Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Well, here's my experience. If you see a car with a bright yellow L plate in the front or back window, then steer clear. This person is just learning to drive. They stop suddenly, they change lanes at a snail's pace and do all the random things that new drivers do. I find it extremely helpful to see the bright L plate in the window. This gives me a fair idea why the road has been clear for 3 minutes and they have still not entered traffic despite the line of cars waiting behind them. I feel less road rage towards these drivers because I can understand their plight--the bright yellow L explains it all to me. I think it's easier for other drivers on the road to watch out for the learners because of the special plate they must display and this, in my humble opinion, makes for safer roads. Let's face it, the kids have gotta learn, but that doesn't mean we don't need to know about it.
Now the more controversial group of drivers...the P Platers. This is the plate you have to display in your front and back windows when you pass the driving tests and are allowed to drive on your own. As I described in my last post, new drivers are put on provisional licenses here and they have to go through two stages of P plates. While the red colour indicates the first year of a provisional license, and the green colour indicates the subsequent three years, I don't discriminate between the two. A P Plater to me is still a P Plater no matter the colour of their plate. Here is a warning to my readers: what is about to follow is a list of gross generalisations about P Platers--I'm sure there are responsible, cautious and capable P Platers out there, I've just never met them.
When I see a P Plater on the road, I feel the need to be more aware than I do with even an L Plater. What the P Plater usually has that the L Plater doesn't is speed. P Platers are still relatively inexperienced drivers who don't have their parents or driving instructor sitting next to them and they are making the most of their new found freedom on the roads. We live on a long straight street here in Melbourne. We went through a patch where various cars were peeling out and speeding down our street late at night. We could never get outside fast enough to get their number plates, but you could see their glowing P plates in the distance as they sped off.
On the road, if someone is following too closely--especially at a high rate of speed, I'll often look back in my rear vision mirror and see the P Plate staring back at me. Then I change lanes and get the heck out of their way. I figure if they are feeling a need for speed, I don't need to be collected on their way through, thank you very much. Loud music coming from the car next to you, P Plater strikes again.
Now, I'm not saying I'm the most experienced best driver in the world, in fact the Handsome Australian would laugh me out of the room if he heard me making such a statement. I'm also not saying that I wasn't the same as these P Platers when I was the same age--always in a hurry, carelessly taking risks, playing my music too loud, etc.What I am saying is there is something to be said for experience and I'm really happy with the P Plate system here in Australia. I like the warning it gives me as a fellow driver on the road. I like the rigors it puts new drivers through and the high expectations it holds them to. I like the fact that you have to be 18 before you can even get a license. When I look back at my days as a learner driver at 15 years of age, and then a fully licensed driver at 16 back in Texas, I shudder. Who honestly thought that was a good idea?
As a parent now, I can truly appreciate the Australian approach.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
What's a P-plater? For those non-Australian among you, a P-plater is a driver who is driving on a probationary license. They are called "P-platers" because they must display a "P plate" in both their front and back windscreens. This allows other drivers on the road to be aware of their probationary status and presumably to take care when driving around them on the road.
Which driver's have a probationary license? Generally the people who are driving on a probationary license are new drivers. The system here in Victoria is the following: You are eligible to apply for your learner's permit when you are 16 years of age. Once you obtain the learner's permit, you must complete 120 hours of supervised driving practice. If you are under age 21, you must have your learner's permit for 12 months before applying for a probationary license. You must also display your yellow L plates in the front and back windscreens of your car.
There are other restrictions that apply to L-platers, as learning drivers are called, and these include having a licensed driver in the car with you at all times (interestingly, the licensed driver must have a BAC--that's blood alcohol count--of less than .05), having a BAC of zero themselves, not being able to use a mobile phone in any capacity (hands free or otherwise) and the list goes on.
Once an L-plater reaches 18 years of age and they've met the requirements for practice hours, etc they can then apply for a probationary license. This means they get to trade their L-plate for a P-plate.
In the past, the probationary period has varied. When the Handsome Australian's brother number 4 applied for his license sometime at the beginning of this decade, the probationary period had just been changed from 2 years to 3 years.
Now Victoria has gone to a graduated licensing system in which P platers have to go through two stages of P plates. The first stage is the red P plate which the probationary driver must be on for a full 12 months. If they have a good driving record after 12 months, they will graduate to the green P plate which they must be on for 3 years. Both of these P plates have similar restrictions: you must have a BAC of zero any time you are driving the car, you mustn't use mobile phones while driving, etc. Any alcohol related infractions while you have your probationary license, and you will most likely have your probationary license suspended and your probationary period extended by six months for each infraction.
What's the point of all of this? The idea is to protect young drivers (who unfortunately make up a disproportionate percentage of the road toll) by placing strict rules upon them until they've matured a bit and have had several years of driving experience.
Does it work? I don't know how the statistics have played out since they've implemented the program. What I find intriguing though is the fact that these drivers must display their status in their windscreen making other drivers on the road aware of their relative inexperience as drivers. What kind of dynamics does this knowledge lead to on the roads?
Stay tuned to find out...
Learn the Lingo
windscreen = windshield
P plater = probationary driver
L plater = learner driver
BAC = Blood Alcohol Count
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The point is, once you've been here for this amount of time, things don't seem new anymore. The learning curve has flat lined. I'm on a plateau. A really long plateau. That is, I was on a plateau until Friday night when I learned some completely new and somewhat revolting things. Well, revolting to me anyway.
The Handsome Australian and I were at the footy with Brother number 4 and a group of his mates. Somehow the conversation turned to vegemite as it so often does here in Australia. They can't seem to get enough of the salty black stuff. That's all they eat, it's all they talk about--they are crazy vegemite lovers!!! Okay, so maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but you'd be surprised at how often it does turn up in conversation here. Maybe it doesn't turn up in conversation that much, but any conversation about vegemite is too much conversation as far as I'm concerned. But enough about my deep seeded dislike of the stuff, on to more important things...
The conversation went something like this:
Friend 1: "Have you ever tried vegemite on toast with avocado slices before?"
Me: "No, I can't say that I have. I don't eat vegemite full stop."
Friend 1: "Really? You don't eat it? At all?"
Me: "No, I can't stand the stuff."
Handsome Australian: "Hey, tell them what you said to me when I gave you vegemite for the first time."
The group waits with anticipation...
Me: "Well, when I first tasted vegemite, I said 'it tastes like the taste you get in your mouth right before you vomit'."
Friend 2: "Oh, well how did you have it? (Questioning the Handsome Australian) Did you give her a really thick spread of it or something?"
HA: "No, I actually introduced it to her properly. I spread margarine on some toast and then put little dabs of vegemite all around. It was very subtle. She still hated it."
F2: "Well, you can't have someone else spreading your vegemite for you. That's a dangerous thing. You have to spread your own vegemite. Vegemite spreading is a very personal thing. Everyone knows just how they like it. You simply have to do it yourself."
Me: "Funny you should say that because I make vegemite sandwiches for our daughter EVERY DAY and because I don't eat the stuff, I really have no idea how to make it. So I just spread the margarine on the bread and spread heaps and heaps of vegemite on top of it. The Handsome Australian saw me doing this one day and indicated I was too heavy handed with the vegemite, but now our daughter loves it that way."
F1: "Have you ever given her vegemite and avocado before?"
Me: "No. (quietly cringing to myself and wondering why you'd ruin a good avocado like that) I haven't tried that."
Friend 3: "Well I personally can't stand peanut butter. Can't eat it."
F1: "Yeah, I think I've had it once in my life."
Me: (Not believing what I'm hearing) "Peanut butter once?? Really??"
F1: "Yeah, it just doesn't appeal."
Me: "It doesn't appeal, but vegemite appeals??" (What planet are these people from? Oh yeah planet Australis. Crickey they really do love their vegemite.)
HA: (interrupting what could have become a very ugly debate about the virtues of peanut butter vs. vegemite) "Hey what about peanut butter and vegemite together? Now that's really nice."
F3: "Peanut butter and vegemite? That's disgusting."
I'm thinking: Sing it sister!! Finally an Australian with some sense when it comes to vegemite!
F2: (Jumping up and down and smiling with glee) "Oh my God! Oh my God!! I LOVE peanut butter and vegemite together. I've never met anyone else who ate it that way. That is so cool!!"
HA: (clearly excited as well and perhaps thinking he may have chosen the wrong soul mate) "Yeah, I've always had it that way since I was little. Love it." (still smiling)
F2: "That is awesome."
F1: "Well I still say avocado and vegemite is the best."
F2: "Oh avocado and vegemite would be good with peanut butter."
This is the point in the conversation where I had to excuse myself to the ladies so I could VOMIT!!! (except if I did that, I would get that taste in my mouth...that vegemite taste...ahhh!!!!) I can't think of anything less appetising than vegemite with peanut butter and avocado.
Just when you think you've heard it all. You've been there. You've done that. Then someone throws a curve ball like that at you.
Are they serious?
Learn the Lingo
full stop = period (This is actually how they say the punctuation as well--for instance in the USA we'd say, "Sharon, you forgot to put a period at the end of that sentence." In Oz they'd say, "Shaz, you forgot to put a full stop at the end of that sentence.")
Monday, September 22, 2008
1. When the ball goes out of bounds and lands somewhere amongst the crowd, the people in the crowd throw the ball back in so the players can keep playing. Never once have I seen anyone taking a "souvenir" ball. It simply isn't done. The ball is tossed back to the umpire or nearest player and the play resumes. End of story. I'm a fan of this tradition. Apparently the same is true for Cricket where the condition of the ball (ie newness or being worn out, etc) has a huge effect on the game.
2. The Footy fans are VERY VOCAL. I'll admit, I've never attended an NFL game in the USA, but I have been to my fair share of NBA games and I never heard the kind of taunts and tirades that were being shouted out at top volumes on Friday night. It was actually really humorous to listen to.
3. Access to alcoholic beverages is limited and what type of drink you can get varies depending on where you are sitting. This is going to sound totally odd, but there is a section within the MCG called the MCC (Melbourne Cricket Club) which is a members only section. If you are a member or a guest of a member, you can sit in this section, but you aren't allowed to consume alcohol in your seat while watching the game. There are bars on each level of the MCC where you must go inside and order your drink and consume it there. This means these bars are lonely places during the game time and become overrun with beer guzzling fans during quatertime and halftime breaks. It was incredible the way the crowd would rush the place during the breaks. (I know because Brother number four got us good seats in this section--have I mentioned how much we like Brother number four?)
In other areas of the MCG where the general public can sit, you can purchase beer at a concession stand and consume it at your seat. The trick here is the beer isn't full strength meaning the alcohol content is about half that of a proper beer (or half the strength of the ones the people in the MCC area are drinking in their bars).
4. Every man sitting around us had a small radio in his hand and the earpiece in his ear to listen to the coverage of the game on the radio. As if being there in the flesh wasn't enough. I asked the Handsome Australian about this one, but he couldn't hear me over the sound of the radio commentator in his ear.
5. About a quarter of the way through the game, a flock of seagulls took to the field and just hung around for the duration of the match. This is not uncommon as I've seen it at other footy matches, but on Friday night I just thought how annoying it must be to the players to have all these birds flying around on the field. Not to mention how frustrating it was a spectator to try and figure out where the ball was among the birds. (I mentioned this observation to the Handsome Australian, and so deep was his concentration on the game, it took him until halftime to respond at which point he said, "What birds?" So apparently they don't distract everyone.)
6. I should come to the footy more often, there is some serious eye candy on the field. I mean, serious football talent. That's what I meant. Really.
Overall, it was a good night and a good win for Geelong. Now if they can win the Grand Final this coming weekend, the Handsome Australian will be as happy as Larry.
Learn the Lingo
Happy as Larry = really happy, satisfied, content
Sunday, September 21, 2008
When you don't get to go out as often as you did in your life before your gorgeous children came along, you really like to make the most of the nights you do get. So that usually means dinner and drinks somewhere followed by some kind of event--the movies, a play, a party--anything really, just take me out.
And out we went on Friday night. There wasn't much conversation around where we should go because on this Friday night in September in Melbourne, there was really only one place to be, well as far as the Handsome Australian is concerned that is, and that place was....wait for it...the MCG.
Yes, the MCG or the Melbourne Cricket Ground or just "The G" as we Melbournians like to call it. (Wait, did I just say, "we melbournians"? I did didn't I? Crickey...the conversion is nearly complete) Why the G? It's not Cricket season yet is it? No, it's not Cricket season, it's actually the end of the footy season (and when I say footy here I'm referring to Aussie Rules Football) and the town is abuzz with Finals Fever. Anyone who is anybody in Melbourne would have been at the game on Friday night to watch the Handsome Australian's beloved Geelong take on the scrappy but formidable Western Bulldogs. (Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating the importance of this game, but I'm merely taking my cues from the Handsome Australian who assured me numerous times that this was indeed "the place" to be on Friday night. If I can't trust him, who can I trust?? I mean he's never led me astray, never tried to tell me stories about drop bears or anything misleading and down right untrue like that. He's my guide to all things Aussie and I have to take his word on it when he explains the cultural relevance of these events.)
The Handsome Australian being Anybody and me being Anyone meant it was our duty to be at the game on Friday night. The tickets were not easy to come by. This game was the equivalent of a semi-final match although it isn't referred to in those terms--the Aussies call it a preliminary final. (Thinking about the terminology now, it's one of the few times I can recall the Aussies using a longer phrase to describe something than we Americans do--we'd probably call it a semifinal and be done with it. Hmm...interesting.) So it was up to the Handsome Australian to use his extensive network of connected people to try and wrangle a couple of tickets for us to go to "one of the most important games of the year" (can you guess who I'm quoting there?? A certain Australian with handsome tendencies perhaps?). So he put the feelers out early in the week to see who might be able to get us some tickets. He didn't have to feel very far because the Handsome Australian is related to three other Handsome Australians--ie his brothers. All of these boys are cut from the same footy loving cloth and they were on top of the ticket hunt already. Brother number four came up with the goods in 10 minutes. That kid's amazing. He knows EVERYONE (and this time I'm not exaggerating).
So once the tickets and babysitter were sorted, we were good to go. We met amazing Brother number four and his girlfriend for dinner at a nice little place in Federation Square in the city. Now for most Melbournians, "Fed Square" as we call it (there I go saying we again) is a love it or hate it kind of place. It's a relatively new addition to the cityscape and was received with mixed reviews. For the record, I'd like it noted here that I love it. Thanks very much.
But I digress, we had a lovely dinner in Federation Square and then took the leisurely walk down the Yarra to the gates of the MCG. If you haven't figured it out yet, the MCG is a giant stadium that sits on the banks of the Yarra river on the city's edge. It seats 100,000 people and is one of Australia's most iconic sporting venues. On Friday night, it was bustling with footy fans decked out in their team colours and ready to bear witness to history in the making--after all, one team would go on to the Grand Final (think Superbowl) and the other team would slink off quietly into the night knowing they had come that close to tasting glory but just couldn't go all the way.
While I'm not really a Geelong fan, I was hoping against hope that they would win the game and go on to the Grand Final--it would certainly make my week a lot easier. A win for Geelong equals a Happy Handsome Australian and a Happy Handsome Australian equals a Happy Me. Luckily, Geelong had game and they came to play. They've won 22 matches this season out of 23 and they are favourites to win the Grand Final. So I didn't need to stress too much about a Geelong win. Being so relaxed, I was able to make a few observations about the crowd that I might not have if I was engaged in a nail biting contest of footy (because I can't go past a nail biting contest of footy. No sir. When it's close, I just have to watch and watch. I can't turn away. Okay, so maybe the exaggeration is running rife through this post...). For what it's worth, here's what I observed:
Uh-oh, cliff hanger time! Stay tuned tomorrow for my keen footy observations!!
Monday, September 15, 2008
Today, however, our time in BrisVegas was limited to the airport departure lounge as we waited for our flight to return to Melbourne. Again, to my astonishment, no one at the airport wanted to see our IDs. I still can't get over this. Then while in line at security, the guys on the x-ray machine confiscated a small knife from someone's bag. There was a bit of discussion about that. They kept the knife and the guy was sent on him merry way. Interesting. In true Aussie style, the Handsome Australian was very laid back about the airport security measures. He's loving it. It reminds him of a time when things were less complicated. It's refreshing he tells me. I guess. The paranoid American in me thinks it's substandard...some things you just can't change.
Once we got through security and into the departure area itself, I was pleasantly surprised with the Brisbane airport. There is so much on offer there. Seriously. I don't usually get excited about places like airports, but we had a bit of time since our commute from Noosa to the airport took less time than we thought and I was pleased to see there were things to do at the airport--interesting things.
Firstly, the food selection there was great. There were numerous cafes and plenty of fast food joints. The choice was really good and there seemed to be ample seating wherever you went. There were even comfy leather couches in some areas to sit and relax while you drank your latte. Well, that's what I did on the couches anyway.
After we had a latte and the children had eaten pancakes, yes pancakes at the airport and I'm not talking McDonald's here either. I'm talking proper pancakes with maple syrup and strawberries on the side. The four year old LOVES pancakes, so their presence in the Brisbane Airport alone made it one of the best places she'd ever been.
Yes, after the pancakes, we took a walk down the terminal to see what else was around. We found a little arcade area with quite a few arcade games. All those racing car type ones that the children love to climb on and those crazy ones where you can try to use the claw type thing to try and grab a prize and many, many more. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big arcade game person and I don't spend a lot of money on the kids there. In fact, I never spend money on the kids there, but the flashing lights, the noise, the music--it's heaven to little senses. This little arcade area kept the smallest amongst us busy for quite some time.
The four year old and I left the boys behind at the arcade games and kept walking down the terminal. Once we got into the Qantas section of the terminal (we had been in the Virgin Blue section prior) the fun really began...there was shopping! Now, I'm not a huge airport shopper, but I do like to browse--especially when I've got the time and nothing else to do. The cool thing about the shops in the Qantas section was they weren't just your run of the mill airport shops. I mean yes, there were news agencies selling magazines, newspapers and all that other typical airport stuff, but there was also proper retail shops.
The first one we came across was for the Byron Bay Cookie Company. Their shelves were lined with gourmet cookies and coffees from Byron Bay (a lovely little seaside village just down the coast in New South Wales). Last year when the Handsome Australian and I visited the Gold Coast, we took a day trip down to Byron Bay. While we were there, I reckon I drank the best cup of coffee I've had in, well maybe ever. The coffee used at this particular cafe was a locally grown organic coffee. It was stupendous. So I was quite excited when I saw the Byron Bay Cookie Company store. The four year old and I went in to survey the offerings. I could have spent a fortune, but walked out 10 minutes later, $14.20 poorer with a 250g box of Chili Cinnamon Drinking Chocolate, A Dotty Cookie (full of milk choc chunks covered with colourful choc drops), and a Milk Choc Chunk Cookie (A rich, moist soft textured cookie crammed with mil choc chunks). Yes, it was looking like a bit of a chocolate day...
Venturing down a bit further, we came across a GUESS store where all the latest handbags were on display. Then there was a food court type area with more food choices and across from that was a big surprise--a Witchery store. Witchery is a woman's clothing chain store here in Australia. You'll find Witchery stores in many high streets and most large shopping malls. I don't think I've ever seen this type of shop at an airport before. For those of you in the USA, it would be like having a GAP in the airport terminal. It was complete with fitting rooms so you could try on the clothes. I was intrigued and the four year old was attracted to the shiny jewelry and accessories they had on display, so we ventured in. My conversation with the sales woman went something like this:
Me: "So, do you do much business here, I mean are you busy?"
Sales woman: Caught slightly off guard by an admittedly odd question, "Yes, we do quite well."
Me: "Really? I don't think I've ever seen such a store in an airport before. I mean this is a Witchery in the middle of the airport (yes in my astonishment, I was stating the obvious)."
SW: "Yes, it's actually one of our best performing stores. We do quite a bit of trade here."
Me: "Hmm, I don' t know why I find that surprising, but it is."
SW: "Yes, well I think there is room for a lot more fashion retail shops at airports."
She's probably right you know. I've just never thought about it. The terminal took a turn and continued down another pathway, but it was time for us to turn back and get to our departure gate. So I don't know what else we would have found. Who knew an airport could be so exciting?
If the airport is any indication, BrisVegas probably does have a lot to offer. We'll have to come back one day soon and see.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Anyway, here are a few observations I've made during this visit:
1. Queenslanders seem to be a bit more laid back than their Victorian counterparts--or at least the Victorians I interact with in Melbourne each day. I don't know if it's the climate or the natural beauty of the place, but things move at a slower pace here and people are generally not too fussed about things. The first few days you are here it seems a bit frustrating that no one is in a hurry, but then you get into the holiday mode and you aren't in a hurry any more either. Lovely.
2. Queenslanders seem to be more stereotypical "Aussies" than their Victorian counterparts. What that means is the people I've met here are more like the people you'd expect to find in Australia if you were coming from the USA for the first time. What I'm trying to say is that there have been quite a few people here that have reminded me of Steve Irwin or Crocodile Dundee. Same type of accent, same inflection, same 'have a go' attitude. Maybe my visit to the Australia Zoo is clouding my judgement, but that's the way it seems to me. So if you are looking for the 'stereotypical' Australian experience, then perhaps Queensland is the go...
3. On the whole, Queensland's restaurants are a bit disappointing. This is a big statement and I thought long and hard before typing it, but I think that Melburnians are absolutely spoiled. The Handsome Australian and I have been to many restaurants here this week (and last year during our visit to the Gold Coast), and nothing has really caught our fancy. There are no standouts and even your average places aren't that great. In Melbourne it's quite easy to walk off the street into any place you come across and almost be guaranteed a good meal. I truly believe the standard in Melbourne is simply that high.
4. People in Queensland love their Rugby and Aussie Rules doesn't rate. For those of you who aren't familiar with Australia's football code rivalry, Australian Rules Football originated in Victoria and until recent times was seen mainly as a Victorian game. The Australian Football League has expanded during the last two decades and now most capital cities around the country have their own AFL teams. Still, more than half the teams in the competition are still based in Melbourne and it's surrounds. So in Melbourne and Victoria, Aussie Rules is a BIG DEAL. So it seems very odd to us when we come to Queensland and hear people talking about the 'footy' and it's not Aussie Rules, but Rugby. Victorians would have you believe there is no other sport.
5. Poached eggs with Soldiers is a common children's breakfast meal here. I've never seen it on a menu in Victoria. What is it? Well, poached eggs are well, poached eggs (basically soft boiled) and the soldiers are pieces of toast cut into "stick" like slices. The idea seems to be you dip your toast sticks into your runny egg. Very cute. Our littlest one loved his poached eggs with soldiers today.
And finally, the Handsome Australian noted, "People here in Queensland seem to wear shorts more often." Hmm...I wonder why? This is actually a big statement coming from the Handsome Australian--anything above 18 degrees Celsius and he's in shorts--rain or shine. He might wear a jumper on top, but he's got shorts on bottom.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
One morning we tried breakfast at Berardo's on the Beach. This restaurant with a refreshing atmosphere sits right on the Noosa Beach Boardwalk. What that means for it's diners is amazing views of the beach right from your table. The location is second to none in terms of closeness to the beach and having a great view--unfortunately, the food didn't rate and the service left us disappointed. The photo below is the Big Breakfast at Berardo's (it'll cost you $19 AUD): two poached eggs, bacon, hash brown, grilled tomatoes, and local sausage. Nothing special about this breakfast, except the fact that the bacon was way overcooked. If you like it crispy, then perhaps Berardo's is the place for you.After breakfast, it's always lovely to spend a bit of time on the beach. Noosa's beach is a nice one. The sand is soft and clean and has a whitish tone to it. The water has a beautiful crystal blue colour. This happens to be a long holiday weekend here in Noosa this weekend, but you can see from the photos, there is still plenty of room on the beach. That's another thing I love about Australia--even during busy times, there is literally no one here. World's best kept secret I reckon...either that or it's outrageously expensive to get here so no one bothers. Either way, it just means more room for the rest of us!
This photo is of a rocky outcrop near some parkland along the beach. The Handsome Australian and the little ones had a terrific time searching the rock pools here for sea creatures. They spotted lots of things--small fish, sea anemone, crabs, and the list goes on. It was better than a visit to the aquarium.
We went to a cafe called Aroma's one day for lunch. Aroma's is located in the heart of Noosa's famous Hastings Street (which is the main strip that runs through the village). Aroma's is said to be styled after a Parisian cafe with all the chairs facing outward toward the street. It's apparently Noosa's see and be seen place to go. We had a late lunch there one day and we weren't disappointed. The photo below is the Spiced Prawns salad. It was, in a word, delicious. It did take awhile to order our food here--you have to go to the counter to place your order--but once our order was in, the food came out quickly and efficiently. The coffees were good here too and met the Handsome Australian's very high coffee standard. The four year old was impressed with the design the barista managed to make in the latte cream. That's generally a sign of someone who knows what he's doing and according to the Handsome Australian, this guy did. A good coffee makes the Handsome Australian very happy. We like it when he's happy.
Yes, it really is all about the beach here.
And finally, it's nearly time for sunset at the Noosa Yacht Club.
Ah, yes Noosa. A lovely little holiday destination. The Handsome Australian and I would highly recommend it.
Friday, September 12, 2008
So we set off this morning for Beerwah, a little town that is home to a great big zoo. You can't miss the town or the exit off the Bruce Highway as signs advertising the zoo are clearly marked and indicate exactly where to go.
As we arrived, the Zoo had been open for about half an hour and the parking lot was just starting to fill up. There were more people at the Zoo at that hour than at any other tourist attraction we've been to so far...hmm, maybe that says something about the Big Pineapple and Sunshine Castle. Even though the zoo was busy, it wasn't overcrowded and we only had to wait in a queue 2 deep to buy our admission tickets.
Admission prices to Australia Zoo are quite steep--we paid $135 AUD for two adults and one child (children under 3 were free). Given the admission prices, we thought we were going to be in for a Disney type gouging for the rest of the day. I wondered what we'd get for our $135...it was just a zoo after all. The Handsome Australian said, "For these prices, it better be a bloody good zoo." He's got high standards remember? The Big Pineapple, Sunshine Castle...all disappointments for the Handsome Australian.
Once we made it through the entry way, it was clear that Australia Zoo is not your ordinary zoo. Our first stop was at the Otter enclosure where one of the members of the Otter team was giving a talk about two female Otters who happened to be sisters. The talk was informative, funny and the animals were very engaging.
Before we could even make heads or tails of our zoo map, we stumbled upon Elephant feeding time. Anyone who was interested in doing so, could queue up and wait their turn to feed the elephants. When your turn came up, you were directed by a keeper to pick a piece of food out of a bucket (there were large chunks of fruits and veggies--apples, banana and carrot mostly) and hold it out for the elephant to grab with it's trunk. It was amazing being so close to the elephant and having the chance to actually feed it. We were very quickly impressed and the entire family was buzzing after the experience.
After the elephant feeding, it was nearly time for the Wildlife Warrior show in the Crocoseum (which is the purpose built stadium/enclosure masterminded by the great man himself--Steve Irwin--to safely display crocodiles and other inhabitants of the Zoo). Before his unfortunate death, Steve Irwin often hosted the shows in the Crocoseum.
The Crocoseum itself has a giant screen where you can see the action up close, although it only seats 5000 so you are never really too far away from the action. I'd venture to say their isn't a bad seat in the entire place. It was really well built and well planned.
Next stop was the Kids Zoo which was a petting zoo of sorts where you could purchase food for the animals and feed and pat them yourself. Expecting to pay $3 to $4 a bag for food, I was pleasantly surprised to find the bags only cost .50 cents each! A bargain. One bag was enough to keep both of our kids busy for quite awhile. They loved feeding the animals and Mum and Dad even got in on the fun.
After our adventures in the Crocoseum and the Kids Zoo, we took a break and got a bite to eat at the food court. There were literally dozens of choices and many of them were really quite healthy. We also noticed that the food court prices weren't too bad in comparison to other tourist venues we've visited in the past. A chicken and salad sandwich was about $6 AUD and the food was all very fresh. The seating in the food court was very clean and the tables were made from sliced tree trunks and each one was a very unique length, width and shape. There were plasma screen televisions all around the place beaming out endless footage of the Irwin family--sometimes Steve, sometimes Bindi, sometimes Terri and even young Robert was in on the action. In another setting, this might have been annoying, but when you are on the grounds of Australia Zoo you can easily get caught up in Irwin mania.
After our lunch break, we attended a special Kids Story Time about the Cheetahs. One of the Keepers from the Cheetah team gave a very well geared talk to a small group of children explaining the animal, its habitat and its life in the wild. This talk was highly interactive and he got the kids involved every step of the way. There were visual slides on a tv screen, props for the children to hold and several role plays. This particular keeper would make an excellent primary school teacher. Not only that, his funny asides kept the parents laughing as well. We again found ourselves with smiles on our faces.
After the Cheetah story time it was time for a very special birthday party for a couple of the female Cheetahs. They were turning 4 years old today. This meant their team of keepers brought them out (well one of them anyway) to a special location and spoke to the crowd about the animals while the Cheetah--Sheba was her name I think--opened her birthday present. What would a Cheetah want for her birthday? Raw meat of course. She nibbled away on her gifts before they brought out her birthday cake--it was made from gelatin with sardines and other fish through it. Didn't look too appetizing to us, but Sheeba ripped into it. She was in her element. She was one of the most beautiful cats I've ever seen.
Sheba opening her birthday gift
We then went to the Kangaroo and Wallaby enclosure where you can feed and pat both sets of animals. These animals were very tame and were easy to approach. Our excited two year old did manage to kick up a bit of dust and got swiped at by one of the kangaroos. He wasn't hurt, but he was a bit more reluctant with his patting after that--which is probably a good thing.
We made our way to the Elephant and Tiger enclosures next. The enclosures themselves were amazing. The animals have heaps of room to move around and everything is done up so nicely. The Handsome Australian couldn't find anything that was "in need of updating" unlike our visits to the Big Pineapple and Sunshine Castle. He was actually impressed with the Zoo.
Part of the Elephant Enclosure--who wouldn't want to live here? Stunning!
The day wore on and we saw as much of the Zoo as we could, but by the time the little ones ran out of energy, we had probably only managed to really see half of it. It was an AMAZING day though.
Now having visited the Zoo, I'd say the admission prices are well worth it. The grounds are impeccably well maintained and the entire place is really well set out. Both the Handsome Australian and I commented on how good all the animals looked. Never before have we seen such healthy and happy looking animals in captivity. The coats on all the animals were shiny and healthy looking. You can just tell that the welfare of the animals is put first above all else.
Also, the Handsome Australian commented on the amount of staff around the Zoo. He reckons the Zoo must employ the entire town of Beerwah. Each staff member wearing the compulsory Khaki uniform and a smile. Everyone we interacted with was friendly, helpful and very relaxed. They obviously love their jobs and who could blame them? The place is beautiful and the atmosphere is extremely positive.
If you ever get the chance to visit the Australia Zoo, take it. You won't be disappointed. Steve Irwin may have passed on prematurely, but his spirit lives on at the Zoo. There are photos and film of him everywhere. It's as if he hasn't gone at all. If his Zoo is any indication, he must have been one truly amazing guy.
The only complaint was from our four year old who was disappointed she didn't get to see Bindi the Jungle Girl in person. Perhaps we should have clarified the fact that Bindi would most likely not be roaming the grounds of the zoo waiting to hang out with us.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
So a bit tired from a poor night's sleep, I had to rely on the Handsome Australian to come up with a plan to woo the children today. The Handsome Australian is a good "go to" guy. He always has a plan. It's the same plan every time, but he has a plan. His plan is usually as follows, "Let's put the kids in the car and go for a drive." If you ask him where we're going, he won't know. He'll simply reply, "We're going wherever the road takes us." Nice. He's a philosopher too. Haven't I mentioned that? Yes, he's a catch ladies, but don't get too excited because I've already nabbed this keeper! Besides, if you don't like long car drives to nowhere, then the Handsome Australian really isn't the Handsome Australian for you.
We had the pool debate with the four year old again and finally convinced her that she could enjoy some much needed pool time later in the day. We got the kids buckled in to their car seats and we set off--destination unknown.
To be fair, the Handsome Australian did have the bones of a plan put together. He said we should drive down to Mooloolaba on the Bruce Highway (which runs inland parallel to the coast) and then make our way back up towards Noosa on the road which runs along the coast so we could take in the views and maybe have some lunch near the water.
So this is what we did. We stopped first in Mooloolaba which is home to Underwater World. Underwater World is apparently an aquarium. I say apparently because the Handsome Australian reckons it didn't rate highly enough to deserve a visit and so we skipped it. Fair enough I suppose. Why would you want to go somewhere as interesting and potentially educational as an aquarium when you could go somewhere much more promising like, I don't know...a Big Pineapple perhaps? Don't try to make sense of the Handsome Australian...you can't. Believe me, I've tried for years.
So we skipped Underwater World, but did manage to have lunch at the Wharf in Moolooaba. We dined at the Hog's Breath Cafe (more on that later) and then we kept on driving up the coast back towards Noosa. The kids were just starting to get a bit cranky in the back seat and I was starting to question the Handsome Australian's plan for the day when, on the horizon, we spotted something majestic sitting atop a hill. I couldn't believe my eyes...there along the coastal highway we were traveling on (David Low Way to be exact) was a castle.
When our princess obsessed four year old spotted it, she was bouncing up and down. "Stop the car Daddy! Stop the car! I want to see the castle! I want to see the castle!" Her younger brother who copies everything began to make similar demands. So pull over we did.
We had no idea what we'd find inside. The sign read, "Sunshine Castle" and it promised everything from a doll museum,to armoury displays to model train exhibitions and the list went on and on. The kids were beside themselves with anticipation. The place wasn't overrun with people. In fact, we saw only one other family there. We were greeted by a friendly woman at the front counter who explained the admission prices to us. It cost us $29 AUD for 2 adults and 1 child (the little one is young enough to still get in most places for free--lucky him!)We were offered funny little dress ups--viking sort of hats or plastic armour of sorts to help us get in the spirit of things. Our 4 year old vetoed these costume items and deemed them "too silly" to wear (which is funny considering she spends most days running around in ballerina tutus with fairy wings attached). We were then instructed to cross the bridge over the moat and begin our self guided tour of the castle.
The castle itself was actually quite large and had quite a few towers you could ascend using fairly narrow spiral staircases. There was a dungeon downstairs that was a bit creepy, and scared the pants off the four year old. The Handsome Australian and I had a good laugh as she shrieked with fear at the bloodied dummy that stood in the corner locked in chains. Poor darling, she'll never visit a dungeon with us again. (This is the photo of the Great Hall in the castle...perfect for your next wedding or function. What? You can't see yourself getting married here? It's a CASTLE!! Come on!)
The views from the top of the towers were great. You could see the surrounding area quite well. The water on one side and cane fields off in the distance on another.
Along the way on the inside of the halls there were displays of dolls dressed in clothing from different countries. There were also scenes of different fairytale stories like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and many others. Most of the displays were functioning, but some needed work and according to the Handsome Australian, "it all needs updating". The model train exhibition kept our youngest busy. He loved pushing the buttons to make the lights go on and off and make the trains stop and go.
All in all, the castle was a hit with the kids. They especially liked being able to choose something from the special treasure chest on the way out. The woman who was working there explained a magic fairy had cast a spell on the treasure chest that only allowed it to stay open for 7 seconds, so you needed to choose your treasure quickly. When opened, the treasure chest revealed a bounty of lollies. You didn't have to ask our children twice--they both snatched their treasure before the lady could count to two!
So you just never know what you might find on your drive to nowhere with the Handsome Australian. He might just deliver you to the doorsteps of a castle, you just have to roll the dice to find out!
No gargoyles here. Just a menacing T-Rex guarding the tower of this castle.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
The hotel we are staying in has a lovely pool that seems to have a strange spell cast over our four year old. She wants to constantly be in it. Never mind it's actually quite cold and she spends all of her time sitting in the small spa alongside the actual pool, it seems the pool is all she can talk about. She actually said to us, "Mum and Dad, I'm going to keep asking you if I can go to the pool until you say yes." And true to her word, she did exactly that and has done so every day since our arrival until we finally give in. She's persistent and clever and while I find the endless pool requests a bit on the annoying side, I have to commend her for setting a goal for herself and achieving it. She's going places...well, to the pool anyway.
The Handsome Australian and I actually decided today that our daughter will make the perfect 'resort holiday' customer. She loves the idea of a hotel and she loves the pool. Every time we make mention of leaving the hotel and venturing out into the wider world, she protests and protests loudly. We aren't sure where she gets this tendency as the Handsome Australian and I are generally anti-resort (well the Handsome Australian is anyway, I reckon I'd be happy to give it a whirl once) and we like to get out and see what there is to see and do what there is to do in any place that we visit. We used to spend our holidays, before we had children, on the go. We'd leave our hotel early in the morning and wouldn't come back until late at night. We'd pack the activities in, doing as much as we possibly could in the time we had.
Now that we are traveling with the under 5 crowd, we've had to taper our schedule a bit and rethink our activities. So today after we peeled our four year old's fingers off the pool fence one by one and carried her kicking and screaming to the car, the Handsome Australian announced that we'd be visiting the Big Pineapple. The what? Yes, you heard me The Big Pineapple.
What could be more exciting than a super huge Pineapple sitting at the gate of a pineapple plantation just near Nambour (and just down the road from Noosa) here in Queensland? Well, my friends, the Big Pineapple and the accompanying gift shop, cafe, pineapple plantation and informative tours are really something to be experienced.
For the uninitiated, Australia actually has a collection of Big or Giant things all around the country. It's a weird Australian phenomenon. Don't ask me to explain it, because I can't. There are just all these iconic giant structures dotted around Australia that lure people in to visit them. They are generally a bit run down and dodgy--just your run of the mill tourist trap. Think of all those bizarre snake farms you see advertised on highways in the USA and you'll get the idea.
But back to the pineapple...the Handsome Australian was excited to be in the vicinity of one of these Big things and decided that we must visit. Upon arrival, our kids loved it. They were running around the gift shop, cafe and the Big Pineapple itself like they'd been set free in Disney World or something. They LOVED the Big Pineapple itself and really liked the fact that you could climb the spiral staircase inside and look out over the top of it.
The Handsome Australian was unimpressed with the Pineapple itself and thought it was in dire need of updating. Mind you, we paid nothing to see it and what did he think was going to be inside this Big Pineapple anyway? The inside is just as tacky as the outside. I thought this would have been an obvious conclusion, but the Handsome Australian seemed to expect more. Poor guy.
Here are a few photos from our adventure:
Now that's a Big Pineapple. You can't eat it, but you can climb it--well inside it anyway!
Here's another view from the parking lot...a very quiet parking lot I might add. Hmm, perhaps that should have been a sign...
This is the view of the pineapple plantation from the balcony of the gift shop and cafe. Both the Handsome Australian and I were amazed to see that pineapples actually grow on plants on the ground. We had both wrongly believed they grew up high in trees. Lucky we stopped by the Big Pineapple today so we could get our pineapple facts straight. (Oh and that little train thing you see is the tour you can go on. We elected not to take the tour of the plantation as we didn't think our kids would get much out of it and it would have cost us something like $40 AUD for all of us)
More pineapples growing on the ground and not in a tree. Who would have thought!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
On Sunday, which was Father's Day here in Australia (yet another difference between the USA and here. I've got to remember to wish my Dad back in the USA Happy Father's Day in June, and then tee my kids up with presents and cards for the hubby here in September. It can be very confusing at times. Anyway, back to my point...) the Handsome Australian and I bundled our children into a taxi at the very early hour of 5am and took a ride to the Melbourne Airport.
Once we arrived at the Melbourne Airport, we made our way to the Virgin Blue luggage drop off counters and checked our bags in for our flight to Brisbane, Queensland. Our time at the airport was really not that interesting except for the fact that not a single person--at the ticket counter or in subsequent security checks or at the gate for boarding asked any of us for any form of identification. I think that's the first time in a long time I've travelled on an airplane and not been asked to prove who I am and that my name matches my ticket. It was like a throw back to the 70s or the 80s or whenever it was that we didn't need our IDs all the time.
In many ways it was refreshing as everyone was totally friendly and didn't treat each of us like a criminal with something to hide (which I have to say is often the feeling you get as you travel through security in the USA). On the other hand, it was a bit disturbing because you think, "Well they let me through, who else are they letting through?" Yeah, a very interesting situation to say the least.
Nevertheless, we boarded our flight and arrived safely several hours later at the sunny Brisbane airport. Brisbane wasn't our final destination though. We stopped briefly and picked up our hire car (that's Aussie for rental car) and took a two hour drive north along the Bruce Highway to a well known Australian holiday spot along the famous Sunshine Coast called Noosa.
We've never been to Noosa before and this is only our second visit to Queensland. I've lived in Australia for 8 years now, but have done very little domestic travel in that time period. The Handsome Australian and I have made it up to Sydney and across to Adelaide and have driven through a lot of rural Victoria and we even went on a road trip to Canberra once, but that pretty much does it for my domestic travel here.
Last year, we brought our children up to Queensland just before Christmas time and we spent a week on the Gold Coast (which is a touristy beach area just south of Brisbane). During that trip and this current one, I've been confronted with the odd feeling of what it's like to be tourist in the country in which you live, but not in which you are from. Does that even make sense?
It feels odd being a tourist in Australia because we do live here, but we don't live in Queensland. There are a lot of people from overseas about the place and in my interactions with the locals, many of them assume that I've come for a holiday directly from the USA because of my accent. They are very careful about asking you though as they don't want to offend. This was my conversation with the man who runs our hotel and assisted me in checking in:
Hotel man: "Welcome to Noosa. Where have you driven from today?"
Me: "Just up from Brisbane in the car, but we had to fly into Brisbane first this morning."
HM: "So you flew into Brisbane from...?"
Me: "We flew into Brisbane from Melbourne this morning."
HM: "So are you from Melbourne?"
Me: "Yes, that is where we are from (this is the part that freaks me out because I have to say I'm from Melbourne. I don't really feel like I'm from Melbourne). We live there."
HM: "But not originally right?"
Me: "I know, you are trying to work out the accent aren't you?"
HM: "Yes, well I know it's a North American accent, I just can't tell if you are Canadian or American."
Me: "Texan actually (that's a Texas thing, we claim our state first. We can't help it, we are a proud people. Also, this tends to freak Australians out as I don't have a very typical Texan accent and most of them refuse to believe that I'm actually from there so I do love saying it for shock value. Yes, I am that easily amused.)"
HM: "How long have you been in Australia for?"
Me: "8 years now."
HM: "Have you ever visited Noosa before?"
Me: "No, we haven't."
HM: "Well you are going to love it."
And the niceties continued until all the administration of checking in was complete.
So I guess the point I'm trying to make is it's weird to feel like an international tourist again in a country where I've lived for so long and now consider to be very much my home and to be asked questions as if I am an international tourist.
So the identity crisis continues...