Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An Optimist's Layover

The positive points about having a 12 hour+ layover at the Melbourne Airport:
  • People watching is fabulous, there are even sub-categories.
    • Fashion: Its a never-ending fashion show. A never-ending, international fashion show. A never-ending, international, “this is what I wear to travel” fashion show.
    • Communication: listening to people talk to each other is fascinating. You can tell so much tones and body language, especially when these people are in a stressful situation like being late for a flight, trying to manage 1.5 kids and accessories, or attempting to communicate in other languages.
    • Technology: Oooo, is that the new Samsung Black Hole device that guy is holding?
    • Customs: I just some women say good bye by kissing on the right cheek, then left, then right again. I wonder where they are from?
  • You suddenly feel a special bond with Tom Hanks.
  • You gain a sense of accomplishment (and selfishness) by finding the best places to sit. Qualifications to rate these places include access to multiple electric outlets, chairs without armrests in the middle so you can take a nap, or two, and distance from questionable fellow travelers. This is going to be your home for 12 hours, so a critical eye is needed.
  • You are one of the few people in the building not in a hurry (and there's a lot of people). You're not even permitted to check in for another day basically (12 hours) which is still several hours before your flight leaves. You get to sit back, and enjoy your pre-packed lunch, and snack, and dinner, while everyone else runs around like chickens.
  • You get to play the language game. Is that Chinese, Japanese or Korean that family is speaking? Finnish or Dutch? You start to try to figure it out by what they look like, or their clothing...but then you start to feel racist (ethncicist?). 
  • A re-renewed feeling of awe and admiration for parents that travel with kids. Great parents are amazing, but parents who travel with kids and manage to try to have fun while keeping everyone fed, clean and alive are basically superheros. They should be allowed at the front of all lines and given some kind of medal at the end. Or maybe a big drink...and a babysitter.

Tales from Oz

Some fun things we've encountered so far in our Australian adventure:
  • Names (of places, people and things) are all shortened in Ausstralia aka AussieLand, or Oz. Examples: the city of Brisbane is Brizzy, Stradbroke Island is Straddy, if you're Sebastian, you're Sebi and if you're Rosemary you're Ro. Using the shortened names for places can quickly distinguish you as a knowledgeable tourist, instead of just a tourist (because as knowledgeable as you are, your accent immediately gives away your non-Assieness).
  • Speaking of accents, not everyone in Australia sounds like Crocodile Dundee (or if you were born after 1990, Steve Irwin). According to one of our local hosts, the thick accent that Outback Steakhouse relies on in advertising is called a Broad Australian accent and when its less dramatic is called an Educated Australian accent. Clearly those in the “Educated” category must have invented these titles, but regardless of what they call themselves, they all sound Australian.
  • Yes, they really do say g'day mate. And crikey. And Bloake.
  • Wallabies are adorable, mini-kangaroo looking animals that enjoy Wheat Bits (anyone know if we have this awesome cereal in the states? Awesome according to me; disgustingly tasteless mush according to Lance). Anyway, back to wallabies, and their awesomeness. Watching this mama hop around and eat grass as her joey was hanging out (literally) was an amazing experience. It may be hard to see in this photo, but the joey's foot is coming out above his head. Baby wallaby yoga!
  • Koalas are really hard to see in trees. We eventually gave up and went to the Daisy Hill Koala Center, a small rescue and care center in Brisbane. These nocturnal fur balls were nice enough to raise their head for a photo the afternoon we were there, but really all they wanted to do was curl up and sleep the day away. I had no idea what a koala paw (hand?) looks like, but thanks to lovely educational posters, I now know that double thumbs exist.
  • A cyclone is like a hurricane, except the qualifications to make a storm a “cyclone” are less than what are needed for a “hurricane”, so basically a level 1 cyclone is equal to a tropical storm, where a Level 3 cyclone is close to a Category 1 Hurricane. This is useful information to know when you find out you are in a cyclone's path. Thankfully the flood waters didn't reach our doors, but we still had a very wet week. After sitting on the porch watching the rain for several days, I was thankful that we've decided to stay in each location for several weeks, so that there is no sense of dire urgency when travel plans are interrupted by reality (or cyclones). Don't ask me about typhoons, haven't had one of those yet.
  • Indian food is quickly becoming our new favorite ethnic-take out. I'm still a sucker for pad thai, but we've eaten some delicious Indian food in both New Zealand and Australia. Now all I have to do is figure out how to make some at home!
  • Australians know how to camp. I'm not implying that Americans don't, but our recent camping trip on Straddy (that's Stradbroke Island for you uninformed tourists) proved that Aussies are serious about their adventuring. Lance and I packed 2 backpacks with basic camping gear, and then rode a ferry, took a short bus ride and walked about 2Ks down a wide, dune filled beach to find a place to camp. When we arrived and began setting up our two person tent, we quickly realized that it was like building a fort in the middle of Beverly Hills. All of our neighbors had giant 4 wheel dive vehicles with multi-room tent buildings next to them (some even attached to the trucks). There were pop up showers, massive grills, shade tents, separate kitchen areas and of course every form of those folding chairs they've invented so far (the ones with the leg rests and tables are my favorite). Despite their rather luxurious set up, the neighbors were friendly (of course, they're Aussies) and even offered us pop-tent plebs some water in case we ran out (because we clearly don't know how to camp). In our defense, we had an awesome time camping, complete with making delicious pita-pizza, splashing in waves from a new ocean, reading under the shade of native maleuluca trees, getting sun burnt from a new angle of the sun, and meeting some locals as we hitchhiked off the beach.
  • Driving on the 'wrong' side of the road is awesome, entertaining, nerve wrecking, scary, and slow. Lance admits he now understands why a certain Welsh former roommate of his drives so slow. Its actually not that hard once you get used to it, but we still keep having to stay “keep left”, “keep left” every time we come to an intersection. It also hadn't even occurred to me, until we kept getting funny looks from fellow walkers, that the “keep left” rule applies when walking on sidewalks and riding on bike trails too. Random fact, but good to know in case you end up almost walking into someone in a “keep left” country.
  • Australian mangoes are delicious, like so delicious that you'll keep eating one every day even though you know you're having an allergic reaction to them. When I was in Costa Rica I had the juiciest, sweetest pineapple of my life, but Australian mangoes might win as Best Fruit Ever. Now that I think about it, if you eat pineapple every day you get that weird fizzy tongue feeling, so maybe all Best Fruit Ever has side effects to force you to control yourself. Nature is so smart.
  • We had 2 possums living in the laundry room at our host's house. Not mean, nasty, rat-tail American Possums, but cute, friendly, fluffy tail Australian Possums. They also loved mangoes, or tomatoes, or oranges, or anything else you hand them as they enjoy their day long sleep in your cabinet. 
  • Lance's love of birds has officially rubbed off on me. Our Brizzy backyard was chockas (Australian for “full”) of birds and every day during the first week we were checking the bird book to see what our new sightings were called. We had geese, ducks, egrets and ibis, but my favorite were the cockatoos, rainbow lorakeets, butcher birds and kuckaburras.
    • The first (and second, and third..) time I saw a giant, beautiful white cockatoo sitting on the tree in the backyard, my brain immediately said, “Someone's pet bird escaped!”. And each time I then had to correct myself by saying, “No, they actually live here, outside, in the trees!”. They screech like dinosaurs, flaunt there yellow mohawks and rule the yard.
    • Rainbow lorakeets are adorable little parrots that are so colorful, you'd think they were hand-painted. 
    • Butcher birds are apparently known for being mean creatures, hence the bloody name, but we had two that came on the porch each day and were friendly, curious things. True to their name though, the only food they would eat was raw meat! In nature, they catch critters and skewer them on a spike of sorts and then come back in a day when they are half dead, and half rotten, to eat it.
    • The kuckaburras are monkeys in feathery costumes, I'm convinced of it. When a group of these birds get going in a tree it sounds like a family of monkeys are laughing and yelling at each other. Definitely the most entertaining bird call I've ever heard. Google it.
    • Unfortunately, as much as it was fun to have a yard full of birds, there was one drawback, the crow. I've never had any strong feelings about crows, although that Birds movie did creep me out as a kid. However when you are woken up each morning at 4:30am by the loudest, ugliest, never-ended squawking, you quickly build up hatred for this bird.    

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Things I've learned while in New Zealand:

We've only been here a few weeks, but I've already learned several useful things while traveling through New Zealand:
  • Rugby is not something to joke about. Example: Me: Those All Blacks sure got a beating by England, eh? Kiwi: When is your flight back to the USA?
  • "Crikey!" can actually be used to exclaim excitement or shock, not just to mock Crocodile Dundee. Example: Crikey, these weeds are out of control!
  • A moko is the tradition face tattoo of the Maori people. Women had them on their mouths and chin while men wore them all over their faces.
  • A "pozzie" is a space. Example: Do you see a pozzie to park the car?
  • In Rotorua shops close at 6pm, or 2pm on weekends. This is because New Zealanders like to enjoy life and not be stuck at work all the time. Good on ya, Rotorua, good on ya.
  • Kiwis use the expression "Good on ya" to express a liking. Example: see above.
  • I quickly pick up new expressions (a little too quickly). Lance has forbid me to use the phrase "good on ya" for at least 2 days. I decided typing it does not count.
  • Its amazing how difficult it is to break a habit.  Despite being here for several weeks, I still try to get in to the "wrong" side of the front seat of a car. Riding on the left side of the front seat makes me feel like I'm in a robot car.
  • Topography on maps is important in New Zealand. Topography on a map is not important in Ft. Lauderdale because everything is flat, however this is not the case in NZ. I'm convinced that constant uphill walking uses specific muscles that no one in Florida has (unless they hit that button on the treadmill). 
  • It is incredibly important to know your Maori vowel pronunciation (click here to hear). It will (slightly) help you sound like less of a complete idiot when telling the bus driver that you need to go to Ohaeawai, Kaingaroa, Kaukapakapa, Oromahoe, Paekakariki, Te Anau or Waipukurau. Despite daily efforts, I am still in the "sounds like idiot" category of tourist.
  • It is also important to know that Maori pronunciation of "wh" is pronounced "fu". Also quite frequently used in city names, such as Whakatane, Whakamaru, Whananaki, Whangamata, Whangamomona, Whanganui, Whangarei. Best of luck.
  • A very common breakfast for Kiwis is muesli, a combination of uncooked rolled oats, small bits of dried fruit and nuts. Some have it with a bit of milk while others have it with milk, yogurt, and cream and more canned fruit, all together, in one bowl. Yes, milk, cream, and yogurt. 
  • Kiwis love their dairy. We stayed with a couple who had ice cream...with cream poured on top. The top three ice cream flavors are: 
    • #3 Hokey Pokey - vanilla with honey comb bits
    • #2 Jelly Tip - vanilla with raspberry jelly and chocolate flakes
    • #1 Vanilla - from New Zealand cream, as if there was any question. (So far Lance has only tried 2 of the 3, but there is still time.)
    The Shweeb
  • Buying fish in New Zealand is expensive because they export it all over the world. The market says that if fisherman can sell a fish for $40USD in the US, then the locals should pay that too. 
  • Toe-may-toe / To-mah-toe
    • I say cookies, they say biscuits
    • I say beets, they say beetroot
    • I say cilantro, they say coriander
    • I say fries, they say chips
    • I say chips, they say crisps
    • I say bell pepper, they say capsicum
    • I say entree, they say appetizer
    • I say dinner, they say tea
    • I say 7-up, they say lemonade
    • I say lemonade, they still say lemonade (and yes they have both 7-up and lemonade)
    • I say swiss chard, they say silverroot
    • I say ketchup, they say tomato sauce
    • The Zorb
    • I say kiwi, they say kiwi, but sometimes they mean the fruit, sometimes they mean the bird and sometimes mean themselves.