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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What we're up to

I am currently feeling a bit of shock, as it's been a whole month since we got back and I am still working on getting some Beijing stuff up.  While I start on that, just wanted to let you know that we have found a place for the next few months as well as some temporary work for both of us.

I've been feeling a tad overwhelmed, trying to balance working (it's been a while!), moving, and job/soul searching.  But things feel a bit more balanced this week, and I feel a little more on top of things and truly, life is good.

While I get some Beijing stuff together (we have some good stories!), here are a few links:

Danny Ponomar is a Lethbridge based photographer with some beautiful landscapes.  I love the way he plays with light.

- Global Drums is this weekend, and it is always really cool

- Sunrise Berry Farms is where I am working for a few more days, and their pies are delicious!  The site has some great recipes too.

- Speaking of great recipes, with lots of step by step photos, The Pioneer Woman always makes me hungry.

- And a little treat for your heart, the t.ruffle girls are a sweet surprise everyday

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sydney, part 3

a Crocodile Hunter Barbie - comes with a croc skin  accessory!
More about Sydney here and here.

Saturday afternoon in Sydney we split up, which was kind of wonderful. We do really well travelling together, but after so much time together; I think we forget we can do things on our own. So a chance to wander with out feeling bad that Andrew was bored was a bit of a novelty. I went down to the Rocks, an old historic area, which had a little market going on, and had so much fun browsing around. I got some beautiful abstractish prints from a boy with autism who paints, browsed the sweetest little bookshop and wrote down some new titles for my reading list, found fantastic old prints off Sydney from the 60s and 70s, and had an amazing cob of corn. So, so good, I tried to drag Andrew down on Sunday to try it, but he did not seem to catch the excitement. Yumm. As soon as I bought a print for my dad, it promptly started to pour, so I tried to be fast getting back, got lost, and eventually made it back to meet Andrew, forgetting to do a few things I had meant to take care of. Oops. Still, it was one of my favourite afternoons in a while. Something about getting on the train by myself and just being on my own was kind of exhilarating. Yes I am lame.



Sunday we headed over to the Hillsong church, which was pretty neat. We really enjoyed the speaker there. After the service, we found ourselves in a welcome to the church party, where I relied on Andrew to chat with the people while I devoured a delicious breakfast thing. It was so good I did not want to drink my juice because it would get rid of the taste. And I love juice. Yum!




After this, we headed over to Bondi Beach for another market, but were not overly impressed. We debated going to a movie as it was rainy out, but nothing worked out. By this point we were fairly done with Sydney I think.




Monday was our flight day, so we filled the day with some internet time, and some shopping. This was also the day that I ate the best yogurt of my life. I wish I had some right now. It was from a mall food court, and it was a good thing I discovered it on the last day, otherwise I would have had to have it every day. Delicious yogurt place, please come live by me. I also had a great bagel, which would receive more praise except that the yogurt was sooo good! We still ended up at the airport rather early, and were able to be bumped onto an earlier flight which was really nice. However it turned out that we really did not need to be moved, as delay-palooza was about to start, but it was still nice. We were very impressed with Qantas.

After a lovely hour sitting on the grass in the sun in Melbourne, we headed back inside to start the delay fest. Long story short our 8:30 flight did not leave until about 2:30. The airline was very kind, giving out food vouchers and whatever, but we went past customs and security too early into the airport wasteland. There were some cafes, but nothing all that great. We worked hard to entertain ourselves during the delay; I think I tried on every speck of clothing in that place (did not buy anything but oh man there was some cute stuff). We also started a lap walking competition, the goal being to complete two laps in the exact same amount of time. This was a little embarrassing but got us moving I guess! Eventually I started to take a nap, but was woken up by people yelling at the airline staff. Honestly my first thought was that we needed to hide because someone surely had a gun. Not sure exactly what happened, but some frustrated people started taking out their frustrations, and the police ended up getting involved. Yikes.

At long last, we did get on the plane, had some of Andrew’s top ranked airline food, and slept most of the way, until we arrived in snowy Beijing!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sydney, part 2

Another sunny day found us at Manly Beach, a famous Sydney surf beach. The ferry ride over there was beautiful. The beach was also lovely, but our boogie board rental was cut short over fear of the jellyfish. I really do not like those guys. We also hit up Manly Oceanworld, where we saw some cool fish and a turtle. We also got to see people diving with the sharks in the aquarium tunnel which was neat. Wouldn’t have paid much to get in there though (it was part of our pass). A nice swim on the non-jelly fish harbour side, finished up the day for us on that side. Back in the downtown, we went down to Pitt Street, which I think was our favourite place in Sydney, oddly enough. It’s basically an outdoor walk way for a mall, but all kinds of buskers go there, so there is lots of entertainment. An amazing improv duet was a real highlight. So much talent.

Ready to hit the waves (p.s. look how tan I am was!)
a blowfish on the beach
The coral reef we did not see in Cairns

Saturday morning we went to Sydney Wildlife World, which was like a zoo, but with mostly animals from Australia. I was not expecting much, as we chose this zoo only because it was included on our 4 attractions pass and it had koalas. However it was actually really interesting and relaxed. Throughout our whole trip, I kept thinking it would be nice if there would be adult only attractions for things like zoos and aquariums. I would pay a little extra sometimes! Now I know they are made for kids, so I completely understand that there are kids and lots of them at places like the aquarium, but I want to see the coral reef too! Anyways, tangent over, we got to the zoo early enough that it was pretty quiet which made it a much more pleasant experience. There was a very interesting, rather nasty display of creepy crawlers. We also saw a gigantic crocodile, and some lazy kangaroos which were pretty neat, but by far my favourite was the koala bears! Ohh they were cute and so cuddly looking. I was rather proud as I had found a coupon to pet the koalas and get a picture with them for free ($15 value). Yes, I was a deal finder that day! I have always loved koalas, I think because I had a cute stuffed one when I was little from one of dad’s friends from Australia. After seeing them, I realized that could be a life list item for me, so I promptly added it and checked it right off.

so cute!!
There was a big Lego exhibit going on




More about Sydney here and here.

Updates

Hey I've been doing a bit of work on the blog and wanted to let you know about a cool way to look over our whole trip. Under the picture reel, there is a tab labeled "The Big Trip".  This will have links to all of the posts about our trip in the order we did everything.  It needs some work, so keep checking back.

Also, I don't think I've mentioned it, but you can click on the photo stream at the top and it will take you to our Picasa account, allowing you to see all the pictures we took.  Let me warn you: there are a lot of pictures!  If you are interested, that's where they are, and I will be adding more.  The Comments button was renamed "postcards" as I thought it was cute and trip-y.

As for us, we found a temporary place to live and some temporary work in the Lethbridge area, which we are so grateful for.  Still trying to figure out the longer term, but this gives us something for know, making those big decisions a bit easier.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sydney, part 1

We took the train from the Blue Mountains back to Sydney after purchasing a transit pass for the week, which was pretty exciting. We could use any bus, any train, any ferry so planned to go on lots of mini-cruises! Our hostel in Sydney was not nice at all, so we planned to try and spend as much time away from it as possible. On our first day, we wandered around the city a bit, and eventually made our way down to the harbour, where we realized we were looking right at the famous Harbour Bridge and the even more famous Opera House. Wow! The harbour area had a really nice, relaxed feel, with a lot of buskers playing didgeridoos and a nice park area and places to sit. We thought about going to the aquarium, and promptly hopped on the first ferry, which did not take us there. We knew that, but we were going with the flow, being spontaneous. About 40 minutes later, we began to worry that we were going to go all the way to the edge of town! So much for spontaneity etc. However the ferry did turn around soon after that, but it was a no go for the aquarium that day. However, it was nice to be out on the water, and even nicer almost that the ferries had internet access – score!
From the bridge


Wednesday was supposed to be a sunny day, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to head out the legendary Bondi Beach. However, the sun was hiding by the time we got there. It was still warm though and we promptly jumped into the water. Actually were sucked in; the waves there were massive. Andrew had a lot of fun jumping them, or diving under and all that, but the salt water really irritated my eyes so I stood on the sidelines. However, I still got plenty soaked, as I could be standing about five feet from the edge of the water, and then suddenly be in over my knees. Big waves! They would drag you in further too. Crazy.



All of a sudden the lifeguards put up a sign about bluebottle jellyfish, and I was not having so much fun in the water any more. I ended up going for a bit of a walk, and we both had a nice time just taking it easy on the sand. Other people were also relaxing, at one point we looked over and there was a woman’s chest, just out there for the world to see. No top, no nothing. Umm, don’t look that way again!

After doing a little shopping, we got some kebabs for supper and ate along the water. I don’t know where the day went, but it was good! And to top it off, we headed back down to the harbour for an evening cruise (on the ferry!). It was so beautiful to see the city lights from the water.


Thursday we had plans to go see the symphony at the famous Opera House. It was cool to go inside and look out over the water, but I think it could use a bit of an update. Everything was a bit of an older style and not as plush as you would expect. They symphony was fantastic, so clear and precise, with a young violist who soloed by memory and was crazy good. However, that was probably enough symphony to last us a long time! One of my favourite parts was sipping a glass of wine on the balcony during the intermission and watching boats go under the bridge.

A few shots of Sydney:




The best thing at the Sydney Aquarium - the lego shark!
View from Centrepoint Tower


More about Sydney here and here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ger's bag

I thought it might be interesting to take a peek at what I brought.  I packed too much, but overall am fairly happy with how I did.  Pack light, much lighter than you think you should!  


Tops:
overall: Doing it again, I would bring 5 plain tanks, 3 nicer tanks, 4 nicer t-shirts, 1 long sleeve

white tank: bring
white, brown, black lace camis: leave white at home
purple & grey camis: bring
pink tank top with sparkles: wore a ton
brown and blue patterned tank: bring
green tank: leave at home, gets too wrinkly
purple patterened tank: bring, wore a lot
black tank: leave at home

purple shirt: leave at home, but good for going on planes with leggings as it was long
blue shirt: bring
green shirt: bring
grey with flowers: leave at home, too delicate
black v-neck nice shirt: bring
white with lace bib: bring, love it
black t-shirt: leave at home
striped: leave at home
green long sleeve: bring
white dress shirt: never worn, leave at home


Shoes:
Overall: bring runners, flip flops and flats next time

Runners - bring
Sandals - leave at home, handy but not comfy enough for much walking
Rubber flip flops - bring, good for walking and showering
Gold flats - bring, although I wore them right out, they did not come home
Grey flats - leave at home, were sweaty and did not really need two sets of flats


Bottoms:
overall: bring two pairs of shorts (one that is good for hiking), one pair of jeans, two skirts, dress pants, leggings

white plaid shorts: keep, but get something a little longer and better for hiking
jean shorts: keep, love those babies, wore them tons
jean skirt: leave at home
jeans (two): only bring one pair, they are heavy
sweats: leave at home, just wear leggings (not pictured)
white capris: leave at home, but bring different capris
knee length grey plaid shorts: leave at home
white skirt: keep
black skirt: keep!
black dress pants (not pictured): keep if you are planning to work in an office type place
(Andrew brought khakis and they did him well)


Dresses:
Overall: bring three dresses, one nicer, two casual (one of which can be used as a swim coverup)

Blue flowered: could have left at home, hard to wash, but I love it so
Orange & grey dots: a workhorse, probably my most worn item.  Good for warm days, add leggings and a sweater and it's good for chilly ones and planes too (basically like wearing pajamas)
Black: leave at home
Brown flowered: toss up, good as it looks nice and easy to clean
Reddish dress: good for going to the beach but not used a ton
Blue swim cover: leave at home, use something that can also be a dress instead


Other stuff:
Red raincoat: bring for sure
Black sweater: the one I could have left, but didn't really regret bringing either
Blueish cardigan: bring, matched (kindof anyways) both black and brown
Yellow hoodie: bring, love that thing but it needs to be retired soon
Blue cardigan: nice pop of colour but not really needed
Hat: bring, cute and sun cover
Scarf: toss up, used some, mostly in Beijing and on flights, but not much other than that


Jewellery:
leave it all at home, even though it's pretty! 

Katoomba

So we were able to escape the craziness that was Cairns, and flew down to Sydney.  Our airline gave us a fright, saying we were not booked onto the flight we had switched on to that morning.  That was not a nice surprise, but we were able to talk to the girl from the morning and she made everything alright.  Virgin Blue, not planning to fly with you again if I can help it.  We did get upgraded, which was exciting!  But this just meant slightly more leg room, not even behind a curtain or anything.  Not worth the hour of thinking we had to stay in Cairns!

Anyways, on arriving in Sydney, we had no plans, nothing booked at all.  There had been no internet in Cairns, and phones were hit and miss too.  We talked about flying to Melbourne, as we already had plenty of time scheduled for Sydney but that was still going to be pricey enough, plus a bit of a hassle to get flights so we decided to drop it.  Since we flew in late, we ended up getting kicked out of the airport before we had a game plan, and ended up wandering over to a nearby hotel, which had the highest dollar per crap value we hit on our whole trip.  We had stayed in hostels that were way nicer than this place.  Thankfully, it was near a McDonald's so we headed over there for dinner and some internet time. 

We decided to head out east of Sydney to the Blue mountains area.  The Dutch boys during the cyclone had told us not to miss them, it was a cheap ($10!) train ride away, and was supposed to be a bit cooler than Sydney, which was finishing out their heat wave.  Plan made!

In the morning we had a very expensive breakfast of Krispy Kreme donuts: the original donut was only one worth getting, but man is that donut good.  The worker actually gave us a free one, hot of the grill (?), which was heavenly.  But wait, I wouldn't know as I only got one bite, turned around and it was gone.  Thanks babe, glad we SHARE everything!  (Funny fact: I told Andrew I was going to write about this injustice in my diary and I did.  Will not forget that one.)

Anyways, we got on the train (air conditioned, thank goodness) and slowly headed out to Katoomba.  Those trains do not go fast.  But we got to go on a train ride, even though I don't think it's quite what Andrew expected. 

Katoomba was nice, small and lowkey.  The mountains are not exactly mountains, more like being at the top of a valley, but beautiful none the less.  Their main attraction is the Three Sisters formation, which honestly was nothing all that special.  We were both kind of drained, from the cyclone and all the flying, so might not have appreciated it fully either.   A nice swim and a long nap in the sun perked us up though.

Sunday morning we went to a wee Baptist church.  This was a congregation of about 40 people, and the average age was probably 75.  We weren't quite sure what to expect, but they really made us feel welcome and at home.  Everyone had stories to tell about Canada, and we had a lot of fun hearing about their past travels; it seemed everyone had been somewhere exciting!  A highlight was getting invited for lunch by one of the couples.  With a little hesititation in our hearts we said yes, but had a very nice time.  They took us to see some of the Katoomba sights, made wonderful sandwiches for lunch (so many condiments, we had not had that much choice in a very long time), and even drove us out to the start of a hike after lunch.  Thank you again! 


Monday we made a last minute decision to stay one more night.  It was kind of drizzly and cool out, which was actually really nice.  It was also Super Bowl Sunday Monday, so Andrew got to hang out in front of the tv all day.  We even got pizza to top it off.  I had a good day wandering around and had a most delicious waffle, so a good day for all.  I think we needed this to get back on track to enjoy the rest of the trip.



Overall, Katoomba was good, but not a must-see for us I think.  Might have enjoyed it more as a day trip, I think, but it was a good place to relax and revamp, while seeing another side of Australia.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Being back

Thought it might be interesting to just talk about what it's like being back in Canada.  Maybe we'll do this as a list:

1. It is cold here.  Umm yeah, not much to say there.  When I look at the weather in Auckland, I weep a little inside.

2.  It is nice to have a car again, but every so often I panic and have to figure out if I am on the right side of the road.  This usually happens on one ways.  It's not a nice feeling, especially when you've never been good at remembering which way is right and which is left.  However, I have only actually driven on the wrong side once, in Vauxhall, so that doesn't count.

3.  It's lovely to live somewhere with flour, and sugar, and salt and pepper.  We never got around to getting that stuff in Auckland, so it's nice to have it back.

4.  We got back just in time for Roll up the Rim.  Now if only we would win!

5.  Seeing our family and friends again almost makes the cold worth it.  I think.



(weeps for Auckland sun)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Double Back

Another New Zealand ad, Andrew thought it was so funny.  Me not so much, but to each his own.  This man is very enthusiastic and one of his YouTube videos got to 25 million hits, so he was selected for a Vodafone ad based off the concept (Vodafone was our phone company in NZ).  

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Man's Best Friend

This was a cute ad we saw in New Zealand a lot.  It was cool, because we recognized the Auckland skyline for the first time on something.  Also this ad is super cute, also pretty long, but worth it.  And it's part of a whole series too!  Hope you like it.  You have to watch them in order.



Thursday, March 3, 2011

Escalators

A nice short post to balance yesterdays overflow!

Picture of Escalator, London Underground - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.com

I am afraid of escalators.  They are scary machines that want to eat your feet and drag you down into the bowels of the building by the shoelaces.

Andrew is not afraid of escalators.  He persists in sliding, not stepping off as is recommended.  Even in sandals, which is when the real danger is.  Although this is a large risk to limb and toes, he always pesters me to join in his reckless ways.  I stand by my feet though and step off very carefully, being careful not to get anywhere near the dreaded edge thing.

Where do you stand?  Are escalators waiting to snap up your tootsies or are they a fun ride at the mall?

P.S. Not as dangerous seeming, but weird feeling: slanted people movers.  A cross between an escalator and a moving sidewalk.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cairns, part two

Sorry, just realized this is very long, you may want to grab a coffee!

So when I left off, we were waiting for a bus, and we finally got dropped off at Stockland Mall, the evacuation center.  Our driver commented that he hoped we would get to watch movies the whole time, but once we got in there, we realized that would not be an option; there were far to many people for that.  Andrew and I wandered around, looking for a good spot.  We found one, but promptly had to move as it was in the line with a whole bunch of glass windows.  No wonder no one was sitting there!  After some more wandering, we were lucky enough to find a spot along a wall, squeezed in between two sleeping Dutchmen (from Gelderland even, we later discovered).  They slept a lot, I don't know how, but pretty much one of them was sleeping at all times.  They eventually moved to sit together.  A second row of people was formed in the middle of the aisle, filling the place right up.  We at least could lean on the wall, which gave a lot more options.  We laid out our towels and tried to get settled.
at the mall, our little space under EB Games

People wait in the evacuation centre at Stockland shopping centre in Cairns ahead of Cyclone Yasi
from http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/02/3127485.htm
very full
A young family moved in beside us.  They had two small kids and gave us change for the phone - thanks!  They really did a good job keeping their kids calm and happy, they were so well behaved.  We probably got more bored then them.  The little boy made some friends nearby and it was so cute to hear him call them his mates!

At first, we just sat there and chatted a bit, I think because we didn't want to waste any of our fun activities (ipods, cards, journaling) so early on.  I had a good chat with the mom next to us, she was really a sweetie.  We were near a whole bunch of other backpackers from a variety of hostels, so we also talked to some Canadians from Sarnia, and Andrew got to talk hockey for the first time in months (yay cyclone!).  

We really had a good time getting to know Holly, Patrick and Katie, who were staying at the same hostel as us.  They were all from Britain and were on the end of their trip, and actually just missed flying out that same day.  Really too bad for them, but nice for us I guess.  We played cards and just talked a lot.  Thanks guys for making the cyclone fun(ner)!

Throughout this time, the Red Cross had arrived, and I really want to give them a big shout out.  They brought food and water, sheets,and just kept everything organized.  It was just nice to know that someone was looking after us, especially after being frustrated with our hostel a bit.  Andrew and I had food, but did eventually get a package of Australian Army rations.  Yum, yum.  These were kind of hilarious, someone said they felt like they were eating astronaut food, as everything was small, tightly wrapped and had probably been in there for two years.  However there were chocolate bars so that was a plus!  We have the info sheet to prove it.

Andrew and I relaxed on our towels and tried to pretend we were at the beach. If we didn't look at the floor, it worked okay.  About every hour, the Red Cross would make announcements, updating us on the cyclone's progress.  It was a category five and headed straight for Cairns, and pictures of the storm showed it about the size of a quarter of Australia - massive.  We honestly felt pretty safe at the mall, and had tried to make sure we brought all of our most important things along.  We did not have a lot to lose, compared to people who were thinking about their house, their families, their businesses, like the family next to us.  I just felt terrible, knowing they would leave tomorrow expecting the worst, as the news announcements were saying that there was a severe risk to life and property.  In the early evening, the cyclone dodged south a bit, but then came back.  A few hours later it was reported more southerly again. 
The day moved on, and eventually it was time to get ready for bed.  Hmm, how exactly do you settle in on a towel?  Andrew actually fell asleep fairly easily, but I stayed awake and tried to reassure the mom beside me.  We had a nice chocolate snack around 1, and got a little goofy, and I think that's what we needed to finally fall asleep.  Nothing like army chocolate to satisfy a craving!  We also had a free breakfast to look forward to, which was pretty exciting.

our place for a day and night
Waking up in the morning, we found out that the worst of the cyclone had hit about 80km south, in the Tully area.  There was no damage in the mall, other than being really hot and smelly (the power and a/c had gone off around midnight), but we definitely heard the winds over night.  Thanks to everyone for praying for us!  We enjoyed our free fruit and cereal and then were told it was safe to go outside and to  please pack up and get going.  Umm okay, where to and how?  This is the part where things got very frustrating.  We waited, with our friends to see if the hostel was sending a bus over, and eventually found out they weren't.  Okay thanks a lot!  There were not many options then, it was pouring, and no public transport or taxis were running.  After getting the run around from the police, and spending a lot of time trying to get some answers, and a small cry fest (Ger) with my new friend at the bus stop, we finally decided to just walk.  There were families with young kids, people who had brought a bunch of stuff to the evacuation center (some travellers, some just over packers, I think) and it was really a mess.  We asked if the police could help drive people home, but they said there were four of them and four seats in the police car, so apparently not.  People had been coming by to give rides, but there were still a lot of people there.  However, a few steps out of the parking lot, someone stopped to offer a ride, and we gratefully accepted.  We were with a group of about 5 by then.  We were so thankful as it was pouring, and our hostel was 7km(?) away.  Thank you David from Cairns, you inspire us to be nicer and more caring people!  Being a traveler in a disaster really reminds you how dependent you can be, when you have no vehicle, no big food stock, and no idea what is going on.  It was also frustrating to hear that the few taxi drivers out there had told the people who were picking up us hitchhikers that they would report them as they did not have the appropriate license.  Come on, honestly.

Arriving at the hostel, we were very tempted to give the one lone staff member a piece of our mind about letting the hostel vehicle be out of gas, but tried to restrain our selves a bit.  There was no power or hot water at the hostel, so I had a nice spooky cold shower in the VERY DARK bathroom.  Psycho, anyone?  We talked to our parents, and the power eventually came back on, so we went for a nap in our air conditioned (yay!) room and recovered a bit.  In discussing with our friends, we decided we just wanted to get out of there, as the forecast was all thundershowers and it was pouring cats and dogs, so we were a bit worried about flooding etc.  

So early Friday morning we headed to the airport and managed to squeeze ourselves onto a flight later that day, without having to pay anything extra.  Thank you Virgin Blue!  We were so amazed we could get a flight, as ours had not been cancelled, we just wanted to leave early.

We headed back into the city, and browsed around town a bit, in between spurts of pouring rain.  Cairns seemed like it would have been a lot of fun in good weather, with a nice esplanade pool area, and being near the rainforest.  The worst of the damage had missed the city, but there were still many trees down and it was a bit of a mess.  The towns more southward had received quite a bit of damage, with houses being torn apart, yachts piled up on the shore, and one of the highways was impassable.  Schools were closed for about two weeks, and the army was sent in to do a lot of the clean up.

some damage in downtown Cairns
In case you missed it, this website has a lot of information and pictures from the cyclone.  Anyways, lessons learned: check the weather very, very carefully before you go places, you can change flights without too much hassle, and help each other out, it really makes a difference.