Friday, April 5, 2013

Happy Birthday to ME

I have amazing friends.

On the morning of my birthday, I woke up and had a chocolately breakfast followed by one of my many gifts from Lauren. She surprised me with a pair of these black sneakers that every girl here wears with almost every outfit. They're nothing fancy, but they seem to be the thing to have, so she got me a pair and I love them!

Classes went by quickly in anticipation of the evenings planned events. QUEST had scheduled the mid-semester party today (so convenient), and the theme was to be "Ladies and Lady-boys" where the boys wore dresses and make up in order to receive ladies-night drink specials.

After class was done, we went back to the house and enjoyed some snacks and I nibbled on a giant bar of Max Brenner dark chocolate that Lauren surprised me with as well! Then, at around 4PM, I got dressed for the party later that evening, and Lauren took me on a surprise trip from the bus station to the ferry and finally to South Banks. Oh, yes, and before we had left she also surprised me with some funky blue nail polish and a feather necklace!

I tried not to think about what the surprise could be the entire way in order to not spoil anything, and I was successful. When we reached a certain point along our path, Lauren blindfolded me and we walked a bit further. Then we arrived at our final destination and she allowed me to remove the blindfold in order to see my huge group of friends crowded around a table with a grill and tons of food!

Christian and Zoe surprised me with the most decadent chocolate cake with raspberry frosting that was also gluten and dairy-free! It weighed about 100 kilos and was even more dense than a giant brownie. Believe it or not, I shared (since once slice was so heavy and satisfying it was actually hard to eat too much)!

Brian surprised me with my good friend Captain Morgan, who I hadn't seen in a while, and the night began. After filling up on wonderful food, the boys changed into their lady-wear and looked so incredibly beautiful!

We arrived at Birdee's (the pub for the party) and danced the night away until our feet hurt - but really, every single one of us had aching feet from all the dancing and jumping and running around.

It was such a night to remember and I am so incredibly thankful for all of my wonderful new friends and the one and only Lauren who planned the entire thing!

Mid-Semester Break in FIJI!

Day 1:

After a long day of travel from Brisbane to Sydney to Fiji, Lauren and I finally arrived in Nadi at around 7PM Fijian time. There was no stress getting through customs and collecting our luggage then meeting our driver back to Bamboo hostel. We were greeted with “Bula! BULA!” from every direction (meaning hello or welcome) and shown to our 12-person dorm. The accommodation here is clean, and the other travelers are friendly, so I feel very safe.

We went across the street for dinner to a resort, and although the food ended up tasting good, the hour and a half wait and prices were not worth it. While we waited, Fijian dancers and people who had slurped one too many cocktails entertained us. The night ended at a reasonable hour, and our bunk beds and pillows felt wonderful beneath our tired bodies.

Day 2:

Waking up to the bluest sky, the greenest grass, the brightest sun and the friendliest people was the most beautiful experience when I opened my eyes this morning. I’M IN FIJI!

I washed my face and walked downstairs out to the main court to purchase a small breakfast. Two poached eggs and some pineapple was enough on my traveling tummy to fill me up, and Lauren and I planned to buy more food for the week at the store. We walked down the road with the intention of walking all the way to the market, but a taxi driver convinced us at only $3 (Fijian dollars, that is - $1 US ~ $2 Fijian). Then, on the way to the market, our driver began to tell us about the island and where to go visit. I’m not really sure about the exact transition, but some how we worked out a deal where he took us to three different locations and acted as our guide for the day for a grand total of $30 Fijian each!

Kris, short for Krishtna (our driver) first drove us to the top of the hills at the landing spot, where we got out and could count every single island from this peak. It was phenomenal! The entire drive there was breathtaking as well, and of course I had left my camera at home! (I’ll try to later incorporate some of Lauren’s into this entry). After standing in awe for several minutes and snapping tons of photos, we descended into the first landing village, where a woman gave us a tour of the area that was first inhabited and the history behind it. The most interesting – and scary – thing that I learned was the fact that Fijians used to be cannibals! We were introduced to the many killing devices such as the “neck breaker” and the “eye fork.” She told us that when it was dinnertime, it didn’t matter if it was your mother or sister or brother, you were all of a sudden the meal if someone was hungry. They had ended this lifestyle when they were converted to Christianity, and she sang about how happy they were that Jesus saved them from their ways.

After the tour, Kris drove us back up the mountain (what a view!) and we took some of the bumpiest roads up to the Sleeping Giant Garden. There, over 200 types of orchids bloomed left and right, and the beautiful path extended back into what seemed like a tropical rainforest. The walk wasn’t too long, but the complimentary passion fruit and orange juice was a wonderful way to end the short hike.

On the way home, we stopped at a grocery store and the fresh market and picked up things like oats and rasins, tuna and sweet potatoes, and some peanuts for snacking.

We went back to Bamboo when we were done with our activities, and it was just past 12:30PM at that point. Time was passing SLOOOOWLY, and we felt like we were moving just as slow, so we went across the street to the beach and took a nap. We didn’t pass out for too long in fear of the powerful Fijian sun, and shook off our sleepiness with a walk and a dip in the pool.

Lauren took a nap when we went back to Bamboo and I patiently attempted to gain access to Wifi so I could message friends and family. I probably ended up sending a grand total of 6 iMessages and one email. Lauren came down and sent a message to a friend, and then we headed upstairs to make dinner. She made a boiled sweet potato and I made sweet potatoes, carrots, tuna and we enjoyed some beverages as well. After socializing and watching the stars on the hammock it was time for bed, and my bunk felt just as wonderful the second night in a row.

Day 3:

My breakfast was made up of oatmeal with raisins, an apple, peanuts and a poach egg and scarfed it down before 9AM, when Kris met us to drive us once again. He was kind enough to arrange to be our driver almost every day for no extra charge. Our first stop was a tourist office where we booked our full day cruise to Beachcomber Island for a great discount. Then we ventured back up the mountain to the hot springs and mud pool to get messy and relax. It was the weirdest feeling as I sank down into the hot mud and water. Susu, our assistant (the guy who makes sure you don’t down in mud), was really nice and put our mud masks on and told us a little bit about the area. For such a massive man, he had the highest and softest voice and he spoke at a very relaxed pace; it was like a lullaby. Then, after we were done experiencing the mud pool, we hopped out to get covered from head to toe in mud! Lauren threw a huge glob on me and we had a short mud fight before being nice and helping each other get covered in sticky black mud. We then dried out in the sun and took some funny pictures before rinsing off in the mud pool, then giving our bodies a better rinse in the hot springs. And as if our experience couldn’t get any more relaxing, we decided to get massages with coconut oil for half an hour. I fell asleep for a bit but not long enough to ruin the experience, then we loped back to the car to head home.

For lunch I made 2 hard-boiled eggs and peeled an orange and had a cucumber, and then I made a poached egg to mix into my oats with pepper and boiled carrot. Still lethargic from the massage, Lauren and I returned to the beach for a walk then a nap where I was in such a deep sleep, Lauren checked my pulse after attempting to wake me up several times! We walked back to the hostel to check for Internet (no such luck) and met a friend, C.J., who gave us plenty of money-saving tips! It’s only 5PM now, so I’m going to shower then I think Lauren and I are going to take a cheap ($1) bus into town to get cheap and yummy dinner!

…. Turns out everything was closed, so we went to a wifi “café” and paid 50 cents to use the computers for 30 minutes. Dinner was more oats and eggs and a lot of raisins. Regardless of my less than satisfying meal, I still had a great night talking to so many new people. Lauren and I also decided to try “Kava,” the traditional Fijian concoction made of ground Kava root. Apparently if you drink about 20 cups of it, you feel drunk or happy or something, but the horrible muddy water they call Kava only made it down my throat three times, barely adding up to one cup of the stuff. I kindly held my hand up to say no thank you when the coconut shell full of Kava came my way and enjoyed the music instead. The locals are incredibly musically talented and can sing and play guitar for just about any song! The songs got slower as it got later and Lauren and I headed back to the dorm for the night to wake up early for our beach adventure the next day.

Day 4:

6AM came too quickly, but I was eager to get out to the beautiful white sand and bright blue waters on Beachcomber Island. Our taxi was a no-show, so we rushed to the airport in a different taxi where we were then transferred to a shuttle and taken to a resort on the water. We sat and waited at Anchorage Resort (the boat would depart from here) and managed to sneak a few cups of coffee from the breakfast buffet. Lauren was sneaky and snagged some Weet-Bix and peanut butter as well, because she missed breakfast at the hostel. At around 9AM, this big steel boat pulled up to the “dock” which would apparently transport all of us to the island. It was sturdy, but definitely not the ship that was described to us. I really didn’t mind, because I knew what lay at the end of the journey. The trip was pleasant and the water was calm, and the only irritation came from the extremely large group of Japanese tourists that took your picture when they thought you weren’t looking and seemed to think it was cute and funny to all say “aahhhyaaa” at the same time every 5 minutes.

The water drastically changed from navy blue to turquoise as we increased our distance from the mainland, and soon enough we were hopping on a small boat to float over the shallow waters and onto shore. We were greeted by a group of large, singing Fijian men wearing tropical attire and then briefed about all of the activities available to us free of charge. The first event was morning tea. Snorkels sold out quickly while we sat and sipped so we missed the 11AM trip and layed out and slept in the sun for about an hour before happy hour began at noon. Drinks were extremely expensive so we purchased a diet coke and two cups of ice to accompany my duty-free tucked in my backpack. Lauren got some amazing photos of us sipping and sitting in the sun, looking out at the water. It felt as though this was what we had been waiting for.

A buffet lunch opened up at 1PM, and we waited in line to patiently pile our plates with rice, several curry dishes, beef with cabbage, chickpea salad and coconut cake. They were generous enough to let us have two servings, and we were more than stuffed by the time we were half way done (but of course we didn’t let a scrap of food go to waste).

Snorkeling and fish feeding at 2PM came quickly with little time to digest, but it was still an amazing experience. They handed us HUGE chunks of bread to throw in the water and all of the tropical fish came swarming like piranhas (thank god there weren’t any of those, however). I even held onto a piece and dipped my hand into the water to feel them nibbling impatiently until I let go. When we were out of bread, we changed locations to a bigger reef and put on our gear. Lauren entered by leaning backwards off the boat and was greeted with salt water down her throat and up her nose because of a leaky snorkel. Funny girl. I decided to jump feet first, and when I dipped my mask into the water I was amazed at how surprisingly beautiful this location was. The reef was extremely colorful and full of life! I swam a few meters and saw a reef shark, which got my heart pumping for a minute. I equalized my ears and dove down about 20 feet to get a different angle on the coral and other life under the surface. The water had great visibility and the current wasn’t too strong, so the entire snorkel trip went even better than expected. Time passed too quickly, and we hopped back on the boat – Lauren and I were the last ones out of the water.

Salty and sleepy, we took yet another nap on the beach and enjoyed another coke. We reapplied sunscreen about 5 times total throughout the day and managed to escape the tomato-look that so many vacationers were sporting. 5PM rolled around and the boat pulled up to the island, signaling departure time. It was just the right amount of time for a day trip, and the ride back was smooth, accompanied by a beautiful Fijian sunset. A shuttle took us back from Anchorage to Bamboo, and we showered and got ready for dinner.

Every Wednesday at Bamboo hostel is Lovo! Lovo! night. Lovo! Lovo! Is a big meal that they cook in a wood fired oven and it’s a feast made up of seasonal veggies and meats that are all cooked Fijian-style. I didn’t get a picture because it was extremely dark, but I remember there was chicken with a tangy sauce, Fijian potato slices (it tasted and had the texture of thick potato-like bread), creamy spinach with onions, a pumpkin slice, fried eggplant fritters, and a seafood ceviche-type soup with coconut. The whole dish was amazing and I know for a fact that I am going to try and recreate the creamy spinach bundle and the eggplant fritters.

We spend the rest of the night talking with new friends and laughing at their stories. Most of them got rather drunk (I chose to chug water instead because of another 6AM morning tomorrow), and made the night even funnier. Sophie, a Danish girl, who was hilarious and friendly decided that she, Lauren and I should go skinny dipping; so, we left the crowd for about 15 minutes, snuck down to the beach, stripped and ran into the warm ocean. We giggled and watched the night sky with billions of stars shining down, then snuck back to our clothes when the fish started nibbling! Casually, we sat back down at the table of our friends and no one noticed. Instead we all talked some more then retreated to the beach because we were too loud for the night hour at our location. Most of us jumped in the hammocks at a nearby resort and some waddled along the sand, and eventually a light came on and we ran away laughing, back to our hostel. It was a wonderful night.

Day 5:

Again, 6AM was the time to rise and today we planned to meet Kris (our taxi driver) down at the beach at 7AM. On the first day, I had asked if we could fish with him after he had told us about his daily fishing routine and he gladly invited us to come along. So after some oatmeal, we walked down to the shore and met Kris and his giant fishing net in the water. His friend (he called his uncle for some reason – and there’s NO way he was his uncle) and I held one side and Lauren and Kris held the other as we waded into the water, about chest-deep. We then walked opposite directions, expanding the net, until it was completely stretched out to just over 100 meters. Next, we walked backwards, toward the shore, pulling the net with us. When we hit shore, we dragged it quickly onto the sand to not lose any fish. It was actually very heavy and took a bit of arm strength. We repeated the process about 4 times and filled half a bucket with small and medium-sized fish and discarded the crabs and jelly that managed to brush against the back of my leg.

After we rinsed off and put on dry clothes, we met Kris back at his car and headed to the store to pick up a chicken to make chicken curry and have a feast back at his house. When we arrived at his small, yet beautiful home, decorated with Indian-style curtains and patterns, we met his kind wife. She made us black tea and we all sat on a mat outside chatting while Kris and his “uncle” cleaned the fish. They cut the fish in half with scissors then removed the fins and scraped the scales, leaving the heads and bones intact. Kris ran a few errands while his wife taught Lauren and I how to make chicken curry. We peeled the garlic for her and watched as each ingredient built the strong and steady scent of a good curry. After Kris returned with a coconut, he showed us how to scrape the insides with a unique tool then how to make fresh coconut milk with the meat and water. It tasted heavenly.

Finally, after waiting three and a half hours for the process, it was lunchtime. They set the table for Lauren and I and would eat their portions after we left, and we sat down to the meal. The dishes consisted of chicken curry (which was honestly more bones than meat, but still tasty), a coconut fish soup, rice, a few small chopped pieces of fried okra, and fried whole fish (which I ate two of so Lauren wouldn’t have to in order to be polite). The meal was good, even though it didn’t set too well in our stomachs, and we thanked Kris and his wife for everything before he took us into the city where we would spend the next part of our last day in Fiji. He dropped us off in front of the beautiful temple where we said goodbye, snapped a few photos, then walked to the Internet café to let our families know we were doing well and headed out the next morning. Then, to settle our stomachs, we went to a café we had seen the other night when it was closed and Lauren ordered a chocolate shake and toast and I had a HUGE mango slushie. We sat in the air conditioning and recounted our adventures then made our way back to the hostel.

It was naptime on the beach with a sunset then dinnertime afterwards. We sat at the tables and talked with friends all night until we really had to go to sleep to wake early in the morning at 5AM for our 8AM flight out of Nadi. Goodbyes were short.

Day 6:

5AM: Woke up
6AM: Departed hostel
8AM: Departed Nadi
*time change*
11AM: Arrived in Brisbane

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The town with a no-shoe-no-worry policy

I can’t figure out what type of animal is making strange cackling and growling noises outside my bedroom window as it wrestles through the bush to peer at the strange girl on her laptop in the middle of the night… It’s not the kookaburra birds that sound like laughing monkeys at 4AM, and it’s not the opossums that are actually adorable and remind me of a cross between a cat and a raccoon… I’m clueless.

Good news though – the sun came out from behind three weeks of menacing storm clouds, finally! It pushed its way through last Friday morning when we left for Byron Bay with QUEST. I didn’t even care if half the day was spent on a bus if it meant watching the blue sky and brightly-lit earth fly past me as we whizzed closer and closer to the coast and to a weekend get-away.

Upon arrival at around 2:30 PM (well, it was 2:30PM in Byron but 1:30 PM in Brisbane since apparently Brisbane doesn’t apply daylight savings time) we checked into our hostels. 50 of us went to Nomads, 100 to Arts, and 50 to Backpackers Inn (where I was located). Lauren, Laus (Canadian Lauren), Zoe and I signed up to share a room. I was selfish and dove at the only double bed calling “DIBS” loud and proud. I was highly impressed with my very first hostel room. It was clean, had good natural light, and just outside our door was a stairway to the pool, hammocks, and a short path to the ladies room.

The first thing listed on the itinerary was a BBQ at our hostel. Sausages, patties, chicken wings and salad were piled high on our plates, served with a cup full of… happiness… to wash it down. After filling up and sharing some laughs, we attached our wristbands to be admitted to Byron Bay’s one and only Cheeky Monkey’s club (bar, really).

When we walked into Cheeky’s, straight ahead was the bar, and to the left, something more interesting; there were stands (like stadium stands kind of) that faced each other – two rows of them. On top of each “bench” I guess you would call it, were the dancing monkeys (us). What a night. Everyone at the bar – friends, strangers, acquaintances – was so fun and welcoming and crazy. It was completely different from any bar or club scene I have ever witnessed. When it was time to go home, I headed out with a group of my Norwegian friends and hurried to my room to hear stories about everyone’s night.

The next morning wasn’t as bad as I expected. The weather, ahem, was only slightly cloudy but the sun would appear in just a few hours… First stop was a Mexican café for a delicious coffee, and then we walked to the surf shop to pick up some boards for the day. My group of friends entrusted me with the title of “surf instructor” for the afternoon, and thankfully I was able to actually teach them some things without making a complete fool of myself. I absolutely loved the feeling of pushing them into a wave and watching them catch it and stand up – right before getting swallowed every time by the undertow. The current was actually a bit strong and made me question my safety multiple times, but after the final time of getting towed out too far, I somehow made it back to the sand to recharge in the shining sun.

They’re right about the sun here, you know, that it’s extremely strong. Apparently the ozone layer is particularly thin over Australia (or at least Queensland that I know of). I thought to lather up and spread SPF on areas the sun likes to target the most, and luckily I was only pink in one or two spots the next day. Unfortunately, not everyone followed suit, and Brian and Zoe had the best proof of Australia’s less than adequate ozone layer. Sorry to say, I don’t have photo evidence.

Eventually we all got hungry and went to an amazing café that had variations of baked regular and sweet potatoes, salads, and wraps. This would sound boring back home, but this place had an incredible array of toppings and sauces that would make a food poisoning victim drool (sorry if that’s a bit much).  I elected the baked sweet potato with red curry sauce topped with peas, sprouts, spinach, chicken, and more creamy curry sauce. ALSO! I found a fro-yo place! I think I was almost as excited to see the shop as I was to see sun for the first time in Brisbane. Dessert was of course purchased there, and my afternoon was entirely satisfying. Most of us ventured back to the hostel for naps (including myself), in order to prepare for yet another night exploring Byron bars. Tonight’s dinner menu included pizza and nothing else (not so lucky for us celiac, lactase-enzyme-lacking, soy-intolerant people), so I walked around the beach town with Sherry to find some grub. Awesomely enough, I stumbled upon a café, which kindly catered to my food sensitivities, and ordered a roasted veggie and chicken salad (more chicken and roasted delicousness than lettuce and uber satisfying).

The gang departed from the hostel at approximately 8:15PM and headed over to Woody’s, a mellower bar than Cheeky Monkey’s, to socialize and dance badly. It had what reminded me of a 70’s theme with wood paneling and vintage photos on the walls. My favorite part of the night was when two different Bucks parties (bachelor parties) crashed the bar, invading in their super-hero costumes. My favorite costume was Bumblebee from Transformers – complete with freaky lit-up eyes in the helmet and a full body suit. His company included Iron Man, Superman, Batman, and Gumby tagged along. The other gang wasn’t quite as creative, but they gave a bunch of us free Woody’s hats because the majority of them were actually employed by the bar.

When I was tired of making a fool of myself, I walked back to the hostel with my Danish friend, Anders, and several of us went out to the beach to watch stars. We actually ended up watching clouds, but the way the light managed to reflect off the huge waves and sea foam made it appear as if there was a light coming from the ocean floor every time the lighthouse revolved towards our side of the cove. I walked back up the sandy path just in time to miss the rain. Poor old Anders who passed out on the beach and refused to move when I tried to shake him awake was not so fortunate… although he did wake up when the torrential downpour began.

Lauren, Laus, Zoe and I somehow all came back at the same time and stayed up being girls, enjoying the traditions of a sleepover complete with embarrassing stories from our pasts.

Sunday morning came all too quickly and we were packed up by 9:45AM. However, the bus wouldn’t arrive until 2:30PM, so we still had daylight to burn. First came breakfast at the same cantina. They had almost everything listed on the menu available as gluten-free, so I chose the Bircher muesli made with quinoa and chia seeds, greek yogurt, cardamom, a shot of maple syrup, and strawberry slices. I also got my same beautiful coffee, but enjoyed it while people watching instead of getting it to go (called take-away here).

Friends and I embarked on a hike to the easterly-most point of continental Australia, next to the lighthouse at the top of a long ascent. The view was breath taking (and the hike was filled with heavy breathing); every stair to the top and back was worth it.

Laus and I descended back into town to grab some nourishment before the 2.5 hour bus ride home. We stopped at a smoothie shop where she had experienced an amazing chai latte earlier that morning, and ended up with some satisfying lunches. I got a power-packed smoothie with a watermelon and acai berry base, and she got a beautiful acai berry bowl with banana slices and muesli which all-together tasted better than ice cream – no lie!

Then, before I knew it, we were cramped on the bus and trotting towards Brissy. My evening was spent picking up a few groceries (but holding out on produce till Wednesday farmer’s market on Queen’s Street), cooking, and making a batch of amazing chocolate pudding for my lovely family [a.k.a. roomies]. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The sun will come out...

I have to admit that the weather these past two and a half weeks has been rather depressing. All but two days, it has rained nonstop. Sometimes the rain subsides just after sunset in time for the darkness of night, but it starts at around 6AM, just after sunrise.

I took a picture from the rooftop of a pub/hotel that QUEST had a lunch at yesterday afternoon.

Sad, right?

Well, this morning when I woke up it was, surprise, raining. However, as soon as I began to cook breakfast, this strange bright orb appeared in the sky and all of a sudden it was light out!!! I decided to eat breakfast on the back porch then stand in the sun while my coffee brewed. It was glorious.

Unfortunately and ironically, as I type this, the heavy rain clouds are drifting in and the amount of blue sky is decreasing exponentially. Nevertheless, I am thankful for my couple of hours of sunlight and I hope that I will be fortunate again this week or at least this weekend when QUEST makes its journey to Byron Bay for an overnight camping and beach trip!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Giant snakes and a BBQ

So much has happened in the time I've been here, but I'll rewind and include the highlights. (I'm finally figuring out why so many people who study abroad have such a small collection of photos - they're too busy living them!)

During the first week of orientation we experienced Market Day, where all of the clubs and societies set up stations and tents on the Great Court to advertise what they have to offer to the students at UQ. Lauren and I were a bit over-zealous, and in our excitement we signed up for PLENTY of clubs; I chose the Mountaineering Club, Students Against Human Trafficking, Beer and Rum Club (because they gave us a discount card to many restaurants in Brisbane), The Healthy Veg Society (because they gave us a discount card to many of the grocery stores), The Bridge (volunteer society), and QUEST. So far, QUEST, the exchange student club, has by far had the greatest number of events and benefits!

The first QUEST event was a night out at a Pub called Birdees. Lauren and I met up with Emily and our roomie, Christian, joined us as well along with a few of his friends. It was a long but fun night.

The fun continued the following day when QUEST brought a bunch of Australian animals to campus for us to pet and play with. The giant snake was beautiful, but it hissed as it constricted my arm - I didn't hang onto it for long...

There were cuter, more friendly animals like bearded dragons and this marsupial whose name I can't pronounce.

QUEST had also provided a barbecue the day before when they gave us free bread and sausages (a grill is a BBQ). I was so inspired by the delishousness of grilled food, that I decided to buy a BBQ myself! That day, I went on Gumtree (Australia's Craig's List), and found a nicely priced, beautiful BBQ. Susana's good friend Marti, who had a car and arms big enough to help me pick up the thing, took me to the seller's house a few minutes away. They were so kind and friendly, and they only sold it because they wanted something smaller for their apartment.

The next night, we broke it in. I hosted a barbecue here at my own house! Lauren and I bought the meat and Christian got some veggies and sides, and I grilled everything! Our guests loved the food and gave so many nice compliments about my cooking (little did they know, I'd never cooked half of that food on a grill... maybe a chicken breast, but that's it). It was wonderful to be able to play hostess and still relax at my home with amazing company.

Only one days later, we attended a party, but this time it was bigger - MUCH bigger. In fact, it was actually the biggest toga party the world has ever seen! There had to be well over 5,000 people there along with the multiple DJ's, dancers, free cups of Red Frogs (the worlds best gummies that are similar to Swedish Fish), refreshments ;) and popsicles.

Lauren was a pro at getting us to the front of the crowd and right up against the stage to watch the performance. Lucky for that, we were also sheltered by the stage roof from the pouring rain that soaked about 4,000 white togas.

A free shuttle took us to the "after-party" at Birdees once again, and we all split a cab home.

Only one day later, the pub crawl would commence.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

An eventful two days

Lauren and I enjoyed an extremely productive Friday morning and afternoon at the Uni. After stumbling upon the office for student ID's, we continued on to get our bus passes, find our classrooms, establish a local bank account, and take a quick look around, all before lunch!

The campus is stunning. One of my favorite places so far is the Great Court, which is a large green area smack in the middle of the main loop of buildings. The architecture is great as well... even if it was lurking with spiders TWICE the size of my hand...

After lunch, we took yet another grocery trip and finished off our lists to hold us over for quite a while. It was great going somewhere on our own and finding our way around. The transportation here is AMAZING and surprisingly cheap with a student ID.

Saturday, we met up with Emily who I met shortly after landing in Brisbane (the two of us shared a taxi from the airport). All of us decided to be tourists for a day and visit the beautiful area of South Banks. After racing down the river in the ferry (also very inexpensive and we can use the same bus pass for this), we hopped off at the dock and went straight into the line of street market vendors. There was everything from clothing to food to massages, and, as you might be able to tell, I was too excited to take pictures!

When all of our shopping and looking made us hungry, we wandered until we found a fantastic burger restaurant called Grill'd. It had lamb, chicken, beef and veggie burgers, then several different styles of burgers unique to each type of meat. Bonus: they had gluten-free buns I could enjoy!

I elected to get the "Honest Hombre" chicken burger, topped with black bean chili, red onions, a giant corn tortilla chip, and fresh guacamole! I was full with the first half and supremely satisfied with the second.

We discovered that they also had one of our new favorite beers on the beverage list, called Stonewood, and Lauren got one and I sipped off Emily's. It's a rather sweet beer with a floral and fruity flavor (I have never described a beer like this before). Perfect on a hot day.

Afterwards, we walked and digested along the boardwalk then ventured over to the pedestrian bridge.

The suspended bridge has the illusion that it is rocking or tilting to one side because of the angle of the supports. Across the river, on the other side, was Queen Street mall, which has over 700 shops! It's a wonderful outdoor mall with everything you could imagine. We even stumbled across the bar we visited on our first night out (not the RE) and where we initially discovered Stonewood beer.

Our final stop was at the artificial beach in South Banks, where we took off our sandals and dipped our feet for a while before getting back on the ferry.

The rest of the day was spend relaxing and I took a short run before dinnertime. I took a different route this time and encountered a lovely view of the city from atop the hills of the suburb St. Lucia. Dinner was a hash with brown rice, sweet potato, eggs, spinach, carrots and more. I dipped a Weet-Bix square in my sunny side-up egg and found it to be delightful :)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Arriving in the land down undah

Quick info about travel: Huge double-decker plane with some of the best meals I've eaten (and endless snacks and, ahem, beverages), but the flight was shaky and rough with the winds blowing 180 km/hour and slapping us around. I arrived in Brisbane at 6AM Wednesday.

My home is absolutely beautiful and I've attached a few pictures so you can take a lookie. Let me point out the good-looking job I did with the chair using my fitted sheet since it didn't fit the bed which is a "king single" (what the heck?) :P 

The girl roomie is Australian and her name is Susana. She was so sweet to take me and Lauren shopping for everything from toilet paper to food to pillows and towels. She also took us out last night for the first time and we had a blast! It was an old hotel type thing that was turned into an outdoor night club/bar. The nightlife for people my age was nothing like I've ever seen before! There had to be hundreds of people at this outdoor bar we went to, and the guys were polite and the girls were obnoxious (not Lauren and Susana). We got in very, very late but somehow woke up early this morning to do absolutely nothing all day long ;)

Oh yeah! Dinner last night was awesome… it was kangaroo! Susana  cooked the 'roo and I made quinoa and a pretty salad to go with. All of us talked and ate together and it was wonderful spending time together all day. I think we're going to get along great! 

This morning I had what's called Wheat-Bix for breakfast in place of my shredded wheat biscuits. They're biscuits that remind me of a crunchy yet flaky pastry but without sugar, and they're AMAZING! I let them soak in almond milk and added a bit of sweetener and it turned into an amazing porridge kind of. SO glad I bought a box (and will probably take some home come July when it's time to leave). I had the rest of my usual greek yogurt and nuts and such but didn't have coffee today (GASP) because we forgot to buy filters. Somehow I made it through today with loads of energy and even went on a baby 10-minute run (super short because I'm trying to ease my knee back into it) and did a few minutes of yoga. Dinner was Basa which is a lot like tilapia but it is trickier to cook because it falls apart or gets mealy if cooked even a few seconds too long. We don't have Pam and I tried olive oil, but the whole thing was a sticky hot mess especially because I tried to be fancy and bread it in almond meal before frying it. It still tasted great and I added a bunch of tzatziki sauce that I was also using as a dip for my lentil-eggplant meat-less balls I had on the side (a yummier, more flavorful version of falafel). I had a bowl of lychee fruit for dessert (AH YUM) and spend the rest of tonight prepping things in containers for breakfasts and lunches ahead of time since Lauren went to bed early and everyone's asleep in America. 

No chocolate this Valentine's day and my valentine is across the sea, so it was the least valentines-y valentine's day I've had yet. I don't think I even ate candy… woah….

Tomorrow we plan to get Lauren a phone and get ourselves bus passes and check out the campus at the Uni. 

Although I'm doing great with jet lag and have managed to escape it, I think I might go to sleep early (by 10) and get up early as well. 


... just hover your mouse over the images to see the captions


my desk area (and beautiful chair)

My room before decorations
back porch?!?!


Living room!

Lauren immediately after arrival :)

front entry way

more of the front

beautiful tree in my back yard

back yard

Half of my closet!