Bring out the earplugs; it’s race weekend.

This past weekend, the Formula 1 racing season commenced in Melbourne’s Albert Park.  Seen as the pinnacle of racing sports in Australia, the Grad Prix is the oldest surviving motor race in the country and the start of the F1 championship. Guess which redheaded race loving, sports enthusiast was there? Yes. ME.

If you know me, this isn’t really that much of a surprise considering that I follow stock car racing back home. For those of you that don’t, yes, I am a speed junkie. Admitting you watch Nascar automatically gives people incentive to tease you incessantly. I have heard many times, “but you do not seem like the stereotypical fan” ( which really means, that I do not adhere to the stereotypes of a beer chuggin’ redneck that many associate with the sport). Not only do I follow the sport, but I have also attended  multiple races in Indianapolis and loved them every time. Kasey Kahne baby! Granted, Nascar and Formula One are alike as apples and oranges. However, the adrenaline rush, enthusiasm and camaraderie among race fans are nearly identical despite the differences in car models, mileage, speed, and track.

Luckily for me, my two closest friends here are also race fans and wanted to go to just as desperately as I did.  We purchased concession general admission tickets which were fairly reasonable (can I please be a student forever?) and were prepared to make a day of it at the race circuit.

I scoured the city for earplugs which apparently are a rare item because I went to every supermarket  and convenience store in my neighborhood, Kmart, Target, and multiple pharmacies before I found a pair.  I consulted a few people back home who actively follow F1 racing and learned about some of the drivers and made my decision of which team and driver to cheer for.  I decided on team Red Bull and drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber (an Aussie).   They made me quite proud in the end, way to go boys!!

On race day we headed into the city, luckily, due to high race traffic the city set aside trams just to bring passengers to and from the circuit.  We were prepared with folding chairs, snacks, water,  ear plugs and of course cameras. I am a bit of a photography freak so I brought two of my three cameras with me, you never know when you might need more than one.  We toured the grounds, scouting for the perfect spot where we could see the cars zoom by and shopped around for some gear. I settled for a F1 Grand Prix baseball hat because my team’s gear was a bit pricey. When I say a bit, I mean I could buy  10 shirts for the price of the one they were selling. As much as I wanted one, prudence outweighed desire and I decided to make the fiscally responsible choice. Not to mention, I do have a sort of fascination with baseball hats; my collection has since doubled while being here and I wear them all the time.

The grounds were swarmed with people and held a plethora of events and activities celebrating racing and cars in general.  Old race cars as well as other beautiful models lined the paths and it was neat to see cars from all around the world including some classic American muscle cars. I felt like I had stepped foot in a new Fast & Furious movie. We finally found our spot on a slight hill in between turns 10 and 11 which had a perfect view of a straightway.  As the clock ticked down, we admired the fighter jets performing their aerial show and took bets( being poor exchange students, they were more hypothetical bets than anything) on who was going to win. My friend, Ann is F1 obsessed and she was proudly adorned in her Jenson Button t-shirt while she taunted me that Vettel and Webber were going down.

Good thing there was no money on the race, otherwise I would have had to swallow my pride and pay up. Button won, Vettel finished 2nd and Webber just missed the podium by finishing 4th.  The hum of the engines were so loud as the cars zoomed by us. It took me most of the race to take decent pictures because half of them I either clicked too early or late and got an empty track.  I cheered, snapped photos, listened to the announcers, witnessed a partial crash, and finally settled on taking a video of the cars racing by as I was having trouble taking pictures ( I guess my reflexes could use a little work). The energy of the fans were contagious as they rooted on their favorite team and drivers.

When the race was over, unlike in Nascar where they usher you out, they let the patrons walk all the way around the circuit. After celebrating on the track where we were photo-bombed by various crazy Australian guys, we took one last look at the circuit and headed home after a day full of sun, laughs, and excitement.

It was a once in a lifetime experience and I am so glad that I went to my first but certainly not last F1 race. I already checked, they have the US Grand Prix in Texas in November this year. Hmmm…. roadtrip?

Happy Reading!

Circus Here I Come

This past weekend weekend was Labor Day weekend. Its very strange because at home Labor day usually falls around my birthday in September. Of course here though with the reversed seasons, March begins autumn.  Melbourne hosts the annual Moomba festival downtown around this time. It is not only free (words I jump at) but it is also the largest city festival in all of Australia. Baby, I’m there.

We spent the entirety of Saturday down at the festival, enjoyin the food, games, watching water skiing competitions, basking in the gorgeous weather (we had a break from the rain) and watching a beautiful firework display over the Yarra River with the city skyline in the background. I also won a pint sized stuffed dolphin from one of the arcade games who I fondly named Australia Flipper.

By the way, must I say that on the days that the sun does come out, my freckles almost explode off my face. 🙂 Good thing I grew up thinking that a face without freckles is like the nights sky without stars. Thanks Mom for that little self esteem boost as a child!!

We also stumbled upon a trapeze show. Not only that, but they advertised that they still had a few open spots in their trapeze lessons for Sunday and Monday. Being both spontaneous and not afraid of heights I jumped at the chance to fly through the air on a trapeze so my friend and I both booked spots for Sunday.

Our appointment for Sunday was at 5pm so I had a lazy  morning and afternoon where I attempted to do some homework (yes, I still do go to university). We got to the festival a bit early to have a little pre-trapeze fun. I psyched myself out by watching the lesson before and although I was not nervous before, I began to let fear set in. Now, I am not afraid of heights. In fact, I love them and have always taken advantage of them. I even lived in a high rise in the middle of Chicago last year in which my apartment was pretty much all windows.  It wasn’t the height that was freaking me out, it was remembering to do all the steps that they said. Jump on this signal, bend your knees when I say this, let your hands go when you hear this; all of these tasks seemed overwhelmingly daunting to me. Nonetheless, I knew I wanted to do it and no matter if I felt like I was going to hurl, I was going to do my best on that trapeze.

They gave us safety belts, taught us the steps, let us practice on a bar low to the ground and then it was showtime. Note to parents with small children, if your child is obnoxious do not think it is a good idea to put them in a trapeze lesson by themselves where they can run around, disrespect the instructor and frankly wreak havoc on the other adults who are attempting this.  When it was my turn I climbed up the ladder, an instructor hooked my harness to the safety wires, and I prepared to perform a death defying trick. Yes, I know that there was no way for me to fall, nor was I going to be doing anything that challenging, but at the time, it felt pretty special. I was supposed to grab the trapeze, swing on it, then tuck my legs over the bar, do a free hand knee hand and then do a summersault off. Piece of cake, right?  Surprisingly the toughest part about all that was grabbing the bar with your second hand because you are leaning so far over the edge, you feel as you might fall even though there is an instructor holding onto your harness from the back.  I managed to complete the tasks and land safely back down on the net without that many hiccups. It was exhilarating.

My second go at it was not as successful as the first. We were supposed to attempt a catch. While I didn’t complete the catch I still managed to summersault off the trapeze. Overall, considering that an hour before I did not even want to try it, I felt content and was so happy that I did it. Check that off the bucket-list ( which would mean my non-existent always meant to write one).

While I am not exactly circus material, I did have a fantastic time. I am so glad that even though I was scared out of my mind, I did not back out.

Try out new things!!  I never imagined that I would be doing trapeze lessons, but I did. Keep an open mind and be ready for anything and everything. You will surprise yourself every time.

Happy Reading!

Last Weekend’s Strange Exploits:Everyone Needs a Snugglebuggle

Maybe it is due to the relaxed atmosphere around here or perhaps the sun is finally getting to me ( although to be honest the weather is truly bipolar here), but I am frequently losing track of days here. I meant to update  about my activities last weekend but somehow it completely slipped my mind. I have an excuse though, it was the first week of classes last week. Now that I am no longer a newbie at uni and I can confidently maneuver my way around campus, I feel that it is only fair to update on my shenanigans last week.

The weather unfortunately was poor and dismal last weekend, but two of my new found good friends and I decided to not let it stop us. We eagerly attempted to make a few loose plans for the weekend. Now I know that I said I wasn’t really a planner and I am not, but occasionally I will think a day or two ahead if I have an inkling of something that I want to do.

As usual, one day last week when the weather was surprisingly perfect, we explored the city centre again and sat in Federation Square enjoying the views and the  people. We decided to meander along the Yarra River and found a beautiful park nestled on the bank of the river. I wished at that moment that I had perhaps dabbled in horticulture because in my opinion it was one of the most beautiful parks that I have ever seen. The vibrant hues of the red and purple flowers complemented the immaculate spring green hedges and there were hidden ponds tucked away behind the towering trees.

The next day, was perhaps the strangest day that I have experienced while being in Melbourne. I admit, that I am a bit quirky and that seems to follow me when I travel, but this was something that really threw me for a loop. Despite the despondent skies, we decided to venture to the Werribee Open Range Zoo, which unlike a conventional zoo where the animals are locked up and the viewers are able to roam around the paths, it is the opposite and the viewers are in a van while the animals roam the land. I particularly like this concept because as much as I love zoos I sometimes have a difficult time with the idea that these magnificent creatures are contained in such tight quarters. We set off on the long ride on public transportation which consisted of a tram, train, and bus to get there (one of the things that is difficult about living in Melbourne is that everything is more spaced out than you originally think). When we arrived in the train station we saw groups of middle aged couple dressed to the nines with feathery hair pieces reminiscent  of   what you would expect to wear at a queen’s garden party. I immediately guessed that they were attending a race somewhere as I have watched enough televised races back home because of my dad’s fondness for horse racing. My two friends were skeptical so we ended up asking one of the women and she confirmed my initial thoughts. We had a lovely conversation with her and ended up finding out that she was a former professor at the uni we currently attend. Need I say small world?

On the train is where a few things got a bit dodgy.  First of all, we definitely saw a different part of Melbourne than we were accustomed too. I am not a newbie to slums since I have both volunteered and worked in them in Milwaukee and Chicago; however the less affluent outskirts of the city was strikingly different to every other part of the city.  It does not on the outside look blatantly impoverished but little things like run down buildings and dirtier streets are a tell tale sign. On one of the stops a man entered our car with spray paint cans and a plastic bag filled with paint. He then preceded to sit next to us while sniffing paint and spray painting his hair. It was apparent that he was unfortunately an addict and high. He paced throughout the car and we eventually moved cars to avoid the paint fumes. Again, although strange, it brings me back to reality about both how fortunate I am in my endeavors and also that even though Melbourne is a very affluent and safe city there are always exceptions. Reminders like this are also a great way for me to stay grounded and to remember that even in the allure of all that Australia has to offer, poverty is a global issue and affects every community.

Once we finally got to the zoo, it started to rain but we did not let the weather spoil our excitement. We boarded the open safari bus and kepts our eyes pealed for giraffes, zebras, emus, rhinos, antelope and more. The best part was when the rhinos got so close to the bus that we could almost touch him our our windows. It was exciting to be that close to wild animals. Our guide’s commentary was very family oriented and thus she often said phrases like: “make sure to give your kids bear huggies” and “everyone needs a snugglebuggle.” Needless to say, her adorable demeanor completely won me over and I enjoyed every second. After the bus tour we followed paths to open paddocks where we saw more emus, snakes, wild birds, and here it comes kangaroos. I have been anxiously awaiting the time when I would see a kangaroo. Not only did we see kangaroos, I ventured off the path a bit despite signs warning me otherwise (I couldn’t help it) and was so close to the roo that I could touch it.  I made my friends a bit nervous so I backed off and the picture I have with them are not as close as I would have liked.  What can I say? I am animal obsessed. However, I crossed “see a kangaroo” off my Australian bucket list and it was amazing.

The rest of the day continued with a strange bus ride that we rode the route twice and more odd encounters on public transportation. The strangeness of the encounters on public transportation made me a bit nostalgic for Chicago and my late night adventures on the “L.” Let me tell you, I have pretty much seen everything on those trains.  I missed home for a few minutes and then realized, I am in AUSTRALIA! My nostalgia quickly dissipated.

Again, it was another interesting and more importantly entertaining weekend. Here’s to many more!!

Happy Reading!

Hitting the Streets

Whenever I travel somewhere new, one of my favorite things to do is to take public transportation into the city, hit the streets and explore. I try to do this before I come up with any major conclusions about the place itself. I listen, smell, taste, see and breathe in everything the place has to offer.

Although school has started, I have gone into the CBD (the central business district or downtown as I would call it back home in Chicago) frequently.  Due to my rocky start, I was not able to explore as much in the beginning because I was concerned with my living arrangements so now that I am settled I have been able to do what I truly love and that is exploring.

Let me first say that I am not the guidebook type of traveler. In fact, I surprised myself by doing something I never do. I actually did buy a guidebook for Australia but left it at home because it was inconvenient to pack. Yes, strange I know, but when it comes down to that last dress or a guidebook, I will always choose a dress.  While I respect those that are very prepared travelers, I prefer to learn on the fly. It is my style to learn about a place through word of mouth, asking strangers on the street (which in my experience has always led to amazing places), flyers around town and the occasional quick google search. I find that I am more flexible if I go in with no exact plans and just find things on my own. This works particularly well for me because I usually have extended periods of time that I am in places, so for most people who have a day limit on a vacation I see the appeal of having their time planned.  Thus, in typical fashion whenever I have gone into the city, I usually get off at a popular stop and simply explore that way.

Now to describe Melbourne’s streets is a bit tricky. The city is pretty well laid out located on Port Phillip Bay with its city centre hugging the Yarra River.  While the city centre has typical wide streets with bustling traffic in amongst skyscrapers, there are pockets of the city that look as unique as the stores that line the streets and the people that inhabit them. My favorite streets as of now in my early explorations are Chapel Street which is located a few kilometers north of the city centre, and Bourke Street which Melburnians  ( yes, I just used that word, I like the way it sounds despite the spelling that throws me off ) like to call the “second street” after the main Collins Street. Chapel street is  unconventional in the way that it is not strikingly pretty for a city street. The stores, pubs, and restaurants are just a bit too crowded and varied to give any semblance of smooth aesthetics. However, it is the quirkiness  and controlled chaos that hold the appeal for me. If any Chicago folk are reading this, it very much reminds me of Belmont and the surrounding streets. If you know me at all, Belmont is perhaps my favorite street in the city so Chapel scored high marks for me.  Bourke St is similiar in that it is definitely varied; however, because it is downtown there is a cohesive identity to the buildings in a way that differs from Church St.  I have come to love Melbourne’s CBD and as is my usual reaction to most cities because I am the epitome of a city person, I am truly pleased and satisfied every time I visit the CBD. One of the things I truly appreciate about Melbourne is that like its people, the city is so varied as well. There is Chinatown, Little Italy, Docklands, City Centre and so on and so forth. It is a gentle blend of a very contemporary city with the feeling of an artistic culture mixed with individuals from all over the world. In a nutshell, this is my kind of city.

My school and house is located in the eastern suburb of Burwood so in order to get to the CBD I take the tram in. First let me just say that I have ridden a lot of trams; I took them everyday when I lived in Prague and everywhere all over Europe. I usually consider myself a train person alas due to my love/hate relationship with the infamous Chicago ‘L.’ However, Melbourne’s tram system is phenomenal and quite extensive. Melbourne is the proud owner of the largest tram network in the world and it runs smoothly every time. It almost puts the ‘L’ to shame, but I loyally love the rattling noises and persistent technical errors of Chicago’s elevated trains.  I simply take one tram, the number 75, in case anyone is planning to visit and voilà I am smack dab right outside Flinders Train Station and within walking distance of Federation Square (the main square in the city). Flinders Station, I might add, is a gorgeous cultural icon for Melbourne. Despite not being a local quite yet, I have found myself saying the popular phrase “I’ll meet you under the clocks” which refers to the multiple clocks that line the inside of the station by the main entranceway.  I am partial to the nighttime view of Flinders where the oddly colored yellow building glistens gold against the nighttime sky highlighted by the streetlights.

Nonetheless, I have found some fantastic spots in the city and have had some great fun venturing into the CBD. I have kowtowed to my weakness for clothing and found a few shops that catered to my budget and style.  A few friends and I are planning on visiting Parliament, Victoria Market, and anything else we can find later this week. I cannot wait.

Happy Reading!

Things Australians Say

Just a list of some things that I have heard Aussies say! Some of them are quite comical but overall I love them and I will be bringing some of these back with me to the States.

G-day Mate- Good day friend

Brekky-Breakfast

Mackkers- McDonalds

Uni- College/University

No Worries- You’re Welcome/Its okay/No Problem

Ho0roo- Goodbye/See you later

Kiwi- Someone who lives in New Zealand

Milk Bar- local/corner shop selling take away, convenience shop

I’m Nackered- exhausted or very tired

Chewy- gum

Chemist- Drugstore

Chips- French Fries

Ta- Thanks

Berko – Going crazy

Crickey! – Surprised at something (good or bad)

Thongs – Flip-flop shoes

Relies – Relatives

Footy- Australia Football

Boomer-kangaroo

Buggered if i know-Don’t know, have no idea

Cuppa- Having a cup of tea

Tuts- Tutorials (which for me means a discussions style classes)

Rubbish- Garbage

Beaut –great, fantastic

Bathers- swim suit

Barbie-barbecue

Good on Yeah!- Good job

Driving Along the Great Ocean Road

One of the things that is a must do when visiting Australia is  to take a trip on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. It is a road that stretched 150 miles of breathtaking Australia coastline. Luckily for me, this bucket list item was already a prearranged trip by my university for all of the international students.

After having a rough arrival to Melbourne, with housing drama, I was very excited to take a few days from the apartment search and relax in true Aussie fashion on the beach.  I made my trek to the university a whopping 9 kilometer walk to campus (just another incentive to find a new place to live).  I made some fast friends waiting for the trip leaders to organize the buses and we set off for an adventure on the Great Ocean Road.

Our hub for the trip was the little beach town of Lorne. It was a quaint town with  shops, cute cafes and of course a beautiful beach. As the daughter of someone who grew up in Boston, I am a frequent visitor of Cape Cod and that is exactly what Lorne reminded me of- a more tropical version of Woods Hole ( Shout out to anyone who actually knows the Cape).  The first day was very Aussie which is the key word for low key and relaxed. A few of us basically just camped out at the beach and enjoyed the scenery and warm weather.

After dinner (which was included, thankfully, my bank account is certainly not used to these Australian prices)  we settled into our hostel which was so nice and just sat and chatted while we drank some local Australian wine. Another great thing about Lorne is the birds. There are wild parrots everywhere and they are so used to people that they will literally sit next you. I loved it. I mean one of my favorite movies growing up was Paulie.

The next day we woke up early to a day at the beach. The first item on the itinerary was surfing. Unfortunately for me, I was unable to participate because I injured my foot earlier that week. It was in the process of healing, but as much as I wanted to try my hand in the waves I knew that it could result in a set back. Instead, I acted as the paparazzi and happily snapped away with my camera while the morning lighting glistened off the ocean. Next, was ocean kayaking which I did participate in. My friend, Karissa and I were determined to catch some waves. We did and also managed to tip over a few times, and my all time favorite somehow I ended up underwater with the kayak stuck on top of me. Next, we walked through the town, had lunch, bought some postcards, and just enjoyed the moment. Relaxing and slowing down is definitely something I am trying to learn to do and enjoy. After four months of studying, backpacking and literally being in a different place every weekend, this is extremely different for me.  I am looking forward for the Aussie way of relaxing to rub off on me.

The next day we continued on the Great Ocean Road and headed west. We stopped to see some koalas, snapped pictures in Apollo Bay, hiked in Mait’s Rest rain forrest, and finally made it to the 12 Apostles. The 12 Apostles are limestone stacks off the shore; the entire expanse of the shore is actually part of Port Campbell National Park. The apostles were formed by thousands of years of erosion and while there are not actually 12 (there never were and now there are 8 since once collapsed in 2005) it was one of the most magnificent views I have ever seen.  After taking in the beauty we also headed a littler farther west and saw another coastal formation called Loch Ard Gorge. The impressive ombré colored stone formations set against the topaz blue water was striking.

After, we headed back home, where I preceded to walk another 9 km home, I felt much better  about my journey to Australia. Despite some small bumps along the road, I am overjoyed to be here. The trip was a great way to meet new people and to see some amazing sights in Australia. I cannot wait to explore more of this amazing country. Things are looking up.

Happy Reading!

Aussies for the Win!!

I have officially been in Australia for almost two weeks. I have painfully neglected my blog in the meantime but I can say this I have been insanely busy and productive.

As I said in my last post that I was practically homeless upon arriving in Melbourne as I chose to find my own housing, I have since found a house and have lived here for a few days now. It feels fantastic to actually put my clothes in my wardrobe and my food in a cupboard. I am located  five minute walk from campus and ten minutes from my friends house which I am such a frequent visitor that they joke I’m their 5th roommate.

School officially starts next week so I am very excited  to start classes.  I have been informed that the academic environment is much more laid back in comparison to the US  (for example, we are expected to call professors by their first names) so I am anxious to see the differences for myself. We had orientation activities all week so I got to explore the campus a bit and meet other international students.  I only have classes three days a week Monday through Wednesday so I will have four day weekends. This is insane to me.

I also have been frantically job searching. I have an interview on Tuesday for a student mentoring position. It is similiar to what I do back in Chicago so I hope I get it. Cross your fingers!!

Last night a few of my new friends and I went to our first soccer game last night; it was Australia vs. Saudi Arabia and it was one of the world qualifying matches for the world cup. We bought student tickets for a measly  10 dollars (boy do I love being a student) and our seats were in the second row. Of course, we visited the sports shop and were decked out in Australia hats and scarves. By the way, Australia’s team is the Socceroos. How adorable! Although, we were down after the first half, the Aussies pulled out a win. It was so exciting and a great way to be initiated into  the Australia sports world. I am going to a Cricket game tomorrow which will definitely be an experience. I also hope to go to many footy games (Australia football) and the Grand Prix in Formula-1 racing. Needless to say I am a big sports fan!

I will write a post about my trip on the Great Ocean Road soon, I promise.

On the Road Again

* I wrote this entry a bit ago. I figured I needed to backtrack a bit before I start talking about my current adventures. I will be good about this I promise!!

Or should I say, in the air again?  T-minus 2 days  until I am flying nearly ten thousand miles to the land down under. This trip snuck up on me this time. Unlike Prague, I had the entire summer to anxiously await the moment when I would step upon foreign soil, this time I feel almost ill-equipped for the journey and am rushing around purchasing last minute items like sunscreen and hats for my fun in the sun. I have spent the last 5 weeks looking over my European adventure pictures, catching up with friends and family, and trying to wrap my head around the experiences I had while living in Prague for four months. Unbelievably enough, I get to start all over again in Melbourne, Australia.

The Australian university calendar is very different from the typical American one. Classes run from March to late June for trimester one.  While the rest of Loyola has been slaving away under their piles of books in the IC, I have been twiddling my thumbs at home with my dogs. I even made a quick stop back at Loyola to meet with advisors and I felt almost alien to my own campus since I have been away from dear Lake Shore since May 2011. When I arrive in Australia I will have two orientations, one on campus for the logistical things like receiving a campus id and class registration, but the fun starts when the university takes us on a trip to the Great Ocean Road. This field trip entails hiking in the rainforest, surfing lessons, yoga on the beach and breathtaking views of the Twelve Apostles ( you know regular school activities).

I’ve learned a lot about myself and I am taking that new knowledge with me to that land of OZ. I know how to navigate airports, city centers, all sorts of public transportation systems, and how to find the best hostels, flight deals,and cheap eats.  I have made some adjustments since my last study abroad adventure. I am taking one suitcase not two. I am hoping to find a part time job there since with their visa you are allowed to work as well as study. I am finding my own housing when I get there because I want to find a really affordable place and I preferably want to live with some Aussies. However, I am going in with the same sincerely open mind and heart that is so imperative when you relocate to another country. I am ecstatic to experience something so entirely new and strikingly different from Prague.  Plus, the seventy degree weather is an added benefit and I cannot complain when I am doing my homework on a beach.

The flight is nearly 23 hours so I hope to hunker down and get some z’s because when I land it will be 2 days ahead. I leave on the 15th and arrive on the 17th, insane right? I guess that’s what happens when you cross the international date line and journey on down to the southern hemisphere. In typical fashion, I have not packed my bag yet, but I am sure now with all packing wisdom that I have attained from packing and re-packing a bag about 30 times last semester that I can conquer this task.

I’m going to go make my travel playlist now and dream of kangaroos and koala bears, preferably together and in my arms.

Talk to you soon. Happy Reading!!