Monday, September 19, 2011

Channeling my inner Tom Hanks (Castaway version)

Rising with the sun, solo sea kayaking with dolphins, eating oysters straight from the rocks.

Does life get any better?

For a castaway on an island, I don't think it can.

Bruce, a pilot for 1770 Castaways, flew us from the mainland to Middle Island. The small Cessna aircraft took off from a private airfield in 1770 and made a beach landing just near our campsite.

The opportunity for beach landings is rare worldwide and Bruce is one of few people actually certified to teach people to land planes on the beach.

He left us on Middle Island with our gear and dinner meal ingredients. We were then free to go on bush walks, lie on the beach or talk to volleyballs named Wilson.

I opted to sea kayak and pick oysters from the rocks near the beach. The oyster task was much, much more difficult than I expected.

We navigated the rocks in search of oysters that looked "easy to open" and I managed to open two with my Coast multi-tool.

Cracking open oysters was pretty tricky but it was definitely worth the salty treat inside!

We were distracted briefly when a fellow camper picked up a sea cucumber. These part eel, part worm-looking creatures loved to hang out in shallow pools of water near the rocks.

At first, they just look like smooth black rocks in the sand because they move so slow. But when disturbed, the shrink away; if picked up, they spray liquid as a defensive mechanism.

As the sun went down, we built a fire and cooked dinner.

The next morning I woke up early to go sea kayaking again, this time I saw about 10 dolphins moving past the island.

I also saw a big whale further out than the dolphins.

Kayaking was a fun workout and a great way to enjoy Middle Island.

After cleaning up camp, we waited for Bruce to come back and pick us up. The flight back to 1770 was beautiful with views of ships waiting to go into Gladstone's port, sailing boats floating across the ocean and Middle Island's lighthouse poking out of the bush.

Back in 1770, we spent one more night at the hostel and then caught the overnight bus to Airlie Beach the following day.

Best memories: kayaking near the dolphins and the breathtaking views from Bruce's plane.

Only downside to the trip: forgetting to reapply sunscreen...ouch!

View from the plane after taking off from 1770.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Swimming, trekking around Fraser Island

Even sideways rain and gusty winds can't take away from the beauty of Fraser Island.

For the first two days of our three day tour there was an almost constant drizzle of rain and sometimes all out downpour.

A barge hauled us and our Trailblazer Tours bus, from Inskip Point at Rainbow Beach to the island. The barge ride to the Fraser Island's east coast was short but rocky.

Once on semi-dry land, we headed up the coast on 75-mile beach. The stretch of sand is a great welcome to Fraser Island.

On the left, jagged rocks and unruly trees stick out of the rainforest and on the right, the Pacific Ocean looks endless and almost violent with its huge waves crashing on the beach.

Absolute paradise

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and has the world's largest and oldest vegetated sand dunes.

The Aborigines of Fraser Island, the Butchalla people, called the island Kajari meaning paradise.

The European name for the island came after Captain James Fraser, his wife and crew shipwrecked on the island.

After decades of tension and fighting over land between Australians and Aborigines, the island was eventually occupied by a large Australian logging company. The most abundant resource on the island, sand, was also valuable to the Aussies. Sand mining for minerals, including one used by NASA for titanium for space shuttles, was a great money-maker.

In the 1970s, however, controversy over exploitation of the land and the native people led to Australia recognizing the island as a national park. It is also now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The history of the island is interesting but of course, we didn't travel all that way for a textbook education!

Lake Wabby and the curious dingo

Making our way down 75 Mile Beach, our tour guide, Brett pointed out heaps of birdlife. He also terrified us of the water when he mentioned that Fraser's coast is a popular hang out for sharks.

Driving along 75 Mile Beach, Brett stopped to clean off this sea snake's face which was covered with sea gunk. Sea snakes are extremely poisonous--oh that dare devil Brett!

Once at the beach house, we settled in, ate lunch and set out again in the Trailblazer bus.

Unless you want to be shark bait, swimming in Fraser's inland lakes is a visitor's only choice.

Lake Wabby was the first lake we visited. After a 2.5 kilometer walk through the bush, we ended up at the top of an enormous sand blow.

The Hammerstone Sandblow overlooks Lake Wabby but feels like a dry, isolated desert.

I took a dip in the lake but it was a little cold to stay in. Instead we relaxed on the lake beach and watched catfish in the water.

One curious dingo sat above us on the sandblow, looking hungry. The dingoes on Fraser are reportedly the purest breed of dingoes on Australia's east coast but unfortunately, because of tourism, aren't as weary of humans anymore.

Although beautiful, dingos can be very dangerous. This one was scavenging for food on the beach. The are scavengers, not hunters, but will bite humans if provoked.

Once the dingo trekked down the sandblow and growled at us but luckily Brett was there to scare him off.

If you're not muddy, you're not having fun

On the west coast of the island, we waded (literally) through Deep Creek.

The beach was basically all mud and at one point I was standing in mud above my knees!

Trekking through thick mud is a bit of a workout but definitely a lot of fun!

We stopped at many more lakes and walked through rainforests near the center of the island.

Brett explained how the Butchalla people used soft bark for sleeping mats and tree leaves for insulation.

Silent Creek, named for its sandy bottom which muffles the sound of moving water, is a sacred place for the Butchalla women. The creek has been constantly flowing for at least 2,500 years and is the place Butchalla women would go to give birth.

Saving the best for last

The best part of the trip was saved for the last day though.

We climbed to the top of Indian Head, the highest point on Fraser Island at 90 meters tall. From there we could see over the water, to the inland sandblows and along the beaches.

When Captain Cook passed by Fraser Island on his exploration of Australia, the Butchalla people stood on the cliffs of Indian Head waving him away from the coast because of the dangerous rocks.

After our descent from Indian Head, Brett drove us back down the beach to the Maheno shipwreck.

Built in 1903, the Maheno was originally used as a luxury passenger ship and then as a World War Two hospital ship.

Once out of commission, Australia sold the ship for scrap metal to Japan. In tow, a cyclone struck the island and broke the tow ropes, leaving the Maheno to wreck upon Fraser's east coast.

Legend has it that looters cleaned out the ship and one man stole an entire trunk of silver. He buried it somewhere on the island but forgot where--booty hunters grab your metal detectors!

Overall, Fraser was beautiful and definitely a chance to get in touch with my adventurous side!

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Time in Noosa great for planning, market shopping

If you're riding up the Sunshine Motorway, you're probably heading somewhere nice.

Our destination: Noosa, a friendly little beach town.

We checked into our room at the
Halse Lodge YHA, strolled into town and tucked our toes in the sand on the beach that afternoon.

Back at the hostel we lounged on comfy couches, cooked dinner and spent the evening reading and chatting on the porch.

I don't remember the last time I simultaneously had enough spare time and energy to read for fun!

The next day, our main objective was to find and book ourselves on a tour to Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island.

Like most places on the main tourist track, the brochures for trips out to Fraser Island are countless. After awhile, all the pamphlets start to look the same.

But with the help of Gale at the one of the Noosa visitor centers, we finally decided on a three-day, two-night trip with Trailblazers.

(My next post will focus on the Fraser Island trip and highlights from the three days.)

Next in Noosa, we walked along the Noosa National Park trail from Main Beach to Little Cove.

At one spot, we sat on rocks just off the trail, looking over the ocean. While surfers and paddle boarders dotted the water below, we had front row seats to an early evening dolphin show.

Not far from the shore, three or four dolphins enjoyed each others company, occasionally jumping out of the water.

The beach was just a short walk back to the hostel and we made it back just in time for Happy Hour!

The downstairs portion of the hostel served as reception, lounge and a bar and cafe.

We had a drink, made dinner and spent some time organizing our bags for the trip to Fraser.

While at Fraser, we debated on whether to return to Noosa or move further north to Rainbow Beach. By chance, the manager of a backpacker travel company in Noosa was also on our tour.

After talking with her about what Tribal Travel can offer backpackers, we decided to go back to Noosa and organize activities up the east coast.

With Tribal Travel's help, we set up a two-day camping trip on Middle Island from 1770 (the only town I've ever heard of that consists of only numerals...).

We've also booked a three-day sailing trip around the Whitsundays Islands from Airlie Beach and three trips from Cairns.

Besides planning ahead a bit, we picked up two days of work in Noosa and spent some time relaxing in our hostel with new-found friends.

On our final day in town, we headed to the Eumundi Markets, one of the biggest of its kind in Queensland.

The market was bursting with color, relaxing music and fantastic smells!

I started the morning off with a beautiful coffee.

Drinks in hand, we strolled past stalls of all hand-crafted items or home-grown foods. The food court also offered plenty of tempting dishes.

Although it was only 9 a.m., the German bratwurst stand reeled us in. After sampling their original bratwurst, a woodsmoked mild brat and a spicy brat, we opted for adventure and chose the spicy bratwurst smothered with sauerkraut and mustard.

Fresh tomatoes caught our eye at one table. There, we tried fresh Aussie black pepper and Himalayan salt from a mine in the Himalayan Mountains sprinkled on the juicy tomatoes.

We also enjoyed the musical stylings of Harii.

I could have meandered through the market all day but we had a bus to catch back in Noosa Junction.

Next stop: the town of 1770, named by Captain James Cook when he discovered the area in the year of...drumroll please...1770.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lost in translation: entry 5

I was minding my own business reading The Noosa Journal on the porch of our hostel when "Rex" approached. "Daddy Rex" the security guard to be exact.

After a bit of a chat, "Rex" (whose real name is Anthony) suggested a few good places to hang out at in town.

I explained how generally lazy I can be at night and that I was quite happy to spend my first night in Noosa on the porch, reading and contemplating my plan for tomorrow.

To this he responded, "You need to harden up!"

Context clues assisted me. He was obviously telling me to "live a little", "toughen up."

Then, he threw in, "You need a teaspoon of concrete."

"That sounded a bit shady," I thought. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Concrete? What's that? Some sort of alcoholic concoction," I asked.

But, nope, I was wrong. And thankfully so.

Suggesting someone take a teaspoon of concrete literally means telling someone to toughen up.

So, there you have it. I was happy to learn a new phrase and happy to know are hostel is kept safe by Mr. Friendly Rex.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Second trip to Brisbane reveals new side of city

Returning to Brisbane for a second time, we thought staying in a different part of the city would be the best way to take in new sights.

Instead of staying near the major transit centre, we opted for a more cultural part of the city.

We found a great hostel in Fortitude Valley, close to Chinatown.

Prince Consort Backpackers (not sure why it's named that) is above The Elephant and The Wheelbarrow pub on the main drag of the Valley.

The hostel was actually a really beautiful building with a "old pub" look and feel.

They offer a great two-night deal: one meal and drink from the pub, two nights accommodation, two hours of Internet and entry to the XXXX Brewery in the city.

After all the XXXX beer we poured at Hotel Corones and all the cartons of the liquid gold I lugged around the bottleshop in Charleville, I thought it was fitting we visit the birthplace of it all.

As a general tourist attraction, I wouldn't rate the brewery tour very high. The actual walkthrough is very generalized and a bit scientific for me.

But for a visitor with genuine interest in XXXX beer (including the sampling at the end of the tour), the brewery experience is worth the time and money.

At the end of the tour, you can try your hand at pouring a beer. All that practice from the hotel came in real handy!

The tour guide threw out a few interesting facts about the capabilities of the brewery and the environmentally-friendly aspects of the facility, but 60 percent of what he told us sounded like an engineering lecture.

Here's what stuck:

•The brewery can hold 20 million litres of beer at one time.

•More than two litres of water is used for every litre of beer produced. (This ratio used to be 10:1 so improvements have definitely be made).

•The brewery, owned by Castlemaine Perkins, partners with Kraft foods and local farmers to recycle by-products of brewing. Kraft uses leftover yeast for Vegemite and spent grain goes to farms to feed cattle.

•Kegs filled at the brewery and shipped to bars weigh 64 kg. That's 141 pounds! If you're wondering, YES, I did change kegs by myself at Hotel Corones' bar!

All the walking on the tour did make us a bit thirsty so it was handy they had a taproom nearby.

The highlight of the sampling for me was their full strength beer, XXXX Bitter, from a wooden keg. I also really enjoyed a James Squire Porter which was on tap.

Following the beer excursion, we headed back to the hostel to prep for dinner.

Prep for me included a nap :)

We exchanged our meal vouchers in the pub below our room for a really delicious dinner accompanied by live music in the beer garden.

We called it an early night on Friday as we had to be up early to organize our Greyhound trip to Noosa.

High marks for this trip to Brisbane: donning our bathing suits for the first time in the Southbank lagoon (although we were a bit freezing), being pleasantly surprised with the quality of our hostel and feeling a little bit smarter (and warmer) after the brewery tour.

Low marks: disappointing food from Chinatown and lack of wireless Internet at the hostel.

Chinatown was nearly right across the street from our hostel but the atmosphere and food left more to be desired.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Leaving Charleville on sentimental note

Barely wide enough for two cars and threatened by trees tugging at the asphalt's edge, the road leading out to Charleville's cemetery is neatly paved but feels lonely and un-traveled.

The cemetery claims a patch of dirt near the edge of town, ironically close to the hospital.

A small shed holds the maintenance crew's tools while kangaroos guard the boundaries of the resting place.

The first plot is situated just steps from the parking lot. Three rows in, a tombstone marks the grave of Harry Corones, affectionately known as Poppa.

He died at 90-years-old. Poppa's legacy: a huge hotel and pub in Outback Australia.

In it's hey-day, Hotel Corones serviced a town of over 10,000 thirsty townspeople and competed with 12 local pubs.

Today, the town's population is 3,500 and Hotel Corones is one of only four bars in town.

On Charleville's main street, Corones' hotel stands above the town's other structures and at times the bar is filled to capacity.

But, on most days--like his resting place--Corones' hotel stubbornly faces the Outback sun, appearing indifferent to time passing.

Harry Corones with Nancy Bird in Charleville. Corones was an original shareholder of QANTAS, a major Australian-owned airline.

My time at Hotel Corones

I journeyed to Hotel Corones in June because I needed a job.

Determined to make it work, I stuck it out for more than two months even when it the fun had stopped and frustration set in.

On our last day off, we joined a "Stories and Scones" tour of the hotel.

Karl, our tour guide, walked us through the history of the property and shared tidbits about the Corones family.

Harry or "Poppa" was a money-conscious, stubborn man. But based on what I can tell from Karl's stories, "Poppa" was frugal--not greedy.

He arrived in Australia basically penniless. Through the help of fellow Greek immigrants in Sydney, "Poppa" moved to Charleville in hopes of becoming a successful businessman.

Corones owned three cafes and leased a pub in the town before he built Hotel Corones.

The endeavor took him five years but once complete, the hotel was the biggest in Australia.

For two hours every day at 2 p.m., Karl relives the grandeur of Corones' hotel and finds humor in stories of "Poppa's" penny-pinching ways.

Like the story of the legendary aviator Amy Johnson's visit to the hotel.

After showing the special guest to her room, "Poppa" told the pilot if there was anything he could do for her to just let him know.

Believing in the sincerity of "Poppa's" words, Amy asked the hotelier if his pub had French champagne.

His reply was that in fact his pub had the finest French champagne available!

It was then Amy revealed that she had always wanted to take a bath in champagne.

Not one to be caught without a plan (or without making a buck), Corones asked his guest to just wait a short while and he would return with the champagne.

"Poppa" raced to his office to call his wealthy friends with an investment proposition.

He wrangled up enough friends to buy 20 bottles of champagne on the promise they would each receive a bottle of the used champagne.

Corones figured the champagne would go up in value as Amy's fame grew. That appealed to his wealthy friends looking for a unique investment opportunity.

Satisfied that he could give his guest a champagne bath without losing a dime, Corones filled the tub with all 20 bottles of sparkling champagne.

Then, he removed all soaps and other toiletries from the bathroom so that Amy couldn't contaminate the champagne.

And so the legend goes: once the pilot finished her bath, she got dressed again and stood on the hotel balcony to speak to adoring fans below.

Corones shrewdly let himself back into the room and carefully re-filled the 20 champagne bottles.

As he secured the cap on bottle number 20, he was bewildered to see enough liquid in the tub to fill at least one more bottle.

Assuming the worst, he rushed to the balcony and yelled out, "Amy, Amy! I thought you were a lady!"

Of course, this garnered a nervous laugh from everyone on our tour. So, tour guide Karl concluded his story, tongue in cheek by saying, "Harry's champagne must have been cold and Amy simply turned on the tap to add warm water."

It was that story and more like it, that brought the hotel alive in a way I hadn't pictured it before.

We also learned that none of Corones' relatives lived in Charleville anymore.

Feeling a bit sentimental and sad that it's unlikely anyone visits Corones' grave now, we decided to drive to the cemetery after the tour.

Harry Corones' hotel was important for so many people in Charleville during its early days. And, it became important for us at the beginning of our trip.

But with our bank accounts replenished and plenty of stories to tell, we were itching to leave the Outback and head to the beach.

We caught the Wednesday evening train from Charleville to Briabane and arrived in the city Thursday afternoon.

Check back for more about our short stint in Brisbane.

We are now on our way up the east coast stopping first in Noosa.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Trading Outback scene for beach life (and I can't wait!)

From embracing Aussie billiards rules to learning Queensland bar etiquette, my time in Charleville has been a great cultural experience.

With two weeks left in this small Outback town, I am ready to move on and see other parts of Australia but I'll remember our time here fondly.

Charleville is the kind of place where people leave their money sitting on the bar and trust bar staff to take it and make the correct change.

The motto here seems to be, "why do today what you can do next year."

Charleville Taxis can take you anywhere in town for $10.

Here, if someone has a milestone birthday such as an 18th, 21st or 40th, basically everyone in town is invited.

If you ask around in Charleville, you can find someone making the trek to Roma or Brisbane and ask them to bring you back a Big Mac or bucket of chicken from KFC.

In fact, today Jen and I enjoyed a KFC snack courtesy of a co-worker who went to Brisbane this week. Now that we've been reminded of how much we like it, we are planning a fast food feast when we return to the city!

Although Charleville attracts a great deal of tourists, the town is still "sleepy" by most standards.

An Outback sunset is like no other and the pace of life out here is just slow enough to stop and enjoy it at the end of the day.

But, a slow pace can also drive you crazy!

So, we are catching the train for the long ride back to Brisbane on September 7. From there, we'll head up the east coast stopping in places such as Hervey Bay, Fraser Island and Airlie Beach.

We have big plans for exploring the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands and the Daintree Rainforest so stay tuned!

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Filling the void of what I miss from home

Two months of our trip have passed and I can report I do not have homesickness.

Of course, however, there are things and people from home that I miss.

Near the top of the list of things that I miss: Mexican food.

Not Taco Bell but real Mexican food!

Hispanic influence in most parts of Australia appears to be absent. Asian-fusion and Greek cuisine can easily be found here but I really miss enchiladas, chimichangas and fresh salsa.

There are two technological-guilty-pleasures I miss regularly as well. One: dependable and convenient wireless Internet. And two: a cell phone plan with unlimited texting and calling.

I say "guilty pleasures" because part of this year-long journey's purpose was to unplug from the everyday riff-raff and to rejuvenate myself. The constant connectedness of Facebook, e-mail and texting can sometimes get interrupt to rejuvenation and relaxation.

But, when trying to keep in touch with family and friends, it's frustrating to not have Internet at your fingertips.

And, constantly having to add credit to a pre-paid phone here can be costly and annoying.

Lastly, the nerdy journalist in me misses American media.

Although the world is flat and news can be at our fingertips no matter where we are, keeping up with trends and news at home requires actual effort while traveling.

When I'm at home, I can play the TV in the background or chat with friends to catch up on current events at home. Australian media outlets cover world events but, fittingly, the bulk of coverage focuses on Aussie news.

To really keep up with news from home requires carving out time to visit American news media websites--which is easier said than done (see above reference to Internet).

That being said, I've found things here to fill the void of what I miss from home.

Although completely different than Mexican food, Outback cuisine holds a special place in my heart.

Meat and veggies everyday--great for my taste-buds, not great for my waistline! Gravy comes on everything here! And let's not forget the occasional beer for dessert. :)

And, consuming Aussie news is a great way to gain an outside perspective on U.S. issues. Plus, the Australian media's take on objectivity is a bit different than the traditional idea of journalistic objectivity in America. Perhaps that will be another blog post for another day, though...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Up, up and away (almost) in Charleville

The list of things that can lure me out of bed in the morning before the time I absolutely have to be up is a short one including the recent royal wedding, bacon and a nice cup of coffee.

And newly added to that list: the prospect of a hot air balloon ride.

A few members of the Australian Air Force and Army were in Charleville Thursday for a community awareness event that included free hot air balloon rides.

The military guys involved stayed at the hotel the night before and invited me and Jen to tag along the next morning.

So, even though I cherish my sleep-in-mornings, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Friday morning, very much looking forward to the experience.

We parked in front of the high school and--after asking a student for directions--we made our way to the footy field.

The kangaroo-adorned baby blue balloon was being pumped with air as we approached. One of the Air Force guys informed me that they would take it up for a test run first.

It was a big effort just to get the basket off the ground, and the balloon had trouble in the air because of the wind.

What feels like a mild breeze on the ground is enough to make a hot air balloon ride too dangerous, given the surface area of a large balloon.

So, no one was able to fly that morning. But, the Army and Air Force team still shared with students the history of aviation and the role of the Australian military today.

And, they let us fire the super cool and super hot burners!

Climbing into the hot air balloon felt like climbing into a huge picnic basket (Yogi Bear would be in Heaven)!

We snapped a few photos but then had to make our way back to Corones for work.

Below: Pyromaniac in the making. I tried my hand at igniting the balloon's flame.

Below: The balloon during the test run.

Below: A public affairs officer for the Air Force takes a photo of Charleville High School students inside the balloon before it was fully inflated.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Lost in translation: entry 3 (this one involves streaking)


Come again...


All of the above are ways to ask for clarification when you are confused.

Here's another to add to the list of responses to use if you don't quite catch what someone says: hey?

In moments of missed communication and confusion, Aussies respond with a "hey" that sounds more like "hay."

And just like in the States, Aussies have differing accents depending on where they live.

In Charleville, "hey" is a three or four syllable word (not much different than at home in S.C.)

"Hey" is also used frequently on the end of sentences in the same way one might say "you know."

It's similar to the Canadians' add-on of "eh" to complete a thought.

Next word: devo.

Short for devastated.

I learned this word from a young man who comes into the bottle shop once a week or so.

The story of learning this word starts with a woman I served last week. She shared with me the hot news of the day: someone ran on the field in just their underpants after the local footy game the day before.

Not long after she left, the young man walked in.

I asked him if he knew the guy who streaked at the footy.

A devious and proud smile broke out across his face.

"That was me," he said. "No one had done it in 30 years, so I thought why not?"

"It didn't make the paper though, I was so devo."

And there you have it, something happens in Charleville that hasn't occurred in 30 years and it doesn't even make the paper: that's something to be devo about.

Correction to the most recent blog post about our day off: Tuesdays are tight arse Tuesday, not cheap arse Tuesday.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Exploring Charleville on a day off

Our visa to legally work and live in Australia in literally called Working Holiday.

Sure we are having fun and meeting cool people but we are also working quite a lot.

We work six days a week, usually eight or nine hours a day.

So on our day off, a little rest and relaxation is on order!

Below: Charleville's CBD. Here we go grocery shopping at the IGA, post mail and buy random items at Crazy Clarks (similar to a Big Lots or Dollar General).

We borrowed the owners' ute last Tuesday to explore Charleville beyond just the post office and IGA.

First stop: the Blue Gum Cafe, a popular local lunch spot.

Jen tried their fish and chips and I had the club sandwich. We washed it down with the town's very own "Charleville Splashe Soda."

Below: Me enjoying a crisp Charleville Splashe Soda at Blue Gum Cafe.

I'm not sure what flavor the soda is (the label provided minimal details) but it tasted like root beer mixed with vanilla Coke. Out of 10, I'd give it about a six; not my favorite but it was definitely worth trying the locally-made fizzy beverage.

Next, we drifted into the Charleville News Agency. News agencies sell newspapers, magazines, postcards, stationary items and sometimes various other convenience items.

We picked up some postcards to send home and also some reading material to keep us entertained.

I picked up this copy of the Sydney Morning Herald. The cover story is about Australia's carbon tax, a move that appears to be unpopular with many Australians.

Government officials who support the new measure say a carbon tax is necessary for protecting the environment and ensuring the country remains a leader in the global economy.

But many people here are outraged that nearly everything they use and purchase every day will be taxed even higher: electricity, groceries and transportation.

While I soaked up the controversy surrounding the new carbon tax and other news out of Sydney, Jen took the opportunity to catch up on celebrity gossip with Australian tabloid NW.

Below: Jen and I having downtime at Hotel Corones on our day off.

No day off is complete without, of course, without relaxing in bed with some DVDs.

So we grabbed a membership and some movies at Video 2000, the local movie rental store.

We checked out Get Him To The Greek and Date Night for under $6. Tuesdays at Video 2000 and lots of places around Oz are known as "cheap arse Tuesday," meaning everything is a bargain.

We also spotted a movie called Four Holidays, what we know in the States as Four Christmases with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon.

Before heading home to watch movies and have dinner, we stopped at the Charleville Hospital to check out a group of kangaroos who call the grounds home.

The band of Roos at the hospital are so accustomed to seeing cars and people, they didn't bat an eye or miss a bounce when we rolled up.

They quietly yanked blades of grass from the ground as nurses and patients passed back and forth.

On our way back, we caught this beautiful sunset.

Not a bad way to wrap up a day off...

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

State of Origin gives hotel, Queensland something to cheer about

It's kind of like the Superbowl.

And also like the MLB World Series.

And the rivalry is just as serious as game day at Death Valley when the Gamecocks are in town.

It's the State of Origin, an annual three-game knock-down drag-out between the best of the best from Queensland and New South Wales' rugby teams.

Best out of three wins but even if the duel is settled in the first two meet-ups, the two teams play a third game...just to give rugby fans something to drink to, bet money on and fight about.

State of Origin night at Hotel Corones was something to get excited about.

We had drink specials, the game on all three big screen tellys and the house was divided (the owners, husband and wife, cheer for different sides).

Rugby is a very physical game, similar to both American football and soccer. The ball can only be passed backward and punted forward.

The pace is quick and the players don't wear helmets or shoulder pads.

Although I don't know all the game technicalities, I've really gotten in to Australian rugby, or "footy" as it's known in Queensland.

The Queensland Maroons won the State of Origin title and it was good to be out here, toasting to their victory.

Of course, being a journalist, I was interested in how the game would be documented the next morning in the paper.

Besides normal game coverage, I read a beautifully-crafted article in the Courier Mail about retiring Maroons footballer Darren Lockyer.

Even for people unfamiliar with rugby, the article is a superb example of sports feature writing.

With the Queensland win, rivals New South Wales will have to fly the Maroons flag over the Sydney Harbour Bridge: the consequence of a long-running bet between the two states.  

You can't experience Queensland without delving into the footy and the State of Origin game is as big as they come!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lost in translation: entry 2

I'll try to not let every Lost in Translation post relate to alcohol...but after all I am in Australia and I work in a bar...


A noun; refers to any type of alcohol.

In everyday use someone might say, "I need to go down to the liquor barn and get some grog."

To refer to a person who is out drinking you might say, "So-and-so is out on the grog."

Next, is the phrase, that's a good drop.

Drop refers to a drink. Australians use this phrase to express how much they like a certain drink.

So there you have it, two more words to add to your vocabulary if you'd like.

Check back later for details about the State of Origin rugby game, a Queensland tradition. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

DTO towel stands up to rigors of backpacking

Good things come in small packages.

Good camp towels are no exception.

So, when I received my Ultralight Backpacking Towel from Discovery Trekking Outfitters, I was tickled pink at it's size and weight.

But as everyone knows, a towel (no matter its size) is no good if can't absorb all the moisture you need it to.

The first time I used this towel after a shower, I nearly forgot I was using a camp towel.

With just a once-over, the towel had done its job and I was a happy backpacker: not left freezing after a shower in a cold hostel!

Particularly for women (or lads with longer hair), the DTO towel is a decent hair towel as well.

The fabric of the Ultralight is not the same as a typical hair towel, but as a packable camp towel, it does the trick.

Of course to be labeled a great camp towel, the Ultralight needs to dry pretty quickly. Consistently after use, the Ultralight has restored itself to it's original dry, ready-to-use state.

In fact, as I'm writing this, the Ultralight has been hanging up for about two hours since last use and it is already completely dry!

Below: The Ultralight hanging out on the balcony of Hotel Corones in Charleville, a small town in Outback Queensland, Australia.

The only qualm I have with this particular towel is it's size. I wish it were bigger! I'm using the 34 x 28 inch, but DTO does have a larger size available.

With the 34 x 28 inch, you probably will need another towel to use as a shower towel while backpacking.

But if you spend the extra few bucks for a large Ultra Fast Dry towel, it could be the only towel you need to carry.

DTO also makes a mini version of the towel for smaller jobs like wiping out your tent, washing your dishes or using it as a headband. These are just $15 plus shipping.

We've been on the road for over a month, and the towel has held up great.

Depending on your personal hygiene preferences, the Ultralight can go awhile without a wash.

So far, I've washed it in a machine once. Even just before the wash, however, the towel smelt fine (of course, this will depend on what you use the towel for--I've used it only after showers).

The feel of the towel, it's hyper-absorbency and the quick-drying factor make the Ultralight an essential item for your next backpacking trip.

Head over to Discovery Trekking's website and with about $20 you can grab one for yourself.

Sent from my iPod

Star-gazing in Charleville

A man with a telescope journeyed out to Charleville 18 years ago.

The plot of land he camped out on happened to afford one of the best views of the Southern sky.

Last night, we shared in the star cluster and constellation excitement.

It was freezing but our visit to the Cosmos Centre was both enjoyable and educational.

Residents in Charleville rounded up $500,000 to fund the operation, inspired by one man's passion for stargazing.

Each night, visitors can book a seat in the open-air observatory. A guide provides voice over commentary while you peer into the GPS-powered telescopes.

One of the first clusters we had a look at is called The Jewel Box.

Positioned beside the Southern Cross, the Jewel Box is just a black empty space to the naked eye.

But hunched over a telescope, with one eye squinted, I could see just how appropriately-named the Jewel Box is!

At first, the sparkling dots are hard to make out.

But once my eyes adjusted, I detected pastel hues emitted from the stars.

As I gazed into the scope, the guide explained that the astronomer who discovered this particular cluster thought that the stars looked like gems scattered on a velvet mat in a jewelry store.

As the Aussies would say, "He wasn't wrong."

Below is a shot of the Jewel Box, captured by the Hubble.

Next we had a look at a nebula 12 billion-years-old, which sits right outside of our galaxy. When the Milky Way was formed, our galaxy was not strong enough to pull these stars in but, the stars were also not strong enough to pull away.

So there it sits, literally on the edge of our galaxy. And it holds one million stars!

With the telescope configured, we were able to see one million stars all at once. It was like looking into a really fancy kaleidoscope.

Next, we were really impressed with the binary star Alberio.

Sitting under our blanket, Alberio appeared to be just one star. With closer inspection though, we see there are two stars: one yellow and one blue.

These two stars were a little easier to identify because their colors were so vibrant.

The real treat of the night was towards the end though.

The guide pointed out Saturn with a super high-powered green laser.

From our seats, the planet looks like any other star in the sky.

Through the telescope, however, Saturn's distinct rings were immediately apparent.

The planet literally looks just like it's depicted in textbooks--only without the color!

Example of Saturn as seen from a telescope.

The guide explained that Saturn, unlike the Sun and other stars, does not give off light. The only reason we can see Saturn in the sky and through the telescope is because light reflects off the planet from nearby stars.

The reflection, however, makes the planet and it's rings appear only as white in color.

Saturn's rings are made of ice and rocks; if the rings were made of only ice, we wouldn't see them at all.

The last bit of the night featured a Magellanic Cloud, only slightly visible without the telescope.

The cloud, which holds a massive amount of stars, is actually in another galaxy.

Our view of the Southern sky was tremendous--a definite highlight of the trip so far.

A few times I thought about how we are all just a speck underneath such a massive, mysterious sky.

It's humbling to gaze up at a night sky and think about what else might be out there.

Just as I started to wade deep into thought, though, a shooting star would streak across the sky and usher me back into simple enjoyment of the night sky.

Sent from my iPod

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lost in translation: entry 1

People speak English in Australia, right?

Well, yes, but Australian slang sometimes leaves me baffled.

So, every now and then, I'll share a few phrases and words with you in entries called "Lost in translation."

First up: stubby.

A noun; technically meaning a short bottle of beer.

But "stubby" can mean any bottled beer.

It works like this:

Me: "What are ya having to drink?"

Patron: "Stubby of VB, thanks."

Next, fortnight.

A noun; conveys a time period of 14 days.

Australians use this word the same way Americans would the words, "two weeks."

For example: Jen and I have been in Charleville a fortnight.

And, in those 14 days, I've learned a fair amount of slang so check back later for more!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A look back so far in photos

These are some of my favorite photos from L.A./Sydney/Brisbane/The Westlander:

I took this photo from the pier in Santa Monica. I love the way mountains surround the L.A. area. The beach scene with the mountains in the background is just gorgeous!

Sure, this is a standard shot of Sydney Harbour, but it's still undeniably beautiful. I took this photo from the Bridge. I love the cruise boat cutting through the crisp blue water and the little sailboats further out.

No doubt, one of my favorite Sydney adventures was taking the ferry to Manly. Not only did we enjoy the beach in Manly, but we also got this tremendous view of Harbour without having to book a cruise! It was great being out on the water with the little sailboats and the Bridge supervising the whole scene!

Every now and then I'll run across bits of American culture down here. And, sometimes the bits are random! I found this Hulk Hogan sticker on a post in Brisbane.

Walking back from Southbank to Brisbane's CBD, we got a little lost. The pedestrian bridge we used ends in the botanical gardens, which back into the city (our destination). But, construction in the gardens led us to take a detour. We walked for what seemed like forever, until finally we ended up behind the Parliament House. I took the shot from the side of Parliament House, which is really an impressive building.

Although our journey on The Westlander was billed as a scenic travel train trip, nightfall in Brisbane at the start of the trip meant we couldn't see a whole lot. But after a bumpy night's sleep, we woke up to a colorful sunrise. The clear skies and open bush land let us know we were in the Outback! The more night gave way to morning, the more we could see. Jen saw her first kangaroo from the train and altogether we saw more than we could count! We also passed paddocks with cattle, horses, sheep and emu. The animals were hard to capture with my camera though!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ghost encounters at Hotel Corones?

A stretch of hallway outside our room at Hotel Corones. Some people say Poppa Corones' ghost hangs around the hotel.

Boom boom, we heard at the door.

The conversation in the room stopped. Jen, Robin, Toby and I looked at the door and at each other.

Our laughter and shenanigans must have been too loud for the older folks who live down the hall, we thought.

We nominated Toby to answer the door and apologize for the disturbance.

But when he swung the door open, no one was there.

He stepped out in the hall to have a look around; I got up to investigate as well.

No one was in the hallway and none of the room lights were on in nearby rooms.

We sat back down to conference about what the knocking noise was.

Could have been another door on the hall that was shut very loudly and echoed throughout the hotel.

Could have been someone knocking, although we heard no footsteps before or after the knock.

Or, it could have been the ghost of Harry Corones, owner and founder of Hotel Corones.

About five hours later, around 6:30 a.m., from my room, I heard another knock on Robin and Toby's door. But that time I could clearly hear footsteps running away. Later, Toby and I swapped stories and realized we'd both heard the same knock and footsteps running away at the same time that morning.

It's worth noting though that with the exception of us four backpackers, it's unlikely that anyone in this hotel would be running anywhere.

The next day, a group of young people traveling through Charleville came into the bar while I was working.

I struck up a conversation with one of the women after she said, "This is a great hotel."

I replied, "I reckon it's haunted."

With total sincerity and in complete seriousness, she said, "Oh, you've picked up on that too?"

Turns out she is a spiritual medium of sorts.

She was outside having a cigarette and said she actually saw the ghost of a young woman on the veranda, just off of the rooms above the bar.

I told her what happened the night before and that one of the owners has had a few ghostly encounters in the hotel.

After further conversation with the owner, I learned that apparently two ghosts roam the hotel grounds: the hotel's original owner, Poppa Corones and a young woman who died on the property when the Norman Hotel was here. (Corones built the hotel between 1924 an 1929 after tearing down the Norman Hotel).

Hotel Corones is the kind of place where the floor boards creak, antique furniture is everywhere and history is celebrated. So, it's not hard to believe in ghosts when things go whoosh or boom* in the night.

Maybe that night in Robin and Toby's room we were disturbing others living in the hotel.

Or maybe we were being too loud for Poppa Corones...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Showing off in my apron

Checking in from Corones in Charleville

As the train pulled in at the Charleville station, I took a look around at our new temporary home.

A giant kangaroo statue in the road median. A dry heat warming pedestrians milling about town. Everything seemed within walking distance of anything worth visiting.

We hadn't passed much on the way in, except for other tiny towns and wide open spaces.

One of the attendants on the train handed me a map of Charleville shortly after leaving Brisbane. On the train, I wondered to myself, "Why is this map zoomed in so far?"

Really the map was near actual size...

But Charleville has everything one would need: a couple of bars and motels, a few bakeries and restaurants, a music shop, a Target Country (another blog for another time, I suppose).

It's all here, between the creek and the river.

Small towns typically drive me a little crazy. But when the small town is just a place you're passing through, the "homey" feel has a bit of charm.

The people who come into the bar have their quirks (who doesn't?) but are typically very friendly.

Most residents are generally curious about the two Americans shacking up at Hotel Corones. Many of them have some connection to the US and can't wait to tell you about it.

One man shared his story about exploration drilling in Michigan, another man told me about a "lass" he knew from Alabama.

All the stories are pretty random but I try to receive them graciously.

A few of the guys who come in for a drink will rag on me because of my accent but usually it's just a conversation starter rather than fodder for their jokes.

Overall, I'd say we are having a pretty good time! And, I've picked up a few new skills, namely how to bake a homemade pizza and made from scratch scones.

Stay tuned for more as we're just wrapping up our first week of work in Queensland (couple months to go here).

I'll also be posting a review of my Discovery Trekking backpacker towel soon!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

'Winter Wonderland' in sunny Brisbane

The photo function for mobile blogging isn't quite working so I'll post photos separately from blog entries for right now.

Brisbane was our pit stop between Sydney and Charleville.

After several cold, damp days in Sydney, Jen and I were quite ready for some sunshine.

Brisbane had lovely weather and we made the most of the short time we had in the city.

The ash cloud caused our flight from Sydney to be delayed; Tiger Airways had to relocate most of it's fleet to Adelaide to begin making up a week's worth of canceled flights.

Finally we got off the ground, but landed too late to do any sightseeing that night.

And every restaurant within walking distance of our hostel was closed, so we chowed down on some instant noodles we brought from Sydney.

After checking out of our room the next morning, we took off for Brisbane's West End, a great place for thrifting and having a snack.

We had an amazing little breakfast/lunch at Tek Cafe.

Their all-day breakfast was just what I wanted and Jen was keen to try their made-to-order sandwiches.

We spent a few hours shopping, had a failed attempt to print our train tickets at the library (but I did get a library card out of the process) and then had a stroll through Southbank.

We walked across the Brisbane River (the one that flooded the city most recently) on the Goodwill Pedestrian Bridge and took the free city loop bus over to the Eagle Street Pier.

The pier afforded great views of the river and had some really nice-looking bars and restaurants.

After having a sit overlooking the water, we wandered back to city center and ran into the Aussie Winter Festival.

It was quite a sight to see the Aussies ice-skating and enjoying the faux winter wonderland!

In the spirit of things, we grabbed some bratwursts and a beer and pretended it was cold.

It wasn't long before we had to head back to the hostel to pick up our bags.

Queensland Rail's Westlander train carried us out of the city and into the Outback bush from Brisbane to Charleville.

Check back again for an update on how work is going!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sydney in the rearview mirror

Coming to you from a train headed to Charleville from Brisbane, sipping coffee and watching kangaroos bounce through a paddock.

We had a one night stay in Brisbane, Queensland after hanging out in Sydney for a little more than a week.

Sydney, in all honesty, was a mixed bag for me. We were plagued with jet lag and an extremely loud bar below our hostel. Sydney has a lot to offer but the majority of it doesn't illustrate Aussie culture--it feels like any other city in the world.

But still, it was a good time!

The Harbour area with the Bridge and the Opera House is beautiful. The day we landed in the city, we walked down George Street to the water.

I'll never forget the moment when the distinctively white Opera House roof came into view.

The Opera House's architecture is world-renowned and the building is photographed so much, that to see it in person is truly special.

We saw the Opera House from several angles: on a ferry out to Manly, from the Bridge during the day and night and from a lookout point in the botanical gardens. The view from the Manly ferry was my favorite because we were out on the water, eye level with the Harbour. 

We timed our return trip on the ferry to coincide with Vivid Sydney, a celebration of the city with light displays all around the Harbour.  The light show against the Opera House was really gorgeous!

Another Sydney highlight: The Rocks, the city's historic district.

This little area is tucked away, close by the water and seemingly hidden underneath neighboring skyscrapers. 

Cafes, shops and museums are packed together in The Rocks, making it a great place to stroll.  With stone walkways, random stairs and alleys, this shadowy strip of Sydney has a lot of charm and character.

Inside The Rocks Discovery Museum we learned about the district's original, working-class residents. 

In the 60s and 70s, battles over business district expansion and workers' unions disrupted the solidarity of the neighborhood. For years, The Rocks had a reputation for being rough and dangerous. But now, it's a cultural hub, with popular markets and attractions--very family (and backpacker) friendly.

Sydney was also a great place to get ourselves organized at the start of our trip. We collected our bank cards, completed a Responsible Service of Alcohol course online (permit needed to work as a bartender in AUS) and purchased a pre-paid phone with Telstra.

One of my favorite elements of travel is an abundance of new food options. In Sydney we had lots of memorable meals: gourmet pizza at Young Alfred's inside the Customs House, kangaroo kebab at Oz Turk Pizza and Kebab, beer and fish and chips at Cheers (while watching UFC matches with the locals) and a steak sandwich at a Bondi Beach cafe. We also prepared many meals in the hostel kitchen...memorable as well, just in a slightly different way :)

In list form, here's what else we took in while in Sydney: Darling Harbour and its National Maritime Museum, North Sydney and Luna Park, the state library (free Intetnet), Nando's (Aussie version of a tastier KFC or Popeye's), Paddy McGuire's Reggae night on the Queen's Birthday and a picnic lunch at the Domain.

Stay posted for a short entry about our one night in Brisbane. We are in Charleville now, starting work tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Goodbye, rainy Sydney

Leaving Sydney today for Brisbane.

In Brisbane, we'll catch the 17-hour train ride to Charleville. Look for photos of the ride on the Westlander, as it is supposed to be a beautiful route.

Snapped this photo of rainy Sydney today, enjoy!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Los Angeles on a budget (going back in time)

When we landed in Sydney, everything was essentially a blur and I had no time (or energy) to blog--thus the delay.

But rainy Sydney is providing a nice backdrop for blogging right now.

We were in L.A. for four days, four very fast paced days!

Here's what we did for a total of $320 (plane tickets not included).

Day one:

We said goodbye to family at Greenville Spartanburg International Airport and stopped for a layover in Chicago.

In Chi town, we had a quickie McDonald's lunch and then made our way to LAX.

At the airport, we caught a shuttle to the Enterprise desk and picked up a yellow Chevy Aveo. After shopping around online, we found a good deal for a rental car: four days for $118.

The Enterprise employee even gave us a free quarter of a tank of gas! That goes a long way in a fuel-efficient vehicle.

We drove to Ryan's house (our Couchsurfing host) near Koreatown. He wasn't home yet but some of his housemates were there cooking dinner. They offered us a wonderful meal of salad, rice and chili and sweet potato fries--yum!

That night we jetted out to the discount grocery store for some lunch and breakfast items for the next couple days. At the Food 4 Less we spent about $11.

Day Two:

I woke up earlier than I intended so I hopped in the shower and made a phone call home to check in.

We drove to Hollywood Boulevard for Shania Twain's star ceremony. We parked at the Highland garage for just $2 (with validation). We had our parking validated at the Highland Center coffee shop: two coffees and a large, very good croissant for $8.50.

The star ceremony was very "Hollywood." Usually I could care less about celebrities and Hollywood drama. But, it's kind of fun to watch such well-known people do their thing.

Press at the star ceremony were fun to watch too. They kind of behaved like modeling photographers instead of journalists. "Great smile, Shania," was a surprising comment coming from press row.

Before going back to the car, we took in the sites at the Grauman Theater. Notably, we found the signature and hand prints of Dick Van Dyke who we saw later at the taping of Craig Ferguson.

At Craig Ferguson, we parked at the Grove and walked to the CBS Studios. After about a half hour in line, the crowd was ushered into another waiting area. The snack cart was closing so the man gave away the leftover hotdogs: score!!

The warm up comedian, Chucky B, was pretty funny. Inside, he had a lot of interaction with the audience and asked who had a tattoo (not sure why he asked). I raised my hand, and of course he wanted details so I explained I have a guitar on my hip.

The Goldberg Sisters (Adam Goldberg's band) taped a song for an upcoming show. The band left a guitar pick on the floor when they finished so, fittingly, Chucky B gave me the pick as a souvenir.

Dick Van Dyke and Kristen Gore (Al Gore's daughter) were on Craig Ferguson promoting their new books. They were both pretty funny, and Craig was, of course, very entertaining!

Most talk shows that tape in front of a studio audience give away tickets for free. Many shows in L.A. use an agency for ticket distribution. We went through 1iota for the Craig tickets.

After the taping, we buzzed over to Melrose Avenue for dinner. We dined at Melguard Public House (free parking in neighborhood close by).

Melguard has a great happy hour: buy a beer, get free pizza. Considering many beers in L.A. will cost you $7 or $8, six bucks for a drink and pizza isn't a bad deal!

We tacked on a Spinach Artichoke Dip and came out under $40 for dinner.

Day Three:

Another fairly early morning. We drove to Venice Beach to enjoy the sun and have a look at all the boardwalk performers and market stalls.

Street parking was sparse but free.

We had iced coffees from a restaurant for $5 total. I have to say, the coffee was delicious! We sipped our lattes while watching the skateboarders at the skate park near the beach.

Then, we took the short drive over to Santa Monica. We booked a hotel room ($128) and walked on the pier. The pier was like an permanent county fair, cheesy but fun.

On the pier we spent about $17 at the arcade and on snacks.

After a pre-dinner nap, we were charged up for a good dinner.

Big Dean's was the local recommendation. Located underneath the pier, Big Dean's is a dive bar with tasty food.

We had the fish tacos and a couple beers for about $30.

Day Four:

Our breakfast at Bru's Wiffle was a top meal. The walls were a bright yellow--if you're not awake, well you are now!

And the food was just as alarming--in a great way.

Jen had waffles with strawberries. I had mini waffle sandwiches with bacon, egg and cheese. All that, coffee and cucumber water for $33. Definitely something we splurged on but it was so worth it!

One more walk along the pier and a visit to the town's Camera Obscura, located in the senior center. The camera affords views of the pier, the beach and city (and it's totally free!)

Before we headed to the airport we drove over to Burbank (sort of by accident) and popped into In and Out Burger for dinner.

We checked in at V Australia's rock star desk and played the waiting game at LAX.

And the rest is history, which shall be another blog...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mr. Melodica Man

Obviously having some problems with photos. I'm working on fixing the bug.

In the meantime, here's the photo that should have been with the blog post below. Mr. Melodica Man is sitting on the blue crate.

Simple genius of Sydney street music

Sydney's streets are slam full of street performers: the mixed martial arts teacher, loud bands, a didgeridoo player.

But my favorite just appeared in World Square right outside my hostel window tonight: a melodica player (a very creative melodica player).

He first caught my attention when a familiar tune leaked into the cold hostel room...the Mario Bros. theme song.

Jen and I sat in bed, smiling about how cute it was. Then when he actually played the sound of Mario collecting coins in the game, I had to get up and see him for myself.

So far he has played Coldplay's "Speed of Light," the Pink Panther theme song, and Waltzing Matilda (see previous reference.)

I could go downstairs, have a $3 pint and listen to "thump thump thump." Actually we are right above the hostel bar so I can listen to "thump thump thump" in the comfort of my bed for free.

But I'd much rather tell all of you about Mr. Melodica Man and let him serenade me to sleep...

He's playing The Beatles' "Let it Be" now...and with that, he's really won me over.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The beautiful Sydney

The lack of fast Internet has kept me from posting--sorry!

We are on day three in Sydney and we've done so much: Opera House, walked the Harbour Bridge, visited Bondi and Manly, experienced the Rocks and more!

We are traveling to our jobs next week in the small town of Charleville, QLD. To get there, we have a 17 hour train ride from expect a full, blog update with plenty of details next week.  The long travel time should provide a great opportunity to type out a blog post!

Until then, enjoy this photo of Sydney's Harbour, officially known as Port Jackson.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Finally in Sydney

We've arrived safely in Sydney!

We had a walk around the harbour yesterday and we plan on walking across the bridge today to Luna Park. Check back for more info and pictures soon.

And, this is good news, we came out of the LA trip under budget so I'll post a breakdown of that trip as soon as possible!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Money woes. Transferring money woes, that is.

A few weeks ago as I was considering how to handle my finances while in Oz, I decided I would use the online transfer service I used before: Xoom.

I used Xoom exclusively in 2009 to transfer money from my home account to my Commonwealth account, and I was pretty pleased. Even for the most seasoned traveler, sending money off can be a little daunting: I'd something goes wrong, your money is tied up until the problem is resolved.

So, when Jen and I completed the online transfer and then received an email saying something was wrong, I was both confused and nervous.

The email said someone from the same address was using the service and that further information would be needed to complete the transfer. Instructions were to email Xoom the details, including identifying who else in the household was using Xoom. A number was also included, in case I preferred to call.

Problem was, though, no one else was using my mailing address, so I called.

The phone rang, someone picked up and simply said, "thank you for calling Xoom."

I waited, thinking, "surely the man will ask how he can help me or for my name or something..."


Nothing. So I explained that I received an email, and I wasn't sure why someone else would have my address.

With attitude, the Xoom rep says, "for security reasons, I can't tell you who is using your address."

My response is, "this has to be a mistake. We're talking postal address right? Not email or anything else?"

And he says, yes.

Then he tells me that most people who call "tell me the truth," insinuating that I am lying about someone else using my address.

Admittedly, at that point I get a little attitude back. I tell him that if we can't get this resolved, I'm canceling my transfer and never using his service again. He says, he can't do anything further and that I can hang up and respond to the email.

I ask to be connected to a manager but only get voicemail.

At this point, I'm one day away from leaving and it's 4:30 p.m. I'm afraid if I don't get this resolved or have enough time to cancel and then call my American bank before 5, then my money will be tied up when I land in Oz.

I decided to call Xoom again, hoping a different rep would be more helpful or at least nicer.

Luckily, someone very pleasant and informative fielded my call. He explains that it's not a mailing address but an IP address that caused the problem. Then, I had a chance to explain that Jen was using my computer and we made transactions back to back.

The new Xoom guy understood, resolved mine and Jen's transfers and I cooled off.

Lesson of this: if the person on the other end is unbearable and not helpful, you might have better luck by hanging up and hoping someone different picks up.

I would still recommend Xoom because I do believe companies shouldn't be judged by one employee--maybe that guy was having a bad day. Xoom is quick with their transfers and relatively cheap compared to what most banks charge. And, they have 24 hour phone support...just hope you bypass the first rep I talked with!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Successful test pack today

Just a quick update:

Did a test pack today--that Kelty pack will hold a ton!

I'm taking a great pair of Kavu shorts, an Otterbox to protect my camera and a Discovery Trekking Outfitters backpacking towel that literally took up almost no space in my pack (which is great)!

Stay tuned for on-the-road reviews of these items and more as Jenand I take off in two days.

Sent from my iPod

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Songs of Australia

One way to know you love a place--or at least have deeply connected with a country--is if their national songs put a lump in your throat.

The Seekers' "I Am Australian" does this to me.

It's not really the same feeling I get when I listen to patriotic American songs but its similar. I think it happens because when we know the history behind the words, the meaning of the music is enhanced.

I love "I Am Australian" so much I learned to play it today on guitar--it's not hard because it just uses typical folk chords.

Maybe the best thing about this patriotic song is that the Seekers are making a statement about unity and national pride not built exclusively from war. I also really appreciate the fact that the song recognizes the original owners of the land, the Aborigines.

The Australian Post commissioned stamps of the band (pictured in this post).

Have a listen to it, if you're Australian or you've ever lived in Australia it will probably touch your heart.

If you're curious...

Listen to their national anthem (and see lyrics) here.

And their unofficial anthem, "Waltzing Matilda," here. I really like "Waltzing Matilda" too!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Planning the first leg: LA on a budget

Mapped out on paper today some of mine and Jen's priorities for the Los Angeles portion of our trip.

We arrive on Wednesday evening at LAX and we're planning to rent a car from the airport to get to our Couchsurfing location near Koreatown (if we can snag a good deal on rental cars from Priceline--I'm actually going to try and "name my own price)! Otherwise, we'll ultilize LA's notoriously slow public transportation on the first day...

Day one (really night one) we'll hopefully be having a community dinner with our host, Ryan, and his great housemates!

Day two: We have tickets to the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson who tapes in the afternoon around 2:30 or 3. We're planning for a drive around Beverly Hills and The Grove that morning. And, Jen is scoping out for a good places to eat in Hollywood or West Hollywood.

Day three: Hopping over to Venice Beach for a day of sun (hopefully), a picnic beach lunch and people watching! Then, possibly dinner in Santa Monica.

Day four: Hanging out on Hollywood Blvd. (hopefully lunch at Skooby's Hot Dogs). Taking in sights such as the Hollywood sign, Grauman's Chinese Theater and the Walk of Fame! Then, it's to LAX for our over-night flight to Sydney!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Just in time for the Queen's Birthday!

We'll be landing in Sydney June 6, just a week before the Queen's Birthday.

Of course, because Australia is in the Commonwealth, it's a great day of celebration for Aussies!

Check out this listing of things to do in Sydney over the long weekend.

Time Out Sydney also has a compilation of things to do.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Only a month to go--Apollo Bay slides onto the agenda

Only a month until Jen and I are leaving for L.A., where we'll spend a few days before hopping over to Sydney.

So far, I feel I'm keeping pace with the things I need to do before leaving:

Visa obtained-check
Flights booked-check
Pack purchased-check
Organized to Couchsurf in L.A.-check
Organized place to stay in Sydney- ....
Set up bank account and TFN- ....
Loads of research on all the places we want to go-CHECK!

My most recent research has been about the Great Ocean Road. This was the first excursion I took during my first trip to Oz and I remember all the lookout points and natural surroundings just being amazing!

This area is known for the London Bridge (the middle collapsed a few years ago), the 12 Apostles (there are only eight), shipwreck sites and cozy towns like Lorne and Apollo Bay.

I saw a posting on a backpacker job site for a hostel in Apollo Bay looking for travelers to stay for at least one month to work two hours a day in the hostel. In exchange you get free accommodation, breakfast, internet, access to washers and--here's what Jen's excited for--SURFBOARDS!

So I e-mailed the hostel owner to inquire about working there in June as our first home/job location. Very nice man, the owner welcomed me and Jen to come visit. He said working backpackers often supplement their hostel work with other jobs in the town at cafes, shops or pubs.

Being that June is winter in Australia, though, work in the town may be hard to come by. Apollo Bay's main money-maker, besides fishing, is tourism and the winter weather keeps most tourists away.

So, Apollo Bay is an option but it might be hard to find paying work here.

Take a look at some pictures of the Great Ocean Road and Apollo Bay and you'll see why it's so hard to resist, even know job prospects are slim! The picture on this post is one I took back in 2009 at the start of the Great Ocean Road.

BootsnAll even ranked Apollo Bay as one of the World's 8 Most Beautiful Coastal Towns, making the list with Santorini, Greece and Knysna, South Africa!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Newly-purchased travel reads

Breakfast at Tiffany's and John Steinbeck's The Pearl.

Newly-purchased but not new (not new items and not new to my reading list).

I found these two gems at a Friends of the Library book sale this weekend for 25¢ a pop.

Truman Capote's title caught my eye because it's so retro-looking (and I enjoy Truman Capote although I've never read Breakfast at Tiffany's). And, The Pearl has been one of my favorites since the first time I read it.

What's even better is that these are thin paperbacks, great for carrying in the rucksack!

Read along to Breakfast at Tiffany's here, and a review of The Pearl here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Art of Travel Blogging

So many people say they will blog but once they begin their trip they fall prey to all the excitement of traveling and allow their blog to be an online ghost town.

Sometimes this can be chalked up to not having access to a laptop or computer.

When I decided it wouldn't be a good idea to take my laptop on a backpacking trip, I knew I would have to rely on my iPod for blogging.

Google's Blogger (host of this blog) has a simple method for blogging called Mail2Blogger. The problem is Apple's iPod won't allow for rich text in Mail.

Without rich text, you can't have bold words, lists or hyperlinks.

But a cool little (free) app called Markdown Composer lets you incorporate HTML in an e-mail, which you can then use with Mail2Blogger.

If you're a blogger using an iPod or iPhone and are looking to enhance your mobile posts, give Mail2Blogger and Markdown Composer a try!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Discovery Trekking in Canadian small business challenge

Small businesses really are the life blood of their communities.

The Scotia Bank is holding an online competition for small businesses in Canada making a BIG impact. In the running is Discovery Trekking Outfitters, operating in Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

Discovery Trekking makes a great Extreme Ultralite Backpacking Towel which I'll be trying out on my upcoming trip. They also have a variety of moisture-wicking clothing, dog and horse related gear and Hot Flash Wicking bedding.

In the US, you can find their towels at REI. And, of course, in Canada you can visit their store. Worldwide, just check out their website to order.

Owner Leslie Hanes says of Discovery Trekking:
We have grown from a home-based business to a world-wide exporter. Although our demand has grown to require additional outside production, we continue to manufacture to capacity at our facility in Campbell River. We are piloting a project to allow work-at-home moms to participate in sewing projects.
You can vote for Discovery Trekking online, it's very simple. And you can like them on Facebook.

Just the essentials

So what does one pack for a year-long Australia trip?

There are the obvious items: clothes, walking shoes, a towel, toiletries, a book?, water bottle, power adapter, a camping knife...

And, every backpacker will customize their packing list. Here's the short list of a few other items I need to purchase before leaving:

1. Apple Wall Adapter for my iPod--I can't brave that long flight and subsequent long bus rides without my entertainment. Not to mention, the iPod will be my blogging method. Right now I charge the device with a USB cord to my computer but I'll need a wall charger for hostels.

2. Handheld Luggage Scale--This is clearly not an essential item but really could come in handy. Even though I'll be traveling with one bag that I always plan to check on flights, the varying weight requirements could render my bag too large if I'm not careful. Having my own scale would save me a few headaches at the airport probably.

3. Compression Sacks--Mostly I'd like to have a couple of these to keep my pack organized. Specifically I want one for dirty clothes so that the stench and dirt won't soil my "clean" clothes. These would also be good for small miscellaneous items that will be hard to find if they get buried among my clothes.

4. Some sort of rain jacket or poncho--Australia weather is amazing but not perfect; it does rain there!! The hard thing about jackets is that I want something to be multi-use: good for rain, keeps me warm, something attractive. These can be heavy and take up a lot of room in my pack so I want to take only one.

5. Small plastic liquid containers--I don't remember any liquid limits in Australian airports the way we have in the U.S., but the smaller the better. I'll use these for residual shampoo, body wash, etc. when I get ready to leave one town and go to the next. More than likely I'll buy regular sized bottles of shampoo and body wash because that tends to be more cost effective but who wants to carry around half empty shampoo bottles in their pack? Not me.

6. Comfy nylon belt--Keep my pants up and look great, enough said.

7. Medium size lock--Sometimes hostels provide lockers for free use provided you have your own lock.

This list is probably a work in progress so stay tuned!