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)

What?

Come again...

Huh?

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...

Grog.

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.



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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.



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