Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ornament Party

I am moderately bummed that I wasn't able to see my ugly sweater drunken family commit Christmas crime this season. I hope all went well anyway!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Where The Sidewalk Ends

The other day I started taking long walks around the neighborhood, and the first thing I noticed was that there were no sidewalks! Instead, I have to plod along on the grass, which of course is mildly sideways, as the area is hilly, and the grass, of course, is dead because it is summer and Australians are significantly less preoccupied with their garden aesthetics than we are. (They are also in an eternal drought).

Then, suddenly there was sidewalk! So I crossed the street, carefully as there are no crosswalks (can't expect those if there aren't even places to walk on the side of the road), and took the newly paved footpath. Then, suddenly, there was no sidewalk. It simply ended. So I crossed the road again. And again, the sidewalk ended. What kind of crackpot city planning is this?

You know what I say?
Can't stop progress.

I was ecstatic to eventually find a delightful auto mall road (complete with sidewalks that somehow didn't end) that led me to a big, comforting red sign: The Salvation Army. I knew that where there was Salvation Army, there was thrift store shopping, and sure enough, there was a giant "Salvos" hiding around the corner. I went to town, or should I say, browsed for a very long time without buying much. It was all I could do to keep away from the thirty year old bagged tinsel and souvenir Australia mugs, but unfortunately I'm on a budget since Australian thieves stole my handbag (true story. They actually stole my purse, but handbag sounds so much better, doesn't it?) Anyway, I walked away with a cake pan and a halter top for the grand expense of $6, and they even kept the store open for me past closing time so I could try things on. The Aussies are so friendly.

You know what other Aussies are friendly? The medical workers. Not only did I have a very successful clinical visit in Ipswich (for reasons that I would love to broadcast, but it's really not necessary) - complete with chat to the NICEST receptionist ever, who recommended I wait to go North to the GBR and Port Douglass until after March, when the "jellies" are out to sea - but I also gave blood. Yes, I gave blood to the Australian Red Cross. Walked right up and offered them my arm, practically, though they were incredibly busy ( I think Australians have a great sense of blood-giving responsibility).

One of the best compliments I have ever received: "Your iron levels are fantastic!"

Have you ever given blood when it's humid as a hot showered bathroom with no windows and nearly 100 degrees? Me either. So after I set off to walk to the train station, newly drained of a liter of my life juice, I had a bit of a hard time. !!! It should be mentioned that one of the snacks on offer by the Red Cross was snack sized Cadbury Hokey Pokey bars. I ate one and was so excited I saved the wrapper. Hokey Pokey is one of my childhood memories indulged by my parents that I haven't seen since I was about ten years old. Taste memories are the best.

The 2k walk from the train station to the house was mild agony. It was hot. I felt woozy. I had also neglected to reapply sunscreen and I wasn't sure if I was going to come out of this experience still healthily pale. I made it back safely, but was still determined to make a birthday cake (because what 25 year old guy doesn't like birthday cake?). This was also agony. I would whisk, whisk, whisk, then walk slowly to the couch and throw my legs up for five minutes, drink a glass of water, hobble back to the whisking, crack and egg, stumble back to the couch, and so on. This was truly a labor of love...and a freaking amazing cake! I used this recipe. You should use it too, for your upcoming birthday, especially the sour cream frosting:

This is all for now. I am currently busy enjoying an early Christmas present of Australia guide books, getting ready for a ROAD TRIP...anywhere. Until soon!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cheating Winter

Excuse me while I move into a different room, please. It's nearly 12:00PM and this place is convecting like the surface of the sun. Oh yes, and there are only 11 days to Christmas.

I waltzed off the plane last Saturday morning (and I say morning as a relative term, being as the literal time was 1:00AM, my mental time was 2:00PM, and well, neither seemed to describe the way I felt) and was greeted by this sensational wall of hot, thick air. And that's pretty much what Australia is to me: a giant wall of dense heat. Oh yes, with enormous cockroaches. And tropical birds as numerous a pigeons. And I think it is so fantastic.

It is such a mind twist to be in a place the could almost be home, except that you are about as far from home as you could possibly get. I mean, they speak English (though this could be a debated point: I have a very hard time understanding people sometimes). There are billboards and infomercials and SUVs and air conditioned shopping malls.

But I am not home, or at least not in the home I am used to.
Likewise, I am home. I am in a home that I can come and go from as I please. I have a place to hang my hat, so to speak, if I had a hat. And so far, I have done everything I expected to do. I cooked Thanksgiving dinner (took me...10 hours by myself - but I had an amazing time!) This included making pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin. Anyone who knows my fascination with pie making will find this to be one of my greatest accomplishments.

TIME OUT: I am really tired of typing on a keyboard that doesn't even fit my hands. I miss my Mac. This tiny thing seems to compress my words and ideas because I can hardly type any of them out. I am sorry, at home readers, for my lack of insight. I blame the eeePC.

So what did I do my first week here? As you may have already guessed, very little. I was blowing green snot out of my nose from Monday through Saturday, hardly able to breathe out one or the other sides of my face. I took that as a sign that I should probably just take it easy. I mean watching all of those people on the London Tube sneeze all over their hands and then touch the handrails (which I tried SO HARD to avoid) means that I probably picked up over half a dozen European diseases, bacteria and viruses during my two day stay.

I played with the dog, I cooked things, I cleaned things (per feeling guilty about staying in a place with no fees, rents, mortgages required), I simply...grounded myself.

So the big question:

Is it worth it?


This is easily one of the coolest things I have ever done. The prospect of all of the amazing things to come after the New Year (in which we begin the work/or helpx/or travel phase of Australia) is overwhelming. In the meantime, I am simply happy.

Simple. I am happy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Clairvoyant From Down Under

It is nearly 100 degrees here and I have a residual European cold. Shh - don't tell immigration. I was supposed to turn myself in if I felt ill.

Hopefully the plan is the buy a Christmas tree of the Charlie Brown persuasion on Thursday. For everyone else in the world, that would be Wednesday. That's right, I'm in your future.

And let me tell you:

Tomorrow is going to be a BEAUTIFUL day.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

25 Hours

I am struggling against the will of my eyes to shut, I am struggling against the will of my ass to fall asleep under me, because I have been making a sizeable imprint in the same airplane seat for, oh, about 12 hours so far. This doesn't count my hour and a half on the London Underground, two hours in Heathrow Airport, seven hour flight to Dubai, and half an hour in Singapore. It's incredible how far you can travel in one full 24 hour period. It's even more incredible that I have managed only two hours of sleep.

That makes this whole situation a bit like a middle school sleep over, doesn't it? Except at this sleepover, you have lovely pinstriped flight attendants that like to stuff you full of food and drinks (I've managed to go light on the free booze, maintaining my three week red wine abstinence and my four day coffee quit). It's also like a sleepover except that the seatback in front of me has a screen from which I can choose...oh, about 50 movies, about 30 television shows, and about 100 music mixes. Right now, it's UK Hits of 1984.

Technology is fantastic.

Oops, now its Motown.

I'm not going to lie. Everyone and their mother (including my mother, and my mother's mother) is aware of how scared I was to take these flights to OZ. Curious, isn't it, for a girl who spent so much of her life humming Over The Rainbow to herself, to be landing on a continent with such a cute name.

And speaking of continents, let's talk about global travelers. I'd like to state for the record that by the end of the day, I will have set foot on three separate continents: Europe, Asia, and Australia. And that all depends of what you count Dubai as (Middle East, Africa, Asia, or Where The Hell Is Dubai). No wonder my hair is flat and my face is broken out. It's a complete mindfuck.

Quick apology to my father, who always told me that profanity is for people without a developed vocabulary. I realize that I have turned into somewhat of a typing sailor. For this I am sorry. I also use big words, to balance things out.

My last days is Europe: how did those go? was cold. I have successfully gone through Europe's summer, autumn, and now winter. Nowhere was this more obvious than Belfast.

(Wait, dance break to the Beatles' I Saw Her Standing There.)

Belfast is one of the most confused cities I have visited. It wasn't obvious when I crossed the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, there was no sign, there was no border. But I somehow knew I wasn't there anymore, and I missed the Emerald Isle, even though I was technically still there. Away go the thatched roofs, many of the beautiful colors. It is more industrial. It looks more like the suburbs of London that I only know through the windows of the Tube. It is neither here nor there.

Belfast is a city like Dublin in that it is a city, and the buildings aren't terribly tall. But it is a city's city. Loud, a bit dirty, obviously a bit haggard under the “Crisis” that everyone talks so openly about in Europe – many boarded up shop windows and rent signs.

I made a personal whoopsies that I am not so proud of while in Belfast. I spent a day exploring the city with the intention of walking in West Belfast to find the Peace Murals that I had heard so much about. For those who live in a hole, Belfast is still one of the most turbulent and trouble-ridden cities in Western Europe. A few days before I arrived, there had been several (thankfully) diffused bombing attempts. Not very big news, since nothing went off, but enough to make me steer pretty clear of government buildings.

So off I go, its about 3 degrees Celcius (VERY VERY COLD) and the sun is doing its December in the UK thing, where the sun only rises to about half sky and casts afternoon shadows all day long, giving everything a sleepy look. I head West. West involves crossing a freeway overpass. Then it involves walking about 1km or so along a fairly dodgy wall by the freeway, until you happen upon it: an amazing wall of murals. They are political. They call for an end to the US embargo on Cuba, Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and of course, for Ireland to be reunited.

I am stunned by this enormous wall, but I dare not take out my camera. It was spooky. I wanted to find more, so I cross the street to find that this wall is actually a square of walls. It isn't until I sent out along the square that I realize the area is dark, mostly vacated, covered in barbed wire, sidewalks coated in dog shit, and I am suddenly filled with an urge to get the hell out. The problem: I am lost. the next problem: I have crossed to the British side of Shankhill (the tip off – flags). The only people on the streets seem to be men that look like Billy Elliot's dad. I am not happy about this.

I wish I had a better twist to this story, like I beat up an attempted mugger or something. It's not true. I eventually found my way out. And as I was walking, I felt bad. I felt bad because I was afraid. I felt bad that I had gone on my own. And I felt bad that people lived like that. Walled dogshit barbed wire in a city still dreading some retroactive bomb, in a city that is in Ireland, was Irish, is not Irish, is not in Ireland, and lost. It was -5 C that night.

But I did it. The best of Ireland in 12 days. One and a half days in London. I made it through and here I am, of the coolest airport arrivals of my life. What do I do now? Embrace the hell out of it. One great adventure Down Under awaits.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Isn't 800 Years A Euphemism For "This Has Never Happened Before"?

Sitting on a bus from Dublin to Belfast, about to wet myself because I had a genius idea about an hour ago to warm myself with a nice bus station mocha. Drank the whole damn thing just in time to get on the bus and then realize, oh wait, I just put 12 ounces of diaretic liquid into my system. So if my writing seems erratic, rushed, or just plain crazy, you now know why.

I seem to keep bussing away from cool things in Ireland and bussing towards the really cool things (this is a joke, because I actually keep bussing toward dangerous, hazardous, or bad weathered locations.) For example, last Friday I took a bus from Dublin to Cork. It wasn't until I was checking out of my hostel that morning that this was a bad decision.

“Going to Cork, are you? How are you getting there?” says a random man next to me who neither worked nor was staying at the hostel. I told him by bus.

“Well that might be okay, but the trains aren't even running today. Seems that Cork is completely flooded.”

Well great. I go to the bus station and everything seems to be fine, until I am en route and the news that is playing on the radio announces “DO NOT TRAVEL TODAY UNLESS YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO!” and “CORK CITY IS COMPLETELY UNDER WATER” and “WORST FLOODING IN 40 YEARS!” Just perfect.

I get off the bus in Cork and wonder, where is all of this flooding? I was literally expecting to have to swim off the bus and wade knee deep to my hostel (which luckily was up a bit of a hill, so I figured at least I could sleep dry.) Yes, the river running through Cork was practically spilling over the sides of the quay at Class 5 rapid speed – something I assumed wasn't normal. It was also a disgusting brown color and carrying all sorts of objects a river probably shouldn' soccer balls and umbrellas. So something was amiss.

I met some guys in my hostel who gave me the low down. The night before, the rain had been coming down so hard, people could hardly leave their houses. Being 20-something males, they had been out drinking all night, and passed out in their beds in the university district. They woke up to find themselves wet (hand in the warm bowl of liquid again, boys?), but it turned out to be the apartment...flooded up to about their waists. Apparently they had to swim out in a drunken stupor and find their way to a hostel. I love that story – it gives me such good mental images.

Things just got worse from there. The next day, I took a bus to Blarney (land of the gab stone), which seemed to be a beautiful day – semi-blue sky – which is practically summer to these people. The main path to the castle was under two feet of water. Everything was just wet, wet, wet. After I had taken a beautiful walk around the grounds, walked around in the castle, kissed the stone (I have no proof of this because I didn't want to buy the Splash Mountain-esque photo from the Blarney Co., but it was pretty cool. The guy sprayed the stone down with a disinfectant product pre-kiss, I hear because of H1N1, so my smooch was a bit chemically. Other than that, its a pretty cool experience to have to bend over backwards - literally – to lip lock with a rock that has no real significance except for what lore lends it.)

On the way out of Blarney, the river had risen...oh...another couple feet or so, filling in the paths I had previously taken with a couple feet of water. Let me tell you, wading around on muddy soaking grass is FABULOUS! Too bad I'm not an owner of some moon shoes. Or Jesus.

I picked up a newspaper at lunch (which was an amazing heaping pile of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and fresh brown bread. Have I raved about fresh brown bread yet? FRESH BROWN BREAD IS THE BEST! Better than that spaghetti carbonara back in Florence...I'm not quite sure, but could you imagine eating them together in ONE MEAL?!?) The newspaper announced that I was privy to the 'Worst flooding in 800 years”, subtext: the worst flooding ever, in the history of Ireland. Lucky me!

I have now grown accostumed to long bus rides through small villages nearly completely submerged in whatever river they thought it was so smart to live by. Portlaoise has a rugby pitch under 5 feet of water. Gort has one main road into town, and let me tell you, its not looking so pretty. I saw a poor guy wading up to his knees to get out of his house the other day on the ride from Galway. It's intense.

But enough about the floods. A bit about Ireland. It is everything I would ever want from a country (except for the rain and wind...) The cities are clean, vibrant, the buildings aren't too tall and are painted the most fantastic colors, pub culture is terrific, buskers are significantly more talented than anywhere else I have been (I actually tipped some yesterday: they were playing “Where Do You Go To My Lovely”, a song from The Darjeeling Limited, and I just loved it so much I dug through my disgustingly disorganized purse to pull out a euro coin).

Going to traditional pub music sessions aren't even too touristy of an activity – plenty of locals go, too – so I get to share one of my favorite activities with a diverse group of people. You get a random combination of guitarists, fiddlers, drummers, flautists, banjo...ists, accordion players, etc. and it is simply magical. Last night I found out that one of my favorite Irish songs, Galway Girl, isn't even an Irish song at all. It was written by a guy from Texas. I guess that explains why part of the verses have a “Kay ai kay ai ay!” in it. Oh well, they still like to play it here.

It's fucking cold here. I'm sorry, ears of the internet. But you would want to use that adjective too, if you only know how fucking cold it is here. Take for instance in Galway. I went walking along the bay in an area known as the Claddagh, towards another area called Salt Hill. It's about...oh...8 degrees Celsius. (COLD, but could be colder) but of course, the wind is so strong that I am actually getting a hand with my walking, being pushed along the path. Laughing, I might add, because what else can you do when you're being shuffled along by freezing cold wind? And THEN, the rain decided to show up. It decided to also join the wind, and if we calculate where this rain would be going (visualize, visualize) yes, that would be completely at my back. I show up back at my hostel with a completely drenched backside and a nearly dry, but very cold front. Bizarre.

I took a day/night trip to Connemara, which is supposed to be the most beautiful nature in Ireland. I will attest to this: it is absolutely beautiful. Let's talk colors: the bogs are red. They are red and gold, literally. And every once in a while, you get these giant groves of pine trees (not indigenous, kind of a disaster, but another story for another day). And all of the time, you get sheep. It's absolutely amazing. Add a couple of rivers, a lot of waterfalls, handmade rock walls, and thatched roof huts, and you've got an absolute feast for the eyes.
I stayed in a hostel out at the Kil...something...Fjord (having fallen in love with fjords in Alaska, I was pleased to discover that is was ALSO a fjord! Thank you Swedes, or whoever, for giving us this funny word for a beautiful thing.) The tour bus drops me off on the side of the road and I'm looking around like..great. I'm in the middle of nowhere. I follow a sign and start walking down the road. It starts raining. I start laughing. No, this is a lie. I start talking to myself like a crazy person, saying things like “JESUS THE RAIN WHY THE RAIN?” I walk about half a mile and I finally see this lovely building, and I walk in, and it is completely vacant except for this really great Canadian guy, who is essentially the Jack Nickelson of Connemara. I literally had this giant hostel to myself. So I settle in, make a batch of popcorn on the stove (!), and watch first a nature VHS about Australia (you know, filling in my knowledge) and then Michael Collins – an Irish history film (the Irish say fil-um) featuring a sexy young Liam Neeson. I find a copy of Julie/Julia and read it. I make curry. I watch the rain fall over the fjord, and I am happy.

My bladder is so full of coffee. Must take a break to eat pita bread to possibly sop up the liquid in my body. Tootles for now.