Category Archives: holidays

An Aussie Christmas

annual events, expat issues, food, holidays, Sydney

This year marked my third Australian Christmas. I remember the first two as both sort-of-nice and sort-of-sad (2010’s very strange trip is here. 2011, spent quietly with friends, seems to not even have warranted its own post). This year, I decided that I was approaching the holiday all wrong, and determined that I needed to, not just accept, but actually embrace that Christmas takes place in the middle of summer, and that either ignoring it all together or doing anything that tries to recreate a Norman Rockwell North American holiday was just going to leave me melancholy and disappointed.

So, this year, I undertook Operation Aussie Christmas.

Step 1: Ban all songs from the White Christmas oeuvre from my holiday playlist. Instead, put in heavy rotation “Mele Kalikimaka” and Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun” (Stand warned, if you don’t know Tim Minchin, he’s a humorist and a bit of a cynical atheist, who has written an Aussie Christmas song that ends up making me cry every time).

Step 2: Choose the festivities. Going to the beach is a big thing to do for Sydney Christmas, but my aversion to crowds led me to decide we’d have a picnic at our favorite park – Blues Point Reserve, which is rarely crowded and features the most marvelous view of the Harbour I’ve yet to find. I’m loathe to even mention it here, lest the best kept secret in Sydney get out!

Step 3: Plan the menu. I opted for a cold ham, cheese, a prawn salad, fruit and a pavlova for desert. These were all cool, light dishes that required minimal heating of the oven, but still felt festive.

Step 4: Under the tree. (Our little tree hasn’t changed much over the past 3 years). Partner-in-Crime and I are both starkly practical when it comes to gifts, so he chose to have me gift him some accouterments for his new Kindle. This year, though, I picked out something a little more impractical. Our dear friend Tanja is a brilliant jewelry designer, so I asked for a couple of her pieces. The week before Christmas, we went to her apartment/studio and I picked out exactly what I wanted. She custom made my beautiful necklace on the spot, and mailed the bracelet a couple days later, so I had something shiny under the tree to open. After a few other little odds and ends, a charitable donation to Heifer International from my mom, a couple of boxes of baby gifts from friends at home, along with some Christmas crackers, we really felt overwhelmed in the gift unwrapping department!

Step 5: The best laid plans. By Christmas Eve, all was well underway – grocery shopping done, presents wrapped, pavlova prepped, we’d watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and we spent the stiflingly warm afternoon in the pool. I was hot, but I was also elated, as this was exactly how my new Christmas fantasy had unfolded in my mind – sunny, toasty, and super casual.

Then, it started to rain. And overnight, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. It proceeded to rain for the entire Christmas day. I was glad that I had decided to preserve one North American Christmas tradition – cinnamon rolls for breakfast, which now seemed perfectly in place in all their warm, comforting gooeyness.

We devoured the better part of the plate of rolls, opened gifts and had a most delightful Skype date with my family, who really were wrapped in full Currier and Ives style Christmas regalia (minus the snow). We then rented “Elf” from i-tunes, and its slapstick silliness and sentimentality perfectly fit my Christmas mood. By the sappy end, it was late afternoon, and with the rain still falling, we sat our picnic blanket down in the living room, cranked up “Indie Holiday” on Pandora and shared what I do believe was the nicest Christmas picnic I could have asked for.

Christmas in Australia doesn’t end with Christmas, as the next day is Boxing Day, a holiday which really makes no sense. Despite its vague origins, it’s a good excuse for prolonging the holiday and post-Christmas sales. I had only one thing on my agenda for Boxing Day, which was again heading out to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. This year, we got to Middle Head National Park with our leftovers picnic in time to get a most amazing viewing spot. It was still a little chilly and quite gusty, but the sun returned so it was actually a beautiful morning. 
I had to snap a cheeky shot of this couple in front of us – epitome of Australian picnic culture.
11:30a.m. No plates for their sandwiches, but you’d better believe they have wine in actual wine glasses!
Because of the wind, a lot of the boats had their bright spinnakers up, making for a particularly beautiful start to the race. Last year, we were not positioned well to see the actual line up for the race start, so this year, we were absolutely enamored with the whole scene: Over 70 sailboats lined up on the world’s most beautiful Harbour, waiting for a cannon to mark their start, and then taking off to sea towards one of the most difficult boat races around. It’s spectacular. 

Wild Oats, the winningest Sydney to Hobart yacht, took off with a massive lead and is still ahead 21 hours later.
Hordes of spectator boats, along with the racing sailboats.

This wasn’t the Christmas I grew up with by any means, but since we plan to live here for at least a few more years, I am elated to have finally found the secret to actually enjoying Australian Christmas, rather than just accepting its inevitability. It was a unique celebration, for sure, but I could not asked for a nicer one.

Thanksgiving

food, holidays

Last weekend, we celebrated Thanksgiving at the home of one our lovely American friends who hosted a big party of expats and Aussies. For that celebration, I made a couple of pecan pies, but those are hardly work at all, so my output was limited. Our friend put a lot of work into a gorgeous spread with all the traditional fixings.

This was my third Thanksgiving in Australia and, despite the strangeness of having a harvest festival in late spring, I’ve actually come to love celebrating Down Under. For one thing, it is not a given that the holiday will even occur. And, some of the ingredients can be tricky to come by, requiring a bit of creativity. Plus, it is fun to introduce a celebration with such broad appeal and pure intentions to people other than Americans. 
In that spirit, I proposed creating a belated Thanksgiving for our monthly Unitarian Universalist group, which is made up of mostly Aussies. Partner-in-Crime and I are preparing a few words to say about the holiday and hope to have everyone share what they are thankful for. Of course, the most important part of the ceremony is the traditional meal. As it was my idea, and Partner-in-Crime and I are probably the only ones with any experience with Thanksgiving, I suggested that we be in charge of the whole feast for 12. 
I set aside today for cooking, and I write this in the middle of preparations (the sweet potatoes are cooking for the casserole – marshmallow topped sweet potato casserole always piques the curiosity of the Aussies, I’ve found). Today just happens to be the hottest day of the year, thus far, and we don’t have air conditioning, so conditions are not entirely ideal for this project I’ve undertaken.

Nothing says Thanksgiving and gratitude like cranking the oven up to 400 for the whole day when it’s 95 degrees outside and you’re 7-1/2 months pregnant! I trust you can sense my devotion!

While doing a little bit of research on Thanksgiving for our talk, I came across the story of Sarah Hale, a woman who vehemently petitioned Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Incidentally, she is also the woman who wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She believed that the declaration of the new holiday could unify the nation in a “renewed pledge of love and loyalty to the Constitution of the United States,” and might prevent the Civil War that was looming on the horizon. Obviously, she was rather the idealist, but it’s such a nice sentiment. Lincoln finally declared Thanksgiving a holiday in 1863, though the Civil War was already raging by then. 

I love this quote by Sarah Hale on why Thanksgiving and the 4th of July are important: 
There is a deep moral influence in these periodical seasons of rejoicing, in which whole communities participate. They bring out . . . the best sympathies in our natures.”

Indeed, I believe that remains true about Thanksgiving, and that’s why I don’t at all mind an afternoon of heat and discomfort to share the spirit.

Anzac Day Parade

holidays, Sydney

Though this was my third ANZAC Day in Australia, it was our first in Sydney. For the last two years, the holiday fell over a long weekend, so we took trips out of town. Both years, we’ve watched the coverage of the sunrise ceremonies in Australia, Gallipoli and France, as well as parts of the Sydney parade, and we always said that we’d like to go to the parade when we had the chance.

This year, the weather was lovely -though quite windy for the poor sign carriers and hat-wearers – and we had no reason not to go to the parade. We met up with Mimi and Joe in front of Town Hall, and we watched the entire parade – nearly four hours.

There were a lot of bagpipe groups and local bands, and, I was interested to note that we heard at least five times as many rounds of “Waltzing Matilda” as of the actual national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair.” It’s clear which song resides in the hearts of the people, even if its anthem status is unofficial … and it is quite a bit more rousing.

Music and spectacle aside, the parade is really about the veterans and active service people. It was staggering to see how many people were marching, especially when you consider that this was just one parade in one city in one country. Not to get all political, but one does reflect on the absolute senselessness of most of the wars and conflicts we’ve sent brave men and women to fight and lose their lives or health in. I was overwhelmed and teary at various points, reflecting on the enormity of it all, and how thankful I am for the service that all of the people marching here had made. How wonderful it would be if these commemorations could help us to be a more peaceful race.

At the end of the parade, there were contingents of service people from a number of different countries, including the U.S., and we clapped loudly for them. We’ve been allies for a long time. But, we clapped earnestly for everyone, as it doesn’t really matter which country you represent – the service and sacrifice remains the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This group is honoring the “Under 16s” who served in WWII.
I read today that one Australian boy who died was only 14. Can you even imagine?

A Sydney Vacation Continues

food, hikes, holidays, national parks

Following the beautiful first two days of our Easter break, Sunday was a bit dreary and culminated in an amazing lightning storm that night. Thankfully, our plans were inside, as we spent the afternoon sharing an Easter lamb roast with Mimi and Joe and their charming British neighbors, whose company we always enjoy.

I made a delicious – if I do say so myself – key lime pie for the occasion. Though Easter is actually in Autumn here, I can’t shake the feeling that it is a harbinger of Spring, and so I baked and dressed accordingly. I have made this key lime pie a few times now, and it never fails, so if you’re in the market for a great recipe, may I suggest this one. And, expat baking tip – digestive biscuits are the perfect substitute for graham crackers. They taste almost exactly the same.

Yesterday, the weather turned nice again, so we weighed our options for outdoor enjoyment, and decided on a drive up to Palm Beach. Last time we were there, we wussed out on doing any hiking, but we were feeling more energetic yesterday, and took the trek up to the Barrenjoey lighthouse.

Lighthouse – top of the hill.

I actually expected it to be a much longer hike than it turned out to be. I think we reached the summit in about 15 minutes (albeit, 15 full minutes of climbing up steps – my gym going is really starting to pay off!). We had a pretty view at the top, and found ourselves a big boulder to climb on and eat our picnic lunch, overlooking the beach.

Lighthouse from the top.
Looking over Palm Beach.

When we went back down, we decided to take a walk on the beach. Along the way, we encountered some other hikers who asked if they were going in the right direction. I sent them on their way with directions, not thinking anything of it, but Partner-in-Crime stayed and asked them where they were from in North America. Turns out they were Canadians from Toronto. I had not noticed their accent at all. It’s funny – I never seem to pick up on North American accents anymore, unless I’ve been talking to someone for a few minutes. You’d think I’d hear it right away, but I really don’t. 

Hiking onto the beach, we saw a few groups of people watching the water, and we realized that there was a pod of dolphins frolicking nearby. I turned my head in their direction just in time to see two of them “surfing” a wave. It was quite the sight, and all the spectators applauded for the dolphins.
We ended up finding a bench to sit quietly on for a long while, and just watch the sun starting to set, sailboats float along, and happy families and couples wander by. 
Though I’m not religious, moments like these certainly conjure feelings of gratitude to be one small part of something so marvelously larger than oneself. On this Easter holiday, I had this beautiful moment to know that I am so blessed.

Easter, Saving Lives, and Lucinda Williams & I Spiritually Intersect

day zero project, holidays, restaurants

An Easter 4-day weekend is nearly upon us, and it felt almost like Christmas break in the office today, with visitors being asked about their holiday plans, people thrusting aluminum wrapped chocolate morsels upon you, and our bookeeper jovially dashing off “happy holiday” greetings to all she left for her break early this afternoon.

Partner-in-Crime and I are not going to fight the holiday travel rush, and have opted for staying home over this long weekend. We’ll likely find a few interesting things around town to occupy ourselves. If the powers that be are merciful, the weather will stay exactly as it has been for the past week. Our summer was a wash, and I do mean that in two senses of the word – both a loss and a complete rain out. But this sunny, mild autumn is looking like our reward.

Last weekend, we took advantage of the weather with another trip out to the bar at Cockatoo Island. Being at a bar on an island in the middle of the harbour with good friends is my definition of ascension to a higher plain. After a few hours of drinks, we took the ferry back into town and reconvened at Pancakes on the Rocks, or as someone in the group called it, “Denny’s.” Pancakes on the Rocks is as close as I’ve seen to an American style diner, and it is also one of the only restaurants here that is open 24 hours. Because we had just had a time change the night before, it was dark much earlier than usual, and the combination of that and the afternoon drinking did make it feel like I was back in my 20s, eating a Lumberjack Slam after the club at 2a.m.

I had another big day out yesterday. Mimi and I had booked ourselves a Groupon to do a First Aid training course, which turned out to be a whole day of insanity (the other students were nuts and our teacher seemed to have personal stories for every tragic eventuality we covered. She was almost as bad as Angela Lansbury’s character in Murder She Wrote for being a kindly seeming lady you don’t want to stand next to). At one point, the teacher launched into yet another story (dog bites husband, I believe), and I almost choked on my latte. Maybe my favorite moment was when she asked us, if encountering an emergency, who we were going to call. “Ghost busters,” Mimi whispered under her breath. Again with the latte. Ah, but the good news is that we are both now First Aid and CPR certified, though with the amount that our attention wandered, I’m not entirely sure we should really try to save lives.

After class and a couple of celebratory drinks, I met up with Partner-in-Crime for a pasta extravaganza at the very lovely and accessible Jamie Oliver restaurant, which we’ve been meaning to try for a couple months. And then, we headed off to see one of my very favorite singers, Lucinda Williams at the jewelbox State Theatre.

When I was 14, I fell into a mad obsession with the singer Mary Chapin Carpenter. It was a weird obsession for a 14 year old, maybe, but I loved her lyrics and I loved the type of self-assured woman she seemed to be. Her most famous song at the time, and one I listened to on what must have been a maddening repeat for my family, was “Passionate Kisses.” Now, knowing that “Passionate Kisses” was written by a singer/songwriter called Lucinda Williams (and, incidentally, that MCC had fallen in love with the song while they were on tour together, with Rosanne Cash, in Australia), I bought a Lucinda Williams CD. There was one song that I loved, but other than that, I did not know what to make of this woman with a gravely voice and sparse lyrics. In fact, upon reflection, I really did not like her very much at all, and gave up on the CD after a listen or two. Thank goodness that sometime in my early 20s, I had the presence to drag that CD out again and give it another listen. At that age, with a little bit of heartbreak, self-possession, and just plain drinkin’ in bars behind me, I came to an instant and abiding appreciation for Lucinda Williams that has only grown over the years.

And so last night, there she was in front of me recounting the tale of how Mary Chapin Carpenter fell in love with “Passionate Kisses” in this very country just over two decades ago, an event that I don’t believe it is hyperbole to say would change both her life and mine. I don’t know if the shape of my personal relationship to that story is exactly a circle, but it all felt round and appropriate, somehow.

Here’s Lucinda Williams doing the very sexy, grown lady song “Essence,” a song I (thankfully) could not have appreciated on any level when I was 14.

Happy New Year

annual events, holidays, Sydney

Happy New Year!

As we did last year, we celebrated the start of 2012 with fabulous friends and a feast of food and bev. Mimi and Joe have a perfect apartment for viewing the fireworks display, and Sydney seriously outdid itself this year. If there is one thing Sydney knows, it is fireworks. New Year’s is like the 4th of July, my birthday, and Christmas morning all rolled into one 12 minute display.

If this sounds like too much to believe, watch the video.

Early in the evening, a stunt plane gets crazy over the Harbour.
We checked out the early fireworks (9p.m. display for kids) from the park.
Lots of families enjoying the lawn
Mimi got us sparklers to get into the spirit.

Even the kid’s fireworks are awesome.

9p.m. fireworks.
Parade of boats on the Harbour. I read that there were something like 2,500 spectator boats.
The main event!

May all of our 2012s be filled with so much light and wonderment.

Dubbo

animals, holidays, restaurants

A few weeks ago, we were feeling some wanderlust, invoked in no small part by the weeks of drenching rain that Sydney was experiencing. So, we decided to get out of Dodge on a couple of brief road trips designed to placate our need for feats of daring and adventure, or at least get out of our wet wellies for a day or two.

First up, we drove out of town a few hours west to the regional town of Dubbo, which not only has the cutest town name ever, but is also home to the Western Plains Zoo.

It was a solid day’s drive to Dubbo from Sydney, on a day that just so happened to be my birthday. I was full of sass and crank about the way my day was unfolding, even though Partner-in-Crime let me be the DJ all day and encouraged my purchase of Tim Tams, salt and vinegar chips, and giant cans of Solo lemonade. Even the “This American Life” where Starlee Kine gets Phil Collins’s advice on writing a breakup song could not cheer me out of my birthday funk.

This sunset, as we drove through regional New South Wales, helped lift my mood tremendously, though …

When we reached Dubbo, my ever-loving husband asked the hotel check in clerk for a restaurant recommendation. He suggested a steakhouse, which based on the above average prices, seemed to me like a good enough bet. I’m not in the habit of naming establishments that I don’t enjoy, but I will simply suggest the hard-earned logic that if you are in Dubbo, you may find far superior dining options than a chain steakhouse. It was the sort of place that would have charged $16.99 for a T-bone, baked potato, salad, and veg at home, and my sauce-drenched fillet did nothing to further elevate me out of my self-inflicted malaise. 
Thankfully, birthdays only last one day, and I was in far better spirits the next day. We raided a local bakery for croissant breakfasts and afternoon snacks to carry into the zoo with us. It was a beautiful morning, and we decided to see the zoo by renting (“hiring,” as they say here) bikes. It was a great choice because the zoo is a bit of an expanse, which is well designed for bike traffic (you can also drive, rent motorized carts, or walk). Because it was a weekday, there were very few other guests, so we usually had the road to ourselves.
It was such a lovely zoo experience. Most of the animals have a good swath on which to roam, but we also got the feeling that we could get quite close to them. It was easy to navigate and manageable in the four hours we spent there. We checked in on the public feedings of the elephant, tortoises, and lemurs, which were narrated by enthusiastic handlers. We were also blessed with a gloriously beautiful day on which to roam.
A few of our favorite friends …

It had started raining when we left the zoo, so we were hard-pressed to find something to do with the rest of the afternoon. Anything outdoors was out, so we headed over to a local winery – Red Earth Estate. P-i-C talked world affairs with the highly intelligent and wordly winemaker, while we spent a good hour with him tasting everything on offer. We’ve been to a lot of wineries, and this one was decidedly among the best I’ve been to. It was hard to decide what to buy, and we could easily have walked away with a lot more than the two bottles we did.
The rain had let up when we finally bid adieu to our new friend Mr. Winemaker, so we took a sunset walk at a local park, which had the prettiest pedestrian promenade along the river.

We finished the day with a perfectly acceptable Thai dinner and a lot of Master Chef.
We drove home, in no hurry, the next day; but not before stopping for breakfast at Short Street Cafe, which our winemaker compatriot had recommended. It was the sweetest restaurant in a sprawling house, with tables and funky local art in every room. I can still taste the amazing eggs benedict with lime-infused hollandaise. If you’re ever in Dubbo, eat there. What a great way to spend the morning. It reminded me of a lot of converted house restaurants I’ve eaten at in the South, and I wish we had a place like this in Sydney.
We meandered rather aimlessly on our way home, just wanting to see some more of the countryside. Our “destination,” if you will, was the Ophir Gold Mine, which was the first working gold mine in Australia. Purportedly, it is still in operation, but we’d arrived on a weekend, and after driving down dirt road after increasingly bumpy dirt road to get there, it hardly seemed like a bastion of commerce. Nor did we see anyone working, unless you count the industrious pack of wild kangaroos we frightened. We went through a bunch of gold mining towns, including one with the fortuitous name Lucknow. I got a bit snap-happy, so I’ll leave you with a few  photos of New South Wales’ gold country …

Australia Day

annual events, holidays, restaurants, Sydney

You may have guessed from the fact that I was making my husband take Australian history quizzes with me on Australia Day Eve that I was more than a wee bit excited about the possibilities of the day. We’d planned out most of our day far ahead of time, which is most uncharacteristic for us, but since Partner-in-Crime had his first Australia Day last year, he had a good idea of what I would enjoy. Also, I told him, with more than a faint hint of eucalyptus and Five Year Old on Christmas Morning, “I want to see everything!”

Sydney set out a wildly impressive assortment of things, so I couldn’t actually see every one, but we did do our best.

We got up early to start the day with an Aboriginal ceremony at the Botanic Gardens. It was performed my members of different tribes from New South Wales – the Yuin Gurik, Booroobeongal, Warmuli, Garuna, Birapi, and Dhungutti. It was narrated by Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison, an elder of the Yuin people.

It opened with a traditional smoking ceremony “to awaken, cleanse, and honour the spirits of past inhabitants.” (Uncle Max and the smoking ceremony):
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A lot of the dances related to the relationship to nature, including an invocation to the sun, and several about animals and animal totem spirits.

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(Dancers lining up for the snake formation)


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(Dance about the trees)


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(Totem dance – sharks)


It was great to see a lot of young people participating in the ritual. It looked as if there were a lot of families taking part.

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This show ended up being so worth getting up early for. It was beautifully performed and provided a modern look at the Aboriginal ritual. I found it powerful enough that I got pretty choked up as I told P-i-C how much I’d enjoyed it. I hope we’ll make attending this ceremony part of our Australia Day from here on out.

From there, we wandered over to The Rocks to have breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks, a hugely popular restaurant that is actually rather evocative of an American pancake house like IHOP. It was decked out in Australian flags and the few other diners at that early hour looked to be people who were also celebrating early or gearing up for the festivities. We filled ourselves up on enough pancakey goodness to feed a large family and then ventured back out.

We had to catch a ferry, and the route was filled with the beginnings of music, food stands, and street vendors. We picked up our complimentary Australian flags and played American tourists as we asked a fully decked out Aussie couple to take our photos with our flags in front of the Opera House.

Circular Quay was wild with people, and we had a bit of trouble locating our ferry because it had been rerouted to a different ferry dock due to the “Ferrython” that was to start in an hour or so. Throngs of ANZ Bank employees lined up to get onto the dock we thought we were supposed to be on, but some friendly ferry employees pointed us in the right direction.

Hitting the water at that time proved to be a great idea because a lot of the boats for the Ferrython (a parade/race of Sydney ferries, all decked out in their corporate finery, a la NASCAR) and the later boat parade were headed in the same direction we were, so for a time, we were amongst quite the throng of costumed sea vessels.

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Our destination was Mimi and Joe’s, where we planned to spend the afternoon picnicking and watching the eventss on the Harbour. We grabbed a spot in the shade that was prime real estate, except for a nearby party that began quietly enough with about four folks sipping beers under a tent, but slowly grew to a throng of about 20-25, complete with barbecue, free diving into the Harbour, and the TOP 100 SONGS!!! blaring dance-pop vacuosness on the radio. Honestly, they were having a perfectly innocent and fun time – it actually looked quintessentially Aussie – so, I don’t mean to cast aspersions upon them. We were simply too close with our much lower key lawn yawning.

Regardless, we followed our Australia Day timetable, and watched one event after another in the Harbour.

First the Ferrython, which proved rather anticlimactic from our vantage point. Then, the boat parade, which took on a ghostly tenor, as a dramatic fog had swept over the city.

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“What’s next!?!,” I chirped after each display. …

“21 gun salute …” “Parachuting Red Berets …” “F/A-18 flyover …”

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The flyover was particularly rad because, as the fighter craft did circles around the Harbour, we got the impression that it was turning around right in front of us … a real treat for someone who grew up on Top Gun.

Late in the afternoon, we bid adieu to Mimi and Joe and caught the ferry back to see the evening celebrations at Darling Harbour.

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(Cute kid, Darling Harbour)

A lot of the evening was about fighting for space to see anything at all in the hyper crowded crescent, but we did pretty well sneaking ourselves into crevices by bullying small children (kidding … well, only the particularly annoying ones). There were a number of official festivities with fantastic pomp and circumstance. The stage was a barge floating in the harbour, and all of the participants arrived by boat. Several “Australian of the Year” awards were given out, a handful of new Australian citizens were introduced and paraded around (I became rather pre-occupied with the idea of getting myself on that boat in four years), and several government officials addressed the crowd.

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(Marie Bashir, Governor of New South Wales speaks to the crowd. The woman in the grey dress to her left is Kristine Keneally – the Premier of NSW and an American expat).


My favorite part of the event was the parading of government service boats, as they were introduced to the crowd and “inspected” by the Governor and Premier (basically, they looked on and smiled).

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By the end of the night, I was feeling quite done with the crowds and as if I’d had enough festivity, but P-i-C – knowing my inner 5 year old had not wandered too far afoot – suggested that we make one more push in order to see the finale.

He was right. It was beautiful. It began with a dreamy parade of illuminated sailboats …

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THEN, the magic almost became too much when one of the tall ships floated slowly into harbour in a red glow …

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I did have to silently chastise myself for not knowing the Australian national anthem when it came time to sing it (I realized that I’d better learn it, and learn it good, if I want to get on that citizen boat). I did the hum-pretend to sing-move my lips around thing for all except the parts where I’d pick up like an expert … “hmmm/hmmm/for we are young and free/hmmm/hmmm/hmmm/our home is girt by sea/hmmm/hmmm/advance Australia fair/hmmm/hmmm/Advance Australia fair …”. And then, as it continued, I turned to P-i-C … “THERE’S A SECOND VERSE?” (insert more humming).

Lots of studying to do.

In any case, the moment was short-lived because -as any good event in Sydney must, we ended with fireworks. It was a massive display. Not New Year’s Eve massive, but massively impressive. Fireworks shot from the Harbour, as well as the roofs of the nearby buildings.

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Honestly, the whole day was a spectacle of epic proportions … the kind that warms my magic-loving heart … a wild way to spend a Wednesday.

Australia Day Eve

holidays

In preparation for my first Australia Day, Partner-in-Crime and I have been blindly guessing using our newfound Australia knowledge to take Australia Day quizzes all night. We can definitely use a bit more brushing up, particularly on our Prime Ministers and authors.

A few things that we’ve learned tonight:

-The cochlear implant was invented in Australia
-The rotary blade lawn mower … also invented in Australia
-Errol Flynn was born in Tasmania
-When in doubt, the answer is always Menzies

Care to test your knowledge? Give it a go!

We have a full day of festivities planned tomorrow, so I’ll return soon with a full report of my inaugural Australia Day.

Thredbo: On the Top of Australia

food, hikes, holidays, national parks, restaurants

The drive from Beechworth to Thredbo was scheduled to take around five hours; however the nice lady at the tourism bureau, along with peddling stuffed Ned Kellys, was also kind enough to tell us about an alternative scenic route that would take about an hour longer, but reward us with much better views. She scrawled some hieroglyphic directions on a sheet of paper and wished us well.

Because we weren’t in much of a hurry, and rather figured that the whole point of the trip was to see lovely Australian scenery, the four of us agreed on the heiroglyph route.

As is often the case, the “long route,” was full of wrong  turns, missteps, scoldings from the GPS, and flocks of locusts. 

Maybe the locusts aren’t that common, but had we taken the short route, would we really now be able to say, “oh, yes of course, I’ve driven through a swarm of angry locusts …”? I think not.

Following the locusts, more GPS scoldings (does she really have to be so judgmental when she says, “when possible, make a U-turn.”?), we reached a lake, a bridge that crossed us from Victoria into New South Wales, and then a several miles long stretch of dirt road that ran next to the lake. It was at this dirt road that I think we truly lost our Rosetta Stone, and went off “the long route, but whatever route it was that we took was certainly beautiful. Partner-in-Crime probably did not love driving on the dirt road, but the rest of us just ooh-ed and awed over the blue-skied-rolling-hilled vast expanse that one sees only in movies and Montana … and here.


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The rest of the drive was marked by a lot of open space, mounting hunger, and a few failed attempts at finding any place open for lunch on Boxing Day. A few hours later, we reached the mountains, and began a hair-pinned ascent that lasted about an hour and a half. I wished I’d taken some photos because it was gorgeous Alpine country (“Man From Snowy River” country – literally), but by this point my giddy inner tourist had been overtaken by a growling, cranky hunger monster who did not enjoy the outdoors, did not participate in polite conversation, and did not take pictures.
 
At last, we found our hotel and checked in. I let Partner-in-Crime do all the talking for us, lest I should harm anyone. We asked where we could get dinner, and our hotelier suggested, quelle suprise, that perhaps we try the hotel restaurant. So, we walked downstairs … I, hardly controlling my snarling and biting impulse. We asked to be seated, whereupon we were informed that there was a large party waiting to be fed, so there would be no food service for the next half hour. The frightened teenage waiter suggested we wait and have a drink, but unfortunately, I had to chomp his head off politely suggest that we go elsewhere.

Minutes later, The Monster and party were dining on pizza, and further potential mayhem was averted. 

I could now enjoy Thredbo. And, Thredbo could enjoy me.

The next day, we all met up for breakfast, before parting ways for most of the day. Mimi had a day of pampering ahead at the hotel spa, and P-i-C and I were finally ready to get our hike on. I’m sure that Mimi will tell you all about Joe’s grand adventures. 

We had come to the place for hiking, as Thredbo is in the shadows of Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia.

Now, you should know that there is some controversy over the pronunciation …

Americans say ka-shoo-szko
Australians say ka-zee-os-ko

Who is to say which is right (oh, Wikipedia is, if you really want to know). Tomato/tomahto … let’s call the whole thing off.

Regardless of the pronunciation… 7,300 feet, is not that high in comparison to some other hikes P-i-C and I did in Yellowstone and Glacier, but I’d say it’s always impressive to go to the highest point of any continent. And, I mean, it’s not exactly Kansas, either. One of P-i-C’s Aussie friends had told him, “even your grandmother can do it! It’s just a hill!”

“Just a hill’ is my kind of a hike.

The first part of the hike is a cheat because you take the ski lift up to a mid-point on the mountain. Neither of us had ever been on a ski lift before, so there was a bit of nervous-making about this adventure. P-i-C dealt with his fear through a long monologue about …??? … who can say, really.  I, on the other hand, kept mentally calculating the distance to the ground and saying, “well, Spiderman fell further than that, and he lived …”. Thankfully, we didn’t hear about the Maine ski lift accident until two days later.


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From the top of the ski lift begins the hike. It’s 13km round trip (about 8 miles), which took us about four hours to walk. The toughest part was the first 2k stretch, which goes from the ski lift to the first lookout (a stopping point for those who don’t want to go the whole way).


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The rest of the hike was a lot longer, but easier to walk. Not long after the first lookout, there’s a second lookout, which afforded my favorite view of the hike because it was such a surprise … suddenly, there was a lake in front of me!


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As we got higher, it started getting colder and colder, and we realized that, although we’d worn winter clothes, we really weren’t dressed as warmly as we should be. I was happy to have a hooded sweatshirt, at least, because the wind was crazy.

It was cold enough that there were still a lot of patches of snow. It was fun to see several Australian kids encountering snow for the first time, especially because it reminded me so much of my first time seeing snow. I was born in Arizona, so we certainly didn’t have any there. On a trip to Montana when I was about five, my parents took us into the mountains where there were a lot of snowy patches, like these, scattered about. It was July, so summer snow, just as it was here. There are photos of little me running around in shorts and tank tops in the snow. I know just how those kids we passed felt … amazed and beguiled!


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White Christmas, after all!
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Once we were close to the top, we realized that we’d actually entered a cloud. I had never seen anything as dramatic as the cloud formation moving all around me. 


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It was at this point that P-i-C and I agreed that this may have not been the highest or longest hike we’d ever done, but it was the most visually rewarding.


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We got to the top (woohoo!), and after snapping some photos, P-i-C suggested that I should “check in” on Four Square. I thought that was a hilarious idea, even funnier when I actually had service on the top of Australia, and most hilarious when I saw that “Mt. Kosciuszko Summt” was actually a check-in point. Furthermore, no one had ever checked in there before. So, yeah, that would pretty much make me the Mayor of the top of Mt. Kosciuszko. And – no, no, it’s OK, I’ve already done the math … 

…that basically makes me the Mayor of Australia.

It’s cool. I’m still accepting comments here.

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Once we were back down the mountain, we reconvened with Mimi and Joe, we came to an impromptu agreement that we’d extend our stay in Thredbo an extra day because, as Mimi wisely suggested, it did not sound like a lot of fun to get right back into the car. 

I’m so glad that we did because P-i-C and I had the most relaxing day. We took naps, we had a picnic on the bank of the river, …

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… we strolled around town, I found a yoga class to take to work out my Kosciuszko kinks.

There was a lot of Monopoly playing amongst the four of us, but I won’t say any more about that because there are still some bitter feelings for everyone involved who is not Partner-in-Crime.

The four of us finished the day finally eating in the hotel bar, and I was so glad that I had not devoured the staff. It was the most beautiful meal that lingered on for several hours. The food was incredible … from the Sicilian olives to the rocket (arugula) salad to the canneloni garnished with truffles to the creme brulee. 

Mmmm. Mmmmmmmm. MmmMmmMmmm. It was one of the top five meals of my life.

If you’re ever in Thredbo, go eat at the Denman Hotel. Thank me later.

At the end of the meal, we all crawled into bed – fat ‘n’ happy and so well rested … A beautiful end to the strangest, loveliest Christmas holiday ever – 

-if the Mayor of Australia does say so, herself.