An Aussie Night Before Christmas


MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM DOWN UNDER!!

For this post I thought I would do a bit of show & tell – I am going to show you what Christmas looks like in Sydney & tell you the story of An Aussie Night Before Christmas (& yes, I bought a copy of this book, along with one called Christmas Wombat! ;))  So grab a cup of hot cocoa & settle in – this is going to be a good one! . . . Oh!  And be sure to warm up your voices – we might just sing a rendition of Jingle Bells (Aussie-style, of course!!) before this post is through! 😉

An Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison

‘Twas the night before Christmas;

there wasn’t a sound.

Not a possum was stirring;

no-one was around.


We’d left on the table

some tucker & beer,

Hoping that Santa Claus

soon would be here;


We children were snuggled up safe in our beds,

While dreams of pavlova danced ’round in our heads;


And Mum in her nightie, & Dad in his shorts,

Had just settled down to watch TV Sports,


When outside the house

a mad ruckus arose;

Loud squeaking & banging

woke us from our doze.

We ran to the screen door,

peeked cautiously out,

Snuck onto the deck,

then let out a shout.

Guess what had woken us up

from our snooze.

But a rusty old ute

pulled by eight mighty ‘roos.

The cheerful man driving

was giggling with glee,

And we both knew at once

who this plump bloke must be.


Now I’m telling the truth – it’s all dinki-di,

Those eight kangaroos fairly soared through the sky.


Santa leaned out the window to pull at the reins,

And encouraged the ‘roos, by calling their names.


‘Now, Kylie!  Now, Kirsty!

Now, Shazza & Shane!

On, Kipper!  On, Skipper!

On, Bazza & Wayne!

Park up on that water tank,

Grab a quick drink,

I’ll scoot down the gum tree.

Be back in a wink!’


So up to the tank

those eight kangaroos flew,

With the ute full of toys,

& Santa Claus too.

He slid down the gum tree

& jumped to the ground,

Then in through the window

he sprang with a bound.


He had bright sunburned cheeks

& a milky white beard.

A jolly old joker

was how he appeared.

He wore red stubby shorts

& old thongs on his feet,

And a hat of deep crimson

as shade from the heat.

His eyes – bright as opals –

Oh! how they twinkled!

And, like a goanna,

his skin was quite wrinkled!

His shirt was stretched over

a round bulging belly

Which shook when he moved,

like a plate full of jelly.


A fat sack of prezzies

he flung from his back,

And he looked like a swaggie

unfastening his pack.

He spoke not a word,

but bent down on one knee,

To position our goodies

beneath the Yule tree.


Surfboard & footy-ball shapes

for us two.

And for dad, tongs to use

on the new barbeque.

A mysterious package

he left for our mum,

Then he turned & he winked

& he held up his thumb;

He strolled out on deck & his ‘roos came on cue;

Flung his sack in the back & prepared to shoot through.

He bellowed out loud as they swooped past the gates –


‘MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, & GOODONYA, MATES!’

Well, now that I’ve got you in the Christmas spirit, are you ready for a little sing-a-long?!  I thought so!! 😀  Here’s a video of “Bucko & Champs” singing “Aussie Jingle Bells.”  Oh!  If you like what you hear, you may also want to search for some of their other well-known holiday hits, including such favorites as “Six White Boomers” (Careful!  You won’t recognize this tune, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it’ll get stuck in your head), “Deck the Shed With Bits of Wattle” & “Santa Has Got a New Truck” (which, sadly, I could not find a link for. :()  Totally serious, people – I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!  You’ll see an ad for their CD at the end of the first video. 😀

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!  AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Light Show at St. Mary's Cathedral

Christmas Window Display at David Jones Department Store

Doves at St. Mary's

Inside Sydney Opera House Concert Hall

The Madonna & Child

Nativity at Hyde Park

Ta! Cheers! Thanks!

I fear I may be stating the obvious here, but yes, those are in fact Rice Krispies & Raisin Bran cereals. Brekky, anyone?

It is interesting, & at times challenging, to learn a foreign language.

Now, I know what you’re thinking . . . wait a minute, don’t they speak English in Australia?  Technically, you would be correct (good on ya, mate!), but imagine what would happen if you invented several dozen new words, completely changed the meanings of a handful of others & decided not to clue in an entire country?  (I’m going to go out on a limb here & say that most Americans probably haven’t heard many of these before.)  Oh, & just for kicks, let’s also throw in an accent that sounds something like the lovechild of a Brit & a Bostonian (Aussies (that’s Ozzies) often drop their “r’s,” making words like Melbourne sound like “Melbin” & “Nullarbor” (that great expanse of nothingness on the road from South Australia to Western Australia) sound like “Nullahbor”).

Well I’ve experienced it firsthand & let me just tell you, it can get really confusing, really fast!

Like what if, in some alternate universe, a cantaloupe was not actually a cantaloupe at all, but, oh I dunno, a rockmelon?  Crazy, right?!

Read the sign carefully - no cantaloupes here!

While I certainly don’t presume to know all, or even most, Australian words & phrases, below are some of the ones I have either come across most frequently, or that I have found to be the most amusing.  I also don’t claim that all of these words are purely Australian; many may be rooted in the UK, but I’m not writing a research paper here, just remarking on some of the interesting things you might hear around Oz.

ABC’s:

The letter “H” is pronounced “Hey-ch” & the letter “Z” is pronounced “Zed.”  I still don’t understand how Aussies learn to sing the alphabet when “now I know my ABC’s, next time won’t you sing with me?” doesn’t rhyme with “X – Y – Zed.”  *Sigh* 😦

SUMMERTIME:

Sunnies (Sunglasses)

Thongs (Flip Flops; In New Zealand, these are known as Jandals!)

Esky (Cooler)

Fine/Fine Up (As in, “Tomorrow the weather will be fine” or “I think it’s going to fine up this afternoon.”  Meaning Clear/Not Cloudy.)

Mozzie (Short for Mosquito)

EAT YOUR WORDS:

Capsicum (Pepper; I’ve often seen the word capsicum on a menu, but it still throws me off when I read or hear about someone using “capsicum spray” – then I put two & two together – oh yeah, that’s what they call pepper spray!  Hahaha!)

Capsicum can refer to either red, yellow or green bell peppers.

Rocket (Arugula; I had one of those aha! moments recently when I finally made this connection . . . so we do have “rocket” in the States! . . . if only I’d ever seen or tasted arugula before I would have figured it out sooo much sooner, but we all know how adventurous I am when it comes to food! ;))

Rocket = Arugula . . . Mystery solved!

Muesli (Untoasted Granola; Aussies only call it granola if the “muesli” is toasted!)

Muesli comes in various forms, including the cereal you see pictured above, as well as "muesli bars" (granola bars to Americans).

Jelly (Jello; This one can get a bit confusing, as you might imagine.  No wonder Aussies think it’s odd that peanut butter & jelly sandwiches are a staple of American childhood . . . Although, I have to say – Vegemite?  Really, Australia?!)

There's always room for J-E-L-L-Y?

Lollies (Candy)

Lollies for Cupcake Decorating at the Good Food & Wine Show in July.

Biscuit (Cookie; The ANZAC biscuits pictured below were created during WWI.  Made from ingredients that do not readily spoil, such as oats, coconuts & golden syrup, the biscuits were able to survive the long journey to the troops.)

ANZAC stands for Australia & New Zealand Army Corps.

Magnum (OK, I had to throw this one in here – in Australia, Magnum is a brand of Ice Cream.  Reminds me of a story of a British friend who studied abroad in the States; In the middle of a class one day he made the faux pas of asking if anyone had a “rubber” . . . that’s an eraser to the Brits!! ;))

Perhaps a bit ironically, their slogan is "For Pleasure Seekers."

Hundreds & Thousands (These are sprinkles, but only the “Dot” Sprinkles are called 100’s & 1000’s – the long, skinny sprinkles are still called sprinkles!

100's & 1000's

MISCELLANEOUS:

Sloppy Joe (No, this one does not belong in the food category!  At least not in Australia.  According to an Aussie friend from work, a “sloppy joe” is a Sweatshirt!)

Nappies (This is NOT slang for “napkins,” despite the similarity between the two words.  And it’s a good thing I learned this one early on because nappies are in fact . . . Diapers!)

Baby Nappies

Serviettes (These are the Napkins!  It always sounds so funny to me when I have to ask customers at work if they want their cupcake on a serviette or in a take-away bag – it sounds to me like I’m asking if they want it on a silver platter!)

Take-Away (OK, we can easily figure out that this is a synonym for “Take-Out,” but I had never used this phrase before hearing it abroad.  I know it’s a small difference, but I think it has a nice ring to it. :))

Brekky (short for Breakfast)

Famous "Big Brekky" at Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt

Rubbish Bin; or simply “Bin” (Garbage/Trash Can.  You might also use the word rubbish to describe something you don’t like, as in “This music is rubbish.”  In addition, instead of “throw it in the garbage/trash, Aussies would say “chuck it in the bin.”)

Trolley (Shopping Cart)

Pram (Stroller)

Ute (Utility Vehicle; Although it always makes me think of those two “youts” from My Cousin Vinny – hahaha!)

TaCheers (As you may have guessed from the title of this post, both words mean Thanks.  Ta is very informal & thus only used for very small/minor favors.  I often hear it at work when handing a customer his or her change.)

PHRASES IN TRANSLATION:

You’ve surely heard No worries, but what about No dramas or Too easy?  Oz has a very laid back culture. 😉

What do you reckon? (OK, so we know what this one means as well, but seriously, who actually says reckon in the 21st century? . . . Except that it’s used so often in Australia I’m afraid I just might hear it coming out of my own mouth one of these days!)

Rock up (To arrive; e.g., “What time did they finally rock up?”)

How ya going? (How are you?  I just can’t bring myself to say this one – it sounds way too strange with my American accent.  Same goes for “G’day, mate!“)

Give it a go (Give it a try)

How did you go? (How did you do?)

Hey? (Huh?)

Stuff up/Stuff around (Make a mistake/Dilly-dally)

Good on ya! (Good for you!)

It’s my shout (It’s my turn to pay.  I love the political poster below that’s currently hanging up around the city.  “Labor” refers to one of the major political parties in Australia.  They would be considered the liberal party in the American sense of the word, but this is a bit confusing as Australia’s other main party is literally called the “Liberal” party & they are the conservatives!)

The Murray-Darling is a river basin in southeast Australia & apparently it is very thirsty!

I’ve got bags (Dibs)

Are you alright? (Can I help you?  This is something you might say to a customer in a store, meaning perhaps “Can I help you find something?” or “Are you ready to order?,” not “Are you hurt?” or “Are you going to be ill?,” although that’s what it always sounded like to me until I got used to hearing it on a regular basis!)

What are you after? (What would you like?)

To get rugged up (Put on lots of warm clothes)

Chuck a Sickie (No, it doesn’t mean to vomit, although it kinda sounds like that, hey? 😉  It actually means to Call in sick to work when you’re not really sick.)

SAME WORD, DIFFERENT PRONUNCIATION:

First of all, let me make the disclaimer right now that I have *no* idea how to do proper phonetic spellings, so this section is going to be a real challenge.  Some of these (like to-MAY-to/to-MAH-to) you’ll already be familiar with so it won’t matter so much; others (like o-RE-ga-no/o-re-GA-no) will probably be new.

Tomato (“You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to . . . Let’s call the whole thing off!“)

Banana (My supervisor & I were chatting about Australian & American words & accents one day when she asked me to try to pronounce “banana” like an Aussie – she nearly choked on her coffee after hearing my interpretation (she said I sounded more British than Australian!) – I guess I won’t be starting an acting career anytime soon! 😉  Oh well, it’s something like “ba-NAH-na.”)

Peanut Butter (I *love* hearing Aussies say this – whereas we say PEANUT butter, their version is more like “peanut BUTT-ah“)

Mocha (Mah-ca – OK, I admit I don’t know how to do this one justice phonetically, but when Aussies pronounce “mocha,” you don’t hear the “oh” sound that Americans use, it’s more like a cross between an “oh” & an “ah.”)

Basil (This one always cracks me up because when I try to think about how the Aussies pronounce it, I often end up thinking “baah-sil” (baa) like a sheep instead of “ba-sil” [OK, I don’t know how to spell this one phonetically either, but it starts out like the “ba” in “bat”] & then inevitably it takes me a minute or two to remember how I pronounce it [bay-sil – Americans say “bay-sil,” Niki!  Hahaha!])

Oregano (O-re-GAN-o.  This one is tricky because as an American, you have to put the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble.  If you forget how to pronounce it, just remember that it sounds a bit like origami!)

Fillet (FILL-it.  This is one of the few words for which I think the American pronunciation is more beautiful than the Australian . . . although technically the American pronunciation is the French pronunciation, so we can’t really take credit for that. ;))

JUST FOR FUN:

I recently came across some children’s books that had me in stitches – I swear these titles could be from an SNL skit, but no, they’re real!  Of course I took pictures just to prove I wasn’t making these up! 😉

I didn't know those little piggies lived in the bush!

The dingrel* is coming!  The dingrel is coming!

Watch out, little bush pigs – the hungry dingrel is looking for an easy feed.  You’d better build a very strong house to keep him out!

A clever new Aussie twist on an old story.”

*I have absolutely no idea what a dingrel is – maybe similar to a dingo?  A Google search proved to be unhelpful in this matter. 😦

I always thought it was a boy who cried wolf? Silly Aussies!

“Cocky is a cheeky trickster, who loves nothing more than pulling pranks on the other birds.  But when Cocky’s tricks get him into real trouble, he finally learns his lesson . . . or does he?”

There are heaps (lots) more I’m probably forgetting right now & others I’ve left out intentionally, otherwise this post could go on forever! (as if it hasn’t gone on long enough already! ;)) Well, hopefully my ramblings have given you a tiny glimpse into the language of the Land Down Under. 😀  And get ready . . . because in about a month you’re in for a real treat, when I post Aussie Slang: Christmas Edition!! 😀

By the way, fun social experiment – go to your local supermarket & start taking random pictures of everyday food items . . . you’ll be sure to get some looks – hahaha! 😉

The Perfect Cup

A Beautiful Coffee from Three Bags Full Cafe in Melbourne

If you know me at all, you know how much I love coffee.  I *crave* coffee.  Some might say I cannot truly function without coffee, but let’s not test that theory – some things are better left unknown. 😉

A good cup of coffee can go a looong way in getting my day off to a good start.  I can tell right away with that first sip – the perfectly extracted espresso, the smooth, silky milk topped with a layer of tantalizing foam that tickles your lips, all served at just the right temperature so that it glides down your throat & warms you from the inside, out.  Sound intoxicating?  Trust me, when done correctly, it is!

Some advice for my friends & family out there – if ever I’m in a bad mood, just serve me up a good cup of coffee & watch the transformation – it won’t take long, I promise.  I fully understand that coffee is technically a stimulant, but in those magical moments after taking that first sip, I swear to you a good cup of coffee can actually make me feel . . . relaxed.

Just thinking about that perfect cup & I can almost feel it now – the tension melting away from my neck & shoulders as the drug works its wonders, my face reflexively smiling at the simple thought of how wonderful it is to live in a world with coffee . . . ah, bliss. 😀

Until recently I had no idea just how much effort goes into making a good cup.  Knowing that I might end up in a job that required me to have some knowledge of what it takes to be a barista (& also out of my own fascination with this delicious beverage), I decided to enroll in a barista course shortly after arriving in Sydney back in May.  The course was only 5 hours long, so in no way did I think I would become an expert after such a short time (& even now, after four months of experience making espresso-based drinks, I still would not claim to be an expert), but I do think I’ve gained a much better appreciation for all the steps involved.  Believe it or not, there is actually more to it than I’m going to discuss here, but what follows are some of the main issues baristas must tackle on a daily basis.

Latte Art I learned how to create in my barista course using chocolate syrup - yes, I actually made these coffees!

GRINDING & TAMPING THE COFFEE

* Good cafes grind coffee only as needed, in order to preserve freshness.

* The grinder must be set correctly (& regularly adjusted) so that the espresso machine produces a 30 mL (1 oz) shot of espresso in 30 seconds.

– If the shot is pouring too quickly, the result is a weak, watery coffee.  Solution: Make the grind finer.

– If the shot is pouring too slowly, the result is a burnt, bitter coffee (N.B. This is how most Aussies view Starbucks coffee.  They generally believe that Americans think a “good” or “strong” coffee equals a burnt coffee :().  Solution: Make the grind more coarse.

– The way a barista packs the coffee into the “group handle” also affects the pour, along the same lines as described above.

– Environmental factors, such as the weather, can affect the pour as well.  For instance, on a humid day you will need to make the grind more coarse.  This is because the coffee will attract the moisture in the air, causing it to pack more tightly.

* Since the way the coffee is packed into the group handle clearly affects the quality of the resulting espresso, my barista course taught me that it is important for all baristas to use the same amount of force when “tamping” the coffee, specifically 18 kilos . . . that’s 40 lbs of force!!  We practiced tamping the coffee on a bathroom scale to get a feel for it – try it some time, it’s a workout!

Coffee from The Book Kitchen Cafe in Surry Hills

STEAMING THE MILK

The purpose of steaming the milk is not only to heat it (although of course heating the milk to the correct temperature is important), the goal is to both create foam or froth & then texturize the milk.

Part 1 – Creating the Froth/Foam

As the espresso shot is pouring, it is time to steam the milk.  The steam wand is inserted just far enough into the milk jug so that the holes on the tip of the wand are covered when you turn on the steam.  You then slowly lower the jug so that the holes are exposed & steam is forced into the milk, creating . . . you guessed it, foam! 🙂  How much foam you want to create depends on the type of drink you are making, but we’ll cover that in another post!

Now this may sound simple enough & once you get the hang of it I suppose it is, but it is a delicate process & when you are first learning it can be a bit tricky.  Too much steam allowed into the milk too quickly & you will hear big gulps of air being sucked in, creating what Aussies like to refer to as “roadhouse froth” – in case you were wondering, this is not a compliment! 😉  If the barista is frothing the milk correctly you should hear a gentle “kissing” noise as the air enters the milk.

Part 2 – Texturizing the Milk

Once you have created enough foam, you can lower the steam wand into the milk jug so that the holes are once again covered.  If the wand is positioned correctly, the milk will spin quickly in the jug, resulting in a smooth, silky texture.  Once the milk has reached the correct temperature (65C or 150F), you can turn off the steam wand & pour your drink.  So, how do you know once the milk has reached 65 degrees?  Well, the simple solution would be to use a thermometer, but life is never that simple, right? 😉  Most baristas tend to rely on their senses to tell them when the milk is ready.  Specifically, they will keep one hand on the bottom of the milk jug, feeling for when the milk has reached the desired temperature.  They will also listen to the sound of the milk as it spins in the jug – the sound gets audibly lower as the milk reaches 65 degrees.

Sound crazy?  I thought so, too!  I’ve gotten better at it over time, but I still think a thermometer would tend to be more accurate (at least when I’m the one behind the espresso machine, hahaha!)

More Latte Art I created during my barista course

HOW TO PROPERLY STORE COFFEE BEANS/GROUNDS

Do NOT store coffee in the fridge or freezer (this means you, mom – LOL!).  Always store any coffee beans or grounds in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place (such as inside a cupboard).  Why?  Remember what we said above about coffee attracting moisture – the fridge/freezer is not only going to enable coffee to readily absorb moisture, it will also pick up smells from the surrounding food  – fish flavored coffee, anyone? 😉

A NOTE ON LATTE ART

The latte art I created in the photos above were all made using a technique called “etching.”  This is where you use a thermometer or other instrument to essentially draw an image on the coffee.  While these designs may look impressive, they are not as technically difficult to produce as the rosettas (leaves) you see in the pictures from Three Bags Full Cafe & The Book Kitchen Cafe above.  Rosettas are created using a technique known as “free pouring,” in which you use your wrist to gently shake the milk jug as you are pouring the milk into the espresso – if done correctly, it will result in a beautiful leaf-like pattern (this is specifically for the rosetta; other patterns such as a love heart & many, many more designs can be created by the skilled barista).  More on this technique, including how my own latte art skills have evolved over the past few months, in my next post!

Melbourne

Flinders Street Station

Perhaps the best way to describe the two & a half weeks I spent in Melbourne is by highlighting some of the many wonderful things I packed into such a short visit . . .

Melbourne Beaches . . . & Cakes 😀

Before I arrived in Melbourne, I had heard about the beach at St. Kilda & (even more important) the strip of cake shops along Acland Street . . . yum!

One of the many cake shops along Acland Street in St. Kilda

Hazelnut, white chocolate & orange cake from another Acland Street cake shop, Monarch Bakery

Believe it or not, I only ate at one cake shop on Acland Street!  Had I known in the beginning how little time I would spend in Melbourne, perhaps I would have gone back a second time.  Oh well, we know there are plenty of sweets to sample around Sydney!! 😉

Ironically, I have no pictures of the beach at St. Kilda . . . I guess I was too busy drooling over all those cakes!  Quite honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed with Melbourne’s beaches (Sydney Harbour was calling to me, & both of the Sydney beaches I had been to previously – Bondi & Manly – made anything I saw in Melbourne pale in comparison, not to mention the gorgeous beaches of Western Australia).  I did have fun trying to spot the penguins at St. Kilda Pier, but seeing as how it was dusk & we were told not to use the flash on our cameras, the one picture that didn’t come out completely black is still not much to look at!

Penguin at St. Kilda - if you strain your eyes you can kinda pick him out amongst the rocks - look for the thin strip of white on his belly in the middle of the photo! (the pic is of his profile)

I also enjoyed my visit to Brighton Beach – again, not so much for the beach itself, but for the famous “Brighton Bathing Boxes.”

A colorful array of bathing boxes at Brighton Beach

I love the playfulness & peacefulness, respectively, of these two designs

Melbourne Museums

Museums aren’t usually the first thing on my holiday to-do list, but believe it or not I actually made it to two in Melbourne – the Immigration Museum as well as the Melbourne Museum to see the King Tut Exhibition.  I find ancient Egyptian culture intriguing (seriously, how did they build those pyramids?!) & couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see this.  It goes without saying that the artifacts were amazing, but I also enjoyed the video & description of archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.  It was pretty cool to be able to watch a part of history & imagine the emotions he must have felt upon finding such treasures.

The Immigration Museum also did not disappoint.  During my time abroad, it has been interesting to compare & contrast Australian & American culture, & immigration has been an important factor in the development & growth of both countries.  I especially enjoyed the interactive features of the museum, such as the replica ship – each room transports you to a different time period in order to offer a glimpse of the varying travel conditions experienced by immigrants from the 1840s to the 1950s.  In addition, it was quite interesting to play along with the interactive video that allows patrons to take on the role of immigration officer & decide the fate of immigrants from various backgrounds throughout different periods in Australia’s history.  I quickly learned that it would be difficult for someone like me to make the cut by today’s standards (not that I’m seriously considering the idea . . . just curious!)  So – what makes it so difficult for me to become a permanent resident of Oz?  Well, I’m not a refugee, I don’t have any job skills that are in need in Australia & I’m not married to an Australian citizen.

Many of those considered illegal immigrants in Oz include people who have overstayed their visas from the UK & the US!!

Melbourne Food

Often referred to as the culinary capital of Australia, any description of Melbourne would not be complete without mention of the food.  Lucky for us, Adam introduced Heather & I to an amazing little cafe in the suburb of Abbotsford called Three Bags Full.  I had several great meals there, but if I had to pick a favorite I’d probably go with this:

Pumpkin & sage fritters with grilled haloumi, creamed feta, crisp proscuitto, tomato & rocket

OK, I have to laugh at this, but I just googled “rocket lettuce” to try to figure out the best way to describe “rocket” to you & I learned that it is also known as arugula – why does it always take me so long to figure these things out?!  This whole time I thought Australia grew some mysterious type of lettuce that didn’t exist in the States – hahaha!  Yeah, but you have to agree that rocket sounds way cooler – I mean, try getting your 5-year-old (or me, for that matter) to eat something called arugula! 😉  Anyway, rocket is sort of like pumpkin in that you will find both on menus all over Australia!

Well, on with the food!  It just so happens that another favorite dish was a similar concoction from another Melbourne cafe I frequented on more than one occasion, Stuzzichino in Carlton, Melbourne’s Little Italy.  And look – our two most familiar ingredients are back again – pumpkin & rocket/roquette (I’ve seen both spellings & tend to jot down ingredients exactly as they’re listed on the menu.  Same goes for the spelling of feta/fetta).

Savoury pancakes filled with roast pumpkin & Greek fetta, topped with diced tomato, red onions, roquette salad & shaved parmesan

Melbourne Sports

The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a big sports fan, but it seemed I couldn’t truly experience Melbourne without seeing a “footy” game at The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).  What exactly is footy (a.k.a. Australian Rules Football, or simply Aussie Rules)? . . . Well, that’s the question, isn’t it . . . & since I never quite understood all the rules myself, I’ll let you read about the sport here.  What I can tell you is that footy is a fast-paced, crazy, anything goes kind of sport.  Well, OK, it’s not really anything goes, but it sure seemed like it to me at the time!

My first footy game!

First of all, the players use just about every part of their bodies to move the ball.  The only thing I think they’re not allowed to do is throw the ball – what sometimes looked to me like a throw was actually a “punch” (known as handballing), a bit like one might use to serve in volleyball.  Players can run with the ball, sort of like in American football, but they have to periodically bounce the ball, kind of like in basketball – you see what I mean?  Strange!  And footy is definitely a contact sport, but you won’t find any helmets here – yikes!

A Richmond player greets the crowd after the Tigers win the game

Anyway, I have to say that I enjoyed the game immensely – despite not always understanding what was going on! 0:-)  Fortunately I went with a group of people from my hostel & we had an Australian with us who did a good job of keeping us up to speed.  In the end, the Richmond (suburb of Melbourne) Tigers beat the Fremantle “Freo” (suburb of Perth) Dockers by a score of 148 to 99.  The fact that I had visited both Richmond & Fremantle previously made it difficult for me to choose one team to cheer for over the other, but our Aussie friend was a Freo fan, so we all pretty much just went with that.  You would think the Tigers would have had the homefield advantage, but not necessarily – a number of teams are based in or around Melbourne, including the Melbourne Demons, the North Melbourne Kangaroos, the St. Kilda Saints . . . I could go on, but you get the idea!

Beyond Melbourne – Sovereign Hill

On my last day in Melbourne, I booked a tour to Sovereign Hill in the city of Ballarat, about an hour’s drive away.  Sovereign Hill is a living, outdoor museum telling the story of the goldrush that took place in the state of Victoria beginning in the 1850s.

Panning for gold

One of the things I loved about Sovereign Hill is that it truly transports you back in time.  The buildings, the actors dressed in costumes, everything is as it would have been in Ballarat in the mid-19th century.

The Marching of the 'Redcoat' Soldiers

You can even walk inside various shops & see demonstrations (e.g., candle making) & make purchases (with your modern Australian cash, of course) . . . I bought a wombat-shaped cookie cutter from a tinsmith – can’t wait to make wombat-shaped cookies! 🙂

Candle Shop

They even have a program that allows middle school kids & teachers to experience what it would have been like to attend a goldfields school!

Real kids - not actors! - get a glimpse of life at a 19th century goldfields school

And finally, I had to make time for lunch before I left!  Sovereign Hill’s New York Bakery made my favorite pumpkin soup to date – it was so artfully presented, too! 🙂

Pumpkin soup with cream & chives

So that essentially wraps up my time in Melbourne.  I’m sure I’ve left out a few things & of course there are many things I didn’t get to experience, but all-in-all I’d say I did a pretty good job of exploring what Melbourne has to offer.  In the end, I suppose you know I came to the conclusion that it’s a great place to visit (really!) . . . I just didn’t want to live there.

Melbourne's Federation Square

The Curse of the “Sorry Rocks”

If you missed my previous posts on my 7-Day Groovy Grape “Desert Patrol” Tour from Adelaide to Alice Springs, you may want to check out post #1 & post #2 first; then read below for the conclusion of a three-part series on my trip “up the guts” of Australia.

Outback Sunset

If you’ve read my previous posts on the Outback, you’ve heard a bit about Whales, our tour guide.  Of all the things he said to us throughout our week-long tour, this was by far my favorite:

“Anything can happen in the desert . . . & it usually does.”

Yeah, that just about made me want to jump off the bus right then & there & run for my life! . . . But more on that later. 😉  First, we must set the scene:

It is believed by the Aboriginals that Uluru tells many stories about how the land was created.  Due to both the spiritual significance of the site, as well as the danger involved, the Anangu people ask visitors not to climb the Rock, but many do so despite this request, including two people on my tour.

Climbing Ayers Rock (a.k.a. Uluru)

Another Aboriginal law that has frequently been violated over the years involves the taking of small rocks, sand, or other “souvenirs” from Uluru & the surrounding area.  As our guide cautioned, legend has it that anyone who steals from the land in this way will be cursed.  Not a believer?  Well, hundreds of would-be thieves have later returned these “sorry rocks” to the National Park along with letters of apology asking for forgiveness (& of course to please, please remove the curse!)

A different view of Uluru

So you will understand why, when I found myself in the middle of a 1 hour & 45 minute walk around the base of Uluru with a *very* full bladder, my angst was taken to a level beyond the embarrassment & awkwardness I felt the first two (yes, two!) times I was previously forced to wee in the bush.  What was I to do?!  Others in my group advised me to find a spot away from the Rock & just go (& I’m aware of at least one other person on my tour who did just that), but exactly how far away did I need to be in order to avoid a lifetime of misfortune?  For surely if the gods have cursed people for pilfering a mere stone or even a teensy grain of sand they would deem it just to deliver a far worse judgment upon one who urinates on their beloved land, would they not?!

Clearly this was not a good situation to be in.  So what did I do?  Well . . . I did what any other neurotic/OCD/superstitious individual would have done – I started repeating various mantras in my head to take my mind off things, my pace getting faster & faster all the while . . . first from a leisurely stroll up to a brisk walk, then to one of those half-skip/half-jog fiascoes (where you take 2 or 3 hop-steps to every normal one, trying to keep your legs as close together as possible lest anything should, er, leak out) & finally to a full-out sprint as I neared the end of the trail.  What exactly were those mantras, you ask?  Oh, ya know, something along the lines of “I will not pee on sacred ground” & “I did not travel all the way to Australia to be cursed.”  I know, I know – I would make a *great* motivational speaker.

Uluru is the largest monolith in the world

Well, joke if you must, but I made it!  Just barely, but still – I have never been so relieved (no pun intended) to see a toilet!  But now you must be curious as to how exactly I found myself in such a predicament in the first place; After all, an hour & 45 minutes is not so long . . . unless you’ve sculled a liter of water before the walk even began & then another liter after that!  So why would I torture myself in such a way?  Well only to avoid an even *more* epic disaster of course – that of getting dehydrated in the dry heat of the desert & having to be rescued by the R.F.D.S. (& that was only one of the many catastrophes Whales was alluding to when he said that anything can happen in the desert.  “Trust me,” he said, “it will totally ruin the rest of your holiday” . . . So I was not taking any chances!)  Fortunately we had an “uneventful” tour in the sense that we all somehow managed to avoid the need for any type of medical treatment, but we were told that people have gotten ill previously & that was all the warning I needed.  Although . . . it would have been nice for Whales to point out that it can also be dangerous to drink *too much* water – I did not even think about that possibility since I was so preoccupied with the fear of dehydration! :-/

Well, all’s well that ends well I suppose.  And Uluru was definitely an amazing sight to behold, especially at sunrise & sunset.  It is a tradition to toast the sunset at Uluru & our group did just that.

Champagne & hors d'oeuvres to celebrate the sunset at Uluru . . . for the rich guests on the tour group next to ours!

Hahaha – in all fairness, we did get some snacks – they just weren’t nearly as elegant as the spread in the picture above.  As for the alcohol, that was not included in the price of our budget tour, so we had to stock up before leaving Ceduna, the largest town we would see until we arrived in Alice Springs a week later.

Petra & I toasting the sunset at Uluru

But Uluru is not all there is to see in the Outback.  Kata Tjuta (also known as The Olgas) & Kings Canyon are also magnificent sites.

The gently rounded slopes of Kata Tjuta can't help but put one in a peaceful frame of mind

Kata Tjuta - Beautiful views from every angle

After climbing "Heart Attack Hill," we were richly rewarded with a gorgeous view of King's Canyon

Me, atop Kings Canyon

So this concludes my 7-day tour from Adelaide to Alice Springs.  While I wouldn’t want to live in such remote areas of the Outback, I’m really glad I visited & took the opportunity to see what Australia is like beyond her major cities.  So far I have to say that this tour along with the two weeks I spent in Tasmania (Wombats!!  Need I say more?) on the Oz Road Trip with Heather & Adam have been my favorite adventures to date, but I imagine that Queensland (which I am hoping to visit before my visa expires in February 2012) will provide some pretty amazing experiences as well.  For now, however, I am living & working in a place that I have deemed the most magical in all of Australia: my first love, Sydney.  More to come on my life in the Harbour City in future posts.

Lessons Learned & Memories Made on the Oz Roadtrip

Home Sweet Home

After nearly two months on the road, HeatherAdam & I knew the Oz Roadtrip was quickly coming to a close.  We hadn’t seen it all, but we’d seen quite a bit & it was time to head back east.  While I’ve already written about most of the highlights of our trip in my previous posts, I couldn’t resist one more reflection on some of the smaller moments that made this trip such a memorable experience for me.

ON CAMPING:

  • As it turns out, empty tents that are not pegged down have a silly habit of blowing away . . . *Oops!*  Thank you Mr. Caravan Park Owner who (begrudgingly) chased it down & stored it in a shed until we returned from our day out . . . Imagine our surprise (& embarrassment) when we “rocked up” (Aussie lingo for “arrived”) to our campsite & realized it wasn’t quite where we had left it. 0:-)
  • Pitching a tent on concrete can actually be more comfortable than pitching it on grass or dirt, namely when the ground is sloped, rocky, or has a well hidden sprinkler system that rudely awakens you to monsoon-like conditions at 5:30 a.m.  ‘Nuff said. 😉
  • It’s amazing how adaptable one can be to living the life of a vagabond.  I wasn’t quite sure how I would fare with constant travel for weeks on end, sleeping in a tent on the cold, hard ground (haha – little did I realize then how luxurious it was to actually have the “walls” of a tent to protect me from the elements . . . I would soon find out during my 7-day “Desert Patrol” tour with Groovy Grape, which I plan to write about in an upcoming post).  Honestly, though, traveling became such a normal part of my life for those two months that I found myself referring to “home” as wherever we made camp for the night.  In fact, I once almost caught myself referring to the tent as my “apartment” – how crazy is that?!
ON FOOD & DRINK:
  • I think it was around day two of our trip when Adam offered me some cereal he had packed from home.  I took a quick look at the label on the container & the bits of what I now know to be dried fruit & immediately remarked “Australians eat beets in their cereal?!”  Those who know me well will not be surprised that I can be so gullible.  Just for the record, no, Aussies definitively do *not* eat dried beets in their cereal (Thank goodness!  Although beets do appear on menus here with more frequency than I’ve seen in the States).  In any event, Adam had packed the cereal in an empty container that must have originally contained beets.  As we would say in America, my bad! 0;-)  Needless to say, he & Heather would not let me live that one down for days!
  • We were fortunate to enjoy many great eats during our travels, but one treat that was sorely missing was s’mores!  For an American, s’mores & camping go hand-in-hand, but sadly I learned that it is difficult, if not impossible, to find graham crackers in Australia!  Or as Adam would say “GRAY-um” crackers.  Craziness! – Both the Australian pronunciation of the word & the fact that they don’t carry this product here.  Wonders never cease!

One of my favorite pumpkin dishes from our road trip: Potato & pumpkin quiche from the Salamanca Markets in Hobart, Tasmania

  • While there are some foods from back home that are sorely missing here, or that are just not quite the same, there are also new foods & food combinations to enjoy.  I think I’ve mentioned previously in my blog that pumpkin has been a favorite food of mine since I “discovered” it here in Australia.  What I didn’t know until Heather informed me a few weeks into our trip, is that what Aussies refer to as “pumpkin” is not the Halloween jack-o-lantern type of pumpkin that I was picturing; It is actually butternut pumpkin or what we in the U.S. refer to as butternut squash.  Aha! [light bulb turns on] . . . now it makes so much more sense why they use this as an ingredient in so many savory dishes & also why I had such a hard time finding savory “pumpkin” recipes when I tried to do a google search on this topic last Thanksgiving!  In any case, it really is such a versatile & delicious food that I think I will have to devote an entire post to some of my favorite pumpkin-inspired meals in the future. 🙂

A Delicious Coffee from Three Bags Full in Melbourne, Victoria

  • If there is one thing I’ve learned about Australians, it’s how seriously they take their coffee & Adam is no exception.  We tried many a coffee during our road trip & I slowly started to ascertain the differences between a good cup & a bad one (it’s becoming even more clear to me now that I have taken a barista training course in Sydney, but more on that in a future post).  Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned (or should I say confirmed?) about myself through my coffee tastings is how far a good cup of coffee can go in putting me on the path to a great day. 🙂
ON AUSSIE LINGO:
  • It’s impossible to reminisce about our road trip & not have Adam’s kooky attempt at an American accent come to mind.  It sounded to me & Heather like he was trying to do an impression of a redneck pirate!  Ridiculous combination, I know, but just listen to this & judge for yourself!  OK, you might not pick up on the pirate part, but it was clear to us when we instructed Adam to work on articulating the letter “R” (Aussies tend to swallow this sound when it occurs near the end of a word, similar to Bostonians).  Anyway, perhaps he took our advice too much to heart as he seemed to us to be saying “Arrrr!” 😉
  • Adam fared much better at speaking “American English” than I did with “Australian English.”  It’s not the accent I’m after (believe me, I wouldn’t even come close!)  All I want to do is try to pronounce Australian place names & other words with a reasonable degree of correctness.  It’s why I spent weeks trying to master the pronunciation of Melbourne (it sounds sort of like “MEL-bin”) & why Adam couldn’t help but tease me every time we came across a new town during our trip.  Places like Geelong (JUH-long) & even more tricky, Launceston (LAWN-sess-ton), boggle the mind . . . well, at least my mind! 😉
  • It also amused me how amazed Adam was that most Americans pronounce words like “berry,” “bury” & “Barry” exactly the same.  I can hear the difference in the way he says them if I listen closely, but it’s a real effort for me to mimic his speech.  Interestingly, I once had this same conversation with my friend Christine who is from Queens, NY, so while not all Americans have trouble with these subtle distinctions, to Heather & I they’re all the same.
FINAL THOUGHTS:
  • Another memory woven throughout the fabric of our entire trip is the almost nightly ritual of watching an episode or two of Dexter on Adam’s laptop in the back of the van.  It’s an American show, but neither Heather nor I had seen it before (it airs on Showtime) & Adam got us both hooked . . . Because watching a tv show about a serial killer is a great way to lull yourself to sleep at night when you’re camping out in the middle of nowhere. 😉  (N.B. to Adam & Heather: I’ve only watched two more episodes since we ended our trip, so don’t spoil it!)

Aussies, Beware: Crazy American Driver Behind the Wheel!

ME, in the driver’s seat after we had switched drivers at a pit stop . . . always a genius when it comes to directions: “So, we have to go left to get going in the right direction again, right?”
ADAM: “Yes.”
ME, with a slightly terrified tone to my voice: “And I drive on the left?”
ADAM, witty as ever: “That would be preferable, yes.”
Ah . . . memories 😉

Map of Australia

WA = Western Australia; NT = Northern Territory; SA = South Australia; QLD = Queensland; NSW = New South Wales; ACT = Australian Capital Territory; VIC = Victoria; TAS = Tasmania

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