Tuesday, March 28, 2006


I should preface this post by saying that I know basically nothing about wine. I main things I know about it are:

  1. It is red or white (but some are pink/"rosee" too?)
  2. There is a lot more to it than that
  3. Usually I don't like it very much

So as you can tell, one of my main goals in life is to become a wine snob. And in pursuit of that goal, I spent Saturday in the Hunter Valley, one of Australia's wine regions. It was the first time I had really left Sydney since I arrived, and it was great to get out into the countryside. The drive was beautiful, and the actual Hunter Valley was beautiful as well. I have never been to the Napa Valley in California, but this was pretty much how I imagine it to look. Lots of rolling hills and grape vines and things. Supposedly there are often kangaroos hopping around, but we didn't get to see any.

We visited five different wineries throughout the day. Or maybe it was six. Not being a wine snob (yet), I did not spit out the wine after each tasting, so it's possible that I do not remember everything with 100% accuracy. I feel like I actually learned a lot about the different kinds of wine we tasted. By the end I felt like I wasn't completely faking it when I swirled my glass around, and sniffed the wine. It's not as hard as I thought it would be to sound like I knew what I was talking about, and I got to throw around a lot of words like "oaky" and "bouquet." I can't say that I'll be able to engage in any kind of meaningful conversation with a sommelier, but I did find out a little bit more about which wines taste good to me (verdelho) and which I still dislike (shiraz).

Of course, the real highlights of the day were the stops at the cheese and chocolate shops. As much as I like wine (okay, still not really that much), I think I'd have to go for fresh brie or chocolate covered espresso beans.


And with that, I bid a fond farewell to Sydney. John arrived on Sunday from Japan for a short vacation, and after a few days of seeing the Sydney sights, we are headed out to the Blue Mountains tomorrow. Then we will head down the New South Wales coast to Melbourne before returning to Sydney so John can catch his flight back. Then I'll probably head up the coast to Queensland. It's all very exciting. As much as I have enjoyed living and working in Sydney, it's time to see what the rest of Australia has to offer.

Pictures coming soon.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Cyclone Larry hit the Australia east coast yesterday morning--scary stuff. Fortunately for me, I am in Sydney, which is very, very far away from where it hit. It hit up in the north, closer to Cairns and Townsville. Below is a map to give you help you out:

Another way to think about it is that the drive from Sydney to Townsville is about 24 hours. That's like driving from Ann Arbor to Orlando, Florida. Australia is a big country, no?

The bad news for me is that the area that was hit hardest was the area where I was planning to go in April. I was hoping to spend some time sailing on the Whitsunday Islands and then work on a banana farm for a few weeks before heading to Cairns. But really the possibility that I might have to change my travel plans is not really something I am too concerned about when compared to the fact that the cyclone has done some pretty major destruction to people's homes and businesses.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Little Differences

Last night one of my roommates (she's from the UK) was talking about how surprised she was not to be tired, considering that she had been up since 5am. "I feel like the Duracell Bunny!" she exclaimed.

What? Did she say "Duracell" bunny?

I explained my surprise, and she admitted she might have gotten the two battery companies mixed up, but we asked two of our other roommates (both from the UK) what battery company advertises with the pink bunny and they both said Duracell. Then an hour or so later, just in case I hadn't gotten it through my head yet, I saw a TV commerical with an Energizer battery running a track race against--what else?--the Duracell Bunny.

Needless to say, this was one of the most serious moments of culture shock I have experienced since my arrival. I can adapt to new customs and phrases and all the usual cultural differences, but don't mess with one of America's greatest icons!

Unfortunately, after some quick research, I found that my American ethnocentricity has gotten the best of me once again. It is actually that great American icon that messed with the Duracell bunny, who was introduced (including in America) before the Energizer one. Still my American arrogance has ensured that I still prefer the Energizer one. I mean, really, which one do you like better?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I Love a Sunburned Country

... but I don't love that it sunburned me!

I was hoping to make it through Australia without getting sunburned. I figured that if I could spend 10 weeks in Kenya, literally living on the equator, that I could do okay here. I have been even more vigilant than usual here with my sunscreen, reapplying every two hours and everything, which I usually forget to do at home. But on Sunday I came home from the swimming pool (there were shark warnings at the beach this weekend...) with some nice red patchs on my arm. It's pretty clear that it's just a few spots that I happened to miss with the sunscreen, but it still hurts. I just hope that it doesn't peel. Or give me skin cancer.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Fat Saturday

I didn't even realize it was Fat Tuesday last week because Sydneysiders (that's what they call themselves) have decided to wait until the weekend after to celebrate Mardi Gras. Maybe it's a little unorthodox to celebrate after Lent has already started, but their celebration is a little unorthodox in itself--it's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

It was pretty incredible how many people turned out for the parade on Saturday evening. While gay pride parades in the US seem to attract very few straight people, Mardi Gras in Sydney is an event for everyone. There were families, tourists, and people of every background that I could imagine. It was hard to ignore the irony that the city so openly welcomes the parade but still won't grant basic civil rights to gays and lesbians, but I'd like to think that the acceptance of the parade is a start.

We got to Oxford Street a little later than we wanted to, meaning we couldn't see very well, but it was well worth the neck strain. The parade itself of course did not rival the fun and excess of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, but everything was highly political which made for some great floats. I think my favourite (see, I am starting to write like an Australian) was the "Friends of Dick Cheney," mostly because of the conversation I overheard as it passed by:

Australian 1: Who's Dick Cheney?
Australian 2: He's that guy who shot someone when he was quail hunting.
Australian 1: Oh yeah. Stupid Americans.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

College Part 2

Since I have gotten to Australia, I have been struck by how similar this experience is to being back in college. It started with orientation, where they told us a lot of information and then tried to sell us stuff. The hostel was a lot like living in the dorms: a whole floor sharing one bathroom, roommates you didn't know, and everyone trying to be nice to each other because nobody had any friends. And just like in college, the first question you ask someone when you meet them is "Where are you from?"

Now I seem to have moved on to sophomore year by getting out of the dorms and into a house. And man is this house just like one you'd find on U of M's campus, starting with the sketchy (here they'd say "dodgy") landlord and overpriced rent. I am sharing a room with two other girls, and am back to sleeping in a twin bed. The house is pretty unclean, no matter how much you mop or scrub, and worst of all there is only one bathroom for all 11 people. Like any good college house, the main attraction is the great location. I am really close to downtown, within walking distance of pretty much everything (looking at this map, you can find my house in the Ultimo neighborhood at the corner of Harris and MacArthur, right by the Powerhouse Museum).

Also like in college, no matter how gross it is, you make the most of it. I am still showering in flip flops, but at least I have a place to unpack my things. And most importantly, my roommates are all very nice. They are all working travellers themselves, and none of them knew each other before moving into the house. Most are from England, and there are also two kids from Ireland, a German girl, a French Canadian, and a Prince Edward Island Canadian (she said she hated Anne of Green Gables. What?!). All except one British girl have lived there for a couple of months, and they have all become great friends. Fortunately they have welcomed me into the house and I now have a de facto set of friends. The only problem is that I am having a lot of trouble understanding their British accents. Didn't see that one coming. The girl from Prince Edward Island seems to have picked up a bit of an accent herself, so get ready for me to come home speaking a wierd form of Australian/British/American English. Don't worry, I'm trying to hold on to my roots by saying "awesome" a lot and pronouncing it "to-may-to" instead of "to-mah-to."