Friday, December 19, 2008

Hemispheres

A week ago, I was in the Southern Hemisphere.


Guess which hemisphere I'm in now?
I'll be taking a posting break while I attend holiday celebrations and try to survive the cold weather. I'll be back with weekly updates once I defrost in the warmer hemisphere. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pigeon Hunters of the Southern Hemisphere

 
Oh December, month of Christmas,
of chilly days and frigid nights, 
cumbersome coats and fireplace lights, 
naked trees and streets of ice,
where snow falls silently in the night
... or not.

December in Australia means one thing - summer. Days are longer, the sun bakes the Earth to 90 degrees F, and flowers continue their assault of color. Fully aware of how lucky I am to be in warm weather right now, I am taking full advantage - mainly, working outside and tanning while I write. I know, it's a rough life. So to warm those of you getting buried in snow, here are some pretty pictures.
 

Bounty Hunters of the Southern Hemisphere
Two kids slowly stalked a flock of pigeons with their water guns. Besides the fact that they were trying (unsuccessfully) to spray the birds, I wondered who was smarter. Because honestly, have you ever had to "stalk" a pigeon? The birds are oblivious ... apparently so were the kids.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Birds and the Bees


Last Wednesday I went to the grocery store to get food for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a perfect sunny day as I walked back to my apartment with a full backpack and bags of groceries in both hands. Passing a row of purple flowers, a bee landed on my left arm.My hands were full so I couldn't brush the bee away. So I thought, "Well bee, I'm not a flower. Once you realize this you will fly away, so until then I'll just let you stay on my arm."

Fifteen minutes later, the flower-challenged bee was still on me, and had moved up to my shoulder. I arrived at my apartment and needed to take my backpack off to get my keys. So I said, "Okay bee, times up. I'm taking off my backpack, I'm not trying to hurt you, so please don't sting me, just go find a flower or something." I carefully took my backpack off and the freakin bee stung me. 

Now I was angry. I pulled the stinger out of my arm and looked at the dumb bee, sadly rolling on the ground, in what I thought was its death throws. I always heard they die after they sting, and it sure looked like it was dying.

I felt bad for it, so I picked it up, brought it to my porch and put it on a flower so it could die in a pretty place (I couldn't bring myself to step on it). Well the next morning the bee was still there. Then I saw it fly off - looking like a perfectly healthy, yet stinger-less bee.

Thursday dawned. I went to pick up my turkey from the butcher's and there was a crested pigeon on the ground by the wine shop. Crested pigeons aren't like the city pests, but dainty native birds from Australia that have a distinctive mohawk. I like to think of them as pigeon punks. Here's an illustration from "Birds of Australian Gardens."
I looked at the pigeon and it seemed stunned. I left it alone, hoping it would just fly away. But no, of course not. I came out of the butchers with my 10 pound turkey and the pigeon was still there. I took a closer look and it seemed like its wing was broken and I thought, "What the hell is going on?!"

I grabbed a box from the wine shop and after some pigeon wrangling, got the bird in the box. And so it was indeed an odd Thanksgiving, walking up hill to my apartment with a 10 pound turkey in one hand, and a crested pigeon in the other.

It was a week of injured critters. I better be working my way up to a pony or I'm going to be very upset!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Goats can't read


A few weeks ago, Bob and I rented a car to explore the Hawkesbury River area, about an hour north of Sydney. A wide river cut through rolling hills, trees flaunted their bright new foliage, and I got to ride a pony! 
During my teenage years, my Dad gratefully took me to horseback riding lessons. Though I was no horse-whisperer, I learned enough to look somewhat graceful while trying not to fall off the horse. So, when I got to the stables in Hawkesbury, I figured I'd do pretty well. 

Well, I managed not to fall off. But grace was no factor in the day. Still, I was on a horse so I was happy. The stable was quite nice. They even matched your horse to your hair color so you didn't clash . . . well not really. 

After my lesson, Bob and I stumbled upon a small county fair. It's a good thing goats can't read.
The sign says "Red Meat Tastes Good, Goat Meat Tastes Better!"
This strapping lad is about to perform the "bush-castration-technique." 

And that's about all I have. I spent most of today cooking an "Aussie" Thanksgiving day feast. The kitchen is not my domain. It made my brain hurt. I retire with the utmost respect to kitchen and its confusing concoctions. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Big Bird and Bartering

If Arnold Schwarzenegger turned into a large bird capable of swallowing pythons whole, his statue would look like this. Taking a break from hiking through the rainforest, Bob and I left the trees and critters to explore Singapore's creature comforts. 

Shopping seems to be Singapore's national pastime. Malls abound like pimples on a teenager. If you want to rub well groomed shoulders with
Armani or explore the "exotic" stores of Toys R' Us and Borders, Orchard Road is the place to be. Unfortunately, it wasn't where I wanted to be. I didn't travel thousands of miles to shop with Geoffrey the Giraffe.

Bob and I left the glitz and crowds of Orchard Road and headed to Chinatown for some open air markets, sightseeing, and of course bartering. 
Bob found that I was surprisingly good at bartering. He'd be set on a price, but then I'd haggle the price down another $20. I think it's because of my winning natural frown - made merchants think I was displeased with the previous offer. I wear my frown about 90% of each day, so I'm kind of a pro. It's not that I'm sad, it's just the way my lips prefer to rest. But hey, I got some killer deals on textiles!

One of the best decisions we made, was to get massages. We really needed one after the previous day's monkey hike. For $25 US, we were gently shoved into leather seats with individual tvs on the armrests, brewed fresh tea, and we each got a 45 minute foot reflexology massage - it was awesome!


Friday, November 14, 2008

Sins of Singapore


Chewing gum is illegal. What kind of country could ban such a wonderful, life-giving form of chicle? Singapore.

I thought it was a joke. I was wrong. A single tear arched down my cheek, in the crisp and clean Singapore airport, as I had to, dutifully, throw away my perfectly good pack of spearmint gum. 

Bob got called into a last minute meeting in this small, island country and I got to tag along! So this week I am wandering the interesting, multicultural, old yet new city.

We explored the beautiful MacRitchie Reservoir Park. There, we walked in the suffocatingly muggy jungle under a noon-day sun whilst severely ill-supplied with water. 

In the lush jungle, signs taught us two seemingly important lessons:
1) Trees like to drop branches on you
2) Don't feed the monkeys. 

Bob had never seen a monkey in the wild and was keen to spot one of the local macaques. Our best bet to see them was up above the canopy on the

Tree Top Walk. This would give us a roundtrip hike of 7km, which should be easy. Well, it would have been  easy if we had brought more food, water, and a personalized A.C. unit. 

Bob and I paused whenever we heard a critter passing through the leaf litter, hoping for a monkey. But it was never a monkey that appeared on an overhead branch. Usually just a chatty squirrel.

Anyway, a couple hours later, in the heat of the day, Bob and I finally stumbled up to the suspended Tree Top Walk. While I was holding the railing, peering through branches to the distant ground and sweating like a kid asked by a dentist if they flossed, Bob called my name.

I walked over to Bob and followed his ecstatic gaze, to see a very content monkey. The monkey grabbed a handful of leaves from a nearby tree, then suddenly vanished with a branch-snapping crash in the undergrowth.

So Bob got to see a monkey in the wild. Remembering how strict Singapore was with lawbreakers, we obeyed the sign, and refused to feed the monkey.
Oh, and in Singapore, a bird in the hand is not worth two in the bush. It's worth a hefty fine. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Beware the Magpies of Spring


Warmer days, basking lizards, birds pecking out the eyes of small children - ah, the signs of spring in Sydney. Lush flowers are overwhelming Sydney with their myriad of fragrances.  Birds are nesting and blue-tongued skinks emerge to soak up warm rays of the sun.
And magpies are raising chicks. Apparently these large, crow-like birds get quite defensive during the breeding season. Male magpies often attack humans passing their nests. In particular, they seem to go after the eyes of children, and the heads of people with red hair. Lovely. 

A few weeks ago, a girl was biking around her local park when a magpie repeatedly attacked her. It pecked her eye out. So if you're in Australia in spring, keep an eye to the sky.

Attacks like this are not too common, and the rest of the year the magpies are very nice and they do have a beautiful song. It's just breeding season you have to watch out for. 

But it seems Australians just take it in stride like everything else. Just watch your eyes, and no worries.


So, I will leave this entry with a boat safety tip.
Boat Safety 101: This is NOT how you row the boat ashore.



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nightmare of an Orthodontist


The setting sun illuminated the harbour, a cool breeze brushed delicate leaves of eucalyptus trees, and a giant maniacal face was consuming people. But we'll get to that later.

 On a beautiful Sunday evening Bob and I explored the northern end of the Harbour Bridge. 

We found a pathway along the coast, and, mindful of stray waves that tried to douse our camera with salt water, we wandered around the rocky path. 

Ferries puttered back and forth on the water and trees proudly showed off their new spring leaves in the breeze. We took a bazillion pictures of the Harbour Bridge.

See . . .  


So it was with a calm, awed state of mind that we turned a corner, and ran into this madness.

Luna Park sits on the northwestern side of the Harbour Bridge and was constructed from chaos in 1912. I imagine the designers sat around an old wooden table in a dark musty room and thought, "Lets build a park for children."
"Jolly good idea there! But how do we stop kids from nagging their parents all year about wanting to come to the park?"
"Well . . . how about, at some point, we remodel the entrance?"
"Yes! We can make a giant head with crazed eyes and a big gaping mouth to swallow kids whole! The children will be so frightened they won't want to come!"
"Brilliant!"

Today, Luna Park lures people through its' gaping mouth with bright lights and smells of cotton candy. Inside, it is pure chaos of screaming children and loud carnival muszak, where prized plush neon toys suicidally hang by their necks over game stalls. Bob and I tried to wander quickly through the park, but kept getting separated by stampedes of kids with sticky blue and pink fingers on cotton-candy induced sugar highs. We decided Luna Park was like toon town on candy-crack. It scared us. 


Friday, October 24, 2008

Words of a Baroness


"OOOOO! ooooOOO! OOO! Wah HA Wah HA Wah Ha! Ooooo...."
This is not how one expects to be greeted by a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Bob and I sat in the Sydney Opera House, slightly dazed by the greeting from Dr. Jane Goodall, world renowned primatologist and humanitarian. 

 
"That," a skinny yet vibrant Jane said, "is how chimpanzees say, 'hello.'" 
She proceeded to give an inspiring talk about the necessity of conservation and the responsibilities we have to protect our planet for future generations. It was, quite frankly, a good point.

After the talk, Bob and I made our way through a mix of hippies and business men, down the Opera House steps and towards Circular Quay. We took the train back home, grabbed some books, and read in a nearby park. Well, I read, Bob took a nap. I watched kids run around the park, enjoying nature, and decided Jane knew what she was talking about. 

Bob saw me watching and said, "You don't think those kids are cute are you?"
"Nope, it's just that the sunlight was on them."
"Wait," Bob sat up, "you only think kids are cute if they're in the sunlight?"
"No," I replied, "only if they're in golden sunlight, like a setting sun. Makes them look... angelic."
"Seriously?"
I looked at him, "Well yes, I mean, look at that little dog. It's a pug. It has been bred to have such a squished in face that it can't even breath properly."
"Okay."
"Now watch when it waddles out of the shade and into the sunlight. It looks ...puglishly angelic."
"Allie, you know you're odd right?"
"Yup."

The asthmatic pug heaved his way up to Bob, sniffed his feet, and ran away.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Footsteps of a Spider

video
Something ran against my foot in the dark. I turned on the light thinking by the size and the sound of footsteps that it was a very large mouse. Nope, it was just a giant spider. 

I flipped the trash can over top of it, ran to get my camera, then carefully dragged the thing outside.

Make sure your audio is up when you play this so you can hear its steps. 

Moral of the story, be careful around spiders so large that you can clearly hear their footsteps.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Running of the toddlers



Bob and I are not used to the bugs over here. We have each been sick three times in two months - it's ridiculous. And it is, of course, in no relation to us refusing to wear coats in sixty degree weather.

 While my runny nose was funding the Kleenex company, I decided to sign up for a 9 kilometer race that ran over the Harbour Bridge and ended at the Opera House. Between our wedding and moving to Australia, I became rather lazy in my exercise routine. I decided this race would be a good motivator to get me running and training again. Well ... it didn't.

Race day approached early on a sunny Sunday morning. I was unprepared and my cold hadn't gone away. Our friend John was staying with us for a few days while he attended a conference, and so he and Bob were going to cheer me on at the finish line. 

I stuffed a bag full of tissues to carry with me on my run, and made my way through the mass of runners to the starting line. It was chaos. There were actually four races going on that day: 
The Sydney Marathon (for crazy people)
1/2 marathon (for 1/2 crazy people)
9km Bridge Run(for mildly sensible people)
Family Fun Run (for people who like to put their small children in the way of angry runners) 

A poor flaw in the race planning, was that the family run started before the 9km run. The result of which was that once I started running the 9km with my fellow racers, we headed up the incline of the Harbour Bridge - and hit a wall of strollers, hand-holding toddlers, and piggy-backing kids. This was a problem. 

Kids, when filled with sugar, can run around malls screaming their heads off with never a need to rest. Kids, when exposed to sunlight and the monotony of 9km of pavement, wilt. The ensuing result reminded me of the Pamplona running of the bulls. Just replace the crazy running humans with sugar-depleted stumbling kids, and the bulls with sweaty adult runners praying that they not only make it up the bridge, but don't end the race to find a toddler stuck to the bottom of their shoe. 

After the initial kid-weave-and-dodge, the race calmed down, until I started running down the bridge and was nearly clotheslined by a Japanese tourist. I'm not sure if they were actually in the race, or just wanted a chance to get to run on the bridge, but about twenty of these tourists suddenly appeared on the course. They would run a few paces - this is while being surrounded by actual racers - then stop in the middle of the course, spread their arms wide, and smile so their friend ten feet back could take a picture of them. Again, this resulted in racers making sharp dives, falling over, and, I'm sure, a lot of pictures of a smiling tourist about to be run over by a very ticked off racer.

My cold was acting up and after another near miss with a camera toting tourist, I stopped to (in a very lady-like and dignified manner) hack up some phlegm. Anyway, after the obstacle course of the bridge the rest of the race went pretty smoothly and running along the botanic gardens and opera house was gorgeous. 

There were so many runners that Bob and John didn't ac
tually see me finish, but they did take me out to a nice breakfast in the gardens. So all in all, I made it through the race - and through another box of tissues. 


Monday, September 29, 2008

Winter in Sydney



It's the end of winter and start of spring here in Sydney, which I find odd, backwards, confusing, and lovely. I've suffered through enough winters in Ohio, Maine, and Chicago to truly appreciate a chance to escape the frigid season.

Though one can find Australians decked out in puffy winter coats, hats, gloves, and ugg boots, 
Bob and I are walking around in t-shirts wondering why they're geared up for a blizzard when flowers are blooming all around. I admit it's a bit chilly, and can get a tad breezy, but I feel if these people were
transfered to Chicago in January they would die in frozen shock. 

But the point of this entry was to say, Bob and I like winter in Sydney.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bodacious Byron



Byron Bay is what I was looking for.  If Surfers Paradise was a trashy blond, Byron Bay would be its' sandy-haired down-to earth cousin. Byron has great beaches, good surfing, hiking trails, a relaxed little town, and a wide variety of fancy and organic foods. It's vegan hippie heaven.