Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Three-Toed Sloth of the Blog World

Yeah I'm a champion, I haven't updated my blog in a month and a half. Life gets in the way sometimes, but in any case, I will write about what I've been up to lately. Buckle up, because we're going all around Australia for this one.

At the beginning of April, some friends and I went to Fraser Island, the sandiest island in the world, with a tour group (though the group was just us plus a Belgian backpacker named Maxine and our ridiculous guide, Darren). It doesn't futz around. There was sand EVERYWHERE. It was about a three and a half hour drive from Brisbane to Rainbow Beach, where we boarded a ferry to take us to the island. Our guide took us in his 4-wheel drive (hereafter 4WD) on the sand around the island and to our campsite (yes, I camped for the night... believe it.) After this, we started checking out the island, starting with the Maheno shipwreck. It washed up on the coast of the island during the '30s and the Anzacs apparently used it for target practice... whoops. History.. psh. There wasn't too much to see there so we took some pictures and went to Eli Creek, where the water was so pure that you could actually safely drink out of the river at one point! Sure enough, it tasted fine. Don't think I would recommend drinking out of any other rivers though...

Next was Lake Wabby, which was quite the walk to get to through the forestry of the island, but when we got there it was really relaxing. The beach was actually at the bottom of a sand dune, which means that they're just asking for people to run down it and stumble into the water. Which many of the people there did. Have fun with your soon-to-be-broken necks, dudez! Anyway, what a great place to nap, huh?

After resting here awhile, we walked back to the beach and were then driven to our campsite, where we had dinner, hung out, and crashed for the night. The next day, we were driven to Lake McKenzie, which had oodles of silica-based white sand- our tour guide said that if you had jewelry, you could use the sand to polish it! Pretty epic (as seen below). Later, we did a rainforest hike and then left the island. One four hour van ride later and we were back in Brisbane after a crazy weekend.
The next trip was a week later with IFSA-Butler, to the Hinterland on the Gold Coast for a hike on Mt. Tambourine and a visit to a vineyard. Sorry if I'm brief on the hikes, but I don't find that there's much to say about hikes... you walk through a forest, you see some wildlife and really green trees and say "cool." There was a really nice waterfall that I got a picture in front of though.
The vineyard was also quite nice and we got to sample their wines fo' free. Obviously the wines themselves were obnoxiously expensive, but I will take free samples any day. The vineyard was very pretty, and I decided to take a picture to prove how even I can look classy in front of one.
The next couple weeks featured another Queensland Reds game (which I did not bring my camera to), late nights writing my midterm papers and studying for exams. Thankfully, I got through it and made it to mid-semester break beginning on April 22nd! The next day, I flew down to Melbourne to meet up with some of my brother-in-law's family who recently moved to Geelong. Luke & Sam (and their King Charles Cavalier, Gimli) kindly took me into their new home and showed me around parts of Victoria for the next few days! Luke's brother Adam and his family (wife Christine and toddlers Keziah & Judah) were staying there for two nights as well.  I was also thankfully able to do some laundry there without having to pay the exorbitant costs for one load in my apartment complex ($3 to wash, $3 to dry... blech). On Easter Sunday, we went to church in the morning, then took the train into Melbourne and saw an AFL match! (footy match to those of you who "habla Australian") It was the Richmond Tigers (Adam's team) against the North Melbourne Kangaroos. It took forever to figure it out, but with some help from the brothers I was at least able to determine how they scored (6 points for kicking the football between the goals, 1 point for missing and getting into the outside poles). It was very high-scoring but very fun to watch! Much to Adam's pleasure, the Tigers were able to make a big comeback and win it, prompting their silly fight sing to blare over the loudspeakers ("oh we're from TI-GER-LANNNN-D!").
The next day, we drove to Airey's Inlet to check out the views and the beach. We walked to one area where there was a lookout and I swear I saw penguins on a small island not far away! Very cool. In town, we stopped to get a meal of fish & chips, a staple of going to the beach for Australians. They were quite greasy and the box of chips (fries) was huge but delicious. They had these hash brown things called "potato cakes" as well which were quite delicious and there were mysterious dim sims as well... don't know what's in those. Here's a picture just to make you hungry...
We went down to the beach and took some lovely pictures of the southern Australian coast. This post is going to get TOO long if I keep going with the rest of break, but I'll continue soon. In the meantime, here's a picture of the coast. Beautiful.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Recap Will Finish Today. It's Happening.

Alright, no more procrastinating, I am going to isolate myself until I finish updating this blog! Last time I posted, I had just arrived in Brisbane, which at this point was a good two and a half weeks ago. So we're going to go into turbo recap mode!

2/14: The IFSA people staying at Urbanest split from those staying at Emmanuel College and St. John's College, two of the residential colleges directly on campus at the Uni. There were about 23 of us on the bus from the airport, and it was pretty overwhelming seeing the Urbanest building as the bus pulled up to it. All in all, Urbanest is a 13-floor building with 159 apartments, divided into two blocks. My apartment is #153, located on the 12th floor of block two. The view from the 12th floor is absolutely amazing. My apartment has 5 singles (each with an individual bathroom!), a common room, and a kitchen. Pretty nice digs! It certainly exceeded my expectations- I thought we were just getting some shoddy apartment building. Though management wasn't ready for us when we arrived, we were still in high spirits- we just wanted to move all of our crap in! A few of us walked around the town a little bit to a grocery store (Coles- I've seen them in every single mall I've been to- interesting) to pick up some basic supplies (i.e. toilet paper, which we weren't supplied with...). After that, I was pretty tired, so I just called it an early night.

2/15: I went out in the morning to find a department store, and after a little bit of wandering around via bus-stops (a brief interruption to offer many thanks to my high school friend Woody, who was here last semester and let me burn what was left on his TransLink Go Card [aka Brisbane's MetroCard] before needing to get my own- it helped heaps!), I found a Target! Awesome. Good to know. I picked up some stuff from there, wandered around the mall a little, then took the bus to the University of Queensland for the first time. I was blown away by the enormity of the campus- it makes Gettysburg College look like a schoolhouse. I don't know if I've ever had to walk so far on a campus to get to buildings before- guess those are the spoils of going to school in a place as small as Gettysburg. A friend and I wandered for a little bit looking for the place to pick up our school IDs before an Australian named Paul noticed that we looked lost and led us in the right direction- thank God Aussies are so friendly! I got my ID, which I fortunately did not look absolutely atrocious in- bullet dodged. Then the skies opened up as we walked back to the bus stop after walking around campus for a bit. I guess I'll just have to get used the Brissy weather's unpredictability.

2/16: WEDNESDAY! IFSA-Butler hosted a welcome event today- kayaking down the Brisbane River! While incredibly scummy and disgusting to fall into, we got some pretty great views of the city. After kayaking to a certain point, we stopped and got in a kayak circle to play a bizarre game. Pairs of people were assigned the same number, and when our number was called, we had to walk around the kayak circle to get to the spot vacated by the other person! Needless to say, many people (including uncoordinated people such as myself) were unable to do so and went splash. It was still a fun experience, and afterwards we took some nice pictures of the city. Below is a favorite of mine, even though my pasty whiteness kind of blinds the shot.

2/17-2/18: TO THE GOLD COAST! Today, we took our first trip to the Gold Coast! The name of the place we went to was Surfers Paradise, so you can imagine how nice that must have been. It was absolutely beautiful to be on the beach again. I didn't get burned the first day, but I wasn't so lucky the second. You can only go so long in the intense Australian sun without getting burned, especially if you're as pale as I am. We stayed at a hostel called "The Sleeping Inn." It wasn't too bad, especially for only $27. We also got all-you-can-eat Domino's for just $6 extra, which was absolutely delicious. It'd been awhile since we'd had pizza, so even Domino's tasted great. Though some of us were tired, a few of us went out to check out the nightlife of Surfers Paradise. Not so bad, though we didn't even bother buying drinks at a bar- we knew it'd be too expensive, sadly (like everything is in Australia). After getting roasted on the second day, we headed back to campus, ready to find the nearest Aloe container and apply liberally.

2/19: I did very little today, hiding from the sun to protect my burns. Oh Aloe, how I love you so.

2/20: A friend of mine was interested in checking out some churches in the area, so I decided to accompany him to an early service to see what it was like. The name of the place was Unichurch, and it met right on campus. The people there were really nice and even invited us to lunch at their place after the service! We're definitely not the type to refuse free food, so we happily went with them to their home and had lunch with them (which was great). Later in the day, some of the guys at Urbanest wanted to check out this restaurant called "The Fox" where they had steaks for $2. I got the meal that came with sauce, a salad, and chips ("Australian" for fries) for $5- delicious. Hooray.

Okay now we have a month to go, so I'm going to sum up the next few weeks (note: Australian weeks are Monday-Sunday) in a few paragraphs. (PS- I lied about finishing the post "today." That was March 6th... it is now March 21st. Fail.)

2/21-2/27: While the students staying at the college went through Orientation Week, those at Urbanest still enjoyed a pretty relaxed schedule. Probably the highlight of O-week for us was Market Day, when all the campus clubs gave everyone free stuff to entice them to join them... I signed up for UQ Ultimate, but that unfortunately did not end up lasting after the first two free weeks because it cost $70 to join. What would we be paying for? Tournaments? (No.) T-shirts and/or any apparel? (No.) So yeah. I did join two groups- Law Society, which we got the "L Card" from to get discounts at many places and QUEST, which is an international/exchange student organization. They sponsor some pretty cool trips so I'll probably join them at some point or another. I also finalized my class schedule. It's a very different style than what I'm used to at Gettysburg so that'll be interesting- for example, there are separate tutorials which they often take attendance at rather than the actual classes, which are huge. The tutorials are more hands-on and most are taught by Ph.D candidates rather than the course professor.

Math 2400 (Math Analysis)- Monday 10-10:50, Tuesday 9-9:50, Wednesday 12-12:50, Tutorial Thursday 3-3:50
Math 3090 (Financial Math)- Monday 4-6:50, Tutorial Monday 3-3:50
HIST 2407 (Germany from Bismarck to Hitler)- Wednesday 10-11:50, Tutorial Wednesday 2-2:50
AUST 2000 (Australian Popular Culture)- Tuesday 10-10:50, Tutorial Tuesday 5-5:50, Film Screening Tuesday 12-1:50

The Aussie Pop Culture course looks particularly interesting because we get to watch Aussie films every week! One we watched was called "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert," which is about three drag queens traveling from Sydney to Alice Springs in a camper through the Outback... I never thought I'd see Hugo Weaving in drag. Here's a picture of the Forgan-Smith building on the UQ campus to close out the week.

PS- I totally forgot about this somehow. On the weekend, we took a train to Coolongatta on the Gold Coast to check out the Quiksilver Pro Surf Competition! I DID NOT GET BURNED! huzzah. It was a pretty fun time on the beach and checking out the city at night (even though the clubs all required entry fees so we didn't bother going in). A few of us also got up early on Sunday morning to watch the sunrise... amazing!

2/28-3/6: First week of the classes! Not too much to write about since I gave my class schedule and a brief take on them. It's a little intense dealing with mathematical analysis four days a week but I suppose I'll get used to it. It's also pretty great that I was able to manipulate my schedule such that I have no class on Friday (what a jerk I must be then! ...since I have no class... TERRIBLE JOKE HOORAY!) There are a few weird periods when I'm just on campus with nothing to do for hours at a time so that can get to be kind of a drag but I can usually motivate myself to do some homework in that time. I also have to bring lunch to campus Monday-Wednesday... pretty much PB&J. On the weekend, we celebrated my Boston friend (yes, I have one! call me a heretic if you'd like.) Catherine's 21st birthday. It was great seeing the city at night, it looks so nice- especially when the moonlight is shining on the Brisbane River (as filthy as it is). Whenever I get a picture of it at night, I'll be sure to add it here.

3/7-3/13: Getting used to classes now! Starting to figure out a routine. Writing in sentence fragments. I booked my flight to Melbourne on Tuesday! I'll be visiting my brother-in-law's family for a few days of my Spring Break, from April 26th-30th (tentatively), definitely something I'll look forward to! The plan for the rest of break is somewhere to be determined in New Zealand! But I'm getting ahead of myself, this was a pretty fun week! On Friday, a few of us went to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to do the most touristy thing possible in Australia, but something that must be done: feed kangaroos and hold koalas! So many exclamation points this week! We're going to need multiple pictures for this one:

The koala's name was "Rundle" and he was two years old! Sweet.

Following the awesome day at the Koala Sanctuary, the IFSA-Butler people had a stellar day at Moreton Island, the third sandiest island in the world (incidentally, the sandiest is Fraser Island, which I plan on visiting soon!). We took a bus to a ferry, and the ferry took us to the island, where we snorkeled and sandboarded most of the day. Snorkeling was interesting, to say the least. I probably would have had a better time if my goggles didn't keep fogging up and I didn't keep breathing in salt water. Still, it's hard to complain about something fun like snorkeling when other people have work and assignments to do haha. The sandboarding was 50 times better. A bunch of us packed ourselves into a 4x4 and rumbled (no exaggeration) up some unpaved roads to get to some hills of sand dunes. Sandboarding is basically like the Olympic sport luge, except on sand instead of snow. Here's a picture of the shenanigans I got myself into:
It got pretty fast going down those slopes. Being that I love downhill slopes on roller coasters, it shouldn't be very surprising that I loved this. The walk back up was tortuous, but worth it to go down two times more. This has definitely been my favorite program activity so far.

3/14-3/20: It's pretty easy to pick out highlights of this week, too. After the short week of classes (which included handing in my first analysis assignment on Wednesday... we'll see how that goes haha), it was St. Patrick's Day on Thursday! I was fortunate enough to pick up a green polo for just $2.85 at a Target, which I was shocked about. Everything in Australia is normally so expensive that I'm flabbergasted when I find deals (yep, we're using THAT word, that's how awesome it is). Though a bunch of people were going to a concert that night, a few of us were able to go out to The Fox at night, which was a pretty good time. The next night was even better though- we went to a Queensland Reds rugby match! I pretty much had no idea what was going on, but that's okay. The home team absolutely destroyed the Melbourne Rebels by a final score of 53-3. I definitely loved the fast pace of rugby though! It was over almost exactly two hours after it started, and that included a ~15-minute halftime. 80 minutes of craziness. Don't mind the random guy on the left in this next picture...

I FINISHED! YEAH! Hopefully it will be easier to update this blog from now on. 

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Continuing the recap!- IFSA Orientation

Alright! I have free time again, so I will continue where I left off recapping the last two weeks. Katherine and I got off the plane in Sydney at about 7 or so in the morning on February 11th, skipping the 10th altogether. We were quite tired, though I had recently been energized a bit by watching "Slumdog Millionaire" on Qantas's movie list (I also watched "The Social Network" at the beginning of the flight and caught some episodes of  "30 Rock"... they do in-flight entertainment quite well). It felt SO GOOD to finally get off the plane! We got through customs, waited in the merry-go-round for our checked baggage, I lost about $30 of American money exchanging it for Australian money (always fun!), and was able to find some dodgy Internet connection to contact home! Soon enough we were on a bus from Sydney to the Sydney Academy of Sport in Narabeen, where we were staying for our program orientation. Orientation got all the more interesting when we realized that this place did not have Internet and that we were pretty much on our own... this was a strange feeling. The first optional activity we had was not long after we left- it was advertised a pretty simple bushwalk around the perimeter. Our little group of friends didn't really see this as too intimidating, so we decided to do it. It was pretty fun, the only problem was that it was uphill nearly the ENTIRE time. At least we got a good workout out of it and I snapped some pretty pictures!

The next day was a bit more adventurous. In the morning, we boarded a bus bound for Sydney- we were going to the Taronga Zoo! In addition to your regular run-of-the-mill zoo animals like giraffes, elephants, and gorillas, we saw some awesome Australia animals- kangaroos, wallabies, cassowaries, wombats, platypus, and of course koalas! We were not allowed to take pictures holding the koalas, but we know of a place where we can at some point =P. We also rode the skyline over the zoo, which gave us some pretty awesome shots of the city as well as the zoo. After the zoo, we took a ferry across the harbour to the city and were let loose to explore Sydney on our own for a few hours. We walked to the Sydney Opera House and attempted to check out the Botanical Gardens before relaxing for awhile. Later that night back in Narabeen, we got to try out bushdancing, which was basically the Australian equivalent of squaredancing... it was quite ridiculous needless to say. Very fun though!

The next day was the last of our short program orientation. We drove to Manly Beach and took surfing lessons! It was HARD, especially since I'm not very coordinated haha. Definitely harder than surfers make it seem to be. The waves were intense, and the Pacific tide was much stronger than the Atlantic tides I'm used to. I was better at boogieboarding, which we also did and was easier. After this, we did paddleboarding, which is what I believe the instructor said "wimp celebrities like Jennifer Aniston do." I certainly understand his feelings on this- it was also not really difficult. Still an awesome time though! When we got back to Narabeen, we were treated to an indigenous dance performance, which was just great. They were really into what they were doing and even got audience members (such as... oh, I don't know, ME) to participate in it! Can't say that I've ever imitated an emu before in my life. I definitely loved the didgeridoo player's awesomeness the best though. He told us stories while playing it (which they call the "Yidaki"), so that was very cool.

The next day, we took an early bus to the Sydney Airport and soon we were in the air again! Fortunately, this flight was not long at all, and we were in Brisbane before we could blink. That's where I've been for the majority of the past week and a half! I'll write about my experiences here a little more at a later time. Until then, g'day!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Attempting to recap the previous two weeks...

Wow, it's been a pretty crazy week and a half since arriving in Australia. Internet connection was hard to come by until recently so I haven't had a chance to create this and post on it yet! If you're reading this, you probably know who I am, but I'll introduce myself anyway. My name is Andrew Mearns, and I'm a junior at Gettysburg College double majoring in Math & History (or, in Australian, Maths & History!). I'm studying abroad at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, which is located about halfway up the eastern coast of Australia.

The semester doesn't officially begin until February 28th, so I did some temping at the Party City corporate headquarters about an hour from my home in Neshanic Station, NJ. I t was a pretty eventful break, as my sister got married on January 8th to a bloke from around Melbourne, Australia, and I had to say goodbye to my girlfriend Megan on January 11th as she was leaving to study abroad in Vienna, Austria. It was quite the rollercoaster of emotions, but I'm confident that we'll make it through these five and a half months apart stronger than ever. Fortunately Skype will be there to make things a little bit easier!

Anyway, after saying goodbye to friends and family in early February, I got to the airport in Newark, NJ at around 6:30 AM East Coast time on February 9th to meet my friend Katherine, who also goes to Gettysburg and is studying abroad at UQ this semester. We waited a couple hours for our flight, buying expensive airport food and killing time by taking pictures of random things, and by 9:30, we were in the air on an American Airlines flight to Dallas. It wasn't very remarkable and we only got a couple refreshments on the three and a half hour flight, but we made it safe and sound, so that's got to count for something right? The layover in Dallas was not long at all, and we were boarding our AA flight to Los Angeles about half an hour after we landed and bought crappy expensive airport sandwiches for lunch (noticing a trend here?). This flight was very similar to the previous one, and it was not very long, only about three hours. We landed in LA around 3:30 West Coast time. From there, we had a lonnnnng wait before our 10:15 flight to Sydney, Australia. Fortunately, Katherine and I met a few people from St. Joseph's University who were also in our program studying abroad, so we hung out with them in the time that followed. Though the wait seemed to take forever, we finally took off on our Qantas flight to Sydney! The flight was of course also long because you can't just apparate in Australia in a matter of seconds (though it'd be wonderful to do so). It was 15 hours, but Qantas did an excellent job providing mid-flight entertainment- we each had a little TV screen in front of our seats and headphones were provided by the airline. We could watch some of their movies, TV shows, and even catch glimpses of the plane in the air through a camera on the tail! We were also given pretty good food, so that was also a plus.
We landed in Sydney, Australia on February 11th- we skipped February 10th entirely because time zones are just cool like that haha. It was so great to get off the plane after being couped up for so long. I was able to find some sketchy free but slow Internet at the airport while we were waiting to be bussed over to our orientation location, so I was able to let people know I was alive, which is always good. We were staying at the Sydney Academy of Sport in Narrabeen, which didn't have Wifi, so the next few days were going to be interesting... I'll cover that and the rest of the past two weeks in a later post, promise! Until then, SHE'LL BE RIGHT, MATE!