Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Top End: The Out of Towners

Australia has six states and "various" territories.  Of these various territories there are only two that anybody has ever heard of, one of them being the Northern Territory.

NT is quite huge, and is way bigger than a few states.  It has a super tiny population though, just over 230,000.  It is in the middle, at the top of the country, so essentially it's the North Dakota of Australia - times 20 (I did the math).  Its position on the continent, I assume, is why it's known as the Top End.

Martin has been there for work before, as I mentioned here, where I said "I really, really, really (really, really) wanted to go" but couldn't due to work.  Things are especially expensive in NT, particularly flights, so as soon as it was confirmed that he was going again for work I jumped at the chance to go.  An exotic destination where we only need to pay for one flight - I'm in!

I've been obsessed with the idea of going to Darwin since we got to Australia because it is the gateway to Kakadu National Park, which has waterfalls and scenery that looks off the chain (see here).  Unfortunately for me, with only one day to devout to scenery and nature out of town the 3+ hour drive to Kakadu just proved too much.  Kakadu was not in the cards, so I had to come up with a Plan B.

Plan B: Litchfield National Park

Florence Falls
Wangi Falls
Litchfield is closer to Darwin and a far more manageable/sane choice for a day trip.

You can swim in those scenic waterfall pools, but!


My favorite pic, taken by camera phone!
I am being deceptive here.

While, yes, we did see crocodiles (up close and personal!) they were not in our swimmin' hole.  They were in the Adelaide River, which everybody knows to stay the hell out of unless you have a death wish.  That warning sign really is by the waterfall pools, though.  During the wet season (summer; not now) crocs hang out there.  But now the water is lower and the crocs have vacated.  That didn't stop me from freaking the eff out, particularly in water that is dark where you can't see to the bottom!

We've done a jumping croc tour once before in Cairns, but I am not one to turn down seeing real life, modern day dinosaurs just because I've seen them once before.  There were so dang many of them!  It took mere minutes for us to get close to one.  A few decades ago the crocs in this area were hunted down to a population of 3,000.  Today they're back up to 143,000.  So many dinos!

It's worth noting that only one in like every bajilion crocs make it to this size.  Crocs are mean bastards and eat each other if they can.  We even saw one croc with no front legs, because another croc had ripped them off!  I told you: mean bastards.  That one seemed to have as nice a life as crocs can have, since the tail is what's important for survival.

More fun with wildlife: holding a snake!

Snakes are so much fun!  I love them.  Provided they aren't venomous, that is.  Some might call me nuts but I really like reptiles.  All reptiles!

And our last wildlife encounter of the day, Martin licked the ass of one of these ants:

And so did I!  I've done it before, again in Cairns, but I convinced Martin to do it this time.  When you luck the butt bulb (I really don't have a better term for it than that) you get a very intense citrus flavor.  If you'll believe it, I thought these ants tasted very different than the ones in Queensland!  The QLD one was so intense they were like an electric shock of lime.  This one just tasted like concentrated limes.  Odd!  I must lick more ant asses before I can make a final, scientific conclusion about the taste of ant asses.

The other two sites we saw in Litchfield were the Buley Rockholes, perfect for taking a relaxing dip in, and the insanely tall Cathedral Termite Mounds:

That mound is nuts, it's 4 meters (13 feet) tall!  Two Martins put together, and then some!  And hard as concrete.

I am still low on vacation time thanks to Funemployment 2014 so lucky me I got to take red eye flights to and fro Darwin to avoid missing any work!  My main sleep on Sunday night was 3 hours on an airplane, so I'm beat.  I can't be arsed to write about our in town activities right now, so those will have to wait for another day.

It's 9:00 p.m. so this grandma bids you goodnight!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Culture Vulture

I am irritated to report, but you shouldn't be surprised to hear, that going out to the theater (or any show/production) in Australia is super hella mega expensive.  Sometimes, though, it's totally worth it.

Rocky Horror Show

Look at me, I'm a transvestite!
Fun fact: Rocky Horror Picture Show is the movie.  The Rocky Horror Show is the musical production.  Whatever it's called it's pretty much my religion.  I love it!  So much!  And have ever since I first saw a heavily edited version of it on VH1 in high school.

I've seen the floor show so many times that I've lost count.  A floor show is when the movie is played up on the background (with sound) and actors act out the scenes on the stage below, moving along to the dialogue and songs but not verbalizing them.  These are amateur productions and oftentimes the actors are...how to put this delicately...in no shape to be acting (literally).

This production, however, was totally professional with actors who can totally fit through doorways without turning sideways.  It was at QPAC (where I've been before to see Oklahoma! and Grease) and was touring all over Australia.  It was super cool to see how the movie translated onto the stage, but unfortunately was not as interactive with the audience as the floor shows tend to be.  It's not everyday one can yell "Slut!" and "Asshole!" from their seat in public, and this is why I super duper love Rocky Horror.

Elizabeth Gilbert

You know the chick who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and made god knows how much money turning it into a movie with Julia Roberts?  That is Elizabeth Gilbert.  She's the little speck on stage in that picture.

Last year some friends and I started up a book club.  We strive to read one book a month (though it totally doesn't happen that often) and we get together, drink wine and talk about the book.  We're home by 10 p.m. pleasantly buzzed on a work night so it's pretty much the ultimate social gathering.

When we heard Elizabeth was coming to town to speak we decided to read her latest release The Signature of All Things as our book club pick for that "month".  Instead of our regular wine-and-potluck get together we went to her presentation.

Confession: I did not read this book.  I do not own a Kindle, and I don't want one.  The 2 libraries I have access to (university and city) didn't have any copies in stock, and I am not about to pay full retail price for a book.  I also refuse to illegally download it, but that's kind of pointless without a Kindle, anyway.  I'm stubborn and cheap so no book for me.  I've read every single other book club pick (no matter how shit house they might be), though!  So I feel justified missing just one book.

This crazy art exhibit

Some Chinese artist I had never heard of brought this art exhibition to the Gallery of Modern Art, and there was a big buzz around it.  I had heard it was totally awesome but put it off and put it off until there was only one week left.

The exhibit is called Falling Back to Earth, and the artist is Cai Guo-Qiang.  He apparently likes to put animals on display.  I never clarified if the animals are real skins that are stuffed, or totally made from scratch but I think it's the ladder.  They were very realistic!

Dave Chappelle

Let me be clear about one thing: I love Dave Chappelle.

Or at the very least, his early 00's Comedy Central show Chappelle's Show.  That is before he hit the wall, quit his show and went into hiding from the public (a move he now realizes was financially disadvantageous and pretty stupid).

When I learned he was coming to Brisbane I decided to spare no cost in seeing this comedy genius in person!  That's a big deal because I was unemployed at the time.  If I had to go without eating to see Chappelle, so be it.

I fought like hell to get tickets (which one has time to do whilst unemployed) but was unsuccessful.  Damn it!  Due to such high demand QPAC arranged a second show later that night (starting at 10 p.m. vs. the earlier 7 p.m. show) and I refined my technique so was able to get 2 tickets for the second show.  My technique being to refresh five browser tabs instead of just one.  Mad skillz, yo.

The catch being that these two tickets were nowhere near each other in the theater.  When I finally got through on the ticket ordering website I put in quantity: 2 but that was rejected.  I tried quantity: 1 and that was accepted.  I know Martin wanted to go, but not as bad as me.  Screw that guy, it's every woman for herself!  If I had to be a creepy loner and go by myself to this show, then so be it!  I was able to get in again and buy another single ticket so we were both able to go, roughly 20 rows apart from each other.

The weird thing is I felt more entitled to go to shows and things when I was unemployed, because I wasn't traveling at the time.  I need some form of mental stimulation.  Now that I'm back working, earning and traveling I have a harder time justifying the cash to do fun things near home when there's so much to be seen and done away from home.

Which would you prefer?  Five off-Broadway productions or cage diving with a great white shark?!

Monday, May 12, 2014

South Australia

Cage diving with great whites isn't the only thing we did in South Australia.  We also visited the Flinders Ranges, which is a mountain range at the tip of the Outback, where habitable land eventually gives way to the "red center".

They look like no other mountain range on earth, I think!

That last one is a painting at the Wilpena Panorama, an art gallery/exhibit in the metropolis of Hawker.  It was so incredibly well done and lifelike.  The artist has got some serious talent, yo. 

We also saw some new and exciting wildlife!

Grey kangaroos (nothing too exciting about these, they're everywhere and we've seen lots of them):

Red kangaroos:

These are big 'uns and we've never seen them before.  They can get up to 5'9" tall - that's my height!  These guys prefer to live in arid dessert conditions so these aren't the kind that accidentally wander into metro area shopping malls.

Yellow-footed rock wallabies:

These cute little things almost went extinct but there's a big campaign to bring them back, and they're doing much better.  They live in a very small, specific habitat and we saw a bunch of them when we visited their rocky home.


Like many species in this country they were artificially introduced, are now impossible to get rid of, and a huge pain in the ass to everybody and everything.  It's crazy how good they are at rock climbing!  We watched this group jump up pretty much a 90 degree rock face like it was the easiest thing in the world.  And my personal favorite animal...


We had never seen them in the wild before, but we have seen them in captivity and, of course, eaten them.  We did some more emu eating on this day, along with something a wee bit more exotic:

Martin had the camel, but I tried it.  It was good!  Honestly, meat is meat.  Nothing I've ever tried tastes too wildly different from anything else.  Like the goats, camels are all over Australia despite nobody wanting them here.  There's an estimated million or more camels out in the Outback (where nobody is or goes, so it's hard to count)!

We did a lot of driving to get from Adelaide up to the Flinders Ranges, then down to Port Lincoln for shark diving, then back to Adelaide to return home.  We had heard of, but never before seen, "road trains":

These are massive semi trucks hauling 2 or more trailers.  I got a kick out of the yellow "ROAD" "TRAIN" signs they had posted on their front and rear bumpers, mainly because we had 3 big days of driving and I was scraping the bottom of the barrel for entertainment.

Because of all our time spent mountaineering and sharking, and transiting between them, we really didn't get to do Adelaide properly.  My personal belief is that a city is a city is a city, and you can find them all over the world.  Sure, they have their own charms but they're nowhere near as interesting as nature.  I even willingly gave up doing wine country to see these other places, and you know I love my wine!

We did catch sunset at Glenelg, which is a suburb (or separate town entirely, I really don't know) of Adelaide that's right on the ocean:

This is a nifty little area that's ripe for tourists.  It was freezing cold when we were there (like 60 degrees - seriously, that's cold to me now) so we didn't stay long.  We went into the city, had dinner, enjoyed not being in a car for once, and visited the local (awesomely awesome) pig sculptures:

I don't know why Adelaide has pig sculptures eating out of fake garbage bins on their main shopping street, but I love it!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

From Near & Far

In the 26.5 months we've been here the only visitors we've had from abroad are Martin's family...and that wasn't very long ago.  In the three years we spent in Norway we only had a mere 3 visitors from abroad, so imagine the excitement (and house cleaning) when we had four visitors in two months!

::scrubs toilet on hands and knees::

First up, Susanna!

This is Susanna and a pokies (video lotto) machine at Brisbane's Treasury Casino.  I had never been there for gambling purposes before (I'm cheap), only dining (I'm a fat ass).  It's a big icon here in Bris, and the reason it is nicknamed Brisvegas.  It is something you should see when you're in town, so I brought Susanna here to play a game of traditional, classy pokies.

And I won $8!  Holler!  I only played $1, so that's $7 pure profit.  I am now all set to retire.

Another stop we made that I embarrassingly haven't properly "done" yet is the Brisbane Botanic Gardens:

They were super nice and totally worth a visit.

I'm a big believer in traveling through food (see: aforementioned fat ass) so I shove lots of local goodies down my guests - and my own - gullet while they're here.  Susanna had her first taste of kangaroo and emu thanks to me!  Since she is half Norwegian we also partook in a native Norwegian delicacy:

Norwegian waffles!  Complete with brown goat cheese!  It has been years since I've enjoyed this tasty dessert-not-breakfast delight and it felt good being back in the saddle.

Susanna is spending a semester studying in Sydney, and her action-packed blog makes me feel like I've spent the last 2 years on a couch eating Twinkies in a muumuu.  She's done so much!  It's so fun to follow and a great list of ideas for study abroad and exchange students spending a very limited amount of time here.  Stay tuned because next month I'll be going down to visit her in Sydney, because my first trip there was half eaten by spectacularly horrendous weather.

Next visitor, Emily!

This was an even shorter visit than Susanna's 2-day stay; I really only had one day to show off the sites of Brisbane.  About all we had time for during daylight hours was South Bank and the City Cat river ferry, so I had to come up with an evening-friendly activity.  My stroke of genius resulted in a picnic at the Kangaroo Point cliffs:

I had never done this before, which is a shame because 1) it's a very iconic Brissy thing to do and 2) the sunset is amazing!

I even brought my goon (boxed wine) bag, to elevate my enjoyment of the scenery.

This is exactly the sort of event I had in mind when I asked for this thing for Christmas a few years back.

The vantage point of Kangaroo Point cliffs offers arguably the best views of the city:

Hell yes I would like some scenery to go with my goon!

Final guests, a two-fer, James & Pieter!

Due to my funemployment of early 2014 I have, like, less than no vacation time.  So sadly the boys had to do without my presence the first two days they were in Brisbane.  As you can see from that picture, they did just fine without me.

We were fortunate to have a good chunk of time with these two, so we could show them not only Brisbane but the surrounding areas as well.  A rare treat for these Asian-dwelling-Westerners, we all saw a dingo!

This was our first sighting so far.  We didn't even see one when we were on Fraser Island, where they're pretty common (and renowned for getting all up in the business of humans).  So that was exciting for them!

We assembled Fort Kick Ass, also known as the most comfortable half-bed-half-fort known to man.  If I could transition from my regular bed to this makeshift one, I totally would.

We fed some exotic birds, in the wild, while looking wistful (apparently).

Saw a waterfall.

Humped some of the local flora.

And stalked British royalty!

These are the best shot I got of Will and Kate.  We (James & I that is, the other 2 weren't interested) stood outside in the hot sun for 3.5 hours to catch a glimpse.  And it was totally worth it!

I love, love, love those two!  By nature I dislike royalty because I believe in the innate equality of people (or because I'm American, whichever) but these two make me think, "Royalty, hell yeah!"

As we were leaving the area a motorcade passed right by us, so we figured out what was coming and got our cameras ready:

That's them, right there, in the back seat of that car!

I must say Kate is perfect in every way.  I immediately started following every Instagram feed I could find on her, and have become obsessed with reading whatkatewore.com.  She's just...perfect.  I want to be her!  Except for the whole stifling, caged bird lifestyle, that is.

William...poor William.  There was a long period where he was the crush object of every single female and confused boy in my generation, but nowadays homeboy is straight up bald.  And because he's royalty he can't shave it all off and go about it gracefully like the rest of mankind.  He has the warmest, most infectious smile ever, though.  He ain't out of the game yet.

I love having visitors, even though it's the one time per lifetime that I actually clean my house.  I'm happy to have more at any time - hint, hint, folks!