Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One Year Ago...

The time has come! My exams are finished, my last assignment turned in, and the last days of my first year in Australia are in full swing. Stress free and in company of old and new friends; it's the perfect end to a near perfect year- but I'm skipping ahead a bit- let's rewind a few weeks...

To say this last semester has been a struggle would be an understatement. Classes and coursework continually challenged me and final exams were no exception. After 2 weeks of migraine filled studying and late nights of cramming, I completed my final exam on the 28th.Naturally drinks and celebrations were necessary (as I said- we will celebrate nearly anything) and went out to a backpackers bar in the city stuffed full of other uni students celebrating the end of a stressful year.

My friend from back home in the states, Nick, has been studying this past semester in Fiji. His semester ended on the 25th and decided before he made his trek home, he would swing by Sydney and wait to fly home with me. I went to pick him up at the airport last Friday and enjoyed a full hour of watching emotional airport arrivals at the international terminal. At one point tears were rolling down my face as a father ran to greet his 3 young sons- the pure love and emotion was undeniable. Naturally, Nick and I made quite a scene as I yelled and ran to meet him at the gate.

Our week has been filled with many typical Sydney tourist sights and late nights of getting caught up on the past year of our lives. Between showing him my favorite restaurants (pancakes on the rocks and max brenner, of course!) and getting lost in the city due to my awful sense of direction, we have covered nearly every part of the city. We spent a rather full day wandering around Darling Harbor, Circular Quay, the Opera House, and the Royal Botanical Gardens. We topped off the late arvo by taking a ferry to Manly and having a drink while enjoying the sights of the locals ( I think it was just me who enjoyed the surfers...)

The Botanical Gardens

Nick eating at the infamous Max Brenner

As promised- and I would never break a promise to my loyal blog followers, Nick and I successfully went skydiving. After getting up at 4 am, making an hour trek into the city, and another 2 hour trek to North Wollongong, we arrived at the skydive station, put on the most attractive skydiving suits I have ever seen, got fitted for harnesses and then......waited for an hour for our instructors to come back from their previous jump. We then received instructions which I incoherently listened to as I was so nervous and then jumped in a van to make the 15 minute drive to the airport. Literally the longest 15 minutes of my life. We then crammed 16 people into a plane the size of my bedroom and soared up to 14,000 feet over the ocean. The plane door opens, and next thing I know, I am being shoved out of the airplane, in a pure freefall. I honestly cannot describe the feeling or the thoughts that were going through my head- it's only something you can experience to know how it feels. After the free fall, the parachute is  let loss and for about a minute I was floating above the most amazing views I have ever seen. The crashing ocean, the skyline, and city skyscrapers all mashed into a panoramic view. The adrenaline, amazement, and delayed nerves all came rushing to me and I was in total awe of what I had just done. If it wasn't so expensive to skydive, I would hop in the plane tomorrow and do it again. Best experience yet.

North Wollongong

As I prepare to go home for the holidays- it is a bittersweet time. I am more than excited to see my loved ones, and I know that I will be back to Sydney in a short two months, but I know that when I get back, Marianne, my Norwegian flatmate, will have returned to Norway permanently. The bond I have formed with my flatmates during this past year is indescribable and she will truly be missed by all the girls in the house. But, the silver lining- I now have a legitimate excuse to visit Norway- and it will happen in the near future!

Well, this is my last blog post of 2011 and of my first year in Sydney. It has been a great year filled with amazing experiences and wonderful people. Can't wait to see what 2012 brings!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

21 Celebrations

It has reached the month of November- I would normally be snuggling under a blanket, drinking a cup of steaming coffee, pulling out the winter gear, and adding an extra 20 minutes to my morning routine to scrape off my car. But in Sydney it's all about shorts and tank tops, tanning, and having my fan on full blast 24/7. To say I miss air conditioning is an understatement- my room is literally the temperature of an inferno. I suppose I shouldn't whinge too much since I will be back to the cold in the near future...

My regular classes are finished and study mode has commenced. Once again, I'm the last to finish exams, but I can't complain as a celebratory party is in the works straight after I finish. Can't believe my first year is about to be finished- only 2 more to go! I unfortunately took a peek at what my schedule has in store for next year-first year is going to seem like a breeze- lots of required classes and straight into the research aspect of sociology.

My weekends have been filled with 21st birthday celebrations. To say people go all out for this milestone is an understatement. The all important 21st is a huge occasion not to be left un-celebrated. I find it a bit strange as turning 21 in the states entitles you to legally drink, and is much cause for celebration, but here that right is given when you turn 18- so turning 21 does not really change a lot of things. I suppose partying is the aussie way- so any cause to celebrate is necessary.

I'll spare you the details on many of the parties, but the one "classy" party I attended was for my roomie Cleo. Her parents flew in for the occasion and provided a massive spread of food at Blackbird Cafe- a gorgeous restaurant overlooking Darling Harbor. I've mentioned blackbird before because it provides a perfect atmosphere and amazing food. Once again, we were there on a Saturday night and got to see the free Sydney fireworks display.

The countdown is on until my friend Nick arrives in Sydney from Fiji- a little under two weeks! Hopefully I will be a pro tourguide and show him the best of the city. I am especially excited for our extreme adventure- skydiving! Yes, you read right- on November 30th we will be jumping out of a plane at 14,000 feet. I'm absolutely excited now, but as the date approaches, I'm sure I will be terrified! I promise to provide a blog about his visit and of course our extreme adventure!

In honor of all the 21st celebrations happening and the closing of a wonderful year in my life, I thought I would  list 21 things that I have learned/discovered this year...

1. Winter is Sydney is actually winter- not even a true Iowan could survive it without heat!
2. Australian accents do no rub off on me- sadly my accent has rubbed off on my aussie mates...
3. Avocado is not just for guacamole- it goes with nearly everything- absolutely love it now!
4. Sweatpants are acceptable at American universities- and not acceptable under any condition here
5. An umbrella should be in your bag at all times
6. Celsius is my mortal enemy- I don't think I will ever understand it
7. I can cook more than packet pasta
8. It is cheaper to buy shoes online from the US and have them shipped here than to buy a pair of shoes in oz
9. When paying for the bus, always have exact change- drivers are not too fond of 20 dollar notes
10. Simply telling someone you're American skews their view of you, however...
11. Being American gets you free drinks (if you're female that is)
12. Travelling opens your mind- and makes you want to see every corner of the world (Greece July 2012!)
13. Leaving those you love makes you love them even more
14. Skype makes everyone look unattractive- especially since all my Skype sessions occurred right after I had rolled out of bed
15. Napping is just not for old people- the younger generation needs a rest too
16. Flying domestic in Australia is the best- all the liquids you want in your carry on and not taking off my shoes- yes please!
17. Though pay in Australia is high, the cost of living is higher-hello employment!
18. Remember Old Navy flip flops and how perfect they were? Haviana flip flops- or thongs- are 10 times better
19. Living with 4 other girls is not a disaster when you have your own bathroom
20. When in doubt of correct aussie spelling- just add an unnecessary 'u' after any 'o'
21. The future always looks bright when you're in a place you love

Thursday, October 20, 2011

T- minus 45 days

I know I say this nearly every post- but time really does fly! It's the 20th of October- nearly the 21st in a few minutes and I will be flying back to Iowa in 45 days. Assessments turned in, exams completed, and a fresh Sydney tan to complete the year. But let's not skip ahead too fast- here's a few more tidbits on the happenings of October...

We have been a bit of a social house these past few weeks- for a while it was as if we had disappeared off the map.  A mate of all the girls in the house was celebrating her birthday and splurged for a pent house suite apartment for the night. Located on the 73rd floor, ceiling to floor windows offered the most magnificent views of Sydney. The harbor bridge, lights of George Street, and the ocean were included in the panoramic view. The apartment itself was gorgeous, but the views it offered were priceless. Unfortunately we couldn't spend the whole time there, so we naturally went out and had a good time like all uni students know how to do.

The following day a mate and I went on a Catamaran and cruised around Darling harbor for 5 hours. The day was absolutely gorgeous and once again, I got a second chance to take in the views of the ocean and the city. I had never experienced a boat cruise before, but it's definitely something I am keen to do again. Good people, drinks, and music were the perfect combination for the day.

The noodle market is next on our list of excursions. A two week event held in Hyde Park; the noodle market is rows and rows of Thai, Chinese, dumplings, gelato, and many other scrumptious bites. I would compare it to a marathon of eating- start slow and keep going steady. Everything smelled so good and I wanted to have a bite of everything. Going in a group was great because everyone tried everyone else's food so you had a taste of everything. The pad thai, chicken dumplings, and passion fruit chili ice cream were my favorites of the night. So many unique flavors- there was something for everyone! We decided we needed to hit food festivals more often. There's live music, a great atmosphere, and ridiculously cheap food. Everything a poor uni student dreams of!

On a more serious note, these past few weeks have had me really thinking about my journey to Australia and my experiences while here. To say it was a rough road getting to where I am today would be an understatement. I am not for sure if those experiences made me a stronger person, but I am sure that my time here has changed me into someone I want to be. Feeling at peace, at home (sorry mum) is the best gift I could give myself. Moving here gave me that feeling- something I never want to lose. My point in all the emotional rambling is I needed inspiration to kick start my motivation and drive to do something with my life. That inspiration came from a variety of sources but to all who read this (which may only be 2...) be inspired. I want everyone to have the feeling I had when I first moved here and still possess. You all supported me through my worst and best. Passing on the love and inspiration is only a small thank you, but know I want you all to be inspired to do whatever makes you happy, feel whole.

I feel like I should end this on a comical note, but nothing is coming to me. You'll hear back from me soon with more ramblings!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

So long September

Hello All! As I woke up this morning and looked at my calendar, I realized time has flown by and we are nearing the end of September. Which means...1. I'm on mid semester break 2. About 6 weeks of uni left 3. two months until I'm back for the holidays. Thought my loyal blog followers deserved an update- not sure how exciting it will be, but I'll do my best to liven it up!

Uni life...

We'll start with the boring basics. Still trudging along with uni. Since most of my classes are interrelated and in the same faculty, the majority of assessment and paper due dates are within a few days of each either. My first batch of papers was accompanied with many study breaks. Luckily I received a package in the mail with Twizzlers and a season of Entourage to assist my procrastination (Thanks mom and dad!) And right before break I had a second batch of assessments-the dreaded mid-term. But I made it through and am now relaxing in the gorgeous Sydney spring weather.

Another Iowan

Before coming to Macquarie, I met someone through my dad's church that had attended Macquarie for a semester abroad. I found out a few weeks ago that she had decided to move to Sydney and work here for a bit. Of course, we had to meet up as it's not everyday two people from small town Iowa are in Sydney at the same time. After a nice dinner (cookies and cream pancakes- amazing!) I took Kristine back through the uni campus and we came to the conclusion that not much has changed. It was fun hearing about her adventures while on exchange and comparing our experiences.

Conception Day

No worries- it is definitely not what it sounds like! Conception Day is an annual music festival on campus celebrating the founding of our university. It is a legendary day and I have been hearing about it since the day I moved to Sydney. To give you the PG  blog version- the day is started with breakfast made by the village and beverages...and is then continued by party hopping from house to house in the village, all the while still enjoying some adult beverages. Later in the afternoon, everyone trudges to the uni and enjoys some free music by bands that I had never heard of. After the festival, the parties go late into the night. Needless to say, it's a full day event followed by some much needed recovery the following day. Luckily, I have two appropriate pictures to share with you all!

And yes- Conception Day did live up to its status of legendary. A day filled with good friends, good music, and some memories...

Gold Coast 

As it is customary during breaks, a holiday is necessary. Since Bali took a large chunk of change, we decided a short trip to the Gold Coast would be appropriate. Jeannie, Ally, and I headed up to Goldie for a short trip. I had heard so much about the Coast but didn't really know what to expect. After being there for a short 3 days, I absolutely love it. The perfect location and atmosphere; it's typical Australia. We filled our days with shopping and lounging on the beach and made sure to experience the nightlife. Good food, great atmosphere, and even better friends; it was a great trip that I soon won't forget.

The "rapist van" we drove around in

Getting ready to go out

The gorgeous coast

So now I'm back in Sydney with another week of uni holidays left. I should fill my ample free time with getting a head start on assignments, but the pool and all my fall premiere tv shows are calling my name.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Back to School! Back to School!

Unfortunately the time has come for uni to begin again. Something about second semester makes it very difficult to get back into the swing of things. After being alone in the house for the majority of the last few weeks of break, my flatmates returned and we spent ample time catching up with each other and replaying our holiday adventures. After hearing about their treks in Greece, Spain, and New Zealand, I now have many places added to my list of travel plans. After many celebrations of being reunited and relishing every last minute of break- my alarm woke me up bright and early Monday morning (ok 10 am...) and I made the dreaded walk back to the lecture hall; notebook and pen in hand.

I am surprisingly excited about most of this semester's classes. I am taking Human Evolution and diversity, intro to anthropology, sociology of everyday life, and economy and society. Unfortunately economy and society is a required for my major- after attending the first lecture I decided I was really taking econ 101- we'll see how well that class goes. I suppose you have to have one dreaded class each semester.

Naturally, it couldn't be back to school week without a back to school party hosted by our friendly neighborhood uni bar. Adorned in back to school costumes we brought in the new semester with a bang. Unfortunately, no pictures were taken to document this momentous event- but I can assure all of you, we celebrated safely and responsibly...

As I mentioned in previous posts, I am officially an employed uni student (finally!) I started work at our second hand text book store on campus last week and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I discovered our official looking staff uniforms inspire students to ask me many questions about the university, campus, and other administrative details- sadly the biggest help I could be was to give them poor directions to various buildings on campus. I can't complain about the job, as it buys my groceries and pays my bills!

Now that I am an employed student, I thought I deserved a night out in the city to de-stress and forget about work- first weeks are always difficult right?? Actually, we just wanted a girl's night out to have some fun and get out of the village. And we discovered a secret bar! Called Grandma's Bar, it's a hidden place stowed away in the basement of a guitar store. After a difficult half an hour walking around in heels trying to find the place, we finally spotted it and entered into a world of rocking chairs, faded wallpaper, and knitted scarves. Cocktails are served in mugs, rocking chairs replace bar stools, and knitting supplies are set around tables where patrons are welcome to have a go at knitting. Of course, we fell in love with the place and spent way too much money on drinks- but we felt we deserved it!

Enough of my ramblings- I need to attempt to do my readings for class....  Stay tuned for more updates. I will try to liven up my life to create some blog worthy details!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Family Time!

A day after I got back from holidays, my cousin Tawnya who lives in Melbourne, my aunt and uncle, and two of their friends came to Sydney for a few days. They had been visiting Tawnya in Melbourne and couldn't pass up the opportunity to see me (or the city...) Fortunately the weather was amazing while they were here as it can be a bit difficult during winter. After meeting them at Darling Harbour, we took the ferry out to Manly to look around the shops and have lunch. Tawnya and I took them to the restaurant we ate at when I first arrived- the place with the infamous nachos! After taking the ferry back to the harbour, we walked to the Opera House where they went to the Opera Bar and I headed back home.

On the second day, we went to Bondi and trekked from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach- possibly the best views of Sydney. Again, the weather was absolutely gorgeous along with the views the walk offered. This was my first time in Bondi and after visiting, I decided I wanted to live there after I'm done with uni (yes this does mean I'm considering staying) Bondi has a very laid back feel- definitely beach culture. As we walked from Bondi to Coogee, I could just imagine myself running the same trail every morning.

After seeing the group off that afternoon, I had a few days to relax and then it was off to Melbourne to spend a few days with Tawnya and Aunt Jill. When booking flights, I thought it would be a great idea to book a 7 am flight- never doing that again. After arriving, Jill and I went to the Vic market to look around and do some shopping- well she did some shopping- I was too tired to look. By 3 in the afternoon, I was dead tired, so we went back to Tawnya's apartment and waited for her to come home from work. The next day, Jill and I headed to South Melbourne. We first walked along the pier at St. Kilda and had brekkie at a cute restaurant at the end of the pier. Unfortunately the birds got to us, so we quickly left after we were done eating.

St. Kilda Pier

We headed off to South Melbourne- my main goal of the day was to introduce Aunt Jill to Max Brenner- the best chocolate restaurant. She thoroughly enjoyed it and I of course did too. After looking around and doing some shopping, we called it a day and went back to St. Kilda. We were very proud of ourselves for navigating Melbourne's tram system and not getting lost all day (thanks to Tawnya's two pages of directions!) That night we went back to the pier to see the penguins come in from feeding. Unfortunately we had just missed them, but it was still fun to see the pier at night.

Saturday was spent going into the city- or "into town" as Aunt Jill referred to it- to see the laneways. Off the main streets are alley ways packed with shops and restaurants. One particular laneway boasted graffit covering every inch (or cenimeter...) of the walls. Walls are constantly being repainted. In fact, while we were there, an artist was spray paining one of the sections.

Sunday was spent going to the South Melbourne market then lounging around all day- something Tawnya needed after being a tour guide for the past two weeks! Melbourne is a really great city, and it was amazing to finally see another part of Australia. Although, I have to say I prefer Sydney to Melbourne. I think if I lived in Melbourne, I would gain about 20 kilos- the food there is so good! Especially the sweets- cupcakes and macaroons.

I have about 2 weeks left of break, then uni starts back up. Stay tuned for second semester!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Holiday in Bali!

Hello all! I've been waiting to write this blog as I knew I would have so much to tell you all! First, I have officially completed half a year of university! After finishing up classes, I had three weeks off to "study" for my exams. Unfortunately I was the last person in the house to finish my exams so this made focusing a bit difficult. I finished up on the 21st of June and at 5 am the next morning, Ally and I were jetting off to Bali for a two week holiday. Being an international uni student, it is nearly a requirement that you travel as everyone goes home for the month break or travels to different places. We thought Bali would be the perfect place to get away from the cold and just relax after the first semester of uni.

After a long flight- our flight path was a bit strange as the airline sent us to Singapore first then back to Indonesia-we made it off the plane and to our luggage. These two men who looked like airport officials immediately came up to us, led us to our luggage, and helped us through customs and security. We thought this was nice but didn't think much of it as they looked like officials. As soon as we got out of the airport, they demanded we gave them money or they would keep our luggage. Apparently they prey on naive looking tourists (us) to get some money. We only had large sums of aussie dollars and were forced to give them $20 Aussie dollars which is equal to around 200,000 rupiah- an amount that could probably buy 6 large meals. We immediately decided we were going to be hassled a lot and had to be a bit more cautious.

Our first week was spent in Legian- Near Kuta, the heart of Bali . Our hotel was amazing and we received a free room upgrade since we checked in very late- still doesn't make sense but we didn't complain! Our room had a private balcony that overlooked a river and offered beautiful views in the morning- if we made it up in time to see.

Ally and I wanted to make sure we spent plenty of time relaxing by the pool and beach- we had just completed a stressful semester of uni! But we managed to drag ourselves away from the water and do a lot of touristy stuff around Bali. Our first adventure was driving up to Ubud, having breakfast on a volcano, and then taking a  2 1/2 hour bike tour around the town. We stopped at a family compound and toured that, drove through a rice paddy- where I fell in- and saw the back roads of the city. Our tour guide had so much information about the culture of Bali and we really enjoyed this.

Breakfast on the volcano

A rice paddy

Our next activity was visiting an interactive zoo. We were most excited about this, but after going out the night before and getting stuck in a 3 hour traffic jam, the trip quickly turned sour. After taking a ride through the "safari" to see different animals, we spent an hour in line waiting to hold a baby orangutan- definitely worth the wait. I then convinced Ally to hold a python- she is deathly afraid of snakes. Last, we fed and petted a mother elephant and her baby.

Our next adventure was to Uluwatu to see the famous temple and see the sunset. We were warned there were many monkeys wandering around that liked to take loose items from tourists- and they would also jump on you. The views were absolutely gorgeous as the sun set over the ocean. The temple provided the perfect spot to see it. Unfortunately the monkeys really got to us and we left shortly after sunset.

Our last adventure of the trip was whitewater rafting on the Ayung river- filled with class 3+ rapids- we wanted the adventure! This was probably my favorite activity we did in Bali. For 3 hours we fought our way through the river- encountering minor problems...Ally and I were placed with a couple from Australia. The man was a bit on the bigger side and at one point, got flipped over on his back on top of Ally and me when we hit a rock. We later compared him to a turtle stuck on his back who couldn't get flipped back around. Our tour guide had a good laugh over the whole scene.

Our trip to Bali was two weeks and we wanted to stay two different places to see more of the country. Our second week was spent in Nusa Dua. Nusa Dua is known for its resorts and beaches as it is far away from the hustle of Kuta. It was nice to see a different part of the country and get away from the city, but we quickly realized it was a bit inconvenient when we wanted to go out at night- our cab rides were a bit pricey! While in Nusa Dua we took the water and went jet skiing and snorkeling. Our jet ski instructors really hated us by the end as Ally and I just wanted to race instead of listening to their instructions. We also visited Dreamland beach- a surfers paradise. My plan was to try and surf, but the tide was extremely high and the surf was really rough, so I guess I will have to save that for sometime else. We enjoyed laying out and adding to our tans.

View from our resort in Nusa Dua

After spending a week in luxury, it was time to head back home. We really enjoyed our time in Bali, but we were ready to get back to our own beds, normal food, and drinkable tap water.

A few things we noticed about Bali:
1. The swastika is everywhere. We learned on our bike tour in has to do with their Hindu religion
2. Spirituality is very prevalent in Bali. Religion is highly respected and nearly every aspect of their lives revolves around religion
3. Only Australians go to Bali- I was a bit of celebrity being from the states
4. Vendors will do about anything to sell you their products. After the first day I was tired of having to yell "no thank you!" as I walked down the street
5. Many Asians asked to take pictures with Ally and I. A couple times we caught them snapping pictures of us without asking
6. Balinese food is very bland- it mostly consists of fried rice. That got old quickly
7. Bintang is literally the only beer sold in Bali- once again, that got old quickly

After returning from paradise back to reality, I was offered a job at the campus store- and of course I quickly accepted! I will start the first week in August as a sales representative at the store. The made me and my depleted bank account very happy.

This post is getting a bit long so I will wrap it up. Coming very soon- my aunt and uncle's visit to Sydney and my visit to Melbourne to see my aunt and cousin!