Sunday, February 20, 2011

Australia Part II

Between visiting a friend I haven't seen in 5 years, being in a new and glorious country (and continent), and not being in Korea, there is a lot I want to write about. Too much, actually. So instead I'll stick to lots of pictures and a run-down of the awesome second week.

We got back to Melbourne Friday night fairly tired after a long drive and detours due to the recent floods, plus Friday evening city traffic. So we picked up some burritos (mine tofu asada with shredded beet, among many other things) and microbrews and called it a night.

Saturday morning we rode bikes to an awesome Environmental and Sustainability Education center called CERES to check out their Farmer's Market. Local produce, artisan wares, fresh bread, community pea patches, health products, nurseries, a bike shop, and a retail garden spot are just parts of what the center does. Here the market checkout is under grape vines.Signs told where the produce came from, how far it was, and if that crop had been affected by the recent storms and floods. We got lots of fruits and veggies, including the biggest bunch of silver beet (American: swiss chard) I've ever bought. Like a small child could hide behind it.

It was a lovely weekend of rest, laundry, bike rides, vintage port, meals with friends, and playing with Scott's nephews.

On Monday we did a day trip just outside Melbourne to the Healesville Sanctuary where we saw a birds of prey show, emus, wallabies, many other birds, and this guy, sleeping because it was daytime. Can you name this nocturnal marsupial?
That right! It's a Tasmanian Devil! And a koala, dutifully eating eucalyptus for the tourists.
On our way back, we went wine tasting in the Yarra Valley Wine region and found a delicious Pinot Noir to take home.
On Tuesday...Road trip Number 2! This time, instead of the coast, we headed inland north and west to Hall's Gap in the Grampian National Park.
This is the cabin where we stayed, a vacation home of one of Scott's friends. It sat by itself in a huge field, the only house off this dirt road.

Scott looks unsure about his gin and tonic, but really, it was delicious. We also were very committed to finishing our epoisse and silver beet. The sky was big, and there were so many cockatoos and lorikeets, the sound was exuberantly cacophonous all day and night.

The next day we were ready for a big hike. We had spent all this time the night before pouring over the perfect trail to do in our one day, and when we got to the trail head bright and early, we found this sign:

It was quite disappointing, but luckily we also saw kangaroos, including my first joey up close, and even nursing from the pouch! So it was a decent consolation.

We also found a couple other trails that were open, and still did a decent hike on the outer east side of the park.

Oh, didn't I mention my Outback hat? On our drive in, Scott and I stopped for a lunch picnic and realized we had forgotten our sun hats. We were in a small town, and decided to pick up some ridiculous but very functional hats.
After the hike we drove into the park farther, and an emu ran in front of the car! Then we saw some Aboriginal rock art that is like 20,000 years old!
The next day we had to leave the lovely cabin, and tried to get an early start on the road, but... the car battery was dead. Lights left on. Remember that whole "only house on the dirt road" thing? Yeah, we had to hike out to the main road and flag down a car for a jump start, but it was a nice walk and we were back on the road after not too long.
We drove to Bendigo, which is Scott's hometown, enjoying a vibrant blue sky and big clouds all along the way.
In Bendigo I loved seeing Scott's mom's awesome garden and beautifully restored, over 100-year-old house. We walked around the city and drank our flat whites (what they call lattes) before doing the last leg of the road trip.
We did some beer tasting at Scott's favorite brewery, which was delicious. On the beer menu/explanations, they really revered PNW breweries and even used Cascade hops in one of their beers!
We got back to Melbourne in time for a sushi dinner, then rode bikes in the warm but torrential summer rain to get gelato. I wish I could say more, but for now just a quick picture tour, and back to Korea. It was a wonderful, wonderful trip and I really hope to go back some day.

Monday, February 14, 2011


G'day mate! I wanted to write sooner, but it turns out there is a lot less time to blog when you are traveling instead of working in an office. I've been in Australia for about a week and a half, and to sum it up simply: it's been amazing.

First of all, I had a bit of reverse culture shock from not being in Korea. I could understand what people were saying (most of the time anyway, haha) and it felt like I was eavesdropping on everyone since they were speaking ENGLISH. I mean, the guy next to me at baggage claim was talking to Sarah on the phone and making dinner plans for 6:30, mundane information that I marveled at since I could actually understand it. Also, I feel strange wearing shoes in houses and not using two hands to give things to people. I want to use Korean words and eat kimchi. It is so strange to be in a country that is NOT Korea after a year, I can't help but comment on it constantly. When talking to my friend Scott, I started just abbreviating "In Korea..." to "I.K." to preface my sentences. The good thing about it is that I think I will have a much shorter adjustment period when I get back to the US and not bore my friends with my running commentary.

The second most striking thing about being here is that it is summer, wild glorious abundant warm summer. It's been an explosion of sunny bike rides, fresh fruit, basil pesto, garden tomatoes, wide-open roses, blooming agapanthus. But that said, while it definitely feels like summer, the weather has been CRAZY. You probably heard about the massive flooding in Queensland (up north) a few weeks ago. It wasn't anywhere near Melbourne, and I figured it would be long passed by the time I got here. But then a cyclone hit the day after I arrived! So there has been a lot of rain, some cloudy days, some cool nights, but overall it's been warm and lovely weather, if varied.

I arrived on Thursday morning to be collected by Scott at the airport, a dear friend who I haven't seen in nearly 5 years. He's Australian and I've wanted to visit him for a long time, but the timing never worked out until now. We got to his car in the airport parking lot, and I stood waiting for him to unlock the door. "Are you going to drive?" he asked. "No way, not right now anyway!" I responded indignantly. "Well, you're standing at the driver side door," he informed me. I walked around the car sheepishly, reminding myself that even though it wasn't Korea, it was still a new country to me.

I had told Scott that after living in Korea for 11 months, I really missed cheese and other Western food, so we started 'Project Eat Foods I've Been Missing' immediately. We stopped for breakfast at a cute European-feeling cafe with one wall open to the sidewalk and I had poached eggs with prosciutto and pecorino on organic sourdough bread. I almost died with happiness. Then we jumped on bikes and headed into central Melbourne via nice residential streets and bike paths and parks.
We stopped at a French bakery for a baguette, and Victoria Market for cheese and some produce before winding our way through downtown and to the Royal Botanic Gardens. By then the morning mist had changed to a brilliant afternoon sun, and we picnicked in the shade on fruit salad, bread, chevre, a gloriously aged and insanely stinky epoisses (soft cows milk cheese), quince paste, and French country cider. We rode toward home slowly, stopping to watch crew practice in the river, an impromptu salsa lesson on the sidewalk, and the sun glittering on the buildings. It was Chinese New Year and we heard a parade and drums in Chinatown. Back at his house we had a dinner of roast chicken, quinoa salad (also seriously missed) with veggies and feta, and more cheese before I had to collapse into bed in a jet-lagged/dairy stupor.

The next morning we left on a road trip up to Sydney. It's almost 9oo kilometers, so was an all-day drive. The weather was absolutely wacko as it would intermittently dump torrents of rain then clear up. Even from the car on the freeway, we saw a lot of birds and had fun identifying them between Scott's great IDing skills and a bird field guide. I also DROVE ON THE LEFT for my first time! I thought the freeway would be a good place to start, since you just drive in a straight line and don't have to turn or interact with other cars. It is hard to completely adjust to doing everything on the opposite side- road, steering wheel, gear-shift, blinkers- but also a fun challenge.

We got to Scott's friend Jill's house in Sydney well after dark, but it was still hot and swelteringly humid after the on-and-off rain all day. She was incredibly hospitable and sat us down to a cold gin and tonic (with extra lime for me, also much-missed in Korea) and homemade miso-walnut yakisoba with seaweed.

The purpose of going to Sydney this particular weekend was for Scott to participate in a Bike Polo tournament. It's a fairly new sport as these things go, and is exactly what it sounds like- teams of 3 ride bikes on a hard court surface and use mallets to hit a ball into their respective goals at opposite sides of the court. I had never seen a game, or heard of it before Scott mentioned it, though apparently it was started in SEATTLE!
Besides watching Bike Polo in the neighborhood park, I also took the bus downtown to see the Opera House, Harbor Bridge, Botanical Gardens, and Contemporary Art Museum. It was all enjoyable, but nearing on miserably, horribly, hot. It was 42 degrees Celsius that day, which is about 107 Fahrenheit. It's hard to think straight, much less MOVE, on days like that. Scott and I returned to Jill's at the end of the day limp, sweaty, brain-dead, yet content remnants of our former selves. She again cared for us with cold showers, icy drinks, and a couscous cranberry salad with fresh herbs and smoked trout.
The next day was Coogee Beach, a beautiful beach for right in the middle of city. We got a good dip in before the lifeguards issued a high wind warning over the loud speakers. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later, a vicious wind swept in pelting sand on the beach-goers, and nearly blowing our fish and chips off the table. The day cooled off so much that by the time we watched the Polo Finals, we were wrapped in sarongs and blankets against the chill and drizzle.
On Monday we said goodbye to dear Jill, and headed off on the return road trip. Our plan was to take a different route back to Melbourne, this time taking 5 days to return along the coast. There are numerous beaches, cute towns, national parks, camping areas, etc. along that whole stretch. The first day we made it Wollongong, then stopped to do some hiking before finding our camping spot in Budderoo National Park for the night.

Over the next few days, we drove at a leisurely pace, stopping often and sharing the driving time, so I slowly got more comfortable on the left side of the road. There were a few spatters of rain, but for the most part it was warm and beautiful every day.

We also had GREAT music to listen to. In January, I requested friends to send mixed CD's for our road trip, and I received music via mail to Korea, Australia, and internet. So a BIG shout-out and thank-you to Tegan, Jon & Angela, Leandra, Cherie, Rebecca, Katie & Alan, Ally, and Alice for being so thoughtful, sharing great tunes, and helping provide a soundtrack to the gorgeous scenery.

We saw kookaburras sitting in old gum trees,
beaches with caves,
went square-dancing in a small town after seeing a random flier, and were the youngest people there by 30 years or more, and despite being outsiders were warmly received and Scott even won candy in an elimination dance competition,
walked along beaches,
tromped through sulfuric, beautiful, muddy estuaries,
toured a cave with stunning stalagmites and stalactites,
drove through dairy country which was velvety green from the recent rains, and bought local, artisan(yes, more) cheese,
spotted lots of birds like these rainbow lorikeets, plus cockatoos, galahs, eagles, wattle birds, and many more,
saw my first kangaroos up close,
went swimming at surprisingly tropical-looking beaches like at Jervis Bay National Park,
took a dip in an ocean swimming pool,
and hiked to waterfalls.
On our last night before returning to Melbourne, we stayed with some of Scott's family friends in Orbost. We had picked up local seafood in a coastal town called Eden, and kept it on ice in the Esky (Australian word for 'cooler'). That night we had cheese, crackers, garden cherry tomatoes, raw oysters, and white wine before a dinner of whole grilled Trevally (fish) cooked on the barbie, with potato wedges, salad, and champagne... such a lovely evening with good company. Overall, it was definitely a gorgeous, relaxing road trip that I feel so lucky to have been able to take. There's so much more to say about Australia and this trip, but for now I'm off, and will write more soon!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

New Country for the New Year

This Wednesday, in the USA, is Groundhog Day. But in much of Asia, it's the beginning of the lunar New Year holiday. In Korea, New Year's Day is on Thursday, and it's called Seollal or 설날, and it's one of their biggest traditional holidays. Like Korean Thanksgiving, it's a 3-day event so that people have one day to travel to their hometown, one day to celebrate, and one day to get home. People spend time with their family, eat particular traditional foods such as tteokguk, a soup with sliced rice cake which is eaten for good luck. Some people wear the traditional hanbok outfit and play games like yutnori and jegi chagi. It would be interesting to experience Seollal while I'm here, but I have different plans.

I haven't taken my winter vacation yet, so tomorrow I am leaving for Australia! I can't quite describe how excited I am to go to the southern hemisphere where it is SUMMER. I will stay with my dear friend Scott who I haven't seen in years, and we already have the 2 weeks fairly mapped out. I fly into Melbourne where he lives, and then we will take a roadtrip to Sydney. Recently in the Lonely Planet online newsletter, they named this Southeastern part of Australia as one of the world's Ultimate Driving Holidays.

Okay, gotta get packing!