Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A Most Humiliating Morning

I stopped by Starbucks this morning. I ordered a coffee and decided to treat myself to one of the muffins. The chocolate one with cream cheese. Named a "Blackbottom Cupcake."

At the register I told the clerk what coffee I had ordered and then asked "Could I also get a Blackbottom?" He stared at me and started laughing. I finally got it, blushed and paid.

Over at the condiment station I opened up my coffee to put in my sugar. Remember how before I told you about feeling self-conscious about the number of sugars I use? Well, as I put two packets of sugar in my coffee, the guy standing next to me said, "Boy, you sure like it sweet, don't you?"

The day just isn't going to get better is it?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Vacation Day 7 - Out to Ayers Rock

The next morning we got up early and packed up the car and hit the road heading out to see Ayers Rock, or it's official name, Uluru. Along the way we found out that if there was any kind of unusual rock formation or tree of any kind, it was considered sacred by the Aboriginals. Considering they were roaming around the land for thousands of years before any one else got there, they've had a lot of time to build stories around distinctive landmarks.

Along the way there we stopped at a roadhouse for breakfast. I should explain that in the outback things are few and far between. If you own a cattle station your nearest neighbor will not be a few miles away, they'll be a few thousand miles away. So the buildings along the roadside become a sort of jack-of-all-trades type of place. Usually including a restaurant, store, campground, hotel, public park, anything that someone passing through might need; because the next time you see someone else may not be for miles, and depending on your mode of travel, days. So back to the story, we stopped at Stuart's Well Roadhouse, which aside from being a lovely place to provide a hearty breakfast is home to Dinky the Dingo. Dinky has a rather unique talent. He sings and plays the piano. Just click the link for the full story, but in short we got to meet and hear Dinky.

After breaksfast and quite a bit of driving we got to the park with Uluru, and lesser known (at least to me) The Olgas. We hiked up a path between the Olgas and got our first real experience with the flies. Flies in the outback are not like ours at home. They're smaller for one, and a lot more annoying. We were lucky that we were there in the fall, apparently the summer is a lot worse. What do they do you ask? Well, there's not much water in the desert, so when people come through the flies follow them. And try to get in any orifice that might offer some water. Ears, nose, mouth, eyes, they fly at them, repeatedly. And persistently. My Dad has a theory that each fly is assigned to one person. There may be more than one fly assigned to that person, but once they find their target they stick with them until the person gets back inside.

After the Olgas we drove over to Ayers Rock. It's a lot bigger in person and is incredibly neat. It honestly looks as if someone has dropped a rock from the sky. It's all one hugely consistent piece. Up close and personal the different nooks and crannies give each section its own feel. The aboriginals have different stories about different features of the rock, some specific to men, some to women, some to the people as a whole, some to various heroes and legends. I'd heard that before we arrived, and after seeing it I can honestly believe it. The rock changes how it looks from each angle as you walk around. Sunset was actually cloudy the day we were there, so we only got a taste of it, but it was good to experience anyway.

We drove part of the way back that night and stopped at a roadhouse to get dinner and some sleep. You really shouldn't drive through the outback at night. It's DARK. I mean pith black. And there are a lot of nocturnal animals running around at night, some of them rather large, and they really would leave a nasty dent in your car. Especially, the roaming cattle.

At the roadhouse we ate a full meal. The roadhouses certainly don't skimp on the food. We you ask for breakfast they bring several pieces of toast, eggs, bacon, usually a roasted tomato, and coffee or tea. Dinner wasn't any different. I got Chicken Parma (short for Parmesan). As a side note, the Aussies seemed big on shortening words. Breakfast was brekky, football was footy, mosquitos were mozzies, crawfish were yabbies, and on and on the list goes. After dinner it was off to our rooms where we promptly passed out.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I know I know...

But catching up at work has taken so much more time than I thought it would. Eventually I'll get around to posting more about the trip.

In the meantime, CONGRATULATIONS are in order to Ken and Jenn expecting their second little one!

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The Vacation Day 6 - Alice Springs

The next day in town my folks took us out to some of their favorite places. First the Desert Park.
It was packed full of different exhibits, native animals, and birds. You simply cannot believe the huge variety of birds that in Australia. Big, small, most of them brightly colored. And birds of prey. Huge Golden Eagle, small, quick Hobbies. I remember watching a documentary on the Disney channel when I was younger about the wide variety of life in the desert. It's not a joke.

After the park we went to Standley Chasm for some lunch and a nice hike. All I can say is that it was a beautiful and relaxing place. And that when you order chicken tenders there, you need to tell them how many tenders you want. Otherwise you just get one.

Next back in to town for my favorite bit. Shopping. We went to several places, including a souvenier stand where I picked up some Vegemite (more about that later), and then off to The Gem Cave. The Gem Cave is a local store in Alice that specializes in opals. Now opals aren't particularly popular here in America, other than for folks with October birthdays. After having seen the opals in Australia, I think I've figured out why. Such a huge variety of colors, sizes, shapes. It was truly amazing. And amazingly expensive. Opals are extremely good in Australia. They also extremely popular. Maybe in South Africa diamonds are incredibly expensive as well. I thought the closer you got to a source, the cheaper it would be. No such luck. But, thanks to sweet, wonderful, kind, good, loving, (is that enough dear?) Andy, I got a lovely pair of earrings, that everyone here seems to think are turquoises. Since that's the color of the opals I got.

Returning back to the house we rested and cleaned up and then got on the way out the door back in to town for a Didjeridoo show. First dinner out, at an Italian place naturally. Then to the Moonlight Dreaming Theatre where we watched a local (now a friend of my Dad's) play about 20 different types of Didjs. Incredible just about covers it.

A few things I forgot to mention about our first night in Alice:
We went to a hotel/campground that backed to a large hill. On the hill lived a large colony of Rock Wallabies. The hotel sells bags of alfalfa pellets that you can then use to feed the wallbies. So we did. It took a little convincing to get them down off the hill, but once they came up and grabbed hold of your hand with their paw, they weren't about to let that food get away. Paws with surprisingly long claws I might add.

Also that night we drove out of town off road, away from the city light (what little there was). Out there we saw the stars. Not like you see them here in DC. I mean we same them big bright and in person. There is definitely a Milky Way up there folks and it is gorgeous.
The Vacation - A few side notes

A few things from Sydney I forgot to mention:
Coming in to the airport getting our baggage there was a sniffer dog. Sniffing mainly for drugs or plants that shouldn't be coming in to the country. It was an adorable beagle, who was very serious in his duty. Sniffing bags here and there. Stopping at a baggage cart the dog started sniffing like mad. He stood on his back legs and sniffed up towards a plastic bag at the top of the bag pile. The guard took him all around the cart but he just kept sniffing that bag. The guard took it down and let the dog get a better smell. The beagle sniffed at it and started walking away but just kept coming back. The guard called to the woman still waiting for another bag, "Ma'am do you have any plants in here? Any food?" She thought for a moment and replied "Just some donuts." The guard rolled his eyes, pulled on the dog's leash and mumbled "Donuts. Come along you. You weren't trained for donuts!"

There are bats that come out at night in Sydney. Very, very large bats. In fact the first night we were there one flew over our heads into the nearby trees. I sort of shrieked and said "Look a Flying Fox!" A local passing by happily corrected me. "Oh no, those are fruit bats. Flying foxes are larger." If it had been any larger the tree would have toppled over when it landed. That sucker was HUGE.

A delicious note about Australia in general:
They seem very fond of flavored milk. It was anywhere that you might stop for a snack. All flavors, strawberry, chocolate, banana...YES! Banana milk. Nestle Quik banana flavored milk. Like we used to have when I was little, but that you can't find here any more. Anywhere. When we stopped at a grocery store I picked up a canister, yes the old style canister that you have to use the spoon to pry the top off of! I'm happily drinking a glass of it right now as I type. This will be my birthday request from my family. Forget the other things Australian that they can send to me. While they're there I want them to send me as much banana milk powder as they possibly can. And while they're at it, they can toss in a few of the other fun flavors, like Chocolate Orange.


Monday, May 10, 2004


I logged in to Blogger for the first time in a few days and all is new and shiny!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The Vacation Day 5 - Sydney to Alice Springs

Alice Springs was next, so we hopped on a plane and headed to it. Why you might ask did we go to a little town of no more than 30,000 people in the middle of a desert? It's where my parents live. They've been there 3 years now and since they'll be home in the fall, what better excuse did we have for flying out there? We're only going to get that reason once in our lifetimes.

My folks met us at the airport with large smiles (it'd been a year and a half since I'd seen my dad, 6 months since I'd seen my mom) and we went for a little drive out to the Tropic of Capricorn. So yes, we took the necessary pictures showing us straddling the line, I was an all out tourist and I don't care.

The rest of the day zipped by, ended by dinner at a Chinese restaurant in town. Significant for two reasons. First, Andy and I have eaten at a Chinese restaurant in every country we've ever been in, excluding those we've been through en route to somewhere else (ie Switzerland because we were on a train). And second, a man I work with used to come out to Alice on business and he claimed that restaurant was his favorite. He gave me a picture of himself standing in front of the restaurant to show to the owner to see if she remembered him. She certainly did. She remembered that he ate there a lot, and that he would order dinner, and lunch for the next day, and DINNER for the next day. Judging by how much he eats around the office, I was convinced she certainly had the right man in mind.
The Vacation Day 4 - Sydney meets the flaming croissant of death

Our last day in Sydney I decided at breakfast I needed a bit of a change. I thought I'd warm up my croissant by using the conveyor toaster that the hotel so conveniently provided. I learned a valuable life lesson. Croissants should not be warmed by conveyor toasters. Mid-toast part of the croissant caught fire, which I slyly tried to blow out while praying the staff and smoke detectors wouldn't notice.

It mostly turned out alright, I just had a very dry, and slightly black croissant.

After that terrific breakfast, we went out to the Circular Quay (the Aussies pronounce it 'key') to see the Sunday Market. Anything and everything you could possibly want was on a stand. And quite a few things that you probably wouldn't want after the heat of the moment died and you found yourself with a googly-eyed walnut complete with plaque saying "Welcome to Mooseport" painted on the bottom.

We ate lunch at the Lowenbrau Keller and I sampled Mango Beer. Not joking. Beer flavored with mango syrup. A bit odd, but I rather liked it. While we were eating the Oompa band came out and serenaded everyone eating in the restaurant. They were pretty good for a German Oompa band in Australia, although we could have sworn the trumpet playing came from New Orleans.

Next, off to Taronga Zoo. We spent the afternoon enjoying the animals and catching the tail ends of shows, such as the Seal Show and the Birds of Prey. We missed the penguin demonstration because the pamphlet said 2:30 and the sign at the exhibit said 2. Can I stress the importance of keeping your printed materials up to date?

It was a lovely zoo, and will have more than doubled in size in the next year or so, they were building a ton of new exhibits. You can stop and look out over Sydney as you walk from the elephants towards the tigers.

Thoroughly thrilled with our glut of animals, we headed back to the hotel to rest up and prep for the next day.
The Vacation Day 3 - Sydney

Day 3 was an all day trip to The Blue Mountains. Ron, the driver of our 4WD vehicle, what the Aussies call a 'Ute', was terrific. He was a bit dissapointed I think that Andy came along. Aside from him, the rest of the vehicle was filled with girls.

The Blue Mountains were incredible. It was almost as if someone had taken Arizona and filled it with Eucalyptus trees. Tons of different kinds of them.

On the way up we stopped at a small park, Featherdale. I got to scratch a wombat's belly, and be scared by a man holding a wallaby. He yelled "Look out!!" just as I started to scratch the baby wallaby he was holding. Of course I shrieked and jumped back 5 feet. That seemed to amuse him to no end. The wallaby didn't seem to care either way.
The Vacation Day 2 - Sydney

Day 2 was a free day, meaning no scheduled tours, nothing to rush to, just sleep until we felt like getting up and then doing whatever we felt like doing. Of course we woke up at 3:30 AM. Eventually I dozed back off until the very late hour of 6:45. What woke me up was nothing less than astounding. It was Andy getting dressed. Those of you that know him in his alter ego of Porter, KNOW that him getting up early is not something he does unless necessary. That he was up and dressed before me is something I think has happened maybe twice before in the 5 years we've been married. On to breakfast.

Australian breakfast is like English breakfast. In other words VERY different than what I'm used to. Slices of bacon taste and look like slices of ham. Eggs come with a topping of baked beans, and sausage is what I personally would call a hotdog. Same flavor, same size, only slightly different consistency. Not that it was all bad. The yogurt was excellent, the breakfast pastries were superb, and the hashbrowns were very yummy.

Our hotel was located next door to the Chinese Garden. We could look into part of it from our room so that was the first logical place to go. It was incredibly relaxing. The atmosphere was lovely, and you couldn't tell you were right in the middle of a bustling city, until you climbed a hill and found yourself eye-to-eye with a stop on the monorail.

Next on the list was the aquarium. Sure I've been to our aquarium in Baltimore, but here even the local fish were exotic. The seal exhibit and the shark exhibit were amazing. Walking in long underwater tubes and watching rows and rows of huge fish with huge teeth swim on top of you was an experience.

Next off to lunch. What to eat? Although I was shocked by the healthy number of Italian restaurants, we decided to go with another favorite, a good curry. Guessing that since breakfast was very British in nature, native Australian cuisine would also have a similar tinge, we ate what we ate in England. Indian food. And it was delish.

Later that evening I had some good Australian beef and my first taste of Sticky Date Pudding. I have yet to taste anything as yummy. With a butterscotch sauce and praline ice cream on the side that made me think I was in heaven. Am I researching recipes right now as I type? Oh yes.
The Vacation Day 1 - Sydney

I say Day 1, but it was more like Day 3. Having left Baltimore mid-day on Tuesday and arricing in Sydney bright and early Thursday morning. We lost Wednesday somewhere over the Pacific. Getting there was pretty thrilling for me, having never been as far West as California, and then going past that. And overall 12 hours straight on the plane wasn't too bad. Of course I was still excited at this point. The flight back for the same amount of time was an entirely different story.

Once we arrived in Sydney and got to our hotel, we settled in and waited for our tour time. About an hour before the scheduled time we walked/meandered our way from our hotel to the wharves in Darling Harbour where the lunch cruise was to leave from. Seeing the city from the water was a lot of fun, even if the food left something to be desired.

After lunch it was straight off the boat onto a bus, for a driving tour within the city. Aside from the obivous jetlag, I was having a hard time distinguishing what country I was in. Sydney is a multi-cultural city and it certainly shows. We'd drive to one area and I was convinced we'd entered Italy. Another I could have sworn was Paris, parts that looked like Germany, and a chraming section that gave Prague a run for it's money.

We stopped up on a cliff and Andy and I ran out to the edge to get some nice shots with the sun setting on the bay. It wasn't until we were walking back to the bus that I noticed that the path we walked on went under some spiderwebs, and the biggest damn spiders I have ever seen. Not being a huge fan, I made Andy go first then I basically stared at my feet and walked as fast as possible back to the bus, praying that those things would not choose that moment to venture down from their homes in the trees.

Dinner that night came from McDonalds. I know, very tourist, but we made up for it later. We were tired, and just wanted something quick and easy and on the way back to the hotel. McDonald's was easy enough. Portion sizes in Australia are very different. You actually get the smallest size cup they have when you ask for a small soda. It was incredibly refreshing. I did however have to ask for ketchup to get some. And I had to call it tomato sauce.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

We're back

We spent 27 hours in airports and on airplanes on Sunday. Very very tiring, but we're home. More details to come later.