Cycling Trip to Sorrento

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It has been quite some time since my last post, around six months to be exact! As usual it is easy to get lazy with these things, so I’ve decided to do a little post about a recent cycling trip I went on with a friend visiting from the states for the summer.

One of my favorite parts of Melbourne so far is the accessibility of cycling, so we decided to venture out of the city on our bikes. On the first day we cycled from Melbourne to Sorrento, which turned out to be a 110km trek. At times the ride was a bit unnerving, as we had to climb several large hills and share narrow roadways with fast-moving traffic, but in the end it was well worth it.

We spent the following day checking out Sorrento. On one end of town you can visit the rough, windy, rocky shores of the Bass Strait, and on the other end of town you can lounge on the calm waters of the Port Port Phillip Bay. It was a beautiful place, and it isn’t quite peak summer season yet so the town was very calm.

The following day we took a ferry across the bottom of the Port Phillip Bay to a town called Queenscliff. From Queenscliff we were able to take a roughly 30km Rail Trail to a place called Geelong, and there we took our bikes on the train back to Melbourne.

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The trip was a lot of fun, and it was nice to get away from Melbourne for a couple of days. It was amazing to see the drastic difference from one side of the bay to the other. Sorrento had much greener with rocky shores, while Queenscliff was sandy with brown and yellow grass.

I definitely enjoyed the trip, and I hope to do some more cycling trips around the area in the future!

 

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First Footy Match

Melbourne Cricket Ground Stadium - Richmond, VIC

Melbourne Cricket Ground Stadium – Richmond, VIC

Last weekend I attended my first Australian Footy match at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds Stadium. We had a friend visiting for the weekend who is studying abroad outside of Sydney, so it was the perfect time to give it a go. I definitely enjoyed the experience, and it was the first large sporting event that I have ever been to outside of the U.S.

The teams competing were the Melbourne Demons and the Western Bulldogs. Both of these teams are located in the Melbourne area, as our state of Victoria is home to the majority of the Australian Football teams. Footy is a sport that is unique to Australia. There are a total of 18 teams throughout the the country, and 10 are located in Victoria. All of the major matches in Melbourne are held at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds stadium, which has a history dating back to the 1850’s.

Footy is an extremely fast-paced sport, and all of the players are in top-notch physical condition. It’s difficult to explain the rules of the sport, as I am still unsure of all the details. If I were to compare it to American sports, it’s a combination of soccer, rugby, American football, and basketball all combined into one. When watching the sport for the first time, it seems as if there are virtually no rules, but in reality there are several rules the players must follow.

The main object of the game (similar to football/rugby) is to get the football through the goal posts of your opponent. There are two sets of goal posts, one set is within the other. If you are able to somehow get the ball through the center posts, your team is awarded six points, and if it goes through the wider posts you are awarded one point. To move the ball to your opponents goal is a maddening effort in itself, and players hold positions in a similar formation to soccer.

Players must either toss the ball backward, underhand serve/bump the ball forwards, dropkick the ball to a teammate, or attempt to run in order to progress down the field. If a player is able to run with the ball, they must bounce it sideways off the ground after a certain amount of steps, or if the player is tackled chaos ensues. When the fight for the ball is at a stand-still, there is basically a “jump ball” similar to basketball.

After each goal, and at the start of the game, the referee will bounce the ball sideways off center court, and the result is a again a “jump ball” similar to basketball. The referee’s are also in pristine physical condition, as they have a vital rule in every game. When the ball does go out of bounds, the referee will have to “throw the ball in” (similar to soccer), but only he will throw it backwards and incredibly high above his head.

Due to the fast pace of the game, there are several other people running all over the field. There will be one person dressed distinctly from each team that will run around and tell the players when they are going to be subbed out. There are also distinctly dressed people that will run onto the court throughout the game to deliver water/gatorade to the players. At one point during the match, a player went down due to a possible injury, but the match had to keep going until there was a reasonable stopping point.

To put it lightly, this sport is extremely faced paced, and it will keep you on the edge of your seat. We were lucky because the match we were at was incredibly close, and the winner was not clear until the very last minutes of the two-hour event. During the entire match, I was at the edge of my seat, and it was an exciting atmosphere to experience. In total there were around 30,000 people at this match, and the arena seats a total of 100,000. I am sure this will be my first footy match of many to come!

Photo I took of the referee doing a  "throw in." The Bulldogs are dressed in white, and the Demons are dressed in navy and pink. The pink is in support of Breast Cancer Awareness because there was a charity event before the match.

Photo I took of the referee doing a “throw in.” The Bulldogs are dressed in white, and the Demons are dressed in navy and pink. The pink is in support of Breast Cancer Awareness because there was a charity event before the match.


Salvation Mountain and Slab City

Photo of Justin and I visiting Salvation Mountain

Photo of Justin and I visiting Salvation Mountain

I wanted to share with you one of the most interesting places I have ever been throughout my travels. At the end of last summer I had the opportunity to drive across the southern United States to return one of my company vans, and it was five days of an absolute maddening amount of driving. I traveled from Miami, FL to Santa Rosa, CA and it was definitely quite an experience. I was fortunate that one of my best friends was willing to make the trip with me, and it was definitely one hell of a ride. I plan to talk about this adventure in future entries, but I wanted to tell you about one specific place we briefly visited that I found to be especially profound.

When we were making our way into California, we decided to swing by a place called Salvation Mountain, which is located at the entrance of an area known as Slab City. A man named Leonard Knight started creating Salvation Mountain in the 1980’s after settling in Niland, CA (about 200 miles south of Los Angeles). Leonard felt inspired to create the monument after a “life altering experience.” The monument is about as tall as a three story building, and the display covers an area approximately the size of a football field (according to a sign posted on site).

In the year 2000, the American Folk Art Society declared Leonard’s creation “a folk art site worthy of protection and preservation.” Leonard spent decades working on this monument, and he lived an extremely modest lifestyle in the back of an old pick-up truck he made into a make-shift shelter next to his project. At the site, a sign reads:

Leonard Knight describes his work as a love story. “I painted the mountain because I love God, and I love people.”

His message of “God Is Love” is quite simple and yet so powerful. I feel that if everyone looked at life as simply and beautifully as Leonard, perhaps the world would be a more kind, loving, and peaceful place.

The front of Salvation Mountain

The front of Salvation Mountain

In December 2011, Leonard was placed in a long-term care facility in Southern California for dementia, and I recently found out that Leonard passed away on February 10, 2014 at the care facility. It is very sad that Leonard is no longer with us, but it is my hope that his legacy will live on at Salvation Mountain. There are several people who kindly volunteer as caretakers of the mountain, and volunteers regularly visit the site for maintenance work.

From the top of Salvation Mountain, the nearby Slab City is visible, with a compelling mountain and desert backdrop, along with the nearby Sultan Sea. We took a quick drive through Slab City during our visit, and I hope that I will return to this place and get more of a feel for the locals. Many people live here in RVs and makeshift shelters, as it is completely free living.

The downside of living in Slab City? No electricity, no sewers or toilets, no trash pick-up, the nearest place to get any type of basic supplies is several miles away, and summer temperatures can reach as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit! It’s definitely a place for true off-gridders, and 150 inhabitants stay here year-round. There are many people who will stay in Slab City for the winter, but it takes a certain type of “slabber” to make the year long commitment.

Partial view of Slab City from the top of Salvation Mountain

Partial view of Slab City from the top of Salvation Mountain


Yosemite

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It has been almost a year now since I started my tour guiding job last summer. I still have never blogged much about my experiences, so I am planning to do a few entries here and there to reflect on some of the places I was able to visit. There were many pros and cons to my tour guide job, but a definite pro was being able to visit some of, in my opinion, the best that America has to offer.

I wanted to talk about Yosemite a bit to get started. Yosemite might be my absolute favorite place that I have ever visited in the United States. I still have a lotof National Parks and different areas to visit, but I found this place to be awe-inspiring. Yosemite is one of the oldest National Parks in the world, and 95% of the park is complete wilderness. According to the National Park Service website, the park spans more than 760,000 acres (3,000 square kilometers) making it the 17th largest National Park in the United States.

When you are in Yosemite Valley looking up at the Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan, there is no feeling like it in the world. It is amazing to see such a special place being preserved from the efforts of John Muir over 120 years ago. In several places throughout the park you can also witness rock climbers attempting to climb different summits.

During one of my trips, I was fortunate enough to do the Panorama Trail hike. It is said that there is no better day hike in the park, as this 8.5-mile route offers you views of Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Illilouette Fall, Yosemite Fall, and picturesque views of the entire Yosemite Valley. If you are fortunate enough to visit Yosemite and you are physically able, this is an absolute must do. I did this hike solo, and it was a great experience. There were several other hikers along the path (especially the second part that intersects with the John Muir trail), but at times I found myself with no other hikers within sight or earshot.

In the future I absolutely must go back to Yosemite. I would love to hike half dome one day, and visit some areas of the park with friends that I was unable to check out. Here are a few photos I took of Yosemite, although it is impossible to capture how majestic it truly is in any photo:

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“No temple made with hands can compare to Yosemite” – John Muir

“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” – Ansel Adams


Australia vs. U.S.

I have been asked by several people about some of the cultural differences between Australia and the United States, and I wanted to do a post about a few things I have noticed so far. I can’t speak for all of Australia by any means, because just as all of the areas of the United States have differences among themselves, it’s the same here too. Even from one suburb of Melbourne to the next, people might generally dress or act differently from one another.

One thing that I love so much about Melbourne is the diversity that exists here. If I travel up Sydney Road (the main street of the Brunswick area) I will stumble across all different types of cuisines from Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Chinese, English, Irish, Turkish, Moroccan, Lebanese, and Indian, just to name a few. In my area alone there are large Greek, Lebanese, and Italian communities which become very obvious by just walking in a mile radius. All of these cultural influences not only make for an amazing variety of cuisines, but a diversity of shops, boutiques, and lifestyles.

Trying to order a coffee here properly requires you to learn another language, haha. Some of the terminology (to name a few) include: “short black” “flat white” “ristretto” “machiatto”

What does it all means?! It’s maddening, haha. I have no idea how to properly decode this information.

If trying to order a coffee weren’t difficult enough, ordering a beer can present yet another challenge. Some of these terms include: “pony” “pot” “stubby” “schooner” “pint” — (Luckily for me, I have a bit more of a handle on these terms, haha)

A few other new terms that I have come across:
“Jumper” = Sweater
“Ta” = Thank you (I presume this is what it means anyway, as people say it when you give them their change)
“Tassie” = Tasmania
“Footy” = Local sport that’s a cross between soccer and rugby?
“Bloke” = Man
“Stubby” = Standard size bottle of beer
“Ute” = Utility vehicle
“Doona” = Bed quilt

There are many more terms that you may come across in Melbourne, but these are a few I have heard in my time here so far. In some instances several words are shortened and a “y” or “ie” is added to the end, rather than the rest of the letters. I was also informed that there are several slang terms according to which region of the country you are in, along with a whole different terminology when referring to sizes of beer (something to keep in mind depending on which region you are traveling to).

I don’t have too many complaints about the food here, but I have noticed a couple differences with basic grocery goods. The salsa I bought last week at the store was absolutely terrible. It was incredibly sweet and reminded me too much of ketchup, hopefully I will have better luck next time, haha. Buying coffee was also a bit confusing, as I ended up with instant coffee rather than grounds, so I was a bit displeased with this.

For having a population of roughly 23,000 the Brunswick area has a great amount of diversity. I haven’t spent quite as much time in downtown Melbourne yet, but the city itself has even more influences from all over the world. Sure there is a lot of diversity in the United States as well, but it’s amazing to me how many different cultures can be present in such a small area.

Melburnians (I think that is how you refer to someone from Melbourne?) are extremely proud of their city and country. They will argue that they have one of the best political systems, some of the best coffee, the best food, a great education system, and the fact that they are from one of the greatest cities in the world.


Reflections of College Years

It’s started to hit me lately that I won’t be able to hang out with any of my very best friends for quite some time. In some ways it might open up the door for new possibilities and friendships to develop, but at the same time it can be a bit disheartening. Everyone has different goals and ideas of what they want to do with their life, and therefore we can’t plan our lives around others because we never know when something might change. Perhaps there is no “perfect” time in our lives, because the people we know, the places we go, and the world itself is constantly changing and evolving.

There is a speech called “Wear Sunscreen” that I absolutely love (click here if you have never read it before) and one of my favorite lines is:

“Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on.”

This line is so true in many ways. I think one of the hardest days of my life was the day I left Cal U, the place where I made some of best memories and friends I will ever have. I remember several friends standing in my driveway as I pulled away that day, and I recall that I cried like a baby, haha. Not because I was leaving college, but because I knew things would never be as they once were, and perhaps I would never be with all those friends again at the same time.

It’s easy to take the time spent in college for granted, because we are so caught up in the moment. We meet new people, everyone is young and in the same new situation, and we love to have a good time (some more than others might I add). Nonetheless, this is a glorious time in a young persons life, for it helps to shape their future, and the type of life they will lead.

I made some of the best friends I will ever have during my college years. Many people that have affected my life at one time or another are now spread all over the globe. This is an amazing thing in many ways, for it gives me many places to visit in the future, and it encourages me to take risks, try new things, and travel.

Thanks for all the memories friends (you know who you are). I will be looking forward to the time we meet again and “wreak some havoc”!


Lawn Bowls and Life Lessons

Part of the cityscape of the Melbourne Central Business District. In the photo you can see part of Flinders Railway Station, which is the largest train station in the city.

Part of the Melbourne Central Business District from across the Yarra River. In the photo you can see part of Flinders Railway Station on the right, which is the largest train station in the city.

The move to Australia seems to be going pretty well for us so far. We have been able to find all the basic furnishings we need for our apartment, and we are starting to get better acclimated to the Brunswick area. Finding a more stable job will take some time, but it takes some time anywhere you go to get settled in.

I have recently found a bit of casual work at a lawn bowls club in the area. Lawn bowls is a fairly relaxed sport, and I am learning about the game for the first time myself. The basic premise is to roll weighted balls, and you try to get your large balls to stop the closest to the smaller ball known as the “jack” or “kitty”. The sport is played on a flat, well kept grass surface, either barefoot or in special smooth soled shoes. As the members of the club say, “bowls takes twenty minutes to learn, but twenty years to master”.

People of all ages come to play bowls on the weekend, and it is a great way to enjoy being outdoors on a nice afternoon. Everyone competes with friends and relatives, and they can enjoy a few drinks while they play. The members at the particular club I will be at all seem very laid back, which is one of the things I like so far about Australia. People here aren’t afraid to have a good time here, and everyone likes to drink, haha.

I worked with one of the members on my first day, and she is a very interesting character. She is an avid traveler, and she spent about four years living in Germany when she moved there in her 20’s. She said she had no money, no job, couldn’t speak German, but she was crazy and young back then.

She went on to share some interesting thoughts and stories with me throughout the afternoon, and one point she made definitely stuck with me. She said something to the effect of this:

“One day you will wake up and realize that if you don’t leave now, you are going to be where you are for the rest of your life. You can either be alright with that, or you know it’s time to go.”

In her case she decided it was time to go, as she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in Germany. She knew she wanted to go back to Australia, which is where she lives now. She went to Germany as a young girl with absolutely nothing, and today she lives in the Melbourne area where she has many friends and her own business.

I have yet to reach a point in my life where I have a feeling to the extreme as she described, but in the same respect I felt that way a bit about the United States. Sure it would have been easier in some ways to just stay in the country I was born in, but at the same time it just didn’t feel right for me to do so.

Many times in life it’s easier to become comfortable and to settle for what you have always known. I am not saying there is anything right or wrong about this way of thought, but in some ways I think you need to leave somewhere in order to realize what’s important to you and realize what you really want to do with your life.

Leaving for one person might be different than the next. Some people might consider traveling to another part of their state or country as leaving home, others might consider going somewhere abroad as truly leaving. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to open yourself up to new experiences and places in the world, otherwise you don’t realize what you are missing out on. It can not only help you realize where you want to be, but who you aspire to be as well.

I haven’t yet found that special place that I don’t want to leave. Perhaps it will be Australia, but then again perhaps it won’t be. For now I will be trying to make the best of my time here by opening myself up to new ideas and experiences, along with new adventures that await. When the day comes that I hear that voice, I will know that it’s time to make a big decision.