Saturday, April 08, 2006

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (and Boats)

Traveling is exhausting. I tend to forget that. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind, trying to pack in a good sampling of Australia's sights, while still allowing for the relaxation that a vacation is supposed to include. Not that I need a vacation, considering I'd only been working for a month, but John definitely deserved one, having only a short break inbetween the end and beginning of the Japanese school year.

John flew in last Sunday and we started our sightseeing with Sydney's great highlights. Where else first, but the Harbour Bridge and Opera House? We also stopped off at Darling Harbour and made an unsuccessful attempt to utilize Sydney's ridiculous monorail system. The evening was topped off with some delicious Thai food. The next day was off to the Botanic Gardens, where we spent most of the afternoon watching the giant bats and checking out the native and non-native foliage.

Trying to catch the last of the warm weather, we spent Tuesday up at Manly Beach. While we were waiting for the ferry, we saw a street performer at Circular Quay who called John out from the audience to participate in his stunt. This guy was pretty impressive. He had a tall pole (maybe 15 feet high?) that was anchored by audience members and the perched a bike on top of it. Then, using John as a human step-ladder, he climbed to the top of the bike, where he juggled a chainsaw, a torch, and an apple. Highly dangerous, but also entertaining. Fortunately nothing was dropped on John, or anyone else's head.

Up at the beach, the waves were massive, and John got yelled at for swimming, being told that the beach was only open to expert surfers with fiberglass boards. Probably safer that way, but less fun. It was getting cold anyway, so we left for more Thai food and a lovely sunset over the harbour.

By Wednesday, it was time to leave Sydney and move on to the "trains" portion of this trip. During the two hour train ride up to the Blue Mountains, we were entertained by Harry, a bratty three year-old and his brooding older brother, Sean. Can't they ban screaming children from public transportation?

Fortunately, our beautiful hostel provided a decidedly scream-free environment and wonderful place to relax. This was definitely the nicest hostel I've stayed in, and probably the nicest hostel I'll ever stay in. It was much more B&B than hostel, with a cozy fire burning and a sweet owner who truly took care of the guests. If anyone is heading up to the Blue Mountains, I highly recommend staying at Number 14. The other guests were all very friendly as well, and amazingly, there was a couple that had been at Circular Quay the same time we were and recognized John from the street performer's show!

The Blue Mountains were gorgeous. The weather was perfect and we hiked around a cliff-top trail, checking out the trees and valleys and waterfalls. There is no other way to describe the Blue Mountains other than highly vast, as you can see from the picture. The cliffs are steep and the valleys are endless. Very beautiful. The picture on the left is of the "three sisters," a cool rock formation that has pretty much become the symbol of the Blue Mountains. The only downfall of the hiking was coming around a corner only to find Harry, the whining child from the train. I couldn't help but feel bad for the parents. Note to self: don't take a stroller on a hiking trip.

One day in the Blue Mountains was not enough, and on Thursday we ventured down into the valley, traveling on the steepest passenger rail car in the world (or something like that). The incline was 52 degrees, which was definitely steep. It took us down into a rainforest, where there were more interesting trees and plants to be seen. The picture on the right is not actually from the rainforest area, but I thought it was a more interesting picture. No exciting wildlife, unfortunately, but what can you do? It was much rainier that day, which actually created some different views. The Blue Mountains are named as such because the oils from all the eucalyptus trees creates a blue mist. You couldn't really tell this when it was sunny, but the rainy weather definitely highlighted the blue.

On Friday it was time to leave the Blue Mountains and return to Sydney for a short stopover and on Saturday we caught a flight to Melbourne. Unfortunately, Melbourne did not get off to the greatest start. John had acquired a nasty cold soon after arriving, and the plane ride only made it worse. Soon after getting on the plane, he mentioned that his lip was starting to go numb, and after not too much longer the whole side of his face was numb. The flight attendants gave him oxygen, and after arriving our first stop was the emergency room. The doctor said that the pressure from the airplane had probably made the congestion pinch a nerve to cause the numbness. No good.

Needless to say, we slept in on Sunday morning before making our way out into the city. That was the day we caught the Aussie Rules Football Game, and then spent the evening in St. Kilda, a chic suburb of Melbourne right on the ocean. The place was a little too pretentious for me, what with all the fancy bistros serving unimpressive food, but we found a relaxed bar where they didn't care that we were wearing sneakers and everyone was salsa dancing.

There was more sleeping in on Monday and after the saltiest brunch in the world, we set out to do the tourist thing. We took Lonely Planet's walking tour, which showed us all the important Melbourne landmarks (I was not that impressed), and then headed down to the Botanic Gardens. I have to say that Sydney's Botanic Gardens surpass Melbourne's, although Melbourne's did have a fern gully and some pretty little ponds. I think salty brunch and the cold weather put a negative tinge on my feelings about Melbourne; maybe one day I'll return in the summer and eat somewhere different.

The city was somewhat redeemed that night when we went out to the Rainbow Room, a back alley bar with live music that came highly recommended by the guidebooks (understandably). The music was great, even for myself who usually is not that into live concerts, and was tons of atmosphere. You could tell it was lots of locals, just there because they love the place.

Having had enough of Melbourne, the next morning we rented a car and set off west to drive the Great Ocean Road. "Great" does not even begin to describe how beautiful this road was. It wound right alongside the ocean, complete with giant cliffs and bright blue water crashing into the endless beach. There were tons of interesting places to stop along the way. First we stopped at Anglesea Beach, which was covered in crazy rock formations, all available for climbing. The tide was coming in just as we got there, and I definitely almost got stuck out on some rocks.

Our next stop was along the Kennett River, where the guidebooks said we could see wild koalas. They were not kidding. We started to walk up the road where we were supposed to see them, and in the very first tree was a little guy just dozing away (we could see him better than you can in the picture). There were many more to be found, including one who was probably only 10 feet from us. It must be nice to be a koala, since all they seem to do is sleep. We stopped there the next day on our way back, and even though it was raining, the koalas appeared to be in exactly the same place. Sounds like a life I could handle.

We made it to our hostel in Port Campbell around 5pm, just in time to drop off our stuff and head over to the 12 Apostles. The 12 Apostles are these 12 giant limestone rocks that stand out in the ocean. Pictures do not do them justice. They are huge. We watched a very lovely sunset there, marveling in nature's beauty. According to the guidebooks, soon after sunset there are supposed to be tons of little penguins swarming the beaches there. We stayed around to watch, but only saw a couple. It seemed to be quite a struggle to get out of the water, so we'd see a small black dot up on shore, and then a wave would come and sweep it away. I'd definitely rather be a koala than a penguin.

The next day we set out back in the return direction, and John suggested that I drive. Prior to coming to Australia, I figured that I would not do any driving and would rely completely on public transportation or, if I were to get in a car, I'd rely on the other driver. But John had driven the whole way to Port Campbell, so it was only fair that I do some. Driving on the wrong side of the road is wierd, but not as bad as I expected. Having the driver's seat on the other side of the car makes a huge difference, because instinctually, you want to drive so that the driver is in the middle of the road. It was funny to discover what was confusing and what wasn't. What we both had the most trouble with was the turn signal, which was on the right-hand side of the wheel. Pretty much every time we turned, we set off the windshield wipers off by accident. I also noticed that the few times we had to make U-turns, we both did it going counter-clockwise, the American way. The wierdest thing to me was that when we went to see a movie on Wednesday night (Transamerica), it seemed wrong that the steering wheel on screen was on the left side of the car. It's definitely going to be interesting when I get back to the US and try to drive there.
On Thursday it was back to Sydney so that John could catch his plane on Friday morning. We checked his itinerary and figured out that we had to be at the airport by about 10am so he could make his 11:35 plane. When we arrived at the airport, the Vietnam Airlines ticket counter was empty. The screens showed a flight leaving at 10:15, and sure enough, a check of John's tickets showed that his itinerary had been wrong and that he was supposed to be on the 10:15 plane. No good. After traipsing all over the airport, he was finally able to call the airline, only to find out that the next plane back would not be until Sunday. No good at all.

So it turned out that I was actually the first one to leave Sydney. I got on a plane yesterday afternoon up to the Whitsunday Coast, which is about 2/3 of the way up the east coast. I am currently in Airlie Beach, and tomorrow I will set out on a sail boat for a three day sailing adventure around the Whitsunday Islands. Perhaps a way to unwind after an exhausting two weeks of traveling? Then I will had about an hour north to Bowen where I'll work on some sort of produce farm.

Of course, I had an awesome time having John here. To be honest, it made me a little homesick to see someone from home and it is now somewhat lonely to be back to traveling without a companion. But there are more exciting things to come. I can't believe that I have been in Australia for almost two months now, and even more so I can't believe that I only have two months left before I leave and head to New Zealand. It's all quite a whirlwind and I am definitely looking forward to settling down for a few months somewhere in New Zealand. But for now I am trying to take in as much of Australia as possible. Man, this is a big country.


Anonymous said...

hey lady!! ok, no wonder you are tired -- that is a CRAZY amount of things to do in two weeks!! i hope the sailing trip is relaxing and fun, you deserve it. e-mail us when you get back!!this is maggie...i'm not sure if it will let me post my name. ps we miss you.

Adrian said...

hook up some pictures!!!

Jen said...

You're making me really want to see Australia. I was much more interested in New Zealand, originally, and probably still am, but it sounds like you've seen and done so much!