Allen in Australia

Experiences from my semester abroad in Sydney

New Zealand and Au Revoir

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My last full week down under I will be spending doing a tour of the North Island of New Zealand.  Because of a booking snafu, I was unable to begin my tour into the Tuesday of that week instead of Monday morning, which meant my itinerary was not able to include the last day’s activity, but no matter.  My flight got in Sunday night and our shuttle driver from the sirport to downtown was carzy! He kept insisting that everyone look up their own destinations on an old map and direct him, and he would yell at you if you led him astray.  The group just had to laugh at how ridiculous the situation was. I spent Monday walking around Auckland, which had lots of shopping along its main street – Queen St. – and a charming harbor area. There was even a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts on the same street – but, alas, none of my favorite pumpkin spice lattes! The hostel I stayed in that night is worth noting for how truly nasty it was.  Crumbling ceilings, mold, you name it. EWWWWW.  On Tuesday, we departed on the bus for Hahei, a town on the coast where we hiked to a natural formation along the beach called Cathedral Cove, where you could look up into a hollowed out arch resembling the nave of a church. In the evening, we had a group BBQ near the campground where we stayed, either in converted trailers or cabins.  They served grilled steak and chicken, along with sweet potatoes and bread.  It was a good chance to meet others on the bus tour and it was here that I began to bond with what would become a close circle of friends: Chad, from Arizona; Jay, from London; and Lia, Lisa, and Marielle, all from Canada. The six of us played a game of cards and chatted, then went to bed. 

            On Wednesday, we traveled across the island to a place called Raglan, which was located in the hills in a temperate rainforest.  The lodgings were built right into the hillside amid ferms and lush greenery, and  a cool rain fell almost constantly.  We took a sunset cruise around the local cove that evening, where we enjoyed a meal of fish and chips and lounging on the beds in the berth of the yacht while watching the limestone cliffs roll by.  Unfortunately, it was so cloudy that there was really no sunset to behold. 

            Thursday was a highly eventful day.  First I chose to take a tour of the glowworm caves at Waitomo, whereas others chose to float down the cave river in innertubes or rappel down the cave walls.  Sounded too chilly and claustrophobic for me!  The tour was absolutely amazing. First we walked through a cave where scientists had discovered prehistoric fossils and which had openings to the sky creating dramatic beams of light.  Then we boarded a boat in the glowworm caves and traveled down a cave river where above us hung thousands of glowworms, making a sort of constellation of densely packed stars fairly near our faces, It was truly beautiful and something that must be experienced to be believed.  Apparently bugs are attracted to the light and then the glowworms catch them in their sticky threads to feed.  The cave was so bright from their glow that there was no need for headlamps or flashlights to steer the boat.  I loved it!  That evening I was in for a huge surprise.  We were welcomed a a marae, or a family compound of a Moari tribe – the indigenous people of New Zealand.  Uncle Boy, a 70-something chief, gave us a stern greeting in which he noted that we were technically his enemies until we had been formally and properly welcomed.  In the meantime, we had a meal of grilled fish, sweet potato, stuffing, and beans, followed by pavlova – a traditional Kiwi dessert.  Pavlova is like a mixture of a meringue and a sponge cake, served with jam.  After the meal, Uncle Boy appointed the oldest among us, a 30 something Hungarian to be our “chief” who would challenge the warrior of the house.  He laid out the dynamics of an elaborate ceremony in which the warrior would try to intimidate the chief and then lay a token at the chief’s feet, which he was to pick up without breaking eye contact.  If he did everything right, we would be welcomed in the family.  Of course, we all had in mind the intense haka we see on TV whenever NZ plays rugby matches, so I was intimidated, not even being the chief myself.  Turns out, the “warrior” was about 14 and totally unthreatening.  After a preliminary few welcome dances and songs, the boys were split from the girls.  The boys were to learn the haka, or war dance, and the girls would learn the poi, a more refined lady-like dance.  We boys had to strip to our underwear and put on grass skirts.  Then we had to learn the Moari words and master tricky movements to perform it correctly.  The intensity and aggression needed were a bit much for me; of course they roll theur eyes and stick out their tongues in total dedication.  My performance was a bit lackluster because I believe I smirked a little bit at one point as we were performing for the girls.  Marielle said that while the benchmark was Mufasa, I was closer to Simba, which I though was pretty hysterical.  Yeah, I am more of a Simba type when it comes to the war dance.  Later we made a bonfire on the beach and sat around listening to guitar.  Jay, our friend from Britain, had a significant mishap that night, which I will have the decency not to recount but which I hope to remember.  

            The next day was the most intense day yet.  We began the morning watching a few fellow riders roll down a hill in a giant plastic ball, calling a Zorb.  It was expensive and seemed totally unappealing, besides I was saving my pennies for that afternoon’s activity! I had signed up to go skydiving over lake Taupo, a volcanic lake the size of Singapore and ringed with snow capped mountains.  We were picked up in a limousine and driven to the launchin area, where we watched a quick film of someone’s actual flight before getting on our jumpsuits and our Amelia Earhart caps and goggles.  We boarded this tiny tin-can of a plane and straddled a bench.  There were eight passengers and our eight accompanying experts (you have to dive tandem until you have a lot of experience).  After a few pictures we were loaded up and off, ascending 12,000 feet.  It took 20-25 min to reach altitude.  My friend LIA wasn’t even on a bench; she sat with her instructor near the door.  When they opened the sliding door, my instructor told me to curl my knees under the edge of the plane and roll out.  He also asked if I wanted to do flips, and I didn’t figure it would matter much in the scheme of things so I said yes.  Lia was first and the most frightening moment of the whole experience was seeing her jump.  One second she was there, and the next, she was gone. Totally disappeared.  I didn’t have much time to process because I was third in line.  Jay bailed quickly and enthusiastically, and my instructor quickly scooted us to the edge.  I curled my legs under, and pushed, and the immediate freefall was incredibly intende.  As I adjusted, the feeling of flying was exhilarating.  Then, when the parachute pulled, all the noise of the plane and the wind stopped and all was quiet.  My instructor was able to point out all the points of interest in the area and we floated very slowly down.  He gave me the reigns to steer my own shute, only taking them back over at landing.  I was very focused at that point to make sure I was following directions.  Marielle, by contrast, busted her butt on arrival!

            Because we were not enamored with the next day’s activities, our group decided to be dropped off at a national park and relax and what was supposed to be the nicest hostel in the area.  It surely lived up to the hype.  The rooms were clean, with mini fridges, modern tiled bathrooms, lofted ceilings, free internet, and hot tubs in the courtyard.  We spent most of this last night in the hot tubs and making a delicious pasta dinner.  The next morning, the others headed out to do a hike in the park (7hrs) so I had to remain behind to catch a shuttle to Wellington because of the mistake with my booking.  I relaxed at the hostel and caught my bus, checked in at the hostel and went straight to sleep to make my 6:40am flight to Sydney.  I woke up at 3:50am and got ready, only to realize that my clokc was still on Australia time, which is two hours behind NZ!!!! So I ened up missing my flight and had to take one later at 3:30.  Anyway, I finally made it to Sydney, where I packed, had a last meal at the Rooftop in the Rocks with my friends and began packing.  I said goodbye first to my dear friend Travis, who left for a Queensland vacation on the 15th, and then Alex and Majbritt when I left on the 16th.  I was plenty early at the airport to check in for the longest flight in the world from Sydney to Dallas.  The flight was tolerable because there were free movies available.  However, a girl was sick not even three hours into the flight and the flight attendants had a time getting the scene cleaned up.  Despite this little drama, the flight went well and I easily made my connection in Dallas and avoided bad weather in Raleigh to land on time!  I will be going to California on December 7th to visit my friend Alex and we are still working on a full reunion, but hopefully that will come one day soon.  I think my experience in Australia, in addition to being fun and enriching by the very nature of travel, has strengthened my character because of the hardships that did come my way.  What a valuable and worthwhile trip! All I can think to say is “Cheers, mates!”

Written by Allen in Australia

November 21, 2011 at 12:05 pm

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Last Days in AUS

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This will be a very long post, as I am already at home reflecting on my experience and referencing the notes I have been taking.  Near the beginning of October, the weather starting improving.  The high temperatures were in the mid 70’s to 80’s and the sun shone most every day.  This was the Australia I had dreamed of!  The weather did remain very changeable, and the saying went that in Australia you could easily have four seasons in one day: hot, chilly, cloudy, and sunny.  One of my first major activities after spring break was a trip to the Hunter Valley Wine Region.  My close friends Travis, Majbrit, Alex, and I took a guided tour of the region, stopping at three boutique wineries and sampling many of the local wines while learning about the production methods and different varietals.  Also, we made stops at a chocolate shop and cheese store along the way, as well as a brewery, where we sampled some interesting beers (ginger beer being one of them).  The weather was beautiful and at one of the wineries we were able to sit outside on a covered patio overlooking the vineyards, while at another we stood at tables within a large wine store, and finally we tasted in an eclectic barn surrounded by whimsical gardens and outbuildings.  The four of us thoroughly enjoyed the good food and drink, and we all agreed it was both a fun and educational experience. 

            Although a heavy academic workload took up a lot of the workweek (I had 8 research assignments due, more than in my entire college career!), we enjoyed going shopping downtown on George and Pitt Streets as well as visiting the harbor area.  We frequently hit the weekend markets in the Rocks to look for souvenirs and to check out the local crafts.  I bought an authentic boomerang, a felt koala picture album, a puzzle, among other things.  Once we caught an impromptu fashion show in a clearing near the market area.  In the evenings, we often did make time for time together either watching movies with fresh-baked brownies, or having a beer or glass of wine at one of the fun (if expensive!) pubs, or “hotels” as they are known.  Many of our favorite nights were spent watching rugby world cup matches and reruns all while laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  Our days were complemented with visits to the Botanical Gardens and exploring new parts of town.  One particular area we recently discovered was Newtown, a more alternative district with fun cafes, bookstores and coffeeshops.  Walking up and down those streets was a refreshing departure from the hustle and bustle of downtown Sydney.  On Alex’s 21st birthday, we also visited the Chinese Friendship Garden that we had heard so much about, and we dressed up in period costumes as Chinese scholars and princesses.  We then did a hilarious photoshoot of swordfights, mock weddings, and royal poses – absolutely hysterical stuff!  We rounded out the evening with dinner at a pasta place in Coogee that was offereing $10 specials! Back at her house, we opened a party kit her mom had sent and decorated marshmallow men and donned party hats. One night we paid a visit to the Chinatown night markets, which turned out to be a relatively dirty, pushy place.  After jostling about a bit and being hurried out of an alfresco Chinese restaurant on the main strip, we quickly retreated! Just for a little background, Alex and Majbritt live in a basement apartment just across the street from campus, and Travis lives up the hill on Arden St. (Coogee) in a lovely apartment that he shares with a Brazilian couple and Phillip, a fellow German who is always preoccupied with his American girlfriend.  My house became a bit trying with people stealing food, going so far as to swipe peanut butter from my room while I was in the shower!  So I tried to be out and about as much as possible. 

            One of the really surprising observations from an American point of view is the fact that the UNSW campus has a couple of bars on-site.  The UniBar or Roundhouse serves drinks with happy hour discounts, however, none of our friend group particularly enjoyed it. However, our final tutorial (discussion section) for one of my classes) was held at the on-campus bar. After checking out a musical based on 80’s pop tunes one night, we tried the White House, which was a restaurant/bar opened in a small white house on campus.  The downstairs and upstairs both had seating with the addition of an outdoor patio.  Despite its current use, the building still felt like a house, with art on its walls and cozy furniture to sit on. Unfortunately, it tended to close very early because of zoning requirements, but it was a fun spot nonetheless.  

            One excursion that took place after the sun began to shine more consistently was to Watsons Bay, a little town a ferry’s ride away from Circular Quay at Sydney’s downtown waterfront.  The town was fun and chic, and we enjoyed delicious fish and chips by the water.  We also made a brief visit at one of Sydney’s more “risqué” beaches.  With the temperatures climbing, I made use of my proximity to Coogee Beach by rolling out of bed early with my sun tan lotion and towel and staking out a place in the sand.  The beach could get unbelievably crowded as the day wore on, to the point where it was impossible to pick your way down to the water without difficulty.  As was to be expected, days could easily begin sunny and clear and become cloudy and cool by midafternoon, so it was important to seize the moment. As final papers were turned in and classes wound down, beaching it became more and more of a regular habit, and I was lucky to have had no final exams, whereas others had several scattered even through the end of November.  After the end of my academic year on October 14th, I geared up for a birthday trip to Melbourne.  We flew Tiger Airways, which had recently been sanctioned by the Australian government for unsafe flying practices, so I was a bit nervous.  All went well, but the Melbourne airport, at least the Tiger baggage claim, had passengers collect their bags outside in a ramshackle wooden structure with a revolving door.  It was very strange.  Travis, one of my travelmates, remarked that even in his travels to Africa he had never seen such a thing.  The first day we were there was the 24th, a Monday, which also happened to be my 21st birthday.  The weather was chilly and rainy, so we spent the afternoon exploring the city and getting our bearings before having a delicious Thai meal.  The Next day, we strolled around the botanical gardens and saw the classical war memorial before scaling Eureka Tower, the highest point in the Southern Hemisphere. From the top I could see the blue courts of Rod Laver Arena where they play the Australian Open every year, which made me very excited.  We walked down the waterfront Flinders St. and crossed to bridge to step inside the opulent Crown Casino, where I enjoyed looking around but where I flat out refused to gamble a cent because of my track record with luck!!! We walked past the National Gallery of Victoria and took in all the bizarre architecture of the downtown area, both on foot and on a free shuttle bus that made the loop of the city.  The next day, we visited Queen Victoria Market, one of Australia’s largest, which had fresh fruit, meat, coffee and vegetables.  Farther downtown, we had excellent pizza and a fabulous piece of carrot cake from a street vendor.  I am ashamed to say I returned twice more for this delicious treat!  We also explored the area around the University of Melbourne, which looked more like a traditional college campus than UNSW.  Brunswick Street had lots of fun shops and cafes, while Lygon Street boasted lots of restaurants, Italian and otherwise.  The waiters and hosts lay in wait outside the restaurants shoving menus in our faces and yelling at us aggressively to consider their menus.  The final straw was when one woman grabbed me and yanked me back.  That was a no-go, and we quickly ducked into a burger place that had come highly recommended from a friend.  It was quite tasty.  On our last full day in Melbourne, we rented a car (!) to drive along the Great Ocean Road to see the Twelve Apostles, limestone stacks in the Pacific that were supposed to be very beautiful and a natural wonder of the world. The rental place didn’t open on time, and because we had to return the car by five, we were under the gun to get out there and get back.  Finally all checked in, we took off on the wrong side of the road for the 12 Apostles.  Getting out of downtown was a bit of a challenge, but once we were out on the highway, we were treated to gorgeous views of cliffs, beaches and the sea.  We arrived at the 12 Apostles, snapped a few pics, and hopped back in for the return trip.  Unfortunately, we  heard on the radio that the Queen was paying a visit to Melbourne that very day and we were very concerned that the traffic downtown would be blocked off.  However, she and her entourage had cleared out by the time we arrived and we were able to get the car back no problem.  My only trouble was turning on my windshield wipers when I should have hit my turn signal, because they are on opposite sides of the wheel in Australia.  Our final day, we sat in a café and had a leisurely coffee before the flight back to Sydney.

            As our days in Sydney drew to a close, we each had a bucket list to fulfill.  I wanted to go up in the rotating Sydney Tower which gave you a panorama of the whole city.  Instead of paying full admission price, we craftily asked to just be admitted to the bar for a quick drink.  We all chose either a lemon juice or a cheap glass of wine and sat and watched Sydney swirl by.  On the Friday after our return from Melbourne, the study abroad office had organized a Halloween cruise for the students, and I had long since signed up to go.  I hadn’t given much though to my costume, so I ended up buying a six-year-old’s Dracula cape 5 min before we were supposed to leave, which barely covered my shoulders.  What’s more, while we were waiting for the bus, I realized I had lost my ticket, so I ran across the street to try to catch a bus home and in my haste, wiped out in the street, skinning both my knees and elbows! I was so relieved nothing was broken.  Anyway, I was very late, so when I finally got on the right bus, I had to follow some German couple to the rendezvous point because I had no idea where it was (having planned to follow Alex).  We dashed through intersections, bowled over pedestrians and ran full tilt to Darling Harbor in our ridiculous costumes.  We made the boat with plenty of time – Aussies are never much in a hurry to do anything.  We boarded and were treated to free drinks and pizza.  By the time the loud music and dancing had begun below, I decided to take a breather upstairs on the top deck where I had several interesting conversations.  When I did go down, everyone was having a great time and it was fun for all.  Walking home, Majbritt, my Danish friend spontaneously danced in the street (the “shuffle”) which made everyone’s night so much better!  At another point she also wasn’t concerned when autocorrect on her cell phone changed “sure” to “gag” when her boyfriend asked to hang out! We had to explain that gag had a meaning in English – that sensation when you almost get sick! Haha.  The next day, Alex wasn’t feeling well so we hung out with her friend Ally, who was so much fun to be around.  We went to get Alex a Coke, which had started a new campaign in Australia in which the bottles would say “Have a Coke with…*someon’es name*” This particular bottle said “Have a Coke with Jacqui” which any normal person would pronounce “Jack-ee.” But of course Ally says “Who in the world is ZHA-KWEE?” I don’t know if this makes sense but we laughed about it all afternoon, and I am putting it down here to remember it just in case I should forget.  We did a final coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach, where we lay out on the beach and soaked up a little last sun as our time together dwindled away.  That night we dined at Guzman y Gomez, one of the only Mexican restaurants in town and a real favorite of mine! I was so excited!  New Zealand to come in part 2.

Written by Allen in Australia

November 21, 2011 at 10:31 am

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Spring Break and Catching up…..

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As you all have probably heard, I had somewhat of a “setback” about 6 weeks ago: a broken arm.  Getting through the surgery and the first few weeks of physical therapy were tough, but I am thankful that I have now recovered a lot of function and am not in nearly as much discomfort going through my daily activities.  Thank you for the cards and emails and love I received during that trying period.  The good news is that if I had to be out of commission for a while, that was absolutely the best moment in the semester to have it happen.  Nothing much was going on, as it was still pretty chilly and even rainy here, and most people just focused on schoolwork rather than planning trips or exploring.  So long story short, it wasn’t fun, but I didn’t miss out on much at all.

Even with my sling on, I managed to get out to the weekend market in downtown Sydney, where I found an authentic boomerang, which was definitely on my list of must-haves in the way of souvenirs.  It has a hand-painted crocodile on it, and on the back there is a label listing the name of the Aboriginal artists who created it.  I shelled out some money for it (no big surprise in Australia), but it was worth it to have something really beautiful and memorable from the trip.  I also explored the Rocks, which is an area of downtown containing the oldest buildings in Sydney, some even dating from the late 1700′s and 1800′s when Australia was a British convict colony.  Convicts sent to New South Wales actually built some of the structures that are there today.  It reminded me a little bit of Europe or even Charleston: there were wrought-iron balconies, cobbled streets, and stone fountains.  Some friends and I went to a restaurant on top of one of the old buildings and enjoyed a spectacular view of the harbor and the Opera House.  Another interesting expedition was a visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens, which is like Sydney’s Central Park and located just beside the Opera House.  The Government House is actually in the middle of the park.  Of course it had lots of pretty grassy areas and trees, but the botanical gardens are known especially for two flying creatures: its cockatoos and its tremendous bats.  It was so odd to see big white cockatoos like you would find in a pet store back home just wandering around in the wild.  Some people would bring seed and the birds would absolutely swarm them and land all on their shoulders and arms.  The bats were thankfully hanging in trees asleep, but they are huge – the size of big ravens or small dogs.  You should Google “flying foxes” because words cannot describe how nasty they are.  And they were literally thousands of them throughout the park.  The city has actually tried to reduce the number of bats in the colony, but to no avail.  As it started getting closer to sunset, they started to stir and yawn and spread their wings.  Needless to say I beat feet out of there!

Unfortunately keeping up with my classwork has been tricky both because of my injury and the sheer amount of it.  We have several large assignments due over a relatively short period of time, which is quite different from our system.  I am really enjoying my politics class, but otherwise let’s just say I have a new appreciation for UNC and the quality of instruction in our country.  Their grading system is much different as well, so I was wrong to thing that a “pass” would be fairly easy to get here.  Good news is that I have no final exams, so my academic requirements will be all done towards the middle of October.

Now to my amazing spring break trip to the Great Barrier Reef! Overall it was undoubtedly one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I am so happy I was able to fully take part in it and really enjoy it.  I flew from Sydney to Cairns, which is up near the northern tip of Australia in the tropics, on Thursday, September 1st.  I stayed at a hostel called Gilligan’s, which is famous for its atmosphere.  It is like a mini-resort: it has sleeping quarters, a pool, a bar/restaurant that has a dance floor and music at night, and terraces where people like to congregate after everything else has shut down.  I didn’t get a lot of sleep, but it was a good time.  On Friday morning, I went on a day trip to the Daintree Rainforest, which is even farther up the coast on Cape Tribulation.  Our first stop was a wildlife sanctuary where we got to hold koalas and feed kangaroos.  Certainly must-dos on any Australian adventure!  Then we went on a river cruise through the forest where we saw wild saltwater crocodiles and snakes hanging in the trees. Finally, we actually walked through a part of the rainforest, first to an outlook at a high point, then down into the swampy areas which are the haunts of the crocs.  The path and the forest stopped abruptly at a pretty beach, but of course there was a sign warning against going in the water because of the crocodiles.

On Saturday, I walked around Cairns and took lots of pictures of the port, which is surrounded by mountains and is blue and crystal clear.  There are yachts and fishing boats and sailing ships all docked in the marina, and I wandered the piers checking out where each was from and their names, kind of like down by the old Sanitary Fishmarket.  I also spent some time at what they call the “lagoon,” which is basically a huge swimming pool that goes all the way up to the ocean but actually has fresh water.  There are sandy areas on either side for sunbathing and there is a large park behind it called the Esplanade, where there was a crafts market.  The need for the lagoon, of course, is that it is too dangerous to swim in the ocean thanks to crocs, sharks, and poisonous jellyfish.  It was very warm up there, which I absolutely loved because Sydney has stayed abnormally chilly well into the spring this year for some reason.  Cairns also had a lot of fun little shops with a “beach town” feel.

On Sunday I took a catamaran out to the reef itself and got to snorkel over it.  It was so shallow in places you couldn’t put your feet down, and there were tons of tropical fish and different corals everywhere.  It was like being in an aquarium in the open ocean.  We saw Nemo in his anemone and Dory (who, unlike Ellen DeGeneres, does not actually speak whale), plus species of fish that I remember having in tanks when I was younger, but in their natural habitat.  We also saw a blue shark, which aren’t dangerous and actually very skittish, and a sea turtle, which we fed algae pellets.  We had to wear wetsuits because of the threat of jellyfish, even though apparently this isn’t the season for them.

On Monday, I took a bus from Cairns down to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands, which took the whole day.  It was a little tedious, but there was some incredible scenery along the way.  There isn’t a straight-shot highway up there, so the bus had to wind through little towns and down country roads to get there.  I did have fish and chips in a little village right on the ocean at lunch.  That evening, I checked into the hostel in Airlie Beach, which was a lot more tranquil than the one in Cairns.

The next day, I boarded a sailship called the Condor for a three-day excursion to the Whitsunday Islands, which are about two hours out from Airlie Beach and (amazngly) still part of the same reef I snorkeled at in Cairns.  There were 28 people on the ship, and it had a large berth where there were little bunks along the walls with hammock-style beds above each one.  I was glad to get one that wasn’t swinging in the air.  We spent most of that first afternoon cruising out to the islands and taking in the scenery.  They are little spots of green surrounded by white powdery sand beaches and water as clear as a bath and the brightest shade of blue.  Truly gorgeous.  I was really surprised by how good the food was on the boat, especially considering what a tiny galley it had.  We had roast chicken one night and steaks on the grill the next.  That evening we sat up on deck and eventually went down to bed.  The boat anchored at night so that it didn’t toss us around while we slept.  The next morning we got right into the water for more snorkeling, and we were greeted by more of the same amazing sights from a few days earlier.  I could have floated in that water all day just watching all the color and movement and checking out the different coral formations.  It seemed like every time I thought I had spotted all the species of fish, a new one would pop up.  That afternoon, we stopped at Whitehaven Beach, which is supposed to be among the most beautiful beaches in the world.  I certainly think so having seen it.  The sand was almost like flour it was so white and fine. And that water with the sun shining off it was just spectacular.  We laid out our towels and soaked up the sun before little dinghies ferried us back to the main boat.  Later on we stopped at one of the westward facing beaches to have a drink and a snack and watch the sunset over the ocean. The final day we snorkled some more and savored the cruise back into port.  This particular boat had won several races, and it could certainly tear through the water.  It was impressive to watch the crew hoist and adjust the sails and swing them around to catch the wind.  When we were using the sails, the boat would tip pretty steeply, and we would have to shift over to the “high side” to balance it out.

Back in Airlie Beach, I checked in again at the same hostel, which had let me store my bag there.  That night I went with my British roomates to watch a rugby match on TV.  I still don’t understand rugby, but they are very passionate about it down here.  The next day, a Friday, I picked up a good book and sat out by Airlie’s lagoon, which I think was even nicer than the one in Cairns.  I walked up and down the little main street which had little souvenir shops and cafes.  I would be so sad to see this trip end.  The final night a couple of French girls moved into my room and we had a great time speaking French and enjoying each other’s company.  I think they were relieved to be able to speak their own language again, and I was glad to have a chance to practice my French.  The next day, I got to sleep in a little for the first time and packed my bags to catch my flight back to Sydney.  The airport near Airlie Beach was basically a plywood shack with a runway.  When I got there, there weren’t any planes even on the ground.  But eventually the flight came and went, and, after a connection in Brisbane, I arrived back in chilly Sydney.  I am already nostalgic for those islands and want to go back ASAP!  School is cranking up again, but at least the weather is getting a little warmer.  The locals say this is unusual and should be getting much warmer soon.  I can’t wait!  Altogether, it was an incredible trip, and I have definitely checked several items off my to-do list.  I am lucky to be here all the way around the world having such wonderful experiences. Thanks for reading, and more to come.

Written by Allen in Australia

September 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Blue Mountains

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This past Sunday we took a day trip for a hike in the Blue Mountains, a scenic national park about two hours from Sydney by train.  The Blue Mountains get their name from the blue haze that covers them as a result of residue from the eucalyptus trees that grow there.  We began at the top of one of the mountains at a viewing platform where we saw the Three Sisters which are three pillars of rock that jut up from the valley floor.  We then hiked down a winding 900 step staircase  taking us through the cloud forest where we were literally immersed in the clouds at times.  The stairs allowed us to stand on the ledge of one of the Sisters and take pictures.  Once we reached the valley floor, we stopped by a stream lined with mossy rocks and little waterfalls for a picnic lunch.  to return to the top, we took a cable car which gave us a bird’s eye view of the scenery that we had just explored on foot.  Afterwards we explored the little town of Katoomba, where we would catch the train back to Sydney.  Unfortunately that evening my computer decided to give up the ghost so I am in the middle of searching for a replacement.  You really don’t realize how dependent you are on technology until you have to go without!  Tomorrow and Thursday I have my classes again, and I have come to campus today to use the university computer lab and to walk my route for classes again.  I also turned in a slip of paper today to sign up for a couple of social activities organized through the Study Abroad office which are quite economical and sound really fun.  In two weeks I will be taking a wine tasting tour through the Hunter Valley followed by a stop at a nature park where we get to hold koalas and have our pictures made.  I am so excited to hold one, as I have yet to go to the large zoo here in Sydney.  I also signed up for a harbor cruise to take place on Halloween.  This should be a fun way to see Sydney Harbour from the water at night and to wind down a great semester down under.  As a side note, for those of you leaving comments, please know that I get emails showing me what you’ve written but for some reason they don’t all appear on the blog itself.  I am really not sure why, but I appreciate your thinking of me and reading about what I have going on.  The weather is sunny and not as chilly today so I am encouraged that the first taste of spring may be not too far away.  That’s all for now.  As the Australians say, “Cheers!”

Written by Allen in Australia

July 26, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Week One

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I have been in Australia one week today.  I will try to run through some of the many activities that filled these days.  One of the first was to walk from Coogee Beach, where I am living, to Bondi Beach, which is a good hour’s walk up the coast.  The walk was spectacular – there is a path that winds along the coast connecting all the beaches.  The beaches here are not continuous but rather broken up by rocky areas and cliffs, so the hike takes you up to the top of the rocks and back down again to the next beach.  There are probably five beaches in between here and Bondi, which is famous for its surfing.  There are surfers in wetsuits at every beach and it has been fun watching them try to catch the massive waves here.  I actually followed through on my idea to swim in the Atlantic and the Pacific in the same week and accepted my Norwegian friend’s offer to take a dip.  The air is very chilly here (probably a little over fifty that day with a stiff breeze), but he said that the water was warm enough.  It was extremely cold but I went on in, but could only stay for just a few minutes.  The waves looked even bigger in the water and it was interesting to see the surfers’ technique up close.  I have also been to the UNSW campus a couple of times, once to register and again for orientation day.  I am taking American Studies, Australian Studies, a course on the Aboriginal people, and a politics course.  I was able to fit those into just two days, so I will have more time to explore, travel, and hopefully do a little work on my applications for law schools.  The school is very modern and very large with close to 50,000 students.  I think Carolina has about 17,000 as a point of comparison.  It will take me a while to find my way around, because all the buildings are sort of jumbled around and not neatly arranged around a quad like we’re used to.  But I doubt I will have any trouble because the Australians are just about the nicest people as a whole.  Not one has been anything but friendly and helpful, even anticipating your questions and offering help before you even have to ask.  I have been to downtown Sydney a few times now, and it is beautiful.  Pretty parks, clean streets, and of course the beautiful harbor with the bridge and opera house.  There is great shopping along Pitt Street which is a long pedestrian mall near the harbor.  The only downside is that everything – food, drink, admission,  supplies – is very expensive.  At our orientation yesterday they began with a performance by an Aboriginal dance team.  Apparently they are very accomplished because they said they were performing at the opera house tomorrow night.  It was a little intimidating to say the least, with their bodies covered in colored mud and their holding tree branches as they danced to the didgeridoo and chanted.  But I guess they need to come off as scary to all the Outback animals that can kill you in Australia!  On a final note, I was able to find my coffee maker and space heater, so now I am all warm and happy both morning and night!  Hope you are all doing well across the world.  It is already tomorrow here, and I’m sending it your way with love!

Written by Allen in Australia

July 16, 2011 at 11:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

First impressions

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I just arrived in Sydney yesterday morning and the adventure had begun.  I was picked up at the airport by a shuttle that took me to my accommodations – a large dorm style house very near the beach.  There are three floors and I am on the first in a single across from the bathroom.  There is a laundry room, a kitchen, and a common area with a TV for the residents to use.  People continue to file in as the weekend progresses, but the ones I have met so far have been friendly.  There are several Americans, and even a girl from UNC from Winston-Salem.  The others are from Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas.  There are three Norwegians, and one girl from Switzerland who for some reason speaks Norwegian.  There is also a boy from Singapore who is very quiet but was kind enough to help me figure out how to set up this Internet connection, for which I am extremely grateful.  There will be more coming in today.  Because it is winter in Sydney, it is really quite cold, and there is no heating in the place I am staying.  That is the one huge negative for me as I am very cold-natured. Just to validate my point, the Norwegians think it’s cold.  I rest my case.  Also, the concept of the drip coffee maker, so crucial to my morning routine, seems not to exist in Australia.  This is not okay.  Kristen (fellow Carolina student) and I found what we think is a Target online and are leading a posse out there today to hunt one down, along with quilts and space heaters.  I have yet to brave the shower.

Yesterday, those that had already arrived went exploring around our area.  We went to Coogee Beach which is a pretty strip of white sand flanked by cliff -like rocks.  We then took a bus downtown and walked around the harbor area.  We saw the Opera House and Harbour Bridge and explored all the little streets and markets.  There were a lot of little street performances, including an Aboriginal person playing a digeridoo (one of the long horns).  We then took a bus back and bought groceries to make dinner then sat and talked in the common room for a while.  Then I was absolutely tired so I went to bed.  It is Sunday morning here now.  I will ry to be more diligent about taking pictures, I left mine at the house yesterday because I was unaware that we were going to see the most iconic sights in all of Sydney when someone asked “Want to take a walk with us?”  But I will do better, I promise!  If you are reading, please know that you are in my thoughts even all the way over here.  More to come….

Written by Allen in Australia

July 10, 2011 at 8:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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