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!