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The Australian Adventures: Week Two
(Sorry it's taken me so long to write this, but I'm kept pretty busy here every day, and the longer I wait then more things need to be included...)
I stopped my report last Friday, having safely arrived back from a few days in a cabin in the Blue Mountains. Friday we went to Sydney for a proper day of sight-seeing. Jesse had work, so Lucy, Kirsten and I left in the morning on the train to downtown Sydney. It was the perfect day for walking around the city, with a beautiful blue sky and a reasonable temperature. We walked down to the harborfront, past restaurants and tourist shops and street side entertainers. All the restaurants offer a lot of outdoor seating, because the climate is so mild, but now, in the middle of winter, they bring out large heaters and sometimes surround outdoor seating areas in plastic so people can still have their meals outside. I thought this was kind of silly until Lucy pointed out that most restaurants simply don't have enough indoor seating to accommodate everyone during the winter. Another tidbit about Australia that I found interesting, though maybe they do this in other warm climates.
Anyways, first we walked to, of course, the Opera House. Up close it's not pure white as it looks in pictures, but more of a gray sort of concrete. We wandered around the outside, and it is very impressive up close, and checked out the areas inside open to the public as well. Next we walked through part of the Royal Botanical Gardens, which are behind the Opera House. There were huge, beautiful trees there on the well manicured lawns that made for great pictures. We walked onto a pedestrian bridge that led us back above the harbor (not over the water, but above where we had entered the harbor from the train station). There were great views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, which sits across the water from Opera House. We ended up on the pedestrian part of the bridge, above the Rocks, an area which on weekends holds a large open-air market. The bridge afforded wonderful views of the Opera House and the city. After crossing the bridge we got on the train and went to Sydney University to meet Jesse.
She showed us the campus, which had some lovely old buildings, and we continued on to King Street, about two blocks off of campus. This road is the major thoroughfare for Newtown, an "alternative," very university/collegey part of town. There were tons of thrift shores (or, as the Australians call them, "op shops"), record and bookstores, vegetarian cafes, and lots of other cheap, different places to eat. Jesse led us to a very good Indian restaurant where we had lunch for around 5 Australian dollars per person, which is about as cheap as you can get in the city except for fast food. After lunch Lucy and Kirsten headed home, and Jesse and I went back into the city to meet with Jesse's friends, as we were all going to go to a Kate Miller-Heidke concert that night.
The concert was at a place called the Metro Club. I bought my first drink at a bar in the concert venue because the drinking age in Australia is 18, which was kind of fun. The concert was very good, even though I didn't know her music at all. She reminds me somewhat of Regina Spektor and somewhat of Tori Amos, if you know who they are. She is a operatically trained musician, and she sang a brilliant, hilarious version of Britney Spear's song "Toxic" using many operatic flourishes.
On Saturday we went to the Riverside Theater and saw a matinee performance of the play "Wilde Tales," an interpretation of some of Oscar Wilde's fairy tales. It was a small production with a cast of five, but it was still quite good. That evening us four girls took the train all the way to the Blue Mountains, not as far west as before, so not as remote, to spend two nights with Jesse and Lucy's aunt and uncle.
The uncle happened to be a well-known film critic in Australia, so we spent most of our time watching movies on his big screen projector. It was really fun- he has over a thousand DVDs in his library, and told us a lot about the directors, actors, and whatever other interesting tidbits he could think of that were relevant to each movie we watched. We watched three each day: East of Eden, Stanley Kubrick's Lolita, and The Major and the Minor on Sunday, and Paths to Glory,The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and The Apartment on Monday. I particularly enjoyed East of Eden, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and The Major and the Minor. We cooked dinner on Sunday night and went on a brief walk in the Blue Mountains National Park on Sunday to see the famous Three Sisters rock formation, and ate a light lunch/afternoon tea at Jesse's aunt's restaurant each day as well. It was a very fun visit, not really conventional, but it's not everyday you get to meet a film critic and hear his stories. He even told us his opinion (as much as he could say) about the new Harry Potter movie, as he had seen it at a private screening the week before.
Monday night I went over to Jesse's boyfriend's house and was introduced to the British comedy series Black Books and the American comedy series Scrubs, both good fun. Tuesday evening we went back to the Riverside Theater to watch the "Gang Show." It was a sort of musical revue put on by the Australian Scouts and Guides (the Australian equivalent of Boy Scouts and Boy Scouts), but in everyone's opinion, it was too long and not interesting enough to watch for three hours.
We made our way to the movie theater bright and early on Wednesday to catch the first screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I won't really go into it here, but I was fairly disappointed with the whole thing. In the end no movie can compare to the books, and after recently re-reading the whole series, my standards are probably currently too high for any movie version.
On Thursday I had my first real "free day" as Jesse had work the whole time and Lucy and Kirsten went off to a picnic in the afternoon. In the time I had I finally went through and edited my pictures and helped David build a computer and install Linux on it. He then showed me how to do a few things from the command line, and I played around with that for a while.
On Friday we headed back to the city to do some shopping. We went back to little touristy stores downtown and I purchased some cheap sunglasses appropriate for Disco at Grinnell, we browsed through other random tourist markets, and headed to Supre, a clothing store, where everyone managed to find something save me. Then we took the train back to Newtown and had a late lunch at yet another great, cheap restaurant, this time a Lebanese place. We all had things to do in the evening, so we saved shopping in Newtown for another day.
Jesse and I went to Jesse's boyfriend's house again that for a housewarming party, which was a good time. On Saturday we helped cook a large Indian dinner and dessert, and yesterday, Sunday, we went for a drive in the afternoon around the Hawkesbury River and stopped to take a walk on one of the first roads ever built in Australia in the early 1800s. The large sandstone blocks that supported the road were all fitted and put in place using convict labor.
Today Jesse, Kirsten, and I went to a heavily Muslim area of Sydney called Lakemba with Polly to the Muslim Women's Society there where Polly teaches English once a week. We met five lovely Muslim women and some of their children- one from Iraq, one from India, two from Lebanon, and one from Jordan. They had all immigrated to Australia, some as recently as one year ago. Polly led them through a worksheet that taught them some uniquely Australian English words and then Kirsten and I gave them the American English equivalent of most of the words. For the rest of the time we sampled some delicious snacks one of them women had cooked and just chatted, giving the women a chance to practice their English. They were all very well educated, but none of them had jobs, due in part to family commitments and in part to language barriers. Despite the stories some of them told of how difficult it was to get settled in Australia, and the problems some of their husbands and brothers and friends had getting into Australia itself- whether it was coming over on a crowded, dangerous boats or spending months in a detention center once getting into Australia- they all seemed cheerful and proud to be in Australia. It was a really interesting visit, and then we walked around Lakemba a bit, looking at the variety of shops and restaurants, everything from Chinese grocery stores to Halal kebab shops. We ended up eating lunch in a delicious Lebanese restaurant.
That's about it for the last week or so. I'll be writing another report sometime next week.