standing alone, separate from the lines for general baggage inspection/x ray and ultimately the exit. “Oh no,” I thought. “I’m done for.” The little sniffing dogs have smelled the shell in my bag, and I’m going to Aussie prison. Why did I bring the shell. I didn’t need that shell. It was pretty yes, but it was a stupid decision. The shell wasn’t worth going to jail for. The woman smiled, inspected my information, and pointed to a series of doors behind her. I marched forward (uttering ‘morituri te salutant‘), only to find upon opening the doors, that I was in the central lobby of the airport. Free. I hadn’t even had my luggage glanced at or inspected or sniffed once, and they let me back in to Australia without a second thought!! Needless to say, I was overjoyed at the realization that I wasn’t going to be sleeping in a cold dark cell, bribing fellow bio-threat prisoners with my cheese sandwiches to leave me alone. I was back in Melbourne, a free woman, and boy, was I glad.

I spent the last two days SLEEPING like a freaking brick, and to be honest, I still don’t feel 100% awake yet. I hadn’t realized how much the trip had taken out of me until I could barely rouse myself out of bed 2 days after our return! It’s great to be back in civilization, knowing where I’m going to sleep tonight, & not freezing my buns off in glacial monsoons or being eaten alive by those damned sandflies. All in all though, New Zealand was fantastic. And no, I didn’t see any Orcs, any Hobbits, or even a real, live Kiwi bird! I’ll be back to venture around the North Island one day though, for sure. But damn, did I ever see some SHEEP. They are not joking. There are a crap ton of sheep there. More sheep than people, apparently. They were everywhere, and I mean everywhere.A myriad of sheep, indeed.

Tonight is book club, which I didn’t actually read the book for, so let me rephrase that; tonight is when I’ll sit drinking the duty-free bourbon that I purchased, as I listen to a group of amateur literary critics discuss a novel that I haven’t the faintest idea about. Sounds good to me.

Will write again soon, friends. Thinking of you all, and hoping that I haven’t bored you to death with my ridiculousness.



“Tasty Cheese”, Communing with Nature, & Kiwi Death Steaks.

8 05 2010

ALL RIGHT. It’s about time we get this show on the road, isn’t it? I’ve finally got 12 hours worth of internet purchased, & a comfy couch upon which I can begin my blogging ventures. I’m really hoping it won’t take 12 hours though.

I had a busy last few days in Melbourne before departing for New Zealand! Friday night we went out for Mongolian BBQ and spent a couple hours chatting it up with Luke’s friends at a pub downtown. I ended up getting in a fairly heated debate about euthanasia, religion, abortion, & other such controversial topics with a dentist. Pretty typical night really. Toward the end of the night I got into a heavy discussion with a woman who was discerning her calling/career as a children’s book illustrator. She was a few drinks deep, was really taking my advice to heart, & things ultimately got a bit emotional haha. Classic. Long story short, Paquita decided she was meant to be an illustrator, and we shared a long embrace.

I don’t think I could have ever anticipated all the bizarre & interesting experiences and interactions I’ve had over the last month. I thought I was going on a nice long relaxing vacation…boy was I wrong. 🙂 But in all seriousness, it’s been pretty amazing.

Anyway, Saturday was a busy busy day. It was the Maytime Fair at Xavier College- the culmination of the volunteer work that I had been doing over the previous few weeks. It was a really fantastic event, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect day weather-wise. There were hordes of people strolling around eating dutch pancakes & fairy floss (aka cotton candy), browsing all the various stalls (e.g. stamps, books, plants, etc). I got to see a few of the individuals that I worked with, & see how well things came together. Shortly afterwards, L & I caught a cab out to Williamstown where we met Renae & Frith at Hobson’s Bay. About twelve of us took a fishing boat out & spent the afternoon in glorious amounts of wind and sun, unsuccessfully catching any fish. My dad always says that if you were to catch fish every time, it’d be called “catching” and not “fishing.” I had an absurd amount of bites on my line, but my bait would get stolen nearly every time. I have a feeling the crabs may have been to blame. That’s what she said. Renae caught a starfish, and I saw dozens of giant freaking jellyfish swim by, but that was about all the interaction we shared with aquatic creatures. Regardless, it was a gorgeous sight; the gleaming white sails of the boats coursing to and from the bay, the autumn Aussie sun glinting off the choppy waves, & beautiful Melbourne slowly sinking off into the distance. I got some really great  pictures. I’m so looking forward to putting them all up. My camera will be running out of memory very soon I’m sure.

Saturday night I decided to cook dinner for Renae, Frith, Renae’s friend Beth, & L. Ran out to the supermarket, and had the HARDEST time finding everything. I also learned that Australian supermarkets have a very weak selection of cheeses. There were two kinds of cheese pretty much; “tasty” cheese and cheddar cheese. I have no idea what tasty cheese is like, but I don’t trust a food that’s only descriptor is “tasty.” For instance, I wouldn’t trust “tasty” meat. Or “tasty” soup. I want to know what kind of freaking meat or soup it is. Mayhaps the supermarket I went to just so happens to have the poorest cheese selection in town, but I was a little flustered that they didn’t have jack cheese, manchego, different kinds of cheddar, mozzarella, anything. Oh well. I looked like a scared little child as I wandered the aisles, trying to navigate the foreign grocery lands. It took me about an hour longer than it should have, but I made it out successfully, only forgetting chips and jalapenos. And by chips here, I mean the real kind, not the french fry kind. (Although I have gotten a bit in the habit of referring to fries as chips and trash cans as rubbish bins. I’m proud of myself. I still can’t win though. I’ll say to Luke, “Hey where’s the rubbish bin?” and he’ll reply “Oh, you mean the trash can?” Jerk.

I don’t do a ton of cooking generally, & I was eager to impress, so the pressure was on. I decided on Mexican, & if there’s one thing they don’t have in Melbourne it’s Mexican food. I have been legitimately dying for Chipotle, or Chevy’s, or something involving beans, cheese, & tortillas. Ergo I made a crap ton of guacamole, pico di gallo, & sauteed chicken and onion quesadillas. I was proud of the end result, and there was plenty of food for everyone, so I was able to breathe a sigh of relief & stuff my face full of Mexican like I had been longing to for so long. Thank the good Lord for Mexican. I mean really. I would be a bajillionaire if I brought a proper Mexican restaurant to Melbourne. Heck, if chicken parmigiana is such a big hit here, they wouldn’t even know what was about to hit them, even if it was a giant burrito. Words like ‘fajita’ and ‘quesadilla’ and ‘burrito’ aren’t particularly common here. It just blows my mind.

ANYWAY I’m boring you with all these irrelevant details. I need to get to the good stuff. Sunday L & I attended the Collingwood v. Carlton Footy game at the MCG- the local sporting arena which seats 100,000! I got goosebumps as we walked in and I saw what a massive and incredible venue it was. Game-goers began trickling in slowly, and after saving a couple seats for ourselves, we walked around for a bit. I purchased a Magpies scarf and was sporting the Collingwood colors, so L was pretty proud/excited about that. I’ve never really been a sports fan apart from UNC basketball, so this was all very new to me. I was fairly skeptical about whether or not I’d actually get excited or remotely interested in the game, but did my best to hype myself up for it beforehand. As it turns out, I really enjoy watching footy, haha. It definitely doesn’t hurt that the majority of the players are major hotties, but that’s neither hither nor thither.

but ladies, in case you did want to have a gander…

Things got tense in the 2nd & 3rd quarter, but Collingwood pulled through for a solid win against Carlton in what one might refer to as “a good old-fashioned pants-down thrashing.” As the crowd sang the Collingwood cheer following the win, I was taken back to the games at UVa & the Good Old Song. Nostalgia & a longing for home swept over me, but it was a really beautiful moment to witness. I had a wonderful time, although wearing the Magpie scarf outside of the game is an open invitation for humorous but snide remarks, so I’ve learned it might be best to save it for game days. 🙂

Sunday evening consisted of a brief drink with a friend of L’s from high school at a tennis-themed bar- astro-turf, waiters decked out in Fred Perry, & everything plastered in pink & green, it was a fun sight to behold. Afterwards consisted of a lovely Mass at Newman, & frantic washing of laundry and packing. I stayed up far too late and got far too little sleep before our early morning flight, but I survived. Monday morning we departed for Christchurch, New Zealand! It was a bit of a last minute trip, but everything seemed to come together nicely. I caught up on zzz’s on the flight, & we touched down several hours later in chilly kiwiland. After getting the luggage to the hotel, I went to the concierge & requested a room for the night. “It will be about $399 for tonight” she said. “Ah well, I’ll have to go do some research and perhaps I’ll come back” I replied. “How much are you looking to spend, ma’am?” The query caught me off guard. “Um, I was thinking more along the lines of $200, actually…” “We can do that. Yep, $200’s fine” Min said. A strange hotel it was. I don’t know that I’ve ever haggled for a hotel room before. We spent the afternoon and evening strolling the quaint streets of Christchurch, exploring the Anglican Cathedral next door, & had an amazing dinner at a local steakhouse. Then after a delicious nap & shower, as well as a late night trip to McD’s, we sat on the steps of the Cathedral feeding french fries to the seagulls & testing their bravery. It was surprisingly entertaining and hilarious to see them compete, but I may have only thought it so because of my absurd lack of sleep as of late. I had an amazing night of rest (at last) & we departed the following morning for Kaikoura on the Northeast side of the South Island.

We made a pitstop in Hanmer Springs about halfway up the coast, where there are a series of natural hot springs. After taking a short but exhausting hike up to the lookout and experiencing a breathtaking panoramic view, we made our way to the springs. The pools varied in temperature and in mineral content, and you could choose which suited you most. The sulphur pools were the warmest at about 41 degrees C, but unfortunately smelled pretty rough. The sulphur also caused a reaction with my sterling silver jewelry, leaving it tarnished, which came as an unpleasant surprise. The stars were glimmering vividly against the black backdrop of sky, & the crisp mountain air refreshed and cooled amid the rising steam. It was an ideal way to unwind and relax after all the travel and craziness of the past few days! Shortly thereafter we made the drive to Kaikoura (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaikoura) and ended the evening by watching Into the Wild, which seemed fairly appropriate given this absurd trek across New Zealand that I’m doing. One of the characters in the film describes herself as a “rubbertramp,” a wanderer that travels by car. I’ve been feeling a bit like a rubbertramp the last few days. It’s certainly an exhilarating feeling, but an exhausting one nonetheless!

The following day was a quick brekkie in town, a thermal jacket purchase (thank God!), and a beyond majestic hike beginning at the seal colony, around the peninsula, and back along the white stoned coastline. The breathtaking beauty was almost too much. As I made it to the crest of the final hill, I was greeted by a panorama of tropical mountains, azure ocean, and a blanched rocky coastline. I was legitimately moved to tears. The awesomeness of creation is just too much for me to handle sometimes. I’m just so amazed by the exquisite detail & perfection of it all- the ultimate living breathing artwork of creation. On the walk back- a whole colony’s worth of seals warming themselves on the coastal rocks. As I gingerly edged toward them, a handful sat up on their fins & let out a couple menacing growls, enough for me to slow my roll, ha! I found several florescent blue & orange starfish in a few tidal pools along my walk back which was a real treat as well. 🙂 I mean, I don’t want to say that I’m following in the ways of St. Francis or anything, communing with nature and whatnot, but if you wanted some kind of analogy, that’s probably the best one I could come up with…

The evening was a drive up to Picton along the Northern coast- the closest we’d get to the North Island & Wellington. I was a bit disappointed not to be able to see “Windy Wellington,” but it just means that I’ll have to come back to the North Island at a later time and date! The drive was tedious and windy, right through the mountains. There were countless roads that would weave back and forth perilously, and each time we’d come around a corner, I was frightened for my life. Encounters with other cars are few and far between, but when there is one, it’s flippingg terrifying and out of nowhere. We were driving through what felt like the absolute middle of nowhere mountains in the pitch black. If we had run out of gas or had a flat tired, it would have been GAME OVER. Fortunately we made it safely North with enough time to stop for a meal and continue West. We had dinner at a  local pub, recommended by a taxi driver whom I was sure was a legitimate serial killer. We were about to enter a restaurant when he called out from his taxi “$8 steaks at the Crow’s Nest Pub on the edge of town!” After a bit of deliberation, we decided to cautiously venture there for the cheap eats. Whilst in transit, we made a wrong turn somewhere, and wound up on Gravesend Drive, adjacent to the local cemetery. Just across from the cemetery was Tombstone Backpackers whose door was in the SHAPE OF A FREAKING COFFIN. WHAT. WHO DOES THAT. At this point I was beginning to get really creeped out. THEN as we turn back off of Gravesend Drive and toward the main strip, a van that had been sitting along the road in darkness turns on its lights and begins to follow us. Is this NOT the stuff of bad horror flicks? A couple young tourists are cruising around cozytown, New Zealand, and take up nice mr. taxi driver’s offer of a cheap steak “on the edge of town” and are found dead shortly thereafter. These were the thoughts flooding my nervous little head.

Cue Grae’s FREAKOUT.

I panicked, cursed, & prayed that God let me enjoy my cheap steak.

After a series of random turns at a nervous speed, we eventually saw the van go a different direction at a roundabout. Turns out we weren’t being followed by a kiwi axe murderer after all! That was a great big relief.

The second wave of relief came when we oh-so-casually happened to STUMBLE upon the, you guessed it, freaking Crow’s Nest Pub after our series of ridiculous and frenzied turns. On the door- the food and beverage specials of the evening. Inside- an inviting fire & dozens of well meaning locals out for a brew-dog. We had a good laugh about it, my heart stopped palpitating finally, & yes, I finally got to chow down on my delicious $8 steak. I wonder if I should have haggled for that as well…

come on, kiwis. we all know you’re too damn cute to actually be dangerous axe-wielding killers. let’s be real. you can’t even fly. i mean, come on.

Next step was the drive to Greymouth along the West Coast on Thursday night. I’ll pick up from there the next time around, because my little eyes are weary & my body is crying out for bed. I’m currently in Wanaka, along the Southwest side of the Island, but I’ll fill in the between parts in the next entry for sure. And I will do my best to get another entry up asap. I’m thinking of you all, you’re in my prayers. The homesickness has remained with me, but comes more in waves now, which is a bit of a relief. Although I am really getting excited to return home & hear all about the goings on of Washington, DC & wherever else you crazies are!

love to you all, my faraway friends,


Quick Hello!

6 05 2010

Greetings from the middle of freaking nowhere!!!! I am desperately sorry for having taken this long to write, but it’s been a whirlwind of travel, scenery, & lack of internet as of late. I’ve felt completely disconnected from the world; both a refreshing & nervewracking feeling. I feel as if in a state of suspended animation, & often feel sad that I am missing out on all the goings on at home in the States, but I suppose that’s all inevitable.

I write to you from Abel Tasman National Park in Marahau, New Zealand. I’m alive and well, and experiencing more than I can even fathom explaining over this blog. I will have to write about all of the travels at a later time & I still have a few days in Melbourne that I have yet to blog about. I’ll try to get back up to speed as soon as possible! Alas I don’t have the time to do it at this point, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to get wireless tonight at whatever hotel I end up at along the west coast of NZ.

I will update with everything ASAP, bros.

Lots of love from kiwiland,


An Introduction to Bundy…& The Aftermath.

29 04 2010

Welp, my head hurts, thanks to an evening out with Tom the Kiwi.

The night began quietly, as I rendezvoused with him out front of the beautiful Newman Chapel, just a casual few steps away from my flat. (Shout out to Walter Burley Griffin- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Burley_Griffin) Really beautiful architecture at Newman, and in Melbourne in general. It’s everywhere you look.

We caught up for a bit in my messy little room over some drum & bass, and discussed our plans for the evening. Neither of us have spent a significant amount of time in the city so it was anyone’s guess as to how we would fare, trekking through Melbourne all alone. After he listed off some possible destinations from his “International Student’s Guide to Melbourne,” the decision was made that we would go where the wind/alcohol took us.

We wandered down Swanston Street which runs directly into the hubs of Melbourne, and discussed my most recent post about cultural exchange. I really like having Tom around to bounce ideas off of, since he has a bit of a bird’s eye view, so to speak. Born in Melbourne, raised in Auckland, NZ, and having studied abroad in the States for a year, he is quite familiar with each and is able to offer fantastic insights. He can also empathize with me when I express my intense craving for Chipotle and the University of Virginia lawn. It’s like having a piece of home with him around, since he knows & can appreciate some of the passions of my little heart; Virginia, my family, the New Dominions, techno music, UVa, bourbon, beer pong, & late nights. Ah, the stuff of my heart…

We had dinner at a little Thai place, where I had some fantastic vermicelli with spring rolls & chicken. I was able to try a sip of Victoria Bitter, the most common beer here. (No friends, they DO NOT drink Foster’s. And no, there are no Outback Steakhouses either. You can stop asking now haha.) Afterward, we purchased a couple bottles of coke, & made our way to a nearby alley. We gingerly pulled his bottle of Bundaberg Rum (affectionately known as “Bundy” around these parts) from my purse, took a couple swigs of soda, & proceeded to pour said rum into the coke. Now as I have mentioned before, they really don’t drink much liquor here. Or if you do, you’re bound to go home with a much lighter wallet. So this was a bit of a treat for the two of us, since he had purchased it duty free on his last trip from New Zealand. We poured, we giggled, & we obviously looked pretty freaking sketchy in our little alleyway, but neither of us cared.

And off we went, into the night. I honestly could not tell you all the names of the streets where we ventured, but that was a good bit of the fun. It became a game of “which direction should we turn next” & races to make it across the street before the traffic lights changed. The heat of the rum began to sink into a pleasant buzz and the Melbourne drizzle clung to our hair & faces. We strolled past endless shops filled with chickens & ducks being turned on spits, video stores, stores with hundreds of little ceramic Buddhas & anime figures, stores with brightly flashing neon lights, & all around us- the general hum of people, of the city. It was a beautiful living, breathing, urban ecosystem. I was taking it all in, enraptured.

After wandering through Chinatown, through side streets where breakdancers were practicing together, past quaint little churches nestled between office buildings, we ducked into a handful of local restaurants & pubs, searching for fellow adventurers & late-nighters. One of the first was called Trunk, a gorgeous vintage building that apparently had been a Jewish temple back at the beginning of the 20th century. As they started to close up, we chatted with the bartender for a bit, asking him for recommendations of places to see, and he pointed us toward a fantastic cocktail bar called Match. It had a lovely view of the adjacent Melbourne Library.

We enjoyed the remainder of our evening/drinks on the outdoor patio, and were literally the last to leave the bar. It was a great time. On our journey back, we took turns jumping off the statue in front of the library & attempting to document it on camera. Looking at the fruits of our today was hilarious.

All in all, a fantastic evening out on the town. I’m definitely experiencing the aftermath today though. Oh man. Time to go pop some ibuprofen & bunker down for a little afternoon nap naparoo.

That polar bear is mocking me. I just know it.

Get that little smirk off your furry face, polar bear.



I’m Heaps Beached, Bro.

28 04 2010

Good afternoon, babies!

As I write, vicious & noisy gusts of wind whip through the trees outside, beneath the overcast cloak of ominous clouds. The weather has taken quite a cool turn, and I imagine is a bit closer to what Melbournian fall generally feels like. It had been unusually warm over the past week and a half (following my initial blog posts where I complained about how chilly I was…) Leaves have started to change color in certain parts of the city which is quite beautiful, but makes me nostalgic for the blanket of color that is Virginia or New England in the autumn. I’m grateful that when I return from Australia I’ll be coming back to warm weather, beach time, & an opportunity to regain the tan that I am rapidly losing here!

Monday was a laid back day, chock full of sleeping, eating, & movie watching. L & I began “Boondock Saints,” which is generally deemed one of the most badass movies of all time from the perspective of usually any American. We only got through about half of it, and though L was enjoying it, it was clear he wasn’t enraptured the way I am each time I watch the film. It’s a common theme that I’ve been experiencing here; the excitement of sharing American culture & humor, but finding that it doesn’t always translate & often falls flat. Alas I can’t make him appreciate everything.

Come on, how is this not the best movie ever…I mean, really. Irish accents? Brothers? Matching Mary tattoos on the neck? Can lift toilets out of the floor with handcuffs on?? Yes, please!

But the problem arises frequently- for instance, I’ll think of a hilarious youtube video to share with Luke, but realize halfway through that I’ll need to pause it in order to explain certain elements, terms, or jokes. And you can understand how the humor & appreciation can rapidly dissolve. I know L has struggled with the same thing with me; having to stop and explain things left & right so often can be frustrating for both parties, & seems to take the magic/all humor out of it. But what I’m also realizing though is that the beauty doesn’t have to rely so much on what’s being explained, or what the joke is necessarily. The beauty lies in the discourse. The energy, the emotion, the passion behind the drive to explain- the interaction; the sharing of culture between individuals, is what makes it all worthwhile…

After a number of conversations with Melbournians about American v. Australian culture, I’ve begun to see that for many of them, this might be the only significant American interaction they might experience, apart from what is shipped out internationally: music videos, news clips, & American cinema. Similarly, had I not come here for an extended period of time & been able to engage in these discussions, my understanding of Australia & its culture would be limited to the meager bits of their culture I had experienced over the years; merely a snapshot of the diversity, beauty, & wealth of culture that Australia boasts. I’ve realized that these conversations I have might forever impact one individual’s opinion of a country. It’s an intimidating thought. And I feel like a poor representative.

I don’t think I had ever really, like REALLY considered how the international community views the States. I suppose I thought about it a significant amount following the decision to invade Iraq, imagining how ally countries must feel when being brought into such an interaction, most likely unhappily. I’ve thought about it at times when presidents have met with international leaders; hoping that each would have a pleasant & polite exchange that would benefit both countries. I’ve thought about it when I’ve traveled abroad, but only then simply because I was the odd man out. I’m forced to think about it then because I’M the alien, the outsider, the only American accent in general proximity. But each time I’ve considered it, it tends to fade away after a short period of time. The Iraq War eventually wasn’t part of every news headline, the presidential meetings would end after a day or two & seem to go off without a hitch, & I would return home to America after my short travels; back to everything safe, familiar, & easy. It was a simple click of the heels, & my ruby slippers had transported me back to my comfortable American womb.

Being here has been quite a different experience. I keep thinking to myself “this doesn’t feel like vacation!” But I’m realizing that maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s what’s held me back in the past. I hadn’t felt any immediate need to engage, like REALLY engage with the culture, in an effort to learn, & in an effort to teach. This has been a more difficult adventure for me by far, but I have a feeling it will probably be the most rewarding. I’ve been taken out of my prenatal shell of cultural security, & although the lights are bright (sometimes quite unpleasant) and I am both cold & intimidated, what I am seeing here is so much more than I could have anticipated otherwise. I am really beginning to understand how Australians must feel when their culture is reduced to “a dingo ate my baby!” & “do you have kangaroos in your backyard?” It’s the same feeling I have when an Australian seemingly reduces my culture to the frivolity of Hollywood, the closed-mindedness of characters on a Jerry Springer episode, the gluttony of the fast food industry, or simply a country that has no interest in understanding other cultures. We end up selling ourselves short when we play into the stereotypes. For the sake of simplicity, or humor, or just willful ignorance, we reduce both ourselves & others to fragmented bits of culture shoddily glued together. I’m hoping that through my time here, I can really access something beyond this incomplete & biased perspective for the sake of my own country & its reputation & to bring back much more insight to the States, I suppose, for the sake of Australia. I’m beginning to feel it a part of a responsibility as an American,  as a member of a global community, & ultimately as a member of a spiritual community.

All right, who’s going to start up the Kumbaya? Come on, C#, let’s go folks.

Goodness, I got pretty existential for a bit there, didn’t I? All of this has just been weighing heavily on my mind over the past week. I’ve had so much to think about & to process, and as I said before, this is one of my only outlets to do so! I wish there was some way to convey it all to you. There is so much beauty here. Yet it’s such a bizarre feeling; such an amoebic state of in-between when one travels internationally. I feel torn between my homesickness, the longing for familiarity, versus the inevitable bond that is growing to this city & this country, & the eye-opening experiences I’m having on a day to day basis…

I spent yesterday working at the Jesuit Mission Office in the morning, pricing & sorting books. I felt a bit more comfortable there this week, since most of the faces were familiar ones, & since I have mastered the art of riding the tram alone. (Although shout out to Renae here. She’s my go to girl for pretty much any & all confusion/frustrations! She helped to allay my tram-anxiety by giving me a detailed step-by-step map on my first day’s venture to Hawthorn. It’s safe to say that I would have had legitimately 5-6 panic attacks during my time here had it not been for her & Frith. ha!)Yesterday afternoon L’s mum picked me up from the office & took me to Onemda (www.onemda.com.au), where L’s sister Lucy attends a daily intellectual disability program. Lucy introduced me to all of her friends, & gave me a tour of all the different units. There was so much joy emanating from every individual there, it was really inspiring, & beautiful beyond words. Afterwards Jenny, Lucy, & I stopped at the enormous nearby shopping mall to run a couple errands & waste time until Lucy’s dance class. Lucy decided just before her dance class that her ears were bothering her too much & that she didn’t want to go. With a little coaxing, we ultimately arrived at the rec center & got her inside. She then decided she wasn’t going to participate. The only way to get her to actually get up and dance was if I got up and did it with her… So there I was, doing the chicken dance & the macarena with Lucy & about 10 others, all in front of L’s mum. After a bit of self-consciousness, I really ended up getting into it & having a great time dancing with Lucy. She soon forgot about her ears popping, & the class was a success.

After getting dropped off at Newman, Luke & I had a lovely dinner at a gorgeous Italian place along Lygon St. I always forget though that after about 10 bites of gnocchi, I generally get tired of gnocchi. haha, Oh well. Afterwards, we stopped by the local indie film cinema & saw an Irish film- ‘The Eclipse,’ a sort of pseudo horror-romance-drama. I definitely freaked out/yelped a couple times in the theater, but fortunately there were only about 4 other people in there with us. We had a nice stroll back to Newman as I railed against Irish cinema, & I called it an early night. Realized that I have a heater in my room as well, which was a great success!

Got a sim card today for the cell phone which is awesome. Had a hilarious conversation setting it up with the cell service provider representative, Rishma, who was definitely speaking to me from a call center in India. (Good old customer service outsourcing. Shout out, CEB…) She asked me what the weather was like where I was & if I “liked rain.” And each time I said “yes ma’am” she’d say “oh come on, you can call me Rishma! Haha!” It was one of the more interesting customer service conversations I’ve ever had in my life.

Anyway I’ve rambled enough at you for the day. I’m off to rendezvous with Tom the Kiwi. We have plans to get beached as.

Thinking of you all. Especially those of you who are approaching UVa graduation!! I have no idea when it is and what’s going on, but I’m thinking of you & praying for you hardcore. I hope preparations are going well & that you survive finals, all of you, although I know you will! I need to hear plans for beach week & everything! I want to hear how you’re lives are, so please don’t hesitate to email me or shoot me a facebook message!