Thursday, October 30, 2008

It Snowed!!

In Hanmer Springs that is. And only stuck to the top of the mountains. (Side note...It's the end of October. It should be cold. This 70's and 80's weather in Sydney at the end of October is nuts. I shouldn't be seeing Christmas decorations in stores while wearing tee shirts and shorts. And I shouldn't see this sign either- "Beat The Heat This Christmas at Baskin Robbins." But I digress.) We woke up Sunday morning to the pictures below. We got breakfast at our breakfast place, Robbie's Pub, walked around some and then got in the car to drive back down to Christchurch. But first...some pictures.

Once we got to Christchurch, we decided to walk around the city. is one of the biggest cities in New Zealand, and yes, there are some tallish buildings (our hotel room was on the 11th floor ) but at times you'd be walking in "center city", turn the corner and then were faced with a city block of 1 and 2 story buildings that looked like Main Street USA. Very strange. Our hotel was next door to Christchurch Cathedral.

We continued walking through the city over to the Botanical Gardens...

passed the tram that takes you on a circuit around the city...

and then came upon the holy grail. Literally...the Holy Grail Sports Bar just down the street from our hotel. The sky should've opened up with a beam of light on the sign as angels in one chorus broke out in a harmonious "aaahhhhhhh". Wings and cokes...20 something dollars. Being able to watch the Phillies play and win Game 3 of the World Series on a 50 foot tv screen while in New Zealand...priceless!

As I type this, I'm watching the replay of today's game where our Phillies won the World Series. We watched it live this morning/afternoon as well and I think Phil speaks for us all when he turned to me after the win, while watching the pile-up on the mound and said, "I think I'm gonna cry." Sweet day! Now if we could only be there in Philly for the parade down Broad St. this week...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hanmer Springs...New Zealand's Alpine Spa Village

Or so the advertising slogan goes. On Saturday morning (being the outdoor enthusiasts that we are so known for) we decided to do some outdoor stuff since we were up in the mountains and all. And there was so much to choose from...mountain biking, hikes (or tramps as they call them here), fishing, hunting, bungy jumping (, jetboat trips, river rafting, quad biking, skeet shooting, 4x4 tours, paintball, mini golf, horseback riding, helicopter tours, archery, and even sitting in the thermal pools at the main attraction- Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa.

First...we chose archery. No, really we did. And it was fun. The competition was fierce. After a stinging injury on my left inside elbow (got in the way of my blazing arrow and stung like the dickens!), I couldn't keep up. Actually...I was never in the running. I don't think I could hit a target if it was painted on the side of a barn. Got a few in, but was no match for Phil aka Robin Hood. Look at the equisite form.
And if you can see it...the end result. I hit the paper a few times but nothing to write home about.

Late morning we left for our next adventure...horseback riding. Seriously! I've never ridden a horse before and it was always something I wanted to try. The drive out to the farm was again, beautiful. So was the farm itself. Take a look.

Now the horse lady knew that in our group, I was the only one who had never gotten on a horse before. And which horse did I get? Raleigh...who according to her is, "The biggest horse in all of New Zealand." Uh...thanks. One seems very far off of the ground when seated on a huge horse while holding tightly to the reins. But Raleigh and I hit it off...when he wouldn't jerk his big ol' head forward nearly lifting me off of the saddle. Now I thought we would just be plodding along little trails around the farm. And we did...but soon set off up a small mountain. With no guard rails. On a horse. Yeah, I was a bit freaked out. Remember the scene from The Brady Bunch when they were at the Grand Canyon and taking a mule ride down into the canyon and Alice is furiously waving her hand over to get the mule to hug the canyon wall? Yep...I know the feeling. But the views...

See? Raleigh is the biggest horse there!
Oh...I've got to add a picture of the farm's pets on the front porch. They would nudge you like a dog to be petted. And no...I wasn't thinking of dinner. That's just sick.
Later that day we drove to "Thrill Seeker's Canyon". Not necessarily looking for a thrill, but that's where a lot of the outdoor activities are based from. Including bungy jumping from this bridge. Seriously crazy!

We drove back to the village past some more beautiful countryside...

and then put on our bathing suits (or swimmers or cosi's) as they call 'em in Australia and relaxed in the thermal springs for awhile. Ahh...a great end to a very fun day. Tomorrow...Christchurch.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We're Back from New Zealand that the Phillies game is on a rain delay (maybe stoppage? stupid Australian tv is now showing motocross so I don't know what's happening) I can post about our weekend in New Zealand. First, let me say that it is one of the most beautiful places that I've ever been to. For all you Lord of the Rings fans, I didn't see any spots where they filmed, but hopefully you'll still like the pictures below.

We flew into Christchurch last Friday afternoon. Close to the airport is the International Antarctic Centre so we started there. Did you know that 70% of the people/scientists that fly to Antarctica go out of Christchurch? Nope, I didn't either. It's called international because New Zealand, the US, and Italy all have offices and programs here. The US Air Force also flys planes to Antarctica from here.

We started out (after I begged for a quick stop at the cafe because it was past lunch time) at the penguin exhibit where they were feeding these tiny little penguins. The Little Blue Penguins to be exact. Apparently they swim near the shores of South Australia and New Zealand. After that we went to the Antarctic Storm where they simulate a storm every half hour. was pretty darn cold. (Notice my hands tucked into my borrowed coat.) And this was even before the storm started and the wind started blowing.

After going through the museum, you could get in line to ride the Hagglund, a vehicle used down in Antarctica. The obstacle course that it took us through was a bit jarring to say the least! But very fun.

We got on the road and headed north to Hanmer Springs where we stayed for most of the weekend. The trip up was just beautiful. On either side of the road were just hundreds of rolling green hills that kept getting steeper as we got closer to the mountains. And the sheep...we must've seen thousands of sheep grazing the hills over the entire weekend. Mmm, and tasty, too. How could I not have lamb for dinner when in New Zealand? Although I would pay for that because after Friday night for the rest of the weekend whenever we drove by any sheep Phil would say."Here she comes, for your lives!" Such the comedian. Here's our hotel that we stayed at...the Settler's Inn. And it even came with a golden retriever named Rosie.

Some pics of Hanmer Springs...

Tomorrow...our Saturday in Hanmer Springs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It Is What It Is...

I got nothin'. (That's the phrase but the former teacher in me still cringes at the grammar.) Not a whole lot going on at the moment. Still going in a couple of days a week to the church to volunteer in the office. Still liking it. Even got taken out last week for Thai food. (My first time eating Thai!) Okay...I only ordered chicken and fried rice but I did try bites of my fellow diner's meals. Pleasantly surprised, in fact, but the jury is still out. I don't like to try new foods.

The week is passing a bit slow, due to the fact that Phil is away right now in Singapore. Bummer. I don't even have him here to ply with questions as soon as he steps in the front door. "How was your day? What did you have for lunch? Do you know what I had for lunch? What are we going to do for dinner? Do you want to go out? I wonder what's on tv tonight? Guess where I walked today?" etc. etc. I'm sure he's glad for the reprieve. (while also missing me, the joy of his life.)

I really just wanted to put up another post to check and see if people can now post comments. For some reason, the last two posts wouldn't let people do that. Due to the overwhelming demands of my reading public (okay...two people asked what was up) I, the tech wiz that I am, was determined to fix the wrong and let you be heard. I think I found out the problem, although I'm not really sure and just hope that the comment thingie (official tech wiz language) appears at the end of this post. Good news, however. The blog will once again get interesting after this weekend because Phil and I are leaving the country!

Not to head back to the states just yet, but we're spending a long weekend in New Zealand. We're heading to Christchurch on Friday morning and then driving to a little town in the mountains called Hanmer Springs. For those of you who are uninformed (which was me until just a bit ago), New Zealand is made up of two islands and we're headed to the South Island. People here have said to me that it is the better one to go to because it's just so beautiful. They remark that the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed there.

Well...that doesn't do anything for me, because I think I've only seen one of them. I say I think because I don't remember a whole lot about it. Something about a ring, a guy named Frodo, and some guy with a long white beard? I don't know. It was just kind of dark and had lots of suspense in it...which I don't do when it comes to movies. But, at any rate, if I come across any signs that say, "LOR filmed here" I'll take a picture for all you fans. So...on that note, hopefully my next posts will contain stunning pictures and witty prose about our trip to New Zealand.

And on a totally different note...I just found out at the library this afternoon (while reading the New York Times...yes, I have time on my hands at the moment) that Grant Balfour, a pitcher for the Tampa Bay baseball team is from Sidney. An Australian who plays American baseball?? Interesting, yes, but in no way pulls my allegiance from our beloved Philadelphia Phillies who play in the World Series(!!!!!) this week. Darn it...Murphy's Law states that one will be thousands of miles away on the other side of the world when your team finally makes the World Series. Hopefully we can still watch it in New Zealand this weekend to say...GO PHILLIES!!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

This is What I'm Looking At

Thought I'd give you a peek at what I see when I take a walk around Sydney...depending on which route I take. Yes...I've walked so much here, I actually have several routes that I can choose from when stepping out. Wednesday afternoon, I chose my "Dawes Point" destination. I walk from our building through Circular Quay (where the ferry boat terminal is), passed the aboriginal who sits there every day making music on his digideroo (couldn't get the picture because he was on his smoke break), next to The Rocks, under the Harbour Bridge, around the peninsula (Dawes Point) and back. On my way, I get a pretty good view while walking under the Harbour Bridge.

On the other side of the Harbour, you can see an amusement park called Luna Park. At night when it's all lit up, the face at the entrance is lit up in a freakish way. I see these big eyes and mouth (which is what you walk through to get into the park) staring at me all the way from our balcony. Here's a closer look...

Coming from around the point on my way back, there's a great view of our next door neighbor, the Opera House.

Moving my head just to the right, you get a good look at Circular Quay. Of course, our apartment, the beloved Toaster is the first building you see on the left of the picture.

Today, after meeting Phil for lunch at Australian Square, a food court in a building close to his, I decided to take my "Into the City" route. Right at Australian Square was a group of army vehicles parked in an alley (not sure why they were there) but thought of my nephew, Sammy who's 5, loves anything to do with the military, and wants to fly jets off of a carrier in the Navy when he grows up. So, Sammy...this is for you.

And what do you know, as I was walking up George St., in this little alley was this space thing hanging between two buildings. I thought of Sammy's big brother, Jake who's 7, loves anything to do with space, and wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. So, Jake...this one's for you.
I kept walking up George St. until I came to the Queen Victoria Building or QVB as it's sometimes referred to. This building (which spans an entire city block!) was opened in 1892 (whipping out my trusty guidebook once again) as a produce market. Some older people we've gotten to know at our church here, say they can remember going there as kids when it was a farmer's market on the first floor and offices on the second floor where their parents paid their electric bills. Today it's the home to nearly 200 upscale stores. They also said that at Christmas there's a huge Christmas tree in the middle under the main dome that goes from floor to ceiling. I'm hoping that goes up before we leave to go back to Philly for Christmas.

See the statue in front of the building? The same people told us that the story goes that when the building was completed, they wanted to put a statue of Queen Victoria out in front of it, but there wasn't one in the whole country. So later, they found a statue of her from some city in India who wanted to get rid of theirs after India gained independence from Great Britain, bought it from the Indian city and finally put it out in front of the QVB. Better late than never, I guess.

Monday, October 13, 2008

So I'm Looking Like a Raccoon...

Just love getting a sunburn on my face while wearing my sunglasses. But it's the middle of October...I'm not used to having to remember the sunscreen. I'm all mixed up... it's getting warmer, the days are getting longer, we're passing by huge blow-up Santa lawn ornaments being advertised at a nursery when it's around 80 degrees out...just crazy. And just where did I get this sunburn? After church on Sunday we hopped into the Jeep (top down-hence the sunburn) and drove about an hour and a half north to St. Alban's. This was where Phil drove before I came back here last month.

First, in Wiseman's Ferry, we had to take the ferry over to the other side of the river.
We ate lunch at the Settler's Arms Inn.

The website for the Inn, states that the Inn was built in 1836 and is surrounded by mountains. True. It also states that the Inn is "nestled along the Macdonald River". True, again. The website did not say we were in the middle of absolutely nowhere, but that was true too.

Just passed (past? I'm not sure. They both look right) this tree on the right and down a bit is the bank of the Macdonald River. Imagine the surprise when a helicopter comes and lands in the middle of the river. Yeah, really. About 300 feet in front of where I was sitting. Now the river wasn't too full of water and the helicopter did land on a sand bar, but still. Not sure a helicopter could just land in a river next to a restaurant in the states so the people could have a bite to eat.

On the way home coming through Wiseman's Ferry, lo and behold we passed the property for what used to be the Word of Life Christian Camp and Bible Institute of Australia. Felt the urge to break into a rousing rendition of "Holding forth the Word of Life..." Amazing (and a bit frightening) that after all these years the song never leaves the recesses of the mind of a former Island STC'er and wolbi alum. The property no longer belongs to Word of Life (as the sign in Korean? Chinese?) showed us (as well a check on the internet once we got back), but the old faded WOL sign was still there. Quite the beautiful piece of property.

All in all a nice day spent outdoors. Except for the raccoon eyes, of course.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Deep In Thought at McDonald's

I take my job as a professional tourist down here very seriously, and it struck me today at lunch as I enjoyed my tasty cheeseburger, that people have strange habits here at Macker's (as it is referred to at times...I know...what?). Is it me, or do most people in the states take their sandwich out of the "to go" bag (or take away as it is called here), open the wrapper, spread the wrapper down like a place mat, put your drink in one corner, and your fries and ketchup (or chips and tomato sauce) in the other corner? Okay...maybe it is just me. Or maybe most people don't order the cheeseburger.
But down here, I've seen people time and time again (yes, I eat at McDonald's way too much) take the "to go" bag, rip one whole side of it open and then eat the food as it lays from inside the bag. It looks like they're dining from a feed bag.

And what's with the opening of the burger (cheeseburger, quarter pounder, big mac, whatever) and piling on a fist full of fries before they bite into it? On the burger? How does that taste good?

Speaking of taste...the menu now sports that you can add avocado to your quarter pounder. Eeww. And if you want to, you can add tomato and avocado to your Egg McMuffin breakfast (or brekkie) sandwich. Double eeww. Yes...deep thoughts down here. But again...I take my job very seriously and wish to report all aspects of Australian culture as I experience them. "experiences" haven't been much to report lately. I've been volunteering at the church in the office a couple of days a week, so the weeks have flown by. I'm liking it. (Although I still have a bit of a problem trying to figure out what people are saying over the phone with their accents. I think I drove some guy nuts yesterday trying to figure out if he was saying his name was Matthew or Michael. I'm still not sure.)

I am happy to report that I now feel pretty comfortable driving around Sydney. Who would've thought? I still cringe when I cross the Harbour Bridge, praying that I haven't just breathed my last, but the music has returned. (I tend to sing while I drive.) Still not crazy about changing lanes because I can't see behind the darn head rests in the back seat, so I try and look, send up a prayer, hope nothing's there, and then get over into the next lane. I've pretty much memorized the route and what lanes to get in so I don't have to do much changing.

We are trying to arrange a trip to New Zealand next weekend, so hopefully that happens. Will keep you posted...

Monday, October 6, 2008

The (Sea) Eagles Win the Championship!!

No, not our beloved Philadelphia Eagles...the Manly Sea Eagles in the Grand Final of the National Rugby League. Our good friend from church, Steve, offered to get Phil a ticket to the big game (kind of like our Superbowl) yesterday afternoon. Well, of course, I had to get Phil a rugby jersey with the official Manly Sea Eagles emblem, for his birthday last week so he could wear it to the game at the ANZ Stadium (where the opening and closing ceremonies were for the 2000 Olympics.) The pre-game ceremonies included a navy helicopter landing on the field.

A pre-game show.

Some rugby action. And let me just say...those guys are nuts. It's like full-tackle football without any pads. Crazy! And they beat Melbourne 40-0.

And finally, the beginning of the awards ceremony where you can see Australia's Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, third from the right in the line of people congratulating the winning players.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Night Away in Canberra

Last night we drove 3 hours south to Canberra, the capital of Australia. No, is. It's not Sydney. Nor Melbourne, but Canberra. Pronounced Can-burr-ah with the emphasis on Can. First...a word about the highway between Sydney and Canberra. That is one dark ride. Once you leave the Sydney area, there are no lights on the highway. The countryside (and I do mean, countryside) is dark. You don't see any lights. No lighted billboards. Not even any houses. Does civilization just end once you leave the city?

We found London Circuit which is the circle that our hotel was on. And in the words of Phil, when we got into the room, "Man what a dump." It wasn't really, but did not exactly look like the pictures on the internet. And "lakeside view" did not apply, though we paid $10 extra for it. The next morning, if you looked really far between the row of trees, you could see glimpses of Lake Burly Griffin. ( idea where that name came from. But it did make me laugh several times.) Hmm...lakeview, indeed.

We passed up the breakfast buffet at the hotel ($26...yeah right) and stopped at a food court at the Canberra Centre on our way to our first stop. The Australian War Memorial.

You walked up the front stairs through a walkway and then came to this.

You can't see it well, but there's an eternal flame at the top of the water pool there. And on the upper level behind all those open windows on each side are two huge walls, called The Roll of Honour, with the names of every Australian who, I think, has died while serving in the military. You see little red poppy flowers pressed into the cracks between sheets of names.

The War Memorial Musuem has sections on WWI, WWII, an aircraft hall, Australia's Unknown Soldier, Anzac hall, and among other exhibits, also a section on Conflicts from 1945 till today. That's where this helicopter the Vietnam section.

Thoroughly enjoyed the whole museum. Could've spent more hours there, but I think my other half had seen all he wanted to see. So alas...I did not get to read every plaque, picture, and display there. But still...was good.On the steps of the War Memorial you can see the old Parliament House (the white building in front) and the new Parliament building (the modern building in the back that looks like it has a big compass on the top of it). Cool view.

We then went to the old parliament building and went on a tour of the building. After that, we drove over to the new parliament building and looked around as well. Saw both the Senate and House of Representative chambers.

We drove back to Sydney tonight. Saw a full rainbow...both ends! Both of us had never seen a full arc before. Also drove through seriously torrential rain and if that wasn't enough, then thru soupy fog. Quite the ride! I white-knuckled through it a few times.

Well, with the time change that happens here tonight, it's now almost midnight. So on that note...
(Note to any callers from the states, we are now 15 hours ahead. Karen, thinking about the call at 5:00 am one morning...especially, take note.) :)