A Travellerspoint blog

Turning 22

an Aussie birthday celebration

overcast 23 °C

I had quite an international birthday affair...

On Saturday, four Italian students (Francesca, Eleonora, Lara and Alice - they ALL live in Geegal and our birthdays are within 2 weeks of each other's!) and I had a big BBQ party in the Geegal courtyard. It was awesome: in addition to all our friends from Geegal and the other two residences (Bulga and Gumal), there were tons of people from my Malaysia trip and other UTS students milling around, chatting in all sorts of languages (there were actually quite a few Italian students, so I heard a lot of "Buon Compleano!" (Happy Birthday.) Since everyone's been pretty overwhelmed with uni work over the past couple months, this was a great opportunity to get everyone out of their flats and reunite them all in the name of...well, my (our) birthday. Haha. Mother Nature was on my side that weekend - the only time it rained was Saturday afternoon! (Mind you, northern New South Wales has been flooding, so that says something.)

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My friend Vikash (who's from Holland, but I actually thought he was American when I first met him - his accent is ridiculously similar to ours) gave me the ultimate birthday present - red party cups! so difficult to find in Australia - so a group of us immediately set up a game of Flip Cup in my apartment. (Basically, you line up red cups filled a quarter of the way with beer on either side of a table and team up, then it's a race to chug and flip your cup over before your opponent. Good fun, but we've experimented with several other types of plastic cups and they just don't flip like the American style ones.)

That night, a bunch of us from the BBQ caught the train out to The Rocks for some bar-hopping fun. Sydney bars can be a bit annoying when it comes to dress codes so it was tough to get everyone into the same places, but I ended up having a blast with Paddy, Vikash and my friend Luke from my old restaurant job.

Monday was my real birthday, and I woke up to Miriam and Anja's crepe paper streamers covering my door and Paddy's idea of an "American" breakfast: pop-tarts, with a small bunch of daffodils. Awa brought me coffee from a little cafe across the street, then I headed out to Manly to visit my friend Elise (who happened to be visiting from SF - she used to lifeguard with me at SF State and had a couple journo classes with me before transferring to CU Boulder last semester.) We shopped around and had this great (cheap) Thai lunch overlooking the crashing waves (under a cloudy grey sky, but it wasn't too chilly), then made our way over to the beach house she was staying at with a friend's family.

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I almost missed the ferry back home (had to run in my sundress and sandals!), but I was able to quickly get ready for my birthday dinner - Thai again, but this time at a fabulous place in Newtown - with a bunch of Geegal friends: Paddy, Rob, Anja, Miriam, Awa, Shellie, Will, Devini (my Sri Lankan friend), Sanyukta (my newer Indian flatmate - the only other non-Aussie), and Francesca. Before we left, I was nearly drowned in generous gifts - silver earrings, scarves (that's become my signature accessory, along with bracelets), the HOTTEST black peep toe pumps from my flatmate Will (most impressive is the fact that he guessed my shoe size by comparing a shoe in my closet to his forearm), a James Squire t-shirt (shout out to my favorite Australian beer), a photo album of mine and Miriam's epic trip to the Southwest (complete with her witty comments) and a signed photo collage of a bunch of my Aussie friends and silly things we've said over the semester, put together by my flatmate Shellie. It was pretty overwhelming and I was beyond touched by all their efforts.

After dinner, most of us headed across the street to Kuleto's, a cocktail bar that serves up some of the most ridiculously tasty drinks I've ever had. I ordered a Red Corvette and a Japanese Slipper before Paddy and I left to grab amber ales down the street at Marly Bar.

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I'm truly lucky to have such incredible friends on both sides of the Pacific.

Posted by Alykat 11:59 Archived in Australia Tagged events Comments (0)

Sydney Writers' Festival

getting myself published abroad

rain 20 °C

I'm not taking any journalism courses this semester - I figured while I'm abroad, I may as well explore other interests. That said, when I was invited by Wendy Bacon (an uber controversial, well known investigative journalist and professor at UTS; we'd met through another journalism-related project) to help cover the Sydney Writers' Festival, I was absolutely STOKED. The annual festival takes place over seven days and includes presentations from all sorts of authors, bloggers, reporters, screenwriters, travel writers, etc. The list of topics is extensive, as are the venues all over the city. Needless to say, it's kind of a big deal.

This year, approximately 30 UTS journalists were going to be pre-reporting on various forums and publishing their articles in City Hub, a free, monthly, independent publication I've seen lying around cafes and gyms. We weren't writing for money or course credit; we were working for bylines. I met with Jenna Price, the professor coordinating the UTS students, and together we picked two stories: Blogging vs. Journalism, a hot topic to be debated on Sunday, 24 May by a panel of five successful reporters-turned-bloggers, and a little feature piece about a new book coming out about the Opera House.

Abandoning my other assignments, I immediately went to work on my stories: emailing panelists, calling up bloggers whose sites I enjoyed reading (check out www.stilgherrian.com - I spoke to Stil for a good 30 minutes and he's fabulous. Christian Landers' site www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com is also worth a browse), interviewing tourists outside the Opera House about their reactions when they first saw it, and the ultimate: a sit-down breakfast interview with Katarina Stuebe, the photographer behind the book Joern Utzon's Sydney Opera House.

I met Kat at a little cafe in Kings Cross about a week and a half ago to discuss the book and how she came to be involved in the project, and her story was utterly fascinating. In a nutshell, she came to Australia from Germany to study architecture at UTS (!!) in 2001 and made frequent trips to Circular Quay to pursue her on-the-side passion: photographing the Opera House. She was fascinated with the Danish-designed icon, but it wasn't until 2006 that she tried to get in touch with the Utzon family (through Jan, Joern's oldest son.) With Jan's blessing, she trekked out to Joern's home just north of Copenhagen, where she was, expectantly, welcomed into the architect's home. A friendship blossomed with the family, and after several meetings where Joern and Jan pored over Kat's gorgeous Opera House photographs, Jan encouraged her to publish them. Thus, the book was born. (After Joern's death late last year, she decided to make it a tribute to his legacy.) In addition to her photographs, the heavy coffee table book is filled with stories from Jan about the family, Joern's work in Australia, and his life after leaving the country.

Our meeting went so well, she ended up inviting me to the official book launch in the Utzon Room at the Opera House! It was pretty intimidating to be in a room with several of Kat's friends and family, along with the writers' festival coordinator and other Australian head honchos, but it was an incredible experience. Check out the photos I got with Kat and Jan: (in one of them, Jan's sketching the Opera House on Kat's shoulder)

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Aaaand the Opera House article: http://www.altmedia.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/city-hub-june-2009.pdf (pgs. 16-17)

(Will post the bloggers vs. journos link once I find it...)

I attended a couple seminars at the festival over the week:

- "And He Shall Be Called Barack Obama: The Makings of a Mythic Presidency": Named after a t-shirt the Washington-based BBC reporter/panel moderator saw someone wearing after Obama's swearing in, ABC's John Barron and the Sydney Morning Herald political correspondent Peter Hartcher (who I still think is one of the most incredible writers) discussed why the world made such a big deal over Obama's successful presidential bid. Highlights from their hour-long discussion:
John (while reporting from Iowa): "It's like the set of Bonanza populated by contestants from The Biggest Loser.
Peter (candidate reporting vs. what people actually focused on): "Journalists focused on Obama's blackness, yet 2/3 of voters chose him to 'fix the economy'." Interesting.

- "The Road to a Bestseller": Learned a bit about the publishing industry and about a few bestsellers they either turned down or took on but never expected such success from - Amy Einhorn, Charlie Conrad (who turned down The Lovely Bones) and Nita Taubib.

Posted by Alykat 00:29 Archived in Australia Tagged educational Comments (0)

Roadtrippin' Round II

Newcastle (again)...and the Hunter Valley!

sunny 22 °C

For Megan's last weekend, we had one big item to check off her "Australia To Do" list: wine tasting in the Hunter Valley!

Since the HV was hosting the Lovedale Long Lunch (a weekend-long party of food and wine tasting = super crowded accommodation), Megan, Paddy and I caught a three hour train to Newcastle to stay in the Cambridge Hotel Backpackers (luckily, the TexTours wine tour we'd booked was based in Newcastle, so we could easily be picked up and driven the 50 minutes to the valley.)

Upon arriving around 7 p.m., we checked in at the hostel, then walked clear across the town to Darby Street to find pasta. The street was lined with restaurants and bars, so after dinner we crossed the road to an Irish bar and enjoyed a pretty decent cover band with our beers before catching a cab back to the Cambridge. Being that the downstairs portion of the place was a bar and club, we got back in time to catch the last of four acoustic sets. The performer, a 28-year-old, shaggy haired guy from Canberra (?) named Michael Peter, was obviously very talented and into his songs, so after the show, Megan and I went up to him and chatted for a few minutes. Continuing mine and my parents' tradition of buying new artists' cds at their shows, I snapped his up and had him sign them. A DJ had taken Michael's place on stage and a group of girls were dancing all crazy in front of him, so the three of us kicked off our shoes and joined in before heading upstairs to try and sleep through the music.

The next morning, Tex picked us up outside the hotel just before nine. His nickname was quite fitting: had he not told us he was a Canberra boy, I'd have been convinced he'd moved to Australia straight from Texas. Before hitting the road, we stopped at the YHA across town to pick up a group of seven other people - all who were over 60. Oh man, this was going to be a good day. :)

A breakdown of the wineries we visited:

- First Creek, where the Semillion SB (I believe it was a blend) was the only one I really liked. This was also the day's first taste of Shiraz, which the HV is most famous for (it's good, just a a little heavy to drink without a big meal...)

- The Hunter Olive Centre, where we filled up on samples of oils, chutneys and sauces. (Brilliant, as we had run out of time to grab breakfast!)

- Pepper Tree, a sweet winery nestled in a forest. The 2008 varietal Verdelho rocked the house, as did the unwooded Chardonnay (I've decided I'm just not a big fan of the taste of oak. Don't tell Danville.)

- McGuigan Cellars, where I snapped up a bottle of the full-bodied Merlot.

- Kevin Sobels, the smalled winery we visited. I didn't like most of these wines either (the verdelho was too fruity, the semillion was too tangy, and the merlot was sour), but Megan and I split a bottle of the champagne to drink on her last night. I was pure sparkling heaven in a bottle.

- Rosemount, one of the biggest wineries in the area. Funny enough, the only wines I liked here were the dessert ones (which I don't usually enjoy at all. They all taste like syrup-y brandy to me - ick.)

After a brief stop at The Brewery (again) for burgers and Coronas, we boarded the train back to Sydney.

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Posted by Alykat 00:28 Archived in Australia Tagged armchair_travel Comments (0)

Food Rescue

dipping my feet in volunteer work

sunny 22 °C

Several weeks ago, I was flipping through the Sydney Morning Herald's Tuesday supplement (Good Living, which contains delicious-looking recipes, craft ideas, and profiles on different restaurants, volunteers opportunities, etc. I read it weekly) when I stumbled upon a fantastic sounding company: a little four-and-a-half year old place called Oz Harvest.

Based off a similar company in the States, Oz Harvest sends out four refrigerated vans to specific restaurants, cafes and businesses each day to collect unsold/extra food items and drop them at various charities and homeless shelters around Sydney, Canberra and Wollongong (about an hour south of Sydney.) This, I thought, was exactly the kind of company I was looking for: while working at the restaurant last semester, I was irked by the fact that the portions were often much too big and left unfinished, yet rather than composting the leftover food, we were told to just scrape it into the trash bins. Such a waste! Of course I knew we couldn't sell the food from the plates, but my guilty feeling resonated with me through the rest of my plate-scraping time there.

The article included an email address for those interested in helping out, so I sent them a message. I was soon informed about the "van experience" opportunity: basically, volunteers ride along with the driver, who might have two or three weekly routes all over the city and Wollongong, and help pick up and drop off the food. Sounded great! I pitched the idea to my flatmate Shellie, who'd been keen on doing a little volunteering too, and we went for it last Thursday.

Since only one volunteer can ride with each driver, Shellie was paired with an older guy named Bob (whose brother happens to run Harry's de Wheels pie stand - an Australian institution since 1945 that my friend Aussie friend Brendan took me to when I first moved to Sydney) and I went with Matt, who'd been with the company since it started. His Thursday route took us over the bridge into the northern beaches and western suburbs, so not only was I helping out hundreds of people, I was also getting a tour of the parts of the city I'd never been. :)

We picked up food from all sorts of places: pies from Harry's, bread and pastries from several bakeries, homemade gnocchi and leftover lamb from the TAFE university cooking school, fruit and eggs from Woolworths' grocery store, organic vegetables and biscuits from a sweet little store, and soup/sandwiches from the Westpac bank's building cafes. Oz Harvest smartly leaves plastic containers at each site, so most of what we pick up is usually packed and ready to go. The vans are also on-call to pick up from other sites along their route, so we ended up stopping by an office to pick up 14 crates of boxed lunches left over from a corporate meeting.

Drop-offs were the fun part: Matt had good connections with many of the people we delivered to, so we stopped to chat with some people outside a battered womens' shelter and Matthew Talbot's, Sydney's largest mens' homeless shelter.

It was a great day (long, too - 10-6!), but I wish we'd had more interaction with the people we were helping. Shel and I decided our next volunteer endeavor might be at a soup kitchen in the city...

http://www.ozharvest.org/

Posted by Alykat 00:20 Archived in Australia Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Roadtrippin' With My 2 Favorite Allies

...fully loaded, we got snacks and supplies.

semi-overcast 19 °C

With Megan in town and my next week free of immediate assignment deadlines, the two of us (along with my flatmate Paddy) decided to be spontaneous, rent a car, and go on a road trip. Why not?

Paddy, a well-traveled Aussie (and a rare breed of the sort: he lived in Canada for four months after high school and has extensively traveled the Caribbean, Europe and Australia. Quite impressive), suggested we head north to the central coast (also known as the "holiday coast"). The three of us skimmed through guidebooks and googled different towns along the way, but after a few unsuccessful hostel bookings and a car rental bust, figured we'd just wing it.

Megan and I picked up a "no birds" Bayswater Corolla on Friday afternoon, and with a car full of snorkels and snacks, made our way (through traffic) out of the city towards Newcastle (about 1.5 hours north).

We had a map, but since we were on no time schedule, it lay forgotten on the floor as we stopped for random explorations: a gravel quarry at Peats Ridge (that's pretty much all we found there; I was curious to see it because I'd heard about a music festival that'd been held there over the summer), past The Entrance (that's actually what it's called) and to a random beach at sunset, then on to the Newcastle YHA. The town seemed pretty dead for a Friday night, but we had a great steak dinner and a few beers on the Hawksbury River at The Brewery, where we were serenaded by a young acoustic singer.

The following morning, we checked out of the hostel and headed further north towards Port Stephens. The road ran along the cliffs overlooking the beach, and since it was a beautiful day, we stopped for fish n' chips and brought them to Jimmy's Beach. The water was quite warm, but only Paddy went swimming (typical Aussie).

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After lunch, we checked out the sand dunes further down the road and the beach at a place called Hole in the Wall. We tried to find a place called Seal Rocks, but ended up at a secluded beach where we found...a pelican! We poked around the rock pools for a while before heading back to the car.

By now it was getting dark, and with Paddy snoozing in the backseat, Megan and I made an executive decision: we were going to continue driving out of Port Stephens and head 100 km north to Port Macquarie. We figured it'd be funny if he woke up in an entirely different town. :)

After several minutes of winding roads, we finally found the YHA and proceeded to make a simple (free) pasta dinner before heading out to the Irish pub, Finnians, down the road with some of our fellow hostel-mates. We met some hilarious people: two English guys who'd had many bad experiences with their GPS system on their travels, and a nice guy from Toronto, Canada, who I talked to about places to see in Sydney. The nightlife was about as (un)exciting as Newcastle, but at least we were in good company.

The next day, we stopped at a bakery down the road for breakfast, then drove to the Billabong Koala Breeding Center (which was basically another wildlife sanctuary) to give Megan her first glimpse of Australia's wild animals. This may have been my fifth sanctuary visit (!!!), but somehow I still always get excited when I see the kangaroos.

With a long drive ahead of us (four hours without traffic, but since it was Sunday afternoon...), we left straight after the sanctuary. The three of us, along with several other friends from Geegal and UTS, were going to see Danny Bhoy, a Scottish comedian who was performing as part of the Sydney Comedy Festival. The gig, which was held at the Enmore Theatre in Newtown, was hilarious: Danny kept "taking the piss" (making fun of) several people in the audience and Aussie lingo (I never realized Aussies say "literally" so often...), as well as the Irish accent. I recommend You-tubing him.

Great weekend!

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Posted by Alykat 08:53 Archived in Australia Tagged armchair_travel Comments (0)

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