Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore

It's been almost two months in Australia, but it's only just hit me that I AM IN AUSTRALIA. It first happened just after my wine tour. My roommate, Jamie, had another friend visit, so we went into Sydney to have dinner along the harbor before seeing a show at the opera house. We saw this dance show called Bangarra, which was a collection of Aboriginal stories in dance form. The show was very different, but I wish I had more Aboriginal history to appreciate it. Anyway, after we finished eating, we were walking along the harbor toward the opera house. I had seen it numerous times, but never this close before. I started reciting a line from Finding Nemo, "P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sydney," and I got butterflies, because it was at this moment that I said to myself, Whoa, Heather you're in Sydney, Australia.

Although the show itself wasn't in the opera theater, it was really cool to be inside. I did, however, get a chance to tour the opera house when my friend from home, Jackie, came to visit. She's studying in Melbourne this semester. We were supposed to go to a tournament, but our team didn't go since we couldn't recruit enough girls. Apparently Australian girls aren't big into sports here, which is too bad. Instead, Jackie, Janine and I went to Paddy's Markets in Chinatown. It's basically a huge souvenir flea market. I bought lots of souvenirs. We also walked around Darling Harbour, which is nice, but I like Sydney Harbour a lot better. Bush is actually coming to Darling Harbour on Wednesday, since he's coming here for APEC this weekend. We tried going out that night, but I had progressively been getting sicker with a nasty cold, and it was raining. We took the bus all the way to Circular Quay (downtown Syndey) and then took it all the way back to Coogee. There was a fight on the bus right behind my head...oh the things you'll see when riding the bus.

The next day Jackie and I got up relatively early for a tour of the opera house. Our tour guide was classic. She's part American so it made it OK to joke about Americans. We didn't get to see the main opera theater because there was an opera going on, but apparently the grander room is the concert hall, which we got to take pictures of. It was pretty spectacular.

Did you know that... when the opera house design was part of a contest, and the judge who decided on the design was an American architect, who came to the meeting late and didn't like any of the finalist designs, so he went through the reject pile where he found THE design. There's actually a Simpson's episode in which Springfield builds a concert hall, and it's a spoof of the opera house design.

Did you know that...the ceiling of the theaters in the opera house are not actually connected to the world renown rooves? There is a gap between the ceiling and roof. The roof is also made up of hundreds of thousands of pieces of tile, which from my pictures, you can see individually.

After the tour, we walked around the Rocks, which is another part of Sydney right around the harbor. Instead of spending $275 to climb the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Jackie and I climbed the stairs from the street to the roadway and peered over onto the harbor. We also opted out of spending $10 to climb to an observation point. It was pretty great though- a must-to-do while in Sydney. Finally, I took her to Pancakes on the Rocks, which is a delicious pancake place that serves the craziest kinds of pancakes. I got chocolate and vanilla with respective ice creams. Definitely worth another visit. All in all, Jackie's visit was a lot of fun, and I'm heading down there in October, hopefully to see the 12 Apostles along the Great Ocean Road.

School has been going..well...it's going. I've turned in two assigments so far. One was a reading analysis on Rock and Roll and censorship for my history of the US and Australia in the 60s and one was for my philosophy class. I have a 2500-word research paper for my documentary class due next week. Clearly not looking forward to that. There isn't too much to say about classes other than I go, I do the work and I go home.

Today was the first day I didn't attend classes, but I reckon it was for a worthwhile reason. Fifteen of us went on a long weekend sailing trip through the Whitsunday Islands up in Queensland. (Note the pictures I'm sending) I can't begin to describe it. We went on a racing yacht, and by racing yacht, I mean a fairly small sailing boat, though fastest in Queensland. There were 22 of us, including the 3-person crew on board for two and half days. We slept in tiny bunks underneath the boat. There was no shower. We had to brush our teeth over the side of the boat. The food, however, was surprisingly good for being made in a kitchen the size of my hand.

We left from Airlie Beach and sailed for a couple hours to a snorkeling spot. I snorkeled once in the Bahamas, but this was a bit different since we were required to wear wetsuits in case we ran into jellyfish. It was over the Great Barrier Reef, so that was pretty amazing. We took a little inflatable skipper boat out to the reef, and one of the crew guys, named Dale, told me to hop out. I didn't actually believe he was serious...that I had to just jump off the boat into the reef. Well, he was serious. The scariest part was NOT looking underwater, for fear of things swimming around. I got a bit panicked upon swimming over a really shallow part of the reef. I ended up banging my knee on it....oops. I took some underwater pictures, so I hope those come out. The water was so clear, but if you looked away from the reef into the deep blue sea, it was pretty scary because a shark could totally have come up to you and you wouldn't have seen him until he was right in your face. I saw some crazy looking fish and neon coral. When I swam back to the little boat, I got blockaded by a school of NOT small fish, but Dale told me to put my head above water and not look because he couldn't come get me. Needless to say, I survived my first GBR snorkel.

We sailed some more to an inlet where we spent our first night. We saw humpback whales just swimming and spouting, which was incredible. I've seen whales before on a whale watch, but this was so different because I wasn't expecting it. After seeing a few whales we all looked at each other and came to the realization that these HUGE creatures were swimming around and under us. Crazy. We also saw giant sea turtles just hanging out. I felt like I was in Finding Nemo. Once the sun went down it was pitch black, aside from a flashlight on board. I saw Scorpius in the stars as well as Venus. I can't describe how amazing this was.

I didn't sleep much because the waters were pretty rocky and something kept hitting the boat. We got up early and only a few of us snorkeled. I wasn't too keen on getting in real early in the morning, but I figured when was I going to do this again? I was a lot more calm this time and stayed in the water a lot longer. I didn't choke on any saltwater either, so that's a plus. We were looking for sharks, but couldn't find any. After that snorkel, we sailed to White Haven Beach, which is in the top 5 most beautiful beaches in the world and is a national park. It rained for a bit, but we were so lucky that it cleared by the time we got to White Haven. We went up to an outlook, which is the 4th most photographed spot in Australia. Do you know the first three? (Answer at end of e-mail) This beach was breathtaking. Nobody was there, so it was really quiet, and somewhat eerie. We walked along a sandbar and saw sandsharks and some rays. The water was like a bathtub, and so unbelievably clear. You could see so far down, it was crazy. Between the woods we had to walk through and this beach, it looked like Peter Pan's Neverland...somewhere I've always wanted to go.

After the beach we sailed for a few more hours to our next inlet for the night. We had steak...and good steak, might I add, grilled on the boat. We fed some large fish that were flapping around in the water next to us. When we sailed home the next morning it was windy and raining. We all wore fisherman jackets and hung on to the high side of the boat for dear life. Apparently we were racing since the side of the boat we were on was almost perpendicular to the water. I almost cried. But I guess that's what these boats are designed for. Once we got to dry land, I showered to get all the salt and gross boat off me and we mostly slept for the rest of the afternoon.

I'm just getting back now. It was like a vacation from a vacation since Coogee is hardly somewhere you'd call mundane. Flying into Sydney I saw the opera house and bridge through the window...that's when it hit me again that I'm in Australia. Now that the weather is getting warmer, I hope to get down to the beach and swim, and by swim, I mean wade out to my hips and come back. My friend wants to take me surfing though up in Bondi, so maybe I'll try that. My roommates are going to Byron Bay this weekend since Bush is coming to Sydney for a world leader's conference meeting. I'll be in my apartment working on a paper. Spring break is about three weeks away. I'm heading up to the Gold Coast for uni games (ultimate) and then visiting a friend of Pam's who lives in Brisbane before returning back here.

If anyone is up for a visit, I'd love to show you around. Buy you a beer or some wedges with sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. Or if you know anyone that should come visit........tell him him to forget work and come.

I'll be home in just about three months....that's no time at all!!!


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