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!