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!

1 comment:

ElizaBeth said...

Dude, take me with you next time... that all sounds amazing, and I love the descriptions of the food. Is it lunch time yet??