Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Always Listen to Your Mom

Brisbane (pop. 2,000,000) is just north of the Gold Coast and only about an hour’s drive away.  Each weekend, there are various markets around the city, so my friend Caitlin and I decided to check it out!  We hitched a ride with one of my Aussie friends who was headed up there and had him drop us off at a hostel in downtown. After checking it out, we decided it was a bit dodgy for us and opted to stay in at an American friend’s apartment who goes to Griffith University at one of the Brisbane campuses.  He was actually in Gold Coast for the night, so we were able to take over his room.

The area of South Bank in Brisbane borders the river and it is a gorgeous place to spend the day.  There is a river walk with a canopy of flowers covering it, a massive Ferris wheel, adorable cafes, and best of all, markets!  We checked out the markets and found some things we decided we really “needed”. I went to the cash machine to get some cash for the purchases, only to have it take my card! (Cue the Panic Button)  I called the bank, they said they couldn’t do anything about it, called my bank, couldn’t get any information, and finally, called my mom.  I was out of cash and any way to get cash, so I was definitely in a bind.  We decided to cut our weekend a bit short and got a ride back to Brisbane with my friend who brought us up.  

So, not only was my Brisbane weekend cut short, I was now in a bind for money.  I just happened to be all out of groceries, nearly out of minutes on my phone, and out of money on my GoCard (public transportation card).  How do you eat, call your bank, or travel to open a new account without any of these things?  Answer: You can’t!  I valiantly ate cereal and PB&J sandwiches for the rest of the week, had my mom communicate with my bank, and walked back and forth to school.  I learned that one can survive on cereal and PB&J for a week without adverse effects and decided that listening to my mom to set up an emergency account when I first arrive in Australia probably would have been a fantastic idea.  Emergency money arrived the next week, and the first thing I did was set up an emergency account at an Australian bank. J


Australia is home to the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island, and I was lucky enough to be able to tag along with one of my American friends and an Australian couple who are family friends of hers when they headed up there for the weekend.  A friend who studied in Gold Coast a year before me told me that I absolutely must visit Fraser Island, so I was delighted at the prospect of seeing what beautiful scenery it had to offer!  It’s tough to plan a trip to Fraser Island because no one can get on or around the island without a four wheel drive vehicle.  There aren’t any paved roads on the island… just one-lane sand clearings between trees. If you’re a tourist, you must go with a tour group or brave the driving by renting a 4WD on your own.  (And we’re talking bare-bones 4WD… no A/C, seatbelts or upholstery, just seats!)  The driving is pretty treacherous and dangerous, so I was relieved that we would be traveling with a couple who not only had a comfortable SUV but had driven on the island plenty of times. 

We spent the Friday night of the weekend in Brisbane with the parents of the wife.  They took us to South Bank, which is a beautiful park area right along the Brisbane river.  A birthday celebration for Buddha was being held on South Bank, so we got in on some delicious Asian food and perused booth after booth of cheap Asian-looking paraphernalia.  (Yes, you know what kind of stuff I’m talking about.)  Once it got dark, we got on the CityCat, the ferry system along the Brisbane River that is part of the Brisbane/Gold Coast transportation network.  The view from the river of the city all lit up on a Friday night was so pretty!

The next morning, we were up bright and early to drive up to Fraser Island.  I think it was about a 3 hour drive (My friend and I slept most of the way!), and when we got there, we took the ferry from the mainland to the island.  We drove all along the beach and hit up a couple of hiking paths on our way to Lake Mackenzie, a freshwater lake in the middle of the island.  Lake Mackenzie did not disappoint the visual senses.  It is a body of beautiful clear blue-green freshwater with a beach around it… basically the most perfect body of water you could ever have, in my mind!  We then headed over to the other side of the island to a resort to watch the sun set over the ocean… breathtaking sight!  That night, we stayed in another resort on the island and were delighted to find out the restaurant was serving Mexican for dinner!  We hadn’t had or even seen a Mexican restaurant since we had been in Australia! (For obvious reasons… there isn’t any Mexican food because there aren’t any Mexicans.)

On Sunday, we continued to explore the island and traveled along the beach to Indian Head, a tall cliff you can climb, Eli Creek, a perfectly clear freshwater creek leading to the ocean, Champagne Pools, where the ocean crashes over the rocks and creates fizzing bubbles, and the Maheno, an old shipwreck right along the beach .  We also headed inland to another freshwater lake named Lake Wobby, which is only accessible by walking about a mile across a massive sand dune.  The dune steeply slopes downward into the lake, and the Midwesterner in me thought, “Wow… now that would be a fantastic sledding hill!”  That evening, we headed home, and I spent the rest of the night trying to get sand out of EVERYTHING I took with me!

Weekends are the Best!

My weekends in Australia were definitely days to look forward too.  With choices of going to the beach, heading to Brisbane, going to Aussie Rules football (footy) games, or traveling to nearby tourist destinations, I almost felt busier during my weekends than my weekdays!  One especially beautiful Sunday, my friends and I decided to spend the day at the beach.  We hopped on the bus and headed to Burleigh Heads, a beach about an hour or so bus ride from our apartment complex.  Burleigh is known as one of the more beautiful beaches in Gold Coast, so we weren’t disappointed.  It was so relaxing to soak up the sun, get lost in my book, and take a dip in the water every once in a while to cool off.  Later that evening, we were delighted to find out that every Sunday night, people put on fire-throwing shows in the park right next to the beach… cool!  They also have a drum and bongo circle going, and we had a great time dancing and watching the fire twirlers.  (A couple of my friends joined in on the fire jump roping; some had success… others had burned feet!)

Another weekend, an Australian friend of ours who plays on a minor league footy team in Gold Coast invited a bunch of us to head up to the Sunshine Coast with the footy team for one of their games.  (Cute footy players? Umm… count me in!)  We hitched the 2-hour ride with one of the players, dropped our stuff off at our hostel, and headed to a 3-story condo overlooking the beach where a bunch of the players were staying.  We had a great time and spent the rest of the night watching AFL, the professional Aussie Rules Football league and trying to learn all the rules!  (WAY different from American football!)  The next day, us girls headed to the beach for a bit and then watched the game from our friend’s truck.  It was so much fun eating snack food, soaking up the sun, and starting an impromptu dance party with our friend’s boombox and iPod.  It was almost like I was tailgating at a Mizzou game again!  (Except in a bikini… MUCH warmer weather!)  That night, the guys made a bonfire on the condo’s beach, so we all chilled there for a while then went out!  On Sunday, everybody was pretty burned out, so we spent the morning hanging out at the beach and headed back down to the Gold Coast that afternoon… what a weekend!

I'm Back!

As I’m sitting here in Los Angeles’s LAX with hours to spare between flights (and by hours, I mean 7 hours), it seems strange to me that my great Australian adventure is coming to an end.  If it weren’t for the American accents surrounding me and the funny-looking green money I just used to buy a smoothie, I think I would attempt to tell myself, “Don’t worry Lydia, it’s not true… you’re still in Australia.”  But alas, I have set foot on American soil once again.  And, luckily, it feels good!  I’m not quite to my wide-open and fresh-aired country farm surrounded by cornfields, but for the first time in almost half a year, my passport was considered “normal” and I wasn’t jumbled into the “foreign passport” line.  It’s nice to be home.  I know I’ve been a bit lax about writing in this since… well… a few months, but you can trust that it wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to report about.  I was simply having too much fun!  (And, uh, studying at the library.)  So again, I’ll try to work on an installment thing… after all, I’ll need something to keep me company while I recover from more than 30 hours of traveling (whew!) and the severe jetlag and Australia withdrawals that I’m sure will come in the next few days.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The End of An Amazing Trip...

When we arrived in Vientiane, we went on our search for a hotel.  We quickly found one, and although it was a little more than we had been paying for accommodation ($12/night), it had air conditioning and warm water, so we were elated!  We cleaned up and chilled for a bit before heading down to the banks of the Mekong, the major river that divides Thailand and Laos and runs throughout SE Asia.  There were a couple of markets along the river, and we found a cool restaurant three stories up from the street where we decided to eat for the evening.  The restaurant overlooked the Mekong, so we were able to watch the sunset!  We enjoyed some Laotian beer, and the restaurant had really good food.  We had a great time meeting people at the restaurant and even ran into a young couple from Wisconsin who were backpacking across Asia together.

The next morning, we took a tuk tuk to the Wattay International Airport in Vientiane and flew from Laos to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  When we arrived in Malaysia, we grabbed a taxi to a nice resort close to the airport.  To save money, we decided to stuff 6 people in one room, meaning 1 guy on each loveseat and 4 girls in a king sized bed… a formidable task!  The actually city of Kuala Lumpur is about an hour away from the airport, so we took an airport shuttle to Chinatown and perused the hundreds of vendors, who were all selling exactly the same products, and bartered for knockoff souvenirs.  (I came away with a cool orange Prada purse!)  We found a cool African restaurant named Nando’s and spent the rest of the evening at the restaurant chilling, chatting, and laughing.  Later, we flagged down a taxi and took it back to our resort for the night.  The next morning, we enjoyed a complimentary full buffet breakfast, where we hoarded fruits, rolls, and sandwiches for our 8-hour flight back to Australia.  Our plane miraculously left on time, and we arrived back in Australia at around 9:00pm on Sunday evening.

My trip to Thailand, Laos, and Malaysia was an absolutely amazing experience, and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to have this trip of a lifetime within my experience of a lifetime in Australia.  Enjoy my pictures!

Vang Vieng: My New Favorite Place

We were exhausted after our day of travelling on less-than-ideal roads when we arrived in Vang Vieng, so we got a cheap hotel and just chilled out for a bit.  For dinner, we discovered our new favorite hangout, a restaurant we dubbed “The Friends Café” because they had three big screen TVs that constantly played episodes of the TV show “Friends.”  We ended up eating there multiple times during our stay and befriended a couple of the waiters.  We explored some of our options for activities for the next couple of days and decided to go tubing on the Nam Song river, which runs parallel to the town.  So the next morning, we grabbed breakfast (and I had my millionth fruit shake) at a local café and took a tuk tuk down to the river.  The only problem is, you’re supposed to rent the tubes BEFORE you head down to the river.  So, we sent the boys in (naturally) to go rent six tubes for us while we bathed in the sun and chatted it up with the locals by the river.  Tubing along the Nam Song is very popular because the locals have built cool tiki bars that line the shores on either side of the river.  They serve Laotian beer, free shots, and have cool rope swings to swing out into the river on.  The atmosphere was really fun, and we had a great time stopping at bars along the way and meeting backpackers from all over the world.

The next day, we decided to rent scooters and go explore the caves around the area.  After some troubles finding the actual roads that lead to a couple of the caves (“Legitimate” roads look like dirt tracks and maps are not drawn to scale. Perfect.), we came upon a deserted cave that apparently had a Buddha statue in it.  Using only our cell phone lights and the hand-holding system, we ventured into the cave to find the Buddha.  Luckily, it wasn’t too far into the cave!  We grabbed some pictures, went swinging on some vines, and ventured on to find the next cave, Tham Phu Kham.  The trip to Tham Phu Kham led us on a bumpy dirt road through a couple of villages and herds of cattle on the road.  However, the best part of the trip was the absolutely breathtaking scenery we encountered!  We were surrounded by gorgeous mountains and pristine fields.

Once we got to the cave, we were surprised by the amount of people there!  We found out they were having a New Year celebration, complete with a live band and lots and lots of vendors selling suspicious looking meat products.  We rented a light to explore the cave with and started the extremely treacherous hike through the woods up to the cave. (The path was nearly vertical, I swear.)  The inside of the cave was cool and cavernous and we spent the next hour or so exploring it.  The cave had no definite pathways or lights, so it was up to you to find your own way.  My friend and I started following a guy who looked like he knew what he was doing (and he had a light… a definite plus), but we found out too late that he actually had no idea where he was going.  We ended up on the wrong side of a large ravine and had to go through some painful (and slightly scary!) measures in order to be able to get out of the cave.  A couple of foot cuts, some dirty clothes, and a pair of ripped shorts later, we finally got out of there!

At the bottom of the path leading up to the cave, there is a lagoon that all of the local children were swimming in.  It was the perfect way to cool down, and we had fun jumping out of trees and swinging on the rope swings with the locals.  That night, we returned our scooters and checked out a local restaurant owned by an Australian man.  We had fun chatting it up with him and enjoyed the Thai/Australian food.  The next day, we shopped for souvenirs and reluctantly hopped on a bus back to Vientiane.

Here are the links to my Facebook photo albums of Bangkok and Laos:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bangkok Was... Interesting

We quickly realized that it was not just a typical weekend in Bangkok.  After being doused in water multiple times while attempting to find our hostel, we soon learned that it was Songkran, the Thai New Year.  To celebrate the new year, the Thai line the streets with water buckets, water bottles, water guns, and any other imaginable container that holds water.  They then douse anyone and anything that passes them with the water.  In addition, some kids had a curious colorful clay substance that they wiped all over the face and arms of any unsuspecting victim.  We finally found our hostel, changed into dry clothes (a futile action, we realized), and decided to go to the one thing that looked familiar to us: Subway.  After we indulged in some delicious Subway sandwiches, we headed to the MBK, a popular shopping center in Bangkok.  We had to barter hard for a tuk tuk, a three-wheeled motorized open-backed vehicle used as a taxi in SE Asia.  It was frustrating to us knowing that the drivers charged us WAY more than the locals for a ride. 

It was on our way to the shopping center that we saw our first communist demonstrations.  We didn’t think much of it until we were on our way home from the mall and the tuk tuk driver said we’d have to go the long way around the city back to Koh Sahn Rd. because the communists had basically taken over all of Bangkok’s major roads.  I was honestly pretty freaked out riding in the back of an open-aired vehicle on the dark side streets of Bangkok knowing there were communist demonstrations going on all around the city.  (But no worries Mum, I survived!)  We were planning on staying two nights in Thailand before we headed to Laos, but because it was Songkran, many of the sightseeing attractions around the city were closed, and the communist demonstrations made transportation around the city a difficulty.  Additionally, negative press and warnings about the communists made our decision to get the heck out of Bangkok very easy!  We booked an overnight bus ride from Bangkok to Laos for the evening and spent the day getting soaked, eating Thai food, and chilling on Koh Sahn Rd. before our bus headed out.  While we waited, we also checked out a really cool bar that was 3 stories up from the street.  We were able to try some genuine Thai beer, watch and laugh at the people down on the street getting wet, and listen to a very talented musician (he was on the first season of American Idol!) play some live music for us.

Before we headed out on our 20-hour bus trek from Bangkok to Laos, we decided to try out some really cheap Thai whiskey for the ride.  Needless to say, it was absolutely disgusting, but it made the ride go a bit more quickly!  We arrived at the border crossing between Thailand and Laos in the morning, bought our Laotian visas, and hopped on another bus to Vientiane, the capitol of Laos.  From Vientiane, we took another bus to Vang Vieng, a fun backpacker town about 4 hours away from Vientiane.

It's Time to Perfect My Bartering Skills

Once we arrived on Koh Chang, we caught a taxi to the beach we stayed on, Klong Prao.  We got a bungalow for $9 a night and decided to grab some breakfast.  At breakfast, we discovered the joys of fresh pineapple pancakes (They might even rival your pancakes, Dad) and fresh fruit shakes.  In fact, when I ordered a watermelon fruit shake, the guy had to go down the road to the fruit market to grab a watermelon to make my shake with!  After breakfast, we explored the local shops a bit and decided to go on an elephant ride. The company provided transportation for us from our bungalow and we were able to ride an elephant through the rainforest for about an hour!  Although the tour guide’s English wasn’t very good, we did learn a bit about the elephants and the rainforest plants during our ride.  After our ride, we got $5 massages from a little place right next to our bungalow.  This was enough relaxation for us to realize that we were absolutely exhausted from our non-stop travelling, so we crashed on a resort’s private beach a short walk from our bungalow for a long afternoon nap. (It had padded lawn chairs!)  We grabbed dinner in the evening at a delicious seafood restaurant and shopped and bartered for souvenirs from the locals.  The bartering process goes a bit like this: you grab an object and ask, “How much?”  Then, the shopkeeper grabs their calculator and puts their initial price in.  You then glance at the price, laugh incredulously, and shake your head.  The shopkeeper asks, “How much you give me?”  You then type your counter offer into the calculator and continue the process until you seal the deal.  We got so good at bartering that we were afraid we’d try to barter for items once we were in Australia too!

The next day, we grabbed a taxi to a fishing town called Bang Bao on the southern tip of the island.  We grabbed another bungalow for the night ($8 a night this time!) and headed to the boardwalk and pier, where they have a ton of souvenir shops and seafood restaurants.  We bartered for some more souvenirs and enjoyed watching the fishing and touring boats come into the pier from the Gulf of Thailand.  That evening, we found an adorable seafood restaurant along the water and enjoyed some delicious seafood and Thai cuisine.  Sunset on the water and the incoming boats’ twinkling lights made the view from the restaurant a gorgeous one!

            In the morning, we grabbed a taxi all the way back up the coast to the northern pier and rode the ferry back to the mainland.  We took a taxi from the ferry to the bus station and bought tickets on a VIP bus from Trat back to Bangkok.  The use of the term, “VIP” is grossly overused in Australia and SE Asia, so we laughed at the idea of taking a “VIP” bus.  However, we were pleasantly surprised.  The bus had slightly hideous pink frilly curtains, and free blankets, candy bars, and Coca Cola for the passengers.  (All the makings of a proper VIP experience!)  However, our experience was kind of ruined when they turned on obnoxious Thai “comedy” on all the bus TVs and blared it through their surround sound system.  So much for a quiet and pleasant VIP ride!  We met an English woman on the bus ride, so we shared a taxi with her from the bus station in Bangkok to Koh Sahn Road, the backpacker district of Bangkok.

I'm not sure if this is going to work, but here is the link to my Facebook photo album of Koh Chang (Just copy and paste it into your address line!):

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Just Getting There Was an Adventure!

So, I’m FINALLY getting around to reporting about my trip.  You’d think that because of the delay, it wasn’t a good trip.  However, the complete opposite is true. We had so much fun and did so many things, I’m not sure how I’m going to write it all down and come out with anything short of a novel!  As a result, I'm going to blog in installments/chapters. haha

We started off our trip with an 8-hour flight on from Gold Coast, Australia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Let the travel problems begin.  Our plane was really late leaving the airport in Gold Coast, meaning we were late arriving into Kuala Lumpur, meaning we were cutting our layover from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, Thailand extremely short... like we had less than 10 minutes to get to our next plane short.  So, we sprinted out onto the tarmac, sprinted through customs, sprinted through security, and sprinted to the boarding gate.  Unfortunately, we didn’t make it in time and they wouldn’t let us board the plane, so we were out of luck (and out of breath!).  We had to buy another ticket to Bangkok (there goes my travel budget) and luckily, we got the last few seats on the last flight to Bangkok that night.

However, that was not the end of our travel mishaps. When we boarded our plane to Bangkok, we noticed that there were people assigned to the same seats we had on our boarding pass too. We contacted the stewardess, and imagine our surprise when she exclaimed, “Oh! You’re supposed to be going to Bangkok!  This is the plane to Bali!” EEEEKKK!  We had gotten on the wrong plane… and worse yet, they let us get on the wrong plane!  Luckily, there were people in our assigned seats because the plane wasn’t that full, and we wouldn’t have known the difference if not for the discrepancy in seating!  So, we again found ourselves sprinting across the tarmac to our plane to Bangkok.

When we arrived in Bangkok, we got a taxi from the airport to Ekamaii, the bus station.  We bought tickets for the midnight bus to Trat, a town in SE Thailand, and the gateway to Koh Chang, the island we were travelling to.  We killed some time exploring the area, bought some delicious Pad Thai (for less than $1!), and chilled at McDonald’s until our bus came.  The bus ride took around 4 hours, so we slept most of the way.  We met a Thai boy on the bus who was an exchange student in Florida for a year, so his English was really good.  He was from Trat, so he told us where we should go, and lined up a taxi to the Koh Chang ferry for us.  This was so helpful because nobody else really spoke English… and it was 4:30 am.  So we caught the taxi to the ferry, but on the way we stopped at a market full of fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, and… hog heads.  It was only about 4:45 am, and the market was absolutely bustling with locals!  It was cool to be completely immersed in their lifestyle after less than 12 hours in their country!  Oh, and to top off our initial culture experience, we asked to use the restroom in the 7Eleven only to find that it was a hole in the ground with a bit of porcelain around it for you to stand on. Fantastic.

Finally, we arrived at the ferry and hopped on for the 45 minute boat ride to Koh Chang. Our timing was perfect to watch the beautiful sunrise over the Gulf of Thailand.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I'm Off to Asia!

So, I've had some complaints that I haven't updated my blog recently, so I'll give you a REALLY short update on what I'm up to for the next 10 days over my Easter break.  In approximately 7 hours, 5 friends and I are heading out of Australia and traveling to Malaysia, Thailand, and Laos!  We'll be staying in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Bangkok (Thailand), an island called Koh Chang (Thailand), and Vien Vieng (Laos).  We're planning on going to the markets, riding elephants, hiking in the jungle, white water rafting and tubing, touring the temples, and soaking up the Malyasian, Thai, and Laotian cultures!

I'll share my experiences and pictures as soon as I get back on the 19th!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Just Settling In...

I've officially been in Australia for one month!  I'm finally getting settled into some sort of a routine, which is comforting after a month of traveling and exploring a completely new place.

I started school on March 2nd, and it was funny how familiar my first day at Griffith University felt to my very first day at Mizzou.  I didn't know a soul, had no idea where my classes were, and was nervous for what the teacher and other students would be like!  We're now into Week 3 of classes, and I'm happy with my schedule and the variety of things I'll be studying.  I'm taking Popular Music and Cultural Context (analyzing music and its effects on individuals, taking into account cultural and personal preferences), Introduction to American Politics (exactly as the name states, but from the viewpoint of Australians...), Love, Sex, and Truth (a philosophy class examining the interpersonal relationships between humans), and Epidemiology and Population Health (the study of the spread and prevention of disease within populations).  It's quite the conglomeration of classes, and I'm so excited to be able to be studying such a variety of interesting topics!

Disclaimer on the photo from campus: I wanted to wait to get pictures while it was sunny out... because it's almost always sunny here, and it would make my campus look that much more beautiful!  However, we had a cyclone come through last week, and it was cloudy and windy for a whole WEEK!  (yeah, miserable... I know :-P)  

This last weekend, a group of us headed up to Brisbane for a rugby match!  It's only about a 45 minute train ride, and when you buy a ticket to the game, your train ticket is free.  It was great to be able to get out of Gold Coast and explore a new city... Brisbane has a population of about 1.9 million people, so there are tons of things to explore!  Rugby is quite a bit different than American football, so the poor guys sitting next to me in the stands spent a large part of the game explaining the rules to me.  It was a really fun atmosphere, though, and we're definitely going to be headed back up there a couple more times to go to the games and explore the nightlife a bit more.

Although I'm loving it here in Australia, there are a few things I miss from home.  March Madness is now in full swing, and two of my favorite basketball teams, Mizzou and Northern Iowa, have made it into the tournament!  I actually "watched" the Big 12 Championship game between Mizzou and Baylor via's score and commentary updates every 30 seconds.  It most definitely wasn't an optimal situation, but it gave me a chance to cheer on my Tigers from across the ocean!  I also got a package from home this last week, and it was jam packed with my favorite American candy, pictures of family, suncreen, and items that reminded me of home. Thanks Mum and Dad!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Down by the Bay!

This weekend, a group of us went down to Byron Bay, a cool hippie town along the coast in northern New South Wales.  We started off the weekend with a trip to a wildlife sanctuary where we saw everything from an absolutely MASSIVE crocodile to dingoes to endangered cockatoos to extremely poisonous snakes.  We learned a lot more about Australian wildlife, which was really cool.  For instance, something like 9 out of the 10 most venomous snakes live in Australia... eek!  (Don't worry Mom, they also told us what to do if we ever see one!)

After the wildlife park, we arrived at our hostel in Byron Bay and then went for a long walk along the absolutely breathtaking coast.  The walk took us up to the Byron Bay lighthouse, which sits on the most easterly point of Australia.  It was a tough walk, but we got some beautiful views and spotted a pod of dolphins, so it was definitely worth it!  After the walk, the group went for dinner and out on the town to mingle with locals... a fun-filled day and night!

On Saturday, we got up early and went to the beach for surfing lessons.  (You could definitely tell I was from the Midwest with no access to the ocean...)  Although I kind of maybe  sort of got up a few times (okay... only once), it was fun to be able to spend the morning in the water trying something completely new and challenging.  In the afternoon, we went sea kayaking... what a workout!  The wind was blowing toward the shore, so it was really hard work.  However, once we were out there, it was pretty intense to be able to feel the strength of such an immense and powerful body of water.

On Sunday, we had a free day to explore Byron Bay a bit more.  On the first Sunday of every month, they have this huge market featuring clothing, jewelry, glassware, soaps, food, and artwork from local residents.  I feel so fortunate that our trip was timed perfectly to be able to catch it... it was so cool to be able to peruse the vendors and admire the artistry of the merchandise.  For lunch, a friend and I went to a cool sushi restaurant and then hit the beach for a nap and a dip in the ocean before we left for home.  (You could tell we all had had an exciting weekend... everybody was passed out for the entirety of the bus ride!)

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Guess We Just Took the Scenic Route...

It has been so much fun exploring my new surroundings!  My apartment is in a small complex with walkways throughout surrounded by beautiful tropical plants and a pool conveniently located directly outside my door!  Next door we have an Aldi, a Blockbuster, and some cool local food places.  The bus stop is just a couple blocks away.  Tomorrow, we're all heading to the Uni for orientation (yes, I AM going to classes while I'm here...), so I'm excited to see my new home campus!

In the past couple days, I've been able to check out the cool shopping, beaches, and attractions the Gold Coast has to offer.  They obviously have mostly Australian stores here, but I was surprised to see KMart, Burger King (under the alias of Hungry Jack's), and Target!  I breathed a big American sigh of relief on my first day out in Surfers Paradise when I was starving because I didn't have any food in my apartment yet and slightly overwhelmed by all the new surroundings, and there was a Subway!  It was like a beacon of light and familiarity!  (Unfortunately, $5 footlongs don't exist here... more like $8 footlongs) 

Today a bunch of us went to the Wet 'n' Wild water park, which was, once we got there, a really cool place.  Overall, it was a fun day, except for the part where it took us over two hours to even get to the park!  Our landlord got us all semester passes and told us where to go on the busses... then the next bus driver told us a different route... then the next passenger told us another route... and so on.  About two hours later, we arrived at the theme park down the road and had to walk through a swamp to get to the water park... ha.

It's also been kind of hard adjusting to the metric and currency differences compared to the states.  Everything is more expensive here, but I always put myself at ease knowing that I'm actually spending less in American dollars because the currency exchange is favorable!  Additionally, the nutrition labels' calories are in kJ, the pounds are in kilograms, and the degrees are in Celsius.  My friend Chris had a really embarrassing (and amusing to female onlookers) experience the other day when he was working out in our gym and using the bench press... he put his normal bench press weight onto the bars and laid down to start benching it.  However, the weights were in kg instead of pounds, so his "20 lbs." was actually 20 kg... equal to about 44 lbs.!  He obviously couldn't lift it back up to the standing position so he had to dump them off onto the ground which abruptly shifted the equilibrium to the other side and the other side's weights clattered to the ground as well... hahahaha.

Lastly, if you want to send any goodies my way... (hint: they don't have Twizzler Nibs here :-P) here is my address :-)

Lydia Beck
Metro on Central
24c/7 Brown St.
Labrador, QLD 4215

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Have Never Seen Such Vivid Colors!

We left LAX on a huge 2-level Boeing jet around midnight on Saturday night.  I have honestly never felt so alive/excited/exhilarated in my entire life than I did when we were lifting off!  The reality of everything really hit me, and the anticipation from the last six months of planning came crashing down on me.

Most of the trip over the ocean was spent sleeping and watching movies, so the 14 hours went very quickly!  We arrived in Brisbane around 7 am (Aussie time) on Monday morning.  After making it through customs (whew!), we hopped on a flight up to Cairns.  Our group of about 90 students from the states stayed at a hostel in Cairns, and that evening we ate at a cool local brewery and then explored some local bars.  

On Tuesday, we all went out to the Great Barrier Reef on a catamaran.  The reef was absolutely breathtaking.  Not only are the views above water beautiful, the coral and fish were the most interestingly shaped and vividly colored creatures I had ever seen!  We spent the day on the boat, soaking up the sun (some of us soaked it up a little too well!), and exploring the amazing underwater life.

We went up to the mountains surrounding Cairns to the rainforest on Wednesday.  We got a tour of the forest itself, got to hold a koala bear, pet some kangaroos, lick an ant's bum (they secrete citric acid, so it gives you a little sting on your tongue!), and check out some massive crocodiles.  That night, a bunch of us went on a pub crawl around Cairns... an amusing and extremely fun time!

Our flight back down to Brisbane left on Thursday, so all of us packed up and left the hot and muggy weather in Cairns and traded it for the beautiful 80-degree weather of southern Queensland.  A bus took us to our apartment complex, which is in Labrador, a suburb of Gold Coast.  I met my two awesome roommates from Norway and Mauritius along with some of the other residents in our complex.  The weekend consisted of meeting students from all over to the world, getting settled into my room, shopping, going to the beach, and exploring the Gold Coast nightlife!  (This IS the life...)

Do 3-Day Layovers Even Exist?

Oh, the joys of having cousins living in cool places...  

I started off my great Australian adventure with a mini LA adventure.  I left from Des Moines on Wednesday, February 11th, and my cousin Natalie picked me up from LAX that evening.  I spent the next day walking around and exploring Santa Monica and enjoying the nice weather.  (Apparently, I was enjoying it a bit too much because my t-shirt looked ridiculous compared to the sweaters everyone else was wearing!)  

I spent Thursday night in Tarzana with my cousin Susan.  Susan was wrapping up the costuming on the movie she's been working on, so I went to work with her at Universal Studios on Friday.  After a tour of the back lots where all the outdoor movie sets are, we went for Japanese.  (I realized my chopstick skills are way below par.)  After lunch, the costume designer from the movie hooked me up with some really cool swimsuits, sundresses, and flip flops from the actresses' wardrobes!  (I'm glad I didn't decide on Russia as my study abroad destination... they didn't have any parkas on-set.)  I went to dinner with some of Susan's friends, then I met up with Natalie and her friends at a bar in downtown LA.  On Saturday, I packed all my things, and Natalie took me to the airport for my 11:50 pm flight to Brisbane, Australia!