Monday, November 12, 2007

Featherdale and the Blue Mountains

Saturday we went on 4 wheel drive tour of the mountains, a wildlife park, and Olympic Park. It was good fun and I got to mark a few things off of my Australia to-do list (i.e. pet a kangaroo - check, see a Tasmanian Devil - check). Every time I've tried to put the pictures in this blog, I've had issues with my Internet connection so I'm posting a link to them instead. See pictures here:

At Featherdale Wildlife Park the kangaroos roam free and it's a very hands-on experience. I was able to pet kangaroos and koalas, and I saw various sorts of other Australian animals that we do not have in the States, including the Tasmanian Devil, Saltwater Crocodile, the Dingo, the Wombat, and so many colorful birds that I lost count. A few words about the animals (because I'm a nerd and I love animals). The kangaroo is the national symbol and Australia is probably the only country that EATS their national symbol (they say it tastes like.......venison, not chicken). To give you a frame of reference, the kangaroos here are like deer at home. They roam free, they become roadkill, people hunt and eat them, and they have a huge population. There are only about 20 million people in the whole country of Australia; there are at least 40 million kangaroos. There are many, many species - no, they aren't all big red ones like you are picturing in your head. The female kangaroos have a very unusual ability: they can reserve an embryo for up to two years. It works like this: Mama Kangaroo usually has two babies at once, an older one that stays with her and a joey in the pouch (for up to six months), plus the reserved embryo. When the kangaroos are hunted by Dingos, the Dingo goes for the slowest - the mother, because she is weighted down by the joey. Mama Kangaroo sacrifices the joey and brings the reserved embryo out of hibernation (or something like that) to develop into a new baby. I don't know how she does it, but it's certainly something I didn't know before I came here. The kangaroos were my favorite because they are inquisitive, like cats or dogs. Some have very soft fur and some have very coarse fur. I thought they were really neat.

Koalas sleep 18 hours a day, so they are pretty boring most of the time. They also do NOT smell like cough drops, regardless of what you have been told. They smell like wild animals (think Zoo). Anyway, the fur is not very soft. It's thick and dense and has a texture similiar to low-pile carpet - this is to protect them from the hot sun while they sleep all day. Also, they are kind of mean, from what I gather. We asked the guy that was supervising the Koala we got to pet if it was smart to put our faces close to it (because the people before us did); he said, "I wouldn't get that close to this one." It was busy eating, but I was still cautious. They have BIG claws.

The saltwater crocodile in my pictures is only about 6 feet long. They get up to 20 feet in length. It is one of Australia's top three deadly animals. And it lives in the OCEAN. That just doesn't seem right. Sharks? Yes. Jellyfish? Yes. (Someone died yesterday from a jellyfish sting, they rank in the most deadliest, too.) Crocodiles? Umm, I think I'll just stay on the beach.

The Blue Mountains are part of the Great Dividing Range - which separates the coast from the desert. They are called Blue Mountains because the Blue Gum trees (also known as Blue Eucalyptus) emit a gas that causes a blue haze over the mountains. I don't know if you can see it in the pictures, but you can in person. The mountains smell like cough drops. It was amazing to see the different vegetation here. One of the coolest things about Australia is that the plant and animal life is so different than anything I've seen before (even more different than the thigh-sized aloe plants in Spain). They have trees still that date back to the Jurassic era. Isn't that cool?

Sunday, we took a ferry to Manly Beach. I did not take my camera there, so no pictures, sorry (though, I'm kicking myself). If I come back (and I probably will), I'll take pictures of it. It is on the Pacific Ocean and there are stretches of beach mixed with cliffs and rocks. It's very scenic and the water is beautiful. It isn't Carribean clear, but its a beautiful blue-green color. The sand, well, let's just say there's no place like the Gulf of Mexico for beach sand. Manly was much more my speed than Sydney. It's a very laid back beach town with a 30 minute commute by ferry to the city. If I had to live here, I think I'd want to live in Manly. Who wouldn't want to go to work by boat every morning?

What else? Oh! I finally had a decent steak last night at a place in Darling Harbour called The Meat and Wine Company. They had meat. And wine. It was wonderful and I wouldn't mind eating there for the rest of the trip. That's enough for now. I have work to do.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More Tidbits

As weird as supper has been, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day here. There is a little cafe across the street from the hotel that has wonderful breakfast and coffee. The coffee here is better than coffee at home, and so is the bacon, and the eggs, for that matter. They are fresher, I think, because they remind me of fresh eggs straight out of the chicken's nest (you thought I would write "butt", didn't you? Or, to quote Miss Sipsy from "Fried Green Tomatoes": "They come straight out the chickens' ---!" Pardon my random movie quote; I digress.). Anyway, fresh eggs are a rarity for us unless you live on a farm.

We found a very good restaurant last night, and I ate shrimp linguine that tasted like something I would make at home. I was very satisfied with that and I can see us going back there.

What else? The birds are very tame. The walk along the sidewalks with you like they are people. One even wandered into and around the food court yesterday at lunch. It's a little gross, but still very amusing to see a bird walking around the food court. They also have bats the size of vultures that sound like fighting cats when they scream. I'll get to see those more up close and personal on Saturday when I take a tour that goes to an animal park. They are HUGE.

Lilies must be local and in season right now because there are arrangements of them in nearly every building. They are beautiful, but the smell starts to get to me after a while. The crosswalk signs (the ones that tell you when to walk - we don't have them in the 'ham but other big cities do) sound like they are shooting you with a laser tag gun when you push the button. Then they beep and beep until you can cross the street.

Yesterday was the Melbourne Cup, which is The Race that Stops the Country. Literally, I think we were the only ones working after lunch. It's a horse race that lasts approximately 6 minutes, followed by continous partying for the rest of the day and night. It's very comparable to the Kentucky Derby. It was interesting to experience it. The whole city was out partying last night. There were lines and lines of people waiting to get into bars and nightclubs.

I know there are other things I want to share, but they've escaped me right now. I'll post them later when I remember.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Some Pictures from Sydney

This is the Harbor Bridge. If you are crazy enough, you can pay $200 Australian dollars to be tied to a cable and walk across the very top of it. I am not that crazy.

This is the world-famous Sydney Opera House at night. I understand that on special occasions they light it up in different colors. It really is impressive. It sort of looks like it's just floating in the water.

This is the skyline from the harbor.

The Opera House from the ferry.

There will be plenty more later.

Beware the Fish of the Day

There is a heavy Asian influence in Sydney, which means lots and lots of Thai, Chinese, Korean, etc. restaurants. We ate at a place call Sailor's Thai tonight. Thai food here is not like Thai food at Surin in Birmingham, so I struggled to find something recognizable on the menu. I settled on the fish of the day - deep fried with a hot and sour sauce, thinking that was a pretty safe bet, especially when I learned the fish of the day was snapper.

Like me, I'm sure you are picturing nice golden fried, boneless fillets.

Imagine my surprise when the fish of the day was not only whole, but still had the head, eyeballs and teeth! And not only did it have a head, eyeballs and teeth, but it was POSED on the plate rather than lying flat out like one would imagine a plated fillet. An immediate silence fell upon our table as we looked at those fishes. It took a moment to comprehend that that was what I ordered. Then some sort of chaos erupted as I tried to regain my composure and a picture was taken of me and my supper.

Now, here's where my good raising comes into play. I ate the fish because that's what I ordered and my Daddy taught me how to eat fish. I have a vague recollection of eating fish with the head still on at some point in my life, but somehow this time was just more shocking. I turned it's toothy little face away from me so I wouldn't have to see it as I ate, and it was really good! It was a lot of work for not a lot of food (because of all the bones), so ironically, I am snacking on Gold Fish crackers while I type this. :)

We'll call it an Extreme Dining Experience. I have a feeling I am going to lose weight on this trip.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

14 Hours on a Plane is NOT My Favorite

First order of business, it is 7:54 p.m., Sunday, November 4th as I'm writing this entry. The time difference is now 17 hours instead of 15 because Australia sprang forward while we fell back for Daylight Savings Time. It's twisting my mind. I think Dave and I have finally coordinated when I can call him and when we can chat online.

I got here at 7:30 this morning (Sunday) after traveling 25 hours in the air, not including layovers. I tried to sleep on the plane, but it's almost impossible to sleep soundly in such a cramped and crowded space. I thought my legs were going to die before I got off that plane this morning. I think I went 41 hours without a shower, because I took one at 6:30 Eastern time Friday morning and then flew and flew and flew until Saturday afternoon (Central time). Needless to say, I felt disgusting. I do not like flying for that long.

The hotel is very nice and once I FINALLY got into my room (check in time was 2), I was not disappointed. The bathroom is fabulous, with a separate oversized tub and shower. Oh, and the toilet water does flow the wrong way here, for those who wanted to know. They also drive on the wrong side of the road, which is just really bizarre when you are riding in a taxi.

When we got here this morning, we went to breakfast and walked around the city. I've already seen the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, Darling Harbor and various other things I cannot remember. The architecture here is really cool, a lot of old mixed with new. The city is just BEAUTIFUL. A friend of mine told me it was the most beautiful city in the world, and I think he may be right. I'll have pictures later because I'm cheating from a friend of mine since I didn't take my camera out with me today. For now, I'm going to bed. I don't know how much I slept on the plane, but it wasn't much and I have to get up in a few hours to chat with Dave.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Blue Friday

The point of this goofy picture is that I am wearing the Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl ring. Indy is having "Blue Friday" because the Colts are playing the Patriots in town this weekend, and of course, they are both undefeated and this is supposed to be the biggest NFL game of the season so far, etc. Work was quickly degenerating into play as we left OneAmerica Tower at lunch time today.
OneAmerica is hosting a publicity event for the Colts and people were streaming in to register for prizes and get autographs from the cheerleaders. I got there before it got too crowded (because I needed to be on the way to the airport), so I got to wear the ring for a picture. I'm hoping this will make up for the fact that I didn't get a poster autographed by the cheerleaders for Dave - they weren't there yet when I left. The city is buzzing with excitement, and I imagine it will be one big tailgate party before the day is over.
Work went well here this week, and now it's time to fly to St. Louis, then to Los Angeles, and finally to Sydney. Let's all hope the trip is enjoyable and quick.
Oh, and Go Colts! (Someone will have to let me know who wins the game because I doubt I'll get to see the game from halfway around the world.)