Friday, November 28, 2014

Wild Koalas

Well first thing's first: we have Internet! And a new sink! And it is a glorious day. I am so happy to finally have wifi and it's great to not have to brush my teeth in the sink in the kitchen but instead in the bathroom like a normal human.

Well we were in Renmark the other day and it was so fun. We flew into Mildura and it was already pretty hot out and the airport is honestly just like a shed. It's tiny. We landed and we were the only plane there and basically pulled up right next to the terminal, walked off and through this tiny shed they call a terminal and out the other end. It's so small that the only thing that separates you from the tarmac when you're outside is just a little fence with practically no security. The only airport I've seen like this before was Bergerac in France, and that's saying something.

Yup that's everything, the whole terminal.
Arrivals AND departures. Check-in,
security and gates.

We got our rental car (with me now feeling more confident about driving on the wrong side of the road) and started our journey to Renmark which is about an hour and a half from Mildura. You don't know the middle of nowhere until you see rural Australia, which is really the middle of nowhere. Sadly, where we were wasn't even as rural as other parts. You just drive through absolute nothingness and as you drive all you see is nothingness and heat haze in front of you. It was quite the experience that's for sure, and at one point while driving we hit a red dust storm and it was so strange, everything was in this reddish smokiness.

The red dust storm ahead of us on the road

In case you didn't believe me about there being nothing. 

For miles and miles and miles. We drove past this field with a Shell sign in it (as in the gas station) and at first I thought, "Weird, a gas station in the middle of a field" and then I thought, "Not a bad idea." And then I saw the sign under it. "In 84 km." Thankfully our tank was full, but if it wasn't you'd be out of luck!

Along these roads there are signs that indicate the danger level of a fire and the lowest point is on this sign is "high" and goes to basically "you're on fire." If the low point is high I shudder to think what severe means. Luckily, we didn't see any fires.

You also pass through quarantine on the way to Renmark (which is in South Australia-- Mildura is technically in Victoria) so you pull up in your car and they ask if you have any fruit or vegetables and we said no, so the guy asked to see in our glovebox then checked the trunk and we were sent on our way. It was certainly an experience.

Once we arrived in Renmark we saw the town (not much to see I'm afraid) and then decided to rent a canoe and go out canoeing. The woman working there had told us there were lots of wild koalas along the river so you can imagine my excitement and out we went to find these koalas. We went up one side of the river and didn't see any, then crossed and started going down the other side with no luck. We then decided to pull our canoe up onto this island bit in the middle of the river and look.

We were there no more than a minute when I squealed and grabbed Michael's arm and pointed to a tree whispering, "THERE'S ONE!!" I didn't get any pictures since I didn't bring my phone so it wouldn't get wet, but it was great. The koala just kind of stared at us and wherever we walked moved just its head to watch us, it was super cute and I didn't want to leave it. That was the only wild koala we saw but it was good enough for me.

Happy with that we canoed back and returned it then barbecued some hot dogs for dinner. Then to top off our great day we watched the sunset over the river which was beautiful.

We had a fantastic trip and I'm even happier I finally saw a wild koala. My life is pretty much now complete now. 

Now, happy Thanksgiving! For Thanksgiving we made our own Thanksgiving dinner and it was delicious. Of course it's almost impossible to find a turkey abroad so we settled for chicken, but we made all the other staples. It was weird not being home for the first time on Thanksgiving but I celebrated in my own way. 

The bird

Stuffing, roasted potatoes, honey roasted
parsnips and carrots, gravy, bread sauce,
peas, etc. 

Typical Thanksgiving-- just thrown
onto the plate

It's been a really good couple of days (I am still beaming about having wifi) and in the past two days I've given directions to four different people so I must be starting to look like I live here and know what I'm doing.

Now just stay tuned for my post about Christmas down under! 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

And Then There Was Internet... Just Kidding

This morning I went to the information session for volunteering in the op shops and although the women rambled like crazy it was interesting and I should get to start volunteering in this next week. I didn't realize how many other volunteering opportunities there were within the organization other than op shops-- I knew about some of their services but didn't realize it was quite so big.

They have dining halls, health centers, specialists of all kinds, case workers, housing specialists, counseling, etc. They say "every day of the year we assist hundreds of people who are homeless or living in poverty to find shelter, food, care and support." I knew the op shops accounted for a lot of their funding but it's more than I thought, with 40% coming from the government the op shops make up the remaining 60%, which is huge. I'm looking forward to helping out with it.

I explained my situation, in that I don't know what my schedule is going to be yet, but they want volunteers and need them badly and said it didn't matter and I could change my hours and days. Basically you can do as little or as much as you want, which is great.

On another note, we booked a trip to go to that place I wrote about in my last post, Renmark and I'm super excited. We arrive late morning into Mildura and then have to drive to Renmark since it's pretty remote, but it should be really interesting because of that and it's kind of on the edge of the outback. We come back to Melbourne early afternoon on Monday, so it's not a long trip but equally there's not a ton to see in Renmark so it should be plenty of time.

In the meantime I'm getting pretty fed up with our Internet provider. We were originally told we would get internet within 48 hours of the 25th, which was ridiculous, but there wasn't much we could do so we resigned and said fine and waited. We got an email today saying the Internet was connected so we were super excited, went out and got our router and then came back to set it up. When it wasn't working we tried the phone and turns out the phone line doesn't work.

Not doing well.

So we called and they did all sorts of line tests and determined it's broken. (I don't think they said broken, I just don't get what's wrong with it so it's basically broken to me.) They have to send out an engineer to fix it now and they're not sure when that will be so alas, here I am again, after getting my hopes up, with no wifi.

And the worst part? Their mascot is a koala, so they give the poor koalas a bad name. How dare they.

Look how cute it is

It's all very irritating, but I guess between hopefully working soon and volunteering, and our trip tomorrow, I won't be home enough to notice/care. And hopefully they'll be able to get their useless butts out here soon and fix it.

Remember when I said I was going to march myself straight to the library and get a library card? Well I did! This is a bit late because I actually did it a while ago but the other day I got my first book from it and I just finished that book, so now I've actually used the library card. It's actually a pretty ugly card, but who cares, it's free! They have a pretty wide selection and you also get an hour of free wifi with your login details at the library which is cool too.

There are five branches in total, but the one closest to me is about the size of a shoebox so it's worth going the little bit further to get to one of the main ones. So far I'm pretty happy with my membership and look forward to checking out more books in the future.

On Thursday (yes Thanksgiving) it will be exactly one month since we arrived in Australia and it both feels like much longer and much shorter than that, but I've learned a lot in this one month and I feel like Melbourne is finally starting to feel like home.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Traveling and (No) Pet Koalas and Wallabies

Today I took a walk to the end of the street to the beach and then along St. Kilda Pier since it was such a gorgeous day. We sat on the edge of the pier with our feet dangling over the edge above the water, and I didn't burn so I'm adapting. Awkwardly enough, since we get quite a few cool days here I wear jeans a lot but almost always with flats, so the tops of my feet are really tan and the rest of me is still pale. Hopefully the rest of me will catch up soon so I can stop looking like an awkward two-toned creature.

I'm still getting used to wearing shorts, tank tops and flip flops... at the end of November.

Catani Gardens right by the ocean at the end
of my street

The pier looking onto the CBD

Today was a consistently lovely day, a rare occurrence in Melbourne but I enjoyed it while it lasted. Perfect temperature too, 72 fahrenheit (22 celsius). Tomorrow it's looking like it's going to be pretty hot but nothing compared to the weather in this place called Renmark, which we're thinking of going to this Sunday for one night.

Renmark is proper middle-of-nowhere town in South Australia, the neighboring state, and has awesome red rock and a really pretty river. And for the record it's supposed to be 96 fahrenheit (35 celsius) on Sunday there.

I took this from Google

I took this from Google too

We haven't decided if we're going to go yet, but it does look awesome and I'm hopeful that we will, I'd love to see as much of this country as I can. And many other places. I have a very long (quite impractical) list. But that's another post for another day.

I spent this morning reminiscing about my time with the koalas and wallabies and then spent half an hour reading about this wildlife license you can get, it costs like $400 and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't qualify but it didn't seem that hard to get so I got really excited that I could have a pet koala and wallaby (turns out koalas aren't of the list on animals you can have under it though, just wallabies). Sadly I won't be applying for it, but I can dream.

Sigh, that could be me

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Finally a New Sink and Stupidly Large Coins

So when we first moved in we turned on the sink in the bathroom and water was basically gushing out of the pipes underneath, bad! We told the rental company and they had a plumber look at it and he basically said it's so busted he didn't even want to touch it for fear it would pretty much just shatter. We've been using the kitchen sink for everything in the meantime, but today the plumber called me (while I was sleeping) and said they got a new sink and he's coming to put it in on Tuesday and I'm really excited to finally have a working sink in the bathroom. Small victories.

On another note, we've learned it's impossible to tell when it's raining from inside the apartment. These trees are ridiculously dense and between that and the brown building right next door you would never guess it was raining, not to mention for whatever reason you can't even really hear it on the roof. So today Michael left for work and called me a few minutes later to say it was raining quite a bit outside and looked like it has been for a while and we had no clue. Guess we'll have to be careful about that in the future.

If you know me well you know that I don't actually like using cash very much, I much prefer using a card, I feel like I lose money when I use cash. I certainly can't lose this Australian money, the 50 cent coin is like the size of a peach. Ok, not really the size of a peach, but it's pretty damn huge. Size comparison for you.

Compared to a quarter (on the right)

For my British friends, 50p on the right

Look at that thing, it's like carrying a rock in your pocket. Ok, not really, more like one of those Roman coins that weighed like half a kilo. I just think they're abnormally large, like why do you need a coin that big? Why? Is it so your people don't lose them? I guess it worked since Australia is a pretty wealthy country, it's for people like me I guess. Well played, Australia.

My favorite quote in that article: "Darling," my father replied. "Look around. People here are rolling in money. We live in an unbelievably wealthy nation."

And that's why my coffee and chocolate is expensive. Struggles.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Extractor Fans, Jobs and Markets

I like bacon. I like bacon a LOT. I like to make bacon frequently (although bad for my health) so maybe it's a sign that the extractor fan in this kitchen is too weak for the amount bacon smokes, since the fire alarm keeps going off. I have to open the kitchen window, keep the extractor fan on, and close the kitchen door for it not to go off and even when I'm done it takes an abnormally long time for the kitchen to clear of smokiness.

It's a small thing but it's really been annoying me. As Michael said this morning, I really need to get myself a cereal to eat because living off of bacon, eggs and toast every morning is not healthy.

Today I went back to a few of the stores I dropped résumés at to enquire when a decision might be made and on the bright side they're all still hiring so it means I haven't been passed over, it just means they're being painfully slow. Most stores said the résumés were sent to head office and they weren't sure when they would make decisions, however I came across two with more interesting stories.

I stopped at one of the shoe places I applied at and the girl working was basically like oh my god let me gossip with you and spent the better part of 10 minutes telling me how there's all this drama in the store because someone resigned and their store manager is only in once a week and all sorts of stuff, but she took down my name and number though and assured me the manager would get back to me next week. We'll see.

Then at the next store, the assistant manager recognized me and told me they were accepting résumés for another week since they can't look at them until then because of all sorts of management changes within the store, so I guess I just had poor timing in handing out résumés. But this girl and I had a nice long chat about all sorts of stuff and we got onto talking about the Australian minimum wage versus the US one and when I told her the US federal minimum wage she was shocked, which I found mildly amusing. Well, here's to hoping she liked me!

Since it's not looking like I'm going to hear anything this week, I stopped by one of the op shops on my way home and enquired about possibly volunteering. The woman working was super excited that I was interested in volunteering and told me that they're always looking for volunteers and need them. She handed me a "guide to being a volunteer" brochure in addition to a leaflet with the addresses of all the op shops. She was super helpful and told me that I needed to call the volunteering office, but if I wanted it to be quicker I should call this other woman directly and gave me her number.

I called this woman right after and told her I was interested and she said an information meeting was being held this Saturday and at that point you can fill out a form and select which store you'd like to volunteer at and pretty much you're good to go. So I'm pretty excited to be helping out in the op shops and it'll give me something to do until I hear back from some of these places.

On another note, there's this market called the St. Kilda Esplanade Market (imaginatively called that because it's on a street called The Esplanade) I saw on the tram one time and walked through the other day and it's actually pretty cool. It's every Sunday for most of the day and is on the road that runs alongside the beach so you get a beautiful view while looking at each stall.

This Sunday we didn't have great weather,
the ocean is just off to the right

You can find almost about anything at this market from handcrafted scented soaps, handcrafted wooden mugs (anyone else ever heard of this? Not me, they're awesome though), handcrafted jewelry, photographs, paintings, many many things. There was some pretty cool stuff there that I really enjoyed looking at, and not all of the prices are eye-gouging. The Esplanade is pretty long and the market pretty much runs the length of the street, meaning there are dozens of stalls. 

I don't know what it was, but something smelled delicious while I walking too and I never did discover what the source was, so maybe that should be my goal for this coming Sunday. The website lists all the stalls and has a nice little map where you can see where The Esplanade is in relation to the ocean. 

Tonight while Michael is at work I am dancing around the apartment and singing Celine Dion. No shame. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

My (Many) New Best Friends

If you read my last post you know that yesterday I flew to Adelaide to go to a wildlife park where I could hold a koala, but the experience was so much more than that.

The flight over was nice enough, you could tell the difference in vegetation because pretty much everything was just brown. Brown fields, brown hills, and then brown city (some pretty boring buildings in Adelaide if you ask me).

Brown crop fields

Adelaide CBD 

Once we landed we went to pick up our rental car and I spent at least five minutes in the car just trying to familiarize myself with being on the wrong side. The first hour of driving or so was pretty stressful since there were many things I wasn't used to like being on the wrong side of the road, my blind spots being in totally different spots than usual, not to mention a different kind of car I'd never driven before. Then just my luck we reach the "scenic route" which is about the windy-ist road ever.

I got the hang of it though, but the one thing I kept doing even until the end of the day was accidentally turning on my windshield wipers instead of turning signal since they swap sides on the steering wheel. I guess that's just something I do so automatically that I just did it without thinking. Each time. There were probably quite a few people behind me throughout the day who thought I was one of those people who refuses to indicate-- I was trying!

The scenic route to the wildlife park was pretty spectacular; lots of hills and cavernous red rock walls lining the windy road up the hill and it was really cool to see some of this stuff since it's really different to the Melbourne area.

We got to the park and had about 45 minutes before the koala holding session so we bought a bag of food to feed the kangaroos with and went to wander. The park is awesome because it's really interactive, including walk-through enclosures for most of the animals and the place was pleasantly quiet so you really got to have some quality time with them all.

I was really impatient though and wanted to go to the area where the koala holding session was being held so we walked back and waited and when I saw the koalas being carried down I was so excited words cannot even explain. When it was my turn, the koala was placed into my arms and I guess I couldn't really contain my excitement. (Note: my face.)

First time holding a koala

The koala was really enjoying its leaves and the branch kept hitting me in the face but I didn't even care. This was the koala's, "have some, they're really good!" face.

Desperate for me to try some eucalyptus leaves. I

After my minute of pure joy holding the koala we went back to the kangaroos and wallabies. All of the animals are really docile and sweet except for the birds. The birds are evil and surprisingly pushy, you can't shoo them away. Michael and I made friends with this adorable little wallaby with an injured foot that really didn't like to eat corn (one of the foods in the bag). I think I may have stolen him (or her) had I had the chance.

But while we were feeding this wallaby this dumb bird kept inching closer trying to steal the food and I kept making noises and flinging my arms about but it would only go back a few steps and then try again!

Moments before it attacked the wallaby

When the bird was gone though we got to continue to have our time with our lovely wallaby, basically our new best friend.

The wallaby I almost stole

Michael made friends too

I fed a kangaroo too-- you can really tell the size difference between them and the wallabies because they really are massive by comparison. The kangaroo wasn't mean, it just kept trying to steal the food from the wallaby and then when I started walking away it kept hopping after me because it wanted more food.

Reaching into my bag of goodies

I pretty much had to be pried away from the wallabies, but after that we went and saw the rest of the animals in the park. They had some random ones like camels and a panther, but also some fun ones like emus, wombats, a tasmanian devil, and some pretty cool birds. So let's not forget about the other animals.

The emu

A kookaburra, so naturally I kept singing
the song

Another awesome bird

The most awesome duck there ever was

The very fat wombat

Cute tasmanian devil

At this point we'd been at the park so long it was only 15 minutes until the next koala holding, so naturally we stayed and I got to hold another koala. Her name was violet and she was adorable and I wanted to steal her too along with my wallaby.

We finally left the park and went driving, but before long we passed this sign, so I just had to go down the gravely road to spot some koalas.

I imagine we looked pretty crazy if anyone saw us, driving half a mile an hour looking up into the trees. We didn't find any koalas, but we did see some wild kangaroos so it wasn't a totally wasted journey. Plus the scenery was really pretty.

The wild kangaroos 

The pretty view 

Adelaide city is pretty dull so we didn't really spend much time there, but instead spent some time on the beach. The beach is beautiful with clear blue water and incredibly soft sand. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

While I didn't see any wild koalas, I don't think yesterday could have been more perfect even if I tried. I didn't get to bring home my koala and wallaby, but I do have my pictures and I have no doubt I'll scope out some more to hold and hang out with again.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hanging with the Koalas... For Real

Tomorrow my dream will come true. I will be hanging with the koalas! I'm pretty much squealing right now while I write this because I'm so incredibly excited. I thought about making "Koalas and Kangaroos and Wombats Oh My!" the title of this post, but it didn't have as nice a ring to it as lions and tigers and bears oh my. Even though the animals are exponentially better.

Since neither Michael and I will be working tomorrow (Michael has a job now-- yay!) we booked a flight using Avios, the British Airways miles which you can redeem on the Australian airline Qantas, to Adelaide. Why Adelaide you ask? So that I can go to the Gorge Wildlife Park where you can hold koalas and feed kangaroos.

There aren't many places in Australia where you can actually hold a koala since it's banned in a few states and other places just don't like you to or allow you to, but I found this place in Adelaide a while back and I fell in love with it.

Not only is the entrance fee to the park cheaper than pretty much anything else I've seen, but they don't charge you extra to hold the koalas and let you take as many pictures as you want. The place seems really interactive since you can hold, pet and feed the animals so I'm really looking forward to it. Besides, the name of this blog is hanging with the koalas so I need to get myself hanging with some koalas ASAP!

I read some reviews of the park on TripAdvisor and every single person who posted said they loved it and was the best experience they've had so that got me even more excited. I was pretty much bouncing up and down on the sofa squealing, getting more and more excited and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight like a child on Christmas Eve.

I'm going to take tons of pictures and those will posted up here very promptly once I get home. It's looking like we're going to have some good weather while we're there so that's good too. Obviously we won't spend the whole day in the park so we'll explore the countryside a bit in our rental car and then spend the rest of the time in Adelaide city.

Soon this will be me.

This is Terri Irwin, not some random

The Lanes and Arcades of Melbourne

Melbourne is famous for its lanes and arcades, and by arcades I don't mean the American arcades with pinball machines, but rather the covered walkways. These "hidden secrets" as they're sometimes called, are in the CBD and are a total maze through the city grid. These lanes were associated with the gold rush era slums and the arcades mostly date back to the Victorian era.

I had heard of them before but the other day when I was in the CBD I was walking around handing out résumés and I entered an arcade and found myself just being led from one to another, funneled down another lane and found myself popping out somewhere streets away, disoriented and a bit confused. When they say it's a maze they really mean a maze. I dropped a few résumés off in that arcade but honestly I hope they never call me back because I don't know if I could find the stores again.

After discovering them though I decided today to go back into the CBD and explore some of the more famous ones. While a bit confusing, the lanes are really cool and lined with cute and delicious-smelling cafés and bakeries, accompanied by the comforting noise of clinking glasses and people chattering.

One of the lanes I walked down called Centre Place had a bunch of café seating in the middle of the pedestrianized road and since it was a chillier day people were absolutely packed into those tables with the outside heaters on, bundled up, drinking coffee, eating and just talking and have a good time. It was a really fun atmosphere and when I had a look at some of the prices I was surprised to find that it was actually pretty cheap considering this is Australia.

Some of the lanes are far more exciting than others but they really do have some hidden gems in there and I can't wait to go back and look at them in more detail.

A lane called The Causeway with lots of

Another lane called Flinders Lane, probably
the least exciting of the ones I saw

Centre Place lane with it's many cafés and

I've only been inside one arcade so far, but it's one of the more popular ones and it's called the Royal Arcade. Built in 1869, it contains some high-end fashion stores and at the end it has two mythical creatures called Gog and Magog up by the ceiling next to a giant clock that chimes each hour. It's even better now because all of the Christmas decorations are up and it looks lovely. 

One part of the Royal Arcade

A Christmas tree with Gog and Magog
with the clock between them

I can't wait to explore these hidden streets more and maybe grab a bite to eat on one of the lanes. These lanes and arcades are an important part of Melbourne culture so I'm glad to have finally experienced them! 

After I walked around those a bit I headed to Target to pick up an ironing board (try carrying an ironing board that's as tall as you are on a busy tram-- not easy), but on my way back to the tram stop I noticed a large protest going on.

Not the best picture but there were
lots of them

I stopped to take a picture and watch to figure out what they were protesting. Turns out they were protesting a proposed 18 kilometer tolled road called the East West Link and instead wanted public transportation, like trains. They were shouting things like, "What do we want? Trains!" "When do we want it? Now!" and so on. It seemed like they were from some specific community that was going to be affected by this proposed road, but equally they seemed more fired up about wanting public transportation rather than just not wanting the road so I'm not 100% sure. It was interesting nonetheless and made for an exciting end to my day in the CBD.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Move-in and the Cutest Koala

Well I'm moved in! But it's looking like we won't have Internet sadly until the 25th so I'm currently on my phone, meaning this post probably won't be too long. 

We had a few hiccups on move-in day, such as the gas company not coming to connect our gas and the op shop selling the sofa we had on hold. The sofa was sad since we really liked it, but because they felt really bad about it they gave us a really good deal on another sofa including delivery, so we weren't too broken up about it. 

The gas thing was pretty annoying though since that meant we didn't have an oven or a stove, so until Monday when they connected it we just ate things out of the toaster and cup noodles. 

Since this property was one of the first ones we saw we thought maybe we were remembering it bigger than it was because of both seeing lots of properties since then but also just because it was a while ago. However, once we signed the lease and got the keys and let ourselves in we were pleasantly surprised to learn that in fact we were remembering it smaller than it was! 

However we now we have the problem that we have so much space to fill and nothing really to put in it. At the moment we've just got the essentials (cooking things, sofa, coffee table, sofa, lamps, air mattress, etc.) and we'll work on on building it over time. 

Some of these pictures aren't current to the day so we've fully unpacked now and added a couple of things but you'll get the idea. 

The built in wardrobes are my favorite part of the whole apartment and it also saves needing to buy any of that furniture. Now here is the view from the end of our street. 

Can't beat that. The other day I timed how long it took to walk from the sand of the beach to the door of the apartment and it was only 4 minutes and 23 seconds-- not bad at all! 

This week we've been job hunting and we've got some promising prospects that will hopefully work out sometime in the next week, which is great. 

Now for the most important part of this whole post. This is Colin the koala (Target named him not me) and he's adorable and he's going to be the mascot of my blog now. 

His hat comes off and he's supposed to be a cookie jar but instead I use it for coffee, which is far more important. I'm very happy with him and I really hope he survives in a suitcase after this because I really want to keep him. 

Yesterday it was 92 degrees out, but it's November and I really wanted my gingerbread latte from Starbucks so I went for it anyway. I was so hot but it was delicious and totally worth it. 

I think that just about covers everything for now. I'll probably be just posting from my phone now until we have Internet since I'm not waiting 2 weeks before I can post again. It seems like everything is coming together.