Monday, May 16, 2011

Just to further my point

Skyscanner's 2011 Travel Awards named the USA and Australia (tied) as having the "friendliest locals" of all the countries in the world... well, Western world I think.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

An Ode to Oz

This was supposed to be posted BEFORE the previous post... but for some reason it didn't. Sorry!

This is a ode to a country that is vast, self-centered, and wholly Western (in both the worldly sense, and the cowboy). It is an ode to a place where people are generally kind and welcoming, down-to-earth and ready-to-talk. It is an ode to a people that love their country, for all its faults and errors throughout its short history. This is an ode to Australia, which I came to love in the short time I was there, as it reminded me fondly of my own country, while being completely different. It's almost like we are brothers from different mothers. Or at the very least, Crocodile Dundee and Butch Cassidy are. I mean, we both have a lot of deserts and a lot of coastline, we both have Kmart and Target, and we both have race/class/social issues that we have been trying to work out for the past 100 years. Our economies are opposite right now (Australia on the up! US on a flatline!), and the Australian minimum wage ($18/hr) is about THREE TIMES that of the US. However, the good things in life stay the same: you walk into a bar in either country and the chatty old men come a-runnin', filling you with stories, jokes, and a dose of reality.

Such was our experience in south and central Australia. Ben and I spent a little over two weeks road trippin' it from Melbourne to the Red Centre (yes, that is an 're') and back, covering some Great Roads, National Parks, and a whole lot of nothingness. We started with The Great Ocean Road, which snakes its way along the coast of southern Oz, through Victoria and South Australia. We started in Lorne, where our free campsite gave us the false hope that this would be a cheap trip. That was the only free campsite we ever saw. We then hopped from cute coastal town to cute coastal town for the next few days, spotting koalas in trees (and witnessing our fist koala bear jam!) and admiring the fantastic surf, until landing on the mother ship of coastline in the south: The Twelve Apostles. The end of The Great Ocean Road is a 30 km stretch of shear cliffs, rock formations, and moon-like landscapes. The morning we saw it the sun peeked out from behind the clouds only long enough for us to get some awesome sun streaked views of the crazy scenery, and the ocean was so angry that sometimes the waves splashed us- several hundred feet above the water.

From there we headed to Grampians National Park, which, because it was Easter weekend (woops) was so overly crowded with people that we both felt claustrophobic and decided to continue on immediately. We decided to make our way towards Ayers Rock, 900 miles away, which before that point had only been discussed in speculation, but all of a sudden became a reality. Or favorite mantra: why not? We stopped only in Adelaide to check out the weekend market and buy some supplies for our road journey. When traveling in the Outback, one must pack well. Water, food, and extra tires if you plan on going off the main drag. We were to scared of our $3,000 deductible on the rental car to make any off road moves, so we settled for food and water. Off we went!

Our first stop (btw, all of these stops are literally the ONLY stops on the highway between Port Augusta and Alice Springs)

You know a country is big when you drive through absolutely nothing for multiple days. Much like driving through Nebraska, or Arizona, some days all we would see were a couple dead kangaroos on the side of the road. Luckily, we come from a place where driving two days just to get somewhere else is fairly common. We were aiming for Ayers Rock, Ben was undergoing a massive cold, and the highlight of each day was stopping at a Roadhouse to get a Lift (carbonated DELICIOUS lemon beverage) Come day #3 on the Adelaide-Darwin highway, we started to wonder whether this

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Return to Oz

Okay, the Royal Wedding (sorry, had to interrupt for a lunch break with mom at the new restaurant in Irving Park- Remix. if you are in Chicago, please check out this place. It is CHEAP, there are delicious crepes, the owner is super nice, and it is the only cute new restaurant in this neighborhood. Help it out!) 

The evening of the Royal Wedding (LIVE coverage began at 5pm in Australia), Ben and I decided to leave our hotel bar and head down the street to the recommended restaurant in town. We figured we could catch up on the wedding when we got back later. Little did we know, the wedding, even in Australia, was HUGE. We walked into The Austral, a cute historic building that had a refurnished bar and restaurant, to find just about every resident and visitor of Quorn that night. If they weren't there when we arrived, they arrived shortly thereafter, and at one point it was standing room only. Two big screen TVs were tuned to ABC, for all of the glorious red carpet coverage one could handle. Most people had dressed up for the occasion, but, unfortunately, no one was wearing any hats. People do love hats in Australia too, by the way. Horse races are still the biggest festivities of the year. 

We ordered our dinner, which we were thrilled about because I ordered beef cheeks and Ben ordered kangaroo (and it was not pb&j for once), and found a little table in the corner near two 40-something couples at the bar. They had begun their evening of drinking and revelry long before arriving at The Austral, and their wedding commentary pretty much made our night. Like most Aussies, they were quick to befriend us, and quick to start rolling out the comedy. Perhaps the wedding to Aussies was perfectly summed up by one of the women: "You know, we hate this [wedding]. We don't want to be part of this stupid republic. But it's like a car crash. You really don't want to watch it, but some sick part of you wants to." 

And so, the canary-like queen, the dagger-laden Victoria Beckham, and the bow-tied Princess Beatrice were all mocked, the British anthems were drowned out by raucous, drunken Aussie anthems, and, of course, all the Quornians still adored Kate in her dress. As the oaths of marriage were being made, the pudgy, middle-aged barmaid cracked the silence that had fallen with, "Is this a bad time to mention that I slept with William?!" All anyone could do was crack up. 

The remainder of our time in Australia was spent at the Grampians National Park, where we scrambled over boulders up the inaccurately named Mt. Difficult (not so difficult at all) and spent chilly nights around the campfire roasting sausages and playing with the resident wallaby. It was over a campfire in the Grampians that we learned of the death of Osama Bin Laden, from a French traveler we had met that night. It reminded me of the night I heard that Michael Jackson died, when I was at Charlie's, the only bar in Babb, Montana. The instances were equally surreal, as though I was looking and thinking about the world from the outside. I guess that is what happens when you are out of mass media coverage for long periods of time. 

My last night in Oz was spent in Lorne, where we began our journey. Because the tourist season is over now, as it is well into Fall, we were able to rent a whole cabin to ourselves! We cooked dinner, watched some of that mass-media-coverage we had been missing (but not necessarily missing, if you get my drift), and drank some great micro-brews. Up until that point, we hadn't found a really good beer the entire time we had been Down Under. Considering how much Aussies and Kiwis like to drink, we thought it a travesty. I guess they just drink to drink, and not for quality. Or, they haven't discovered the art of the micro-brew yet. Well, some have, and we managed to taste a couple! 

The next morning we headed for Melbourne, where I would fly to Sydney, and where Ben would decide what to do with the remaining few days he had in Australia. Though I was only there for about two weeks, I saw so much it felt like it must have been longer. I loved Australia, and I will definitely go back. If anyone has ever seen any Aussie movies (particularly musicals) from the last thirty years, there is usually at least one scene where people break out in song in a pub. Thus, it is the night in Quorn that stands out in my mind as the most typically Australian moment that we had, and we ate it up. I mean, they actually broke out in song. It reminded me of family gatherings at my parents' house. Generally, after everyone has eaten, and there is that lull when digestion takes precedence over conversation, my father and my godfather burst out in song. No one ever knows what they are singing or where it came from, but somehow they both know it and are belting it out across the turkey and cranberry sauce. So I think we must be siblings, us Americans and Aussies, because despite everything that may stress us out, we sure as hell love a good time. 


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Americans meet the Outback

Feeding the animals

Couldn't find Pride Rock in Africa... because it was in Australia

Salt flats

We've been upside down for too long

Ben really doesn't like the idea of being a fatty

Red dirt
Coober Pedy, Opal Capital of the World. The man buried under this keg thought he was the best brewmaster in the region, but he couldn't drink alcohol because he had cancer. Last laugh was on him... literally. 

Flowing locks on the longest jetty in Australia- Port Germein, South Australia.

Australia, au naturel

Kings Canyon National Park, Northern Territory

Grampians National Park, Victoria

Kangaroo and Joey, Grampians National Park

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Northern Territory

a real koala! Great Ocean Road, Victoria/South Australia