I am appalled, if not entirely surprised, at my lack of posting in December…However I suppose that this is what the New Year is about–starting fresh, trying again, vowing to improve this time around. 2009 is an important year and it is one for which I have been waiting and also dreading a tiny bit. And yet, true to form, I am getting ahead of myself. I must begin this first post of a new year by reviewing important events that occurred last year.
The last time I wrote, I had just left CoffsHarbour after a two week adventure with Morgan and Mom had just arrived in Brisbane for a 17-day adventure with me. It was an excellent time hanging out with Mom for two weeks. She loves Australia declared once we had been in Cairns for a few days that she could retire in this country. Usually Dad is the one that comes up with the exotic retirement plans. I guess the tables do tend to turn eventually. 🙂 Brisbane with Mom ended up being really fun! We explored the University of Queensland, went out on the boat with Max and Merna, had some meals with Morgan, went up Mt. Coot-tha to enjoy the city view, rode the ferry on the Brisbane river, experienced the new Ferris wheel on South Bank, and ate some excellent food. The bed and breakfast in which we stayed was managed by a couple whose names were Garth and Anastasia. They use the B&B as a source of income while actually running their own soap company! It was cool to get to know them and the B&B turned out to be very comfortable and convenient, if not entirely luxurious. The only disappointment was being unable to visit the XXXX Brewery on our final day because the whole thing was booked out. Not to be daunted by unexpected plot twists, Mom and I returned to South Bank where we happened to walk by the Queensland State Library which was hosting an exhibit called Game On which was basically a couple of rooms devoted to recording the history of video games. They had everything there from Pong to Super Mario Brother to the Wii. It was pretty awesome and Mom and I decided we just had to go in! I wished that Rey was there or the boys from home in order to fully appreciate the spectacle that we witnessed, because not only did it record the history of the video game, you actually got to play your way through it. I think my favorite was Space Invaders on the console that looks like a tabletop.
So Brisbane ended very well and our flight to Sydney on Friday morning was pretty uneventful. We got to the B&B in Sydney without any trouble and that turned out to be fancier than we had even imagined. It was really nice, in a great location right in The Rocks and included a full, hot breakfast, made to order, every morning. Mom and I hit all the markets in Sydney from The Rocks Markets, to the ones in the suburb of Glebe, to the ones in Manly which were across the river. The first night we were in Sydney, my friend Daniel, who is a fine singer, was performing with his father at the Bondi Junction RSL. RSL stands for Retired Servicemen’s League, so it’s generally for Australian war veterans. You can imagine what the crowd might have looked like and I swear the door of the RSL had tighter security than the CairnsAirport. Mom and I took the bus and as soon as we rocked up to the door there were about three guys asking if they could help us. We had to sign up as temporary members and show ID in order to get in, but once we did we got a glass of wine and sat back to enjoy the performance. The show was geared for the crowd but the music was good and Daniel dedicated "New York State of Mind" to Mom and me. At the break in their show they chatted with us a little as they walked down the street to get food. It was a good way to spend the first night in Sydney in a way because it was unconventional, un-touristy and quite laid back. We had dinner at a restaurant that I’d only give two stars but it was there when we needed it. We then took the bus back to the city and prepared for the next day.
The Saturday in Sydney we spent Marketing and we had dinner at this fantastic little place that was recommended to us by Nicola in Newtown. Newtown, I might have mentioned before, is a very cool little area that is home to a thriving student population and gay community. There are bookstores that are open late to accommodate the crowds that stay out at the restaurants and bars. Mom and I didn’t stick around too much though because we planned to go see a movie that night at the Dendy theatre in Circular Quay, which is the area where the opera house is. We saw the new Woody Allen movie: Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It has Javier Bardem (who I think is adorable), Penélope Cruz and Scarlett Johansen in it and it was very good. Mom and I enjoyed it even if it did make for rather a late night.
On the Sunday we went to Manly to see the beach but we did not go in the water. Sydney was not that warm actually, so we did not do very many hot-weather things and we even used our long sleeves a little bit. It wasn’t cold though (she says thinking of the weather she is about to encounter in New Jersey) so we had a great time. We ended up having to go back to Manly a second time because we left a bag with a Christmas present for Mike and Lizanne at the BierGarden where we had a lovely lunch. It was alright and we actually got to see the harbor twice! It is a very lovely harbor. And we took pictures of the opera house from various angles as well as walking a little ways in the Botanical Gardens that lie to one side. It was a lovely afternoon and we enjoyed excellent burgers for dinner right near our B&B. The next day we were leaving for Cairns so we made it an early night.
Cairns greeted us with its usual smack in the face of humidity. It hits you as you get off the plane every time. I was very excited, but my excitement was momentarily replaced by confusion as the terminal spit us out in unfamiliar airport territory. I had flown into the Cairns airport twice before during this semester and still construction had changed it so much that I had to step outside to figure out where I was. While I was getting my bearings, I heard Mom talking to someone. In the three seconds that I was outside the door, Mom and Lizanne had met each other and introduced themselves. As with most of the people to whom I introduced Mom, it was as if they had already met. Mom had seen pictures of everyone and everyone had seen pictures of Mom so there was almost no need for introduction. We relaxed for most of the afternoon and waited for Michael to come home. Dinner was simple and tasty and afterward we all went to see a performance at the Cairns Civic Theatre. Lizanne had gotten tickets to see Tripod–an Australia cabaret group. They’re a comedy troupe that sings…in tune…most of the time 🙂 It was great fun. Their performance was based around the Christmas album they just cut of mock-Christmas carols. A lot of the humor was very Australian and it was a great thing to do because we were among locals and Mom got a real taste for Aussie culture I think. It was pretty concentrated and definitely not what you’d see every day, e.g. the guys were drinking on stage, which is definitely illegal, but it was a far cry from Mick Dundee and the Crocodile Hunter stereo types. It was an excellent choice of a cultural activity.
I did, however, make a point to take Mom to do some of the requisite tourist attractions in Cairns when we would have people to drive us around a little bit, less jet lag and less famous monuments to see. I took her to RainforeStation which is a place a little outside of Cairns in a place called Kuranda where you can go for a river ride in an old WWII army duck, pat kangaroos, see an aboriginal culture presentation, play a didgeridoo, throw a boomerang and roam around a tropical fruit orchard, all in one go! I thought this was the best way to do those sorts of things because it gets them out of the way and is actually cheaper if you go for the package deal. We made it double productive by taking something called the Kuranda Scenic Railway up the mountain to Kuranda. This is the railway that used to be used for mining and stuff, but is now a tourist activity. Every now and then a voice comes over the speaker system on the train, which, I believe, uses the original, though refurbished, cars, and tells you about the history of the railway. On this ride you go over the Barren River and past the Barren Falls, which are not that full of water, although I am told that if you are on the train when the falls are going full tilt you are liable to get wet. The best part of our train ride was that before we even boarded I ran into Cassie, a friend from my semester at CairnsStateHigh School. Turns out she was working in Gold Class on the train and she invited us to sit in a Gold Class car instead of the regular one for which we bought tickets. Mom and I suspect that the car is generally set aside on days when the train isn’t full so that employees can bump up their friends. Mom and I got sparkling wine and macadamia nuts that were left over once the other Gold Class passengers got their morning tea. The seats were way more comfortable and we had fans which are not present in the other "sweat boxes" which is how Cassie described the regular carriages on the train. So all in all, Mom and I lucked out.
Kuranda is a cute little town that apparently closes around 3:30. After our jaunt in RainforeStation and lunch in town, everyone sort of started shutting up. We went over to the Skyrail which annoyed us (mostly me) with its incompetent communication skills and non-existent directions. Skyrail is a cable car that goes above the rainforest. Cairns has a really special environment because the rainforest comes right down to meet the sea shore. It’s amazing to see it from the air and Mom and I actually had pretty good visibility in spite of the rain clouds that kept gliding in and out. That’s the other thing about life in the tropics–it’s nice to get wet when it rains. I never use my umbrella here. It was a long day, but I’m glad we did it because then we could just concentrate on family time at home.
The 24th, Christmas Eve, was a productive day of last-minute chores. The plan for Christmas was basically just food with various friends. A family came over to our house for dinner bringing their son, who used to be ten when I was here before and for whom I used to baby-sit!!! The kid was taller than me (ha ha ha, yeah I know it isn’t hard to achieve) and he was quite cheeky. We all had a great laugh together as we talked about all manner of things. The night ended with me teaching everyone how to play dreidel, telling the story of Chanukah (the real one and the fictional one) and we ate all the chocolate money I purchased from Coles that day. It was a lovely night that ended after 12, so it was already Christmas day when we went to bed.
We all slept in a little the next day. The rest of the presents were opened–Mom had already given Michael the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Lizanne her bracelet that Mom made. We had a few other things to give out and Mike and Lizanne gave us gifts too! I got a VERY cute kangaroo puppet that went through many names even after Mom took him home in her suitcase. We finally settled on Javier, Javi for short. Mom doesn’t even know about that yet. Javi, my kangaroo puppet. 🙂 Kangaroos became something of a theme running through my Christmas gifts. Lizanne also picked me out a gorgeous bracelet that matches a set of earrings they had given to me for one of my birthdays a couple of years ago. The day was a lazy one and I worked on the cards that I wanted to give to my neighbors, Harmina, Graeme, Nicola, Nigel and Margot, when we went to their house that night for Orphan’s Christmas. It wasn’t such an Orphan’s Christmas because all the kids were home and their significant others came as well. Usually what happens at my neighbors’ house is they invite anyone in the area that has no where to go for Christmas and have a giant dinner with random company. This one was mostly family and close friends. Mike and Lizanne brought starters and Harmina made a fantastical feast complete with about 1000 desserts. We gave them all Christmas gifts as well and they gave Mom her first ever sarong so she could feel truly tropical. I got a small kangaroo ornament wearing a Santa hat, and a t-shirt with a design by a famous Australian clothing artist of kangaroos bouncing past. It’s pretty cool and I’ve always liked it when I’ve seen it in stores. We went home thoroughly full and happy after an evening of socializing.
The 26th was our reef day. We had fantastic weather but the visibility on the reef turned out to be bad. Also, I forgot my sea sickness wrist thingies and got sea sick. It was bad and it made me not really want to snorkel much. I did a little though and I saw a giant clam. As I said, it was pretty hard to see anything really but Mom seemed to have a lot of fun snorkeling around while I chilled on the sand bar type thing that is Michaelmas Cay. It is also a bird sanctuary, so there are birds everywhere to look at. The boat we went out on had upgraded our ticket because the excursion for which we had actually signed up was canceled for that day. It was great; we got lunch and equipment, snacks and a semi-sub tour. I slept for most of the way back to Cairns so that I wouldn’t get sick again. Mom and I went to The Red Ochre for a dinner of Australian foods. That means food indigenous to and/or grown exclusively in Australia. I think that is up there with the best all round meal we had. We went to the night markets after that and did the majority of our souvenir shopping. The next couple of days was dedicated to suitcase sorting and getting things for people. Then on the 29th we went up to Port Douglas on the bus.
Port Douglas is about an hour north of Cairns and you really go up there for the drive. The road up goes right along the coast so you’re staring out at the Pacific the whole way. Once you get to Port Douglas there are cute shops, a beach, a harbor, and many things to do…if you leave. It’s a base for getting to DaintreeNational Park and/or Mossman Gorge. It’s beautiful habitat up there but Mom and I did not have enough time to really do it. We spent the night in a hotel right in town which meant we had more freedom than we did in Cairns because we could get places without being driven. We went into all the shops and galleries around and when everything closed and the day started cooling off (it was HOT) we window-shopped so we would know where we wanted to go the next day. The next day we got up relatively early to go for a walk on the beach, but here in Queensland, the sun gets up way earlier than mortals do, so it was already really hot while we were walking around. We had breakfast by the beach after a short walk though and made plans to meet some of my college friends for lunch later in the day. Then we visited all the places we had mapped out the night before. We found some lovely keepsakes all over the place and I got to do one more money transfer.
It was good to see my college friends again. My two neighbors from college, Jelena and Ditte were there along with Aileen. Jelena lives in Port and Ditte and Aileen were staying with her for a week. Jelena’s mum came too and we had a lovely girl’s lunch out. I arranged to come back up to Port later in the week to spend more time with the girls before Aileen went back to Brisbane and Ditte went back to Denmark. Mom and I finished up just in time to get back to the hotel to wait for the bus…which was late…but which, nevertheless, got us back to Cairns extremely quickly. When Mom and I got on the bus we discovered that were two of three females on it. The rest were sunburned Australians that looked a lot like a cricket team. It was hilarious to see all those Australian men on what was essentially a tourist shuttle, but since the Cairns bus system is abysmal and does not send regular city buses up to Port, I suppose most Australians find those services pretty convenient. Some older Italians replaced a few of the Cricketers and at one point started babbling excitedly about some "canguri" that they noticed by the side of the road. "Canguri" is Italian for Kangaroos and I understood a lot of what they were staying. I translated a bit for Mom later. They started debating the difference between a kangaroo and a wallaby. "They are the same!’ "No, no, no! A wallaby is smaller! A kangaroo is very tall! Even taller than a man!" It was cute.
Mom was leaving early the next day, as it happens, on the same flight as Nicola from down the street. On the way out of Port Douglas we went to the grocery store and got a DVD for free! It was some Christmas movie with Susan Sarandon and Penélope Cruz, and since we couldn’t take it home, wemade a point to watch it while Mom put the finishing touches on her scrapbook. It was a weird movie and it made us go to bed pretty late. We only got three hours of sleep after we had everything ready to go. When the alarm went off at 4am on New Year’s Eve Day it was hard to drag ourselves out of bed, especially after it was clear that there was a monsoon going on outside. Still, we collected ourselves and got ready for Harmina to drive by and pick us up. I decided it would be sensible to just wear my bathing suit under my clothes. I was going to get wet anyway. Everyone thought that was half funny, half intelligent. Hahaha. In spite of the torrential rain, Mom’s flight went off without a hitch. You’re still allowed to see your guests through to the gate at the CairnsDomesticAirport, though I’m told at the international one you are not. I’ve never flown international out of Cairns. But it was great for us because we sat around together, mothers and daughters, until the last boarding call. I had to say goodbye to Nicola there. I do not know when I will see her again, although there is no doubt in my mind that I will. So that’s good. It was sad though, there at the CairnsAirport, watching her go. I told Mom I’d see her again in no time flat. Then Harmina took me home where I relaxed and read until it was time to go begin the New Year’s Eve festivities.
Skye picked me up and brought me to Amanda’s apartment in the city. Amanda, her friend Clare, and I were all going to a Cairns Taipans basketball game, which, as it turns out, may have been the last one ever! The Taipans lost, but it was a close game! The team lost its sponsorship this year so it might not continue playing. The game was a good idea though because tickets were not expensive and it passed the time that otherwise tends to drag until midnight. We got out at 9pm and we back to the apartment to make dinner. Then we went out and got to the Lagoon just in time to see the fireworks. It was pretty and amazing to see Cairns so alive. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it as lively as that. We tried to get cocktails at the Casino afterward, but the lines were too long, so we went back and went to bed. I was tired, but 2009 rang in very well.
The next day we slept late, watched The Rage in Placid Lake, an Australian movie that I have always loved, and then we went for coffee. I went to Woolworth’s and took a cab back to sleep a little, relax a little and wait for Mike and Lizanne to get home. They had a good time in Brisbane seeing family but I was happy to have them back. On the second day of the year I didn’t do much of anything. I was reading Memoirs of a Geisha, so I kept doing that and enjoyed myself. I went for a walk and a swim and arranged with Amanda that the next day she and Clare would pick me up on the way to Port Douglas. I would spend the day with them walking around and then stay after they decided to go home in order to spend a couple of night’s at Jelena’s house. It was hot in Port again. Jelena’s house had a pool and lovely parents. Mark, Jelena’s dad, agreed to take us out to some of the islands off the shore in the boat early the next day. We got off early and meant to come back early but ended up spending the whole day walking around and snorkeling on the reef around Low Isles. It was seriously cool because there were sea turtles swimming around and we were so close we probably could have touched them. I enjoyed snorkeling with the girls and Mark way more than I have ever enjoyed snorkeling before. And I remembered my wrist things this time so I did not get sea sick. 🙂 Jelena had an underwater digital camera, so I’ll be able to post some amazing pictures. The sea turtle was very exciting, but I like the clams the best. If you make a current go past them or touch them, they’ll snap closed. Not like in the cartoons or anything, but they move and it’s pretty cool. They are the coolest shade of bright purple sometimes too. I love them.
The day on the reef was exhausting but rewarding and we all watched The Holiday that night for a girly movie and I fell asleep before anyone else. Hahah. The next morning we had pancakes for breakfast and then walked around Port Douglas a bit. I have it memorized by now, I’m sure. Then we had to take Aileen to the airport to make her flight at 4. We waited with her until she boarded and then went into Cairns so that Ditte could finish souvenir shopping at the Night Markets. It was quite a productive day and after we were done with that we got ingredients to make a salad and went back to my house to make it. Lizanne was feeling ill and Mike didn’t get back until late but the girls met them both. It was a very pleasant evening and Jelena and Ditte really liked just chilling in the house. We were all tired though I think. I know I was. The girls had a drive back to Port ahead of them, though they were welcome to stay over. Ditte leaves tomorrow though so they needed to get back. I’ve been having trouble sleeping when I’m by myself. I keep reflecting on the year that is behind me and letting my mind wander over the people I’ve met and places I’ve seen. I guess now that I’m essentially at home my mind is at rest enough to start buzzing through all those memories. I finally do not have to look very far ahead to see where I will be and what I will be doing next. I got to sleep eventually though.
And that brings us to today. I didn’t do anything today and yet I was productive. I finished my book, started a new one: Breath by Tim Winton, went for a walk and a swim and made a to-do list for tomorrow. I’m going to do odds and ends tomorrow which include a little reading at James Cook University Library for my thesis. Then I’m going to the mall to pick up some bits and pieces there. I have very few loose ends to tie up, but tie them I must. I have a few people I’d like to see, some clothes to sort through in order to decide what to give away and what is damaged enough to scrap, I have to do some washing so I’m not packing dirty clothes and I have to make sure I have all the souvenirs that I need to bring home. I don’t need much more. Especially now that Billy informs me that Tim Tams are being sold at Target in the US. I’m bringing some home anyway. I’ve also looked into my flights a little. I’m going back through Singapore to London to New York on my way home. I have the longest layover in Singapore, which is GREAT because Changi airport is reportedly fantastic. I am planning on going for a swim, soaking in the Jacuzzi and taking a shower. You pay one thing and you get access to the pool, Jacuzzi and showers, you get a towel and you get a complimentary, non-alcoholic beverage as well. Sounds like the best layover ever to me. I don’t even mind having to carry my wet swimmers back with me for a few hours. It won’t be all that long anyway.
I’m excited to be coming back to the US even in my sadness to be leaving Australia once again. The very fact that I am here now proves that I will return. If I know myself well, and I think that by now I can say, with confidence that I do, I will probably not write again before getting back to New Jersey. Once I am there, I’m at a loss to predict what will happen to my posting frequency. I suppose we will all find out together. In any case, this will be my last post while studying abroad. Thank you for reading all this year; it has been a pleasure to write down my experiences for you all.
Cheers everyone. And Happy New Year.