Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's off to work I go ...

So far I have been thoroughly enjoying our Australia exchange. The job is rewarding & challenging, the beaches are beautiful and there are plentiful supplies of Tim Tams, etc .... The only downside is The Commute. Yes, it gets it's own title as it is such a major part of my life now, one I'm not really used to & don't think I ever will be. I take a train from Gosford, on the lovely Central Coast in to downtown Sydney every day, five days a week. The train takes an hour and a half each way. I am basically sitting in one spot for 3 hours every day. For those who know how slothful I can be (for those who don't ... well, I am pretty lazy!), you might think this would be a wonderful, relaxing time ... not so!
You're packed in beside at least one person (I always try & get the 2-seater, but sometimes have to settle for the 3 seats in a row, which is one of Dante's levels of Hell if you're the person stuck in the middle) & if you're lucky your neighbour's not a giant, wearing too much perfume/cologne, or fallen asleep & snoring loudly. If you're not lucky they're all 3, on both sides!
I've actually taken up reading on the train, which is kind of awesome, as I haven't had this much time to read every day since I was a kid. I do still get a bit of motion-sickness though & have to set the book down at every station due to the braking/swaying thing.
One other part of my commute is also good & bad. I actually have to get to the Gosford train station from my house. I can pay $1.80 & take a 5 minute bus ride (not news to most people who know me, but ... I'm as cheap as I am lazy), of course that's too much money. So I walk to the station every day, which takes me anywhere from 25-30 minutes, depending how distracted I get on the way. This means I usually get up around 5:15 to be ready to leave the house by 6:15 to catch the 6:49 train, so I can be at work before 9. Yes, all of those times are in the a.m. It is actually worth taking the extra time for the walk though. It is quite peaceful & quiet & a nice breath of fresh air before the train ride. Below is a little picture journal of a trip to work ... I believe these pics were taken on a Friday in early September.

Here is our Australian home, i.e. the Berry residence. You may notice the curtains on the right indicate the boys great love of Star Wars, pretty cute. You may also notice behind the white curtains on the left, that if you listen very carefully you can hear the oh-so gentle snoring of Brian catching up on about 20 years of little to no sleep (oh, being able to hear Brian snoring is a joke, there is no audio attached, but trust me there IS snoring going on!).

Here is where I take a right turn & head down our street, Maliwa Road, kinda pretty actually.

At the corner of Maliwa & Showground Road there's a marker on the side of the road. We thought it was perhaps a helpful marker for growing children. It's actually there so you can measure how much trouble you are in when the road floods.

Here is the Narara Creek (I think), I walk over it on a bridge. It's really pretty when it's not all scary & floody, etc.

Here is Showground Road with really nice hills covered in trees in the background. They look so beautiful, but apparently are where all the snakes & spiders come from, so are actually quite evil really.

Further up Showground is a bit of an industrial area. I can't really say why I love "Dicker Motors Smash Repair", but I do. There is something much more endearing about the word smash, rather than crash, which seems dissonant to me.

Well, my goodness, who wouldn't want to live a 15 minute walk from a dog track!

Ok, here's the train station ...

My train is listed on the 3rd panel on the right, the one to Central. I get off at Wynyard station. If you look close though it also says my train is due out in 3 minutes ... oops, I better get through the turnstile & down the stairs ...

Yay ... there's my train ... plenty of time!

The train ride is the train ride ... as it is, as it ever was .... *sigh* ... no pictures, too sad ...

Here's the first sight as I get off at Wynyard station, a little known coffee shop, um, I think It's called Starbucks, if I remember correctly.

I walk up Hunter Street for a few blocks, between 10 & 15 minutes, depending on lights. Here's my library on the right.

There is a cafe attached to the State Library called Cafe Trim. Interesting name, I even had a little Beavis & Butthead giggle when I first heard it. But apparently everyone here knows that Trim was the name of Captain Cook's cat. There's even a little statue of Trim on the outside of the Mitchell Library next door. (Oops, it turns out that everyone but me knows that Trim the cat actually belonged to Matthew Flinders, who circumnavigated Australia with him.)Anyway, I go there a couple times a week when I need a green tea ... we get an employee discount!

Here is the front door. I just flash my security pass to the guard & I'm in.

Now entering the lobby. There's a very colourful tapestry hanging on the wall on the left, but I couldn't seem to get an unblurry picture of it ... maybe it's too vibrant ... teehee.
I take the stairs on the right past the desk down to the reading room & off to work I go ...

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I had a really delicious chocolate croissant on the way to work today ... er ... that's all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cockies & mossies & snakes, oh my!

One thing I’ve noticed about Australians overall is that along with being very friendly, they are quite a helpful bunch. In fact, they may be a bit too helpful.
For those of you who don’t know my big secret … I have a teeny-tiny fear of spiders. OK, perhaps I’m understating my virtually paralysing mortal fear. Anyway, what better way to confront a fear of spiders than go to the country that has the highest number of deadly spiders in the world!?!
When I first got here I fell into the habit of casually dropping the spider topic into almost every conversation that I had. Perhaps I wanted people to allay my fears … it didn’t turn out that way. I must say that most people start out with good intentions, by saying things like “No worries” & “They’re really not that bad”. However, it more often than not devolved into me being told in great detail about what types of spiders will be waiting for me in my shoes in the morning. In fact one of my co-workers kindly placed a copy of a life-size full-colour detailed chart of the most dangerous Australian spiders on my desk. I must admit to almost running screaming from the building as I laid eyes on all the creepy creatures in their full glory taking over my workspace. Once I replaced my heart into its proper position, I actually had a look. There were 3 levels (I’m paraphrasing a bit):
1) Big nasties who are “friendly”, but I hear their bites will really hurt.
2) Poisonous, really dangerous spiders.
3) The world’s most dangerous spiders that will hunt you & your family down

I have now put this chart on our fridge at home for quick identification purposes. It still makes my pulse leap a bit when I catch a glance out of the corner of my eye! Here’s a copy if you’re interested:

Now I thought spiders would be my main concern … again I was wrong. While almost universally Australian love to talk about their spiders, they also all seem to have other favourite creepy-crawlies as well. Perhaps the most detailed accounts came from my co-worker Ben. He told me of the time he found a funnel web in his bed. (If you did take a peek at the earlier chart you will notice they are at the very top!) Apparently, he smacked it with a shovel & ended up ripping the mattress cover … ah hahaha … funny story, hahaha … um, excuse me, in your BED !!??!! I’m just going to hyperventilate over here … Nina, another co-worker saw my stricken face & scolded Ben for scaring me. She then proceeded to tell me that if I do happen to be walking in the bush I should wear a hat & the person in front should always have a stick to knock down spider webs across the path. If you do end up walking into a web, calmly ask your hiking partner to look you over for any spider passengers … OK … never hike alone, check! This sent Ben into another story about the time he walked into a web & he ended up being covered in spiders, yikes!

He also mentioned that I’ll have to watch out for snakes in my area, which is so close to the bush (forest, in Australian & northern Canadian too) that I should see quite a few. He also brought up the infestations of cockroaches & mosquitoes we will live through as soon as summer hits.

Oh, as an aside, cockies & mossies (like Aussies – they pronounce 2 S’s together as a Z) from the title of this post are referring to cockroaches & mosquitoes. Australians love nicknames. Beyond the adding a –y or – o to people’s first or last name, they nickname pretty much everything else. For example, there is a suburb called Chatswood, which they call Chatty; someone was talking about a particular journalist & called him a journo, etc. It’s kind of endearing, but sometimes hard to figure out exactly what they’re talking about.

Anyway, back to the creepy crawlies …

We actually already found out about the cockroaches. Here is a picture of one we found on our kitchen floor after coming home one evening. I put the cell phone beside it to get some scale, took the pic & then asked Brian to throw it out. Well, turns out it was just resting, or chillin’ on the hardwood, you could say. It started to wiggle as he picked it up & I made a mad dash for the other room. Brian bravely ran to the deck & flung it outside … my hero! I expect when the hot weather hits I’ll get used to them.

We were also able to add to the list after going to a soccer match with a co-worker, Andy. Upon meeting his wife, she assured us that she had lived all around Australia for more than 43 years & she had never been stung. Andy leaned over & whispered something to her. Then … “Oh, right there was that ant. Green ant bites are pretty painful." Watch for ants now, check! "Oh, & our son actually was bitten by a blue-tongue lizard the other day. That hurt quite a lot too.” Lizard avoidance, check!
See … she started out so nice & then got TOO helpful! *Sigh*

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My IPod: a love story

This morning I went for a run before work.

Since arriving I haven’t been doing much exercise beyond walking everywhere. Although I’ve probably done many miles of that … hmm … I should get a pedometer out of interest, I walk way more at work here, being that there’s more territory to cover & we don’t sit at the Information desk, we stand. Oh Cloverdale circulation desk staff, how I have come to know thee! Also the 25/30 min walk to the train station helps & the various beach walks & walks to the local shops, etc. etc. Actually I highly recommend walking lots … I think I’ve lost weight since I came here, despite not training and eating like each meal will be my last … oh, & Tim Tams, enough said.

Last week I was able to find someone to show me where the showers are (yay, showers in the building!) and how to get to some running trails. It turns out there’s beautiful trails right out the back door … so Monday I caught the 6:05 train & made it to work by 7:45 & tried a run. Awesome … running around the Sydney Opera House before work in the morning is a tad surreal!

Anyway, so I thought I’d try it again this morning. Here’s a tour of the morning run via IPod:

“Jump around” House of Pain

How lovely to start a morning run with “our” song. It was the first song Brian & I ever danced to & he loaded it on my IPod especially for me. With romantic lyrics like “I'll serve your ass like John McEnroe, If your girl steps up, I'm smacking the ho” how could you go wrong!

So I leave the library to a cool but sunny morning. I cross the road into the Domain. This is the open field part of the Royal Botanical Gardens

Every day at lunch it’s packed with people playing soccer & rugby, boxing, running, walking, yoga, etc. This is part of the Central business district of Sydney, so all these people are the ones you see rushing around in business suits the rest of the day. I swear half the population of downtown gets out & does some exercise at lunch. It’s common while standing at a pedestrian crossing to have someone in a business suit yakking on a cellphone on one side & a sweaty panter on the other, running in place waiting for the light to change.

OK … across the Domain & turn left to the overpass over the road to more of the gardens.

“Low” Flo Rida

… shorty got low, low, lo … Oops, sorry Mr. Rida I have to put you on pause. There’s a tow truck driver pulled over to the side of the path & he’s playing his saxophone. Live music trumps all. Cool … now shorty may continue getting low as I run towards the water.

“Dirty deeds done dirt cheap” AC/DC

Cheeky IPod … throwing in a tribute to an Aussie band as I run along the water in the other direction from the Opera House. Oh, look it’s the outdoor pool I heard about. The Andrew (Boy) Charlton Swimming Pool, an eight lane outdoor heated saltwater 50 metre pool. Woo hoo … right near work, I’m in heaven!

“The crunge” Led Zeppelin

Starting on Mrs. MacQuarie’s Bushland Walk … cute name, nice path, cool song.

"Recent stranger" Crop Circle

How appropriate to play a song by the hard-working quartet from the Lower Mainland after such a classic. I must admit, despite the horrendous beard, I have a major crush on their guitar player.

As I'm running up a set of stairs to the Domain surrounded by well-coiffed, well-dressed worker bees on their way to work I spy a homeless man sleeping over by the wall. A bit if a reminder of home ... although they definitely have homeless people here in Sydney, you don't see them any where near as often as in Vancouver.

“Breathe” Prodigy

Faster song – time to speed up! Arriving at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which is across the Domain from my library. Check my cell, darn I’ve only been running for around 20 min. Ok once around the Domain.

Random techno song from the Beats by Dope Demand CD

Back over the bridge to the gardens.

Random hip-hop song by Jay-Z, where he throws out a lot of brand names; Vuitton, Manolo, Steve Madden, etc.

Time to try the stairs I ran up Monday. Four levels of fun ...omigosh, I'm sucking wind major. Hmm... I need a better song. Ok, down the path for another run at the stairs.

"We are the champions" Queen

Yesss, IPod, you are prescient. Starting out slow, but by the time we're on the fourth tier ... we ARE the champions, you & me IPod, we kick ass ... woo hoo ... OK ... I'm a total geek, but man, I feel pretty cool for just a moment!

"Shut up & dance" Aerosmith

Lovely way to run back over to the Domain & into the loading bay back door of the library ...

Sorry Jimi, we shall discuss Crosstown traffic next run. It's off to work I go ... until next time IPod ... thank you my dear motivator!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sweet Clara

Today is Sunday, September 14th, 2008 here in Australia. It is a very fitting day to start a journal of our time here. One year ago today Brian & I had to say goodbye to our best friend for the last time. Clara was our rottweiler roommate who made us smile every day for 9 and a half years.
If we had not just gone through such a devastating loss I probably wouldn't have ever answered David Berry's e-mail about an exchange to Australia. It goes to show that good things can come from great pain.
Oh, how she would have loved it here ... especially, digging in the sand & romping in the surf at the beach. We miss you every day, Sweet Pea!