We recently visited Australia and had an absolutely awesome time. I found out that some friends and family actually read this blog! Hi!
On arrival we immediately noticed three things: how well dressed everyone is, how affluent the country appears, and how much the price of everything has gone up since our last visit a year ago. Since when did a McDonald’s meal cost over $8? Since when did an overseas stamp cost $2.55? And since when did a Cherry Ripe* (see below) cost $2.50+?
That aside, here are some things I realized I really miss about the land down under. Obviously it’s not an exhaustive list…and a worrying number of the points below relate to food.
They have proper storms in Australia. As witnessed by the recent storm-pocalypse of Brisbane. Always good when you go to stay with friends then have 1.5 days without power.
Clearing up after
During the storm
2. Vegemite on Toast
Craved it. Note, must be proper Australian bread.
3. Food in general
Everything we ate was awesome (and very expensive).
Fish n Chips
4. Prawns [shrimp] are the correct size
I.e. Massive. That’s not a prawn, THIS is a prawn. Preferably cooked on a BBQ by a blond Australian man holding a beer (not pictured).
Edible! Also apparently now called “Macca’s”.
So much coffee. Even in Melbourne airport they have a helpful sign telling you where you can buy it in the terminal. The man at the lovely Cafe de Aura in Redcliffe, Qld, made a pattern of a phoenix on my flat white.
Cafe de Aura, Redcliffe, Qld
Melbourne Intl Airport
7. Place names
What’s the name of that creek? So strange.
Ok, so I know LA has awesome sunsets (due to, ahem, smog) but somehow I just prefer the Australian ones.
As far as I can work out Australia day commemorates the day, in 1788, that the British arrived on the continent occupied by the Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years, and said “we’ll have this, thanks”. However, for the modern Australian it’s more about having a bbq, drinking beer, listening to the Triple J Hottest 100, and eating pavlova and lamingtons (recipe below).
1. Make yellow cake (from packet), freeze
2. melt chocolate over boiling water, then add an equal amount of cream.
3. cut cake into 1-2 inch cubes, dip into chocolate/cream mixture
On our recent trip down-under I tried to run every other day, but I only ever really had time for short runs, usually about 30 minutes. This is what happened when I attempted my first long run in over a month.
In late November we were visiting Canberra, escaping from the Boston winter and visiting my husband’s family. It was Saturday morning and I wanted to go for a 6 mile run/walk, about an hour. I wasn’t that familiar with the area where we were staying, and we had no internet and our phones had no data, so I had to resort to a physical map. I looked up a route that looked about right and I memorized it as best I could – there weren’t many roads so I figured I wouldn’t get too lost.
I set out at 9.30am and it was cloudy and not too hot. Garmin tells me it was 60F/15C and 70% humidity – very un-Canberra weather. I started with a lap around the local lake then headed down to the Murrumbidgee River.
The path to the river was obviously an abandoned road but it wasn’t long until I intersected with a sparsely populated car park and a sign showing the nearby walking tracks. I checked and double checked I was heading on the “cycle path” running along the east of the river and set out. It turned out it was a actually narrow mountain bike track rather than the smooth tarmac I was expecting. The trail was somehow both sandy and rocky and once on it I was out of sight of all civilization. Running on a trail was a new experience for me and it quite slow going as a tried to avoid rolling my ankles. It was only when I heard rustling at ground level, and remembered about Australian snakes, did it occur to me how remote I felt.
I was just under halfway through my run when I got to the end of the trail and heard yet another rustle, followed by a black shape disappearing under a bush. This convinced me not to retrace my steps home, and instead to push on with my original route. I ran through another deserted car park, up to a road which I assumed would lead me out to the main road. On the map it had looked like a matter of yards, but it was only after another mile that I started to see buildings.
Based on my earlier map reconnaissance I was expecting a no-brainer route home. Unfortunately Canberra has changed a lot since that map was printed. And also unfortunately I had neglected to memorize the names of the roads I was looking for… So I found myself on a road with a sign to Athllon Drive. Having previously lived in Canberra for four and a half years I knew that was somewhere in the region of where I needed to be but I didn’t recognize anything so I turned away from the sun and followed the road.
This being Canberra on a Saturday morning, however, there was no-one around to ask exactly where I was. I was starting to flag, I was getting hotter but I knew I was at least 4 miles away from home back the way I had come, so it was just a question of whether it was faster (and less snake-infested) to just keep going.
I decided to keep going and I eventually hit a roundabout and saw a sign to Drakeford Drive. I was pretty sure that was even better than Athllon Drive so I turned onto it. I still didn’t recognize anything from my 6 mile/hr perspective though. (On a later drive back this way it all was perfectly clear).
My feet were hurting and the grey clouds were weighing down on me. I kept going, run 3, walk 1, slowly reeling in long stretches of tarmac, until eventually saw the hill behind the suburb of Calwell in the distance. I’d climbed that hill one summer with my husband so now I finally knew where I was. A mile after the first roundabout, I arrived at another with the big sign I was hoping for: Gordon. I figured I was home and dry.
Sadly, because of the unique way Canberra is designed, even though I had reached the outskirts of Gordon, I still had two miles to go before I got home. I had no idea about this at the time, though; all I knew was that I still wasn’t home yet. I took an extra long walk break, then decided it was getting ridiculous. So I picked up the run, and staggered home 15 minutes late, having done a mile more than I had planned.
At 7.30am I looked at the clock. Too early. Sleepy. It’s Sunday morning.
At 9.30am I looked at the clock … sigh … I’d better get up and do my run. Of course it was already waaaay too late by then. Sydney was heating up – it would eventually reach 28C with 60% humidity.
On with the shoes, a gulped breakfast, Garmin set and out the door. I ran in the shade to start with, along city streets, before thinking to myself: wouldn’t it be cool to run across the Harbour Bridge?
I saw steps up – I ran up them. Mostly. My legs were jelly by the time I got to the top. I was in (or near?) The Rocks but I still couldn’t see the bridge. I knew I was close though. The tall buildings were behind me now so there was no shade. So I ran on with the sun baking down passing cafes full of people chugging lattes.
I spied signs to the bridge! More steps, one wrong turn and then I was on it. Distance so far: 4km. Exhaustion: complete. I ran to the first pillar, sweat and sunscreen stinging my eyes and the asphalt of the sun-baked bridge cooking my legs. At the first pillar I had to turn back and walk but noticed I was now facing downhill – joy!
Deciding my legs were ok after all, I jogged back off the bridge, down the steps and onto the road. Next destination: Opera House.
I struggled to find my way out of The Rocks. I ran past a market – all incense, beads and bags. I ran past more cafes and could smell pancakes. Torture. Down another flight of steps then I finally onto the Overseas Passenger Terminal. It was now perhaps 10.30am and the place was getting crowded with tourists.
It was all harsh concrete and a maze of tourists, cameras, children, prams and other runners as I dodged my way around Circular Quay to a welcome stretch of shade. It was short lived – maybe 250m before I was back out in the screaming sun by the steps to the Opera House.
Unbelievably there were more steps in my path! It was a temporary bridge over construction work – then no shade, meandering tourists, baking heat, still no shade and a thick hot breeze from the harbor. I ran along the path between the water of the harbor and the grass of the Gardens.
I had now done about 7km and had planned to run right around Mrs Macquarie’s Chair but I was too hot and too thirsty and too exhausted.
I walked a shortcut through the park to the road then walked some more: maybe as long as 5 minutes before I had the strength to run again. I got another short break at a crossing before heading through the cool shade of the avenue in Hyde Park. Finally, desperate, I ran an as-the-crow-flies, jay-walking straight line back the hotel.
It was now time for us to head back to Melbourne to collect our new US visas and fly back to Boston. We renewed our visas by post to save having to go to the embassy. However this plan turned out to be flawed because despite the website saying we could expect them in our hands in 7-10 days, it was now 12 (business) days after we posted them and they still hadn’t arrived.
We phoned the embassy and got to speak to an actual person – who then proceeded to give us a lecture on how we shouldn’t make travel plans before we had our visas. I was tempted to lecture back about the misleading information on their website, but of course I didn’t. He did, however, tell us our visas had been approved, but had not been posted yet. Our flight was in 36 hours. And how long did the embassy predict it would take to post the visas? “Up to 10 business days”. Whatever.
We stayed in the Sofitel (my review here) as a treat – another of our favourite hotels – and caught up with friends, went for runs and stressed out about visas.
In the meantime we also stocked up on supplies we might need in the US:
At 8.30am the next day, just over twenty-four hours before we were due to get on a plane we went to the GPO in Melbourne again to see if our visas had arrived. We chewed our nails while the post office lady went into the back to look. She came back empty handed. But before we could form a thought (scream, cry, laugh etc) she told us the mail delivery hadn’t arrived yet. Relief! Sort of. She promised to phone us when the delivery came in, and amazingly a couple of hours later she actually did! Our visas had arrived – 23 hrs before departure. *Phew*.
We then had a great afternoon visiting old haunts and having dinner with an old friend. Then late at night we made the trek to Melbourne airport and stayed in the most hilarious hotel – the Ibis Budget (my review here). It was perfect for an overnight but of course we didn’t get much sleep – thinking about the end of our trip.
Really not that interested in coming back, the next morning we got on the plane back to Boston: 15+hrs on a Qantas A380, 7hr wait at LAX (oh my god kill me now) then a 6hr flight on American Airlines.
But now we’ve been back a week or so, the snow has melted and the spring flowers are out, and I’m ready to face another 12 months in the USA.